Eaten Alive

In the day-to-day trenches of adult life, there is actually no such thing as atheism. There is no such thing as not worshipping. Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship. And the compelling reason for maybe choosing some sort of god or spiritual-type thing to worship — be it JC or Allah, be it YHWH or the Wiccan Mother Goddess, or the Four Noble Truths, or some inviolable set of ethical principles — is that pretty much anything else you worship will eat you alive. If you worship money and things, if they are where you tap real meaning in life, then you will never have enough, never feel you have enough. It’s the truth. Worship your body and beauty and sexual allure and you will always feel ugly. And when time and age start showing, you will die a million deaths before they finally grieve you. On one level, we all know this stuff already. It’s been codified as myths, proverbs, clichés, epigrams, parables; the skeleton of every great story. The whole trick is keeping the truth up front in daily consciousness.

David Foster Wallace [my emphasis]

In Christ, there is no need to fill your life with anything else, for you are already full in Him:

“For in Him all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form, [10] and in Him you have been filled, and He is the head over all rule and authority” (Colossians 2:9-10)

They Begged Him to Leave

Matthew 8:28-39 is one of the scariest Bible passages, but not in the way you might think.

Matthew 8:28-39
[28] When Jesus arrived on the other side of the lake, in the region of the Gadarenes, two men who were possessed by demons met him. They lived in a cemetery and were so violent that no one could go through that area.[29] They began screaming at him, “Why are you interfering with us, Son of God? Have you come here to torture us before God’s appointed time? [30] There happened to be a large herd of pigs feeding in the distance. [31] So the demons begged, “If you cast us out, send us into that herd of pigs.”[32] “All right, go!” Jesus commanded them. So the demons came out of the men and entered the pigs, and the whole herd plunged down the steep hillside into the lake and drowned in the water. [33] The herdsmen fled to the nearby town, telling everyone what happened to the demon-possessed men. [34] Then the entire town came out to meet Jesus, but they begged him to go away and leave them alone.

Think about what has happened in this story. Some extremely strong, demon-possessed men terrorize a whole region. Jesus casts out the demons, thus liberating the region from their tyranny. What is the local town’s response? They begged him to go away and leave them alone.

Jesus’ display of power and mastery over the demons was a good thing (it freed the region from tyranny)! And yet, for the town, it was terrifying. Why? Because it demonstrates that Jesus is Lord, not me. He controls this world, not me. And losing perceived control over my life is always a scary prospect.

But Jesus is a good King, who ultimately gave up His power and prestige to the point of death on a cross (Philippians 2:5-11). A death which would reconcile me back to God. After believing in Jesus, He works His power on our behalf, even though it comes in unexpected ways.

Losing Lazarus: One Year Later

On this date last year, we found out the news that Lazarus had stopped growing.

I can’t believe at how radically different our life situation was, just one year ago: I was still in grad school at Southern Seminary, Heather was still pregnant the first time, we lived in Louisville, Kentucky. Now, I am done with school and working for Lincroft Bible Church. Heather is pregnant a second time. And we live in Jersey.

The first Scripture we read after the news was found in a John Piper Devotional:

But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases,
For His mercies never fail; They are new every morning.
Lamentations 3:21-22

I can’t even describe what those words meant to us during that time. They were the hardest words in the world to read at that point, but also the words we exactly needed.

God’s mercies are new every morning.

Sometimes, they’re just severe mercies.

Church of (Human) Glory? Or a Church of the Cross?

Amid our shifting culture—moving away from a culturally Christian, modern culture to a postmodern and neo-pagan culture—how should church respond? I think that we should reclaim some of our Protestant roots and learn from the great Reformer, Martin Luther.[1] In 1518, Martin Luther was still a monk within the Catholic church. His superiors, however, wanted Luther to explain himself more, because some of Luther’s writings began to make waves within the Catholic church.

When Luther appeared before them, he did not merely explain his views. He actually sent forth a complete paradigm shift for how someone comes to know God. In his lecture, Luther contrasted two ways of doing theology. There is a theology of (human) glory, or there is a theology of the cross. The theology of glory begins with humanity. Humanity defines what glory is like and then fashions God into that image. Furthermore, human reason is competent enough to figure God out.

The theology of the cross, on the other hand, starts with the cross as the clearest revelation of God. At the cross, humanity sees the kind of God that Scripture reveals to us, a God who comes near in suffering, brokenness, and death. The glory of God is not a raw exercise of His power, but God is glorified through the suffering of His Son, Jesus Christ.

Luther has hit upon a profound concept by distinguishing a theology of (human) glory and a theology of the cross. I want to build upon that concept and propose that we can do church either one of two ways: we can either be a church of (human) glory or a church of the cross.

