The Gospel: More Beautiful than You Think – part 3

There are three very common beliefs that ruin Christianity. These are some very basic things that you hear almost daily. You might even believe them yourself. We want to believe them. They have a way of making us feel better about ourselves. The problem is, that if these things are true, then Christianity is ruined.

If these things are true then the Bible is false.

I introduce the three common beliefs in the first part of this series.

The second part discusses the common belief that God is a tolerant God. Spoiler alert: He’s not tolerant at all. He’s holy.

Now in part three I want to turn our attention to the second common belief.

In the video I’ve been sharing we asked some folks who were hanging out on Fountain Square in Cincinnati…

“Do you think people are basically good, or bad?”

Listen to their answers beginning at about 2:31…

For the most part, except for that one smart-aleck guy, these folks think that people are basically good. We all want to believe that, don’t we? We would like to think that if you peel away all the bluster, pride, selfishness, violence, lust, and … well, um … evil … that at our core we are a good person.

But that doesn’t square with scripture, and, if we’re honest, it doesn’t square with our experience.

Because…

People are not basically good. People are sinful.

In Romans 3 Paul quotes two different places in the Psalms when he says “There is no one righteous, not even one, …they have all turned away, …there is no one who does good, not even one.” (vs. 11&12) Then he goes on to say “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (vs. 23)

Yes, there are likely people whose sins are more heinous than ours. It’s true that we’re not as bad as we could be. We all could probably sin more than we actually do, but that doesn’t mean we’re good. Just because we might not be as bad as someone else doesn’t mean we’re good enough to stand in the presence of the Holy God.

Remember that? He’s holy. Not tolerant. It all hangs together.

This doesn’t really sound beautiful for us, does it? In fact, so far it sounds pretty bleak. God is perfectly holy and cannot tolerate sin, and we’re perfectly sinful and are powerless to be holy. And yet, holiness is exactly what God expects from us, and wants for us.

How does this make the gospel more beautiful?

See, here’s the thing: You can’t truly appreciate the beauty of the gospel, God’s good news for humans, if you start with a less than holy image of God. And you can’t truly comprehend the amazing thing that has been done for us if you think you’re really not all that bad.

Trust me, you’re bad. And so am I.

This is why the gospel is beautifully good news.

But there’s one more common belief we need to address…

Lloyd


Go here for part 4.

Luke 24:13-35

The idea of these little devotionals is simple. I want to approach scripture with the understanding that God is speaking. I’m reading through the Bible and listening for God to ask me questions. I expect these questions to be fairly open-ended and plan to carry them in my mind throughout the day. I’ll share these questions with you in the hope that you find them challenging and helpful.

Luke 24:13-35
13 That very day two of them were going to a village named Emmaus, about seven miles[a] from Jerusalem, 14 and they were talking with each other about all these things that had happened. 15 While they were talking and discussing together, Jesus himself drew near and went with them. 16 But their eyes were kept from recognizing him. 17 And he said to them, “What is this conversation that you are holding with each other as you walk?” And they stood still, looking sad. 18 Then one of them, named Cleopas, answered him, “Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?” 19 And he said to them, “What things?” And they said to him, “Concerning Jesus of Nazareth, a man who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, 20 and how our chief priests and rulers delivered him up to be condemned to death, and crucified him. 21 But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things happened. 22 Moreover, some women of our company amazed us. They were at the tomb early in the morning, 23 and when they did not find his body, they came back saying that they had even seen a vision of angels, who said that he was alive. 24 Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but him they did not see.” 25 And he said to them, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! 26 Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” 27 And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.

28 So they drew near to the village to which they were going. He acted as if he were going farther, 29 but they urged him strongly, saying, “Stay with us, for it is toward evening and the day is now far spent.” So he went in to stay with them. 30 When he was at table with them, he took the bread and blessed and broke it and gave it to them. 31 And their eyes were opened, and they recognized him. And he vanished from their sight. 32 They said to each other, “Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the Scriptures?” 33 And they rose that same hour and returned to Jerusalem. And they found the eleven and those who were with them gathered together, 34 saying, “The Lord has risen indeed, and has appeared to Simon!” 35 Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he was known to them in the breaking of the bread.

