Tag Archives: Gospel

False Ideas Christians Believe About…Salvation

11 Jun

What happens when we die? Is there a way to know? In this post we are fact-checking phrases about salvation and the afterlife:

  1. We’re all God’s children.
  2. We need people to pray the Sinners’ Prayer.
  3. Jesus wants to live in your heart.
  4. I’m so sorry for your loss. Heaven must have needed another angel.

First, let’s consider the phrase: We’re all God’s children.

When I am writing these posts I have typed the phrase into a Google Image search just to see what results I get.  Sometimes I get a background picture that is useful.  I also often get surprising results.  When I typed the phrase, “We are all God’s Children” into the search bar, I discovered that a lot of people have been quoted as saying it. Dolly Parton.  Supreme Court Justice Brett Cavanaugh.  Politician JC Watts.  I wonder what they mean?

When we say, “We are all God’s children,” who is “we”?  All Christians?  Or all people everywhere? And what do we mean by “children”?  Are we simply talking about the theological principle that God is the creator, and in that sense he is the father of all?

It could be that the person making this statement is not talking at all about salvation and eternal family, but simply about the biblical teaching that all humans are created in the image of God. That is found Genesis 1:26, when God says, “Let us make man in our image and in our likeness.” 

In that sense all humans everywhere are created by God, made in his image, and therefore have equal value.  So there is a real way, and this is not just symbolic, in which we Christians can say that all humans are God’s children.  In God’s eyes we are all equally precious and valuable.  Even ISIS fighters, even child rapists, even your jerk neighbor, arrogant coworker, difficult family member or bully classmate.  Even the person across the your church sanctuary that you have a hard time with.  All are equals in God’s view.

But there is a Christian understanding of the family of God that is unique to Christian theology.  Jesus and his followers taught that there is a family of God that not everyone is a part of. 

In the Old Testament the Israelites were called the Children of God, which we saw in the Deuteronomy series.  Deuteronomy 14:1, for example, says that Israel were “the children of the Lord their God.”  But that was not a label that applied to all people at that time.  Israel had a special relationship with God.  They were in a covenant relationship.

In the New Testament we read that God has entered into a new covenant with the church, and thus God created a new family identity that people can be a part of.  But again, not all humans are automatically a part of this new family.

In John 1:1-14, John uses symbolic language to describe Jesus.  First he calls Jesus “The Word” and then he calls Jesus “The Light.”  Notice what John says in verse 7.  He says that John, and here he is talking about another John, John the Baptist, came to testify concerning this light, so that through the Light “all men might believe.”  That is key.  John is beginning to describe the new family. Clearly God wants all humanity to be a part of it. 

As the discussion continues, John says that the Light gives light to every man.  There again, it is for all humanity.  Every man.  And then in verses 10-11, John tells us that Jesus came into the world, to his own. Who were his own?  They are his original people, the people of Israel, the people with whom God had a covenant, just as we saw in Deuteronomy.  But there is a problem: those people, his family, the Jews, did not receive him, John tells us.  Thus God decided to create a new family, and a new way to become part of the family. 

Look at verses 12-13. John says that though the Jews did not receive Jesus, it is still possible to receive him and believe in him, and become part of his family.  We can become children of God.  Clearly John says that this new family is not about human genetics, or natural childbirth. The Old Covenant was like that.  You were a part of the Old Covenant as a Jew because you were genetically Jewish.  In the New Covenant, anyone can be part of God’s family, anyone can become a child of God, by receiving and believing in Jesus. 

One biblical metaphor for this is adoption.  We can be adopted into God’s family.  I’ve been at three adoption ceremonies over the last few years, and they are amazing.  There is incredible joy when a child becomes part of a family!  I sat in the courtroom three times just weeping with gratefulness.  That is what God has done for us! 

So let me reiterate.  God loves all.  Consider John 3:16: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only son, that whoever believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.” Also consider what Paul taught in 1 Timothy 2:4, that God wants all to be saved.  That 1 Timothy passage is so interesting because of its larger context.  In verse 1 he urges Christians to pray for and give thanksgiving for all people, even for kings and all those in authority.  Who was the king in authority when Paul wrote this?  The emperor Nero, who savagely persecuted Christians.  If you ever think that you can’t stand leaders in our country or other countries, imagine living in a country where the leader butchers Christians.  Pray for him?  Yup, Paul, says, because God desires that all would be saved!  Even those we hate.

But will all be saved?  We hold to the traditional teaching (as found in the EC Articles of Faith) of eternal destiny, that not all will be saved.  But God has loved us enough to make a way to be adopted into his family.  He has made a choice available.  The way to be saved came at the great cost of Jesus’ becoming one of us, giving his life for us.  So God shows us that he desperately wants us to be a part of his family. 

