Posted by: ozziepete | 19 August, 2014

Could Jesus Transform Ferguson?

In yesterday’s sermon I described how the absence of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience and forgiveness leads to events like the situation in Ferguson, Missouri. (Colossians 3:12-13)

I’ll open by acknowledging that there is no simple solution to the distrust, rage and bitterness that is evident in Ferguson. The underlying causes, attitudes, behaviours and systems are often systemic and have accumulated over years. I’ve written more about this complexity here, but I thought this op-ed piece in Time Magazine by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar provided a good starting point.

I should also highlight that I co-preached this sermon with one of my church’s college students. We had worked on this for a month. It was only in the last 48 hours that it became apparent how applicable the passage was to the headlines coming out of Ferguson.

Why apply Colossians 3 to race relations in the United States? It’s my understanding that the church in Colossae had a fair degree of ethnic diversity. O’Brian in the Word Biblical Commentary has this description, “So the Colossae of Paul’s day seems to have been a cosmopolitan city in which differing cultural and religious elements mingled.” Although the letter seems to indicate a predominantly Gentile church, it’s still reasonable to expect there to be a Jewish presence.

Then in chapter 3:11 we find this inspiring vision, “Here there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.” The act of baptism and following Christ means that the converts identity in Christ supersedes identities based upon nationality, race, ethnicity, and social status.The call to unity here and again in v14 indicates that some division existed within the church, quite possibly founded within the racial and cultural diversity of the church.

tear gas 01Earlier, in v8, Paul told the church that they needed to “put off… anger, rage, malice, slander, filthy language and lying.”

How’s this for a tinderbox? We see an ethnically and culturally diverse church with a considerable number of people who struggle with anger, rage, malice and slander. It’s no surprise that the church is also experiencing division. The potential for hateful talk and actions seems only a breath away.

I suspect that many readers will quickly draw a comparison between the Colossian church and the current state of race relations in the United States. The US is a cosmopolitan society and even has a black president, but we all know that not far below the surface in many communities lies anger, rage, malice, slander and in some cases lying against racial groups other than our own.

Thankfully, Paul doesn’t just tell the Colossian Christians to stop the negative behaviour. He also gives them a positive prescription for them to work on. Paul wants followers of Christ, to cover themselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience and forgiveness. How would these virtues change the dynamics of the combustible Colossian church? How would these virtues change the dynamics of inflamed Ferguson?

I’m not suggesting anyone can walk into downtown Ferguson and simply say, “Hey everyone, lets all just have some humility and gentleness today” and that saying this would change everything. But I do believe that when Christians integrate these values into our lives, into our families and into our churches, God will transform communities.

When I picture how these virtues can impact racial tensions, I picture people humbly listening to each other and seeking to understand different cultural values. I picture people having compassion toward those caught in a cycle of poverty rather than demanding that they simply get a job. I picture people showing kindness and gentleness as they provide practical assistance to those in need without a sniff of condescension. I picture patience from minorities who come to understand that systematic change takes time and moves much more slowly than anyone wants. And perhaps most importantly, I picture people walking into disagreements and conflicts with a predisposition to forgive because Christ has forgiven them.

This is a long-term approach. It doesn’t bring Michael Brown back or solve the current crisis in Ferguson. But I believe that God can use His people to transform communities.

I also believe that multi-racial churches are a necessity if Christianity is to have any credibility in the area of racial tension. How can we teach God’s vision for a peaceful, unified society when we can’t worship Him in the same building? God’s people have a responsibility to live out the truth that Here there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, [black or white, rich or poor], but Christ is all, and is in all.

ADDITIONAL READING:

Posted by: ozziepete | 31 July, 2014

Colossians 2 – Freedom in Christ

In Paul’s letter to the Colossian church he places Christ front and center throughout the letter. We can learn a lot from this.

I really loved preaching this chapter and I’m really appreciating the Christ focus throughout the book. I find it so easy to get caught up in “emergencies” and “situations” and “discussions” that my natural human problem solving gene kicks in. Paul’s writing to a church that has problems, but he doesn’t problem-solve. He consistently points them back to Jesus.

The verse that really caught my attention as I read through this chapter was v23. Speaking of “human commands and teachings” this is how The Message renders v23:

Such things sound impressive if said in a deep enough voice. They even give the illusion of being pious and humble and ascetic. But they’re just another way of showing off, making yourselves look important.

What a lovely description of human “spiritual” rules.

At this point I’m going to completely take the verse out of it’s historical context of Judaism, paganism and dietary rules. Hopefully I can still remain faithful to the theological point Paul makes.

Our churches generally overflow with man-made “spiritual” rules. Here’s a few I can think of:

  • Sunday dress code
  • Bible version
  • Church name
  • Celebrating (or not) Christmas and Easter
  • Song styles
  • When the collection should be taken during a worship service
  • Women are restricted from many roles within the church without a shred of Biblical support.
  • Clapping during worship
  • How church finances should be spent
  • Whether or not a minister can also be an elder
  • Who can perform a baptism

rules 01I know there are many more. Feel free to leave your contributions in the comments section.

Here’s the rub. I actually think man made rules are a good thing.

