Category: Jesus (page 1 of 48)

Better Christians

“We don’t need more Christians, we need better Christians.” ~Francis Chan

The world is turned off by “radical Christians.” The world is sick of “Christian fanatics.” People don’t listen to Christians anymore because some of them are “too Christian” and are offending everybody. I can’t become “too Christian” and I don’t want my church to be “too Christian” because we’ll just make people mad.

Yes, we do hear the world complain about “Christian fanatics.” These “radical Christians” get born again and they start hollering, they start screaming against things. They yell and make speeches and forward emails against politicians and parties, same-sex marriage and evolution and abortion, immigration and homelessness. Pick a topic, pick any issue, and Christians can appear to be very judgmental and intolerant and loud. That’s what turns people off.

And when that kind of behavior is done in the name of my Lord, it turns me off, too.

When did those kinds of people and that kind of behavior get labeled “Christian?” Or “radical Christian?” Why do people who act that way get accused of taking their Christianity too seriously?

It’s terrible that the world thinks overbearing and judgmental and narrow and self-righteous is what it means to be Christian. It’s awful. Whose fault is it? How did that happen?

It’s our fault because we are not Christian enough. We don’t take our Christianity seriously enough.

When we’re loud and opinionated and harsh and judgmental, we’re not being radical Christians; we’re really not being very Christian at all. Christians are people who are following Jesus in his ways, imitating Christ, obeying his teachings, and living by his call. Christians should be radically humble. Fanatically sensitive. Over-the-top loving. Extravagantly forgiving. Extremely understanding. Christians should be servants. Just like Jesus.

Some of us can be arrogant and pompous and selfish and actually be a hindrance to the Gospel. We can actually be working against our God as he redeems the world. We say we carry a message of grace, but how will people experience it if we act that way? Sometimes, in the name of Jesus, we’ll just run over people. We can be so narrow-minded and stubborn sometimes that nobody’s right about anything but us.

Our Lord Jesus completely embodied and brought a powerful message of truth that called people to repentance and accountability and change. But he never ran over people.

If we were all really “fanatic” about our Christianity, if we were all truly “radical Christians,” the whole world would fall in love with our God.

What if every one of us made the decision today, right now, that from here on out everything is going to come from and flow through denying ourselves, taking up our crosses, and following Jesus? Every word spoken is a word of grace and encouragement. Every human interaction is drenched in mercy and goodwill. Every action is motivated by sacrifice and service for others. If the world saw all of us walking to the cross, walking with a cross, serving and sacrificing, dying to ourselves and dying for one another, loving unconditionally, forgiving extravagantly, showing mercy and grace to all, speaking only kind words, the whole world would fall down and worship our Lord.

People wouldn’t know what to call us. But they would more clearly see Jesus.

Peace,

Allan

Kingdom > Church (Part Three)

Jesus is the Kingdom of God. The Kingdom of God is Jesus. He brings it, he embodies it, he reveals it and shows us what it is. Jesus is the time and the place, he is the where and when God rules graciously in people’s lives. And as subjects in his Kingdom, we are called to be transformed into people who live completely under his lordship. We share his values, his vision, his mission.

But our view of Jesus’ agenda is sometimes obstructed by our own ideas. Centuries of church development and rule-making and decision-making cloud our vision. When we see the Kingdom as Church, we tend to focus only on the features and characteristics of the Church.

Jesus tells the religious leaders they are looking for the Kingdom in the wrong places:

“The Kingdom of God does not come with your careful observation, nor will people say, ‘Here it is’ or ‘There it is,’ because the Kingdom of God is within you.” ~Luke 17:20

The Kingdom of God is an elusive, dynamic, spiritual thing that cannot be confined to any institution. It’s much bigger and much more powerful than that. The Kingdom of God is the person, the activity, the ministry, the power, and the eternal reign of the Lord!

Our challenge in our churches is to flex our autonomy enough to insure that our identifying characteristics genuinely correspond to those of the Kingdom Jesus is preaching and practicing. Maintaining our institutional status quo is not necessarily the same as being faithful to Jesus and his mission. Being a member in good standing or being a good middle-of-the-road church isn’t necessarily the same as living under the reign of God.