I recently heard a story about a man who grew up Muslim in Europe.  He said that he had a dream where Jesus came to him and called him to follow Jesus.  The man decided to follow Jesus.  You need to know the ramifications of that.  This man’s choice to follow Jesus meant that while he was becoming part of God’s family, he faced being shunned and threatened by his own earthly family.  But he received Jesus, believed in him, and followed Jesus.  He went on to start something like a hundred Christian churches, so that more people could be part of God’s family. 

But not all will choose to be adopted into God’s family.

Therefore, my conclusion about this phrase it that it needs some explaining: We are all God’s children, as he is creator of all, but all humans are not a part of the family of God that is the church. 

We’ve talked about receiving Jesus and believing in him, and that leads us to our next phrase.

What is “The Sinner’s Prayer”?  Some Christians have said that we need people to pray this prayer so that they can become part of God’s family.

I’ve heard it called the ABC prayer:  A – Admit that you are a sinner.  B – Believe that Jesus died and rose again to pay the penalty of our sin.  And C – Confess your faith in Jesus.  This is also sometimes connected to verses in Scripture, particularly in the letter to the Romans, called The Roman Road.  The letter A is supported by Romans 3:23, “For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.”  The letter B is supported by Romans 5:8, “While we were yet sinners Christ died for us.”  And the letter C is supported by Romans 10:9-10, “If you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”

So it sounds good, but is the Sinner’s Prayer in the Bible?  No. 

Wait. No?  How can you say, No, Joel? You just read all those verses from Romans that show it is in the Bible? 

Let me explain.  The ABC Prayer is not in the Bible, and it was created as a way to give people a method for starting a relationship with Jesus.  It is very easy to understand, and thus some have said that it is good for kids.  That very well may be true.  We should not, however, give kids or anyone, a false idea that all God wants them to do is say a prayer.  The Sinner’s Prayer might actually give them the wrong idea, as if God wants us to say certain words. 

So what does God want?  Is there one specific way that people come to follow and believe in Jesus?  No.  People through the ages have come to Christ in so many ways.  That is okay.  In the Bible we see many different ways that people come to believe in and follow God.  There is no one way.

I recently read the story of James Bryan Smith who, after reading a book by CS Lewis, came to believe in the resurrection of Jesus, and decided to follow Jesus.  He and his friends started reading the Gospels, and as a result their lives were changing.  Several of their friends also became Christians.

Then Smith met a guy in a college campus ministry who asked Smith if he ever prayed the Sinner’s Prayer.  He said he never heard of it.  The campus minister was aghast, and responded, “Well, then, you are not saved and doomed to hell.”  Smith explained how he had been reading the Gospels, how his life was changing and how he was interacting with Jesus every day. The campus minister said, “Nice story, but if you die tonight, you would go to hell.” 

Smith believed the campus minister, and prayed the prayer, and it seemed to him that this version of the Jesus story was all over the place.  It was a story of “rotten sinners, an angry God, a sacrificial Son, and the constant battle to make it to heaven in the end.”  One day, he says, he came to the realization that he hated being a Christian.  Clearly the Sinner’s Prayer was detrimental to Smith. I would suggest that it has been likewise for many others, misleading them about what it means to be in relationship with Jesus.

So if it is not a Sinner’s Prayer, where can we go in the Bible to guide into understanding what it means to begin a relationship with Jesus?

I would recommend that we look at Jesus, and his approach to the disciples.  Remember how he started his relationship with them?  He said two words: “Follow me.”  That was it.  The concept of “believe in me” was a part of his teaching to the disciples, as we see that especially in the Gospel of John.  The disciples’ true belief in Jesus, however, only came after the resurrection.  Three years of ministry later! 

Think about it.  Through the three years they followed Jesus, during which time they were doing all the work of ministry: healing, exorcism, preaching, but they still didn’t fully believe.  How do we know this?  Because when the end came, at his arrest in the Garden, what do we see?  Judas betrayed him, Peter, the leader who boldly proclaimed belief just a few hours before, ended up denying him three times, and all the rest ran away in fear.  It was after Jesus’ resurrection when their belief was solidified, and they never turned back, even giving their lives sacrificially to follow him.  What that means is that for the disciples, following Jesus came first, believing in him came second.

