An Off and On Faith

The recent U.S. election campaign that seemed to run for about 6 years sadly did a great job of illustrating what Christianity looks like to many people.

The campaign focused almost exclusively on the problems the candidates saw in the country, in the world, and most of all, in the other person. Too often the church communicates a similarly negative message. In fact, many Christians combine the two messages and seek to create legislation that mirrors their beliefs about morality.

I have no problem with Christians condemning certain behaviours. I believe God does this also.

I do have a problem with this message drowning out the more important messages of the Christian faith.

The biggest problem those outside of Christ face is not that Christians criticise their sexual ethics. Their biggest problem isn’t that they drink too much alcohol. Their biggest problem isn’t racism. Their biggest problem is that they reject Jesus. That’s the problem that Christians need to speak up about.

Another point many Christians seem to neglect is that the parts of the Bible condemning sexual immorality, lying, theft, gossip, slander, anger, and violence are usually written to Christians, not pagans.

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When Christians point the finger at other segments of society, rather than ourselves, we communicate that we don’t face those issues. This is why Christians are so often called hypocrites. Rather than growing our own spiritual maturity, we’ve spent too much time and effort pointing out the flaws of others. Just as a negative election cycle failed to generate much enthusiasm, so negative churches will fail to share the Gospel.

I was excited to find in Ephesians 4:17-5:2 how Paul encourages the church not just to put off sinful behaviour, but also to put on godly attitudes and behaviour. Look at these snapshots:

  • Put off your old self… put on the new self, created to be like God…
  • Put off falsehood… put on speaking truthfully to your neighbour.
  • Put off stealing… put on working to share with others.
  • Put off unwholesome talk… put on building others up.
  • Put off bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice… put on kindness, compassion, forgiveness…

Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

Christianity is an off and on faith. It inspires us to put off one set of behaviours and attitudes in order to put on another.

As a follower of Jesus, I want to be known for the things I’ve put on. I want to be truthful, generous, encouraging, kind, compassionate and forgiving. I want to hold others to those godly expectations also.

Most of all, I want to walk in the way of love.

Something has gone terribly wrong when the world only hears half the message and the half they hear is terribly off putting.

I’ll give the final word to the apostle Paul. I love how in Romans 8 he takes the negative commandments from the 10 Commandments and reframes them in a positive way. We don’t have to tell people what NOT to do. We can tell them instead to “love their neighbour” and that takes care of everything.

Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law. The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery,” “You shall not murder,” “You shall not steal,” “You shall not covet, and whatever other command there may be, are summed up in this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”  Romans 13:8-9

 

The Church Isn’t a Corporate Ladder

I’ve been preaching through Ephesians and stressing a movement in the letter between chapters 3 & 4. In the first three chapters Paul dwells on the believers understanding of God. He describes God. He describes God’s vision for the church. He reminds the disciples what God, through Christ, has done for them.

In chapter 4 the letter transitions to discussing more practical issues for the church to implement. In the first part of the chapter the emphasis is on unity: one body, one Spirit, one hope, one lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father.  But unity doesn’t mean uniformity and the chapter moves to describing differences among members of the body.

corporate-ladderVerse 11 contains a list of apparent roles or positions within the church:

  • Apostles;
  • Prophets;
  • Evangelists;
  • Pastors; and
  • Teachers.

We need to clearly grasp that this verse doesn’t describe a career path. Too often I feel there’s an expectation that people work their way up this ladder and that becoming an elder or deacon is a perk of congregational longevity. Rather, Paul here outlines the functions the early church needed to become mature. The gifts and roles listed here are not comprehensive and all served a function in equipping the church and promoting unity and peace.

Apostles were witnesses to the resurrection: since the resurrection is the foundation of the church, the testimony of those who had seen the risen Jesus was the first Christian preaching. Early Christian prophets spoke in the name of the Lord, guiding and directing the church especially in the time before the New Testament was written. Evangelists announced to the surprised world that the crucified Jesus was risen from the dead, and was both Israel’s Messiah and the world’s true Lord. Pastors looked after the young churches ; teachers developed and trained the understanding of the first churches.
N.T. Wright, Paul for Everyone: The Prison Letters (2004, p49)

The images of unity in Ephesians 4 explain why at Lawson Rd we make a big deal when people place membership in the local congregation. It’s exciting when people respond to the calling of Christ in baptism and a commitment to live for God, but Scripture consistently describes new converts participating in local congregations committed to each other. It’s possible that God’s given someone the gift of teaching described here, but when people don’t commit to the other Christians they worship with, they leave uncertainty about their commitment to unity.

