13 June, 2011

Peter ain't no dummy!

As is common, my mind took a leisurely stroll through a tangential thought during church yesterday.  I can, therefore, only tell you what the first half of the sermon was about.  As for the second half, I learned what a "commoner" can do for the kingdom when he knows his bible!  In Acts 4, Peter and John are arrested for "proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection from the dead."  After spending the night in what was surely less than an ideal establishment, the two were brought before "the rulers, the elders and the teachers of the law . . . Annas the high priest was there, and so were Caiaphas, John, Alexander, and other's of the high priests family."  (Seriously, you know they have to be getting tired of this!  This Jesus character just won't leave them alone!)  I wonder, as Luke is writing, if he's going back to Jesus' trial, when the high priest questioned Him.  Jesus asked them why they didn't arrest him in the temple courts, and perhaps the high priest remembered that because they weren't making that mistake again.  They nabbed Peter and John as quickly as they could.  The morning after the arrest, which was also the day after Peter healed a lame beggar and the spark which lit the fire, they asked, "By what power or what name did you do this?"  No denying the healing, they knew the man, they knew he couldn't walk, but they saw him walk (dance, rather) right into the temple courts.
And Peter answered them, "Rulers and elders of the people!"  (Okay, just a note here, Peter has no problem going straight up the the CEO and VP's of the establishment with his claims of truth.  A measure of boldness professionals in the world have a hard time finding...this one included) "If we are being called to account today for an act of kindness shown to a man who was lame and being asked how he was healed, then know this..It was God."  No, that's not what he said.  The last three lines there, that's a cop-out.  He knows they believe in God and he knows they believe God performs miracles.  No, Peter cinches up his belt, takes another dose of boldness and basically says, "if we're being called to account for how we were nice to a lame man, then I am going to tell you what REALLY matters!"  Instead of simply explaining the miracle, he takes the opportunity to preach the gospel.  To Peter, the miracle is only the sign, and the real efficacy is in the proclamation of the name above all names.  The real quote goes like this,
"Rulers and elders of the people!  If we are being called to account today for an act of kindness shown to a man who was lame and being asked how he was healed, then know this, you and all the people of Israel:  It is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth (that name stings the high priest), whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead, that this man stands before you healed. Jesus is 'the stone the builders rejected, which has become the cornerstone.'  Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved."
After he says this, the high priests, the "mega-church seminarian PhD's" realized that they hadn't been to school and that they were ordinary commoners and were "astonished."  What did Peter say?  He quoted a portion of Psalm 118.  It's Psalm about the salvation of Israel, and Peter knows this.  He ties that point in at the end of his quote.  But more importantly are the overtones of what he was saying.  The Psalm mentions the sons of Aaron (priests) directly, that they should praise the love of the Lord.  He then links Jesus directly to the Psalm as being the cornerstone of salvation and in whom they should rejoice.  But Peter is indicating that maybe not all are rejoicing (sons of Aaron), that maybe there are some present who are directly responsible for "rejecting the stone" (sons of Aaron).  His claims are bold.  His claims are right on!  And the priests cannot take them on biblically.  Peter knows too much, but more importantly, "because they could see the man who had been healed standing there with them, there was nothing they could say."  
Peter's boldness and his knowledge of scripture shut the mouths of  the learned leaders.  He "astonished" them being common and "unlearned."  But Peter knew his bible.  He ain't no dummy.  Along with boldness it is a vital cog in the wheel of evangelism.  But what the high priest and elders saw, the one thing that stopped them short of doing anything at all, was the fact that a lame man was standing before them.  The healing work of Christ cannot be denied.  When Jesus does work in the life of a person, that person then becomes a witness who bears testimony to the power of the resurrected Lord.  Just as Peter said.  We, like Peter need to know and understand our bibles that we may give answer in a time of question.  We must also be bold like Peter, not backing down from the powerful in this world but holding fast that the truth of the Gospel holds the real power.  But we must not hold those above the actual healing power and work of our Savior.  He and He alone heals.  He and He alone saves.  Just as it says in Psalms so Peter says....and so should we.     

25 May, 2011

Light and Darkness: Mutually Exclusive

“And God saw the light, that it was good: and God divided the light from the darkness.”

