The Firestorm of Public Opinion.

I have come to the table late in the firestorm of World Vision’s previous decision to change their hiring policies regarding homosexual’s. Yesterday World Vision released a statement reversing this decision, but the firestorm rages on. I am personally brought to consider a variety of different things as I read others responses and comments of responses.

First, I have read some very fair and intelligent articles on every side of the discussion. People who are adamantly opposed to the idea of a Christian identifying organization who would hire homosexuals, people who want to approach the subject in the heart of reconciliation, and people who have no issue with World Visions briefly help hiring practice. What concerns me in many of the articles that I have read is the demonization of the opposing side.

We have been given the ministry of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:16-21). I believe this means that look to see people, christian and nonchristian alike, in the way that Christ would see them. We should interact with the world in the same way Christ does. When we demonize people we bring condemnation, and Christ did not come to bring such condemnation. Christ came that we might find life, and live life abundantly. We must be incredibly careful how we engage sensitive subjects, especially those that people find a piece of identity in.

Jesus said “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34-35). I bring this up not to say that you have to accept something you are convicted is against biblical teaching, but to say that love transcends a persons lifestyle choice. We must be about revealing Christ to everyone, those who profess Christ and those who do not, and how we do this is through our love of them.

When you love someone you peaceably dialogue with them, you try to be careful not to be hurtful, and you desire good for them. In many of the articles and comments I have read, I fail to see people who spout “biblical truth” acting this way. In the age of social media and the ability to provide unthoughtful social commentary, we forget that even in these moments we represent Christ. I wonder how well a lot of folks are representing him?

Second, it seems pretty clear to me that people may not know what World Vision really is. In the way the many people seem to be responding to the issue, it seems to me that many folks believe that World Vision is a church of sorts. Lets be clear World Vision is not the church, or a manifestation of the church.

By their own description here is what World Vision is: “World Vision is a Christian humanitarian organization dedicated to working with children, families, and their communities worldwide to reach their full potential by tackling the causes of poverty and injustice.” The result of their work is to bring relief to the poor.

This second point is the one that personally gives me much concern for many of the people writing articles and commenting on articles. World Vision is not the church, they are not suggesting that this be the stance of the church, nor are they bringing any sort of attack on the church. World Vision is a non-profit corporation, they are a business that collaborates with Christians of many different varieties. This in many cases will mean you have very broad sweeping policies. In many cases what I have read has equates the World Vision to the church and that simply isn’t so.

Here is the rub for me: organization like World Vision largely exist (this might sting a little) because the church as it exists all over the world is neglecting its responsibility to care for people. Christ’s commands are abundantly clear, that we should be proclaiming the Kingdom both in our words and our actions. The church should be advocating for the poor, bringing relief to injustice, caring for widows and orphans, visiting the imprisoned, feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, caring for the sick, the list goes on.

Many church bodies all over the world shrug off their responsibility to organizations like World Vision, then demonize them for things they disagree with. People call into question others standing with the Lord, and they proclaim that they are now less than Christian, yet when push comes to shove the people speaking the loudest might not be willing to take on their responsibility as a kingdom citizen.
Jesus regularly dealt with a group of people like this during his time on earth. The Pharisees were a group of people that liked to remind people of all the rules, and all the things that the law described as sin, yet when it came down to it they didn’t seem to care about their own violations of the law. Jesus dealt sternly with these guys, he was clear in calling our their hypocrisy. Often times I wonder if Jesus walked the earth in our cultural context, now many of us would be called out by Jesus.

I pray that as followers engage and every changing world with the Gospel, that they would do so in love and peace. I pray that as we deal with one another it would be in the reflection of Christ. I pray that we would speak the truth in love to one another, remembering it is the Holy Spirit that brings conviction. I pray that we would live in understanding with one another, seeking to be peacemakers through the Gospel.

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New Life Means New Life.

It is not uncommon to hear someone who is a follower of Jesus talk about about being born again. We find this idea in many places of scripture. Most of the time when people are referencing this idea, they often will recite some part of John chapter 3.