The true marks of the Kingdom have very little to do with what happens in between prayers and announcements in your worship center.  The Kingdom of God is firmly grounded in and expressed through the weightier matters — those are Jesus’ terms — of justice and mercy and faithfulness. The requirements for us subjects of the King are not keeping the rules as much as acting justly, loving mercy, and walking humbly before God.

The church in Rome was arguing and dividing, complaining and drawing lines in the sand over all kinds of issues: sacred food and sacred days, worship styles and traditions, praise teams and women’s roles, divorce and remarriage, alcohol and dancing, creeds and translations, politics and preachers, song leaders and small groups — they were splitting the church over these things. And Paul says plainly, “Knock it off! Cut it out! The Kingdom of God is not a matter of eating or drinking, but of righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit, because anyone who serves Christ in this way is pleasing to God and approved by all people” (Romans 14:17-18).

But what if we’re talking about a “salvation issue?”

Yeah, I can hear it now. We have to be clear on the “salvation issues.” We have to make sure we’re right on the “salvation issues.”

What is a “salvation issue?” Will somebody please tell me what a “salvation issue” is? We get into discussions about salvation issues and we start ranking things in order of importance to God. We argue in terms of what’s going to save us or condemn us. And we’ll vigorously debate baptism and church and the authority of Scripture and worship styles, we’ll argue about church services and church structures and church policies, but we never talk about feeding the poor or loving our enemies. We don’t mention love and grace and forgiveness and mercy. Scripture says those are the weightier matters, those are the salvation issues! Those are the things we’ve got to get straight! That is the Kingdom of God!

Building schools in Kenya and training preachers in Brazil and housing teenagers in Ukraine — that’s the Kingdom of God. Reading to a 3rd grader at Bivins Elementary and having dinner with a woman from Gratitude House — that’s the Kingdom of God. Serving food at The PARC and praying at Heal the City — that’s the Kingdom of God. Paying water bills for government workers and taking groceries to your grouchy neighbor and talking to the teenager who feels like she doesn’t belong and forgiving you dad and doing all these kinds of things for others in the name and manner of Jesus with the heart of Jesus who fulfills and embodies in every way the eternal blessings and promises of our eternal Father — that’s the Kingdom of God! Where these things prevail, where these things are obvious, that is where and when the Kingdom of God has come and is coming!

I long for the day when those are the only things God’s Church is passionate about. Don’t you?

Our King came into this world in order to serve and save. That’s the business of his subjects, too. May our Lord bless us as we love and serve, rescue and save, in his name and for the sake of his Kingdom.

Peace,

Allan

Kingdom > Church (part 2)

The Hebrew Scriptures promised of a time when God would truly rule in people’s lives. He created and saved and called his people to be a Kingdom of priests for the whole world. But the Law and the Prophets talked about this Kingdom, not in terms of the religious rituals or the trappings of the establishment, but in terms of cooperating with God in fulfilling his ultimate mission. It was never intended to be about the institution. It was always meant to be about joining God in taking care of the orphans, the widows, and the strangers in the gate. Being a light to the Gentiles. Living your life in a way that reveals God and saves the world.

In Jeremiah 7, the old prophet’s preaching at the gates of the beautiful temple, the very symbol of the religion, and he says it’s not about this building or what goes on in here during corporate worship:

“Hear the Word of the Lord, all you people of Judah who come through these gates to worship the Lord. This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says: ‘…Do not trust in deceptive words and say, ‘This is the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord!… Look, you are trusting in deceptive words that are worthless.'”

Later in the same chapter, Jeremiah says when you focus on what happens in here, you’re going backwards.

As Israel failed to live up to God’s vision for his people to protect the defenseless and feed the hungry and clothe the naked and house the poor; as Israel just couldn’t or wouldn’t keep it up; God’s prophets began to speak of a time that God himself would bring his everlasting Kingdom to earth. The Lord would reign supreme from sea to sea. Peace would come to all nations and the rule of God would transcend geography and politics and even religion. All of that is in the Old Testament.

The New Testament tells us that Jesus is the fulfillment of all those Kingdom hopes and promises.

Jesus preaches the Kingdom: “Repent! The Kingdom of God is near!” And what does he do? He frees the prisoner, heals the blind, rescues the oppressed. Those are the signs of the Kingdom. That’s the proof. When John the Baptist asks if Jesus is truly the Messiah, Jesus sends word back, “Look, you know the signs of the Kingdom. The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the Good News is preached to the poor.”