From this passage I hear God asking me:
It seems like these guys wanted to believe, doesn’t it?
“…we had hoped that he was the one…” (v. 21)
What do you think was holding them  back?
None of this made sense to them. It didn’t fit with what they thought they knew about scripture, or with what they had experienced in life.
Wouldn’t you have had the same problem?
But, can you imagine the Bible teaching they received?
Jesus showed them that it did fit. It fit with scripture they misunderstood, and though they had never experienced a dead person living again, there he was teaching them.
Do you believe?
Is anything holding you back?
Would you be open to someone teaching you how you’ve been wrong about scripture? Why, or why not?
What if it were Jesus, and you didn’t know it?
How would you find out?
One more thing: Do you get the impression Jesus was having some fun with these poor guys?


Is God asking you anything more, or anything different?
I’d love to hear from you in the comments below.


Worship is Wonderful

Image may contain: sky, tree, grass, cloud, mountain, plant, outdoor and nature
Photo Credit: Aaron Bell

“Wonder is a deep, profound experience. The typical secular education of our day makes us suspicious or callous to wonder. It seems so
unscientific, so unsophisticated, and ultimately,
so seemingly unnecessary. So they say.
But to lose the sense of wonder is to lose one of the great beauties of life. Worship, on the other hand, exercises our sense of wonder.
It helps us see things and hear things and feel things
that not everyone recognizes.
Worship, in essence, is wonderful.”

Hughes Oliphant Old
“Enter into His Courts with Praise: Worship Fills Us with Wonder,”
Worship Leader Magazine, Vol. 8, No. 4, July/August 1999.

Weekend Picks ~ 7-7-2017

This is some stuff I found helpful, challenging, interesting, or amusing today that I think may enrich your day as well...

Joy Is For the GenerousTim Challies
Money may not be able to purchase the greatest and deepest joy, but it can still generate it. The joy is there for the taking. The joy is there for the giving. The joy is for the generous.


It’s so easy to judge someone who sins differently than you do…

The Hypocrisy of PhariseephobiaJay Harrison
https://tgc-cache.s3.amazonaws.com/images/remote/http_s3.amazonaws.com/tgc-ee2/articles/hypocrisy-of-phariseephobia-1.jpgThis person seemed to have compassion on everyone she met—that is, everyone who wasn’t gay. This made me angry, but it gradually dawned on me: Because she thought of me as the worst person, I’d begun thinking of her as the worst person.

I was being a hypocrite…

Not that long ago, many considered homosexuality to be the worst sin. Today, culture has shifted to view bigotry as the worst sin. But it’s clear Jesus didn’t rank sinners on a scale from “better” to “worse.” Sins may vary in some respects, including the consequences they can have in this life, but they’re all equally deserving of God’s judgment.


You’ve seen them, whether you realize it or not…

How to spot a misleading graphLea Gaslowitz

When they’re used well, graphs can help us intuitively grasp complex data. But as visual software has enabled more usage of graphs throughout all media, it has also made them easier to use in a careless or dishonest way — and as it turns out, there are plenty of ways graphs can mislead and outright manipulate. Lea Gaslowitz shares some things to look out for.


Christians are free, but have no rights…

4 Principles for the Exercise of Christian Liberty
Sinclair Ferguson
Where the gospel is at stake, liberty needs to be exercised; where the stability of a weak Christian is at stake, we need to restrain it.

This is all part and parcel of “living between the times.” Already, in Christ, we are free, but we do not yet live in a world that can cope with our freedom…

For now, as Martin Luther wrote, “A Christian man is the most free lord of all, and subject to none; a Christian man is the most dutiful servant of all, and subject to every one.”

As it was with the Master, so it is with the servant.


People claim religious motivations for a lot of different things, including terrorism. It might make sense to be skeptical…

The Weakness of ReligionAlan Jacobs
http://religionfacts.imgix.net/226/147622.jpg?fit=max&q=80&w=340&s=46cff5163808efb9be865fc9d0017271The books I read, the food I eat, the music I listen to, my hobbies and interests, the thoughts that occupy my mind throughout the greater part of every day – these are, if truth be told, far less indebted to my Christianity than to my status as a middle-aged, middle-class American man.

Of course, I can’t universalize my own experience – but that experience does give me pause when people talk about the immense power of religion to make people do extraordinary things.When people say that they are acting out of religious conviction, I tend to be skeptical; I tend to wonder whether they’re not acting as I usually do, out of motives and impulses over which I could paint a thin religious veneer but which are really not religious at all.


