Posted tagged ‘Gospel’

The Intersectionality of Jesus Christ

December 24, 2018


A recent podcast hosted by Justin Brierley, Debating the Statement on Social Justice – Jarrod McKenna and James White, sparks my thinking this morning. One might wonder what social justice has to do with Christmas Eve that I should be thinking about it. Quite a lot actually.

Before tying up that loose end, though, I feel the need to comment on the discussion. James White was a drafter of the Statement on Social Justice and the Gospel. The express purpose of the Statement is to clarify the meaning of the Gospel in order to guard against false teachings creeping into the Church through modern “sociological, psychological, and political theories”. Certainly, concern over false teachings and false gospels is a theme we find as far back as the Gospels, themselves, and the Pauline letters. We are right o be concerned.

On the other hand, as I listened to the discussion, another concern occurred to me. Yes, we are not of the world, but we are in the world, and the world is our mission field. Jesus left the 99 to search for the one lost sheep. Paul was a Jew to the Jews and a Greek to the Greeks, becoming all things to all people so that he could reach them with the Gospel. (1 Corinthians 9:19-23) Though Paul was concerned about false gospels creeping into the Church, he was also concerned about relating to the lost world.

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The Gospel and Justice Go Hand in Hand

August 20, 2018


I am on the Board of Directors of Administer Justice, a faith-based legal aid clinic. Bruce Strom, the founder of Administer Justice moved on five years ago to form the Gospel Justice Initiative that has established 75 other faith-based legal aid clinics around the country. The tagline for GJI is “communicating the truth of the gospel through justice.” That tagline inspires this blog.

Justice, especially with the social prefix, is code in some circles for a liberal, progressive political orientation. Gospel, in some circles, suggests conservative “Christian” people who ignore issues involving justice. These perceptions are often inaccurate mischaracterizations, but one thing is true: focusing on one to the exclusion of the other misses the heart of God.

We have no better example of God’s heart than Jesus: God who become flesh and lived among us, being obedient to the purposes of God the Father, even to the point of dying on the cross for us. His life is the Gospel incarnate. This Jesus will ultimately mete out justice to all mankind.

“When the Son of Man comes in his glory and all his angels are with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. The people of every nation will be gathered in front of him. He will separate them as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right but the goats on his left.” (Matthew 25:31-33)

Do you know the basis of the justice that Jesus will mete out?

It will be based on what people did when they saw the hungry, the thirsty, the strangers, the needing clothes, the sick and the imprisoned. (Matthew 25:34-46)

Why? …. Because Jesus said,

“Whatever you did for one of my brothers or sisters, no matter how unimportant they seemed, you did for me.” (Matthew 25:40)

When John the Baptist was in prison and wanted some assurance of who Jesus was, before Jesus answered him, “[Jesus] healed many people of diseases and plagues and evil spirits, and on many who were blind he bestowed sight.” (Luke 7:21) Then Jesus said:

“Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the poor have good news preached to them.” (Luke 7:22 alluding to Isaiah 61:1-2)

The message Jesus gave to signal who he was – the Anointed One, the messiah the prophets spoke about – was given only after the demonstration. (more…)

The Gospel and Dialogue with Our Culture

June 24, 2018


I spend a fair amount of time on social media. Too much probably, but I see it as a way to connect with family, friends, the community and the world. As a Christian, it is a place where I can be salt and light, if indeed I am led by the Holy Spirit and exhibit the heart and mind of God. That is my aim. I am sure I fail at times.

In the process of spending time on social media, I come across many Christians. Many of friends are Christians, and many of their friends are Christians, so my feeds naturally reflect that fact. I also have many friends who are not “religious” (“nones” no doubt). Many of them don’t consider themselves Christian, and some of them are atheists. I embrace the diversity.

In my reading of the Gospels, I get the distinct impression that Jesus did too. He was  Jew, born into a Jewish family and grew up in the Temple, learning the Scriptures and engaging in the community of God-believers. When God became flesh, he came to His own, and we are told His own (many of them) didn’t receive Him. (John 1:11) “Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.” (John 1:12-13)

Jesus didn’t just “stick to his own”. He was open and inviting to anyone and everyone. In the process, He was even accused by “his own” of fraternizing with people His own community saw as “them”. Jesus easily crossed the barriers that separate people into “us” and “them”. The Samaritan woman at the well was taken aback that Jesus, a Jew, would even talk to her, a Samaritan and a sinful one that (likely living on the fringe of her own culture).