That’s the Kingdom.

Jesus, show us the Kingdom. What’s the Kingdom of God, Lord?

Never once did the Son of God ever say, “The Kingdom of God is that group over there that meets on Sundays for Bible class and worship.” “The Kingdom is identified by those who take communion once a week on the Lord’s Day and sing acappella.” “You’ll know the Kingdom when you get two songs and a prayer with announcements at the beginning and the end!”

No. Jesus says, here’s the Kingdom: it’s hurting people being comforted. It’s distressed people being encouraged. It’s cold people being warmed. It’s the outcasts being brought into a family. That’s the Kingdom of God.

When we talk about the Kingdom of God in terms of church and the institution, the rules and the order, when that’s our whole idea of Kingdom, we quickly lose sight of the very things that make the Kingdom of God what it is: when and where God graciously rules in people’s lives.

In Matthew 12, Jesus’ critics are claiming he’s driving out demons by the power of Satan. But he says, no, I’m driving out demons by the Spirit of God. “And if I drive out demons by the Spirit of God, the Kingdom of God has come to you.” In other words, when and where you see people being delivered from evil, that’s the Kingdom. And then he explains it:

“How can anyone enter a strong man’s house and carry off his possessions unless he first ties up the strong man? Then he can rob his house.” ~Matthew 12:29

Jesus is sent here by God to invade Satan’s house. Jesus rams the gates and busts through the doors of Satan’s domain. He ransacks all the rooms and breaks open the safe. He tears apart the pantry and goes into the attic and the basement. And he snatches away every man, woman, and child held in bondage by the power of the devil. They are rescued! They are all saved! That’s the Kingdom of God.

Peace,

Allan

Kingdom > Church

“Kingdom” is not a word we typically use in our everyday American English. When we say the word, it has an other-culture, if not a counter-culture, kind of feel. But “Kingdom” is a very important word for Christians. We use it all the time, mainly in church and church settings.

We’re citizens of the Kingdom. We do Kingdom work. We’re all about Kingdom business. We seek first the Kingdom of God. Sometimes we think the preacher’s going to preach ’til Kingdom come.

We use the word “Kingdom” to talk about things that are Christian as opposed to things of the world. But a lot of people use it to talk about church. Growing up, it seemed the words “Kingdom” and “church” were interchangeable, they were synonyms. Both the “Kingdom” and the “church” — same thing — were established on the Day of Pentecost in Acts 2. I remember hearing several preachers in my youth declare that the Kingdom of God was the church! Some of us were told we should not pray the Lord’s Prayer because the Kingdom had already come — the church! And I remember looking around at my church and the people in it and thinking, “This is it?” No offense, but if this is all there is to the Kingdom of God, then I’d rather not.

Here’s my definition: The Kingdom of God is the time and place of God’s gracious rule in people’s lives. The Kingdom of God is where and when our God reigns. It’s when and where Christ is Lord and everything wrong is made right and everything that’s broken in you and the people around you is fixed. And it is right here and right now.

It has come; praise God. And it is still coming; Lord, come on.

God reigns on his throne in all power over all things right now; Amen. But someday… oh, man… every knee, every tongue, to the glory of God the Father.

The Kingdom of God — all its complexities and fullness, all of its here and now and there and later — is best expressed and experienced and revealed in Jesus. He brought it. He shows us what it is.

Jesus grieved over the heart-breaking, gut-wrenching reality of a world taken over by evil. “Woe to the world,” he says, “because of the things that cause people to sin” (Matthew 18:7). It pained him. He felt strong compassion for this broken world. “How often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings. But you are not willing” (Luke 13:34). It tore at him. It killed him.

Jesus witnesses this broken condition of men and women and he jumps right into the middle of it. God intends to redeem and restore what’s broken. The Father is bent on reconciling all of creation back to himself and he does it through Jesus. Everything Jesus came to do — his birth, life, teachings, ministry, healings, miracles, suffering, death, resurrection — is about fixing our shattered lives, mending ruined relationships, and repairing this broken world.

Jesus, the Son of God, began to work with broken people and he saw the Kingdom of God. He started to sacrifice and serve people and he saw the Kingdom. He saw the major changes that were taking place. He says at the beginning of his ministry, “The Kingdom of God is near!” He saw it. He knew it. That’s what he preached: The Kingdom of God.

