Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Servant Jesus

My sermon on Sunday for the “Portraits of Jesus” series at our church is on the portrait of Jesus as a Servant. I’ll probably post some of my content after the sermon, but for now, what do you think of when you think of Jesus as servant? What is your initial reaction to the image? How do you see Jesus serve you in your life? Any interactions would be helpful for my sermon on Sunday. Thanks.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Writing a Big Story

I just finished Undaunted Courage by Stephen Ambrose (check the margin). It was a well told story of the Lewis & Clark Expedition from the fledgling United States on the Eastern seaboard all the way through Indian territory to the Pacific Ocean. Jefferson wanted an all-water route to the sea. It didn’t exist, but Lewis & Clark came back with massive amounts of information and pulled off a tremendous feat, journeying into the unknown.

One of the key lines early in the book was where Ambrose says Jefferson’s “vision was breathtaking.” To borrow a line from Andy Stanley’s book on vision (Visioneering), Jefferson saw what “could be” and was taking the steps to turn it into a “would be.” The US was having a hard time filling the land they owned – why would they double the size of their land? Jefferson had and agrarian bent and was looking down the line for generations and the need for land.

Jefferson gave the daunting task of traveling to the unknown to a dear friend, Meriwether Lewis. Lewis grabbed kindred spirit and 30-some men and went across the continent. It was a great feat of fortitude, leadership, followership, and providence. They were instant heroes upon their return. Clark got married and seems to have lived a fruitful life. Lewis, however, seemed to lose purpose. He went to his share of parties and governed the Louisiana Territory, but he battled with bouts of depression. He finally takes his own life on the way to Washington DC to answer for some gubernatorial expenditures.

I’ve only read one book and I’m no psychologist, but I wonder if Lewis lost the passion and purpose in his life because his vast vision and challenge had given way to “managing” life. Not sure, but there’s something to think about.

I was listening to Donald Miller (of Blue Like Jazz fame) preach at Mars Hill Bible Church (Nooma’s Rob Bell’s church in Grand Rapids) on iTunes (11/10/2007). Miller preached about story and what makes a good one. Short version: we get caught up in small stories, but seem big to us – like going to buy a Volvo. Nobody is going to watch a movie about some guy buying a Volvo. We like stories where something is at stake, where big risk is taken that will make a difference in the lives of others. Miller asks, “What will happen if you don’t finish your story?” Is it one less Volvo purchased – or are there drastic results because you’re living for something big?

This is a challenge to me. Am I living for something big? Am I living for God’s Kingdom? Or am I “managing” life, looking for comfort and counting days? Buying a Volvo or changing the world? And you?

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Silence, Part 3: Suffering with us in Silence

The book ends with a great exchange between a priest who apostasized and Christ as the priest prays in his heart and mind.

Priest: “Lord, I resented your silence.”
Lord: “I was not silent. I suffered beside you.”

That’s powerful. When we feel like God has abandoned us, He is there suffering with us, walking through our pain with us.

In the book it goes on, as I read it, to excuse the apostasy from Jesus’ perspective, as if he would encourage it to relieve our anguish. While the author may be expressing Jesus’ abundant grace, it sits uncomfortably with me. He’s with us, but He wants us to honor Him. I realize this is coming from a guy sitting comfortably in a coffee shop, much like the priests in Portugal couldn’t imagine their fellow priest forsaking the faith.

I haven’t faced much suffering so my critique may ring hollow. Even so, I hope I follow in the footsteps of Paul who praises God amid his suffering in books like Philippians. I'm sure that's easier said than done.

Remember. He’s with you. He’s suffering beside you.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Don't Forget the Holiday

A needed reminder for some of us, courtesy of Scot McKnight.

I just finished Undaunted Courage by Stephen Ambrose. Great story that I'll post on shortly, but there's a noteworthy quote from Thomas Jefferson in the book regarding slavery: "I tremble when I remember that God is just."
King's note that the Constitution was a promissory note to freedom was a great picture that honors the great minds of our founders, even if they didn't always live up to it. Isn't that the case for all of us to some degree, just hopefully not to the extent of depriving people their freedom.

Silence, Part 2: Grounds for Apostasy?

Almost a month ago I finished the book Silence by Shusako Endo (I’ll keep the link on the margin for another week or so). Here’s the link to the first post ( It was a fascinating and powerful book about the challenges of Catholicism taking root in Japan. The title comes from the bewilderment of where God is in suffering – why is He silent? I’ll get to that one on the next post. But for now I want to touch on the persecution.

Persecution helped strengthen the church in Japan until a priest recanted his faith. In fact, the priests at home couldn’t believe that he had recanted and the story is about the sending of a pair of priests to investigate to see if Priest A had, in fact, given up the faith. It turns out, after some searching, Priest A had forsaken the faith. What made him give it up, apostasize?

