…still the best description of how the church should be – outside of the bible itself – by Aristides, a 2nd Athenian philosopher, as he shared his observations on what the 2nd century church was actually like…
“BUT THE CHRISTIANS, O King, while they went about and made search, have found the truth; and as we learned from their writings, they have come nearer to truth and genuine knowledge than the rest of the nations. For they know and trust in God, the Creator of heaven and of earth, in whom and from whom are all things, to whom there is no other god as companion, from whom they received commandments which they engraved upon their minds and observe in hope and expectation of the world which is to come. Wherefore they do not commit adultery nor fornication, nor bear false witness, nor embezzle what is held in pledge, nor covet what is not theirs.
They honour father and mother, and show kindness to those near to them; and whenever they are judges, they judge uprightly. They do not worship idols (made) in the image of man; and whatsoever they would not that others should do unto them, they do not to others; and of the food which is consecrated to idols they do not eat, for they are pure. And their oppressors they appease (lit: comfort) and make them their friends; they do good to their enemies; and their women, O King, are pure as virgins, and their daughters are modest; and their men keep themselves from every unlawful union and from all uncleanness, in the hope of a recompense to come in the other world. Further, if one or other of them have bondmen and bondwomen or children, through love towards them they persuade them to become Christians, and when they have done so, they call them brethren without distinction.
They do not worship strange gods, and they go their way in all modesty and cheerfulness. Falsehood is not found among them; and they love one another, and from widows they do not turn away their esteem; and they deliver the orphan from him who treats him harshly. And he, who has, gives to him who has not, without boasting. And when they see a stranger, they take him in to their homes and rejoice over him as a very brother; for they do not call them brethren after the flesh, but brethren after the spirit and in God. And whenever one of their poor passes from the world, each one of them according to his ability gives heed to him and carefully sees to his burial. And if they hear that one of their number is imprisoned or afflicted on account of the name of their Messiah, all of them anxiously minister to his necessity, and if it is possible to redeem him they set him free. And if there is among them any that is poor and needy, and if they have no spare food, they fast two or three days in order to supply to the needy their lack of food.
They observe the precepts of their Messiah with much care, living justly and soberly as the Lord their God commanded them. Every morning and every hour they give thanks and praise to God for His loving-kindnesses toward them; and for their food and their drink they offer thanksgiving to Him. And if any righteous man among them passes from the world, they rejoice and offer thanks to God; and they escort his body as if he were setting out from one place to another near. And when a child has been born to one of them, they give thanks to God; and if moreover it happen to die in childhood, they give thanks to God the more, as for one who has passed through the world without sins. And further if they see that any one of them dies in his ungodliness or in his sins, for him they grieve bitterly, and sorrow as for one who goes to meet his doom.“
ONE DAY, THE SHEEP WERE ENJOYING THE SUNSHINE and the green grass on a breezy afternoon. The “baa’s” were a sign to the shepherd that everyone in the flock was having a wonderful day together. “This is what I have always wanted,” said one sheep to another, “a place where I can be with my own, free to roam in the afternoon with friends, but also safe enough at night in the sheep pen from the unknown of the woods.”
As sundown approached, the shepherd started gathering the sheep into the sheep pen. “45…60…70…80,” he counted. “95, 96, 97, 98, 99…???” The shepherd was shocked. One of the sheep was missing from the pen. “Everyone! I must have your attention,” said the shepherd summoning the 99 with urgency. “We have an emergency! One sheep is missing. She’s out there in the woods. Come daylight, we must go to find her!”
AT DAYBREAK, the shepherd gave a short training seminar on how to rescue a sheep in the woods. He recounted stories of how God had used him in the past to bring back lost sheep. He then re-organized the flock into rescue teams and gave them a programmatic process to seek out the lost sheep, which he called by the acronym, S.H.E.E.P. (Saving Helpless Ewe’s by Evangelism and Protection). They were excited about how God would use them!
At 8:05 AM (the second hour of the day in Hebrew culture), the shepherd released the sheep to find the lost ewe. The shepherd was hopeful that the training, modeling and inspirational stories as well as their team approach would have the lost sheep back by the mid-noon hour.
When the sheep got to the edge of the woods, only a few went forward. But most hesitated. In fact, the vast majority of the flock went back to the comfort of the pen. “We need more training and prayer first,” said one sheep. “I realized that my role is to support the others who are the sent ones,” said another. Another felt that posting a picture on social media of the group walking towards the woods was enough. Still another said, “I know I should go into the woods but…I just can’t right now because of all of the other things going on. Do you have any idea how long it takes for me to clean the wool of my family?”
The shepherd loved the 99 sheep. But he also loved the one lost sheep. What was he to do? He wanted the other 99 to have a good pen life together. But when the one ewe went missing, he knew they had to find her. The shepherd believed he had been faithful. He had trained, inspired, and encouraged them, even equipped them through S.H.E.E.P. to accomplish their mission.
THAT NIGHT AS THE SHEEP LAY SLEEPING, something finally dawned on the shepherd…the pen was the very thing that was holding them back. He had equipped them and encouraged them to be sent out. But the sheep were not strong enough to leave the pen to go into the scary woods. Given their new mission, he realized he had to redefine what a “new pen” should look like or they would never leave the old one.
THE NEXT MORNING, WHEN THE SHEEP AWOKE, they sprung to their hooves. The fence around the pen had vanished! “Meeeeeeh!?” said one. “Baa…Baaaaa…d” said another. When they looked up, they saw the shepherd standing between them and the woods where the lost sheep was believed to be. “Beloved,” said the shepherd, “I am here to feed you and shepherd you and protect you. But because of this lost ewe, the old pen that held us back will now be replaced by a new pen. Our entire flock will now be a new moving pen in the woods rather than me trying to motivate you to leave the old pen to go into the woods. You are free to stay here where the old pen used to be or to wander elsewhere. But if you want me to be your shepherd, then we are now going to rescue the ewe together. Our new moving sheep pen in the woods will be closer to God’s definition of what a sheep pen should look like. There’s now no more old sheep pen for us to hide in anymore.”
And with that, the shepherd took a step towards the woods.
We think of wicked people as: extremists who execute their captives, people who use guns on children, lying public figures or oppressive foreign dictators w/bad haircuts.
But a life continually marked by laziness towards the good works God invites you into is also evil/unbelief. In the Parable of the Talents (Matt. 25:25-30), God entrusts opportunities to do his good works to 3 people. The 1st & 2nd servants are faithful and hear from their master, “Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful with a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.” [Matt. 25:21,23]. The 3rd unbelieving servant was unfaithful and indifferent to his master’s wishes. This 3rd servant did not really know the master and ultimately was cast into the “outer darkness” where there was “weeping and gnashing of teeth” [Matt. 25:24-30].
re: 1st & 2nd servants (believers) [v.15-23]
> God’s commendation – How great would it be to hear God say to you, “Well done (“I’m proud of you”) good and faithful (“You are trustworthy”) servant (“You’ve served that which matters most”). You have been faithful with a little, I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.” (“I will increase your joy”) [v.21,23]. Being rewarded by God in heaven [2 Cor. 5:10; 1 Cor. 3:10-15] is legit motivation for doing God’s work here on earth.
> “at once” – The 1st & 2nd servants went out “at once” with urgency [v.16]. Are we? A lack of urgency among believers may be the #1 biggest problem in the church today. We have far too many 4 and 5 talent Christians today who are living 3 and 2 talent lives. The only one that ever stopped you is you and in the end, you (and I) will be entirely responsible to God for the stewardship he entrusted us with. You are far to valuable to be living a wasted life just surviving in mundane conformity to the world’s standards of success.
re: 3rd servant (unbelievers) [v.24-30]
> your most important work – If your life is continually marked by an indifference to God’s work (the things revolving around obedience to, following of, and praising of Jesus), then the most important work to rededicate your life to isn’t through a self-improvement seminar or yoga or Earth Day. It’s trusting in the life and work of Jesus Christ on the cross for the forgiveness of your sins [John 6:28,29].
Today, 9 out of 10 people in the general population believe in some definition of “God”. And 7 out of 10 believe in some definition of the afterlife.
But while most believe in some definition of God and the afterlife, 9 out of 10 people today do not believe that Jesus Christ is the one way to the God of the bible. In other words, about 90% of the population do not believe Jesus is necessary in determining their afterlife.
Most striking though is that today 2 out of every 3 people who say they are Christian now no longer believe Jesus when he said, “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” [John 14:6]. That’s 2/3 – the majority – who say they are Christian are now professing a faith that’s biblically unrecognizable.
I’ll be honest with you. If I (Pastor Chris) did not believe Jesus was the way, the truth and the life to God, then this past Sunday would have been my last. You’d never see me again. I’d be off living my life any way that I wanted, because hey, I’ve chosen to believe there are a lot of ways to God. So why not define it my own way? Why be bound to any organized religion or an ancient text?
But the thing is…I have chosen to believe Jesus at his words. One of the reasons for that is because I’ve realized that defining my spirituality my own way is actually more frightening and more uncertain than trusting in Jesus as Lord and Savior.
I came to that realization because…I know my own heart. No matter how good I may look on the outside, no matter how hard I try to heal my soul on my own, no matter how well I can fake you out to make you think I’m good, I cannot fake out my own conscience, much less fake out God.
It is that realization – that the world’s remedies for the evil in my own heart as well as my own efforts – that they do not bring me peace. I need to know that I will be okay in eternity. I need to know that God himself is on my side here and now and he will provide the way and the truth and the life for me because I cannot do that for myself. And you cannot do that for me either. Only God can.
