Monday, August 13, 2012

Practical and Specific

“But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil.”  Luke 6:35
But love your enemies.  If we stand up for what’s right, we will have enemies.  They feel justified in their hostility.  But Jesus says, love them anyway.  Hostile people expect hostility in return.  Jesus says, surprise them.

And do good.  This “love” cannot be just benevolent emotions or big talk.  Jesus says, make it practical.  What good thing can you and I do for those who have done bad things to us?

And lend, expecting nothing in return.  Jesus is moving from the general (love your enemies) to the actionable (and do good) to a specific example (and lend, expecting nothing in return).  Loving our enemies will cost us.

And your reward will be great.  Enemies have the power to take, but they do not have the power to return what they have taken.  Jesus does.  Our futures are in his hands, not theirs.  And he is promising a great reward to those who trust him enough to follow him in this way.

And you will be sons of the Most High.  It is no petty godlet who calls us into this hard path.  It is the Most High.  And his greatest glory is that he loves the undeserving.  Jesus says, here is how you can be most clearly identified with him.

For he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil.  Before God, we are all ungrateful and evil.  But Jesus is saying this with reference to the conflicts we find ourselves in.  It is ungrateful and evil enemies we are to love — people who should be grateful and good, but for their own reasons they are not what God wants them to be.  It is such people to whom he is kind.  Good thing for us.

Love your enemies
Love your enemies avatar
is a post from: Ray Ortlund

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

The Worst Tool for Evangelism

From Stuff Christians Like

A few weeks ago, I drove by a church welcome sign in North Carolina that I thought was a smidge strange. As I am wont to do, I promptly turned it into a tweet and said the following on Twitter:
“If you’re 99% saved, then you’re 100% lost!” Church sign I just drove by. I guess they didn’t have the letters for “Visitors keep out.”
A number of people saw that tweet and replied back to me with thoughts like this:
“Isn’t that theologically accurate?”
“Don’t we need to be convicted?”
I think those were good questions, but I never doubted the accuracy of that idea. I was doubting whether or not a welcome sign is the best place to debate theological accuracy. Is a message of shame the best message for a church welcome sign?

And more than that, what does “100% saved” mean? Who is measuring that? The pastor of that church? The elders? Is there a chart? What is the 1% that makes all the difference? What do you do with the guy in Mark 9 who asks Jesus to heal his child “if you can?”

Jesus replies, “If you can? Everything is possible for one who believes.”

To which the father says, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!”

Jesus, sensing that the father was only 78% saved says, “Can’t do it. Disciples, get my boat! It’s time to bounce.”

Or he heals him and moves on. One of those two things happened.

Ranking by percentage the authenticity of your faith is a difficult thing to do, but maybe we all already agree on that point. What about the need for us to be convicted?

I agree with that. I do, but I think that as humans we have an unbelievable ability to transform conviction into shame.

I think that’s part of the reason Jesus left us so little wiggle room in Matthew 22:37-40. When asked what the most important commandment in the law was, he replied:
 “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
Notice what it doesn’t say? It doesn’t say, “Judge your neighbor.” Or, “Convict your neighbor.” Or, “Shame your neighbor.”

The verb is love.

Now the pushback is this: “The most loving thing you can do is share the truth of Christ with someone.”

Agreed. But again, a word of caution about using “shame” as a tool of evangelism. Let’s not forget what we are told in Romans 2:1-4:
“You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge the other, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things. Now we know that God’s judgment against those who do such things is based on truth. So when you, a mere man, pass judgment on them and yet do the same things, do you think you will escape God’s judgment? Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, tolerance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness leads you toward repentance?”
What leads us toward repentance? Kindness.

Not shame.
Not abuse.
Not anger.

But if you’d prefer to not look at it through that lens, as least answer this question:

Have you ever met someone who said, “I became a Christian when a friend of mine shamed me badly. They shamed me into the arms of Christ.”

I haven’t, but I have heard this story countless times:
“A neighbor loved me when I was so unlovable to them. Their love made no sense. Finally I had to ask them, ‘Why are you so different? Why are you so kind to me? That’s when they told me about this guy, Jesus Christ.’”
Do we need conviction? Without a doubt.

Do we need theological accuracy? Definitely.

Do we need shame? That’s a tough one. But I do know this, we don’t need it on our church welcome signs.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Free.....You Pay Nada

The heart of man finds it difficult to believe that so great a treasure as the Holy Spirit is gotten by the mere hearing of faith. The hearer likes to reason like this: Forgiveness of sins, deliverance from death, the gift of the Holy Spirit, everlasting life are grand things. If you want to obtain these priceless benefits, you must engage in correspondingly great efforts. And the devil says, ‘Amen.’

We must learn that forgiveness of sins, Christ, and the Holy Spirit, are freely granted to us at the preaching of faith, in spite of our sinfulness. We are not to waste time thinking how unworthy we are of the blessings of God. We are to know that it pleased God to freely give us His unspeakable gifts. If He offers His gifts free of charge, why not take them? Why worry about our lack of worthiness? Why not accept gifts with joy and thanksgiving?”
— Martin Luther
Commentary on Galatians

Sunday, August 5, 2012

The Missing Jesus

By Jonathan Martin who blogs here:

Today I’d like to file a missing person’s report for Jesus of Nazareth.  Has anybody seen Him lately?