The persecutors tortured the people while the priest had to listen. The priest goes so far as to say that because Jesus loves these people He would do the merciful thing and Himself recant to spare them suffering. The right thing to do is to turn your back on God so people won’t suffer.

That sounds so compassionate, so loving. But is it true? Certainly it would end their temporal suffering and any guilt you might have for their suffering. But it seems to fall into the trap of many contemporary movies. I think of Bruce Almighty and Bedazzled where redemption comes from altruism, from loving someone else more than yourself. It gets you out of your deal with the devil or is the real lesson God would have us learn. But is it? Don’t get me wrong; it is vitally important. I believe such humility and love for others is essential fruit of the gospel. But it isn’t the main goal.

There’s an unsettling verse in John that I preached on a while back and that I reviewed when dealing with humanity and sin in my ordination paper. “He” is the Holy Spirit that Jesus is promising to send to the disciples.

And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment: concerning sin, because they do not believe in me – John 16.8-9
I like to think of sin as bad things – and it is – but there’s more. It is missing the mark. It is missing who God has called us to be. Namely, a follower of Jesus. We honor Him and believe in Him first and foremost. As much as we might want to please people and ease their suffering, it cannot come at the expense of honoring Jesus the King.

This leads to the question, “Why is God silent in our suffering?” I’ll give the Silence answer to that one next, which may not answer the whole issue, but it is still powerful.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Ordination #2, Art. 6d: Adoption

Finally, only such as receive Jesus Christ become children of God (Jn. 1.12; Eph. 1.5), which includes the benefits of reconciliation to God (Rom. 5.10-11), freedom from sin (Rom. 8.14-16), access to God’s resources (Rom. 8.16-17; Phil. 4.19), and parental discipline (Heb. 12.5-11).

How do you experience the benefits of being God’s child? Which are encouraging? Which are challenging?

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Ordination #2, Art. 6c: The Benefits of Salvation

The first benefit of conversion is regeneration, which is to be born of the Holy Spirit (Jn. 1.12-13; 3.5-8), and it is the starting point of one’s spiritual life and transformation (Titus 3.5). The believer becomes a new person (2 Cor. 5.17), alive to God whereas they were previously dead to Him (Rom. 3.10-11). In addition to being “born again,” the status of the believer has changed from being their own entity to being “in Christ” (2 Cor. 5.17) and Christ also abides in them (Gal. 2.20). This union with Christ is key to our justification, a forensic declaration of righteousness, before God (Rom. 8.1, 33-34), which is made possible by the imputation of Christ’s righteousness to us (Rom. 4.3, 6; 5.17). This justification is entirely a gift of God’s grace (Eph. 2.8-9; Rom. 3.23-24).

Reading Erickson’s theology (see margin) on our union with Christ has been the most encouraging aspect of my study on theology over the last several months. I had never made a big deal of it, but it was tremendous to think of how, when we are joined to Christ, we become partners with Him. In that partnership we pool resources (talk about a bum deal for Him!). When it comes time to judge sin, I produce the goods in the partnership, but Jesus bears them in my place, as my partner. Likewise, when righteousness is demanded, God sees our union and recognizes “our” righteousness because Christ’s righteousness is accounted to me – we’re partners.

It’s like saying the partnership between myself and Hank Aaron resulted in 755 home runs. It’s pretty one-sided, but, if it were true that we had some kind of partnership, it would be factually true that we had 755 home runs between us. In the same way, in my union with Christ, "We're" righteous - even though He's the great one who is bringing all the righteousness.

I probably should have known this stuff, and maybe it was in the recesses of my brain somewhere, but it was powerful to dwell upon and wrestle with.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Ordination #2, Art. 6b: Applying Atonement

The application of Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross is salvation of those who would believe. Romans 8.30 gives a general order of salvation (predestined, called, justified, glorified), though many of the events only have logical priority as they are virtually instantaneous. Humankind’s corruption through sin renders us helpless to receive the gift of salvation (Rom. 3.10-11) without divine enablement that He purposed before the creation of the world to give to those He has chosen by His own will (Eph. 1.4-5; Jn. 15.16). While God’s call to salvation is in some ways general (Isa. 55.1; Mt. 11.28), sin renders man unable to respond unless God places an effectual call upon the ones He has chosen (Jn. 6.44; Acts 13.48; 16.14). With this divine enablement to respond, genuine conversion is required because only those who believe and receive Jesus Christ enjoy the benefits of His sacrifice. The two aspects of genuine conversion are repentance, turning away from sin (Acts 2.38; Mt. 4.17), and faith, trusting in Christ alone for salvation (Eph. 2.8-9).

