Friday, September 23, 2011

Christianity Without Christ

"To be entirely honest, I know of nothing quite so boring as Christianity without Christ.  Countless people have given up going to a place of worship simply because they are sick of going through the motions of a dead religion.  They are sick of trying to start a car on an empty tank.  What a pity that there are not more people around to show them that Jesus Christ is alive...
The utmost need in every ministry group, every missionary outreach, every denomination, is to rediscover the Lord Jesus Christ and the indispensability of His indwelling presence within the believer.  This means encountering the risen living Lord who shares His life with us on earth on our way to heaven…so that He may accomplish through us what He began to do in His own physical body two thousand years ago…The Christian life is nothing less than the life He lived then…lived now by Him in you.”  - Sir Ian Thomas

Friday, July 1, 2011

Gaining the Horizon (pt 2): Identity Songs

Bringing stability to our souls by gazing upon the unchanging horizon of God’s truth may sound like it would be beneficial, but without tangible practices, this remains a nice theory instead of a soul anchoring reality.  I have found that the practice of listening to/singing good music has helped me to gain the horizon of God’s truth in a powerful, stabilizing way. 

I used to think that music was a fluffy, luxury item in life.  I don’t think that anymore.  In Colossians 3:1-17, Paul instructs us on our new reality “in Christ”.   Through faith, our life is hid with Christ.  We are raised with Him, sharing in his glory, destiny, and character.  I constantly struggle to believe the amazing truth that my identity is wonderfully intertwined with Christ.  My default position is to believe that my identity and significance comes from what I do versus who Christ says I AM. 

Paul was human like me and knew the struggle to believe and live out of this new identity, which is why he concludes this passage by writing, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.”  We aren’t told just to hear God’s word (the Gospel message of our union with Christ) and then try hard to live according to it.  We are told to “let it dwell richly within us.”   This new reality of our identity in Christ has to take up residence deep within us so that it becomes the source of our life. 

One of the ways this “word” comes to dwell richly within us is by singing “psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs.”  Notice, Paul doesn’t say music is a nice way we are encouraged.  It is more important than that, which is why he commands us to sing so that God’s word will dwell richly within us.  It is one thing to hear truth with our intellect.  It is another thing altogether for truth to descend to our hearts.  If God’s truth does not descend beautifully to our hearts, it will not dwell richly within us.   

So, I have ramped up my practice of looking for good music that is filled with truth.  (I’ve begun to wonder if the Holy Spirit just may be speaking to me through itunes recommendations).  Here are few songs that God has used over the past year to help me gain the horizon of my identity in Christ:

I Am New  Jason Gray
Someone to You (Andy Gullahorn)
Fool With a Fancy Guitar (Andrew Peterson)
The Father’s Love  Sovereign Grace Music (The whole album, Sons and Daughters is great).
Remind Me Who I Am (Jason Gray)

In the next couple posts I’ll share songs that have helped me gain the God’s horizon during suffering and uncertainty about the future.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Children of the Burning Heart

“Coming to Christ is not an end but an inception, for now begins the glorious pursuit, the heart’s happy exploration of the infinite riches of the Godhead.  That is where  we begin, I say, but where we stop no man has yet discovered, for there is in the awful and mysterious depths of the Triune God neither limit nor end…To have found God and still to pursue Him is the soul’s paradox of love, scorned indeed by the too-easily-satisfied religionist, but justified in happy experience by the children of the burning heart.”  
A.W. Tozer

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Gaining the Horizon (pt 1)

A couple years ago I realized I didn’t have the constitution that I used to.  After doing 2 rounds on an amusement park ride with my kids, my stomach was flipping and my head was spinning.   I occasionally have had a similar feeling during a rough trip on an airplane.  During these occasions I find it necessary to fix my gaze on the horizon to bring stability to my mind and stomach.   Without the horizon as a reference point, I am left at the mercy of my body’s temporarily wacked out equilibrium. 

Lately, I’m seeing the need for a horizon not only to stabilize my stomach, but a horizon to stabilize my soul.  Life has a way of tossing us around and messing with our soul’s equilibrium through the slow grind of day-to-day monotony or through tumultuous events.  In the midst of the unsettling fears and frustrations of life, I want to say “It is well with my soul” but in good conscience, I often cannot.  When I cannot say “It is well with my soul”, I’ve been saying instead “Lead me to the Rock that is higher than I.”  I need a higher reference point than my feeling and understanding to gain stability for my soul. 

I find a few areas of life in particular where my soul gets queasy and I need to gain the horizon of God’s truth to set my soul at rest:

We live in a world where the norm is to find our sense of worth in what we DO versus who God says we ARE.  Whenever I attempt to find my identity and significance in things I do (for instance: vocation, good behavior, relational acceptance, athletic prowess, etc) my soul gets seasick on the up and down waves of pride and shame.   I feel pride when I deem myself to be performing well and shame when I deem myself to be performing poorly.