Or on the other side, placing membership in a local church lets the elders, deacons, pastors and teachers know the person wants to be equipped by them. It’s difficult to challenge people to grow in Godly maturity when the leaders don’t know clearly who they’re leading. In 1 Peter 5:2 elders are told, “Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, watching over them…” Who is the flock under their care? It’s not defined, but membership is way of knowing whether a person is under the care of Lawson Rd elders, or leaders at another local congregation.

While there’s nothing specific in this passage distinguishing between the local church and the universal church, we need to remember that this letter is written to a local congregation, so the teaching it contains is to be applied in that context unless otherwise noted.  The call for unity applies to the Ephesian church and the various tensions they experience to divide. The spiritual gifts and leadership roles listed here apply to the local church. Life as a Christian is not about having the right birth certificate, being baptised in the right way, at the right place or by the right person. It’s about living as healthy part of the body of Christ.

While some church leaders (such as Paul) traveled from congregation to congregation, in general, the leaders at one congregation did not have responsibility for the Godly growth of another congregation. Their task of equipping God’s people for works of service relates to those who are part of that church family.

My last blog post asked, “Who benefits from your faith?” or  “Who were you saved for?” This week the text builds on that thought. God has gifted you for the work of equipping others so that the unified body of Christ may be built up. Are you exercising your gifts and talents for the benefit of others?

Who Benefits From Your Faith?

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I have no regrets about my faith upbringing. My family and small church nurtured and encouraged my faith. They gave me opportunities to ask questions, exercise gifts, and participate in the mission of God.

However, somewhere along the line I began to assume the idea that there was one correct answer to every faith question. If my answer was “I don’t know”, that was acceptable, but it meant that I didn’t know the correct answer.

As my faith has grown I’ve come to appreciate that the bigness of God often means that limiting ourselves to just one correct answer sells God short.

One example of narrowing an answer too much concerns our salvation. Why did I become a disciple of Jesus? My standard answer sounds something like, “I became a Christian because I didn’t want to spend eternity in Hell and I wanted my sins forgiven.”

I’m confident millions of other Christians through the years have responded to the Gospel for similar reasons.

While in an ideal world people would respond to the Gospel as a loving response to the love of God our motives are usually much more self-centred than that. But we don’t need stay that way.

In Ephesians 3:1 Paul describes himself as “the prisoner of Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles.” Most scholars agree that Paul probably wrote this letter from a Roman prison. They also agree that he was imprisoned as a consequence of his ministry. However, it’s notable that Paul doesn’t describe himself as “the prisoner of Rome…“, but as the prisoner of Christ Jesus.

As a prisoner of Christ Jesus, Paul was committed to the person and mission of Jesus. In Romans 6:19 Paul describes how we’re all captive slaves to something,

 Forgive me for using casual language to compensate for your natural weakness of human understanding. I want to be perfectly clear. In the same way you gave your bodily members away as slaves to corrupt and lawless living and found yourselves deeper in your unruly lives, now devote your members as slaves to right and reconciled lives so you will find yourselves deeper in holy living.”  (VOICE)

By calling himself a “prisoner of Christ Jesus” Paul  references his status as a disciple of Christ. With that in mind the next phrase challenges our generally accepted understanding of salvation.

conversation-coffee-01Paul is a prisoner of Christ, a disciple of Christ, a follower of Jesus, for the sake of you Gentiles.

We might not describe ourselves as followers of Jesus for the sake of ME. But when escaping hell is our primary reason for accepting God’s salvation, then it really is all about me.

The problem here is not that I need forgiveness. There’s nothing wrong with preferring to spend eternity with God than without God. The difficulty arises when our primary reason for relationship with God revolves around my well-being.

This naturally brings us to the vital question, “For whose sake are you a prisoner of Christ Jesus?”  “Who benefits from you being a Christian?