Jesus was open and welcoming to all who engaged Him. Roman Centurions, Samaritan, tax collectors, Pharisees, unclean and adulterous women. He treated everyone with love and compassion. He addressed people where they were. Though He almost inevitably challenged the people who came to Him with the truth of God and the Gospel, He did it with tender love and compassion. The only times we really see Him getting angry was with the religious leaders.

I have a point in saying these things, and it has to do with social media and the way Christians interact with “the world”.

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The Significance of the Resurrection

October 24, 2017

depositphotos Image ID: 24765707 Copyright: lexmomot

I have written about the central importance of the resurrection of Jesus many times, but I come back to it again. Nothing could be more important. Of this Paul, was crystal clear in his writing.

If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain;

If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins;

If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are evolved people most to be pitied;

If the dead are not raised, “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die”;

What you sow does not come to life until you die.

These are all statements made by Paul in his first letter to the people in Corinth.[1] These statements underscore and highlight the importance of the resurrection in Christian thought.

Jesus is the center of the Christian faith, and the gospel is at the center of Christianity and the resurrection is at the center of the Gospel. If Jesus was not raised from the dead, everything falls apart. The claims of Christianity are bankrupt because they rise or fall on this one point.

If Jesus was raised from the dead, Jesus is who he said he was and no other event in human history is more significant; no  religion or philosophy lays a claim to hope in the present and the future like words of Jesus. Jesus truly is the “light of men”[2] and the “bread of life”[3].

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Judging the Church and Reconciling the World

September 22, 2017

Christianpics.co

Paul writes to the Corinthians “not to associate with sexually immoral people”, but he qualifies that statement to say that he is “not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world or the greedy and swindlers or idolaters since you would need to go out of the world”. (1 Corinthians 5:9-10) What is Paul talking about here?

Paul goes on to clarify that he is writing to the Corinthians “not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler – not even to eat with such a one.”

He is obviously talking about people within the church, and this is a point that I think we have generally gotten wrong in the modern church today, but maybe not in the way that one might suppose.

It seems to me that we have got these instructions from Paul to the Corinthians exactly backwards.

I think of the Moral Majority when I say this. I think of the efforts of Christians to try to impose “Christian values” on our world. I realize that I am departing from many Christian leaders to say something like this, but please hear me out.

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What the Gospel Means to the World

February 19, 2017
depositphotos Image ID: 19311001 Copyrightt cdp

depositphotos Image ID: 19311001 Copyrightt cdp

What does it mean to take up the cross and follow Jesus? Maybe it means being willing to be vulnerable and willing to be weak for the sake of the Gospel. Maybe it means putting the Gospel first and my desire to preserve myself last. Maybe it means being more concerned with the spread of the Gospel than my own reputation.

We hesitate to be outspoken about the Gospel because the Gospel means something different to the world that is perishing than it means to us. For those being saved, the Gospel (the message of the cross) is the power of God for salvation. But for the world, it is received much differently.

“For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.  For it is written,

“I will destroy the wisdom[1] of the wise,
and the discernment[2] of the discerning I will thwart.”

“Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly[3] of what we preach to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.[4]

God is about the business of destroying “the wisdom of the wise” and “the discernment of the discerning”. If that is God’s business, and if we are following after God, this should be our business as well. How then is God destroying the wisdom and discernment of the world?

The Jews demanded a sign, but Jesus dying on the cross was not the sign sign they expected. They expected a savior that would overthrow the Roman government and set up a self-governing, Jewish state in the Promised Land. Jesus didn’t meet their expectations and became a stumbling block to them.

The Greeks wanted sophistication and clever philosophy. Their standard was Aristotle, Plato and the Stoics who developed systematic philosophies. The Gospel to them was foolishness, dull and lacking in the sharpness of thought that the Greeks expected of their thinkers. The Gospel seemed like foolishness to them.

The world today wants tolerance, acceptance, validation and normalization of every form of thinking, affection and lifestyle. Anything goes, and the world demands validation of any identify, affection or behavior that someone wants to embrace. The Gospel that embraces self-restraint over self-love and carries a message that following Jesus is the only way is contrary to the spirit of this modern age.

Wisdom and systematic philosophy is out. The world doesn’t believe in signs anymore. The standard today is tolerance, acceptance and pluralism, sacrificing the truth on the altar of individual rights, freedoms and the license to be or do whatever one wants with no moral constraints.

In this world today, people who hold stubbornly to the Gospel are considered Neanderthal, provincial and vulgar. Taking up our crosses today means being accused of intolerance and “bronze age” thinking.  The Gospel is seen as moral depravity in this world that values the morality of man over the righteousness of God.