I’m glad that our children get told to slow down when they run through the church building. I have no desire to visit Sister Perkins in hospital because my daughter crashed into her while traveling at high speed.

I think it’s wise that a church requires new members to attend a special class for new members that discusses the values of the church before they can lead a ministry.

Forbidding adults to be alone in a classroom with children is a good rule to prevent child sex abuse.

BUT we get off track when we start requiring particular man-made rules be observed in order that a person maintain good standing with God.

This brings us to the GREAT DILEMMA. It’s easy to sit back and take cheap shots at churches and their various rules. What’s difficult is to honestly examine our own lives and churches and to distinguish between God-required and man-made obligations. I don’t believe there’s anything wrong with asking those serving communion not to wear shorts, as long as I recognise that it’s a local preference not a Divine ordinance. Then having acknowledge that this is a preference, we should willing set the rule aside if circumstances require that someone wearing shorts serve communion. It’s not a big deal… really.

Here are a couple of random thoughts that might help us keep things in perspective:

  • Are we more concerned with how we do things or why we do them?
  • Do we have a rule against something because it’s unscriptural or because it makes us uncomfortable?

Maybe you get a chuckle out of this post. That’s okay. We’re funny people sometimes. And I believe that all these “rules” are genuine attempts to help people live holy lives and honor God in our worship. But that’s what often makes it so hard to determine if they’re human or Godly. There’s usually a Bible verse to back up every rule! As The Message says, “They sound impressive if said in a deep enough voice.

So Paul doesn’t get caught up in all this silliness. In the very next verse he lays down this “rule”….

Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above

 

Posted by: ozziepete | 30 July, 2014

Finding a Secret Song in Colossians

The commentaries I referenced all seem to agree that Colossians 1:15-20 is a song, a hymn, or a piece of poetry. Yet many of the major English Bible translations don’t acknowledge this presence.

There’s something different about Colossians 1:15-20. Is it the vocabulary? Is it the metre, or rhythm of the text? Is it prose, or is it poetry?

Most scholars I can find agree that this paragraph is something different from Paul’s typical writing. There’s quite a discussion in academic circles concerning whether Paul wrote the hymn personally, or if he quoted it because it fit his message. A third path seeks to determine if Paul edited and existing work to make it fit his letter.

Mostly, these verse are referred to as a hymn, but not a Fanny Crosby style hymn. It’s not possible to know if this “hymn” was ever sung. Maybe it was chanted. Perhaps it simply existed as a poem one particular church. Maybe they recited it in unison to start their worship, or a gifted individual may have simply shared it with the apostle.

Interestingly, many of the major English Bible translations simply include this hymn in the standard paragraph format. This layout decision conceals the presence of the hymnic material. Even some of the translations that acknowledge the presence of a poetic section do a terrible job of displaying it. For example, the Holman Christian Standard Bible gives the entire piece a single straight left margin. I’m no poet, but I can tell this layout doesn’t add any illumination to the poem.

That’s my criticism. Now for my solution.

I have very little talent or appreciation for poetry. I’ve never really graduated beyond rhymes. But with a little help from my reference books and NT Wright in particular, I hope I can shine a light for you on the beauty of this hymn.

I know it’s a bit clunky, but for the sake of layout I’ve used powerpoint and will insert and discuss the slides below.

To begin I’ll share a format for the whole hymn that I believe works well. It has two stanzas with a bridge in between.

colossians 1a

The first stanza celebrates Jesus’ role in creation and describes his total supremacy. “In him all things were created.” The second stanza explicitly declares Jesus’ supremacy. It also focuses upon Jesus humanity and ultimately his death. The bridge makes the transition from praising Jesus in the cosmic sphere to acknowledging his Lordship of the church. He holds the universe together and unifies and directs the church.

On a broad scale I like this symmetry. The verses maintain a common theme, albeit with a separate application and the bridge manages the transition well.

The hymn also uses lots of repetition to emphasise its points. The technical term for this is parallelism as different pairs of lines say the same thing using different words. Verse 16 provides a great example:

  1. For in him all things were created:
  2. things in heaven and on earth,
  3.           visible and invisible,
  4. whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities;
  5. all things have been created through him and for him.

Lines 1 and 5 bookend this verse by painting an image of all things being created in, through and for Jesus. Just in case you forgot who you were praising. Lines 2 and 3 display a parallelism or repetition that provides additional details to the sweeping claims of lines 1 and 5. Then line 5 provides an even deeper level of clarification with four different terms that seem to all describe the same thing.

There are no exceptions to Jesus’ supremacy!

The last feature of this hymn I want to highlight is the correspondence between the stanzas.

colossians 1b

Each stanza starts at the beginning and describes Jesus as firstborn. Jesus is both firstborn of the first creation, and firstborn of the new creation. Both origins testify to his supremacy.

colossians 1c

This slide is a bit jumbled, but I’ll attempt to clarify it.

1. While the connection between creation and supremacy is obvious, the supremacy of the man Jesus is not as clear. So v19 explains that the human Jesus had the fullness of God living within him. It clarifies how the man Jesus is “the image of the invisible God.” (In hindsight, perhaps v19 should have been on the previous slide.)

