Category Archives: ? That Make You Think

What is the Gospel?

I wonder if I have at times become “so familiar” with the Bible and especially the Christian Gospel that I lose sight of its epic, boundless quality. Can you have heard so many sermons that you begin to think there isn’t much new to be learned about God? Or does this reveal a faulty mindset that has lost its way? If God is beyond description, why do we look at His Word as something less than supernatural, epic, and majestic? The Bible (God’s book) is beyond whatever else we might read on a daily basis. I was thinking about this tonight after Pastor Tim Matthews spoke on the parable of the sower and the seed from Matthew 13. He challenged the youth group to dare to study the Scriptures, soak in it and live it. Beyond looking for good principles to apply, Pastor Tim encouraged us to seek to be transformed. He challenged us to be good ground that would produce fruit in God’s Kingdom.

The Bible is not a self-help book. I admit that on many occasions I have taken the “I already knew that” attitude toward something found in Scripture. But the strange thing is I may not have been living by the light of that knowledge. Many times I needed to hear something again that I already supposedly knew.

So I feel led to revisit the basic Christian message, commonly known as the Gospel. What is it really? Is the Gospel just ten basic beliefs about God and His relationship with mankind? Is the Gospel merely about statements of faith? Or is it something more — an ethic, a call to become like Christ? Is the Gospel something that ever changes? Or is it something that only changes us? Is the Gospel fully realized now or a forward looking hope for a better world? Is the Gospel even really about mankind? Or is its core preoccupation mainly God and His glory revealed to humanity?

These questions have led me to develop what I am calling the Gospel Challenge. I am encouraging anybody who has a relationship with God through Jesus to take 30 days to wrestle with what the Gospel is based on Scripture and your own reflection as you pray and listen for the guidance of the Holy Spirit. May you look to see how the Gospel is lived out in your world. Specifically, I am encouraging other Christians who know me to take up this challenge.

It starts with reading the Bible daily while looking to see what your reading reveals about the basic Christian message. You should ask questions like, “What does this story show us about God? or How does this passage depict God’s Kingdom?

Second, you develop a list of key beliefs explaining what the Gospel is and how it should function in our daily lives. What really is this Good News that we are called to share with the world? I am starting with a simple computer document that says, “The Christian Gospel is….”

Third, refine your list and share some insights with others to see what they think. I intend to ask other believers, “If you had to explain the Christian message in 3-5 minutes, what would you say?”

Fourth, wrestle some more with the concepts that arise as you study, pray about the Christian message and discuss the Gospel with others. The last part of the challenge is to come up with a basic Gospel statement or creed and attempt to live according to these beliefs on daily basis.

So who is with me? What does the Gospel really mean to you? I welcome others to post on my blog their thoughts on what the Christian Gospel is and how it functions in the world.

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What Do You Want?

A number of times somebody approached Jesus and He instinctively asked, “What do you want me to do for you?” This is an incredible question because He who asked it could truly answer it. Jesus once declared that all power in heaven and earth was given Him. Better than a genie in a bottle, Jesus could actually answer incredible requests.

Some people asked for miracles or healings. Others wanted to follow Him and see where He lived. Still others asked for position and blessing in God’s kingdom. Have you ever stopped to think what you would say if Jesus turned to you and asked, “What do you want for me to do for you?”

This is a very loaded question. It reveals a lot about what we believe about God. It opens our heart motives and inner longings. It shows what we value and how we are open for God to move in our lives. Even the degree that we take the question seriously, reveals something. Do you think God would ever ask you what you want for Him to do in your life?

As I think through this question, I am disturbed by my potential requests. I could list so many things. But these all seem so petty compared to the response, “I want whatever you want.”

Oh, how I wish this was my request. But so often, I want so much more than just what God wants. Actually, my problem is that I want less than His best. There is no such thing as more than what God wants because my more is actually less.

I am wrestling with this question… What really does God’s best look like for my life?

WWJD? – Would Jesus Burn a Koran?

