Why Jesus?

By William Willimon

The Master seems to find more joy in careless sowing, miraculous growing, and reckless harvesting than in the taxonomy of [separating] the good from the bad, the worthwhile from the worthless, the saved from the damned.”  (p. 78, with correction).

What sort of Savior was Jesus exactly?    The parables of Jesus portray a picture of an extravagant God going to extravagant lengths to reach even the least, last, and lost.  Rather than the parables telling us how much God is like us,  they mostly tell us how differently God acts than most of us, most of the time.  Sensible shepherds do not leave 99 good sheep unattended to rescue the one straggler.  Nor does a sensible woman spend all day ripping up the carpet to find a penny.  “God the searching shepherd, the careless farmer, the undiscerning fisherman, the reckless woman, the extravagant father, the prodigal Samaritan. Jesus reveals a God who is no reckless, reclusive deity.”  (p. 79).

One of the main emphases in the Savior chapter is that Jesus seeks and saves the lost. They hardly ever come running to find him.  He seeks them out— like a Zaccheus for instance— a stinking tax collector in bed with Rome. “What a kingdom where the main requirement for membership is to be honest-to-God lost, and the main  claim of citizenship is not to have discovered but to have been found!” (. p. 82).

Salvation is God’s business, not ours,  says Will, and he is right.  We may have Brother Love’s Traveling Salvation Show, but its just a dog and pony show unless God shows up and saves someones.  Jesus, it is said in John’s Gospel, when he is lifted up, will draw all persons to him— like a gigantic magnet.  Will’s testimony is, “As a pastor, I’ve seen people slip through the cracks, ripped violently through the eye of the needle, caught in a great dragnet, cut down and gathered for harvest, pursued all the way into the wilderness, drawn unto him, invited. It is, for me, living proof that God was in Christ and reconciling the whole wide world.”  (p. 83).

“Membership in the kingdom is not limited to those with enough leisure and resources to sit around thinking spiritual thoughts; it’s accessible for all, particularly those whom many of the presumed righteous exclude by their rules and rituals. Jesus simply announcement that God is present, that God is already establishing God’s rule.”  (p. 92).

“Jesus’ challenge was not, ‘How can I have a more purposeful life?’ but rather, ‘How can I get my life aligned with God’s purposes for creation?'” (p. 94).

When we forgive our enemies, when we bless those who persecute us, Jesus is not calling us to be pious doormats for the hobnail boots of the world. Rather we are living out, and living out of the kingdom that has already begun to come,  which has begun to revolutionize the world, and the way we look at the world. (p. 95).

When we say Jesus is Lord, among the many things that means is that both Jesus is in charge, and also that he must be obeyed.  His teaching is not optional, it is obligatory, if that is we want to enter the final Kingdom.  He calls us to a higher righteousness, but he enables that higher righteousness through his saving work in and for us.   In Jesus the sovereignty of God is redefined by the image of God as Abba, a loving Father who relates to us as a compassionate parent not a tyrannical dictator, kind and merciful is how sovereignty is exercises, not controlling and stifling.   Jesus however was not interested in just changing our hearts, he came to change the world.

Willimon analyzes the famous rich young ruler story. He notes three striking things— this is the only time in the Synoptics that Jesus is reported to have openly looked at and loved a particular person (cf. the Beloved Disciple in John), secondly, this is the only time that we are told Jesus invited a young adult to come and join his band of merry men, and it is also the only time we clearly know of where a direct invitation was turned down.

Willimon notes— we Westerners would do well to note the reason for the refusal— he had much stuff.   Whatever it is in your life that you love more than Jesus,  if you want to follow Jesus,  Jesus will require that you give up that something, even if,  as in my case, it was a particular vision of my ministry future.

Read more: http://blog.beliefnet.com/bibleandculture/2010/12/why-jesus-savior-and-sovereign.html#ixzz19eXQ8i2y

~ Why Jesus?

[This material was noted in Ben Witherington’s blog.]

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The Hole in Our Holiness

Challenging thoughts by Kevin DeYoung, Senior Pastor at University Reformed Church in East Lansing, Michigan.

I have a growing concern that younger evangelicals do not take seriously the Bible’s call to personal holiness. We are too at peace with worldliness in our homes, too at ease with sin in our lives, too content with spiritual immaturity in our churches.