Charles Spurgeon on Light and Darkness:
“Let there be light.” We who enjoy it should be more grateful for it than we are, and see more of God in it and by it. Light physical is said by Solomon to be sweet, but gospel light is infinitely more precious, for it reveals eternal things, and ministers to our immortal natures. When the Holy Spirit gives us spiritual light, and opens our eyes to behold the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ, we behold sin in its true colours, and ourselves in our real position; we see the Most Holy God as he reveals himself, the plan of mercy as he propounds it, and the world to come as the Word describes it."
The way that we can identify dark sin in our lives is by looking at the light and those things which reflect the light.  Scripture, prayer, fellowship, love...by immersing ourselves in these things the light can do nothing other than expose the dark, wipe away the shadows, and show us all that is good.  As Romans 12 states, "prove what the good, acceptable, perfect will of God."
"Light and darkness have no communion; God has divided them, let us not confound them. Sons of light must not have fellowship with deeds, doctrines, or deceits of darkness. The children of the day must be sober, honest, and bold in their Lord’s work, leaving the works of darkness to those who shall dwell in it forever. Our Churches should by discipline divide the light from the darkness, and we should by our distinct separation from the world do the same. In judgment, in action, in hearing, in teaching, in association, we must discern between the precious and the vile, and maintain the great distinction which the Lord made upon the world’s first day."
The church who does not divide the darkness from the light in both doctrine and deed partner with darkness and do not advance the kingdom of light.  We cannot, as Christians, participate in darkness and expect the light of Christ to advance in this world, they are mutually exclusive and have been since creation. "God is light, and in Him there is no darkness at all." (1 John 1:5) At creation God showed us that it is by Him and in Him that light dispels darkness.  He is our beacon and our sun and He has given to the church the humble and glorious responsibility of reflecting the light of Christ in this dark world.
"O Lord Jesus, be thou our light throughout the whole of this day, for thy light is the light of men."


25 April, 2011

Thoughts on Easter pt. 4 "The Cross as Life"

Easter means life. It is the Christian’s time to celebrate victory over death! And not only do we celebrate Jesus’ own resurrection, but ours as well. Both spiritually in the new birth and also our future hope when all sin, sickness, death and decay will be done away with once and for all. As we look forward to that great and glorious day, we can truly live now in the life that Jesus gives us. The life that he received after his faithful obedience at the cross God also freely gives to us, that we may live like Jesus.

Paul, wrapping up his “death to self” theme to the Philippians writes, “Yet whatever gains I had, these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ. More than that, I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but one that comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God based on faith. I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death, if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead.” (Phil. 3:7-11)

Here we see Paul sum up how he views his own life by considering all that he has rights to as “rubbish” (the stronger, more appropriate word actually used here by Paul we’ll leave off…let’s just say we shouldn’t use it in this setting). We see evident in his life that he has “suffered the loss of all things…in order that [he] may gain Christ.” The voluntary laying down of rights is the cruciform life Paul entreats each of us to live. But to what end?

First, that we may know Christ. In Paul’s mind, to “know” Christ is to take up the mind and life of Christ. Sacrificial love and wisdom are necessary to genuinely know Christ, here and now.

Second, in addition to knowing Christ he desires to know “the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death.”   As we have seen in the previous 3 posts, time and time again Paul’s gaze is toward the cross. Even to know “the power of His resurrection” he becomes like Him in His death. Resurrection life, Jesus’ way of kingdom living, is done by dying!   In short...the more we live like Christ, the more we are conformed to his death, the more we willingly lay down toward the goal of Christ and His kingdom, then the more we will live the life of the resurrection.  They go, unswervingly, hand in hand.

The power of the cross for all that we do is in dying to ourselves and our rights.  The wisdom of the cross tells us that we must have the same mind of Christ, one of sacrificial living.  The love of the cross is demonstrated through us to the world as we imitate the demonstration of God's love towards us....the cross.  And finally, in all of these, we see the power of the resurrection.  The power of new life being poured into earthen vessels, the wisdom for decisions and right, kingdom living, and the love which fulfills the law of Christ.  These are the resurrection life, here and now.

