Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Culture of Christianity

When Jesus came to earth as our Lord and Savior, he literally divided history. Sociologically speaking he brought a new culture to earth, centrally focusing our lives on the gospel.  While originally called “The Way” it later became Christianity and it shifted peoples thinking so that works, or the law, no longer became the central focus of life, death or salvation. And although works is still a display of faith in that we so love God we do good works in his name, our central focus is now the gospel, so much so that it becomes our culture. Today we as the church need a paradigm shift back to this reality. Too many of Christians simply try to add religion to part of their current lifestyle (or culture) instead of letting it utterly change their lives by surrendering to it and letting the gospel direct every aspect of their lives.

First we must, ask what is “culture”? I think a commonly accepted definition would be, as Kim Ann Zimmerman said on LiveScience.com “Culture is the characteristics of a particular group of people, defined by everything from language, religion, cuisine, social habits, music and arts.” And also perhaps a more academic definition from the University of Minnesota’s Center for Advanced Research on Language Acquisition, which is “culture is defined as the shared patterns of behaviors and interactions, cognitive constructs, and affective understanding that are learned through a process of socialization. These shared patterns identify the members of a culture group while also distinguishing those of another group.”

With these definitions in mind who do you consider yourself to be culturally as first, a man? A woman?  A citizen of America?  Or citizen of your town? Or do you see yourself as a Christian first? Someone who solely belongs to God? What defines this culture of Christianity? How do we as Christians distinguish ourselves from other groups?

I think Tim Keller rightly points out in his book “Center Church” that we must contextualize the Gospel when presenting it to varying cultures, while at the same time not losing the heart of the Gospel. However once the Gospel has been accepted as truth, it has to become the center of our culture, it simply must affect our behaviors and interactions, cognitive constructs, and affecting understanding in ways that we would not otherwise know if we were not immersed in the culture of the Gospel.

What is Gospel immersion? It is the baptism into your rebirth as a Christian, not figuratively, but literally as you were immersed into water and raised out of the water a reborn person in Christ, you remain immersed in Christ; you remain fully engulfed in the Gospel. We are now culturally immersed into the Gospel, how do we now react and grow in this new culture? A good place to look is to see how the early Christians grew into the new culture that Jesus brought to them. Acts 2:44 “And all who believed were together and had all things in common”

This “new culture” calls us that in everything we as the church do; need to be asking "what would glorify God?" Not just in church, or in prayer, or mission or deeds; but in everything we do; from waking in the morning until we lay our heads on the pillow once more. In doing this we shift our focus from ourselves to God.  Eventually our walk with Jesus through the gospel does not just become part of our culture, but defines our culture as Christians. Some may say that this sounds like legalism, and they'd be right if for two things. If we did these things hoping to be saved, or in order to make God indebted to us then yes it would be legalism, but if we do these things in love and because we know our God, then no this is not legalism, it is simply our grateful response to our Holy God.

How do we glorify God? Thankfully God sent His Word to us, literally, in that we have the Bible and the teachings, stories, examples and the Gospel of the Word, Jesus Christ. He teaches us the great commission, to love God with all your heart, and to love one another as you would love yourself. He teaches us to pray, he shows us grace filled love, and on the Cross he finishes his redemptive plan. God abandons himself on the cross, that He might not abandon us for eternity. This requires a response, one of humility and of thanks, of awe and gratitude and most importantly Holy worship of the Triune God.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Jeremiah 29

Jeremiah 29:11-14

11“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future 12 Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. 13 You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.14 I will be found by you”

This week I heard on talk radio how it just doesn’t “feel” like Christmas. In the wake of the tragedy in Newtown, and the conclusion of the vitriolic national and local elections, the looming fiscal cliff, and lack of snow I can certainly relate. Add to that the usual “holiday” stresses of finding the right gift for everyone, dealing with relatives that we may not get along with, even just finding time to decorate and wrap the presents soon it becomes overwhelming. And for those of us with younger children we get the added pleasure of “holiday” parties at school, and making sure there are no nuts in whatever food we send in to the party.

So where does God fit in to all this? Well if you’re not sure God tells you to “call on Him” because “he knows the plans he has for you”, plans of “hope”. If you have lost sight of God in the brightness of the Christmas lights, or wrapped up His hope with your presents, then I tell you stop; pray and seek Him with all your heart, you will find Him. And when you find Him reflect His glory in all that you do, take time love your neighbor, and pray and worship and soon you will feel the Holy Spirit filling your heart again. If you remember why we celebrate Christmas, it will start to feel like Christmas.