We so often have it the other way around.  Smith said this: “The central question of the gospel is not how can I be saved, but who is Jesus?  Your relationship to Jesus unleashes redemptive power.  I hear people say, ‘We need to get people to make a commitment to Jesus.’ My response always is, ‘We need to get people to know Jesus.’  If they come to know Jesus, in his beauty, goodness and truth, they will naturally make a commitment to him.”

We don’t need people to pray the Sinner’s Prayer, we need to get them to learn who Jesus truly is.  Smith again summarizes Jesus’ mission in a way that I find so compelling: “The Christian story is not primarily about how God in Jesus came to rescue sinners from some impending disaster.  It is about God’s work of initiating us into a fellowship and making us true conversation partners with the Father and the Son through the Spirit, and hence with each other.” 

In other words, there are many ways to come to Jesus, and one way is not better than the other.  It could be a Sinner’s Prayer moment in Sunday School. But it could also be through dreams.  For some it is a slow life-long process of parents and churches investing in their kids.

Do we need a specific date that we prayed a prayer?  No.  Do we need specific words of prayer?  No. 

We can place too much emphasis on a prayer, date, event.  But maybe you’re wondering, what about the needed emphasis on evidence of a real relationship?  Jesus once taught, “By your fruit you will know them.”  What he meant was that a real relationship with Jesus will be evidenced by what comes out of our lives.  You know it is an apple tree because it has apples growing out of it.  As Paul said in Galatians 5, walk in the Spirit, and the fruit of the Spirit will come out of your life.

What does that mean?  Walk in the Spirit? Well, it relates to the next phrase we are fact-checking.

Turn to Ephesians 3:16-17 and you’ll read Paul say, “I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith.”

There it is. This phrase is right out of the Bible. But what is this talking about?  Our actual heart?  Our blood pumper? 

No.  The heart is symbol for the center of our will and emotion.

What this means is that Jesus with us.  This idea pops up in many places in Scripture:

John 14:23 – If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.

Romans 5:5 – And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.

Galatians 2:20 – I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

But what does this mean?  In what way does Jesus live in us?  It is a strange concept to think about Jesus being in our hearts, so this phrase needs some explaining.

Paul taught in 1 Corinthians 6 that our body is the Temple of Spirit.  In the Old Covenant, the presence of God resided in a physical building, the tabernacle, and then eventually the temple in Jerusalem.  But in the New Covenant, God’s Spirit resides in us. 

God no longer resides in a building! 

Think about that.  God, through his Spirit, wants to live with you!  Amazing, isn’t it.  God created us to have fellowship with him and wants to be so close to us.  He loves us, and went to such great lengths to be with us.  “God with us” means that he wants to make his home with us for the purpose of human flourishing.

It is vital for us, then, to learn to walk in step with the Holy Spirit who lives with us.  How often do you think about the Holy Spirit throughout the day?  What could it look like for you to talk with him, listen to him, allowing him to shape you more and more to look like Jesus when Jesus lived on earth?  It means we must give attention to our lives, our choices, our thoughts.  We must give time to practice developing our relationship with God. 

There are habits and practices that we can add to our lives to grow our relationship with God. I would encourage to search this blog for posts like this one that talk about spiritual practices.

Now we have come to the final phrase we’re fact-checking, and it relates to our relationship with God after death. 

This is expressed so often in the context of grief, such as loss of a loved one.  It sounds like a sweet statement.  But at deeper glance, this one has some concerns.

First of all, it can make God the bad guy for taking a life. “Heaven needed?”  It seems to say that the person who passed away is now serving a higher purpose.  But does God take people out of their earthly existence because they are needed in heaven?   There is no biblical teaching to support this idea, and it is dangerous to depict God that way. 

But what about the rest of the phrase?  Do humans turn into angels when we die?  What is the biblical teaching on angels?

Angels are super popular in our culture.  Hebrews 1:14 gives maybe the best description: “they are ministering spirits sent to serve those (us) who inherit salvation.”  Throughout the Bible, angels are messengers.  Psalm 91:11 is where we get the idea of angels protecting humans.  Psalm 34:7 is another similar reference.  But I would strongly caution us to avoid the idea of individual guardian angels, as if we have an angel assigned specifically to us.  The psalms are poetic, and that means they use symbolic or figurative language that should not be interpreted as teaching scientific fact.

In my opinion, this is not a major point of theology, and as a result, it is one that I do not hold with a tight grip.  The angelic realm is just too mysterious in biblical teaching, I think, for us to be certain of much.  So please know I don’t mean to come across as dogmatic.

So back to the phrase we are fact-checking.  It raises another question: what does happen when we die?