In John 3 we read a story about a leader of the Jewish people, named Nicodemus, coming to Jesus by night and talking to him about the idea of being born again. It strikes me as an interesting conversation. You see Nicodemus opens the conversation by acknowledging Jesus as a great teacher with great power. He says that Jesus must have a special relationship with God because he would not possess such a power otherwise.

Jesus’ response, however pokes at how little Nicodemus really knows about the kingdom of God. This sticks out to me because you wonder what it was in Nicodemus’ greeting that triggered the response from Jesus. I think Jesus knew that Nicodemus’ idea of power was skewed. I think that Jesus knew that Nicodemus really didn’t know real power.

I know the same is true for us. We can see things in life and recognize the power that exists within those things. We might even be able to perceive some sort of divine touch in those things, but I think what Jesus is getting at in this passage is, unless we experience rebirth our eyes remain dim to what is really going on.

Jesus goes on to talk about the flesh and the spirit.

Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”(John 3:5-8 ESV)

I think that when it comes down to it, we have to acknowledge that faith comes out of our encounter with Jesus. Jesus gives the wind as an illustration, and I think it is pretty solid. We can see the evidence of the wind. We feel it, smell it, and see the effects of it as it moves through the trees. However we dont know where it is coming from, we really dont know where it is going, it just exists.

Faith is similar. We begin to know faith as we experience it happen in our life. We may not understand it through and through, or even know all the who, whats, or why’s about it but it’s there. It manifests itself in our life through the evidence of things we do every day. I think this is why it is so important for us to live new lives in Christ.

Faith is what lets us see the evidence of new life, and new life means that we dont have to live the same way we did any more. We lay down all that crap that hindered us from living a full life before, and we want to see other people get rid of all the crap that hinders them from living a full life. This is the what makes the Gospel good news. We don’t have to live the way we once did any more, we can live fuller lives that have greater meaning.

Our lives change because we can finally see that God really does love us, that he is not some big cosmic jerk. What we see in Jesus’ words to Nicodemus is that God really isn’t condemning people, but that he is trying to rescue them.

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. (John 3:16-17 ESV)

New life, means new life. It means that we recognize that someone has finally thrown us a life preserver and is bringing  us back to the boat. We embrace this new life and all that comes with it. We live in the power of the new life that Christ has given, and then we try to help others discover the new life that is available to them too. 

God is not being selective, he is trying to rescue, redeem, and restore the world and he is asking us to join with him. He has given us everything we need to partner with him, simply have to continue living in the new life that he has given us, and lay down the old life we once lived in. I think we people see that, when they see the greatness of Jesus Christ magnified and manifest in our daily lives it is undeniable and new life can be had by the people around us.

Be the Church pt.2

Because I don’t think that one post will do the topic justice here is part deux.

In this post we will talk about the scattered nature of the church. First, I want to start off by saying I think the need to distinguish between gathered and scattered comes from a western context, and is not as clearly depicted in scripture as we might find. Of course there are clues for us that the church existed in a gathered/ scattered form, but as discussed in the post last week I believe that the Church is always gathered in some form.

What is presented in the New Testament is the idea of a church in the city, that is dispersed throughout the city. For example, Paul’s letters are addressed to “the church in [insert city name here]”. Now it is very possible that in some cases that letter would have been shared in the gathered presence of the believers, or it might have been passed around from house to house being read by the church.

I point this out to say that even in the cities where the church was more decentralized than the next it was still one church. The phenomenon in a western culture/ context are the variety of churches that exist in one city, that largely don’t interact with one another. Now I am a product of this. It has been the only form of the church that I have known, but I have become more convinced in the last few years that for the church to REALY be the church in a western context we have to see a great ecumenical movement.

As I read the scriptures it seems to me that the church is most effective in a more decentralized form. When you have pockets of the church all over the city there seems to be a greater opportunity for the Gospel to permeate every part of the life of the city. This is where the ecumenical part comes in. As the body of Christ we have to work together, we need to keep the main things the main things and work toward seeing the kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven.