God’s mission in the world is to save a people and sanctify his people. Christ died “that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised” (2 Cor. 5:15). We were chosen in Christ “before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him” (Eph. 1:4). Christ “loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her…so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish” (Eph. 5:25-27). Christ “gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works” (Titus 2:14).

J.C. Ryle, the Bishop of Liverpool from the nineteenth century, was right: “We must be holy, because this is one grand end and purpose for which Christ came into the world…Jesus is a complete Saviour. He does not merely take away the guilt of a believer’s sin, He does more–He breaks its power (1 Pet. 1:2Rom. 8:29Eph. 1:42 Tim. 1:9Heb. 12:10).” My fear is that as we rightly celebrate, and in some quarters rediscover, all that Christ saved us from, we will give little thought and make little effort concerning all that Christ saved us to.

The pursuit of holiness does not occupy the place in our hearts that it should. There are several reasons for the relative neglect of personal holiness.

1) It was too common in the past to equate holiness with abstaining from a few taboo practices like drinking, smoking, and dancing. In a previous generation godliness meant you didn’t do these things. Younger generations have little patience for these sorts of rules. They either don’t agree with the rules or they figure they’ve got those bases covered so there’s not much else to worry about.

2) Related to the first reason is the fear that a passion for holiness makes you some kind of weird holdover from a bygone era. As soon as you talk about swearing or movies or music or modesty or  sexual purity or self-control or just plain godliness people get nervous that others will call them legalistic, or worse, a fundamentalist.

3) We live in a culture of cool, and to be cool means you differentiate yourself from others. That has often meant pushing the boundaries with language, with entertainment, with alcohol, and with fashion. Of course, holiness is much more than these things, but in an effort to be hip many Christians have figured holiness has nothing to do with these things. They’ve willingly embraced Christian freedom, but they’ve not earnestly pursued Christian virtue.

4) Among more liberal Christians a radical pursuit of holiness is often suspect because any talk of right and wrong behaviors feels judgmental and intolerant. If we are to be “without spot or blemish” it necessitates we distinguish between what sort of attitudes, actions, and habits are pure and what sort are impure. This sort of sorting gets you in trouble with the pluralism police.

5) Among conservative Christians there is sometimes the mistaken notion that if we are truly gospel-centered we won’t talk about rules or imperatives or exhort Christians to moral exertion. To be sure, there is a rash of moralistic teaching out there, but sometimes we go to the other extreme and act as if the Bible shouldn’t advise our morals at all. We are so eager not to confuse indicatives and imperatives (a point I’ve made many times) that if we’re not careful we’ll drop the imperatives altogether. We’ve been afraid of words like diligence, effort, and obedience. We’ve downplayed verses that call us to work out our salvation with fear and trembling (Phil. 2:12), or command us to cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit (2 Cor. 7:1), or warn against even a hint of immorality among the saints (Eph. 5:3).

I find it telling that you can find plenty of young Christians today who are really excited about justice and serving in their communities. You can find Christians fired up about evangelism. You can find lots of Generation XYZ believers passionate about precise theology. Yes and amen to all that. But where are the Christians known for their zeal for holiness? Where is the corresponding passion for honoring Christ with Christlike obedience? We need more Christian leaders on our campuses, in our cities, in our seminaries who will say with Paul, “Look carefully then how you walk”? (Eph. 5:15).

When is the last time we took a verse like Ephesians 5:4–“Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving”–when is the last time we took a verse like this and even began to try to apply this to our conversation, our joking, our movies, our you tube clips, our t.v. and commercial intake? The fact of the matter is if you read through the New Testament epistles you will find very few explicit commands that tell us to evangelize and very few explicit commands that tell us to take care of the poor in our communities, but there are dozens and dozens of verses in the New Testament that enjoin us, in one way or another, to be holy as God is holy (e.g., 1 Peter 1:13-16).

I do not wish to denigrate any of the other biblical emphases capturing the attention of younger evangelicals. But I believe God would have us be much more careful with our eyes, our ears, and our mouth. It’s not pietism, legalism, or fundamentalism to take holiness seriously. It’s the way of all those who have been called to a holy calling by a holy God.

Now, to further your insight I recommend you read all the comments on his home page at

http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/kevindeyoung/2010/11/23/the-hole-in-our-holiness/?comments#comments

When God, through His grace, grants us forgiveness

By Martin Luther

When God, through His grace, grants us forgiveness of sins without our merit, so that we need not purchase it or earn it ourselves, we are at once inclined to draw this reassuring conclusion and to say: Well, so we need no longer do good!—Therefore, in addition to teaching the doctrine of faith in His grace, God must constantly combat this notion and show that this is not at all His meaning. Sins are assuredly not forgiven in order that they should be committed, but in order that they should stop; otherwise it should more justly be called the permission of sins, not the remission of sins.