2. In the first stanza the supreme Jesus creates. In the second stanza the supreme Jesus reconciles.

3. Just as Jesus created all things on heaven and earth, he has also reconciled all things on heaven and earth. The fullness of God dwells in him so that all things are reconciled through and for Jesus.

I really admire the cleverness of this hymn. There are additional links and threads that I haven’t mentioned here. However, the literary skill demonstrated in this passage should not distract from the reason Paul included it in his letter to the church in Colossae. The message is simple:

“JESUS!”

 

(For a different perspective on the same passage, I previously blogged on this text HERE.)

FOOTNOTE: After reading this blog a friend referred me to a prayer / hymn apparently written by St. Patrick. Here’s a sample of that work that like Colossians 1 gives uninhibited praise to Christ our Lord.

I bind unto myself today the power of God to hold and lead, His eye to watch, His might to stay, His ear to hearken to my need: the wisdom of my God to teach, His hand to guide, His shield to ward; the Word of God to give me speech, His heavenly host to be my guard.

Christ be with me, Christ within me, Christ behind me,
Christ before me, Christ beside me, Christ to win me,
Christ to comfort me and restore me, Christ beneath me,
Christ above me, Christ in the hearts of all that love me,
Christ in the mouth of friend and stranger.

Posted by: ozziepete | 16 July, 2014

Start with Gratitude

How would your life be different if each day started with GRATITUDE?

Do you know that Paul begins most of his letters in the Bible by thanking God for the church or person he’s writing to?

  • Romans 1:8First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is being reported all over the world.
  • 1 Corinthians 1:4 “I always thank my God for you because of his grace given you in Christ Jesus.”
  • Ephesians 1:15For this reason, ever since I heard about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all God’s people, I have not stopped giving thanks for you
  • Philippians 1:3I thank my God every time I remember you.In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy…”
  • Colossians 1:3-4We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, because we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love you have for all God’s people…
  • 1 Thessalonians 1:2 We always thank God for all of you and continually mention you in our prayers.
  • 2 Thessalonians 1:3We ought always to thank God for you, brothers and sisters, and rightly so, because your faith is growing more and more, and the love all of you have for one another is increasing.
  • 2 Timothy 1:3-4I thank God, whom I serve, as my ancestors did, with a clear conscience, as night and day I constantly remember you in my prayers. Recalling your tears, I long to see you, so that I may be filled with joy.
  • Philemon 1:4-5I always thank my God as I remember you in my prayers, because I hear about your love for all his holy people and your faith in the Lord Jesus.”

The exceptions are 2 Corinthians, Galatians and 1 Timothy.

In 2 Corinthians I’m guessing Paul was just exasperated that he needed to write to this church a second time. (Possibly this was the fourth letter he’d written to the Corinthian church in total.) In Galatians he’s obviously upset as he opens with “I can’t believe your fickleness—how easily you have turned traitor to him who called you by the grace of Christ by embracing a variant message!” (MSG) This is obviously no time for formalities!  1 Timothy & Titus I can’t explain.

Scholars tell me that Paul was following standard letter templates as he opened his letters first by introducing himself and the recipients and offering a greeting. He also followed the usual conventional structures by including a thanksgiving paragraph in his letters.

As you read through the list above you’ll notice a fairly consistent format to these thanksgiving paragraphs. I’m not going to break down that structure any further. The more practical point is to notice that Paul personalises each of these thanksgiving paragraphs.

I don’t believe that these thanksgiving paragraphs are mere flattery.

They are not just form letters where Paul has Timothy fill in the blanks with different names. He takes time to think of traits about that church for which he can offer thanks to God.

Now I get to jump on one of my favorite soap boxes.

In every church I know the list of prayer needs far exceeds the list of thanksgiving points.

It seems that most Christians view prayer as a means of communicating our needs, wants, hurts, and requests to God. I happen to agree with this.

It also seems that most Christians, myself included, make very little effort to look for God’s presence in our lives and then pause to thank Him. The church prays for Sister Brown’s foot pain as she submits a prayer card each Sunday for weeks and months, then when she finds a helpful medication we offer a brief prayer of thanks mixed in with other needs, if we mention it at all. (Luke 17:11-19 seems pertinent here.)

This unbalanced prayer life impacts the way we see God. We don’t use prayer to express love and appreciation to a loving Father. Rather we view him as a giant-vending-machine-in-the-sky and if we can just hit the buttons the right way we’ll have our hearts desires drop into our lap.

family breakfast 01I wonder how our lives would be different if we consciously decided to “Start with Gratitude”.

Would we appreciate our spouse and kids more if thanked God not just for their presence, but for something about them? Would it make the breakfast table be a different place if our daily routine started with thanks?

Would we have a better attitude toward our co-workers, or teachers, or classmates if we thanked God for them on the way to work or school?

Would we speak differently about our church if each day we gave thanks for the presence of the church, a ministry of the church, and some individuals from the church? Have you ever prayed down your church directory just thanking God for the way he’s working in that person or family’s life and the way he’s using them to bless others? Do you think that if you thanked God for that young Christian who seems to stumble more than grow but is still committed to Jesus, do you think you might say something different next Sunday?