We have a few examples from scripture that highlight what I am talking about. In Luke 10 Jesus sends out the seventy-two to go out into the places where he was going to go. Before Jesus sends them out he taught them the things that they were going to need to know to accomplish the mission he would give them. He gave them specific instructions to follow and sent them out two by two. A few things we need to catch here: 1. Jesus modeled and taught them what they needed to do, 2. Jesus gave specific instructions about what they should do in their adventure, 3. Jesus sends them out in pairs.

The church is a sent body of believers. There is a time for us to learn what we need to do, this happens by walking shoulder to shoulder with someone doing what they do, walking where they walk, and hearing from them the teaching they have. It is a time for a transmission of knowledge and action. We should go out knowing exactly what we need to do, and we should always go out in the context of community.

In Acts 13 the church in Antioch what worshiping, and God send to set apart Barnabas and Saul for the mission. They were leaders of the church and it was time for them to leave. Because the church was united they were able to hear the direction of the Holy Spirit, and although I am sure it was difficult for them, they were able to send them out.

For us to see real kingdom movement, for us to actually BE the church we have to unite in Christ, gather for equipping and training in the mission that is before us, and then send people to go and do the work. The church gathers, it is always gathered, but the church also scatters. We have to embrace both and realize that the two are not mutually exclusive but work in harmony with one another. We cannot scatter as lone wolves out in the wilderness, we have to travel in some sort of pack. When we gather it should be pointed in helping us refuel, and be equipped to back out into mission.

Be The Church:.

Over the last several years I have seen a movement in Christianity take root in regards to what the church should do. It is now not uncommon to hear someone say “we don’t go to church, we are the church.” This is a statement that I very much affirm, I believe and have for a long time that this is an incredibly true statement and the best way to understand the church.

So you might be asking what the purpose of this post is?

I believe that we need to be the church in a refreshing unmistakable way, making much of Jesus Christ. I believe we do that in the ways that we engage the culture both in a scattered form, and a gathered one. So I guess you can say this is my attempt at a response to the question being asked about why the church Gathers.

I have personally been on both sides of the spectrum of this discussion. There was a time that I would have thought the gathered church is the only time the church exists, and there was another time that I thought that being gathered was simply a waste of time. I might have even gone so far as to make the case that Jesus never intended us to gather corporately.

The church is a community of people.

As I have worked through this issue over the years I have come to this conclusion: because people make up the church, the church is in some way always gathered, and that is the way it’s suppose to be. We are suppose to be a community on the grand mission given by our Savior Jesus.

The gathering of people may not always be big, in fact there are many cases of which there is a greater potency in the churches smaller size. I am not sure we are asking the right question. I don’t think the question is whether or not we gather, the question is what happens when the the church gathers.

The church should be a glimpse of Heaven.

I had a professor in college once tell us that the church should be a tangible picture of what heaven was going to be like. I believe that is true. I think that the community who has encountered Jesus Christ, is and should be a foretaste of what is to come.

However we are not just a foretaste of whats to come in the worship services that we hold, we also have to be a foretaste in the way that we bless people in the name of Jesus. In the church that I currently serve, what we believe about Jesus has always been communicated more clearly in how we live everyday, not just in those formal gathering times.

People in our community have said at one time or another, “you guys really love people, and each other.” I think this is what it is all about. I think when you gather this is what people should see and experience.

The church is always gathered in one way or another, otherwise it would not be the church. The church is the community of faith living with Gospel intentionality and carrying out the mission of the Gospel. We need one another, we can’t do this alone, and no matter how recluse we prefer to be we are always a better version of ourselves when we are in the company of others.

I think this is how God intended it to be. God himself exists in prefect community (Father, Son and Holy Spirit). If we are made in his image than there is a part of us that will always search for some kind of community. I think that the community we look for will always be subpar if it is not centered in the Gospel carrying out the purposes of God.

So when you hear “Be the Church,” remember that means that we need to be living among other believers calling each other and those around us to the Gospel.