Matthew 1:22-23 “All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: 23 “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel””

Two days from now we will be opening gifts from loved ones and Christmas will be over, and we will still be enjoying the greatest gift we ever received; Jesus Christ, Immanuel, God with us. Amen.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Jesus Wept

John 11:35 “Jesus wept.” The shortest verse in the Bible but it says so much, and we turn to Jesus and His example as we weep for the children; both the ones that have passed and the ones who survived this tragedy.

The following is a prayer written by Scotty Smith taken from the Gospel Coalition web page

Dear Lord Jesus, we abandon ourselves to you today—we come running with our tears and our fears, our anger and our anguish, our lament and our longings. We collapse in your presence, with the assurance of your welcome, needing the mercies of your heart.

Some stories are just too much for us to absorb; some evil just too great to conceive; some losses beyond all measurability. We need your tears and your strength today. That you wept outside the tomb of a beloved friend frees us to groan and mourn; that you conquered his death with yours, frees us to hope and wait.

But we turn our thoughts from ourselves to the families who have suffered an unconscionable violation of heart and all sensibilities. Bring your presence to bear, Lord Jesus, by your Spirit and through your people. May your servants weep with those who weep and wail with those who wail. Extend your tear wiping hand—reach into this great tragedy with an even greater grace.

We cry out on behalf of the children of Newtown, those most directly affected by this evil, and for children throughout our country and the world, whose little hearts are reeling with fear and terror. Give parents wisdom and kindness, as they seek to love their children well, this night and in the coming days. Raise up gifted counselors and care givers to serve those most traumatized.

Lastly, Lord Jesus, we cry out with a loud voice, How long, O, Lord? How long before you return to eradicate all evil, redeem all tragedies, and make all things new? How long, O, Lord, how long? Your Bride weeps and waits for you. In your merciful and mighty name we pray.


Saturday, December 8, 2012

Second Coming

“Life in a prison cell may well be compared to Advent: one waits, hopes, and does this, that, or the other – things that are really of no consequence – the door is shut, and can only be opened from the outside.” ~Dietrich Bonheoffer
This quote was written by Dietrich Bonheoffer to his fiancĂ© during Advent in 1944 while in prison for speaking out against Hitler. He was later hanged for his treason. His letters to his fiancĂ© and family were inspiring and always hopeful; you can read some in the book I took this inspiration from called “God in a Manger”. Jesus; helpless babe, and sovereign Lord, in a manger, come to take away the sins of the world and open the prison cell door.

In Luke 4-18 we see Jesus quoting Isaiah 61
“The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is upon me,
for the Lord has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to comfort the brokenhearted
and to proclaim that captives will be released
and prisoners will be freed.
 He has sent me to tell those who mourn
that the time of the Lord’s favor has come,…”
Jesus then proclaims, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing”

 Notice where Jesus stops in the scripture, he does not read the rest of Isaiah 61, because he has not come to seek vengeance and to restore Israel fully. Rather this, the first advent, He came to take the vengeance that we, because we are sinners, deserve… so that someday, he could come and destroy evil and suffering completely, without destroying us. Now we are in the Second Advent, waiting the second coming of the Lord, when he will come with vengeance on all evil, and will bring peace on earth. We wait like prisoners until “Kings will come to the brightness of your rising" (Isaiah 60:3).

And just like Isaiah prays in chapter 62 for the returning of His glory we too shall wait upon the Lord and pray.
“Because my heart yearns for Jerusalem,
I cannot remain silent.
I will not stop praying for her
until her righteousness shines like the dawn,
and her salvation blazes like a burning torch.
 The nations will see your righteousness.
World leaders will be blinded by your glory.
And you will be given a new name
by the Lord’s own mouth.”

 When we pray, we should be praying like prisoners waiting for the door to be open, realizing all else is just “this and that- things that are of no consequence” other than waiting upon the return of Lord. Ultimately in the biggest sense of the word, this is all that matters. We pray as if we will live forever; for in Him we shall, and we pray as if we will die tomorrow, ever hopeful ever waiting. We pray all men shall come to know the peace of the Lord, how long O Lord shall we wait?