I believe that when we make gratitude our starting point in our relationships with God and others the whole relational dynamic makes a positive shift.

On Sunday I encouraged the church to deliberately spend more time offering prayers of thanks rather than requests this week and see if it makes a difference. Perhaps you’d like to try this also?

DISCLAIMER: We all experience season of our life where we feel closer to Psalm 13:1 “How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever?” than we do Psalm 34:1 “I will extol the Lord at all times; his praise will always be on my lips.

There are moments when praise and thankfulness seems shallow and fake. There are times when grief and pain overwhelm us. This post is not intended to tell those of us experiencing this darkness to “just get over it” or to “fake it”. If that’s you, I pray that God provides healing. I pray you don’t feel guilt because others experience joy and gratitude. Even Paul in Galatians felt that the urgency of the Galatian problems meant skipping his usual paragraph of thanks. I pray that your day of gratitude will arrive soon.

 

Posted by: ozziepete | 10 July, 2014

5 Tips for Crossing the River

I haven’t written on my blog for a couple of weeks because I traveled to Nashville to attend Lipscomb University’s “Summer Celebration“. For me, this conference provides an annual spiritual high. But each year I struggle to implement into my life and ministry the excellent ideas and lessons I hear. If you also have this struggle, here are some ideas…

This week’s blog title comes from the above passages. The 2014 Summer Celebration adopted the book of Joshua as its theme. In Numbers 32 we read that a couple of tribes wanted to settle on the eastern side of the Jordan river. The problem is that Jericho and the Promised Land lies to the west of the Jordan. Were these tribes going to bail and separate themselves from their countrymen?

Moses reached an agreement with them that they would leave their families and livestock on the eastern bank, but their fighting men would cross with the rest of the nation and fight for the land of others.

In Joshua 22 after the major cities in the Promised Land have been defeated, Joshua releases these tribes to return to their families. As Joshua releases them, he gives them this warning:

“Return to your homes in the land that Moses the servant of the Lord gave you on the other side of the Jordan. But be very careful to keep the commandment and the law that Moses the servant of the Lord gave you: to love the Lord your God, to walk in obedience to him, to keep his commands, to hold fast to him and to serve him with all your heart and with all your soul.”

WP_20140701_004[1]Joshua understood the risk that after being on mission for God with the encouragement and presence of fellow believers the isolation of the eastern bank could lead them to forget their commitment to God and to their neighbours. Joshua understood that with the dramatic battles behind them and the celebrations of corporate worship fading that the “everyday-ness” of every day could lead to complacency and a loss of awareness of God’s presence and involvement in the world. So….

love the Lord your God, to walk in obedience to him, to keep his commands, to hold fast to him and to serve him with all your heart and with all your soul.

Those of us blessed with the opportunities to attend spiritual workshops, conventions, camps, or maybe those who experience powerful Sunday worship service know that we also encounter the struggle of maintaining that God-focus as we return to our desks, our homes, our pews, and our communities.

So here are 5 tips for making a successful reentry to everyday life after experiencing a time of intense spiritual learning and encouragement. Lets work to ensure that we can pass on to others the inspiration which we received, and that we can turn dreams into reality.

1.Plan to Find Applications: If you attend a workshop, or church service, expecting the presenter to apply the material to your life or ministry for you, then you’ll come away disappointed. Each listener needs to accept responsibility for filtering the presentation for the elements that pertain the most to their life circumstances. If you don’t accept this task you will return home with a lot of great information, but nothing to do with it.

2. Don’t Let the Schedule Enslave You: At this year’s Summer Celebration I passed up some great sessions because they weren’t the highest priority for my ministry or personal walk with God. At one point I deliberately skipped a class session so that I could followup with the presenter of the class that just finished. I decided that discussing my concerns and questions about ministry in multiracial churches with this guy took priority over sitting in another class on a less pertinent topic.

3. Review Your Notes: I’m not sure how many people today actually take notes at workshops. But if you do… when you get back to normality… Make time to look back over them. At Lipscomb I had the opportunity to attend at least 12 classes and 5 keynote sessions. There is no way I’ll naturally remember all those points if I don’t refresh my memory. It’s not that I need to remember everything I wrote down, but I want to make sure I remember what’s important. There’s many a vital idea, or Scripture verse, or principle that could transform a ministry or a life that lies buried in a stack of conference workbooks.

4. Tell Someone Else: You come home fired up by a powerful presentation on a subject you feel passionate about. It was a great session with wonderful information and motivational stories. Now the time arrives for you to take ownership. Have coffee with a friend and make and effort to describe the high points of the conference. This exercise of verbally explaining ideas, teachings, or applications provides a great gauge to how well we understand the concepts. Often we’ll find that we need to do some more research or problem solving before we can communicate our passions clearly. We were inspired by big picture concepts and visions, but we need to develop greater clarity on how the details work and how all the dots connect.