Paul teaches in 1 Corinthians 15 that Christians who die will be given new bodies.  But those new spiritual bodies are not the same as angels.  Quite frankly we don’t precisely how a human spiritual body might differ from an angelic body.  What we do know is that angels and humans are different creations. 

Humans who die and are given new spiritual bodies, however, are still humans. 

My conclusion is that the phrase “heaven must have needed another angel” is not true, if the person saying the phrase means that humans transform into angels.  If the person saying the phrase means “angel” in the symbolic sense, though, referring to humans who are in heaven, then that is totally in keeping with biblical teaching.

I think that a better question to consider is: What should we say when people are experiencing grief?

The reality is that in moments of grief, when we don’t know what to say, but we think we have to say something, what comes out can be word vomit.  In those moments we can utter really bad theology.  What we should do is say nothing and just hug them and express our love and concerns. 

I recently heard an interview of the man who has handled settlements for many of our national tragedies.  After 9/11, he was responsible to divvy out money to families that had lost loved ones.  As he met with families, one time he tried to express empathy, and said “I know what you are going through.”  The family looked back at him across the desk, and said, “You have no idea what we’re going through.”  He never said that again.

Our hearts are in the right place when we are counseling people in their time of grief, and we so desperately want to make it better.  But we need to use self-control and not just let words out.  Also when you are the one grieving, and people say ridiculous stuff to you, I know it is hard in that moment of pain, but we can be gracious to them, and remember that they are just trying to help. 

Remember that grief takes time, and is unique to each situation. So when it comes to salvation and the afterlife, we can praise God that he has made a way for us to be in his family.  Let us be a people that warmly, graciously invite people to get to know Jesus.

Here’s how Christians should be strangers and aliens

15 Jun

Photo by Sam Wermut on Unsplash

Hey Christians, you should be different! You should be strangers and aliens, and it should show.  It should be obvious.

A couple days ago I talked about my boys’ mugshots when we were immigrating to Jamaica.  We lived in Kingston, the capital of Jamaica, for a year from 2000-2001, and there were so many moments when we felt like strangers and aliens.  I’ll pick one moment in honor of the World Cup starting yesterday.  The USA men’s soccer team was coming to Kingston in 2001 to play a World Cup qualifying match against the Jamaican team.  The guy who served as our money-changer had connections, and invited Michelle and me to join him at the game!  I was so excited, but also nervous.  This is crime-ridden Kingston we’re talking about.  Not to mention that Jamaicans are incredibly passionate about soccer.  Would we face any backlash?

I wondered if I should wear my US National Team jersey and wave an American flag, or maybe that would be a bad idea?  I decided against the jersey and flag, but Michelle and I wore a bit of red, white and blue.  Before we got anywhere close to the stadium, just driving through the city, people everywhere were wearing Jamaican colors, yellow, green and black.  Most of them weren’t even going to the game.  Then when we arrived at the stadium, it was a sea of Jamaican supporters.  In a crowd of about 20,000, we saw 1 or 2 other American supporters.  I really felt like a stranger.  It was obvious.  There was no mistaking who the Americans were.

That’s how Christians should be.  Easily visible.  But not in the way you think.  As Peter shows us in 1st Peter 1:17-21 and 2:11-12 there are some really surprising ways that Christians should make it known that we are different.

As we have been saying all week, Peter teaches that the first thing we should do is say or believe that, “As a Christian, I am not ultimately a citizen of an earthly country, I am a citizen of God’s Kingdom.” Second, we need to leave behind the empty way of life and live according the principles of the country to which we are actually citizens, God’s country, the Kingdom of Heaven.  Peter continues this line of thought in 2:11, “As aliens and strangers in the world, abstain from sinful desires.”

Why? “Live such good lives among the pagans”, Peter adds in 2:12, “that though they accuse you of doing wrong…”  Wait! Stop there.  Doing wrong sounds contradictory to “abstaining from sinful desires.”  What were the Christians doing wrong?  What were the people in their culture accusing the Christians of doing?

One historian describes what was going on when Peter wrote this.  “In the middle of the first century, Christians were a distinct minority and often were the object of slander and subsequent persecution. For example, because of their refusal to participate in emperor worship, they faced false accusations that often resulted in suffering and death. To suppress the rumor that he himself had put the city to the torch, Nero blamed the Christians for the burning of Rome. He made Christians scapegoats by slandering and persecuting them.”[1]

When the Roman Emperor said “You must worship me as Lord,” the Christians responded with, “Jesus is Lord.”  And that didn’t go over very well.  Those Christians were citizens of a greater king and a greater kingdom, and that meant they were strangers in Roman Empire.  They were different.