Musical generation gap…
https://safr.kingfeatures.com/idn/cnfeed/zone/js/content.php?file=aHR0cDovL3NhZnIua2luZ2ZlYXR1cmVzLmNvbS9aaXRzLzIwMTcvMDcvWml0cy4yMDE3MDcwN185MDAuZ2lm
Zits – Click image for a larger view.

Luke 24:1-12

The idea of these little devotionals is simple. I want to approach scripture with the understanding that God is speaking. I’m reading through the Bible and listening for God to ask me questions. I expect these questions to be fairly open-ended and plan to carry them in my mind throughout the day. I’ll share these questions with you in the hope that you find them challenging and helpful.

Luke 24:1-12
But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they went to the tomb, taking the spices they had prepared. And they found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they went in they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. While they were perplexed about this, behold, two men stood by them in dazzling apparel. And as they were frightened and bowed their faces to the ground, the men said to them, “Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men and be crucified and on the third day rise.” And they remembered his words, and returning from the tomb they told all these things to the eleven and to all the rest. 10 Now it was Mary Magdalene and Joanna and Mary the mother of James and the other women with them who told these things to the apostles, 11 but these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them. 12 But Peter rose and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths by themselves; and he went home marveling at what had happened.

From this passage I hear God asking me:
Why did the apostles not believe the women?
I mean, this is what Jesus told them was going to happen, right?
But seriously, would you have believed the story those women told?
But then, why did Peter go to the tomb?
Would you have gone with Peter to look?
One more question:
Think about what drives you; where you look for happiness, joy, satisfaction, and contentment…
Do you ever “seek the living among the dead”?
Why do you do that?


Is God asking you anything more, or anything different?
I’d love to hear from you in the comments below.


Thursday Picks ~ 7-6-2017

This is some stuff I found helpful, challenging, interesting, or amusing today that I think may enrich your day as well...

The ‘Church’ of Facebook?Alex Duke
https://tgc-cache.s3.amazonaws.com/images/made/images/remote/http_s3.amazonaws.com/tgc-ee2/articles/church_facebook_1200_700_c1_.jpgI’m deeply thankful for Zuckerberg’s desire to leave the world better than he found it. I’m even more thankful he sees the need for humans to connect to communities and even institutions in order to do so. His intuition about our need for relationships is exactly right…

But with all its grandiose plans to change the world, this kind community sets a remarkably low bar for us as humans in relationship; it’s strictly opt-in, strictly self-directed, strictly un-real, and available only for a few…

Real churches on the other hand—they’re hard…

And though it sounds quaint, these real churches are also actually here. They exist in space and time, and they’re filled not just with second-hand stories but with open-armed bodies that we’ve collapsed into after yet another miscarriage, yet another “no” after a job interview, yet another unexpected death. What’s more, these churches are open to all—no e-mail address or internet connection required—and they make known their beliefs to the world through sounds more magnetic than the dull whir of a modem or the clickety clack of a keyboard. These real churches simply sing and preach and pray—and in it all we find something far grander than even man’s most optimistic hope to change the world. We find the manifold wisdom of God (Eph. 3:10).

Can you believe such a thing is within our reach?


Why Trump’s Vengeful Tweeting MattersDavid French
http://c4.nrostatic.com/sites/default/files/styles/original_image_with_cropping/public/uploaded/donald-trump-mika-brzezinski-vengeful-tweets-degrade-american-political-culture.jpg?itok=z-88D5QXWords still matter, and the president’s words are often reprehensible. Even those who say, “Talk to me about what he does, not what he tweets” know this to be true. How can I tell? Because these same people incessantly point to liberal words and are unceasingly outraged by liberal tweets. Indeed, they often act as if a random news anchor’s comments are somehow more consequential than the president’s. I know. I see the clickbait everywhere.

A conservative can fight for tax reform, celebrate military victories over ISIS in Mosul, and applaud Trump’s judicial appointments while also condemning Trump’s vile tweets and criticizing his impulsiveness and lack of discipline. A good conservative can even step back and take a longer view, resolving to fight for the cultural values that tribalism degrades. Presidents matter not just because of their policies but also because of their impact on the character of the people they govern. Conservatives knew that once. Do they still?


