Christianity 201

December 22, 2012

What Can I Do Next? versus What Must I Do Next?

Ephesians 2: 8-9

(KJV) For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God:  Not of works, lest any man should boast.

(AMP) 8 For it is by free grace (God’s unmerited favor) that you are saved (delivered from judgment and made partakers of Christ’s salvation) through [your] faith. And this [salvation] is not of yourselves [of your own doing, it came not through your own striving], but it is the gift of God; Not because of works [not the fulfillment of the Law’s demands], lest any man should boast. [It is not the result of what anyone can possibly do, so no one can pride himself in it or take glory to himself.]

(MSG) 8-9   Saving is all his idea, and all his work. All we do is trust him enough to let him do it. It’s God’s gift from start to finish! We don’t play the major role. If we did, we’d probably go around bragging that we’d done the whole thing!

Earlier this week I had a conversation with someone who is moving from passive to active faith. I use that terminology because I don’t believe that his faith was non-existent prior to the past year, but rather, it was probably dormant.

So he asked about things like what is required in terms of tithing, and does he need to be baptized. I tried to give him good answers while at the same time being very aware of the fact he was wanting to do things instead of resting on what Christ has already done.

(Sometimes people coming from a Roman Catholic background wrestle with these things more acutely. I don’t know if that’s the case here. It’s interesting that the Catholic Church refers to certain days in the church calendar as “Days of Obligation.” In a sense this defines “religion;” the idea of obligation overshadowing all else. No wonder many Christians say that Christianity isn’t a religion it’s a relationship.)

Andy Stanley talks about surveys done among people who have been attending North Point Community Church for less than five weeks. Let’s just stop there. Imagine having enough new people constantly streaming through the doors that you can engage a survey company to ask them questions. But that’s a topic for another day.

Of those in that category, a large percentage of them were interested in what they call “discerning next steps.” They wanted to grow. They wanted to serve. They wanted to understand what it means to be a disciple.

But there are sometimes dangers inherent in wanting to do. The story of Mary and Martha is a juxtaposition of two attitudes: spending time with Jesus and doing things for Jesus.

Coincidentally, it is Andy Stanley who has this verse posted in his office from Acts 15:

(NIV) 19 “It is my judgment, therefore, that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God.

(AMP) 19 Therefore it is my opinion that we should not put obstacles in the way of and annoy and disturb those of the Gentiles who turn to God…

We discussed this verse in detail previously here in February, 2011.

I think there are two different ways we approach the challenge of what it means to follow Christ:

  • We can ask, “What can I do;” and thereby focus on offering our lives as a response to the grace we have received and the love that has been poured out to us. “How can I express my gratitude?” “I want to give something back.”
  • We can ask, “What must I do;” and thereby miss the point. “What is this going to cost me?” “What am I going to have to give up?”  Or even, “I have a few hours free; how long is this going to take?”

As we said in the Feb ’11 post, this journey of following Christ should certainly involve counting the cost. In Luke 9 we read:

(NIV) 23 Then he said to them all: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.

But I do not believe it should be about the cost.

The person I spoke with definitely should start a program of percentage giving and definitely should consider being baptized. But it should be done joyfully and willingly.





June 24, 2011

Narrow Truth Handled With Great Grace

The Christian blogosphere appears to stretch out into infinity.  Research a simple phrase on Google Blog Search and you’ll be taken places and introduced to people you would otherwise never get to meet.  I found this article on the site Ralph Howe Ministries.  Step one for me is to check out the individual or organization to determine that I’m not sending my readers to a site or a part of the doctrinal spectrum that is outside the realm of orthodoxy.  Step two is to write an introduction as I’m doing now. 

In this case, it was a seemingly insignificant blog post about reaching out to young people.  But then, toward the end, was the phrase,  “It is important for them to know that in spite of walking in what we believe to be truth, which tends to be very narrow, that we handle these truths with great grace.” 

I had to think about that for a minute.  We’re often seen as narrow because Jesus said, “No one comes to the Father except through me.”  That, we believe, is truth.  But Mr. Howe suggests we can handle this truth with great grace.  Those words, if you consider them, might change your whole approach in the future. 

Anyway, I liked this enough to include not only the original post I read, but also a second. (Which we don’t usually do here!)  Here’s the first one.

Young people are so important to God and He is moving in very special ways upon the youth of today around the world.

Here in my city I meet with young people every day. They are amazing, always interesting and filled with questions about Jesus and what is happening today in the world and how it all fits with what the Bible states. These are non-Christians. The same is true in every town and city that I travel to – no matter what part of the world I am visiting. These young people and young couples are hungry for reality and an authentic faith that works in the world. A faith that helps them to face a real world and deal with complex issues that they face and feel every day.

In every case these young men and women are simply looking for someone to listen and to understand them – not always agree with them, but willing to listen to their heartbeat. They know when they are being judged and rejected; they know when people are sincere and really caring; they want us to look past the outward appearance and see their hearts. They want to know that we walk in grace and so can accept them for who they are even if we can’t agree with their values, beliefs or lifestyle.