“He who testifies to these things says, “Yes, I am coming soon.”
Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.
The grace of the Lord Jesus be with God’s people. Amen” (Rev 22:20, 21)

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Small Miracles and Faith

The following is a true story, a true story of faith and small miracles. It’s about a faith that matters and a small miracle that some will say doesn’t matter, but I say is of utmost importance; to me at least, having been the only witness of this particular small miracle. So why bother telling of it? To some reading this story I will seem to be a fool, maybe even deranged, but my hope is that someone will read this and learn to see the small miracles in their life.

 We must start off defining a small miracle, for me it is a thing either in nature or in the supernatural which remind us of the biggest miracle, that God loves us. Small miracles could be as simple as a magnificent sunset, or that we sat up in the morning and put our slippers on, or the smile on a child’s face upon seeing their favorite toy. These things are all around us and we daily seem to take them for granted. There is, sadly, a finite point to how many of these miracles we will see in this lifetime, and we never know which miracle will be the last one we see, so I intend on never wasting one.

 Reason and definition having been explained let us get to the story of the small miracle; remember to keep an open mind, and an open heart.

 I was walking down the sidewalk during a light snow and I see from the corner of my eye a snowflake which has seemed to defy gravity midflight and is now hovering a few feet above the ground. All while other snowflakes continue to fall all round it, why does this one not fall?  As I take a step closer to see it starts to dance, up and down, side to side in a rhythmic pattern like a ballerina on an oversized stage. Soon it is joined by another snowflake and then another, am I dreaming? Am I dead? Is this my gentle but amazing welcome to heaven?

 I stare for another moment or two before realizing I am still quite awake and alive, surely the cold numbness in my nose and toes would not bother me so much in heaven. But I cannot deny that now nearly a dozen snowflakes are dancing just for my eyes, part of me wants an explanation for this glorious exposition, but part of me does not. I resolve to not interrupt their dance, and while I don’t want to leave I have things to do, responsibilities to keep. I praise God for sending those tiny dancers, showing me that around the corner there is always a small miracle waiting. I was there standing for but a few more seconds, the dance was beginning to end and just  as I moved on He showed me the single fine thread of a spiders web from the tree to a stick on the ground on which He had captured the dancers on.

 Shortly after I walked away from my small miracle the snow had stopped. And I thought to myself,” no one else will see that”, “if I tell about it no one will believe me”, and then I thought “I don’t care. It was awesome; in all my life I have never seen such a thing”.

 My short paragraph recalling the event does in no means do it justice, the sequence of events paired with the feeling I had; tied with the week of struggles and joy. It came upon me like wave of reassurance seeing this small miracle; when you see one you’ll know what I mean. It’s like God patting you on the back saying “Yes I’m still here”

 Now I’m sure many of you will say "see that’s no miracle" or "there’s no God in that" but I say when was the last time you saw a dozen snowflakes dancing in unison in the wind...no matter the method.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Affliction and Prayer

I stumbled across a tweet from @Christianaudio that commended a website called theversesproject.com. This is a website, a blog of sorts, that takes verses from the Bible, gives a commentary on it and a downloadable song using only the words from the verse cited. The recent post from the blog that I think stood out for me was this one:

2 Corinthians 4:17-18For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, 18 as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.

The commentary on these two verses they gave was this:

 “Affliction is something all humans deal with. Rich or poor, young or old, regardless of ethnicity or nationality, we all suffer. While many people think their belief in God should function as a "get out of jail free card" from any form of opposition or difficulty, these verses actually teach us that Christians are to look at suffering through a different lens. We must learn to see that behind the affliction is a surprising truth: that God is using that very affliction to prepare you for eternity ("an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison").

This verse isn't intended minimize the pain or suffering we may feel, but it is rather a call to see our pain in light of greater or "truer truths". As Francis Schaeffer said, there are major & minor themes in the story of life. While suffering (the things that are seen) is a true theme, in the grand scope it is a minor theme simply because one day suffering, pain, & death shall forever be banished upon Christ's return and restoration of the new heavens & new earth (the things that are unseen). This return is what Schaeffer would call a major theme, one that eventually trumps the minor themes.

So, friends, if you look out with your eyes of flesh and see only heartache and pain, look again with eyes of faith. While your eyes of flesh falter at the sight you see, your eyes of faith see a beautiful story unfolding that you would not believe even if you were told!”