Jesus makes sense to me because he is the only one who conquered death and satisfied the penalty for my sins. He says that God desires a relationship where we belong to each other for eternity. He didn’t primarily teach a way, a truth and a life to be emulated. He was/is all of those things and he lives through those who believe in him. And he has made all of the difference in a world of competing voices.
In that respect, Jesus is really no different than most of the world’s religions available to you today. All say love is central to your soul.
But what makes Jesus unique is how he loved and how he makes that love available to you and I.
In his encounter with the disciples in John ch. 13 & 14, he revealed that God is our servant (!). He washes our feet (i.e. our souls) clean. He does this amidst knowing the betrayal/denial/abandonment/disbelief coming his way at the hands of his own disciples. He is concerned about their loving one another when they should be the ones comforting him as he prepares to go to the cross. He promises he will send to them the Holy Spirit, who will make his truths and their love for one another and for him possible.
Think about that. In this one encounter in John 13 & 14, we see the human heart clearly apart from Jesus. We are prone to selfishness (the disciples didn’t offer to wash Jesus’ feet). We need his direct spiritual help (the indwelling Holy Spirit) to love one another the way God wants. We side with the disciple’s experience of betraying/denying/abandoning/disbelieving Jesus, sometimes at a moments notice.
And yet Jesus, knowing all of this in advance, reveals that God is merciful and patient and loving for those who believe. But sometimes people don’t want Jesus to wash their feet (i.e. souls). Maybe letting Jesus wash your soul carries with it the fear that becoming his servant means you’ll be serving others who are dirty.
For those of us to do chose Jesus, if you want to be more like Jesus the road to becoming more loving isn’t after we’ve gotten the things we want from God. What if we were to see servanthood in the midst of the self-centeredness of the human heart (ours and others) as the way to be more like him? What if we were to embrace/celebrate loving God/others when they are less than…what we expect? What if this was God’s way of making us more like the person He envisioned us to be? What if that was the true way of Jesus?
Would it be worth it?
JESUS IS THE START OF YOUR REINVENTION.
> You’re serious about living a life where God is at the center, then Jesus is your starting point.
> You realize that your character is broken in darkness, then Jesus is your starting point.
> You are untrusting of fake religion, then Jesus is your starting point.
> You are left empty at the pleasures of the world, then Jesus is your starting point.
> You believe that right relationships – not fame/money/power – defines spirituality, then Jesus is your starting point.
> You realize the danger of defining your spirituality on your own, then Jesus is your starting point.
^ Jesus is the central figure of the New Testament and ultimately the Old Testament. [Jn. 5:39]
^ Jesus said he is God. [Jn. 10:30]
^ Jesus said he is our savior. [Jn. 3:16]
^ The apostle Paul said Jesus is the true representation of God. [Col. 2:9]
^ The apostle Peter said Jesus is the only one by which we can be saved. [Acts 4:12]
^ The apostle John said sharing about Jesus was the source of his joy. [1 Jn. 1:4]
^ The apostle Jude said he was the servant of Jesus. [Jude 1]
^ The writer of Hebrews said God has spoken through Jesus, the heir of all things. [Heb. 1:2]
^ The apostles told the churches “Follow me as I follow Christ” and “Follow Jesus”. [1 Cor. 11:1; 1 Pt. 2:21]
+ Churches today call themselves “Christians”, meaning, “followers of Jesus Christ”.
+ Most of an unbelieving world concedes that Jesus Christ has had more impact on more people than any other person to walk the earth in human history.
= Journey with us as we explore 15 central teachings of Jesus on Sundays @ 4 PM + here on this blog. Starting over with Jesus is where the most important thing in life gets reinvented: you.
We love watching people trying to erase their past in hopes of constructing a brand new identity. We watch The Bachelor (new love), Extreme Makeover (new look/lifestyle), The Voice (new dream), Breaking Bad (new career, sans rules), Shark Tank (new wealth). We carefully curate a more idealized persona on social media. We switch careers/lovers/looks/friends/churches on a whim. Each time we do, it’s an opportunity to for us to reinvent ourselves.
The idea of reinventing yourself is powerful and attractive. It’s exciting. There’s a sense of movement to our lives when we think of not being bound to the past anymore and having the promise of starting over.
Jesus came so you could start over. His life, death and resurrection is God’s way of making possible the reinvention of the human soul. Not through ourselves, but through Him. The Apostle Paul said, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come?” [2 Cor. 5:17]. Today with so many possibilities to reinvent ourselves in so many key areas of our lives, why do we need Jesus anymore? He didn’t promise us a new look or career or bank account.
Perhaps it’s because the reinvention of your soul is the single most important area of your life that needs to start over. Your soul controls your thoughts, your motivations, your actions – it is the source of your life, both here and in eternity. Jesus’ reinvents us through his life coming into our life. Not through a program to make us into a new person, but through the Holy Spirit living through us to make us right and new before God.
Not everyone believes that.
For those of us who do, we’ve seen the effects of our own sin darken our souls and wreck relationships. We have endured evil thrust upon us by circumstances beyond our control. We are concerned about what we see happening in culture, and for that matter the future of our country and world. We have come to the point where we have lost hope in the voices around us (or within us) that say, “You’re fine.”
The reality is that God’s words “start over” aren’t for those who define their lives by the words “I’m fine.” Jesus Christ did not come to us in human flesh, die on a cross and then rise from the dead for those who feel they’re fine on their own with how things are and where things are headed.
Starting over is also a much better two-word alternative to “I’m stuck”. Sometimes it’s not about fighting harder in the same direction. It’s about being willing to go back to the beginning. The bible says,
“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” [2 Corinthians 5:17]
YOU ARE INVITED TO START OVER WITH GOD AND WITH OTHERS. On Sunday, March 20th and 27th we all start over. Come join us for the launch of a new community called “the church” and hear God’s two most important words to you.
There are many, many things that Christians can succeed at:
> We can succeed at becoming good servants of other people in church.
> We can succeed at helping the poor through short-term missions trips abroad.
> We can succeed at studying the bible and quoting smart theologians.
> We can succeed at living holy lives.
> We can succeed at bringing the best dish to the Sun. potluck.
> We can succeed at raising happy children.
> We can succeed at voicing our concerns over the political and moral future of America.
> We can succeed at finding new friends at church to fellowship with.
> We can succeed at becoming a more prayerful people.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
But are we succeeding at making disciples? With the people right in front of us in the place where we live? Or are we succeeding in the other areas of the faith while missing our main mission? How many of us know people that would name us as the person who brought them to Jesus Christ and was pivotal in them becoming a disciple?
“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” [Matt. 28:19,20]
As I sat down at a wedding ceremony, he said,
“I hear you guys are starting a church. That sounds exciting and scary.”
He was right. It’s both.
“…but there’s another (maybe more important) word I would add to that. The word “necessary”.
5 min. later, he said he was still trying to wrap his mind around why I said the word “necessary” in describing the urgency of planting a church to make disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Do we believe “necessary” is the final 1/3 of “exciting” and “scary”?
The night we met Gilbert, he celebrated death.
Today, he celebrates life.
As he gave his testimony during the worship service, he shared about his violent past and the stronghold of evil that gripped his life while growing up in San Bernardino and working in downtown Long Beach. The dozens of stories he can tell you are so filled with mayhem that any one of them could have been his undoing. He shared a verse written by the Apostle Paul, who himself was a man of violence, but was saved by the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ,
“I thank him who has given me strength, Christ Jesus our Lord, because he judged me faithful, appointing me to his service, though formerly I was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent. But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief, and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life.” [1 Timothy 1:12-16]
Gilbert went from death to life when he became a disciple of Jesus Christ. Today, he no longer uses art to celebrate death. Instead, he uses it as an instrument to glorify God in the church and reach others for the advancing of God’s kingdom. He’s an inspiration. He’s a brother. He reminds us that Jesus’ death on the cross gives us spiritual life to share with others.
> social media is making you a screen disciple
> fox news/msnbc are making you a political disciple
> greenpeace is making you an environmental disciple
> glee made you a human rights disciple
> tavi gevinson is making you a fashion disciple
> professional athletes are making you a sports disciple
> republican/democratic candidates are making you an empire building disciple
> Oprah is making you a postmodern disciple
> ISIS is wanting to make you a radical disciple
> Kanye is making you an entertainment disciple
> porn is making you an enslaved disciple
Is the church making disciples w/the same urgency?
“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” [Matt. 28:19,20]
Paul was motivated to make disciples. He #1.) met Jesus directly [Acts 9], #2.) was indebted for previously trying to destroy the church [Gal. 1; 1 Tim. 1] and #3.) saw heaven/was aware of Satan’s existence, perhaps more than any other person outside of Jesus himself [2 Cor. 12]. These (#1-#3) were powerful motivations that were unique to Paul. We can’t replicate them.
But there’s another motivation that drove Paul. He wrote to the church he started at Thessanolika,
“For what is our hope or joy or crown of boasting before our Lord Jesus at his coming? is it not you? For your are our glory and joy.” [1 Thess. 2:19,20]
Paul’s 4th motivation for making disciples was that he saw eternally changed lives through his witness for Christ. He wrote to the Thessalonians that they were his “hope” and “joy” and “glory” and reason for godly “boasting”. I am convinced that this is a main reason Paul was so driven. He was seeing changed lives through his ministry and it was strengthening him spiritually.
We can be good attenders and good servants and good citizens in church. But are we making new disciples of Jesus Christ? If we are, then like Paul, we will be renewed by God’s hope/joy/glory. What could be more thrilling than seeing another person’s life changed for eternity?