Discipling the Nations

Over the last few weeks I have been considering what it means to make disciples of all the nations. In in the 4 Gospel writings and in Acts we have a statement from Jesus about making disciples. Each of the statements have their own twist, and each of them highlight a different part of our mandate to be disciple makers. What has become more and more glaring to me is how we approach and understand this task as the church.

First our understanding of the nations has to be in place if we are going to be able to make disciples of them. It is important to know that as we engage in the act of making disciples where we are, we are in fact discipling the nations. Where we live is a part of the nations. The biblical understanding of the nations are all the peoples of the earth. So when we make disciples of the folks who live around us we are partaking of the commissioning that Jesus gave before he ascending to the Father.

Although we should always be moving toward unreached peoples, reaching the nations is not simply about the global vs local debate that runs through many church bodies (that debate has always seemed fruitless and nonsensical to me). Reaching the nations is about making disciples out of the natural flow of our life. As we go from place to place, we make disciples and as we do so we accomplish what Jesus commanded of us.

Some folks may never leave their hometown while others sense a longing for the uttermost parts of the earth. In either case as they engage in the act of disciple making you are being obedient.

There is an incredible story as the Gospel moved out from Jerusalem to the other nations. It was revealed to Peter that nothing should be unclean, an in an amazing vision from God of all the things considered unclean for Jewish people being lowered on a sheet toward Peter. The Lord spoke and said call nothing I have made unclean. Upon this happening Peter knew that he and many others were going to have to break down many of their cultural barriers to accomplish their task. Then we read this:

So Peter opened his mouth and said: “Truly I understand that Godshows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him. As for the word that he sent to Israel,preaching good news of peace through Jesus Christ (he is Lord of all),you yourselves know what happened throughout all Judea, beginningfrom Galilee after the baptism that John proclaimed: how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power. He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him. And we are witnesses of all that he did both in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree, but God raised him on the third day and made him to appear, not to all the people but to us who had been chosen by God as witnesses, who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. And he commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one appointed by God to be judge of the living and the dead. To him all the prophets bear witness that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sinsthrough his name.” (Acts 10:34-43, ESV)

The beautiful part of this story is that the freedom and liberty and power of the Gospel began to move into the nations and the beginning of the fulfillment of Jesus’ command. The beautiful thing for us is that we are partaking in the same opportunity today that the early church did then. We can bring liberty to the captives, and light into the darkness.

We get to live in the world and make disciples of the nations, we get to teach them all that Christ has commanded, and then we get to baptize them into the family. This is not simply an activity for a few educated folks, this is an activity for all who would call themselves a Christ follower. We are heralds of this message, we are proclaiming the kingdom here on earth as it is in heaven and the gates of hell will not prevail. All oppression will cease, and the darkness will fade in the glorious light of Jesus Christ.

Epiphany: Light has Come.

Christmas ended yesterday (in the church calendar there are 12 days of Christmas), and today is Epiphany traditionally the day that the church recognizes the visitation of the wise men to Jesus. First, lets dispel a little myth. The wise men most likely didn’t show up to see Jesus, Joseph and Mary until Jesus was about 2 years old. Second, We really don’t know how many wise men there were that came to visit. We often surmise three of them because of the three gifts brought, and laid at the feet of Jesus.

Here is the beautiful thing about Epiphany, the light that pierces the darkness has come, the hope of the nations has arrived, and we can now experience this marvelous light for ourselves just as the wise men did all those years ago. Jesus is this light in the world that is pushing back the darkness, that is charging against the gates of hell, rescuing people from death.

For this reason I, Paul, a prisoner for Christ Jesus on behalf of you Gentiles—assuming that you have heard of the stewardship of God’s grace that was given to me for you, how the mystery was made known to me by revelation, as I have written briefly. When you read this, you can perceive my insight into the mystery of Christ, which was not made known to the sons of men in other generations as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit. This mystery is that the Gentiles arefellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.