"For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall be also in the likeness of His resurrection." Romans 6:5  

24 April, 2011

Thoughts on Easter pt. 3 "The Cross as Love"

Perhaps no other emotion has evoked such a response as has love.  It's needless to recount the endless numbers of poets, musicians, historians, myths, legends, and stories that tell us of all the ways love has affected us, for good and for bad.  One thing is fairly obvious, though (in my estimation) . . . love is misunderstood.  For most it is an emotion; a feeling or series of feelings that we have toward another person or thing.  When we say, "I love you," it generally is meant as a feeling toward something and the hope is that the response will be feelings returned.  Romance and it's cousins indeed play a part in love and most men will tell you that if it does not play a part things can go very badly, very quickly.  But feelings are not the starting or ending point of love.  They are not the basis of love, but can be some of the byproducts of love done right?
What then is love?  Our love for God and each other is demonstrated for us, and should find its basis in, the cross.  Paul writes in his letter to the Romans, "one will hardly die for a righteous man; though perhaps for the good man someone would even dare to die.  But God demonstrates his own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us." (5:7-8)  We sinners, vile and wretched, separated from a holy God because of our sin, being the very filth that He cannot look upon were loved by Him by way of the cross.  His son, perfect and kingly, died on the cross so that he could restore us to right-relationship with the God we were so cosmically separated from.  And as we dig a little deeper into this demonstration of love, the reality of love in Jesus' death on the cross, we see the picture of how our daily demonstration of love in our lives finds its basis in the cross.
Moving from one apostle to another, we see John recount Jesus' words:  "This is my commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you.  Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends.  You are my friends, if you do what I command you . . . This I command you, that you love one another." (15:12-14, 17)  As we follow the pattern, Jesus' command to us, His "law," is that we love each other.  By sharing our feelings ?  By saying nice things and painting each other in light of rainbows and butterflies?  No.  Love, for Jesus, means dying.  Laying down His life is His demonstration of love and we are to love "just as I have loved you."  And the crux of it all, the part that we so misunderstand, is that love is self-sacrificial.  "Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends."  Jesus willingly died for us as a demonstration of love.  And we, in order to love, must willingly die as well.  This plays out not in a physical death (although in extremes it can and has), but in a dying to our own rights and desires.  To daily "take up our cross" means to willingly lay down the rights we were carrying in order to have free hands to carry the cross.  We cannot carry both.
And what of the unlovable?  Or loving when we've been wronged?  We still look at the cross.  "While we were yet sinners . . . Christ died for us."  Our "feelings" toward another should not cloud our love.  The way of the cross and the pattern of a cross centered life has been set:  "As I have loved you."
The cross was God's demonstration of His love toward us filthy sinners.  For us to love, whether it is God, family, spouse, children, friends, etc., we must follow the same pattern of laying down all the rights we think we have and have the mind Christ had as He carried His cross.  The power of the cross, the wisdom of the cross, and now the love of the cross are all intertwined and carry the same theme:  there is power, wisdom, and love by living by the way of the cross. 

22 April, 2011

Thoughts on Easter pt. 2 "The Cross as Wisdom"

The Cross as Wisdom

For Paul, there is a connection between the power and wisdom of the cross.  The wisdom of God, in a very violent way, defeats the wisdom of the world: it crushes it.  "I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the cleverness of the clever I will set aside." (1 Cor. 1:19)  The Greco-Roman culture of the time was one that touted the very best wisdom of the world.  Building upon the wisdom of the great Greek philosophers, the scribes of the time looked high and low for the greatest wisdom of the age.  In fact, many sought out Paul to learn the great "wisdom" that he taught (Acts 17:16-34).  His wisdom was "strange to [their] ears" and he was seen as "an idle babbler . . . of strange deities." (19)  The end of the verse tells us why, "Because he was preaching Jesus and the resurrection."  Because we know Paul (in his own words) always preached "Christ crucified," this was surely a part of the babbling that went on as he preached.  But how does this wisdom crush the wisdom of the wise?
The Roman culture of the day, and our own culture as it echoes theirs, taught as wisdom the necessity of self-love, self-advancement, and personal achievement.  The wisdom of God, however, is the antithesis of the world.  We are to despise ourselves, consider others as better, forgo all rights we think we have and serve those around us in any way we can.  This is the wisdom that Jesus lived by, and in so doing ascended to the right hand of the Father, being "the First born of the dead and ruler of the kings of the earth." (Rev. 1:5)  It is by living by the wisdom of the cross that we will see the truth of Jesus' statement "the last shall be first, and the first last." (Matt 20:16)  Jesus, putting Himself last for all men and all creation, became the first born of the new creation and began a movement of life governing wisdom not yet seen in this world.
To be a disciple of Jesus Christ is to live by His wisdom.  Living by the wisdom of the world sets us up as our own Gods.  We become our own governing deity, controlling our own destiny and by so doing we think of ourselves as worthy of praise from those around us for all of our accomplishments.  But God will share His throne with no one.  By reaching His holy hand into the sewage of our sinful lives, God has placed us "in Christ Jesus who became to us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption, that, just as it is written, 'Let him who boasts, boast in the Lord.'" (1 Cor 1:30-31)  By being "in Christ" we were given a new wisdom for life.  Christ Himself became our wisdom!  All that God sees as wise He sees in His Son.  We are inextricably tied to the wisdom of God as we are in Christ.
God's wisdom throughout the ages has been to raise the lowly high, make the useless usable, and put the inferior at a table with the best the world has to offer.  Living by this wisdom is what brings us the power that so amazingly not only transforms us but also is the power by which God transforms the world.  The power of the cross to crush sin is the wisdom of God in "Christ crucified" . . . the same power that conquered sin once and for all conquers sin in our daily lives as we live by the wisdom of God in Christ.  