Don’t let your faith and your church experience become an uninspiring and lifeless ritual. Remembering the 4th motivation and it will change you, to.
> “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” [Jesus, Matt. 4:19]
> “Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself for us…” [Paul, Eph. 5:1,2]
> “Therefore I urge you to imitate me.” [Paul, 1 Cor. 4:16]
> “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.” [Paul, 1 Cor. 11:1]
> “Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us.” [Paul, Phil. 3:17]
> “For you, brothers, became imitators of the churches of God in Christ Jesus that are in Judea. For you suffered the same things from your own countrymen as they did from the Jews…” [Paul, 1 Thess. 2:14]
> “…so that you may not be sluggish, but imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises.” [Writer of Hebrews, Heb. 6:12]
Perhaps we need simplify how we make disciples of Jesus Christ. What if it was no more complex than finding another believer and trying to imitate their life in what they were learning and doing in Christ?
In the late-1990’s, I spent two years in the heart of downtown Los Angeles as part of a new ministry that was attempting to change the spirituality of Los Angeles and through that, the world. One of the pastors asked me why I chose to come there. I replied with the first (and most important) thought that came to mind: “I am here because I wanted to be a part of something that was attempting great things for God to change the world. I wanted to be a part of a church where something miraculous could happen.”
What I learned through that time in urban ministry – and later in a ministry to downtown Long Beach, Ca. – was that the context for God to do His miraculous works is when his followers actually live by faith, hope and love.
The foundation of the church is the teaching of biblical truth [1 Timothy 3:15]. The nature of the church is to be the visible expression of Jesus [1 Cor. 6:19;12:27]. The maturing of the church is through the equipping of the saints for ministry [Eph. 4:11-16]. The sanctification of the church is through obedience to God’s Word [John 17:17]. The protection of the church is by the spiritual armor of God [Eph. 6:10-18]. The mission of the church is to make disciples [Matt. 28:16-20]. And the message of the church is salvation [Rom. 10:8-10].
But the experience of a church environment should be one of faith, hope and love. When people come to church, they should be moved by the Holy Spirit expressed through a people that are living by an impossible faith, an extraordinary love and an enduring hope. What we discover in the pages of scripture is that when the Israelites in the Old Testament and followers of Jesus Christ in the New Testament lived in this way, God literally did the supernatural among them. They defeated their enemies. They turned from wickedness to righteousness. They saw people’s eternal destinies changed. Are we? If not, perhaps the next move is ours, not God’s.
If the church to take her rightful place as the salt and light of the world, the most courageous action she must be willing to take is to step outside of the box of small expectations and minimal sacrifice. The scripture says that God searches, “to and fro throughout the whole earth, to strengthen those who hearts are fully committed to him…” [2 Chron. 16:9]. God’s responsibility is to search and strengthen. Ours is to commit. There must be a sense in our churches that we are fully depending on God, must be delivered only by God and are attempting things that are only possible through God.
Too much of life is mundane. The experience of church should not be. What we should be calling people to should inspire them as much as it stretches and challenges them. Anything but bore them with such a low bar of expectations that they could literally walk over it on their way to a weekend brunch and the televised Sunday NBA basketball game.
If you are reading this, we invite you to join us on this journey of faith, hope and love as we follow our great God. Shouldn’t you expect nothing less from God and his people?
“We give thanks to God always for all of you, constantly mentioning you in our prayers, remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.” [1 Thess. 1:2,3]
He showed up on time, with a cane. We started the Wednesday night bible study as an outreach to the community. He came to encourage others to know the Jesus he followed. As he walked towards the table I said, “Good to see you Anthony. What happened to your leg?” He played it down and went to order some food.
The five of us met for bible study over the next hour and a half to discuss the bible’s definition of a fool according to the book of Proverbs. Everyone walked away at the end blessed by our time of learning and fellowship.
But before I left for the night, I asked again about his leg. He said it was in so much pain from the illness that afflicted him that he couldn’t walk without assistance. I asked him why he came tonight when he could have (should have?) stayed home. He said,
“I wanted to come. I am learning to take joy in my inadequacies, in my lack of strength. God is directing my steps. And God’s grace is sufficient. This is humbling, but Christ works powerfully through my weakness.”
I’ve seldom witnessed such an example of enduring hope and an endurance to share hope with others. Most of us in his condition would have been at home, not out to a bible study. But hope is a powerful thing. It believes in God throughout the trial. It compels you to do things that don’t make sense. It gives you the belief that people desperately need what you’ve found in Christ. Sometimes, we have to see true hope living through someone else to remind us of what it’s supposed to look like in our own lives.
“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.” [Romans 15:13]
…hope from who we politically elect to restore our country
…hope from how we environmentally recycle/reuse/reduce/repurpose to save the earth
…hope to who we humanitarianly feed
…how from how we can self-help maximize our human potential
…hope from what technological GNR (genetics, robotics, nanotechnology) advances will enable us
…hope from which postmodern spirituality allows us to accomplish the dreams we have for our lives
….the hope of gospel of Jesus Christ for those who believe
“To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.” [Colossians 1:27]
SHE LOVED ME. WE WERE IN 8TH GRADE. SHE WAS ANONYMOUS.
“Me” (as she signed the letter) wrote and mailed me a love poem. I found it the other day in a box of old stuff:
But it was anonymous.
When we think about love (outside of childhood), we tend to start with romance. Everyone remembers their first crush. It’s a dream. It’s a nightmare. It’s how we think about love for someone who isn’t related to us. Some of us let that person know our feelings (or today, we would do it by posting a vid). Some of us kept it a secret. Maybe we did share, but we did it anonymously. Whatever our experience, we learned that growing-up love starts with romance.
The other day I was visiting my 81-year-old father. He became a follower of Jesus Christ 10 years ago. Today he helps take care of his wife, my mother, full-time after her second major stroke in 2014.
A love that began 54 years ago with romance is beginning her long goodbye with the daily routine of sacrifice for the one he committed to love. The attention he gives to her care and the affection he shows her, without her response back, is the romance and commitment we all hope for. Jesus has helped him become the full expression of the love letter he always had for her in his heart.
Jesus’ love for us is like that. He became God’s love letter to us. He is the romance of God, the one who shares His love with those He is trying to win over. But more importantly, Jesus is the eternal commitment of God to those who believe and follow Him as Lord and Savior. I hope for you a love that has both romance and commitment. Sometimes our hearts go astray and we miss both. But the good news of the gospel is that much more so than my father’s love for his wife, God’s love for his own will never fade. And never be anonymous.
“For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” [Romans 8:37,38]
For much of my life, serving the poor meant, “We’re showing the love of God to those in need. Serving them shows them that God loves them.”
There’s gospel truth in that. But I was missing the other side of it. The side that wanted to remind me of my own need for salvation through Jesus Christ.
We went on Saturday mornings to wash the feet of those experiencing homelessness on Skid Row. Our crew of 25 must have prayed for and washed the feet of 300. Many were grateful. Some cried. Some walked right passed us. Some checked themselves into the mission thereafter. We felt good about what God was doing.
BUT THEN THE UNEXPECTED HAPPENED. I realized Jesus’ love for me (and for the other’s on bended knee). By touching hardened urban feet, the Holy Spirit taught me what we were doing was also a metaphor for how Jesus continually washes our souls. I couldn’t stop thinking about how much my own sin perpetually “smells and looks” to Jesus. And yet Jesus did not hesitate to get himself dirty by becoming one of us [John 1:14]. He touch our dirtiness [John 13:1-5]. Today He spiritually cleanses us from the filthy residue of our evil [1 John 1:9; Heb. 7:24-37].
Love always changes things. Sometimes we unexpectedly learn that giving it to others is also the way Jesus reveals it to us.
(note: “L.Q.” isn’t a real term, just made up).
L.Q. (“love quotient”) is:
…knowing when increased study about God’s love and increased pursuit of loving Christian relationships becomes counterproductive to us if we aren’t also sharing about/giving away that love to those who have none.”
Put another way, a high L.Q. is knowing when to say to ourselves, “You know, at this point, the best thing we can do to be more like Jesus would be to actually apply what we already know. Let’s go share the gospel of Jesus Christ with those who don’t know Him and love others who have little of it in their life.”
Secular thinking has given us I.Q (intelligence quotient), which measures our intellectual prowess. We are taught about E.Q. (emotional quotient), which measures our ability to read people’s emotions. We even have now R.Q. (relational quotient), which measures how well we relate to people amidst our busyness. As interesting as those things are, paying more attention to L.Q. would be the thing that actually makes us more loving people and creates a more loving church.
Becoming a more loving person comes from learning about God’s love AND expending that love in obedience to Him [John 14:23,24] along with sacrificial acts of love towards those in real need of it [Matt. 25:35-40; James 1:27].
love | search : Adelle.Taylor.Ed. |Aziz Ansari, Modern Romance | online dating
love | compromise : husbands > work (over wives) | wives > kids (over husbands) | parents > kid’s sports, academics, beauty (over kids) | boyfriend > girlfriend (“If you loved me, you would.”)
love | corrupted/collapse : 50 Shades of Grey | Google porn | Ashley Madison | Tindr.Grindr | Supreme Court def. of marriage | harvesting the unborn
love | restored : “Therefore, be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” [Ephesians 5:1,2]
We talked the same music/weather/work schedules as we sat down for early diner. Normal starter conversation for a weekly bible study meeting. It was the first time we met at this diner. But the artisan burgers were voted “Best in the City”. We had to try it.
Then the food came and the conversation turned. As we stared at medium-rare organic burgers/Kennebec frites/homemade ketchup on a stainless steal plate, my friend said, “I can tell from the smell and look of this burger that they grind their own meat here. This is going to be great!”