In Luke 4, Jesus is healing crowds of people. Laying his hands “on each one, he healed them,” it says. He was driving out demons by the dozens. And then Jesus says, “I must preach the Good News of the Kingdom of God because that is why I was sent” (Luke 4:43).

In Luke 9, Jesus sends his apostles to cast out demons and cure diseases, to “preach the Kingdom of God and to heal the sick” (Luke 9:2). The Bible says they “went from village to village, preaching the Gospel and healing people everywhere” (Luke 9:6). When they came back to report to Jesus all they had done, “He spoke to them about the Kingdom of God and healed those who needed healing” (Luke 9:11).

The Kingdom of God is about healing people. Healing people and the Kingdom of God are joined at the hip. They are inseparable. Eternally connected. The Kingdom of God is healing and fixing and making things right; making things right and fixing and healing people is the Kingdom of God! And it’s happening right here and right now. And it’s a whole lot bigger than church.

Peace,

Allan

The Pool Guy

One last thing about this invalid at the Pool of Bethesda in John 5. I want us to notice today that the ultimate Healer always takes the first step in our salvation. And he always does whatever it takes to save you.

Jesus is heading into Jerusalem for a religious feast, but he takes a detour along the way. He decides to first visit the city’s most sick and disabled. He singles out the most destitute among them, a man who is sick on the inside and the outside. And Jesus heals him. He calls the man to immediate action and heals him! He changed him.

And Jesus initiated the whole thing.

This guy had no faith. There’s no confession. No cry for help. A couple of verses later we learn this guy had no idea who Jesus even was! But Jesus was looking for him. Jesus loved him and healed him. He changed him, made him whole. And then he followed up later with him in the temple to encourage him.

What a beautiful picture of the amazing love and grace and mercy of Jesus. Our Lord Jesus goes against the grain, he moves heaven and earth, he breaks the rules, to reach out to you and heal you.

And he’s the one who takes the initiative. Always. He’ll stop at nothing to save you. That’s his nature. That’s who he is and what he does.

Do you want to get well?

What’s wrong with us and this world is sin. We know that Jesus is the answer to the problem. But do we really want to be healed? Whether you’re experiencing the physical brokenness of this pool guy or his complacency that Jesus challenges with a call to action or the warped attitude of the religious leaders who valued their rules and restrictions over the healing of others, Jesus’ question is the same. So is his will and power to save.

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The construction around our church building at Central is progressing up and out.  There’s a lot of scaffolding in play here.

 

 

 

 

The three arches of our new main entrance have all been encased in brick and the walls and beams of our new ground-level ministry space are almost complete. The chapel steps and wall that went down and then out to the sides have been torn out to reveal the original 1930 steps that went straight down to the street.  And pretty soon the beautiful cast stone will be installed on this west side front.

 

 

 

 

 

If you run into them, be extra kind to Mark and Kevin and Mary and Vickie. They’re losing their office windows in this deal and it’s just now starting to sink in. As the walls go up, there’s less sunshine coming in. Vickie’s is just that little “Laverne and Shirley” window, but she’s still going to feel it. Mark and Mary are going to have to be shown where their light switches are. And Kevin might actually go stark-raving-mad.

Peace,

Allan

 

Church People on Church Days

Jesus heals the invalid at the Pool of Bethesda. The man was instantly cured. His life was eternally changed. Jesus made him well. Jesus made him whole!

But it was a church day. And because it was a church day, some of the church people got upset. The guy at the pool is not the only sick person Jesus ran into this day. There are some really sick church people in this scene.

“The day on which this took place was a Sabbath, and so the Jews said to the man who had been healed, ‘It is the Sabbath; the law forbids you to carry your mat!'” ~John 5:9-10

The church people, the self-appointed guardians of the truth, immediately put this man on trial. They’re in his face. This is an interrogation. “You’re not supposed to do that! Why are you doing that? Who said you could do that?”

It’s quite incredible, huh? A man is made whole and given new life by the will and power of God, and the opposition comes from church people. Not evil people, no. Good people who mistake their religious traditions for the will of God. These church people are sicker than this paraplegic ever was.