~ Sermon on Romans, Chapter 8, WA 22, p. 132

Can We Trust Our Conscience?

By Charles Stanley

2 Corinthians 1:12

The conscience looks at thoughts and actions to determine if they are in line with one’s principles and standards. It is important to keep our internal alarm system well maintained so it will be trustworthy.

For our moral compass to sound at the right time and for the right reason, we must:

• Accept Scripture as our standard for behavior. Second Timothy 3:16 says, “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness.” If we choose to adopt our culture’s values, which are often at odds with the Lord’s, our conscience will be unreliable. Instead, we want our radar to alert us to the possibility of going off course.

• Align our thinking with the Lord’s. Romans 12:2 says to renew our minds. It is necessary and ongoing work to combat what this unbelieving world accepts as  true and right. Our alarm system should help us identify ungodly ideas.

• Apply God’s Word to daily living. When our habits reflect godly values, our conscience will become more sensitive to what is right and wrong.

In addition, it is essential that we rely on the Holy Spirit for understanding. Our conscience by itself is of some value, but it becomes indispensable when accompanied by the Spirit’s guidance (John 16:13).

The Scriptures teach us how to live—in our thought life, conduct, and emotions (Gal. 5:16-23). As we make our standards align more closely with the Lord’s, our conscience will become increasingly trustworthy because it is based on what is important to our heavenly Father.

 

Is Worship Music a Gift or Has it Become our God?

Thoughtful words on worship and music by Not For Itching Ears

Has the Sunday morning “Worship time” become our God?  Bob Kauflin recently discussed this topic on his blog calledWorship Matters. It resonated with me and I thought those who read this blog would benefit from Bob’s observations. So…… I have included them here! Be challenged!

“Music is a very good gift. The 13,000 songs on my iTunes are testimony to that. My eyes have often welled up in tears as I’ve been affected by a lyric, a chord progression, or a musical texture. I’ve thanked God for the gift of music more times than I can remember.

Whenever I think about my love for music, I’m reminded of what Martin Luther said in a Foreword to a 1538 collection of chorale motets:

“I, Doctor Martin Luther, wish all lovers of the unshackled art of music grace and peace from God the Father and from our Lord Jesus Christ! I truly desire that all Christians would love and regard as worthy the lovely gift of music, which is a precious, worthy, and costly treasure given to mankind by God… A person who gives this some thought and yet does not regard music as a marvelous creation of God, must be a clodhopper indeed and does not deserve to be called a human being; he should be permitted to hear nothing but the braying of asses and the grunting of hogs.”

While we may not want to emulate Luther’s attitude, most of us will readily agree that music is a gift from God…

And that’s the problem. Scripture tells us that gifts can often become gods. Good things can become idols.

In Numbers 21, the Israelites grumbled against God and it resulted in him sending poisonous serpents. When they confessed their sin and repented, God had Moses cast a bronze serpent and set it on a pole. Anyone who looked at the serpent would live. It was a good gift. But later on in 2Kings 18 we read that Israel had been making offerings to the serpent, and even gave it a name – Nehushtan.

Good gifts can become gods.

Music turns from a gift to a god when we look to it for the joy, comfort, power & satisfaction only God can give. Here are 5 indicators that might be happening.

1. We choose to attend a church or a meeting based on the music rather than the preaching of the gospel and God’s word.

Nowhere in the Bible are we told that the church is to gather around music. We gather around the crucified and risen Savior, Jesus Christ. We gather to hear God’s Word in the Spirit’s power. Eph. 2:13-14 says the blood of Christ unites us, not music.

2. We can’t worship in song apart from a particular song, style, leader, or sound.

Anytime I say, I can’t worship unless X happens, or X is present, unless X is the death of our Savior on the cross for our sins or the power of his Spirit, we are engaging in idolatry. At that moment, X is more important to us than God’s command to love Him with our whole heart, soul, mind and strength. That doesn’t mean that there are no bad songs, lousy leaders, or inappropriate styles. But being discerning is different from being unable to worship God at all.