Christians live a different way, and sometimes that way forces us to choose between living the way of God’s Kingdom or living by the way of our earthly society.  If we choose the way of the Kingdom, we can face social and economic difficulties, stemming from shunning, slander, and lack of opportunity which can really affect checkbooks.  Christians should look different!  The way of life in the Kingdom of Jesus is different than the way of life on earth.  We will stand out.

We watched a movie last night where the main character and his boss worked for the CIA and they were trying to get information from a Saudi banker.  So they got him really drunk, left the restaurant and took his keys to go get his car.  The Saudi guy is protesting that he is fine, he can drive.  Clearly, though, he is in no condition to be driving.  Then the CIA boss pulls the main character aside and says, “Let’s put the Saudi in his car, and let him start driving home.  Then we’ll call the police and report a drunk driver.  The police will catch him, he’ll go to jail, we can step in, and he’ll owe us.”  The main character can’t believe it.  His boss is about to put the Saudi guy’s life in danger, as well as anyone else on the road, for as long as it takes the police to track him down.  It is wrong!  So he stands up to his boss.

How about you?  Christians live differently.  We live based on the principles of our true nation, the way of the Kingdom of Jesus.  That could very well mean that we will feel like strangers here.  But that is as it should be.  Because we are strangers here.  We live differently!

Live such good lives among them, Peter says, that they will see your good deeds. This is why Faith Church has been so passionate about being involved in our community.  Whether it is serving meals through the Summer Lunch Club or packing shoeboxes with helpful items for children in need around the world, I am so proud of how Faith Church gives and gives!  I could list ten other ways we as a church are trying to follow the way of the Kingdom of Jesus.

But I want to conclude by focusing individually.  What will it look like for you, Christian, to live as a stranger here in reverent fear?

How are you living in your neighborhood?  In your work?  In the places in the community where you associate with people who are not followers of Jesus.

In school?  On sports teams?  Volunteering?

Are the people around you saying of you “Wow, they are living such good lives!”

And by “good lives” Paul is not talking about the American good life of wealth and entertainment, but allowing the Holy Spirit to so transform you from the inside out that his fruit is flowing out of you.  The Spirit’s gentleness, kindness, love, patience, etc., should be very evident in our lives.

So pray for the people around you. Love them. Serve them sacrificially.

Talk with your neighbors.  Listen to them. Take an interest in them.  Even if they don’t reciprocate!  Look for the outcast and love them.  Make a special effort to include those who are not included, the lonely, the new person, the person from a different ethnicity.

If asked by your friends at school to help them cheat on a test, graciously say “no thank you,” even if it means they might be upset at you or make fun of you.

When part of a group at work or school or in a mom’s group that is shunning someone who is awkward or shy or poor or quiet, don’t go along with the group, but instead strive to include the outcast.

I experienced this recently at my daughter’s elementary school Fun Fair a few weeks ago.  My daughter  ditched me quickly to hang out with friends, except when she wanted money to buy food.  So I hung out with friends from church for a while.  Then when they were talking with some other friends, I went to get french fries.  On the way to the french fry stand, I spotted a bunch of soccer parents.  This would be the equivalent of the adult cool crowd.  They’ve all been friends for a number of years as their daughters have been on the team longer than mine.  And many live in a neighborhood together.  I felt within me those feelings I felt many years ago in high school, wanting to be accepted, to be part of the crowd.

Then I spotted another guy standing all by himself.  Another dad.  I’ve talked with him numerous times because his daughter and mine were in the same class together a few years ago. He is a different ethnicity than me.  Talking with him wouldn’t help me get more in with the in crowd.

As a follower of Jesus, I am stranger here, a citizen of Jesus’ Kingdom.  And we do things differently.  So I went over and spent the next 20 minutes or so having a great conversation with that dad.

We Christians live different.  You might be made fun of.  You might take flak.  Know that you are living by the way of your true home.  You are a stranger here, an alien, and your true home is the Kingdom of Heaven.  People will notice.  By living such good lives among them, people will notice.  You will be laying a foundation of preaching the gospel by doing good, by living good, that you will earn the right to preach the good news of Jesus in words.

[1] Kistemaker, Simon J., and William Hendriksen. Exposition of the Epistles of Peter and the Epistle of Jude. Vol. 16. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1953–2001. Print. New Testament Commentary.

What does God say about race and diversity?

22 Sep

Image result for sermons on race relations

This weekend my sermon is about race.  Our sermon series is called Life in These United States, and we’re talking about what everyone is talking about.  Race relations have been in the news a lot in recent years, and again this week there have been two shootings of black men by police officers.  These shootings have been highlighted by the National Anthem protest that some professional athletes are enacting.  These athletes are not standing during the playing of the Anthem in order to draw attention to the plight of shooting victims across the country.