Jesus lived his life for the benefit of others. Paul lived his life for the benefit of others.

  • Who do we live to benefit?
  • Who does our church exist to bless?
  • Who notices our faith?
  • Who would miss God’s presence if we weren’t present?

Too often it seems Christians feel like prisoners of Christ, trapped in a list of wrongs and right. How that picture changes when we’re prisoners of Christ Jesus for the sake of our neighbors.

 

Are You Preaching Peace?

No other New Testament passage addresses race relations in the church as directly as Ephesians 2. In verses 11-22 Paul addresses both Jewish and Gentile Christians urging them to adopt an attitude of humility. Both groups depend upon Christ for their salvation and in that truth both groups should find unity.

The key verse found in this passage is verse 15b-16,

His desire was to create in His body one new humanity from the two opposing groups, thus creating peace. Effectively the cross becomes God’s means to kill off the hostility once and for all so that He is able to reconcile them both to God in this one new body. (VOICE)

For most of my life I have focused upon the role Jesus’ death on the cross plays in allowing God to forgive our sins. Forgiveness and restored relationship with God epitomise the cross.

So when I read these verses in Ephesians 2 I’m forced to expand my understanding of the cross. We’re told here that Jesus died to break down walls between Jews and Gentiles. To welcome them both in to the kingdom of God.

This is where the Bible gets tough for us. If Jesus died to remove barriers and dividing walls. If Jesus came to preach peace. Then this is an element of the Gospel that we must proclaim also. If God could make one new humanity out of Jews and Gentiles, what can he do with us?

The church doesn’t have the luxury of preaching oneness in Christ and peace with God while having nothing practical to say to our society caught up in racial tension in cities across the country. However, the church has a credibility problem. We want to tell Charlotte, Baton Rouge, Ferguson, San Diego, etc that Jesus brings peace and removes the “dividing wall of hostility”, but in too many cases the church is as segregated, or more so, as our communities.

light-rainbow-01If Jesus died to remove barriers between people so that people could be reconciled to God, then what are we doing about that?

As a first baby step we challenged the church to make October a “Month of Hospitality”. Over the next 30 days we propose to remove some barriers by having each member enjoy a meal (or coffee, etc) with another member on the other side of a common dividing barrier:

  • Racial divisions;
  • Age divisions;
  • Education divisions;
  • Income divisions;
  • Political divisions;
  • Marital status divisions; and
  • Others.

Why only apply this challenge to members in the church? Because, if we can’t overcome the barriers that exist within the church, we have no credibility to tell the world that we bring a message of God’s peace and reconciliation. 

What will you do to live out the Gospel that breaks down barriers?

Creation: God’s Temple

God likes colour.

God likes details.

God likes surprises.

God likes creativity and imaginative design.

God likes grand statements, and intricate whispers.

God likes to reveal himself, and to work invisibly.

We know these things because God reveals himself in Creation. Through nature God shares the things he likes with the people he loves.

This past Sunday our church held our annual Worship in the Park. Each year we enjoy lots of good food and games for all ages. We also worship in the open air surrounded by a wall of trees… and harassed by numerous insects.

My text this year was Isaiah 66:1-2. In preparation for this special service I started reading a new book by Hicks, Valentine & Wilson titled Embracing CreationI’ve really enjoyed it so far as the authors draw attention to God’s love not only for humanity, but creation as a whole.

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photo credit: Jeremy O’Clair – Northern Lights

“Heaven is my throne,
    and the earth is my footstool.
Could you build me a temple as good as that?
    Could you build me such a resting place?
My hands have made both heaven and earth;
    they and everything in them are mine.
    I, the Lord, have spoken!     Isaiah 66:1-2a (NLT)

The opening lines of this text describe heaven and earth (Creation) as God’s self-built temple or dwelling place. He then contrasts this with any temple or dwelling humans could construct for him.

When we think of Creation as God’s temple, the next logical step is to recognise Eden as his Holy of Holies. Eden provided the focal point for God’s presence and there he communed with humanity.

If God created the universe as his temple, it gives meaning to psalms such as Psalm 148 that call upon all nature to praise God. The temple is a place of praise and honor.