He was right. It was.
By the end of the bible study we started talking about God’s love. He said, “I always thought that God’s love of me depended on how good or bad I was. The whole idea that God pursues me with a relentless love – that God cares that much – I never realized that before. That’s new.”
This is where the “chuck-beef-burger-as-spiritual-metaphor” came in. We talked about how there was a difference between smelling the burger/seeing the juiciness of the burger and actually tasting/eating the whole the burger. Two different experiences. One gave great anticipation of good things to come, the other the experience of tasty hipster foodie satisfaction. Or something like that.
That’s a lot like the difference between living with the incomplete hope of God’s love based on if we had a good day or not versus knowing Jesus lives in your soul to continually pour God’s love and forgiveness into your heart every day. Who wouldn’t want to be that full? The bible says Jesus is the “propitiation for our sins” that we might “live through him” [1 John 4:9,10]. Jesus isn’t primarily an example of “servant of love” or a “teacher of God’s love”. That’s “smelling Jesus from afar”. Knowing him is like consuming the most fulfilling crafted burger. He is the one we “spiritually savor” as we confess him as Lord and Savior and are changed to be more like him as we obey God’s commands to love. Anything else is just a Big Mac.
We’ve been told by modern psychology that there are 5 primary love languages of how human beings like to be loved: words of affirmation, gifts, physical affection, time and acts of service. If you want to love/be loved well, so the theory goes, then figure out which top one or two of these is our own best definition of love and then…love/ask for love in that way. While figuring this out can bring a smile to your loved one’s face, the real question for followers of Jesus Christ is: “Are these Jesus’ love languages?”
When we look at the life of Jesus, we discover God has a different love language. Jesus doesn’t primarily model/teach 5 love languages. Instead, he gave us 6 ways to follow/experience sacrificial love that would spiritually change us and change those around us (which our church is attempting w/gracious success and revealing failure!):
> LOVE LANGUAGE #1: LOVING/RECONCILING WITH THOSE WHO HATE YOU [Matthew 5:10,11,21-24;43-47]
> LOVE LANGUAGE #2: EMBRACE THE POOR [Luke 14:12-14]
> LOVE LANGUAGE #3: BECOMING A SLAVE/SERVANT TO OTHER BELIEVERS [John 13:1,12-17; 1 John 4:12]
> LOVE LANGUAGE #4: SHARING THE GOSPEL WITH THOSE WHO ARE LOST [Matthew 28:18-20]
> LOVE LANGUAGE #5: OBEYING GOD’S COMMANDS AS A SIGN OF YOUR LOVE FOR HIM [John 14:23,24]
> LOVE LANGUAGE #6: SACRIFICING YOUR $$ FOR GOD’S KINGDOM [Matthew 6:24]
EPILOGUE: The amazing thing about Jesus is that he not only models/commands his followers to practice this type of love, but that he also makes this type of love possible through the power of the Holy Spirit within us [Rom. 5:5; Galatians 5:22-25; 1 John 4:12]. It is in this last statement that Jesus is set apart from every other teacher ever to walk the planet. When we submit ourselves to Him by choosing to follow and obey, He lives through us to love through his love, not our own. When we do, He heals us and changes us. What kind of testimony would the church have towards herself/world if we were to love by Jesus’ love language?
It can happen to followers of Jesus Christ. Loveless love is when we’ve been saved by the grace of God’s true love, but we don’t love in the extraordinary way of Jesus. In short, we’ve been saved, but not changed. We are loved by God, but we love through our own human power, not His. We love virtually the same things in the same way as the world.
Most of the time we love our spouses, our kids, our friends, our hobbies, our dog…all in an ordinary way. Same with our love for food, our love of a flat stomach, our love for Netflix… Maybe I’m okay with that kind of ordinary. It’s easier. But the thing is that ordinary doesn’t really change us or the world around us in the extraordinary way Jesus had in mind. It doesn’t release the power of the Holy Spirit through my life. Am I okay with that?
origins: fallen human love [Matt. 22:39; 5:46,47; 6:24] – We love ourselves (over God), we love those who love us back (not others who don’t), we love money (over God).
law: divine commands to love [Deut. 6:4, Lev. 19:18; Mk. 12:29-31] – We are to love the the Lord our God with all of our heart, soul and strength and to love our neighbor as yourselves.
(selah): We fall short of law because of origins.
spiritual redesign: loving through Jesus [John 3:16, Rom. 5:5;8-10; 1 John 4:7-12;19] – God sends his son Jesus Christ as the fullest expression of his love. He loved us when we were his enemies. We love because he first loved us. For followers of Jesus, he is the propitiation (covering for forgiveness) for our fallen human love. God pours his love into our hearts through Jesus who now lives through us as we submit to Him to love God/others.
FAITH: THE SPIRITUAL ASTRONAUT’S JOURNEY OF TRUE/ENDURING/IMPOSSIBLE/SCARY FAITH ?? ? [Matt. 17:20b]
“Daddy, do you know what would be the scariest thing about taking a rocket ship to the moon? It’d be that you may not make it back home and land somewhere else!”
I thought: What a great metaphor for the type of faith that all followers of Jesus Christ should have. Astronauts in real life are rare, but rarer still are churches that are filled with “spiritual astronauts”. Today God is looking less for people whose main goal is to sit at the desk at mission control and more for those who seek to “soar with him to the moon and back”. We in the church are to live by a true and enduring faith that attempts the impossible for and through God. That can be scary. It can take you to places you didn’t think possible with people you just met and bring you back to a different place, never the same. Exciting. And scary. But right.
“I say to you, if you have faith like a grain of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you.” [Jesus, Matthew 17:20b]
But like they say, if you don’t play, you can’t win. I have daydreamed though about suddenly becoming a multi-millionaire. About being rich. You have too. We’ve actually run into each other at the same luxury car dealership, the same 1st-class airline compartment to Europe in our intersecting dreams.
But I am rich. And many of you are too, probably. Even with debt, I still have choices in life. I am thankful for those choices. I enjoy those choices. I can choose where to eat, what shirt to buy, where to vacation (within reason). I live in middle-class America. I am not the 1%. But because of the choices I have in life, I am rich – by 90% of the world’s standards.
The bible’s too. Life expectancy in biblical times was 50 yrs. That’s if you made it past age 10 w/o dying of disease or injury. A successful career was to provide enough food and shelter and clothing for your family. You were fortunate to not die from the constant threat of war from neighboring enemies or from persecution for your faith. “Family vacation” for many was saving so you could travel by foot or camel to Jerusalem, where you bought animals to sacrifice for your sins.
What if our definition of rich today was not based on $$$ but rather on comparing ourselves to those in the bible or those in the vast majority of today’s world? Our definition of “rich” would perhaps change and end up being defined by the following question: “Do I have the luxury of making different choices in life in terms of food/clothing/shelter/recreation?”
The Apostle Paul wrote to Timothy re: the rich:
“As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy. They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, thus storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly life.” [1 Tim. 6:17-19]
If we’re the “rich” Paul is speaking to, what responsibility do we then have towards other believers in need? What would that mean about our non/urgency to do good works towards the poor? Our generosity towards the work of the church? Jesus became spiritual “poor” by taking on human flesh so that you and I could become rich in the blessing of his eternal life [2 Cor. 8:9]. That’s supposed to be enough for us to be rich in generosity and good works towards others. But it’s easy to forget the debt we owe Christ sometimes. Storing up treasures in heaven (v.19) shouldn’t be lost out on because we’ve lost sight of our spiritual and real life riches in this world.
DURING A BIBLE STUDY AT A COFFEE SHOP, IN BETWEEN SIPS OF AN ICED AMERICANO, we read Proverbs 4:18,19: “But the path of the righteous is like the light of dawn, which shines brighter and brighter until full day. The way of the wicked is like deep darkness; they do not know over what they stumble.”
Someone said: “I don’t feel like I’m walking in the darkness (evil) right now. But I also don’t feel like I’m walking in the light (good).” They were talking about being in-between – not a good person, not quite an evil one. This was life. And it was okay…almost.
THE MOST INTERESTING CHARACTERS on Netflix, Kindle and YouTube are always the conflicted – a little hero, a little villain. We relate to them much more than the pristine Clark Kent/Superman’s or the villainous Star Wars Supreme Leader Snook’s of the world who are either purely good or purely evil. An in-between character can play it both ways, good or bad. We like that.
In-between. Neither good nor bad, part one, part the other. Not willing to commit to either. In-between is “gray” spirituality – where we want to believe but not commit. Or where we don’t believe, but want to commit. Maybe we’re stuck, not knowing what to believe.
For followers of Jesus Christ, in-between gray colored spirituality should never be the primarily long-term color of our relationship with God. It may shade our spirituality from time to time in trials (“Where are you God?”), temptations (“I know I shouldn’t God, but…”) and trivia (“I’m bored with this church/bible thing, God.”), but lukewarm numbness isn’t God’s desire for a relationship with Him, even in difficult seasons. God is big enough to understand our struggles and helps us, if we want His help. Sometimes struggle is good. Life is hard and full of evil and coming to grips with that and the strengthening of our faith is a big part of our sanctification [James 1:2-4; 1 Peter 4:1,2]. For me, the experience of God being there as several people in my own family either died or suffered greatly over the past several years attest to this.
But Jesus also said the following polarizing words to those who were gray in their vacillation of whether or not to believe in Him at all as Lord and Savior:
“I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold (rejecting Him) or hot (following Him)! So because you are lukewarm (gray spirituality) and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth.” [Revelation 3:15,16].