The ensuing conversation has been difficult and divisive.  There are so many questions.

Can we support the playing of the Anthem while at the same time still supporting those who choose not to stand and their cause?

Can we support the mission of police officers to provide law and order while at the same time supporting the reality of racial profiling and needless killings?

What can we do to bring peace and justice?  What is a proper Christian response?  It would seem the answers should be easy to conceptualize and apply, so why are we having such a hard time?

What is it about race and ethnicity and diversity and our innermost prejudices that makes this situation so difficult?

And bringing it closer to home, what about the church?  Do we have racial tension and prejudice in our Christian fellowships?  Martin Luther King Jr. said in 1963,

“We must face the fact that in America, the church is still the most segregated major institution in America. At 11:00 on Sunday morning when we stand and sing and Christ has no east or west, we stand at the most segregated hour in this nation. This is tragic.”

Is this still true today? A recent Lifeway study indicated that 86% of churches are primarily comprised of one racial group.  And that is the case 50 years after King made that statement!  Again I ask, is something wrong?  The same study also suggests that most churchgoers find this segregation in worship to be OK.  The school district in which my family lives and in which our church is located, is comprised of about one-third ethnic minorities.  The congregation of Faith Church is closer to 5%.  Is this OK?

What does the Bible have to say about this?  What can we do?

Join us Sunday at Faith Church, as we seek to faithfully discuss race and the Bible.

What in the world is Christian “outreach”?

12 Aug

It has been a few years, but for a long time every fall Faith Church held a Harvest Bazaar.  Before that it was called a Christmas Bazaar.  Many people in our congregation would cook up a storm in their kitchens, creating delicacies for the bake shop.  Others would staff the snack shop, making amazing chicken soup.  Still others would be hard at work crafting and donating and volunteering and we would have numerous rooms in our church building filled with items that people could buy as Christmas gifts.  And buy they did!  We would often raise $2500 or more from the Bazaar.  But why would we do this?  It was a lot of work!

Our congregation initiated the Bazaar decades ago as a fundraiser to pay off the debt we owed on our building.  Eventually we did pay off the debt.  I still remember the mortgage burning ceremony.  We have had memorable experiences with fire in our sanctuary, such as when the Advent wreath caught fire!  But I’m talking about the time when we had paid off the mortgage to the most recent expansion to the building, and we celebrating by burning the mortgage documents in a bowl during a worship service.

Though the mortgage was paid off, we kept having the Bazaar for a number of years.  Now we decided that the proceeds of the Bazaar would be directed to the Building Fund and to support missionaries.  Both good causes.  And yet there was discussion about whether or not we should keep having the Bazaar.  Was its purpose completed?  People had numerous points of view, both pros and cons.  It took a lot of work, and people were getting burned out.  So we eventually slowed down our pace to holding the Bazaar every other year.  The last time we held a Bazaar was three or four years ago, and we have no plans for another.

At one point there was a suggestion made in favor of continuing the Bazaar saying that the Bazaar was an outreach.  How was it an outreach?  Well, didn’t it bring people from the community into our building?  It did.  That is true.  Probably hundreds of people in the community would stop in, look over items, eat food, and buy stuff.  But just because they came into the building could we say that qualifies as outreach?

We’ve heard this before about the Youth Chicken BBQ we hold every spring.  People say that not only does the BBQ raise money for our youth group, it also has an outreach element to it.  We’ve heard this about pretty much anything we do that brings people into the building.  By holding an event or program for which they walk through the doors of the church building, it is reasoned, we are reaching out to them.  We have done this quite a bit over the years:  Ballroom Dance Classes, Vacation Bible School, Trunk or Treat, Concerts, Breakfasts and now most recently Summer Lunch Club.

In our recent history this approach is how we have thought about outreach.  Is that outreach?  What should outreach be?  And before we can answer those questions, should we not ask the questions behind the question?  Why do we do outreach?  Should we do outreach at all?  We should have solid reasons for why or how we do outreach before we start outreach.  But do we have solid reasons?

Join us at Faith Church this Sunday August 14 as we seek to answer these questions.

Telling your story is more important than you think

13 Jun

Hey Christian, you are witnesses of these things!

Last week on the sermon intro blog post, I suggested that one bit of Christian lingo, the word “witness,” might not mean what you think it means.

So what does “witness” mean?  Jesus says in Luke 24:36-53, that his disciples are all witnesses.