Science does a wonderful job of telling us how bird songs reflect mating calls, or statements regarding territory, or warnings of danger. But Christians also view the world through a more poetic eye. We recognise that birds sing not for our enjoyment, but to praise their Maker.

As the temple of God, Creation’s well-being correlates with humanity’s relationship with God. In Genesis 3 Creation bears the curse resulting from Adam & Eve’s sin.

Cursed is the ground because of you;
    through painful toil you will eat food from it
    all the days of your life.
It will produce thorns and thistles for you,
    and you will eat the plants of the field.   Genesis 3:17b-18

In Isaiah 55 God invites his people to renew their covenant with him. If they will return to him he describes the consequences. Notice how God’s Temple, Creation, rejoices as joy and peace once more characterise the relationship.

You will live in joy and peace.
    The mountains and hills will burst into song,
    and the trees of the field will clap their hands!
Where once there were thorns, cypress trees will grow.
    Where nettles grew, myrtles will sprout up.
These events will bring great honor to the Lord’s name;
    they will be an everlasting sign of his power and love.
Isaiah 55:12-13

It is then unsurprising that Revelation describes nature responding in torment to the affliction of God’s people. As those worshiping in God’s temple are persecuted…

I watched as he opened the sixth seal. There was a great earthquake. The sun turned black like sackcloth made of goat hair, the whole moon turned blood red, and the stars in the sky fell to earth, as figs drop from a fig tree when shaken by a strong wind. The heavens receded like a scroll being rolled up, and every mountain and island was removed from its place.  Revelation 6:12-14

I’m not suggesting that every natural tragedy can be paired with a sin. Rather, highlighting how God views the created world. I believe that if we walk through life and walk through nature regarding it as God’s temple, we’ll find ourselves seeing God around us. I believe we’ll interact differently with nature when we have the attitude that we’re engaging the temple of God. How we regard nature influences how we worship God.

Thus in the closing scene of Scripture we again find God coming to dwell upon the redeemed new heaven and new earth. The temple has been purified and humanity is once more invited into the Holy of Holies as God shares what he likes with the people he loves.

And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven like a bride beautifully dressed for her husband.
I heard a loud shout from the throne, saying, “Look, God’s home is now among his people! He will live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them.
He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.”  Revelation 21:2-3

Missional, From the Inside Out

The word “missional” has been terribly abused in its first couple of decades of wide circulation. Theologically, the word simply describes God’s ongoing work in the world—and the church that intentionally participates in that work. There are multiple facets to that work and our participation in it, and perhaps this explains why the word has been stretched around so many different kinds of churches or styles of discipleship. We understand ourselves to be participating in God’s mission as we spread the news of Jesus’s redemptive work in our community and around the globe, as we encourage each other to follow Jesus, and as we pursue the conditions of justice, righteousness and peace. None of these are the full breadth of what God wants for this world, but in each of them we engage with values near to the heart of God!

Our churches pursue each facet collectively, working together for the purposes of evangelization, transformation, and justice—and churches can implement structural shifts to facilitate progress in each cause. We can create systems that create opportunities for faith sharing, venues in which transformation is more likely to occur, and initiatives that push against standing systems of injustice.

diamond3Whether we’re the leaders fashioning the new programs or congregants supporting and participating in the moves, we can too easily begin to think that the structural changes mark us as “missional”. However, those structural shifts can only move us so far! Church programming and structure may create the conditions in which we move towards mission, and poor structures can get in the way of such practices or implicitly devalue them. Structure has its place, and should be approached with intentionality. However, creating the structures should not be understood as the heart of the work itself—the work itself is a matter of flesh, blood and spirit.

Flesh, Blood, and Spirit

The missional work of evangelization occurs when flesh and blood humans filled with the Spirit of God reach out to their known and loved neighbors with the good news of Jesus. The missional work of discipleship takes place when people of flesh and blood, acting by the power of God’s Spirit, encourage and teach each other about the way of Jesus, giving testimony of Jesus’s work. Justice progresses as Spirit-driven people stand in solidarity with the oppressed, whom they have come to see and love because of their transformation in Christ.

