Christianity 201

February 13, 2017

A Place to Belong

With a blog name like Christianity 201, you would expect us to post articles for those who are wanting to move on to maturity in their Christian life, and in fact that’s what we do. But I came across this piece by Eric Bryant at Gateway Austin, a writer with whom we haven’t connected for about five years and thought this would be good for the weekend. It’s more of an outreach piece, but it’s good to get us thinking along the lines of how we express our faith to outsiders. It’s also great in a local church context.

For those of you who prefer something a little deeper, check out the link (and the end of the piece) to another recommended article by Eric.

You Belong Here

If you are afraid…
If you are lonely…
If you are bullied…
If you are grieving…
If you are anxious…
If you are hurting…
If you are broken…
If you are healing…
If you are hopeful…
If you are making progress…
If you are creative…
If you are innovative…
If you are making a difference…

No matter how you voted or if you voted…
No matter what decisions you’ve made…
No matter your spiritual or ethnic background…
No matter from where you’ve come or where you’re going…

You Belong Here.

Come as you are.

We offer faith.
We offer hope.
We offer love.

We too are broken, hurting, afraid, anxious, healing, and trying to make progress.

We are at our best when we disappear and you see Jesus instead.

We are at our best when you see Jesus through all of our God-given diversity.

We are at our best when we live out what Jesus said.

It was Jesus who said:

  • “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.”
  • “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.””
  • “Blessed are the poor in spirit, those who mourn, the meek, the merciful, the persecuted…”
  • “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you….”
  • ““You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”
  • “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.””
  • “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

Forgive us when we don’t live out what we say we believe.

Forgive us for forgetting that “God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.”

We sang a song years ago that “Jesus loves the little children, all the children of the world,” but we’ve struggled to do that.

All the children of the world should be able to experience the local church as a refuge, a sanctuary, a safe place, and a place to call home.

Out of this conviction, we’re committed to learning the way of Jesus and standing with those experiencing hate, racism, and marginalization.

Here among us, you belong.


For something different from Eric — but more like what we usually post here — check out Walking on Water (Lessons on surrender learned while wake-skating.)

November 28, 2016

The Shortest Path to Reconciliation

Yesterday, Andy Stanley spoke on the the three “lost” parables of Luke 15: The Lost Sheep, The Lost Coin and The Lost Son. While this is very familiar to most of us, I am always amazed at how the various dynamics and nuances of this famous story result in the situation where good preachers always find something new in this parable.

The premise of the parable is set up very quickly:

11 Jesus continued: “There was a man who had two sons. 12 The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’ So he divided his property between them.

The last seven words have been amplified and expanded in expository preaching for centuries, but Andy noted:

Andy Stanley 2013This son was gone relationally long before he left home. This relationship was broken.

The father wanted to reconnect with the son so bad, he chose the shortest road back. The father wants to reconnect relationally so much; he knows the relationship is broken; the conversation is the pinnacle of a bunch of other conversations that probably went on… He knows the son is distant… the son is gone, he’s just physically there. The father wants him back; not his body, the relationship. He chooses for the shortest route back. He funds his departure.

What the audience heard when Jesus said this was that the father loved his son — don’t miss this — the father loved the son more than he loved his own reputation, and for that culture, they summed the father up as a fool. This is when you need to go to Leviticus and find that hidden verse that says, ‘stone the rebellious children,’ because this kid deserves to be stoned. In the story the father says, ‘Okay. Let’s pretend that I’m dead. I’ll liquidate half the estate…’

…Here’s a dad who is willing to lose him physically, lose him spatially, lose him to (potentially) women.

He didn’t mention this, but I couldn’t help but think of Romans 1, verses 24, 26 and 28:

24 Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another.

26 Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural sexual relations for unnatural ones.

28 Furthermore, just as they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, so God gave them over to a depraved mind, so that they do what ought not to be done.

Implicit in this is the idea of God “letting go” of someone, giving them over to their sin. This particular message in Romans 1 seems very final. But in I Cor. 5, a book also written by Paul and in a context also dealing with sexual sin, we see Paul using the same language but with a hope of restoration:

So when you are assembled and I am with you in spirit, and the power of our Lord Jesus is present, hand this man over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh,[a][b] so that his spirit may be saved on the day of the Lord.

The language in the last phrase isn’t found in Romans 1 but occurs here. Eugene Peterson’s modern translation renders it this way:

Assemble the community—I’ll be present in spirit with you and our Master Jesus will be present in power. Hold this man’s conduct up to public scrutiny. Let him defend it if he can! But if he can’t, then out with him! It will be totally devastating to him, of course, and embarrassing to you. But better devastation and embarrassment than damnation. You want him on his feet and forgiven before the Master on the Day of Judgment.

Back to Andy’s sermon! The story in Luke 15 continues:

20b “But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.