Colorful language! Not expected that Jesus would rather an unbeliever openly reject Him than live undecided about Him. For those who do not follow Jesus as their Lord and Savior, the indecision/numbness of a gray in-between spirituality should be temporary at most. To be in a place where we neither embrace the light of his life/death/resurrection nor fully embrace the darkness of fully rejecting Him is dangerous, Jesus warned. Sinners steeped in their darkness can recognize their need for a savior. But in-between Pharisees and stoics are the hardest crowd for Him to reach.
God allows us to choose in-between uncommitted spirituality. The question is whether we want to stay there. We should remember that everyone will in the end be known by God as either darkness or light, with no in-between.
RECENTLY WE WENT TO AN INDIAN Independence Day celebration across the street from our church in an area called Little India. The day commemorated the independence of India from the British Empire in 1947. 1,000 + people celebrating their political and cultural history. On stage: Bollywood-type entertainment, dignitaries – the 70 + canopies featuring swarma, sarees, community service orgs., bounce houses for kids and…
…an “Inner Awakening” through meditation canopy. At 7 PM they had a “Third Eye” demo where two blindfolded children – roughly ages 12 and nine – divined people’s hidden written words on boards and performed other demonstrations of fortune telling. Yogis shared how their meditative practices could help a person awaken the “6th chakra”. This, they promised, would help a person achieve spiritual peace, the ability to see sickness in others and read the future. Whether a real demonstration (our belief) or trickery, the lie was being glorified.
We shared with one of the yogis from God’s Word what the Apostle Paul wrote to the Ephesians, a church surrounded by occult practices:
“I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of him, having the eyes of your hearts enlighten, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you…” [Ephesians 1:16-18a].
Paul reminded the Christians at Ephesus that before they embraced the gospel, they were part of spiritual practices that claimed to be light, but were actually spiritual dark powers of occult evil promising “wisdom” and “knowledge”. True wisdom and knowledge of the divine comes not from within, but through Jesus Christ who brings God’s truth to live within us, for He alone is God. Anything else claiming to be the truth is prone to being a false/deceptive lie of our flesh or originating from the evil one himself. As we shared, the yogis countenance changed to a blank stare, replying: “That is your truth. There are many truths and many ways to God.” We left praying that God’s truth would be revealed to those caught in darkness.
OUR CHURCH CANOPY DURING THE RECENT ARTESIA STREET FAIR experienced a power blackout as our booths and a neighboring church booth were the only ones out of 60 + booths to lose power for over an hour as we were inviting people to church. Not coincidence, most likely spiritual warfare [Ephesians 6:10-12]. But people kept coming to our canopy in the darkness and within minutes of us praying for the situation, God brought the lights back on!
> an uproar over the removal of “Christmas” from holiday coffee cups > family gatherings (for better/worse!) > gifts for each other > goodwill towards our fellow man (I… just donated $10 for 3 Oreo cookies to kids raising money for a fundraiser outside Trader Joe’s!!).
>> the birth of Jesus Christ.
>>> THE MEANING OF CHRISTMAS is deeper. More than any of that, it is about what God is saying through the birth of Christ, not just the birth of Christ itself or the feelings/traditions it evokes.
Jesus’ birth is God’s way of saying:
“…you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” [Matt. 1:21]
God looked into the human spirit and saw it completely stained by sin. Jesus was born so that he might save us from our sins – sin living inside us [Rom. 7:24,25], sin giving Satanic forces power over our lives [Col. 2:13-15] and sin leading to God’s wrath and hell [Rom. 5:9]. Jesus’ virgin, sinless birth is proof to us who aren’t that his righteousness is enough to save you and me.
“…and they shall call his name Immanuel (which means, God with us).” [Matt. 1:23]
God looked into the human spirit and saw it was completely empty of His presence. Today we try to define “god” in different ways and experience him through our own power. But God provided a different way. He became human so that he could be “‘with us” on earth and “in us” for those who trust His son as Lord as Savior.
Our souls are cleansed and filled with God when we choose to believe and follow him as Lord [Rom. 10:8-10]. His birth made that possible at Christmas.
Some of the genealogy of Christ from Matthew ch. 1 includes:
(Bad) : Tamar (prostitute, liar), Jechoniah (evil king)
(Bad/Good) : Rahab (prostitute/liar but helped God’s people conquest of Jerecho), Manasseh (idolatrous, murderous king who repented)
(Good/Bad) : Abraham (Father of Israel, caught in lies), Ruth (faithful, but of pagan descent), Hezekiah (godly kind of Judah, struck illegal treaty with Egypt)
(Good) : Boaz (good, right & just judge according to O.T. & Talmud), Josiah (king od Judah who followed God’s Word and restored worship)
Good, bad and everyone in between. We look at people that way.
The Christmas story: God doesn’t. God doesn’t distinguish between good and bad people in terms of who needs to be saved. That’s why Jesus was born at Christmas. Both good people (Joseph/Mary) and bad people (Shepherds/Magi) then, and good and bad people now (us) – we’re all sinners. Jesus was born in holiness thru a virgin to live a holy life to die a cursed death to be resurrected in power to offer forgivness and eternal life to all – good and bad people alike who trust and follow him. Hard as it is to imagine, we’re all no different from each other in that respect.
“…and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” [Matt. 1:21]
YOU HEAR IT IN CONVERSATIONS: “Have you seen all six movies?” “Are you into it, or are you INTO IT?” “Whaddaya mean you don’t know if you’re going to see it???” Or the polarizing: “It’s not my thing, don’t judge. It’s whatevers.”
NEVER, IN THE HISTORY OF MOVIES, has there been a franchise that simultaneously spans/appeals to five separate generations (Builders, Boomers, X-er’s, Millenials, Gen-Z) like Star Wars. For many this December, it’ll inspire religious devotion on par with…Christmas itself!
Star Wars. It’s fun. It’s history. It’s family. It’s a religion for some (j/k for a lot!). It’s a five decades long-Joseph Campbell-Zen Buddhist-New Age-101 theories of Kylo Ren/Rey/Finn/Poe/Luke- storytelling/moviemaking machine at its finest (we think). Whether we see it on opening night or find ourselves just having to bear the geek/nerd-a-thon, well, everywhere, the movie isn’t just about entertainment. It also raises an important issue of spirituality for followers of Jesus Christ.
It’s clear that the spirituality of Star Wars is deeply rooted in eastern mysticism. The story is make believe, but the spirituality of Star Wars is from this world. It’s important to recognize, even if it’s just a movie. The overarching animating power of the Star Wars saga is the “Force”. The Force has a good and bad side (Taoism). It’s used to propel people and objects through hand movements (Chi Energy). It binds everything together and is in everything (pantheism) where people become one with it as we are awakened to its power (New Age). It’s accessed through inner yoga-like mediation taking you to a higher spiritual plane (Buddhism). In truth, these themes are counter to the bible’s teaching on the character of God, the work of Jesus, the power of the Holy Spirit and the nature and salvation of man.
Seeing a movie like Star Wars poses a balance for followers of Jesus Christ between if we can enjoy the movie for what it is – a fantasy saga about good vs. evil – without it subtly swaying us towards parallel worldviews available to us today in this galaxy. While we can marvel at the special effects, we should also discern biblical truths from any falsehoods that get communicated to us. “Test all things,” wrote the Apostle Paul, “hold hold fast what is good. Abstain from every form of evil.” [1 Thessalonians 5:21,22].
I (Pastor Chris) have my ticket. If you decide to join the masses at the pilgrimage on Dec. 18th or thereafter, then let’s go in with popcorn in one hand and biblical discernment in the other when the lights go down and the familiar theme music starts.
May the Lord be with you. ? ?
What’s striking about the aging characters of the Star Wars saga is that they continue to fight their enemies directly on the battlefield well into their 50’s, 60’s, 70’s and beyond (how old is Yoda?). That’s admirable. At a time of life when most people would either be armchair generals or at home on a dessert planet enjoying their grandkids – many of the aging Star Wars characters are blasting away at stormtroppers (Han Solo, 70-something) or dueling lightsabers with dark lords (Obi-Wan Kenobi, 70-something/Mace Windu, 50-something). Maybe these fictional characters are (ahem) modeling something for us as followers of Jesus Christ.
Put another way, a rerun of the movie Braveheart was on the other night and it was a reminder that the true unsung braveheart hero of the movie was not William Wallace. Nor was it Robert the Bruce (at the end). It was Campbell (the elderly Scottish man in his 60’s/70’s) who fought the English empire to his own bloody death with sword and shield in hand. To give your life away on the battlefield when you’re young is one thing. But to do it when you are much, much older (think of all of the choices that go into that kind of decision) is so rare that it’s like you came from a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away.
Many of the Old and New Testament heroes of the bible engaged directly in spiritual battle to the very end. They were flawed. But they knew that how you end is as important as the journey to get there. Abraham, Noah, Moses, Caleb, David, the Apostles Peter, Paul and John – they were all on the front lines until their deaths. The older and more spiritually mature they became the more courageously they lived out their faith. Not the opposite. As they got older they didn’t retire early from their service to God. Rather their lives became more focused around what was most important – following God and Jesus into the world and leading the fight for what is right and eternal.
Our prayer as followers of Jesus Christ should be that as we grow older, the terms “early retirement”, “idleness”, “comfort” and “reminiscing about what God did in our past” do not primarily describe our service to the Lord in our 50’s, 60’s and 70’s . We need to model for the younger generations that the older you get the more important it is to fight to the end for what (and who) matters most. We need those of us who are older and more mature in the faith to model what it looks like to fight (and perhaps die) on the battlefield. That would be a true inspiration.