The heart of missional christianity isn’t a matter of organization, but of embodiment. While the church’s programming might provide the sort of vehicle or venue in which these things happen, the structure itself won’t succeed until it is filled by the right kind of transformed people—the new humanity, formed from the inside out for the purposes of God’s mission in the world. That formation takes places when we, both as communities and as individuals, nurture the sorts of mentalities and habits that encourage people to align with the mission of God and to engage in it.

The inventory of those mentalities and habits is surely diverse and contains some familiar things, like the virtues of faith, hope, and love that the church has long sought to nurture, and the habits of prayer and listening to the word that have been a part of both the gatherings of God’s people and the classical understandings of their individual devotional practices. These are well and good, and contribute to our transformation into people aligned with the mission of God, but I want to suggest a further practice, one that I see both in the life of the early church and in the missional movement of our own time: the nurture of a particular obsession.

missio dei 01.jpgObsessed with the Missio Dei

The Missio Dei is a fancy Latin phrase meaning “the mission of God”. It’s a bit of shorthand meant to point us towards what God is doing in the world—something we train ourselves to discover by drinking deeply of God’s story in the scriptures, and which we prayerfully seek by the Spirit of God in our own time. Becoming obsessed with the Missio Dei means that at every turn in our lives, we are always asking, “What might God want to happen here?” or “How can I join in what God might be working towards by what I say and do in this moment?”.

These are the sorts of questions the early church obsessed over. Missional churches have these questions embedded in their culture, whether or not they ever use the fancy Latin phrase or have super-sophisticated “missional” structures. Missional people can’t help but ask what God wants in the world, and how they can bear witness to God’s desires and God’s work towards fulfilling those intentions.

Each encounter with the word, each gathering with the church, and every moment in the neighborhood is an opportunity to deepen our understanding of God’s mission in the world. That obsession is planted deep within our hearts, and keeps gnawing at our souls. Like a deep mystery, it holds us in vigilant tension, so that every moment we are ready to perceive the clues that might shed light on what God is really at work doing. The seed of that obsession grows from the inside out, until its fruit becomes apparent in the world. It is an internal drive that fuels every external step we take.

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10 Steven Hovater - picSteven Hovater is the preaching and outreach minister at the Church of Christ at Cedar Lane in Tullahoma, Tennessee.  He loves walking slow with his wife Kelly and running fast with their four kids. Occasionally, he blogs at stevenhovater.com., and loves interacting with people on twitter (@stevenhovater).

 

 

sound-waves 01aChurch Inside OutAs part of our Summer Blog Tour you can win a copy of Tim Archer’s newly  released book and accompanying workbook Church Inside Out by leaving a comment on this page and then completing the form over HERE.

Simplicity Inside-Out

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Simplicity is a popular topic in some circles nowadays. We live in a culture driven by consumerism and materialism. We are swimming in a sea of accumulation, and it has not led us to be happier or more satisfied with life. We are beginning to see a pendulum shift with the rise of minimalism. Since we have discovered obtaining things is not the key to a meaningful life, some people are ready to try simplicity.

Simplicity sounds like a viable alternative to the cluttered and busy life many of us know too well. The turn towards minimalism is a welcome trend in our culture since it is more in line with the teachings of Jesus. However, the biblical teaching on simplicity is not just about what one owns or where one lives. Simplicity must begin from within. Jesus says, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matt. 6:21) Our desires begin in the heart. If a person is going to simplify their life, then they must desire less. The way to do this is to focus on the heart.

One of the most well-known passages concerning simplicity is Matthew 6:25-34. This section is marked by the word “anxious” found in verses 25 and 34. In verse 25 Jesus commands, “do not be anxious about your life” and in verse 34 he commands, “do not be anxious about tomorrow.” This entire passage is about trusting in God to provide. God feeds the birds. He clothes the lilies. If he does these things, then he will certainly make sure his followers are clothed and fed as well. The argument continues to build until in verses 32-33 Jesus contrasts the way the world lives with how Christians are supposed to live. People who live by a worldly standard seek after worldly things. They seek after money, possessions, and power. Followers of Jesus are expected to desire the kingdom of God rather than material possessions and wealth. Christians are called to live a simple life with God at the center.