It is important for them to know that in spite of walking in what we believe to be truth, which tends to be very narrow, that we handle these truths with great grace. The narrower the truth the greater the grace needed. We believe that Jesus is the only way to Heaven – very narrow truth that tends not to sound inclusive. So, when talking to the young people who do not believe this we need to extend great grace – loving them, accepting them (who they are and what they believe) and not judging them.

Only after they have experienced great grace through you will they open their hearts and hear what you have to say and what you believe.

Here’s a second (bonus!) post from Ralph Howe which he titled Purpose and Passion:

Many people in life just live life. They exist. They live by putting one foot in front of the other and simply surviving. Jesus promised us life and life abundantly. Just surviving – just making it – plodding along through life and being glad when the day finally comes to an end is not how life is suppose to be lived. You are suppose to grab life by the tail and swing it for all that it is worth. After-all, today is not a dress rehearsal; you don’t get to live today twice. So, give it your full attention and live it with focus and passion.

I often observe how believers seem to be lacking passion for Jesus. I wonder, at times, if it is not simply lacking passion for life. But then passion for life would logically arise out of your passion for Jesus who is the Author of all life. And, believers – born again Christians – have a personal relationship with the Giver of Life and so should not only have tremendous passion for Him but also for His gift of life – daily life.

So,why do people who say they love Jesus apparently lack passion? Good question. A possible answer would be that they have yet to discover God’s true purpose for their life — for who they are as God created them to be — when followed and expressed, will bring passion. Maybe they have also yet to discover what God’s purpose is for them – for this unique individual who is not ‘normal’ but very unique and different than all others on the planet. I believe that when you find your true purpose in life, passion follows. You absolutely live to pursue it.

So, passion for Jesus and for life comes from knowing who you are – the unique ‘you’ God created – and while being ‘you’ finding God’s purpose for ‘you’ and chasing after it with every fiber of your being and giving it your better than best shot. This will be seen as passion and the world is looking for passionate people and will follow those who truly know where they are going and why and are going there with passion and excitement.

~Ralph Howe

February 7, 2011

Erring on the Side of Grace

In addition to having my feet firmly planted in two local churches, I’ve also been “attending” Andy Stanley’s church online every Sunday at 6:00 PM for the past six months.   This week, Andy preached from Acts 15:

12 The whole assembly became silent as they listened to Barnabas and Paul telling about the signs and wonders God had done among the Gentiles through them. 13 When they finished, James spoke up. “Brothers,” he said, “listen to me. 14 Simon has described to us how God first intervened to choose a people for his name from the Gentiles. 15 The words of the prophets are in agreement with this, as it is written:

16 “‘After this I will return
and rebuild David’s fallen tent.
Its ruins I will rebuild,
and I will restore it,
17 that the rest of mankind may seek the Lord,
even all the Gentiles who bear my name,
says the Lord, who does these things’–
18 things known from long ago.

19 “It is my judgment, therefore, that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God.

Verse 19, the last verse is one that Andy says he has posted on the wall of his office.   In typical Andy Stanley style — you should listen to the podcast* if possible — he contrasted verse 19 with churches and organizations that try to put people in a box, or try to line people up with a specific church policy or regulation.

Or ask people to “clean up” first.

This is easy to say, but harder to do.  Most of us are Pharisees at heart.

The Message Bible renders verse 19 as:

We’re not going to unnecessarily burden non-Jewish people who turn to the Master.

Do I agree with Andy’s take in this particular sermon?

I think this is an issue where, like so many other things in scripture, there is a balance point to be found somewhere in the middle.  There is an equally compelling argument for calling people to weigh the price and launch out into something that is costly, or difficult.  Consider John 6:

56 Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in them. 57 Just as the living Father sent me and I live because of the Father, so the one who feeds on me will live because of me. 58 This is the bread that came down from heaven. Your ancestors ate manna and died, but whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.” 59 He said this while teaching in the synagogue in Capernaum.

60 On hearing it, many of his disciples said, “This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?”

61 Aware that his disciples were grumbling about this, Jesus said to them, “Does this offend you? 62 Then what if you see the Son of Man ascend to where he was before! 63 The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you—they are full of the Spirit[e] and life. 64 Yet there are some of you who do not believe.” For Jesus had known from the beginning which of them did not believe and who would betray him. 65 He went on to say, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless the Father has enabled them.”

66 From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him.

In Matthew 16, Mark 8 and Luke 9 we read these familiar words:

Luke 9: 23 (NLT) Then he said to the crowd, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross daily, and follow me.

And yet we are often so quickly reminded of Matthew 11:30

For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

Can both sets of verses be true at the same time?   Or is each referring to something different?

One of the best articles I’ve ever seen that summarizes the contrast is a little booklet by Stuart Briscoe titled This is Impossible.  If anyone knows where the text is uploaded I’d love to link to it here.  In the meantime, here’s a short summary by Adrian Rogers.

UPDATE: The book is available as a free .pdf download from Stuart’s ministry, Telling the Truth.

*The Andy Stanley sermon should appear here as a free download for a week, it’s the February 6th message, which I think is part four or five of the “Big Church” series.

Verses cited are NIV2011 unless otherwise indicated.