5. Don’t Underestimate Relationships: Hopefully, you met some new people or reconnected with old friends at this particular conference. These are people who shared the experience with you and heard some, or many, of the same speakers you heard. Don’t wait another twelve months to discover what they did with the teaching they received.  Contact them while they still remember who you are!  Promptly reach out to them (facebook, twitter, email, phone call) and begin a conversation that will last at least a year. The lessons they learn as they integrate their conference experience into their lives may be the practical encouragement you need to make the changes you need to make in your life or ministry.

If you have some additional habits that you’ve found helpful in maximising the benefit of spiritual workshops, I’d love to hear them in the comment section below.

Posted by: ozziepete | 25 June, 2014

Game of Thrones – End Game

The nature of preaching means that over the course of a year all preachers will preach sermons we know are important, but we don’t feel passionate about them. This past Sunday I was blessed to preach on a subject I feel strongly about.

The celebration of both Easter and weekly Lord’s Supper emphasise the death and resurrection of Jesus. I quickly run out of superlatives when trying to describe the importance of these events. [Apparently it's not good writing to repeat the word "very" 127 times in a row.] As vital as these events are within the panorama of history, within the story of God, and to both the world and to Christians, they are not the complete story of Jesus. And I’m not just talking about the absence of Christmas.  I fear that many Christians have come to accept the picture of Jesus painted by Renaissance artists and children’s story books. Generally speaking, this is a portrait of a wimpy Jesus. This portrait of Jesus might be accompanied with terms such as: Gentle, tender, kind, compassionate, gracious, merciful, caring, and mild-mannered. These are all wonderful words. They all describe Jesus accurately and I value each of them immensely in my relationship with Christ. However, the majesty of Jesus requires more than one set of words to accurately describe him. When we stop the story of Jesus at the Resurrection we lose the image of Jesus currently seated on a throne at the right hand of God the Father in heaven. This was a truth that in Acts 7 that Stephen died proclaiming. This is a truth that we often confess at baptism today when we affirm the statement that “Jesus is our LORD and our Saviour”. Sadly, most of our teaching at the time of our baptism focuses on Jesus as Saviour while the implications of calling him Lord are glossed over. Ephesians 1:21-22 describes Jesus currently as,

far above every rule and authority and power and dominion and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come.  And God put all things under Christ’s feet, and he gave him to the church as head over all things.

In Revelation 1 the apostle, John, graphically describes Jesus as anything but gentle.

His head and hair were as white as wool, even as white as snow, and his eyes were like a fiery flame.  His feet were like polished bronze refined in a furnace, and his voice was like the roar of many waters. He held seven stars in his right hand, and a sharp double-edged sword extended out of his mouth. His face shone like the sun shining at full strength. When I saw him I fell down at his feet as though I were dead.

This is not a cuddly Jesus. This is a powerful, awesome, drop at his feet, Jesus. This is the Jesus that calmed the storm. This is the Jesus who taught with authority because he had authority. This is the Jesus who went toe-to-toe with Satan in the wilderness and sent him running. This is God the Son. And He’s not a wimp. This is the Jesus who will be returning to Earth in the future to judge us all. This is the Jesus who will return and ultimately destroy Satan and all forces of evil. This is the Jesus who is “King of kings and Lord of lords.” I’m not discussing this in order to change the artwork in children’s picture Bible’s. Our image of Jesus has deep implications for how we relate to Him and how we live our lives. king jesus 01When we approach life with the image before us of Jesus ruling all powers and dominions, we will live with confidence. We will live with assurance that our setbacks, hurts and struggles will not alter the final outcome. We will live with the knowledge that “our side” has already won. We will pray, believing that “God’s will can and will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” We will not take the teachings of Jesus complacently because we acknowledge the power and authority he possess. Yet we will still approach his throne with confidence because we also experience his grace, mercy, love, kindness, and gentleness. Here’s my plea to all you preachers and teachers out there… When you summarise the Gospel, please don’t stop at the Resurrection. Let’s commit to talking about the Death, Resurrection and REIGN, and RETURN of Christ. The Good News is not just related to what Jesus did in the past. It’s the story of what Jesus does today and will do tomorrow. As I was preparing for this sermon I was surprised how often the biblical writers mention the reign of Jesus in their Gospel summaries. I’ll close with a few examples:

Hebrews 10:12-13 But when this priest had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God,and since that time he waits for his enemies to be made his footstool.Hebrews 12:2 “fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” Romans 8:34 “Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. 1 Corinthains 15:3-5, 24-27Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures,that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures,and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve.” “Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power.For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death.For he “has put everything under his feet.”

Posted by: ozziepete | 18 June, 2014

Apologetics 101

Question Marks 01My sermons the last couple three weeks have taken an apologetic approach to the birth, death and resurrection of Jesus. Can we believe the biblical accounts of these events as historical records? Or are they fantastic legends or myths designed to manipulate gullible people into believing that a merely human rabbi might actually be divine?

These questions are answered by Christians who study in the field of “Apologetics”. Although the word sounds like “apology”, it actually means “to defend” a particular person, view, belief etc. Sometimes we use the word “apologist” to describe someone who is a supporter of something. For example, “Jim is an unashamed apologist for Obamacare.” In the arena of theological studies Apologetics involves defending Christian beliefs using logic, history, and science in addition to the Bible itself. It’s about giving a reason for why you believe what you believe.