Andy continued:

He ran to his son and threw his arms around him…

…Why, when the son was leaving; why when the son had his back to his father,  did the father not from that same distance, run throw his arms around him the son? Why does he let the go? He doesn’t chase after him throw his arms around him and say ‘Stay! Stay! Stay!’? Why now? It’s the same son, it’s the same distance. It’s the same two people But now he’s running toward his son to throw his arms around him and bring him back. Why? What’s the difference.

This is Jesus’ point. This impacts all of us… The father desired a relationship. The father desired a connection the father desired a connection. — not a GPS coordinate, it was not about not knowing where the son was — it’s not spatially, it’s relationally. What the father wanted more than anything in the world was not the son living in his house, but to be connected with the son and when he saw the connection being made when he saw the disconnected son begin to reconnect he ran toward his son and he kissed him.

He concludes this part of the sermon by reminding us that Jesus is telling his hearers:

‘My primary concern is not the connected; I know where they are. And I’m grateful that we’re connected. My priority, my passion, the thing that brought me to earth to begin with was to reconnect the disconnected to their father in heaven.’ This answers the question, why would Jesus spend so much time with irreligious people? …The reason Jesus spent so much time with disconnected people is because they were disconnected. The reason Jesus was drawn to people who were far from God is because they were far from God.

The gravitational pull of the local church is always toward the paying customers. It’s always toward the connected. It’s always toward the people who know where to park and know how to get their kids in early and find a seat… The gravitational pull and the programming of the local church is always toward the 99 and not toward the 1. …We all, individually and collectively, run the risk of mis-prioritizing… how we see people.

There’s much more. You can watch the entire message at this link; the passage above begins at approx. the 50-minute mark in the service.

 

 

September 6, 2015

The Value of a Soul

And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul? Is anything worth more than your soul?
 Matthew 16:26 NLT

When Bill Hybels founded Willow Creek in Chicago’s Northwest suburbs, one if his guiding principles was “lost people matter to God.” Many of the early ‘pioneers’ of Christianity in North America and Western Europe were consumed by this principle, but often today it is rare to run into people who have such passion.

Henry is a man who would feel absolutely naked if he left the house without a couple of gospel presentation booklets in his shirt pocket. He is driven by the possibility of making contact with people each and every day to share his faith, and I believe that because he is prepared, the opportunities happen.

At the website Go To The Bible, there is a long exposition of today’s key verse. This is just the first point:

The Soul Is So Valuable Because of What Man Is and God’s Purpose for Man

When God had spoken the worlds into being, then when He had prepared this earth with all of its living creatures and swarming life in the seas and the birds that fly in the air and animals and creeping things that live upon the earth, He looked upon it all and saw it was good.

But God was not satisfied. God is love, and love wants an object like unto itself upon which it can bestow its affection. His great Father-heart was hungering for a family of children, so He said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.” And the Scripture says, “In the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.”

The crowning work of all God’s matchless creation is a being from His own hand into whom He has breathed the breath of His own life and who has become a living soul in His image with a capacity to love like God and return the love of God, to respond to and receive that matchless love; with a capacity to think His thoughts, to live His life, to hold fellowship with Him, to walk in communion with Him, to live with Him.

We see God coming down in the cool of the day to walk with the man whom He has made. There is a blessed and holy and wonderful fellowship between the two.

The purpose God had in the creation of man was not only to have a being like unto Himself who could appreciate and respond to His love and upon whom He could lavish His affections and with whom He could have fellowship, but His further purpose was that this man should be the lord of creation and that one day he should reign with Him and share His glory throughout an endless eternity.

What a glorious purpose God had in the creation of man! In the face of that, many men will deliberately turn their backs upon such a destiny, deliberately defeat the purpose of God in their lives and choose to follow the Devil instead! They will be deceived by him and be dragged from that glorious purpose of God into endless night, separated from God. They will be defeated in their lives and rob God of the glory that rightly belongs to Him in every life.

That is why Jesus said, “What is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?” He misses that infinite, loving, glorious purpose of God in his life and forfeits the opportunity to share with Him His glory through eternity.

What got me thinking about this today? I was reading about the eleven principles that guided missionary William Carey (1761-1834) in his life devoted to missions. You can read the list for yourself at the blog A Twisted Crown of Thorns.

  1. Set an infinite value on immortal souls.
  2. Gain all the information you can about “the snares and delusions in which these heathens are held.”
  3. Abstain from all English manners which might increase prejudice against the gospel.
  4. Watch for all opportunities for doing good, even when you are tired and hot.
  5. Make Christ crucified the great subject of your preaching.
  6. Earn the people’s confidence by your friendship.
  7. Build up the souls that are gathered.
  8. Turn the work over to “the native brethren” as soon as possible.
  9. Work with all your might to translate the Bible into their languages. Build schools to this end.
  10. Stay alert in prayer, wrestling with God until he “famish these idols and cause the heathen to experience the blessedness that is in Christ.”
  11. Give yourself totally to this glorious cause. Surrender your time, gifts, strength, families, the very clothes you wear.

We need more people today who will have this same, all consuming passion for the lost.

Luke 15:3 Then Jesus told them this parable: “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’ I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.