Of this gospel I was made a minister according to the gift of God’s grace, which was given me by the working of his power. To me, though I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things, so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places.This was according to the eternal purpose that he has realized in Christ Jesus our Lord, in whom we have boldness and access with confidence through our faith in him. So I ask you not to lose heart over what I am suffering for you, which is your glory. (Ephesians 3:1-13, ESV)

In Paul’s letter to the Ephesians he recounts for them the mystery of the ages being made known through out all the earth, in Christ. This is the moment that all of creation had been waiting for. It is the very strength that we have when all other strength has been lost. It is the opportunity to continue on when you don’t think you can do it any more. Most importantly it is the hope and empowerment that we don’t have to live a broken life any more.

It is through this Gospel, that the light of the nations would come and dwell among us, to show us a better way and to commission us as agents of the kingdom of light, having been liberated from the kingdom of darkness. As Peter writes in his letter to the church as it was scattered all over the Mediterranean world:

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. (1 Peter 2:9-10, ESV)

Many scholars understand the letter going to incredibly diverse regions. Peter is calling believers to resist the former life and embrace the light. The challenge for us today is the same, we must leave what is behind and run into the marvelous light of Jesus Christ. Our posture should be the same as the wise men, whatever it takes get to the light and humble yourself before it.

Epiphany reminds us that we are to embrace this divine light, and remember that it calls us to a life of humility and one that pushes out the darkness so that others see the light in us and glorify the great God of the universe, our Father.

Advent: Baby Jesus

When Christmas rolls around I often consider all the things we sing and say about the baby Jesus during this time of year. As cliche as it is to write about all of the things that are wrong in a lot of what we say and think about Christmas here it comes.

The incredible thing in God becoming man and moving into the neighborhood, is that he subjected himself to the whole process. He was born just like you and me, he had to go through puberty just like you and me, he worked, sweat, cried (contrary to the popular Christmas hymn, baby Jesus actually cried), he grew tired, he became hungry. Even historical accounts outside of the bible it is recognized that Jesus was in fact a man. And while different sources might say different things about Jesus I believe that he in fact was/is God incarnate.

Consider this story for a moment:

Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet:

“Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,and they shall call his name Immanuel”

(which means, God with us). When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife, but knew her not until she had given birth to a son. And he called his name Jesus. (Matthew 1.18-25 ESV)

You have this girl who at least in the biblical account had never known a man intimately has been told you are pregnant and you are going to have a child that will save the world. Then you have this fellow who was going to be married to this girl and finds out she is pregnant (by the way they haven’t had relations yet). This guy was a stand up fellow because he didn’t want to shame her, so he was going to quietly divorce her, and then comes the angel.

It’s funny to me that most interactions with divine beings there is almost always this opening line: “don’t be afraid.” Not having seen an angel personally I can only surmise 1 of 2 things, either these guys look pretty terrifying or when they show up you know somethings about to go down. Yet in the New Testament the angel seems to be more about the deliver of a message of peace, or a word of comfort.

I think that this is what is ushered in by the coming Christ, peace on earth good will toward man. The beauty of Jesus coming into the world is that the opportunity for the restoration of all things is at hand. We can come to a place where we don’t have to live broken any more, we don’t have to be afraid because the truth of the Gospel is that everything is going to be okay!

We may not know all the answers, and we may not have it easy but what is true in the midst of all the turmoil and heartache and indifference is that it is all going to be okay in the end. If we come to the point that we believe Jesus came to restore what was broken, and redeem us out of the turmoil of the world, and trust that he is going to make this all okay, then we will be a part of this incredible kingdom.

This is the Gospel, this is the purpose of an angel coming to speak to a girl and a boy about their new family, this is the story of God redeeming all things back to himself through a baby born in the lowliest of conditions that everyone everywhere would know what it means to be caught up in the divine embrace as a child of the creator of the universe.

God is making all things new again, he is redeeming his broken creation and he is calling us back to himself. So this Christmas, lets think about this baby in a different way, lets embrace the purpose for God coming down to earth moving in and living daily life with each one of us.