Since my sermons for this series rely very heavily on the work of others I thought the most helpful way to blog on this topic would be to share reputable resources with you.

Here’s my list:

BOOKS

  • Cold Case Christianity (2013) by J. Warner Wallace – a very easy-to-read book that “investigates” Christianity from the perspective of a homicide detective.
  • The 21 Toughest Questions Your Kids Will Ask about Christianity (2013) by Alex McFarland – An excellent resource for parents or anyone involved in mentoring young people.
  • Tactics (2009) by Gregory Koukl – Probably shouldn’t be a your first read on topic. This book mostly addresses ways of conducting conversations on the topic of apologetics.
  • On Guard (2010) by William Lane Craig – This is his introduction level book. He is currently one of the most prominent scholars in the field of apologetics and although his other books are more academic they’re highly recommended if you want to dig deeper.
  • The Case for Christ (1998) by Lee Strobel – also a fairly easy read. As a journalist he uses his books as an opportunity to interview and challenge experts on various topics related to questions about Jesus.
  • The Case for a Creator (2005) by Lee Strobel – In this book he examines issues related to the creation/evolution debate.
  • The Case for Faith (2000) by Lee Strobel – Not so much about apologetics. This book discusses 8 questions that Christians (and nonbelievers) struggle to answer.
  • The Case for Easter (2004) by Lee Strobel – A shorter book focused upon Jesus’ resurrection.
  • New Evidence that Demands a Verdict (2000) by Josh McDowell – an older book, but a good basic resource.
  • Other recommended books are also available in my Amazon Store.

WEBSITES

  • Smart Faith – Primarily an annual apologetics conference in Pheonix, the site also contains helpful links.
  • Christian Apologetics and Resource Ministry – This website has large number of articles and resources available.
  • Stand to Reason – is a weekly radio show on apologetics. The website includes lots of audio and articles.
  • Apologetics 315 – This site regularly provides lists of current articles on apologetic topics. It is a place where you can get daily apologetics resources including MP3 audio, debates, podcasts, book reviews, quotes, and more.
  • Reasonable Faith – The website of William Lane Craig contains numerous articles and podcasts.
  • Apologetics Press – is a Church of Christ resource.
  • For a more comprehensive list visit this page.

PODCASTS

(This list is compiled by my friend Josh! Thanks Josh.) Although the links are to the podcast page, most of these are also good resource websites not listed above.

  • Stand To Reason: These guys also have an App (for Windows Phones too!) New podcasts are available each Monday. You can also subscribe on itunes.
  • Ravi Zacharias International Ministries: This podcast is more sermonish in style then hardcore Apologetics. You can also subscribe on itunes.
  • Cross Examined: The podcast of a weekly radio show is available through their website. Also available on itunes. AND they have an App.
  • Please Convince Me Podcast: This guy is my favorite, I mostly listed to the podcast but he has mentioned several times he has a free curriculum for youth group leaders. He also discusses trips he takes with with youth groups to hear Atheists speak at UC Berkley (After the kids have been trained in apologetics). Available on itunes.
  • Alvin Plantinga: This guy is the leading expert on evolution/naturalism in terms of defending Christianity. His stuff is pretty dry and academic but really solid arguments, so some day when you’ve had too many espressos to fall asleep you need to check his stuff out. Not really a podcast channel, but he’s all over Youtube!!
  • Biola University Apologetics Events: Many of their events are live streamed so you can listen to them for free.

YOUTUBE

By this point we’ve covered most of the big names currently prominent in the field of apologetics. Quite a few of them have their own YouTube channels. I’ll list a few here and once you’re there you can look around for others.

If you have a favourite Apologetic resource that’s not listed here, please let me know in the comment section and I’ll add it to the list.

 

 

Posted by: ozziepete | 5 June, 2014

God Initiates

This week I’m following up on last week’s post that you can read HERE.

A friend of mine suggested an additional phase that I agree I need to include. This means we now have “SIX Phases of Transformation”.

The additional phase is “God Initiates“. This phase slots in as the first phase in the cycle.

paul damascus road 01

In Acts 9 we see this phase clearly as Jesus appears to Saul while he travels to Damascus. He doesn’t appear to Saul as a gentle whisper, but in a blinding (literally) light from heaven and with an audible, bodiless voice. “Saul, can you hear me now?

God had plans for Saul and he wasn’t going to sit around twiddling his thumbs hoping Saul would come to this realisation on his own. No, God stepped in and personally called Saul in a very attention getting fashion.

Not everyone receives such a personal call to discipleship from God. But God works in everyone’s life prior to our acknowledging Him. God Initiates. He Originates. He is the original Cause.

Our lives have always been a reaction to God’s action.

  • God created. How would humanity respond? With disobedience.
  • God cursed but preserved humanity. How would they respond? Cain kills Able and cycle of violence is initiated.
  • God planned a Flood as judgement but gave a means of escape. How would humanity respond? With apathy.
  • God promised relationship with Abraham and his descendents.
  • God entered a covenant with Israel at Sinai. Will Israel be faithful? Increasingly, no.
  • God ultimately sends his Son to Earth. How will his people respond? They kill him.
  • God allows Jesus to die as a sacrifice for the world’s sins. Will people respond? Some do, some don’t.
  • God raises Jesus from the grave. Will people believe? Some do, some don’t.