“The righteous flourish like the palm tree and grow like a cedar in Lebanon. They are planted in the house of the LORD; they flourish in the courts of our God. They still bear fruit in old age; they are ever full of sap and green to declare that the LORD is upright; he is my rock, and there is no unrighteousness in him.” [Psalm 92:12-15]
Some see the church as a mall for spiritual shopping or maybe a country club of friends or a hospital to help in times of trouble. Others primarily think of church as an experience of a family, a counseling center, a classroom, a spa, a convalescent home, a $$ generating seminar, a gathering of hypocrites. Some of these are true, some not. But we all have in our minds a main metaphor for “church” – how we view her, her purpose and what we expect of the experience.
The bible’s primary metaphor for the church and the journey of God’s people is war. It’s a war that’s being waged for people’s souls with spiritual, not physical, weapons [2 Cor. 10:3-5]. Though we started in paradise as God’s family [Gen. 1,2] and will end in glory as God’s family [Rev. 21,22], war – specifically spiritual warfare – is the primary redemptive experience of God’s people in the bible from Gen. 3 through Rev. 20.
Satan declared war on humanity in the Garden [Gen. 3]. The Israelites were formed as a people by war [Exodus]. They were brought into the Promise Land through war [Joshua]. They warred against the Cananites, Assyrians, Babylonians [Judges-Nehemiah]. In the New Testament, Jesus on the cross defeated the armies of dark spiritual forces aligned against him [Col. 2:15]. People died for their witness to Christ [Acts]. Followers of Jesus Christ war against their flesh [Gal. 5:17]. The Apostle Paul summed up the struggle of human experience in these words:
“Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rules, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” [Eph. 6:10-12].
From start to finish, the language of the bible is nothing less than the truth vs. the lie, right vs. wrong, light vs. dark – the story of two opposing kingdoms. The war that followers of Jesus Christ are engaged in is not primarily a war over land, the environment, alleviating poverty or politics. It is a war to make disciples of one kingdom to rescue others out of another kingdom [Jude 23] with the weapons of truth, prayer, peace, faith, hope and love.
What Star Wars gets right is that the core experience of life is a war between good and evil. For us, our time here on earth isn’t primarily about how we can just live a more fulfilled or purposeful life. Sometimes, we forget that. How would our devotion to the gospel change, how would our prayers change, how would our commitment to each other change, how would our resilience for the work of God change if we viewed the experience of church primarily through the metaphor of spiritual warfare? Maybe it would help us sustain an urgency for our mission in the world to make disciples of Jesus Christ. While various other metaphors for church (“family”/”hospital”/ “counseling center”/”classroom”/”mall”) are true/valid to a degree, perhaps having them as our main view of church has helped create an expectation that the church is a peacetime institution of comfort rather than the prevailing, eternity changing movement she should be.
joseph (luke 2:1-7) : we can trust God as one who keeps his promises. joseph taking mary to bethlehem to give birth to Jesus was the fulfillment of biblical prophecy made 600-800 yrs. earlier (isaiah 7:14; jeremiah 23:5; micah 5:2)
mary (luke 1:26-38, 2:6,7) : her virgin birth was the genesis of our access to the holiness of God thru Jesus. two mistakes made re: mary – 1.) worshiping/praying to her as a modern dispenser of God’s grace (rather than the recipient of grace), 2.) believing her virgin birth was not necessary to the holiness and character of Jesus.
shepherds (luke 2:8-20) : don’t we all long to have the “joyful haste” the shepherds had? to have the sense of wonder and urgency to be a part of what God is doing?
wise men (matthew 2:1-12) : weird if your birthday came and everyone came to the party to give gifts not to you but…to each other? the wise men gave gifts to Jesus.
Often, it’s not.seen.that.way.
Instead, mid-20’s onward our culture tends to associate the following with singleness: “incomplete person”, “waiting”, “quiet suffering”, “selfish”, “caught in the elusive quest to find the one soulmate out there”, “guilty jealousy over friends who got out of it” or the dreaded “urgent/desperate”. Adele 25 and Taylor Swift 1989 resonates with so many for this reason.
But the real question for us here is:
“How is the church – as the salt and light of the world and the family of God – embracing and being the advocate of those who are single?”
Historically, the traditionally defined nuclear family has been the sociological foundation of culture. The spiritual health of the nuclear family is important to God. We need to minister to the nuclear family. This is biblical and given our current culture, urgent. But today we also have a record number of single people who are single longer. This is an enormous dilemma for the 21st century church because it is not clear that the church has made the latter a priority. Just look around on Sunday morning.
The Apostle Paul saw singleness as noble. Outside of Jesus himself, Paul was the most powerful evangelist of the New Testament and he was single (along with most likely Timothy and Barnabas and yes, Jesus was single too). While Jesus, Paul and the other apostles communicated the importance of the nuclear family, the sweep of the New Testament’s teaching is far more weighted on the church with all of her different people from all different life circumstances as the “new family of God” through Jesus Christ. That means single people are an equal part of the family of God, not just nuclear families.
Paul wrote to the Corinthian church that being single offered the greatest opportunity to serve God [1 Corinthians 7:7,8]. And though Paul does encourage people to get married if they are passionate for the other sex [1 Corinthians 7:9], he reminded the church at Corinth:
“I want you to be free from anxieties. The unmarried man is anxious about the things of the Lord, how to please the Lord. But the married man is anxious about worldly things, how to please his wife, and his interests are divided. And the unmarried or betrothed woman is anxious about the things of the Lord, how to be holy in body and spirit.” [1 Corinthians 7:32-34]
Being single presents one of the best or one of the worst life scenarios. It can be an either noble or an ignoble time of life. At its best, singleness can be noble when we use our singleness to serve the Lord and his people wholeheartedly. There’s little doubt that the Apostle Paul would highly esteem this and would rebuke any church that did not similarly respect, embrace, support, prioritize and hold up those unattached by marriage who redeem their time for the gospel of Jesus Christ and the kingdom of God. We in the church need to be careful that we don’t deprioritize faithful singles in the church until they are married or married with kids. On the other hand, our singleness can also represent something ignoble, when instead of unencumbered service to God, it can easily become a time of arrested development – a Cheers-Friends-90210-The Hills-Jersey Shore like 1/4 – 1/3 – 1/2 life crisis of a self-absorbed life.
The mission of the church today should be to not only equip people to have godly nuclear families, but also holding up a vision for godly singleness that the church actually sees and treats as equal, even noble.
social media : “your happiness is one click away. jim and joy met one yr. ago after they filled out our online profile. they got married last month. they are living the dream. this could be you.”
aziz ansari : “a century ago people would find a decent person who lived in their neighborhood. their families would meet and, after they decided neither party seemed like a murderer, the couple would get married and have a kid, all by the time they were 22. today people spend years of their lives on a quest to find the perfect person, a soulmate.” – Modern Romance
jennifer lawrence : “i don’t know if i ever will get married. and i am okay with that. i don’t feel like i need anything to complete me. I don’t really plan on getting married. i might. i definitely want to be a mother.” – cnn.com
church : “just focus on being the right person 1st. don’t be too picky and wait too long. i don’t have any single friends anymore for you. be at peace with where God has you. save sex until marriage. i will pray for you.”
which is the most helpful/true? do we in the church see singleness as something that can be noble, or as something…else?
“I’m spiritual (and moral), I’m just not religious.”
This category of spirituality is the fastest growing group in America. It’s like your playlist on your smartphone. You curate your favorite songs into an a la carte playlist. You don’t buy an entire album. That’s a metaphor for how people view their spirituality today: don’t buy the prepackaged dogma of an ancient set of beliefs. Instead, why not pick and choose and then remix your own beliefs and practices according to your own liking? A little Christian morality here, a little Buddhist meditation there, some eastern philosophy self-mastery added in with some human potential awakening and round it off with a healthy commitment to non-religious social justice activity and…there you have it! A smorgasbord of the new and arising spirituality of the 21st century. This is the shape of the conversation on beliefs and practices in America today.
A famous musician recently declared that she’s pansexual. You can’t define her. She is everything and all things to encounter. People are increasingly viewing their spirituality as “pan-spiritual”. Everyone has their own definition of God: “I experience God in a sunset.” “I find God in music/poetry/movies.” “I find God within myself when I am quiet.” “I find God in other people.” “I find God in all religions.” “I don’t believe in God, but I’m spiritual in other ways.”
The Christian church has spent decades preparing to answer people’s questions on whether God existed or not. We have arguments and evidences that demand a verdict for the Christian faith on the existence of the Christian God. This has value. But what if people today and in the future will not so much be asking the main question of “Does God exist?”, but rather asking: “Am I a god already?” “Do I have the power of a god?” “Why limit my pluralistic god to one religious archetype?” “Can I do good works w/o God that’s better than what God’s people (the church) are actually doing?”
How will the church respond? There’s a verse in the Old Testament book of Judges that describes ancient wayward Israel, “In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.” [Jud. 21:25]. This is perhaps the most accurate of all bible verses at interpreting our American spirituality at the dawn of the 21st century. Everyone did as they wanted because they had no king and had essentially abandoned God. So they became their own gods. We, as a culture, have redefined God and created a counterfeit “god culture” spirituality where we are free to imagine, create, mix, sample and experiment with our own ideas of “god” (or lack thereof) because there are virtually no rules for spirituality for a growing number of people in our culture.
For followers of Jesus Christ, the future conversation will largely center on how we define “God” in our own minds and for those in an undefined spiritual blender of beliefs. The Apostle Paul, writing to the Colossian church, spoke into the chaos of a culture that was in danger of losing their sense of spiritual definition:
“(Jesus) is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities – all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of the cross.” [Col. 1:15-20]
“In the future, will America re/embrace Jesus Christ (e.g. current Asia) or turn away from Him in their spirituality (e.g. current Europe)?”