In Matthew 6 Jesus talks about food and clothing. He speaks to his followers about simplifying their outward life, but we must remember this all began with a statement about what the heart desires (Matt. 6:21). You cannot change what you are doing on the outside without first changing what is going on inside of you. This is made evident in Philippians 4:6-7:

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

Paul uses the language of Jesus. He gives a similar command to the ones Jesus gave in Matthew 6:25, 34. The difference here is that Paul is speaking of inward things rather than outward things. He is instructing Christians regarding an inward peace that God provides those who are following the path of Jesus. When a follower of God commits to not being anxious or being overwhelmed with worry and instead turns to God in prayer and thankfulness, then they are filled with “the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding.”

The right desires, inner peace, not being anxious, and prayer are all inward things that lead us to a life of simplicity. Our outward life is directly tied to our inward life. A life of simplicity is not just about owning less stuff. It is about desiring the right things and trusting in a God who will not disappoint.

sound-waves 01a06 - Scott Elliot picScott Elliott is a graduate of Oklahoma State University and Austin Graduate School of Theology. He lives in La Grange, TX and is the minister for the La Grange Church of Christ. He is married and has two sons. He enjoys writing about the Christian faith and posting the occasional film review. His articles and reviews have appeared in RELEVANT magazine, Englewood Review of Books, and other publications. He also blogs regularly at https://start2finish.org/category/resurrected-living/

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Church Inside OutAs part of our Summer Blog Tour you can win a copy of Tim Archer’s newly  released book and accompanying workbook Church Inside Out by leaving a comment on this page and then completing the form over HERE.

Reviving A Marriage Inside-Out

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The years that our marriage was a disaster, each of us believed that a change in behavior or attitude of the other person was the key to our happier future.  At some points we could have said that the change in the other person was the key to our future relationship status. We were thinking Outside-In. We nearly divorced.

She had a list of things that needed to change about him.  He needed to be more organized, dead-line efficient, trustworthy and connected.  That’s the short list.  Since she is a nurse, she had a care-plan for each of her marital health goals and she was determined that he would be a compliant patient.

He had only one thing on his list of things she needed to change.  She needed to quit being so negative about all those things she wanted to change about him.  By the time the worst came, he lost hope in her ever being more positive; the marital health would increase exponentially, he conceded, if she would just be less negative.

Paul’s instructions to wives, husbands, children, fathers, slaves and masters in the Letter to the Colossians begins with this: “And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” (3:17).

The pursuit of a whole, healthy, holy relationship begins, not with the adjustments of a spouse, but with the commitment to a mindset; the mindset that everything done will be done because Jesus wants it done.  Any growth starts inside the mind and heart of a husband or wife.  Moreover, since the motivation is about what Jesus wants, then, no less-than-desirable response from the other spouse changes the behavior.  After all, it’s not about them; it’s about Jesus.

Someone asked leadership guru Zig Ziglar about marrying the wrong person and he replied with this:

“I have no way of knowing whether or not you married the wrong person, but I do know that many people have a lot of wrong ideas about marriage and what it takes to make that marriage happy and successful. I’ll be the first to admit that it’s possible that you did marry the wrong person. However, if you treat the wrong person like the right person, you could well end up having married the right person after all. On the other hand, if you marry the right person, and treat that person wrong, you certainly will have ended up marrying the wrong person. I also know that it is far more important to be the right person than it is to marry the right person. In short, whether you married the right or wrong person is primarily up to you.”

Choose your mindset. Your mindset will guide your behavior and that will create renewed feelings about your spouse and your marriage.

We tried the experiment of developing a strong relationship by getting the other spouse to behave like we wanted.  It was a failed experiment.  It was an outside-in attempt.  Start in your mind and heart. Decide you will be who you ought to be regardless of the behavior of your spouse. For us, “being the right person” means doing what Jesus wants. Do everything, including marriage, in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to the Father.

That’s an Inside-Out marriage.

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08 Richard May - picRichard May and his wife JeannaLynn together run WGHJ Ministries: a full-service, spiritually focused marriage mission center with international impact by coaching couples, supporting couples in ministry, and providing marriage related resources for churches, universities, organizations, and communities. You can get more information on their website: www.WGHJministries.com; or follow their Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/WGHJMinistries.