On CoastingDarryl Dash
CoastingI’ve seen plenty of average preachers who’ve applied themselves and become competent preachers. And I’ve seen some gifted preachers apply themselves and become excellent. The ones I worry about the most are the gifted preachers and pastors who’ve decided to coast.


Simultaneously funny and sad…

NPR Tweeted the Declaration of Independence on July 4 and Some People Flipped Out
Every year, NPR reads (and lately, tweets) the Declaration of Independence to celebrate the Fourth of July. It’s a time-honored tradition but, this year, for some reason, a truly depressing number of people took it the wrong way. The Declaration was, of course, a call to arms—a rallying cry to overthrow tyranny and establish a new government in its place.

Given that modern American culture is wildly politicized and all too often poorly informed, it’s perhaps not surprising that a lot of people interpreted the tweets as a publicly funded media outlet encouraging citizens to rebel against President Donald Trump.


Historic Status Updates…
https://wronghands1.files.wordpress.com/2017/05/historical-status-updates1.jpg
Wrong Hands – Click image for a larger view.

Luke 23:50-56

The idea of these little devotionals is simple. I want to approach scripture with the understanding that God is speaking. I’m reading through the Bible and listening for God to ask me questions. I expect these questions to be fairly open-ended and plan to carry them in my mind throughout the day. I’ll share these questions with you in the hope that you find them challenging and helpful.

Luke 23:50-56
50 Now there was a man named Joseph, from the Jewish town of Arimathea. He was a member of the council, a good and righteous man, 51 who had not consented to their decision and action; and he was looking for the kingdom of God. 52 This man went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. 53 Then he took it down and wrapped it in a linen shroud and laid him in a tomb cut in stone, where no one had ever yet been laid. 54 It was the day of Preparation, and the Sabbath was beginning.[a] 55 The women who had come with him from Galilee followed and saw the tomb and how his body was laid. 56 Then they returned and prepared spices and ointments.

On the Sabbath they rested according to the commandment.

From this passage I hear God asking me:
Have you thought about Joseph’s situation?
Do you think he was a popular man on the council?
Was he the only one who was “looking for the kingdom of God”?
Do you think he was criticized for this?
Why weren’t they all looking for the kingdom of God?
When there’s only one person on a team doing what the team is supposed to be doing, is he appreciated by the rest of the team?
Is he appreciated by the coach?
Whose appreciation is more important?
Simple, right?
Then why is it so hard to be like Joseph?


Is God asking you anything more, or anything different?
I’d love to hear from you in the comments below.


The Gospel: More Beautiful Than You Think – part 2

I suggest you read the first part of this short series before proceeding. In it I shared a little “man-on-the-street” video we made several years ago. We approached total strangers on Fountain Square in downtown Cincinnati and asked them three questions. The first question was this:

“What do you think God is like?”

We asked this question first because this is where everything begins. Watch the first two and a half minutes and listen to their answers…

There are a few exceptions, but generally you can see a picture emerge of a god who is the white-bearded grandfather in heaven. He understands that nobody is perfect so he accepts people because they try hard and do their best.

We like this image of God because it gives us comfort and makes us feel good, and we think it will draw others to him.

But this is not who God is. To be sure, God is love. Scripture says so. But it’s a perfect love. Not the soft “I’ll-support-you-no-matter-what-you-do” kind of love. In fact, just a few verses after John writes “God is love” he says “ …he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” In order to appreciate the power of this statement you might need to look up the word “propitiation.” We’ll talk more about this in parts three and four, but I bring it up now to show that…

God is not tolerant. God is holy.

Here are just a few verses that mention it:

Exodus 15:11  “Who among the gods is like you, O Lord?  Who is like You – majestic in holiness, awesome in glory, working wonders?”

Deuteronomy 32:4  “He is the Rock, His works are perfect, and all His ways are just.  A faithful God who does no wrong, upright and just is He.”

I Samuel 6:20  “Who can stand in the presence of the Lord, this holy God?”

Isaiah 55:9  “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” 

Psalm 145:17  “Your eyes are too pure to look on evil; you cannot tolerate wrong.”