3. We think music leads us into or brings God’s presence.

Here’s what music can do. It can affect us emotionally. Create a mood. Soften our hearts so that we listen more intently. Help us hear words differently. Distract us from what’s going on. Help us focus on what’s going on. Help us remember words. And more.

Here’s what music can’t do. Make God more present. Bring God’s presence down. Bring us into God’s presence. Manipulate God. (Heb. 10:19-22; 1 Tim. 2:5). There is only one mediator, and it’s not a song, style, leader, or sound. It’s Jesus Christ.

4. Poor musical performance leads us to sin against other band members or the musicians leading us.

We’re hardly representing God’s heart when we get angry, frustrated, or impatient with musicians who don’t play up to our standards. God’s standards are perfection, and they’ve been met in Jesus Christ who lived a perfect life in our place and died as our substitute, enduring the wrath of God in our place. ALL our offerings, no matter how well or poorly offered, are perfected through the once and for all offering of the Savior. We can strive for excellence to serve others, while extending to others the same grace we’ve received.

5. A love for music has replaced a love for the things of God.

It’s possible to listen to music that’s destroying your soul and be completely dull to it. To become enslaved by an idol and you feel like you’re breaking free. In his confessions, Augustine said “For he loves thee too little who loves along with thee anything else that he does not love for thy sake.” I have no doubt we love music. But do we love music for God’s sake or for ours?

To sum up:
Music is useful, but not necessary.
Music is good. But Jesus is better.
Music is a gift, but not a god.
Music isn’t my life. Christ is.

The gifts of God are meant to deepen our relationship with God and create fresh affection for him. Not replace him.

May we enjoy and make music to the fullest of our abilities, all for the glory of the one who gave it to us to enjoy in the first place.”

 

From Worship to Mission

by N.T. Wright

When the church is seen to move straight from worship of the God we see in Jesus to making a difference and effecting much-needed change in the real world; when it becomes clear that the people who feast at Jesus’s table are the ones in the forefront of work to eliminate hunger and famine; when people realize that those who pray for the Spirit to work in and through them in caring for those whose lives are damaged, bruised, and shamed, then it is not only natural to speak of Jesus himself and to encourage others to worship him for themselves and find out what belonging to his family is all about but it is also nature for people, however irreligious they may think of themselves as being, to recognize that something is going on that they want to be part of.”

Surprised by Hope, p. 267, bold added

Gentlemen, We Are Not Mediators

by Joel Brown

Anyone who’s been a worship leader at a church has heard, at some point, “Your job is to bring the congregation into the presence of God!” Or maybe, “Take them into the throne room!” Grab the latest magazine on sacred music and you’ll find the idea of worship leader as presence-usher littering the pages. But where does this idea come from? Is it even biblical?

Presence isn’t a place

The word “presence” appears in Scripture 173 times. About half of those are referring to the physical place where God dwells. This was particularly true in the Old Testament, where God shows up in places like the tabernacle or the temple.

The New Testament teaches us that in Christ, God has wonderfully chosen to be with us. Emmanuel came (Matthew 1:23) and ever since, his presence is no longer made manifest by a specific location (John 4:23-24, Acts 17:24-25) or mere mortal (Hebrews 4:14-16; 9:23), but God’s presence on earth is in the life of every believer through his Holy Spirit.

Jesus, the mediator

Because Christ is perfect, and by his blood has reconciled us to God (2 Corinthians 5:18), he can appear before a holy and righteous God on our behalf. He is the mediator, not us.

You want to bring your congregation before the throne of God? Great. Show them the glory of Christ (2 Corinthians 3:18), and by faith, the Spirit will take them there. The Holy Spirit is the conduit through whom we experience God’s presence, and Christ is the place whereby we are made most aware of his presence. In his book, Worship Matters: Leading Others to Encounter the Greatness of God, Bob Kauflin says it this way: “Christ is how and where we meet with God”.

But in heaven, we’ll sing in-tune

God is present in a special way when we sing together—we are in a sense practicing for heaven, and nowhere else can we collectively see and hear one another worship Christ at the same time. But God’s presence is not a place we go. It is a Spirit we welcome.

Sometimes when we sing, the power of music and truth combined can dig deeply into our hearts to make us realize that God is with us, but it wasn’t the singing that made him appear. He was there all along.

Everywhere we go, the Spirit of the living God is with us—leading us, guiding us, and allowing us to be in the presence of God without being blown to smithereens.

When it comes down to it, if music could take us into God’s presence, “God would have sent us a musician rather than a saviour.” –Vaughan Roberts