Now that the Florida “pastor” has agreed to cancel his Koran burning ceremony this coming weekend, it may seem like old news. But I would like to comment on the idea that many “evangelicals” presented this controversial action as something Jesus just would not do. Although I am not Jesus’ publicist or the official PR spokesperson for God, I am a Christian and do know a thing or two about following Christ. For the record, I claim no divine direction on this matter or supernatural vision. But I would like to take a look at what Scripture recorded that Jesus did to see if burning a Koran is something that Jesus just might do.

Controversy…
Jesus loved to do controversial, almost disturbing things. Jesus was a prophet. And prophets tend to make bold, brash claims that fly in the face of the conventional wisdom. Jesus was no exception. He made divine claims about Himself, forgave sin (something only God was supposed to do according to Judaism), talked about the Temple being destroyed and resurrected in three days, and called the religious leaders of His day “a den of vipers.” Jesus further insulted some of the Jewish religious leaders saying that they were “sons of hell” who followed Satan as their father.

After Jesus’ first sermon in his hometown, the crowd got so angry that they moved to kill Him. And as most people know, Jesus made such a spectacle of things that the religious leaders incited the crowd and Roman authorities to seek Christ’s execution. So far, this is not the picture of man who was afraid to stir up controversy.

Even Jesus’ followers were not immune from criticism, He saved some of his “harshest” comments for His disciples. Remember that Jesus rebuked Peter saying, “Get behind me Satan, you have not the thoughts of God but the thoughts of man.”

Yet, Jesus did not seek to make controversy for controversy sake. He said that everything He did was led by the Holy Spirit to fulfill the will of God the Father. Christ claimed that His words served a higher purpose than self promotion or His own personal agenda.

Spotlight…
Jesus was not a camera hog. After some of His most unforgettable moments, Jesus told His followers to keep it a secret or avoid making a public spectacle out of what He did or said. Quite the opposite from call a press conference, Jesus would sneak away from crowds and avoid publicity. That is one major difference between the recent situation with the Florida pastor and Christ. Jesus didn’t perform for the cameras.

Pick the Right Battles…
Jesus waited for the right time to do everything. The Gospels present Jesus as a man who did everything with purpose – picking the right time and the right battles to fight. Jesus knew when to make a whip and clean out the Temple or stay away from the crowds and seclude from outside pressures. Jesus knew how to avoid confrontation with religious opponents as well as to turn around public arguments.

Jesus Didn’t Focus on the “Bad” Guys…
Jesus did not spend a lot of time talking about the “bad” guys or trying to fight them. Instead, Jesus focused on the message that He had been sent to preach and embody. He only talked about Satan or religious opponents when trying to setup the agenda or explain certain concepts to His followers. Even some of Christ’s most controversial statements came as teaching moments to correct wrongful thinking among His disciples. There may be no greater example of this then when Jesus talked about the Temple being destroyed. Imagine just how scandalous that would have been in Jesus’ day. He was responding to a comment by one of His disciples about the massive size of the stones around the Temple complex. Jesus wanted His disciples to know that God was building a new Temple inside the hearts of the faithful. Their focus should not have been on what was visible in the existing religious establishment.

Comparing Christ’s statement to today’s world, it might seem similar to a prophet touching the side of the U.S. Capitol building and saying it would soon collapse into a pile of rubble. Jesus spoke the truth – a harsh reality to prepare His followers for what was to come.

Wisdom…
Jesus called His followers to be “as wise as serpents and as harmless as doves.” This suggests that Jesus wanted His people to be smart about how they lived. They had to use wisdom. Ask yourself, “Will this accomplish a greater, divine purpose?”

Thinking through all these aspects of Christ’s life, I don’t see Jesus as being a big fan of Koran burning. That would just give too much focus to the wrong place. It would embolden and provide a rallying cry for enemies abroad with no real benefit for the Kingdom of God. Jesus doesn’t need to win an ego contest with false religions.

I think Jesus would instead be like one of the missionaries who recently died for the Christian Gospel in Afghanistan. He would be willing to sacrifice to accomplish a greater good without caring if CNN were there to cover the event. But this doesn’t mean that Jesus’ enemies should think of Him as weak. Scripture is clear that when Jesus returns (whatever that looks like), He will come back as a conquering hero and the King of Kings.

Are You Living in Your Divine Calling?

While in discussion with some students at The Mix tonight, I noticed how they all seemed to think of the term “calling” as it relates to their future job or career. We were discussing God’s callings for our lives. It was a fairly open context. But the discussion tended to gravitate toward skills, interests and careers.