This God is unlike anyone or anything we’ve ever experienced. And, before you start thinking that this is only the God of the Old Testament, I assure you he hasn’t changed. In fact, when you move into the New Testament you find that, not only is God still perfectly holy, this holiness is God’s expectation of us as well…

I Peter 1:15-16  “But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: ‘Be holy, because I am holy.’”

I know this all sounds very hard-nosed and off-putting. You may think think this is very legalistic, strict, and “fundamentalist.” But if God is tolerant of sin, and not completely holy, the gospel is diminished. It doesn’t even make sense.

If you are one who has this tolerant image of God and are having trouble shaking it, stay tuned for part three.

Lloyd


Go here for part 3.

Wednesday Picks ~ 7-5-2017

It’s the day after Independence Day, (aka the 5th of July). I suppose this is the reason I came across several well-written and challenging articles on the subject of Christianity and patriotism…

Let’s begin with this prayer by Scotty Smith…

No Matter the Political Temperature, Living as Servants, not CynicsScotty Smith
http://trinitynews.ie/wp/wp-content/uploads/2015/01/praying-hands.jpgHelp us, as well, to live and love to your glory–no matter our passport, the political atmosphere, or how pleased or disgusted we are with the government. Instead of being cynics, may we be servants and intercessors; instead of withdrawing out of disgust, may we be engaged with hope and kindness; instead of seeking judgment on our government, may we seek its peace and prosperity; instead of throwing political grenades, may we seek love mercy and work for justice in our communities.


Can Patriotism Become Idolatry?Zack Hunt
https://storage.googleapis.com/relevant-magazine/2017/07/patriot.jpgI’m not sure there is a clearly defined moment when patriotism becomes idolatry because it happens in such subtle ways, but you definitely know it’s occurred when you stand in the front of your sanctuary and contemplate where to move the stars and stripes so as not to offend anyone during worship.

Unfortunately, that struggle is not unique. I can’t count how many pastors have told me they leave the American flag in their sanctuaries simply because they’re afraid of the vitriol that would be unleashed by some of their parishioners if the flag moved. I’m left dumbfounded every time I hear that story from yet another pastor somewhere in America.

How far have we fallen as a Church, how lost are we in patriotic idolatry that we’re worried about offending people if we remove a symbol from our sacred space that demands our allegiance to something other than the God we’ve come there to worship?

God bless America?

How about God save the Church?


I Love You, America, But Not Like ThatBrian Zahnd
Flickr_-_USCapitol_-_Apotheosis_of_Washington,_War (1)Yes, America, I love you…but not like that. Not in the way of supreme allegiance and unquestioned devotion. You see, my heart belongs to another. I’m a Christian and I confess that Jesus is Lord. The Savior of the world is the crucified and risen Son of God, not “We the People.” The gospel is the story of Jesus, not the American story. I know your 16th President claimed that America was “the last best hope of earth,” but it’s simply not true. The last best hope of earth is Jesus, not you…

…America, I’m one of your citizens. And I love you like a sister. I’ll seek the common good. I’ll gladly pay my share to help provide for education, infrastructure, healthcare, emergency services, and everything else it takes to live in a civilized society. (I’d like for you to spend a lot less on bombs and killing machines, but I understand that’s not up to me.) Yes, America, I love you like a sister. But not like I love my Lord. Not like I love God. I cannot love you like that. I cannot pledge unconditional allegiance to you. But I can promise to be a good citizen by attempting to love my neighbor as myself.


Thank God for the Idea of AmericaKevin DeYoung
It has often been said that America was founded upon an idea. The country was not formed mainly for power or privilege but in adherence to a set of principles. Granted, these ideals have been, at various times in our history, less than ideally maintained. But the ideals remain. The idea persists.

If one sentence captures the quintessential idea of America, surely it the famous assertion contained in the Declaration of Independence: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.” Almost every word of this remarkable sentence, 236 years old today, is pregnant with meaning and strikingly relevant…

There’s a reason the Founding Fathers did not wax eloquent about safety and security. It’s because they believed freedom and liberty to be better ideals, loftier goals, and more conducive to the common good.

Caps lock…
https://safr.kingfeatures.com/idn/cnfeed/zone/js/content.php?file=aHR0cDovL3NhZnIua2luZ2ZlYXR1cmVzLmNvbS9CaXphcnJvLzIwMTcvMDcvQml6YXJyb19wLjIwMTcwNzAzXzYxNi5naWY=
Bizarro