They watched his life unfold before their very eyes.  A witness is one who sees something.  In a court of law a witness tells the judge and jury what they saw.  Those disciples saw Jesus.  They witnessed his words, his works and his way.

In the same you, too, are witnesses of Jesus’ words, works and way.

In this teaching series through the book of Luke, you have had the opportunity to observe Jesus very closely.  What have you seen?

In your life, you have been able to see how God has been at work over the years.  What have you seen?

You are witnesses of these things.  Tell the story!  A witness tells the story of what they have seen.

Nike has an advertising campaign that could just as easily apply to disciples of Jesus.  I love to tell the stories of athletes and their amazing accomplishments.  I don’t know, but they get me fired up.  I witness their performance and it amazes me and I want to talk about it.  Mostly because I have played those sports many times and I know how hard it is to do what they do.

But we disciples of Jesus are witnesses of something much greater, a performance much more significant and amazing.  We are witnesses of Jesus.  His words, works and way.  We are witnesses of his life, death and resurrection, not with our eyes, but through the transformation that he has worked in our lives.  We have a story to tell!

Be ready, Jesus tells us.  At all times.  To be the best, caring, loving, gracious, fun, encouraging, helpful, friend you can be, because that too tells a story in an of itself.

And know that your story doesn’t have to be a lightning bolt or thunderclap of adventure.  Your story doesn’t have to be perfect.  Actually, it shouldn’t be perfect because none of us is perfect.  Our story includes the foibles of life.  And our story features God’s love and grace in midst of them.

Be ready.  When Jesus says that we are witnesses, we are!  We have seen him at work in our lives, and thus we tell the story of what we have seen him do.  You don’t have to memorize 10 Bible verses and some really specific sales pitch to try to get people to follow Jesus.  Instead, you are witnesses.  You tell the story of God at work in your life.  You tell the story of Jesus, his words, works and way.

How are you telling your story?

Woe to you, Christians – Part 2 – How to stop the two main things that will cause your death

11 Nov

Imagine you have been invited to your pastor’s house for dinner and some leaders of the church are there.  It is a nice meal with pleasant dinner conversation.

Do you think you would take this time to point out all the things you didn’t like about the people around the table?

Some of you might!  Some would be mortified of doing that.

Jesus, in Luke 11:37-56 was invited to dinner with a Pharisee, and an expert in the Law was there.  Before dinner Jesus chose to forgo the traditional washing, and the Pharisee noticed and was surprised.  Jesus saw this as a cultural open door, and stormed through it.   Over the course of the next few minutes he proceeds to insult the Pharisees and Law Experts, using a prophetic Woe Oracle against them.  I introduced the concept of a Woe Oracle last week.  Woe Oracles used funeral language to proclaim “if you keep doing what you’re doing, you will die!”

I also said last week that perhaps the American Church would do well to listen in to this sharp conversation.  Stats have been telling us that we are declining.  Maybe there is something that Jesus was saying to the religious leaders of his day that could help us avoid death in our day.

So what were the Pharisees and Law Experts doing that was so wrong?  Two things.  They were being hypocritical and legalistic.  Read through the Woes again and you’ll see how they were not practicing what they were preaching (hypocrisy), and they were burdening people with extra laws (legalism).

Is it possible that the decline of the American Church is attributable, at least partially, to our own hypocrisy and legalism?

I know this is a difficult passage. These are hard and harsh words from Jesus. He is speaking to those who are living a lifestyle of hypocrisy.  I know that we are not the Pharisees, but don’t we all have areas of hypocrisy?  I know not too many of us are living lifestyles of complete and total legalism, but I don’t want to let us off the hook here either.  Instead I think we all should wrestle with a passage like this.  We are disciples of Jesus.  And Jesus certainly called out his disciples, who had areas of struggle, many times, just as he is calling out the teachers of the law here.  I think it is always good for us, as people who are disciples of Jesus, who desire to make our hearts more and more like the heart of Jesus, to take a hard and honest look at ourselves and see what areas we have improved in and what areas we still need to work on. We should always have teachable hearts, ready to make changes and to do the hard work to change attitudes that work themselves out into our actions.

To use the language of the parable Jesus told to the Pharisee, in what areas are we clean cups on the outside and filthy on the inside?  Are we living secret lives?  Are we hypocritical in any way? We need to get that out in the open, confess it, and change.

This does not mean that you need to be proclaiming all your junk to the public all the time – that is not what I am saying. I am saying that our hearts should be beating like Jesus and that will naturally overflow into our actions.

Additionally, we need to address any potential legalism in our lives.  If the Gospel is about grace through faith, not by works, we can hinder people from the Gospel by emphasizing rules.