On a personal level people respond to the Gospel as a result of asking, “How does God’s gracious act of dying for my sins impact my life? God offers me forgiveness. Do I accept it?”

Even apart from the meta story of creation – cross- redemption, God inserts himself into our lives in a way that opens us up to the need of relationship with Him. I recently talked with a guy who was motivated to pursue relationship with God because he watched The Bible tv series. Hundreds of thousands of people watched that series but only a small percentage were prompted to study the Bible. God was already working in this guy’s life so that he was open to hearing the message of the Gospel. Perhaps six months earlier he would have simply rolled his eyes at another Christian TV show and changed the channel.

I believe that God in providential ways connects His people with those seeking Him. I don’t see God as a grand puppet master for all people all over the earth. But God inserts Himself in people’s lives at moments when they need Him. Sometimes God initiates by placing a person in a Christian family. Sometimes God initiates by exposing a person to a Christian teacher, or neighbour, or friend. Sometimes God initiates because a church in the community offers a ministry that an individual desperately needs. Sometimes God initiates by sending a teacher to the wilderness to meet a man in a chariot. (Acts 8:26-29)

So here’s what the updated diagram looks like:

6 Phases of TransformationI hope this discussion over the last couple of posts is thought provoking and helpful for you.

ADDITIONAL READING

For an alternative approach you might also appreciate this post by my friend James Wood as he reflects on the book The Tangible Kingdom by Hugh Halter and Matt Smay.

 

 

Posted by: ozziepete | 29 May, 2014

5 Phases of Transformation

The Apostle Paul displays a life of spiritual transformation as dramatic as anyone in Scripture. This week I highlight 5 points about his conversion experience that may give us a different perspective on our call to follow Christ.

Acts 9 records the conversion of Saul from “Persecutor of the Christians” to “Champion of the Gospel of Jesus”. In studying this chapter I noticed what I’m calling “5 Phases of Transformation”. I don’t see these phases as exhaustive, or absolutely sequential. In fact, I’m not even sure that “phases” is the best word. Other, perhaps better, options include: stages, moments, events, or elements. They are definitely NOT “steps”!!

From the chart you’ll notice that each phase involves a person, or actor, and an action. I’ll expand on each phase below.

ppt slide 01

A Christian Accepts (Acts 9:10-17)

The opening words of v17 are tremendously important to this story. “Then Ananias went…” Ananias was a Christian who knew that Saul was coming to Damascus to persecute him and those who worshiped with him. Ananias seems to naturally fear and dislike Saul. But when God tells Ananias to “Go” because Saul “is my chosen instrument to proclaim my name…” Ananias accepts God’s mission.

Ananias also accepts Saul. The first two words he says to Saul acknowledge Saul’s submission to God, “Brother Saul…”. Ananias is no Jonah reluctantly sharing a message of Good News. Ananias overcame his fears and preconceived ideas about Saul to call him brother, sit with him and discuss Jesus, baptize him and welcome him into the body of Christ. Verse 19 concludes with Saul hanging out with the local disciples. It’s reasonable to conclude that Ananias was also responsible for integrating the reborn Saul into the local church there in Damascus.

Unless Christians open our hearts and put away our prejudices so that we willingly accept sinful people of all stripes into our presence, those people will never experience the love of God. Saul experienced Jesus on the highway between Jerusalem and Damascus. Today most people don’t meet Jesus on the highway. They meet Jesus when they meet his disciples.

A Sinner Repents (Acts 9:3-9)

Transformation of any kind requires a catalyst. Perhaps it’s an epiphany as in Saul’s case. The consistent message of John the Baptiser (Matt. 3:2), Jesus (Mark 1:15), and the Apostles (Acts 2:38) is that we must acknowledge sin in our lives and turn from it in order to enter the kingdom of God.

Repentance as I’m using the term refers to more than just me changing my actions. As we recognise our past sins, we also recognise the eternal consequences of our sins. Saul’s repentance lead him to fast and pray for three days as he [presumably] confessed his sins and pleaded with God for mercy and forgiveness. In response to Saul’s repentance God sent Ananias to baptise him.

Repentance is the catalyst that God uses to bring Saul (and us) into the kingdom of God.

The Holy Spirit Indwells (Acts 9:17)

The Holy Spirit’s presence demonstrates to us that no matter how corrupt our lives to this point, Jesus cleanses us so completely that holy God can live within us.

The Holy Spirit descends upon Jesus at his baptism. Peter promises the Holy Spirit to those who repented at Pentecost. The Spirit’s presence within us is intrinsic to our spiritual transformation.

The Holy Spirit empowers our transformation. We’ve tried a life of holiness on our own, and failed. We can only live up to the ethic of the kingdom of God because of the Holy Spirit’s presence in our lives. Galatians 5:16-26 demonstrate the difference the Holy Spirit makes when we submit our lives to Him.

Jesus Commissions (Acts 9:20-22, 28-29)

If we think salvation is all about sin and its consequences we miss something significant. God does not forgive us so that we can continue to live as we always have while making a few moral adjustments.