Sometimes we tend to think our call is just about what we do as a job. But it is so much more than that. It really touches every area of life. Our calling is really whatever the Holy Spirit is directing us to do at the moment. I believe that our calling is both a very complex and simple thing. Really, our calling can change through the years as we transition through various phases of life. What we do when we are sixteen is not likley to represent our life 10 years later, 20 years later or 40 years later.

Yet, as a Christian there are some callings that I believe are not unique to me. But they are part of the calling for every true believer. All Christians are called to love God and live for His Kingdom and glory. We are all called to be witnesses of Christ’s message and be connected to a body of local believers. We are all called to pray, read the Bible and seek to know God better.

Thinking about my own calling, I am reminded of what the Holy Spirit impressed on my heart ten years ago when I went out to Kansas City to pray at IHOP just as the prayer center was getting its start. I believe God placed the following four key calls on my life: 1.) Seek God’s face in a personal, intimate relationship, 2.) Write revelation that God reveals as I seek His face, 3.) Pray for those God has called me to love, 4.) Disciple the remnant.

The first part of my calling is very generic. All Christians are to seek Christ. But the second was unique to me. I was to write the revelation that the Spirit showed me as I seek God. The third connected to the fourth. Prayer was to fuel my ministry to disciple and train up future leaders in God’s Kingdom. All of these callings developed through the years. For example, I came up with a pretty well developed sense of what God meant by remnant.

I am seeking all four callings in some respects in my life today. None of these callings are directly related to my job as a journalist and publisher serving the forest products and logistics industries. My job provides me the resources, time and flexibility to carry out these callings.

It seems that sometimes when people are young they get all worked up over what they are going to do with their life. My suggestion is to simply give it away to God. Realize that your career path may change, but your identity as a Christian doesn’t – in time you only get to know the real you better.

I believe that more than worrying about your future career, the best thing to do is to make sure that you are living for God today. Focus on whatever path you are on to live as much as possible for God. Sure, you can prepare, study, and make smart education and lifestyle decisions. Education, training, hard work are all good things. You should think about the future. But you should not get so worked up over your decisions that you fail to realize how you walk down whatever path you take is as important as which path you choose to take.

Are you living in your divine calling? Stop to ask the Holy Spirit today to help you get to know the real you.

Is It Cool to Be Hip These Days?

Brett McCracken’s recently released a book titled Hipster Christianity: Where Church and Cool Collide. It details the stories and pitfalls of attempts to be relevant to the 20 and 30 year olds who have left church after adolescence not to return.

McCracken recently wrote in the Wall Street Journal, “If the evangelical Christian leadership thinks that ‘cool Christianity’ is a sustainable path forward, they are severely mistaken. As a twentysomething, I can say with confidence that when it comes to church, we don’t want cool as much as we want real.”

McCracken added, “If we are interested in Christianity in any sort of serious way, it is not because it’s easy or trendy or popular. It’s because Jesus himself is appealing, and what he says rings true. It’s because the world we inhabit is utterly phony, ephemeral, narcissistic, image-obsessed and sex-drenched—and we want an alternative. It’s not because we want more of the same.”

I agree with McCracken that attempts to play the hip game will always come up short for churches because they can’t out hype Hollywood or the latest must-listen-to band. And that shouldn’t be the goal. Being different in a good way is what will make a difference.

Young people want relevant, connected and authentic expressions of worship and journeying through life together. Attempts to market Jesus will only backfire. If you remember Jesus wasn’t big into marketing. He would do great miracles and then tell the recipient not to tell anyone. At the end of the day, it really comes down to helping young people feel connected to a story bigger than themselves that still seems relevant to the world in which they live.

I think that any time we set out to copy what others have done in a church setting we have to be careful. There is nothing wrong with learning from others. But you have to first know who you are as a local body of Christ and what makes you unique. A church can’t steal the identity of another congregation and expect it to work.

In the end, a local church has to first know itself in relationship to Christ before it can truly benchmark from others. If you try to benchmark first, you will only end up copying someone else’s dream.

Here are two interesting articles on the book and topic of Hipster Christianity.