This was the section where I spent the most time dwelling upon the “order of salvation.” Some believe, because we are spiritually dead, we need to be regenerated (born-again) before we choose to believe. I’ve opted for God’s effective calling enabling us to choose Him, resulting in regeneration. Any thoughts on how you’ve figured this out would be greatly appreciated because I’m pretty ambivalent on it at this point.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Ordination #2, Art. 6a: The Atonement

After dealing with sin, we now move to the remedy, which is the work of Christ. The next series of posts will deal with Article 6 of the Evangelical Free Church of America doctrinal statement, which deals with the atonement at the cross and the application of that sacrifice for our salvation. While Jesus died for my sins is profoundly simple, it is amazing how complicated this can get when it comes to some of the details. Here’s the statement with the first section of my paper to follow.
That the shed blood of Jesus Christ and His Resurrection provide the only ground for justification and salvation for all who believe, and only such as receive Jesus Christ are born of the Holy Spirit and, thus become children of God.
The shed blood of Jesus Christ and His resurrection (Rom. 4.25) is grounded in the OT sacrificial system where death was required to atone for sin (Job 42.8; Lev. 1.3-4) and Isaiah looked forward to a Servant who would bear the sin of His people (Isa. 53.6). Jesus died in the place of sinful humanity, as our substitute sin-bearer (Isa. 53.6; 2 Cor. 5.21; 1 Pt. 2.24) by becoming an atoning sacrifice for our sin (Heb. 9.6-15), which is due punishment. This sacrifice satisfies the just wrath of God against our sin (Rom. 3.25). This unique sacrifice provides the only ground for God’s saving work in an individual’s life (Jn. 14.6; Acts 4.12).

Saturday, January 5, 2008

How 'Bout Them 'Hawks!

Closer than it looked ... and closer than I liked it. Go 'Hawks!

Ordination #2, Art. 5d: The Solution to Sin

Because of the profound effects of sin, we are spiritually dead toward God and unable to pull ourselves from this sin-ravaged condition. It is impossible for us to please God while we are in our “flesh” (Rom. 8.8; Jn. 15.5). Good works may be done (parents give good gifts to children), but they are not meritorious to restoring our relationship with God (Isa. 64.6). Only through regeneration by the Holy Spirit can salvation and spiritual life be obtained (Eph. 2.1-5).

Friday, January 4, 2008

Ordination #2, Art. 5c: The Effects of Sin

Because of sin man is lost. Sin is universally extensive (all people sin), but it is also deeply intensive, happening at a deeper level than actions. It is an act of the entire person, total depravity. This doesn’t mean that man is as bad as he could be, or that he does every wicked thing possible, but that every part of one’s person is tainted by sin. The body is damaged by sin (Rom. 6.12); it is an issue of the heart (Jer. 17.9; Mt. 15.18-19); the mind and reason are part of the problem (Gen. 6.5; Prov. 15.26; 2 Cor. 3.14-15); emotions are corrupted (Rom. 1.26-27; Gal. 5.24); and, finally, the will is corrupted as we are slaves to sin (Rom. 6.17; 2 Tim. 2.25-26).

The effects of sin are devastating. Man’s relationship with God suffers just as it did with the first couple (Gen. 3.9-19). We are now objects of His wrath (Ex. 32.10-11; Rom. 1.18). We are objectively guilty of rejecting God’s design for us as His stewards (Gen. 1.28) by being unfaithful stewards (Gen. 3), ungrateful (Rom. 1.21), and lawbreakers (Rom. 1-2). Our lostness includes death – physical (Heb. 9.27; Rom. 5.12), spiritual – alienation from God (Gen. 3; Rom. 6.23), and eternal for those whose names are not found in the Book of Life (Rev. 20.13-14). The individual also suffers within themselves due to sin by increasingly becoming slaves to sin (Rom. 6.17), failure to take responsibility for one’s own sin (Gen. 3.12-13), self-deception (Jer. 17.9), and a hardening of conscience (1 Tim. 4.2). Sin also harms interpersonal relationships (James 4.1-2) and a lack of servanthood and humility that Jesus and Paul must instruct against (Mk. 10.45; Phil. 2.3-5). There is also a sense in which creation bears the weight of man’s sinful choices (Gen. 3; Rom. 8.18-25).

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Ordination #2, Art. 5b: Human Sin

Sin can be described in a variety of ways, but the common theme is falling short of God’s standard (Rom. 6.23). Sin is universal, both inherited through Adam (Rom. 5.12) and committed by each person, individually (Ps. 14.1, 3; Eph. 2.3; 1 Jn. 1.8-10). Because of man’s corrupted nature, we each have “flesh” that leads us toward sin and away from doing God’s will (Rom. 7.18; Gal. 5.16-24). While the devil may tempt, much of our sin problem arises from corrupt desires within us (James 1.14-15). Some desires are God-given and good, but we have a way of taking legitimate needs (enjoying things – Creation; obtaining things – stewardship; do things/achieve) and twisting them into “the lust of the flesh, lust of the eyes, and the pride of life” (1 Jn. 2.16).

Jesus also said “the world” hated Him and would hate us (Jn. 7.7). The world is a kind of impersonal spiritual force, or system, that is set against God (Jn. 14.17) and believers are to be set against it (James 4.4) by being salt and light within it (Mt. 5.16).