Do we believe that following these rules define us as a Christian? If so, is it possible that we have led people astray by communicating to them the perception that they, too, if they want to be a Christian must follow those rules?

Let me give you an illustration. In the early church, in Acts chapter 15, the leaders of the church called a conference. At this point the church was maybe 10 years old or so, and it had grown a lot from the original 120 who started out. Guys like Paul and Barnabas had gone on mission trips and non-Jews from outside Israel had become Christians. Some of the Jewish Christians, including some Pharisees who became Christians, heard about these non-Jews becoming disciples of Jesus, and while they were happy, they felt that the non-Jews needed to start following the Old Testament Jewish Laws now. Especially the law of circumcision. Imagine that. These Jewish Christians felt that adult male non-Jews needed to be circumcised! Ouch!

Paul was totally against this. He argued that the message of Jesus was that the Old Testament Law was fulfilled in Jesus, and that Christians, disciples of Jesus, didn’t have to follow those Laws. Those Laws were essentially the treaty or the covenant between God and Israel, not between God and the church. Paul was right, and thankfully the leaders saw things Paul’s way and they did not require the non-Jewish disciples to get surgery. Whew.

Just like them, let us not put rules and regulations in place of faith in Christ and a life of discipleship!  What defines us as a Christian is that we have hearts that beat for the Lord. That we are his disciples, and our lives are totally arranged about being a disciple who makes disciples.

So in conclusion, the message of Jesus’ Woe Oracle to the Pharisees and teacher of the law is that we should remove hypocrisy and legalism from our lives. We should not be one person on Sunday at church and someone very different in our private lives.

Have you heard the story of the police officer who recently committed suicide because he had a double life? Two sets of families?  We don’t ever want to hear Jesus say Woe to you Church, and that means we should live a life fully for him. Ask him to reveal any hypocrisy in your life. And then remove it.

If there are rules you are imposing on others, maybe even unwittingly, would ask God to reveal them to you, so you can present a pure Gospel and not trip people up on legalism?

How to escape the crushing busyness of life, Part 2 – The Solution

21 Oct

So last week I introduced the sermon from Luke 10:38-42 by asking if you feel defeated by the busyness of life?  Do you feel that way?  Do you wish you could escape the busyness, find some freedom, some space some peace?  As we looked at the story of two sisters, Mary and Martha, Jesus taught us how to find that space and peace.

What we learned is that Martha was distracted by the busyness of life, by lesser things. Not bad things, but lesser things. Houses need to be cleaned and cared for. Cars need to be maintained. These are important things. But like Martha, these things can distract us to the point of being overburdened and anxious. But there is something greater. That something greater is making space for Jesus in our lives.

Jesus said that Martha was worried and anxious over lesser things, and that Mary had made the right choice by focusing on learning from Jesus.

Jesus tells Martha that Mary chose better, and that will not be taken from her.

How many of you have desired to grow closer in your relationship with Jesus, but you’ve thought “I can read more from the Bible, when the kids are out of the house. When school is done. When the big project at work is finished. When the project at home is done. In the winter when there is no yard work.”???

We have great plans for growing in our relationship with Jesus, and yet we put it off. We can be distracted by lesser things. How many of you watch spend lots of time watching shows on Netflix or TV, but barely give any time to reading the Bible. Sitting at Jesus’ feet? Listening to him?

How many of you spend loads of time on Facebook or Twitter or Instagram or Snapchat, but the Bible app goes unused?

Are you distracted? Are you over burdened? What are you doing with those burdens?

Are you more like Martha or Mary? Again Jesus says that Mary chose better.

So how do we change? We have to actually do something. We have to choose better. We have to make changes. We talk a lot about these things. We talk about not wanting to become legalistic, and so then we do very little. But we can joyously, graciously, non-legalistically change how we spend our time so that we sit at Jesus’ feet more and more often.

It could mean lowering your standards for how clean your house needs to be so that you can free up time in your life to spend with Jesus.

It could mean less TV and more time reading your Bible.

It could mean, like the guy in the video last week suggested, changing how busy your family is, particularly how much the kids are involved in. Less running around can mean more free time for family and Jesus.

As a family, make it a priority to have dinner together.   And bring God into that. In our house that means pulling out the Bible and reading a chapter after dinner. It’s nothing fancy. Usually we don’t discuss the chapter.  I just read.  One small piece of advice I would recommend is that you use a contemporary translation. I use The Message version because it is so readable and easy to understand.

Finally, make participation in worship, Sunday School and small group a priority for your family. It is in those times where we gather together with a community of believers to hear from the Lord together.