Thoughts on Easter pt. 1 "The Cross as Power"

Scrolling through the different avenues of social media today I noticed a large number of posts pointing to the death and resurrection of our Messiah.  My own was an update about coffee....and sleeping in.  I am thankful for the rest of my global Christian family whose thoughts were on Christ this morning and not their own selfish tendencies to brag and enjoy a cup of filtered bean water.  That said, I noticed a theme and it struck home, resonating in my heart.
Among those posts was a theme of Good Friday being the "necessary" day for Easter.  i.e. "without Good Friday, there is no Easter."  Indeed this is true.  Without death there is no resurrection.  It's a simple truth.  What resonated in my heart was a belief of how often I think, "now, if I can just get through the death part in order to get to the life part."  I tend to view Good Friday like I would exam week.  You have to go through it to get to the holiday but it's not an enjoyable journey.  It's simply a necessary part of the road we travel.
My thoughts have been resting here for a long season and it's amazing to me how I still don't "get it."  My initial thoughts upon waking up are how I can "live" and all the things I can do with my life.  Sleeping in, drinking coffee, having a day off of work...all a picture of my selfish "easter."  When I should instead be waking up with a mind and heart for Good Friday, and how every day should be a Good Friday.
For the next few days, until that great day we remember death was indeed conquered, I want to look at the cross in four ways.

The Cross as Power
The Cross as Wisdom
The Cross as Love
The Cross as Life

The Cross as Power

"We preach Christ Crucified . . . to those who are the called . . . Christ the power of God." (1 Cor. 1:23-24 selected portions)  This is liable to trip someone up.  And indeed, the apostle Paul says it does, "to the Jews a stumbling block." (23)  One would think any rational human being would stop to ponder, "so what you're telling me that is that "power" comes through death?"  That's exactly what we're saying.  Paul exhibits what this power looks like . . . it is Christ crucified.
"And when I came to you, brothers, I did not come with superiority of speech or of wisdom, proclaiming to you the testimony of God. For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified. And I was with you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling. And my message and my preaching were not in persuasive words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith should not rest on the wisdom of men, but on the power of God." (1 Cor. 2:1-5)
Christ's death on the cross was a demonstration of both His obedience to His Father (Rom. 5:19) and God's love for us (Rom. 5:8).  It is that obedience and love which draws us to Him.  "We were reconciled to God through the death of His Son." (Rom 5:10)  The power that can do such as thing as make filthy sinners like us reconciled to God is in the demonstration of the power of God, not simply in talking about it.  God "demonstrates His love for us" by Christ dying.  And this is how the gospel was made so effective in Corinth when Paul was there, in demonstration of this same power.  It is not the power of lightning and showmanship . . . it is the power of death and love.
So then, what does this mean for us?  The power of God plays out in us when we are obedient on our Good Friday as Christ was in His.  Each and every day we must "take up our cross" and follow Him.  We cannot simply talk about it, we must die for others.  This is the power of the cross.  We must wake up each day with the thoughts of Christ, "Today, I am going to die for people out of a love for my Father and in obedience to Him."  Having this mind in us is having the same mind of Christ and is power for drawing a lost and dying world to Him.
Our prayer ought be, "Father, give me strength today by your Spirit to have the mind of Jesus.  To empty myself of selfishness and conceit and with humility consider others more important than myself.  Give me power to be a servant to all and by so doing live out the power of Christ crucified, that people may be drawn to the God who did the same for me."