Put another way, for those of us living in America 2025/2040/2050 and beyond, what will the spirituality of our friends, our co-workers, our virtual reality selves, our children look like? Will it include Jesus Christ? Or – in the words of the writer of the Old Testament book of Judges – will we be living in a time where, “In those days there was no king in Israel (e.g. America). Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.” [Judges 21:25] – a verse that speaks not only of a lack of a literal king, but more importantly of an absence of the worship of God, the true king. The answers to these questions will affect everything about our lives because at the core they have to do with what type of spirituality will motivate and empower people’s character, as well as their eternities.
Figuring this out isn’t just about our thoughts on recent abortion clinic revelations or Supreme Court decisions (or even Starbucks’ holiday coffee cup redesigns!). Virtually every major religious poll over the past several decades leads to the following two conclusions about the future spirituality of America: 1.) Christianity is declining and 2.) the fastest growing category of spirituality among today’s young people is those who would call themselves, “I’m spiritual (and moral), I’m just not religious”. This should bring a sense of urgency to the church of Jesus Christ.
But it’s not just happening in the Christian church. Most organized religions outside of Christianity are experiencing decline as well. Even though Isalm is growing in America, it is still only projected to be no more than about 3% of the religious adherents in this country by 2030. As the aging Baby Boomers (the last generation to grow up in a Christianized culture) begin transitioning roles of influence to the Gen-Xers and Millenials, the spirituality of these later generations – the first in America’s history to grow up without an overall personal or culturally Christian foundation – will set a new trajectory for how the majority view truth, religion and the afterlife.
What many Christians are praying and hoping for is that America will experience a revival towards Jesus Christ like the spread of Christianity in many parts of Asia today. But we who follow Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior should also prepare for a post-Christian America that will bring with her persecution for those who hold that Jesus is the only way to God and that the bible is the only word of God’s truth. Just as compelling is that it just might take the persecution of our faith [Matthew 5:10,11] as the necessary event that helps us find our way back towards God as a nation.
family (def.) | wives submitting to husbands with respect [Eph. 5:22;33] sanctifies him. husbands submitting to wives through love that is “sacrificial” [Eph. 5:25], “purifying” [Eph. 5:26] and “cherishing” [Eph. 5:29] is glorying to God | 8,000 verses total in New Testament, < 250 verses on the nuclear family, > 2000 verses on the church as the new “family of God”.
parenting (def.) | bringing children up in the “discipline and instruction of the Lord” [Eph. 6:4] has as much to do with modeling as it has to do with the actual discipline and instruction.
workplace (def.) | story of submitting attitude [Eph. 6:5-9] @ work today (11/4) and how the Lord blessed: I showed up to work this morning and was told it was actually a half day afternoon assignment, which paid half-day, not full day. Instead of a bad attitude over employer’s miscommunication, lost pay or 4 hours dead time, I went to the lounge and trusted God had a plan for the next four hours and the money was not important in the big picture. A few minutes later, the secretary came in and said they unexpectedly had another worker cancel and this new replacement job would now be for a full day + overtime + an extra job for tomorrow. God can work/bless when we have a submissive attitude to the authorities above us @ work.
The Walking Dead. True Blood. The Vampire Diaries. Buffy the Vampire Slayer. The League of S.T.E.A.M. Hotel Transylvania. iZombie. Z nation. World War Z. Warm Bodies. Maggie.
Vampires know life is in the blood. Zombies know life is in the flesh. Our serial choice of pop culture iconic monsters is most likely not just about art/entertainment, but also symbolizes the hunger/thirst/deadness of our collective inner spirituality.
Jesus knew our souls hunger and thirst for life. His word to the vampires/zombies among us:
“So Jesus said to them, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and i in him.” [John 6:53-56]
Satan/Anti-Christ/False Prophet – in contrast to the holy trinity of God/Jesus/Holy Spirit – are the unholy inverted trinity of the dark kingdom. But death is the oft-forgotten 4th evil member of this unholy trinity that we also need to remember on Oct. 31st.
Followers of Jesus should talk about death in truthful ways: we all die [Heb. 9:27], we were dead in our sins [Eph. 2:1], Christ destroyed death through his death and resurrection [2 Tim. 1:10; 1 Pet. 3:18], we are to put to death our evil ways [Col. 3:5], Christ put to death hostility between people [Eph. 2:16-20], we can help save sinners from spiritual death [Jas. 5:20], our witness is like the smell of death to those who are unresponsive to the gospel [2 Cor. 2:15,16] and Death is the last dark force, along with Hades, to be thrown into the lake of fire [Rev. 20:14].
But death becomes spiritually dangerous when we find ourselves celebrating it or when we disturbingly embrace it. Celebrating characters of death/embracing images of death focus’ our souls towards that which is hopeless, chaotic, lifelessness and dark – the opposite of what scripture says we should do [Phil. 4:8]. The scarier thing isn’t when we find these images jarring, but when we don’t. Strange is when we focus on characters/images of death, we sometimes feel more spiritually powerful from the encounter. Why? Maybe there’s something else going on here in us that we need to be careful about…
Jesus said, “The eye is the lamp of the body. So if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light, but if your eye is bad, our whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great the darkness!” [Matt. 6:22,23]. This Halloween, listen to your conscience about the life/death that is being allowed into your soul.
…………..it’s not there. The New Testament doesn’t model it or teach it.
The churches of the 1st century – including the church at Jerusalem – were a mix of races and economic classes coming together through Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit to worship God, together. The churches were a mix of Jew/Gentile (race) and rich/poor (economic class). Believers worshipped Christ as one, with Jew/Jew (same) Gentile/Gentile (same) and Jew/Gentile (not the same). All in the same church. Together. One, the same and not the same. This was what was known as “church”.
The Apostle Paul wrote to the church at Ephesus, “So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being our cornerstone.” [2:19,20]. Jew/Gentile – who hated each other previously- now worshipping as one in Christ with others who were the same, but also with others who were not. The reality of these new types of relationships was what Paul called the “mystery of Christ” through the gospel [3:4-6]. It’s also a vision of heaven [Rev. 5:9,10; 7:9,10].
Even Jesus brought together opposites when he choose the original disciples. Matthew the Jewish tax collector worked for Rome and was hated by Simon the Zealot, who saw Matthew as a traitor. Peter and John were extroverts, Nathaniel an introvert. Some came for a working class background, some not. They were Jewish for sure, but they had very different backgrounds and personalities that would point to the diversity of the coming church Jesus would establish.
Today we mostly worship in the opposite way of what the early believers modeled and taught. We choose to worship with others who are one in Christ with us and by and large the same as ourselves (looks/$$/likes) almost exclusively. It’s easy to understand because, hey, why wouldn’t I like you when you’re…just like me! There’s some good in that and it can make some things about church ministry easier to do.
But the big problem with mono-ethnic and mono-socioeconomic worship environments is that they tend to breed two problems in believers: spiritual complacency and sinful lifestyle comparisons/competitions with other believers like themselves. Sameness can be a cruel idol. Perhaps homogeneity has for too long been robbing the gospel of it’s power, the church of its testimony and God of His glory.
In a time of increasing hatred between races and animosity between the 1%/99%, the church today has an enormous opportunity to be a light in the darkness and bring healing between people through Christ. But we need to realize that sometimes the biggest opponent of the church becoming the redeemed Ephesians 2:19,20 community she should be isn’t out there. It could be us.
21st-century alcoholic content: beer (5%), wine (12%), whiskey (40%) | 1st-century alcoholic content: fresh squeezed wine (0%), fermented wine (1%), strong wine (2.5%)
is it the “excellent” way? [Phil. 1:9-11]
what is my choice modeling for other believers? [1 Cor. 8:13; 11:1]
world’s view: drinking-intoxication-addiction-disease-recovery | biblical view: drinking-intoxication-compromised conscience-release of sinful flesh-redemption/healing thru the Holy Spirit
could following/being filled with the Spirit be more intoxicating than intoxication? | “Do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ…” [Apostle Paul, Ephesians 5:18-20]
Urgency is the speed and intensity in which we do things: work deadlines, last minute sports comebacks, 1st date punctuality rule when you are stuck in traffic, searching for a child’s lost favorite stuffed animal that must be found, now! It’s what makes things suddenly possible. We find time where no time previously existed. We become innovative, motivated, collaborative, passionate, persevering, purposeful, adrenaline-charged sweaty people when we have urgency about something we care about.
We were born with an urgency to succeed [Eccl. 4:4]. Evil leaders are driven to rule [2 Tim. 3:13]. Culture relentlessly seeks to shape our character and desires [Rom. 12:2; 1 Jn. 2:15,16]. Dark spiritual forces exist to inflict evil on us [Matt. 13:28-30; Eph. 6:12].
Do we as followers of Jesus Christ have an equal urgency for the things of God?
“Look carefully then how you walk,” wrote the Apostle Paul, “not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil.” [Eph. 5:15,16]. Paul wrote to the Ephesian church that they were to walk in God’s good works [2:10], in a manner worthy of their calling [4:1], in a different way than the pagans do [4:17], in love [5:2], as children of light [5:8] and as wise people who sensed the evil of their day [5:15,16]. But there’s a vast difference between doing these things with urgency verses doing these things without it. Perhaps the most tragic place to be is where we believe something to be spiritually true, but live as if there is was all the time in the world to do it.