The Gospel is the word of an Infidel to the Muslims who bow only to Allah and are instructed to convert, subject or kill those who will not also bow. Yet our modern pluralistic society gives the Muslim world a pass while blaming the Christian church for intolerance.

In any age and in every age, the Gospel runs counter to the prevalent norms and worldviews of the times. The Gospel stands apart, and the followers of Christ stand with it.

Paul preached only Christ and him crucified to the Greeks who thought it was foolishness and to the Jews to whom it was a stumbling block. So we preach Christ who is the way, the truth and the life to those who think we are intolerant, to the Muslims who think we are infidels, to the scientists who think we are ignorant and to the modern moralist who thinks their own morality surpasses the righteousness of God.

Significantly Paul, who’s ministry was to the Greeks and the Romans, did not eschew knowledge or philosophy or the signs the Jewish world was looking for. It wasn’t as if Paul was not a learned man, full of knowledge of Jewish history and scripture. He was trained up in the finest school of the Pharisees run by Gamaliel, the greatest teacher of the time.

It was not as if Paul was an ignorant or unlearned man in Greek philosophy. When he addressed the crowd at in Athens, he cited by memory Greek poets and philosophers.

It’s just that Paul did not buy into the Jewish interpretation of scripture that missed the very Son of God among its pages. Paul did not buy into the knowledge and philosophy of the Greeks because knowledge and philosophy cannot save a man from his sin.

So today, it’s not as if Christians are intolerant. The message of Jesus is universal, but it is always, in every age, counter-cultural. Jesus has instructed us to welcome the stranger, visit the prisoner, love those who are unlovely and even to love our enemies. Still, Jesus is the way, the truth and the life and there is no other way to the Father but through Jesus.

It’s not as if Christians are not intelligent in the ways of science. Until very modern times, Christians led the world in science. In the last couple hundred years, Christians have abdicated the realm of science to the atheists and agnostics. The atheists and agnostics, in turn, have shut the Christians out by defining science narrowly, excluding any thought of god from it. Yet, people of faith are still involved in the sciences. We may even be going through a Renaissance of faith-based science today.

It’s not as if Christians are immoral. Far from it, Jesus called his followers to a higher morality even than the Jewish Pharisees, rooting out thoughts that are sinful and serving others to the point of self-sacrifice. Jesus exemplified that morality because Jesus, the exact representation of God on earth, is the standard. .

It’s not as if there is any other way to salvation. Muhammad lived and died and remains buried. There is no one in the history of religion of whom we cannot say the same, except for Jesus. Jesus rose from the dead. There is no other Messiah.

There is no other person in whose name is the power of life and salvation. Jesus is our bread. He is our water living water. Everything boils down to Jesus. As it was in Paul’s day so it is now in our day.

Taking up the cross and following Jesus, holding out the Gospel, will be met in much the same way as it was meet in Jesus’ day. The world that is perishing will not receive it, but it is salvation and life to those who will receive it. Even if no one receives it, still we carry the cross because there is no other Messiah and are no other words that give life.

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[1] Sophia means “wisdom” and supplies the root of the English terms “sophistication” and “philosophy”. In this sense, the Gospel is contrasted to the sophistication and philosophy of the world.

[2] Sýnesis is translated discernment or cleverness. Literally, it means holistic understanding by joining facts together; synthesized reasoning by bringing implicit (indirect) truths together. In short, it means a worldview. Thus, the Gospel is contrasted to the prevailing worldviews.

[3] Mōría means folly; literally, dull (lacking sharpness).

[4] 1 Corinthians 1:18-25

Taking Up Our Crosses and Embracing Jesus

February 19, 2017
depositphoto Image ID: 2846879 Copyright: rghenry

depositphoto Image ID: 2846879 Copyright: rghenry

“If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself? For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words, of him will the Son of Man be ashamed when he comes in his glory and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels.”[i]

What does it mean to take up our crosses and follow Jesus? What does it mean to lose our lives for Christ’s sake?

In the context of this passage, it means that we should embrace Jesus and His words, and not be ashamed of them. If we read the first two verses in the context of the third verse, taking up our crosses daily means daily embracing Jesus and His words and not being ashamed of doing that.

Wide is the road that leads away from Jesus. Narrow is the gate through which we must go to be saved. Following Jesus has never been the popular way. It costs, above all things, the thing that we seek most. It costs our pride, our reputation in the world. It costs our ability to fit in with the world. It costs our self-esteem and self-promotion.

Am I really following Jesus? If my reputation is good, if I fit in with people wherever I go, am I really following Jesus?

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