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748704111704575355311122648100.html

http://www.religiondispatches.org/books/atheologies/3142/cooler_than_thou%3A_will_hipsters_wreck_christianity/

Are You Going to Wear that Shirt?

Terry Bowman recently shared the following at our men’s small group gathering. We do what is called a truth search. Our focus Scripture was Galatians 3. You generally start out with a question based on the passage. Then connect it with the passage and other verses in Scripture. The goal is to get to questions that you can ask yourself based on the truth revealed in the passage.

Terry’s truth was a question. He asked, “Are you going to wear that shirt???” The implied answer is always “No.” Terry said that he heard the voice of his wife as she frequently asked Terry about his clothing choices. He then connected this concept to  Gal 3.27, which reads “for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.”

All Christians are to take on the appearance/character of Jesus. Terry pointed to  Rom 13.13-14, which says, “Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy. Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the sinful nature.”

We are to clothe ourselves with armor of light not darkness. Ephesians 4:22-24 adds to this concept. It says, “You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.”

 Looking to the Old Testament, Terry found a similar link to idolatry, holiness and clothing as a way of putting off the old self.  Gen 35.2 records that Jacob said to his household and to all who were with him, “Get rid of the foreign gods you have with you, and purify yourselves and change your clothes.”

Terry then concluded with these probing questions. He asked, “What am I ‘wearing’ that I need to take off? – time devoted to television;  time spent surfing for hacks and gadgets. What does God have for me to put on? – acts of service; time spent investing in other people.” 

So do you need to change your shirt? When people see you do they say, “Hey, that looks kind of like Jesus?”

Beyond the Margins

Have you ever had one of those nights when you don’t even know where to begin? Your head is swimming with thoughts inspired by the wisdom of someone you feel fortunate to have encountered. That’s how I feel right now after a 2-hour concert/walk through the Bible with Michael Card.

Where do I begin? Michael Card stated his secret purpose was to entice, manipulate…  do what it takes to inspire his audience to read the entire Bible from Genesis to Revelation. He weaved songs together to provide a musical narrative of Scripture. By the end, I was in tears as the reality hit me. God’s greatest desire is to be with His people. I know this. But some how tonight, I got a deeper glimpse of God’s heart. And I am undone.

While I don’t know that I would pay to hear most Christian musicians preach, I could sit and listen to Card for hours. He plumps the depth of Scripture like few Christian artists could. Here are some of the things that stood out to me.

  • Card is working on a book about slavery and freedom called A Better Freedom. Card said, “The only way you will ever be free is to become a slave of Christ.”
  • Leviticus is full of details about things like warts and mold. But those details point to spiritual realities. We see Jesus in the models and stories of the Old Testament. Card said, “God is in the details.”
  • The story of Hosea and Gomer shows us our wayward hearts. Card sang a song as Gomer talking about the faithfulness of her husband despite her unfaithfulness.
  • God gave Israel a great gift called the Year of Jubilee – a time when all debts would be canceled. It was to be a year-long party every 50 years where families and individuals were restored. But there is no record of Israel every observing the Year of Jubilee. This utopia idea has its completion in Jesus.
  • In Psalm 51 after David has committed a horrible sin, all he had to give to God was his brokenness. And that was what God really wanted in the first place. David said that what God wants is broken and contrite heart.
  • Card said, “The things that have hurt you in life, aren’t wasted. They are redeemed –  God uses them  to save the world.” He pointed to the cross as a perfect example of how God turns tragedy into victory.
  • Throughout the concert, Card kept on referring to friends and mentors who influenced each song. It was clear that his music comes out of community.
  • Card said about the book of Revelation, “In the end, God gets what He wants. Do you know what God really wants? He wants to be with you – His people.” Card said that the reward of  following the Law in Leviticus 16:12 is that God will walk with His people. From the tabernacle to the Temple, the dwelling place of God was to be with His people. Jesus is called Emmanuel, which means God with us. Jesus’ last words to His disciples were, “Behold, I am with you always.” He then promised the Holy Spirit, which lives in the heart of God’s people. Card said, “What God wants the most is what we need the most.” The story ends in Revelation with complete restoration as sin, death and separation from God are forever dealt with. God is fully with His people.