Now we also see that in Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians we see that we “Christian’s (are) God’s ambassador(s), with a spiritual and glorious ministry, finding in Christ consolation in all his sufferings and sufficiency for every testing.”(a)

And specifically in Chapter 4 it shows that “A steadfast adherence to the truths of the Gospel, backed by constancy and sincerity, will commend the servant of God to the opinion of wise men. They should not be of proud spirit, but realize that they themselves are but vessels of little worth and in their perplexities for Christ’s sake let them know that God is able to support them and in Him they should ever trust and hope”(a)

Further in the two verses prior to 17 and 18 we see that 15“For it is all for your sake, so that as grace extends to more and more people it may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God. 16 So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day.”

How do we apply this to our prayer life? Oftentimes I think we find that our most sincere and desperate prayers are in times of need and suffering, ours and our loved ones. Our hearts weigh heaviest when they are full of the burden of pain. So while these verses graciously given to us by God may not fully relieve that pain, it may give us understanding and hope. And we are, if nothing else, hopeful beings, especially in Christ.

Therefor whether it is an undesired result from an important election, or really bad weather, or may God forbid the loss of a loved one, we need to not lose heart because of God’s ultimate plan of Grace. We must not lose sight of it; if you think that you are, pray. Ask your Father to guide you, ask him for vision, but remember the ‘the things unseen are eternal” Something’s only God knows and is meant to know.

(a) From Summarized Bible:Complete Summary of The New Testament by Keith Brooks



Saturday, November 3, 2012

Gospel-Shaped Prayer

Gospel-Shaped Prayer

Along with about 1300 other people the weekend before last Pastor and I went to listen, learn and worship at the Gospel Coalition in Boston. Some of the great Pastors of our time were there including D.A. Carson, Tim Keller, and of course John Piper. It was a great time of fellowship and learning, to be live in a room hearing these men speak,  versus listening to pre-recorded sermons was at times goose pimple inducing. But it was not for the fame of these men, or the crowd of believers, or the excitement of a multitude of literature waiting at the bookstore that one got goose pimples. It was the message! The unified, Gospel centered message of Jesus that oozed out of every lesson and sermon and of course the music that was the cause of excitement.

While each speaker had their own style of speaking, Keller the calm dignified elder, Piper the impassioned intellectual, and Carson the colorful wise sage; their lectures all had the Gospel in common. Gospel, Gospel, Gospel. What is it?

As Keller said “The Gospel is news not advice”, Piper expanded on that somewhat talking about a Gospel centered mind and while I don’t have an hour to recite the entire quote properly so let me say “we need a right mind of God to stoke the white hot coals in our heart for God” and I will, God willing, never forget Carson’s advice to “gossip the Gospel”. So what is the Gospel? Can I successfully and justifiably and completely explain it in the time we have? I will give it a shot.

The Gospel is that “Jesus died for our sins so that when we accept Him in faith as our personal Lord and Savior we may be saved” and while true and awesome I think we sometimes take it for granted and fail to see the actual horrible awesomeness of Jesus’ Death. It was not just the death of Jesus that saved us, it was that through His death that He was forsaken by the Father, and it was through propitiation that He took on the sins of the whole world when He died.

On being forsaken by the Father, Jesus cried out on the cross “Eloi, Eloi lama sabecthani” “My God, My God why have you forsaken me” The triune God has, as far as I know, been living in Holy union, a perfect Trinity of love for all eternity and for the first time the Father has turned his back on His Son on the cross. It is a sense of rejection that I’m sure no human being can fully comprehend, but try thinking of the greatest love in your life telling you they no longer love you and multiply it times infinity.

On propitiation for our sin, well where do I start? 1 John 2:2 ESV “He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.” From ESV Study Bible we find “Propitiation literally means to make favorable and specifically includes the idea of dealing with God’s wrath against sinners.” So Jesus died on the cross and dealt with God’s wrath that should have been meted out onto all the sinners of the whole world for all time, by which we now look favorable to God. Wow can I repeat that?

As Joe Biden would say …”that’s a big …deal”

Now think of the time you sinned against someone you loved, and the Holy Spirit convicted you, your heart hurt, your bones ached, maybe to the point of feeling physically ill. Now imagine the ungodly things some criminals do, it’s too early in the morning to list them, but Jesus took on those sins too, and dealt with God’s wrath for them. Did you know that “Son of Sam” is now a professed Christian and has a prison ministry, and no longer seeks parole? Jesus did that! God did that!

Without the Gospel there is no “Good News” so give thanks for the Gospel when you pray, always!