Not a sentimental Jesus–not a liberal Jesus who serves as little more than a symbol of bland tolerance or a conservative Jesus who serves as little more than a mascot for culture wars.  But the surprising, bewildering, befuddling Jesus of the gospels who alternately captures and breaks my heart–the Jesus who is never easily fit into the rigid alternatives offered to us by the world. 

Have you seen Him?

For weeks now (and sometimes it feels like years), I’ve been pulled into conversations about doctrine, polity, politics, culture.  There are conversations about the left and the right, conversations about Moses and Paul, conversations about righteousness and justice and equality.  Scriptures are cut and pasted onto rockets that soar over my head and occasionally land on my lawn.  And I don’t mind talking about any of these things.  But it’s my job to talk about Jesus, and more importantly it’s my passion.

I am not disturbed by much that goes on around me, by neither notorious sinners nor Pharisees.  I have spent enough time playing both parts in my own way to be surprised by what either is capable of.  Storms in culture and my life do not disturb me too much no matter how much the sea is raging, so long as I don’t lose sight of Him.  But when I can’t see Him, that it when I am capable of being frightened.

Alas, that seems to be the storm we are in, where almost anything and everything about culture and Scripture is on the table for discussion save the direct example of Jesus of Nazareth–His stories, His teachings, His heart.  I am aware that this could sound pious, like I think I understand the “real” Jesus in some special way.  But that is not the case.  I actually find Jesus to be extraordinarily disrupting and unsettling, and there have been and still are plenty of times I’d prefer to escape His gaze.  Yet I’ve grown strangely at ease with the disruptive force that is Jesus, so much so that I’d rather be unsettled by Him than comfortable without Him.

He started disrupting me in my early 20′s, when my friend’s father was dying of AIDS.  I saw Jesus in his gaunt skeleton of a face.  I saw Jesus in the face of the foul-mouthed social worker who cared for him so tenderly.  I felt indicted for my tightly constructed, ordered middle class religious world.  Jesus’ lack of domesticity and decorum frightened me, as did the undomesticated people He cared most about and ran with.  I was surprised that I had the lost the ability to find Him in the places I had expected to find Him, and to find Him in places I was sure He did not belong.  Unwittingly, I was drug out with the tide of the gospel texts.  I was no longer able to “use” Scripture like I had some claim over it, no proof-texting or arguing for conclusions I had already made.  I was being used and dominated by the truth of those stories, entering then as a participant rather than a spectator.
When I began to talk about the things I had found that I was not looking for, Jesus began to get me into trouble.  And He still is.  Over and over again, I keep bringing up Jesus.  I keep asking what difference it would make if the figure that we read about in those gospels were to be inserted into our conversations and our current events.  What would He say?  What would He do?  What is He saying?  What is He doing?

I’ve learned by now that this approach is never going to go over for some people in my world.  On Sunday, I preached one of those sermons that hunted me down against my wishes–a message about how Jesus stood up for the guilty woman who was caught in the act of adultery, but how He would not let Peter stand up for Him when he pulled out his sword and cut off Malchus’ ear in the Garden of Gethsemane.  I proposed that much of what we say and do these days comes from a place of feeling frightened and defensive for a Jesus who is not afraid and does not need our defense; that this is a time to stand with Jesus rather than to stand up for Him.  To stand up for the guilty, to stand up for sinners, to stand up for people who are hurting and accused.  I proposed that we should not let ourselves get sucked onto every ideological battleground, because even when motivated by love (like Peter) we often do more harm than good–and instead we need to be relentlessly focused on loving people in the way Jesus did.

This does not always go over because we believe that Jesus is worthy of our worship but irrelevant as an actual model for how we live our lives.  He lived in simpler times. He lacked the sophistication of our strategies, our technology, and our powerful connections in culture.  The way of Jesus is quaint to read about as history, but irrelevant to the complex questions of contemporary culture.

And yet what if He has never been more relevant?  What if the world has never been more ripe for the surprise of His embodied grace?  What if He still has the capacity to surprise, to astonish, to mystify, to defy all of our expectations?  At one time it was the Roman empire that attempted to keep Jesus on the margins where He could not infect their culture with His stories and ideas.  Today we don’t need an Empire to keep Jesus on the margins because His people are doing such a fine job of it.  But what if we stopped working so hard to keep Him on the periphery and let Him be the center again?  So that we interpret all of life through Jesus, all of culture through Jesus, all of religion through Jesus, all of Scripture through Jesus?  What if His story–the stories of life and death and resurrection, were again the filter through which everything else were understood and the standard against which every other voice was measured?