Urgency is the missing component of our discipleship. It is the way Jesus discipled others. With the exception of him repeatedly telling them that he was going to to leave them, almost every other experience the disciples had with Jesus was marked by surprise and immediacy. What if we discipled people the same way? (Wouldn’t that make us popular…). What would our lives look like if we lived as if our days were numbered [Ps. 90:12], if we lived as if the return of Christ was imminent [Luke 21:34] or that our lives were here for a moment, then gone like the mist [James 4:14]? We need to live with a sense of vaporous urgency.
Spiritual maturity is largely about urgency. The more spiritually mature we become, the shorter our reaction time should be from the time God speaks a word into our lives and how long it takes us to obey. The broader our understanding of God, the shorter the gap time should be between command and obedience [Ps. 119:32].
False doctrine can attack your mind. Worldly temptations can compromise your holiness. Evil people/laws can challenge you as a disciple. But one of the enemy’s greatest strategies against the church is to capitalize on our own desire for spiritual comfort, safety and predictability (which even the most faithful among us struggle with). The reality is that a relationship with God is none of these. The older we get, the more spiritually mature we become, the more ministry experience we have, the more urgency we should have for the things of God. Not the reverse. For those of us who are older in the faith, what are we modeling for the younger generations? Urgency is what sanctifies spiritual boredom and worldly busyness.
The church is the place where urgency is tested and revealed in its purest form. Christians who have an immediacy for the things of God have to do it without the artificial inducements that usually motivate urgency in other areas of our lives: money, job security, being thrown in the brig for insubordination, receiving a failing grade, being kicked off the team. The church should be the place that attracts the most urgent people because she offers the most urgent mission on the face of the planet: changed lives for eternity. What God could do through his church when the church lives as if the time was short.
God has urgency. He proved it when Jesus came for you. So must we. We’re living in a time of accelerated moral and spiritual collapse. The irony is that if the church doesn’t have an urgency for her mission, the “days of evil” that Paul talked about will force it upon her.
The reality is that 99% of us do not have the capacity, gifting, character or will to become like the 1% of the truly great leaders among us. Some of us could potentially become satisfactory leaders. The good news is that the sweep of the bible does not emphasize leadership. It emphasizes followership. And that is something every follower of Jesus should aspire to.
Adam and Eve’s most important communication with God was based on following what God said [Gen. 2:16,17]. The Israelites followed God’s Spirit in the wilderness by cloud by day and fire by night [Ex. 13:21]. Their whole journey in the Old Testament could be summed up by a willingness or unwillingness to follow God. Jesus’ call to his disciples was to “follow me” [Matt. 4:19]. The Apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthian [1 Cor. 11:1] and Philippian [Philippians 3:17] church to follow him and other believers as they follow Christ.
Followership – learning to become a good follower of others – is the untapped power of the equipped church. Good or bad followers determine whether the body of Christ moves or stagnates. We would probably accomplish more if we were led by one mediocre (not corrupt!) leader surrounded by 10 great followers rather than having one great leader surrounded by 10 mediocre followers. If the church is to go from bad to good or good to great in this uber-independent culture she must view followership as noble, even critical to movement.
There is no such thing as being a good or even a great leader without first being a good follower. Perhaps before we encourage people to be “servant leaders” we should be encouraging them to become good “servant followers”. Christian colleges offer masters degrees in Christian leadership. Church conferences emphasize the power of vision, the drive of the leader and the importance of self-leadership. But sandwiched between the conversation of “leadership of others” and “self-leadership” should be a mega-wide conversation on the importance of learning to be good followers of others. Wouldn’t it be fascinating if these colleges and conferences also had offerings like: “Submitting 101”, “How to be a good follower of your spouse, even when you don’t fully agree”, “How to excel at giving your stuff away to whomever God leads you to”, “The fine art of being last” and “Masters of Christian Followership”. You can just imagine them lining up out the door, hungry to learn (!)
Leadership matters. We never want to have evil or false leaders. But in our idolatry of the great leader perhaps we’ve been overlooking a wider biblical emphasis on the character of a servant follower.
Social media reminds us hourly that moving, even stunning pictures can be taken by everyone. Everywhere. All of the time. It’s a better visual world. And a worse one.
The photographic images we share aren’t just pictures of sunsets and family vacations anymore. Today we share “everything going on under the sun” [Ecclesiastes 1] in images that are tools for good or weapons for bad, even the absurd. The digital pictures we share today evoke in us feelings of connection, joy, awe and love, but also feelings of pride, jealousy, overload, need and lust in our free for all “in those days Israel had no king; everyone did as they saw fit” [Judges 21] visual postmodern world.
The images we capture don’t just happen. We also curate them in a “take 6 pictures to get just the right one-but not too posed-at just the right angle-no photo bomber- yes (!) that’s a great one everyone will like” culture.
The bible is full of images that bring life to the right brain side of our souls. Solomon said that joining with a prostitute is like “carrying fire” and “walking on hot coals” resulting in us getting burned [Proverbs 6]. The prophet Nahum compares the cowardice of evil rules to grasshoppers and locusts taking flight at sunrise [Nahum 3]. The Apostle John compared heaven to a foodie banquet [Revelation 19, the ultimate food image!].
Our upcoming church art show PRAYTOGRAPHY is the shutter and the scriptures coming together for good. We invite all photographers – young and old, experienced and novice – to share the power of the photographic images they capture to express truth, explore difficult questions of life and spirituality, and ultimately to glorify God.
PRAYTOGRAPHY will be on Sat, Nov. 21st & 28th at the East West Bank building in Cerritos, Ca. The night will be a gallery exhibit of everyone’s photographic works, live music, interactive prayer and photography experiences, food, and an open invitation to journey with our church community as we explore what it means to be a follower of Jesus Christ. For more info [http://citybible.church] check out the home page blog [guidelines for photography submissions on the Google Docs link]. Hope you can join us!
Truth is, in the beginning [Gen. 1] we lost our spiritual purity [white] from a foreign evil [red] entering into our lives [Gen. 3]. But we’re not without [black] hope of God’s redemption [1 Cor. 15:22]. That said, we’re really more gray at the core. Gray is the color of zombies, the living dead. In our case, spiritual zombies.
The Apostle Paul wrote that we, all of us, start as spiritually dead men and women: “You were dead in the trespasses and sins…” [Eph. 2:1]. Question: If we are dead, then how is it we are…living? We are biologically alive with air in our lungs. We feel psychologically alive when we eat great food, hold a child in our arms, look at a sunset. Then how is it we are dead?
It’s because we’re born spiritual zombies. Dead spiritually, but hosting a spiritual virus within us. We’re alive not to God…but to sin. The bible talks about sin as missing the mark of God’s divine standard, as lawlessness. True. But why do we miss the mark? Why are we lawless? It’s primarily because though we’re dead spiritually, sin lives in us, moving us to follow a world energized by satanic forces [Eph. 2:2,3].
We sin and miss God’s holy standard because sin lives in us. Sin is described in the bible as “the flesh/sin nature” [Gal. 5:16], something that is “crouching at your door” whose “desire is for you” [Gen. 4:6], as a spiritual force and presence that “dwells” in us [Rom. 7:17] as a “body of death” [Rom. 7:24]. These are living terms the bible uses. The postmodern world needs to hear in the gospel a theology of sin that is communicated through a living harmartiology [study of sin], not just law-based harmartiology.
When you sin, do you feel greed, feel pride, feel anger, feel lust? Or do we experience sin simply a “cognitive” and “abstract” realization of breaking God’s law? We feel sin because sin comes to life in us as something that is living. And without Christ, we have no spiritual power as dead people to fight it. We are spiritually wandering zombies [Eph. 2:2], animated by this living force/presence inside us to consume, insatiably, people, things – even ourselves – in the search for spiritual life.
The good news of the gospel is that God, who is rich in his love and mercy and grace towards us who believe, has transformed us from living spiritual zombies into living children of God through Jesus Christ, “…even when we were dead in our trespasses, [God] made us alive together with Christ – by grace you have been saved.” [Eph. 2:5].
THE ZOMBIE APOCALYPSE isn’t just the fiction of The Living Dead or World War Z. It’s already upon us. What if the reason our pop culture has such a fascination with the end-game of a zombie apocalypse is because it serves as a spiritual metaphor for the very real living-dead spirituality of the masses without Christ?
Today we don’t eat to live, we live to eat. Yelp shows us the best cross-town eateries with constructed stacks of culinary art. We share our hunger inducing feasts on Instagram. Anthony Bourdain, Andrew Zimmerman, and the winner of Top Chef are icons. Sport is now who can bake the best cupcake in 30 minutes or less, the loser of Cupcake Wars: Battle Royale, Season 7 in tears.
Walking through the big screen section of Target the other day, I saw an infomercial on how to take better pictures…of your food [“Put the chicken by the candlelight to highlight the juiciness of the meat…and angle the camera so it’s the star of the picture!]
Localvore. Omnivore. Organic. Pescatarian. Vegan. Vegetarian. Lacto vegetarian. Lacto ovo vegetarian. Raw….they’re almost like different denominations! Organic tastes better/is safer than processed. Allergies limit choices. A healthier diet is important to losing weight. All valid reasons to be purposeful with food. But the foodie movement obsession seems to be more than just a cultural phenomena about health, creativity, sport, and community. There’s something about it that seems…beyond that.
Maybe it’s also about spirituality. Perhaps the foodie movement could also be a metaphor for the real life spiritual hungering and thirsting of the human soul. What if our obsession with clean food and feeding our voracious, unsatiable food porn appetites are our soul’s way of longing for spiritual purity and true spiritual food?
“I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever.” [Jesus, John 6:51a]