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Church Inside Out
As part of our Summer Blog Tour you can win a copy of Tim Archer’s newly  released book and accompanying workbook Church Inside Out by leaving a comment on this page and then completing the form over HERE.

Seeing Inside Out

The next blog on the Summer Blog Tour comes from Cultural Mosaic. A website seeking to provide resources for multi-ethnic churches.

Cultural Mosaic

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“The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”1 Samuel 16:7

Perhaps you’ve heard that verse before.

We use it to tell other people to stop judging us. “God knows what’s in my heart.”

We use it to judge other people, because although they look good God, and I, know what’s really going on in their hearts.

Sometimes we use it to include people who have a lot of tattoos, or whose clothes are shabby… “the Lord looks at the heart.”

Sometimes we use it to excuse our laziness and lack of action. “I know I could have cooked a meal for that person who just had surgery. I’d have liked to but just didn’t get around to it. Well, God knows my heart.”

In reality, we all judge on appearance more than we’re…

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The Gospel Inside Out

Church Inside OutI’m grateful to share Brandon Fredenburg’s contribution to our Summer Blog Tour. Brandon is a thoughtful writer who shares resources and perspectives that I usually overlook.
As part of our Summer Blog Tour you can win a copy of Tim Archer’s newly  released book and accompanying workbook Church Inside Out by leaving a comment on this page and then completing the form over
HERE.

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I’m afraid the title is more ambitious than my few paragraphs offer. To make my task more manageable, I offer a few idea-starters about the gospel as taught by Jesus, Paul, and the early church bishop, Athanasius.

The gospel Jesus taught

Jesus torah reading 01In contrast to Matthew’s and Mark’s summary of Jesus’s “gospel of God” (Mark 1:14), Luke 4:18–19 depicts Jesus preaching selectively from Isaiah 61:1–2:

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because

He has anointed me
to evangelize the poor.

He has sent me
to declare liberty to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind,
to set free the broke(n) with a full release,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor (my translation).

When Jesus omits “and the day of our God’s vengeance” (Isa 61:2b) and rehearses God’s blessing of a foreign widow and an enemy general, he turns the gospel of God his hearers expect inside out. “He isn’t just our God and he blesses our enemies,” Jesus reveals. Their reaction, like their “God,” is one of deadly vengeance.

Perhaps this is why Jesus begins his evangelizing with the word “repent.” Apparently, even John the Baptist missed it, as Matthew 11:1–15 makes clear. Jesus says those who even barely grasp his message have far greater insight than John. John’s gospel of violent, fiery judgment, it seems, put him at odds with Jesus’s view of the nature of the kingdom of the heavens. “Repent,” then, as Jesus uses it, retains its core meaning of “shift your paradigm” with reference to God and God’s kingdom. For John, repentance focused on the personal sacrifices required for holiness; for Jesus, repentance kept its eyes on the merciful nature of God toward all persons (Exod. 34:5–7; Jonah 4:2b). “For I delight in mercy but not sacrifice; and in knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings” (Hos. 6:6, my translation).

Jesus’s gospel is about his Father and his Father’s nature. The Father’s nature was so misunderstood, Jesus claims no one but he knows the Father (Matt. 11:27). He then immediately invites those wearied and burdened by compromised gospels of God to come to him for rest, to take on the easy, restful yoke of learning as a disciple of his gentle humility and light burden. “No one knows the Father except the Son”: not John the Baptist, not the Pharisees or the scribes, not Moses or Elijah, not Jesus’s disciples, no one except he … and his post-resurrection disciples. The Father is known rightly and fully only through his Son (Heb. 1:1–3b).

The gospel Paul taught

Jesus’s gospel reframed a self-serving view of his Father’s compassion; Paul’s gospel applied Jesus’s message more widely. Two passages are especially rich: 2 Cor. 5:11–21 and Eph. 2:1–10.