I still have more than enough reasons to be unsettled by the disruption that is Jesus of Nazareth.  I still have plenty of reasons to keep my distance from Him so I can stay comfortable.  I am not comfortable with how lovesick He is for me, nor am I comfortable with how lovesick He makes me for others.

Nonetheless, today I miss Him.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Adultery and Chicken

There was a woman who committed adultery.  Wait a minute, it was worse than that, she was caught while committing the very act of adultery and brought by a bunch of men (who obviously did not commit adultery) to stand in front of Jesus.
The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group and said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him.

But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground.

At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”

“No one, sir,” she said.

“Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.”   John 8: 3-11

Wow.  I thought it was over for her.  I thought Jesus was going to lower the boom on this tramp.  Adultery is wrong.  It is in the top ten sins and she is going to hell.  Good riddance...but what did he do instead?  No punishment?  She is Forgiven?  No condemnation?  Is he serious?  Jesus...Look...this isn't right.  If you don't punish her, society will suffer.  The institution of marriage will fall apart and our kids will think it is okay to act that way.  America...I mean, Israel, will be doomed.   I know it is strange that the man who was complicit with the act of adultery was not brought with her.  But, Jesus, a rule is a rule...put her to death.
"But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart."  Jesus in Matthew 5:28
Uh oh.  Seriously Jesus?  That seems to include me and all my friends with Cinemax or who watch women's beach volleyball.  We also are adulterers who are in need of forgiveness?  This is getting tricky because some adulterers in the classic way "go and sin no more" but us lustful adulterers sometimes don't have our cable disconnected or stop going to the beach where it is tough not to sneak a peak.  You see the "lust in their heart" type adulterers may not really be repentant at all.  Maybe they just feel guilty but keep on lusting forever.  (A side note here is that FOX news who is a big supporter of all things pro-family is part of Fox television that carries some of the trashiest television around for those trying to kick the old lust habit.)

This is where we turn to Chick-Fil-A.  Hypocrisy.  It seems that Christians are supporting Chick-Fil-A in droves because the owner donated to organizations that support "traditional" marriage.  You know the kind of marriage where you can commit adultery or be on your 4th marriage or lust in your heart as long as you are both different genders.  However, the owner also donated to hate groups like The Family Research Council.  The Southern Poverty Law Center has designated The Family Research Council as a "hate group" because of comments from its leaders like:
  • “One of the primary goals of the homosexual rights movement is to abolish all age of consent laws and to eventually recognize pedophiles as the ‘prophets’ of a new sexual order.”
    -1999 FRC pamphlet, Homosexual Activists Work to Normalize Sex with Boys
  • “Now, back in the 80′s and early 90′s I worked with the state department in anti-terrorism and we trained about fifty different countries in defending against terrorism, and it’s, at its base, what terrorism is, it’s a strike against the general populace simply to spread fear and intimidation so that they can disrupt and destabilize the system of government. That’s what the homosexuals are doing here to the legal system.” -FRC President Tony Perkins, April 2011
  • “While activists like to claim that pedophilia is a completely distinct orientation from homosexuality, evidence shows a disproportionate overlap between the two. … It is a homosexual problem.”  -FRC President Tony Perkins, FRC website, 2010

That is who Chick-Fil-A supported.  That is hate.

Jesus demanded that we be very careful in how we treat others who we think may be sinners:
Matthew 7 “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. 2 For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.

3 “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? 4 How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? 5 You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.

Is homosexuality a sin?  Are Adultery, lusting, gluttony and materialism sins?  Is Divorce?  Is hate?

Those of us with planks in our eyes might want to work on removing them on our lunch break instead of waiting in line to support a restuarant that supports hate.

By the way, Jesus demanded we do on other thing.  Love others.  How do you think my gay and lesbian friends feel today about Christians and how some spend their time, money and energy.  My efforts to show the love of Jesus my dear friends who I love has suffered greatly because my Savior (described as a friend of "tax collectors and other sinners") has been used as a reason to support hate.  

I must confess one more sin.  I have been very angry this week.  Angry at my Christians brothers and sisters.  That is a sin and I need to deal with it in a serious way.  Pray for me, pray for everyone who is on both sides of this debate.  Pray for love and not hate to be what all Christians are known for.  So that all who hear the Good News will draw near to the one who said of himself:
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Matthew 11
I finish with this with a post from a pastor in Florida who blogs here:
The Chick Fil’A war does not reflect love. In fact, it reflects just the opposite. We continue to tear each other apart over an issue that Jesus never spoke a single word about. And while we fight, a hurting, broken world walks away and looks elsewhere for the hope and grace that they desperately long for, and that can only be found in Jesus.

The message of the Savior is love. Love regardless of whether we think the person(s) are right or wrong. Just love. Let God do what God does. We do not have a mandate from our Lord to try and change anyone. The marching orders of the King are not, “deny yourself, take up your cross and make sure everyone believes the same things you believe.” We are called to “follow him.” Follow the one who forgave, the one who blessed, the one who comforted, the one who broke all of the cultural and religious rules of the day to ensure that broken, hurting people experienced the grace and love that God offers.

Amen and Amen.