The Law of Moses was very clear that the Sabbath Day is a holy day and it needs to be recognized as part of the covenant between God and his people. It needs to be a sacred day and nobody’s supposed to do any work. But the Jewish teachers and scribes had added to it. It wasn’t specific enough for them. It wasn’t strict enough. It was too gray. How can we judge people, how can we know for sure who’s right and who’s wrong unless we make this more black and white?

So, to make themselves really happy and everybody around them really miserable, they came up with their own rules and restrictions as supplements to God’s Law. It came to be known as Mishna — pages and pages and books and volumes of their own interpretations they bound on all the people. Regarding the Sabbath Day alone, they had 39-different categories of things a person could not do. And they used these interpretations — and that’s all they are — to control people. It gave them power and authority. And if you threatened their interpretations, you were in for a fight. These church people were willing to kill to protect their interpretations.

So, after they publicly berate this guy, they go after Jesus. How dare you work! How dare you heal! How dare you help this man on the Sabbath! And Jesus’ defense is simple: “My Father is working today and so I am working today.”

Jesus goes on in the following verses to explain that every single thing he does, he does because of his Father. Jesus claims he is sent by God, he’s on a mission from God, he’s doing the works of God, he’s obedient to God, and he’s bringing glory to God. And that ticks them off even more! So now Jesus finds himself on trial and he starts bringing out the witnesses in verse 33: The Scriptures testified to me; John the Baptist testified to me; God in heaven testifies to me by these works he’s given me to do. But you…

“You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life.” ~John 5:39-40

This is what upset Jesus the most. You know every letter of every word, you’ve interpreted every passage, you’ve memorized it, you argue to the death one verb here and one participle there — you think you have eternal life in the Scriptures. But you don’t!

Dear reader, eternal life does not come from the Bible; eternal life comes from Christ Jesus to whom the Bible points. Our trust and faith and hope is not in the Scriptures; our trust and faith and hope is in the holy Son of God to whom the Scriptures point.

These church people are sick. They know the Word of God frontwards and backwards, but they don’t know Jesus. Their disbelief was deliberate, their diagnosis was severe. They love their church life and their traditions and interpretations, but they had forgotten how to love God and the people God is healing and making whole. Their expression of church had become horribly twisted. They had turned their life-giving and soul-saving faith into something life-taking and soul-destroying. Instead of being a source of joy and light, they were using their religion to suppress and judge. They knew the Word of God, but they totally missed his will. They had counted every letter of the Scriptures, but they had totally missed the truth.

Does any of this sound familiar? Does any of this feel familiar?

I think we’re all — every one of us — susceptible to this sickness. It’s dangerous. It’s deadly.

Do we want to get well?

Sometimes our vigorous preservation of our church traditions counts more than the openness and spontaneity of faith. We know our Bible, but sometimes we use it to defend all the wrong things. We know our Bible, but sometimes that’s all we know. Our allegiance to the way things have always been done sometimes gets in the way of the healing and saving work of Jesus. We can’t appreciate or applaud the good that’s being done because it’s being done differently.

And Jesus deliberately challenges these rigid traditions. He goes out of his way to do things on the Sabbath, just to make the point. So much so, it becomes his habit.

When the apostles picked grain on the Sabbath in Matthew 12, the Pharisees accused Jesus of breaking the Law and Jesus said, “Relax. Look, we’re hungry. We need food. I desire mercy, not sacrifice.” Remember? In that same chapter, Jesus heals the man with the withered hand on a church day, in church, and when the church people tell Jesus, “Hey, that’s not how we do things in church!” our Lord says, “People are valuable to me. People! Their physical needs, their emotional needs, their spiritual needs — their souls are valuable to me. It is good to do good. On the Sabbath or any other day of the week, it’s good to do good for people.”

That’s his attitude.

And we should be constantly re-evaluating our own attitudes. Is our church so well-defined and so safe and so comfortable that if Jesus showed up with his attitude, we’d interrogate him? Would Christ’s attitude be OK in our church?

A Scriptural service is when people are healed and made whole. A correct worship service is when people experience the love and grace and mercy of God. What makes a biblical worship service is when God is praised and salvation from Christ is proclaimed and Holy Spirit people eat and drink together and encourage and bless one another. After that, in church, nothing else really matters much at all.

Peace,

Allan

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