10 April, 2011

gratis pro deo

gratis pro deo..."free and for God"

As Americans, we have a culturally conditioned mindset toward making money.  Outside of our basic needs for money; food, clothing, shelter, etc., we have been taught to define success by it.  And even if in the secular environment there is a shift toward the "greater good" such as philanthropic endeavors, corporate "community service," and humanitarian aid, there is still a "payment" to be expected on some level.  Large corporations give large amounts of money to aid causes but for the payment of recognition and creating a social "environment" to grow the company's base.  Employers encourage employees to contribute in the community and offer incentives for them to do so, each incentive very often being the motivation for service at all.  And even our churches (and this is the saddest part) "serve" not out of a desire of the heart but because it's hounded from the pulpit, required for church membership, or, in the end, out of guilt.  And before I go further, let me add a disclaimer: I am glad that these things are getting done: both on the corporate level and individually...whether wrongly motivated or right.  In the end, needs must be met.  So whether the needs are being met by multi-billion dollar corporations who do it to get a commercial on TV or a white-collar dad helping in the church nursery because he needed his wife to stop badgering him at home...the poor get fed and the babies get watched.  However, if you (we) belong to Christ, our Christ-likeness is reflected in the heart motive toward our neighbor.

The Latin phrase gratis pro deo means "free and for God."  Let's look at the two halves: "free" and "for God."

The most important part of this phrase (first introduced to me by Os Guinness in his book The Call) is of course pro deo..."for God."  But let's look at gratis first.  The apostle Paul writes in his letter to the Colossians, "Whatever your task, work heartily, as serving the Lord and not men.  Knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward; you are serving the Lord Christ" (vv. 23-24).  The context of the Colossian letter places the instruction Paul is giving to slaves with regard to their masters.  It is an admonition to take what they must do (slaves are ordered, not given options) and instead serve the Lord Christ.  Their "payment" ,as such, is stated here to be "the inheritance" promised to all those who belong to Christ.  It is not to be understood as another heavenly reward for good deeds; for not talking back to their masters or performing well.  Paul's intention here is to say,"your reward is already guaranteed by virtue of you being in Christ...so serve the Lord Christ as your daily worship!"  In my own search for my "calling," I have heard over and over almost those exact words: "Chris! Listen to me...your reward, your inheritance, your riches are all sitting in a vault waiting for that last day.  Now, serve me without another mention of 'what can I gain from this.'"  Like a father both disciplining and encouraging a son, He has been teaching me the gratis of my call.  Sometimes we do receive earthly recognition and sometimes there is earthly motivation offered for services rendered, we cannot control that.  What we do have more control over is our heart's intent as we serve.  "Do not look out for your own personal interests, but instead toward the interests of others.  Have this attitude in yourselves, which was also in Christ Jesus...." (Phil. 2:4-5 ff). 

And now, pro deo.  What will it take for you and me to understand that we have been "bought" and are now "slaves of righteousness?"  The down payment for our inheritance (Eph.1), the promise of our inheritance (Eph. 3:6, Gal. 3:29) and that it will surely be ours is the Holy Spirit.  Given to us freely, the Holy Spirit is the power of Christ living through us unto the world.  "Therefore if any man is in Christ, he is [a] new creation (just recently learned the connection to the OT language of the "new creation", thus how it reads); the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.  Now all these things are from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ, and gave us the ministry of reconciliation . . . therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were entreating through us." (2 Cor. 5:17-20)  I could go on and on with this imagery, but I'll just say this:  God sent His King into a foreign country and set up an embassy.  The King reconciled the world to Himself by way of the cross, then rose again and ascended to His Father's side.  In His place He placed us.  We are ambassadors, working out of "The Embassy for Reconciliation," beseeching all the world to be reconciled to God.  With that in mind we can say, "whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God."  Our lives have been made new, and by the power of the Spirit we are to serve others toward the world's reconciliation to God, and ALL OF IT unto His glory...pro deo.

I am not good at serving others and when I am I can sometimes get frustrated by not being recognized like I think I ought.  I (we) must keep reminding myself that if my redemption is not a good enough reason to in humility serve my neighbor gratis pro deo, then there is an issue with my heart, and I must repent. 

Jesus died gratis pro deo....and honestly, that's all that really needs to be said about it.