When we immerse ourselves into the death and resurrection of Christ we also join the mission of God. God’s love for us and our love for God inspire us to love our neighbours. Paul enters the kingdom of God and immediately begins preaching “that Jesus is the Son of God!” The primary concern of the kingdom of God is not our personal piety, but the redemption of the world.

When we fail to infuse an urgent concern for the lost into the identity of new converts we undermine God’s design of his kingdom. Accepting Christ as the Lord of our lives requires us to adopt the mission of Christ.

Satan Attacks (Acts 9:23, 29)

Saul’s preaching led to death threats.

Jesus’ baptism led to a Satanic showdown in the wilderness.

Spiritual transformation does not occur in a vacuum. Spiritual warfare is a very real part of our journey toward God. In fact, God often teaches us that He uses these attacks as part of our transformation process. James writes (1:2-4) that we should, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.

This final phase actually returns us to the first. As Saul experiences attempted murder from the Jews, God still requires him to love them, accept them and willingly share the Gospel with them. At some point in the future Saul may find himself face-to-face with those who now plot his execution. How will he respond? Will he run? Will he retaliate? Will he pray for their destruction? Or will he accept them as people needing the grace of God?

  • Do you have any “phases” you would add to this list?
  • Is this description a helpful way to think of the transformation God wants to produce in our lives?

ADDITIONAL READING

  • I have previously critiqued the “5 Steps of Salvation” HERE.
  • I have also written a serious of blog posts title “DAILY Steps of Salvation” that you can find HERE.
Posted by: ozziepete | 22 May, 2014

Don’t Stay That Way (repost)

This article was originally published 26 January 2012. It’s part 2 of the article I shared on Tuesday.

  • Read Revelation 21:1-8 here.
  • You can listen to this sermon here.
  • You can watch the video here.

Whenever I talk about grace, or unconditional love, I always hear a “Yes but…” in the back of my head.  In fact, sometimes it’s so strong it’s almost like I hear someone saying it.

  • Yes, but… someone else will relate to that person better… they’re more her age… they have similar interests…
  • Yes, but… what message will that send other people?
  • Yes, but… how’s that going to impact the church?   We’ve attracted a few people like that recently…
  • Yes, but… what’s to stop them doing it again?
  • Yes, but… we don’t want the church to be corrupted by the world…
  • Yes, but… they still have to accept the consequences for their sins…

I can’t avoid it, the “Yes, but…” is always there.

The sad truth is that although these concerns may be valid, when they’re expressed in the presence of grace, they turn the speaker into the bitter brother at the prodigal son’s celebration. (Luke 15:11-32)  When we witness grace and see only the dangers instead of the joy, that’s bitterness.

Grace involves risk.  When a church allows a teen caught smoking dope to serve on the communion table, is it glossing over sin and telling teens that it’s okay to take drugs? Or does the church demonstrate forgiveness, and grace? Of course, we don’t want anyone thinking it’s okay to use illicit drugs, but we also don’t want them thinking that unconditional love only exists in theory!

When a church says, “Come as your are”, the church echoes the invitation of God. (See my previous post here.) That’s a risky invitation because it exposes the church to a world in a way that may make us uncomfortable at times.  We’ll see and experience things that better fit the fruit of the flesh than the fruit of the spirit, and we have to say, “that’s okay – come anyway”.  That’s grace, that’s acceptance, that’s unconditional love… that’s God.

But there is a 2nd half to this invitation. “Don’t stay that way.”  To accept people captured by sin, by hurt, by anxiety, without offering them relief would be cruelty, not grace or love.  In his book No Perfect People Allowed, John Burke completes the sentence by saying, “But we love you too much to let you stay that way.”  Love is our motivation for encouraging people to make life changes.  Not an inflated sense of self-righteousness.

Christians attempt to get through life without sinning. Not because we want to win a prize for attaining perfection but because we understand that God is holy and values our holiness. We avoid sin not because God has labeled it as such, but because we believe that God’s way is a better way.  We don’t impose our standards upon others because we know best, but we share God’s way of living to share God’s love because we believe it works.

If I was just to hear the instruction, “You need to change” I would probably initially hear criticism.  My defenses would go up.  I might not hear anything else the other person said. For this reason the message to repent must be preceded by acceptance of the person. Repentance is a vital part of the message of Christ.  But Christ’s message contains mercy not criticism.  Change can be good.  Change can bring relief.  Change can be therapeutic.  We need to make every effort to convey this message in a context of grace and acceptance, not criticism.

The video I linked to at the top contains Cardboard Testimonies from the Southwest Church of Christ in Jonesboro, Arkansas.  A quick search on YouTube will bring up lots of these testimonies.  They all tell the story that change in a context of grace is a wonderful thing. Let’s make the message loud and clear in our lives.  Let’s not get caught up in cycle of “yes, but…”.

  • Does giving grace scare you?  What risks do you see?
  • I believe that over time Christians lose sight of who they were without God.  How do you remind yourself that you had an urgent need to receive God’s forgiveness?
  • What thoughts does the phrase “unconditional love” prompt in your mind?

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