The church of human glory focuses on being respected by the culture. It focuses on fancier buildings, and bigger budgets. The church of glory wants the pastor on CNN commenting on the latest issue. The church of glory wants the praise of the culture, not God.

Throughout most of American history, Christianity in general, and churches in particular, have been respected to some degree. To be a part of some kind of church was the respectable thing to do. And so, I think that some churches became prideful. They expected to be listened to and they expected to yield cultural influence.

Today, the culture is turning on those churches. It is becoming not fashionable or popular to be a Christian in American society.

The church of the cross, however, focuses on preaching Christ crucified, sharing the good news of our crucified and risen Messiah. It does not seek cultural acceptance. It doesn’t do good works to be seen. Rather, the church of the cross works behind the scenes, faithfully doing good works without seeking wordly acclaim. It may seem like the church holds no influence on the culture, but if you have eyes to see, the church of the cross is meeting the needs of hurting people.

So how do we respond to a shifting culture? Most simply, by faithfully preaching and sharing the good news of Jesus Christ.

 


[1] The basis of my understanding about the theology of glory versus the theology of the cross comes from Robert Kolb’s article, “Luther on the Theology of the Cross,” in Lutheran Quarterly, XVI: 4 (Winter 2002), 443-466. It can be accessed online here: http://pastormattrichard.webs.com/LQ_16-4_04_Kolb.pdf

Three Gospel Assurances

A new year is here, just over a week old! And every January, the gym is packed! Why is that? Because we crave newness and want to change. Maybe for you, the gym isn’t your thing. But I’m sure that there are probably areas of your life which you want to change. So we try out many different things to help us change. Whether it’s the gym, or a new relationship, or even a new religion. You want change. You want freedom. You want to be a new person, that’s why we pursue change.

The problem is that although outwardly we might seem like we are changing, on the inside, we know that we haven’t. We believe we are free, we aren’t.We slip into the same patters of behavior, over and over again. Or, we slip into the same patterns of thinking, over and over again.

Everything we try to use in order to change is bankrupt. Because whatever we try, doesn’t change us at our very core. It doesn’t change what we ultimately love. All of our change efforts are in vain, because they come from self-love. All efforts to change are bankrupt.

Except one thing: God’s means of transformation.

God has provided us with everything we need to change: the gospel. The gospel is the good news that Jesus came into the world to save sinners. Furthermore, the gospel is powerful to transform your life.

God, however, desires that we don’t doubt the power of the gospel to transform our lives. To help strengthen our faith, God gives us three assurances about the power of the gospel.

Colossians 1:1-8

[1] Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, and Timothy our brother, [2] To the saints and faithful brethren in Christ who are at Colossae: Grace to you and peace from God our Father.

[3] We give thanks to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, praying always for you, [4] since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and the love which you have for all the saints; [5] because of the hope laid up for you in heaven, of which you previously heard in the word of truth, the gospel [6] which has come to you, just as in all the world also. It is constantly bearing fruit and increasing, even as it has been doing in you also since the day you heard of it and understood the grace of God in truth; [7] just as you learned it from Epaphras, our beloved fellow bond-servant, who is a faithful servant of Christ on our behalf, [8] and he also informed us of your love in the Spirit.

Gospel Assurances

I think there are three gospel assurances in this passage…

The gospel saves anyone

Paul was a bad guy, someone who persecuted Christians (Acts 9:1-2). Yet, God’s grace comes to Paul and totally upends his life. He goes from great persecutor of the church to church planter and writer of most of the New Testament. No one is beyond God’s reach.

The gospel spreads everywhere

“The gospel [6] which has come to you, just as in all the world also. It is constantly bearing fruit and increasing…”

If it spread across the pagan Roman Empire, it can bear fruit anywhere. Where do you doubt the gospel can spread? In your work, school, family? The gospel spreads everywhere.

The gospel sustains everything

“[Epaphras] also informed us of your love in the Spirit.”

Love is the sum and substance of the Christian life. Love is everything. But love does not come from the Christian’s own will power. It comes from God (1 John 4:19). And the gospel is the greatest demonstration of God’s love for His people (Romans 5:8). It is the gospel which sustains all of our love, all our ministry, and all of our life. What’s sustaining you?

From Attractional Events to Attractional Communities

We cannot assume people will come to us. We must go them. We need to do church and mission in the context of everyday life. We can no longer think of church as a meeting on a Sunday morning. We must think of church as a community of people who share life, ordinary life. And we cannot think of mission as an event that takes place in a ecclesiastical building. Of course, there will continue to be a role for special events, but the bedrock of mission will be ordinary life. Mission must be done primarily in the context of everyday life. An everyday church with an everyday mission.

Tim Chester and Steve Timmis, Everyday Church, pg. 28