In 2 Cor. 5:14, Paul claims that Christ’s death universally incorporates humanity. In his death, all died. When this insight becomes clear, a whole new world comes into focus. Paul knows this from his own experience: before he embraced it, he viewed Jesus as a renegade false prophet whose death was just. Once the scales fell from Saul’s eyes, he saw the new creation. He no longer saw through Adam’s blind, fearful, ashamed, sin-focused eyes. Jesus Messiah incarnated into the old, blinded, fearful, ashamed, sin-wracked Adamic humanity, embraced it and us fully and carried it and us into Death. And by God’s own unilateral act of cosmic justice, Jesus (and it and us) were raised to newness.

Paul makes a parallel point in Ephesians 2, but goes farther. In 2:1–3, Paul sets the cosmic stage: we were all dead in our sins, naturally characterized by impulsive anger, like the rest of humanity. The “we” in 2:1–3 is undoubtedly all Adamic humanity. “But,” Paul contrasts, “God, being rich in mercy, because of his abundant love with which he loved us — even while we were dead in our sins — co-enlivened us with Christ: you are rescued by [God’s] favor!” Not only did we all die with Christ, God raised us all up and seated us all with Christ. This rescue from Death is anchored in God’s favor, accomplished by God’s faithfulness, given as unconditional gift, and integral to God’s (new) creation-act.

Paul extends Jesus’s gospel to include Jesus’s cooperation with the Father in rescuing Adamic humanity from its errant view of God and the self-caused alienation “in our own minds” (Col 1:21). The rescue for all humanity has been a fait accompli since Jesus’s resurrection. The message of what God has done in Christ is proclaimed so that, by awakening to its truth, all persons can dwell in the present blessings of the new creation.

The gospel Athanasius taught

Athanasius of AlexandriaJust as Paul authoritatively interpreted Jesus’s gospel in scripture, Athanasius’s views both reflected and influenced the understanding of the early church (ca. 200–400). In contrast, Augustine’s perspectives (post-400) dominated the Latin church and, through it, the Reformers and most of contemporary Evangelicalism.

In his On the Incarnation of the Word, Athanasius explains that humanity, brought to life out of nothing, maintained life by keeping a clear knowledge of God’s nature (i.e., the Logos) within them. Humanity’s existence depended on an uncompromised trust and dependence on God. Once the devil deceived humanity into mistrust, humanity cut itself off from its source of life and knowledge. Thus, by degrees, humanity not only lost its ability for clear reason, it began to disintegrate into physical death and, beyond that, into the corruption of utter nothingness; that is, into Death. Return to nothingness was not a God-imposed punishment, but a God-warned natural consequence of cutting our own umbilical cord.

It was both intolerable to and unworthy of God that he would do nothing to rescue those created in his own likeness, especially because they had been tricked by falsehood, and because a neglect to rescue them would demonstrate weakness. Thus, a rescue by the Logos that had created humanity was needed. The incarnated Logos fully incorporated all humanity into his own body, joining corruptible to incorruptible, and sacrificed himself (and us in him) to death to settle Death’s claim. Since Christ is the incorruptible Logos, Death could not contain him. By Christ’s death, Death died. Because we died his death and he ours, physical death is no punishment and Death-as-annihilation is no possibility. Moreover, once Death died, Christ then offered himself (and us in him) to the Father, who raised him as firstfruits and will raise us-in-him at the final resurrection.

The Gospel inside out

The gospel of God is not an invitation. It has no steps for us to climb to seek and gain God’s favor. It is not an offer that, by accepting, we activate its benefits. No, the gospel is far greater.

The gospel is the astounding declaration that, despite having gotten God all wrong in our thinking, having mischaracterized, misrepresented, maligned, mistreated, and had malice toward him, God has never been against us. To be sure, God has been against all our fearful, ignorant, misguided, vengeful characterizations of him and their effects, but he has endured them to be with us so that we might truly glimpse him and repent. He did not leave the glimpses to chance, but manifested himself entirely in the Lord Jesus Christ and the new creation life in which we participate. The basis of the gospel has always been God’s compassionate nature toward all creation; its benefits have always been active for all persons, but its enjoyment is possible only to those whose eyes see. Repent, and believe the gospel of God!

Peace and all good to all, always.

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Brandon L. Fredenburg is a professor of Biblical Studies and assistant dean for the College of Biblical Studies and Behavioral Sciences at Lubbock Christian University. He lives, ministers, and teaches in Lubbock, Texas.