When I find myself caught in this storm, I turn to the One who calmed a storm swept lake with a few simple words of peace.  Christ speaks the same peace to my soul by reminding me who He has made me to be.  Because I am “in Christ”, all that is true of Christ has been applied to me:  his holiness, blamelessness, and righteousness.  As a child of God through Jesus, I have the Father’s unconditional words of approval: “You are my beloved son in whom I am well pleased.” In that approval I find significance that I did not earn and cannot lose therefore there is no reason for my soul to ride the waves of pride or shame.   

Seasons of suffering send seismic tremors through our souls that can shake us to our core.  During suffering, our souls naturally question, “why is this happening” and seek a way out.  That is a right response, since suffering is not as life should be.  But we can get trapped in our own response to suffering if we aren’t able to gain the horizon of God’s reality. 

That is why I find it necessary to gaze again and again upon the horizon of love painted for me in Christ’s crucifixion.  If the Father loved me enough to sacrifice His Son, and Jesus loved me enough to lay down His life, then I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that God loves me and his intentions toward me are good – despite the current suffering He has allowed.  I do not find comfort in searching for the reason for my current suffering, for I may not find that answer soon.  Instead, my soul is comforted and put at rest when I gaze upon the vast and beautiful horizon of Christ’s death on my behalf. 

When I consider the future, whether it be the future of my children, my finances, or my health I often find my soul beginning to pucker at the sour taste of fear.  Fear’s bad taste is overpowering and ruins my appreciation of the many good things God has given for me to enjoy now.  The sour taste of fear can only be overcome when replaced by another, stronger taste.  For that taste, I look to the horizon of heaven where a feast of love, joy and peace awaits.

As I gaze upon the horizon of heaven, I become confident that no evil, no hurt, no lack has the last word in my life.  No matter what transpires in the mortal decades that remain, I have an eternity awaiting that is better and greater than all my fears.  I don’t get weary of gazing upon that horizon which has no end. 

In the next post I’ll explore tangible practices for gaining the horizon of God’s reality.  

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Reading the Bible as Gospel or Religion

Last week, as I got ready to preach a sermon on the story of Shadrack, Meshack and Abendego from Daniel 3, I realized how prone I am to read the Bible with a religious understanding instead of a Gospel understanding.  (By religion I mean:  what we SHOULD DO FOR God.  By Gospel I mean:  what Jesus HAS DONE FOR us.)  My natural tendency in reading the story of Shadrack, Meshack and Abendego was to see these three guys as “heroes of the faith” who are examples for us to follow.  They were strong in their devotion to God even in the face of persecution – we SHOULD be as well.  But that is a religious motivation because it focuses on what we SHOULD do instead of what Jesus HAS DONE.  

As I considered the story some more, I realized that it isn’t pointing us to Shadrack, Meshack, and Abendego as examples to follow religiously.  This story is pointing us to Jesus who joined them in the fire, loosed their bonds, and delivered them.  A few hundred years later, Jesus would come again for the purpose of delivering His people.  Like Shadrack, Meshack and Abendego, Jesus would be mocked and reviled.  He would be bound and brought before a ruler and unjustly sentenced to death.  But unlike Shadrack, Meschack and Abendego, Jesus would not deliver himself from death.  Instead, his death became the one way we could be free from the bonds of sin and judgment.  Shadrack, Meshack and Abendego are heroic in the story, but they aren’t the heroes of the story.  Christ is – He always is. 

I can’t tell you how freeing it was to see the Gospel instead of religion in the story of Shadrack, Meshack and Abendego.  When I look religiously at Biblical characters as examples of what I SHOULD DO, I find myself bound by shame or pride.  Shame when I don’t live as I SHOULD.  Pride when I do live as I SHOULD.   But when I see the Gospel – what Jesus HAS DONE  - in the stories of Scripture, I find peace and freedom because there is no longer any reason for shame or pride.  Jesus has conquered both in his life, death, and resurrection.  Religion binds us to shame or pride because it gives us examples to emulate so that we can try to gain God’s blessing.  The Gospel frees us from shame or pride because it gives us Jesus as our substitute so we can HAVE God’s blessing.

One of the best resources I use for helping me to avoid the trap of reading the Bible religiously is my kid’s Jesus Storybook Bible.  Words from the first chapter echo in my mind,:
“Now, some people think the Bible is a list of rules, telling you what you should and shouldn’t do.  The Bible certainly does have some rules in it.  They show you how life works best.  But the Bible isn’t mainly about you and what you should be doing.  It’s about God and what he has done.  Other people think the Bible is a book of heroes, showing you people you should copy.  The Bible does have some heroes in it, but most of the people in the Bible aren’t heroes at all.  They make some big mistakes (sometimes on purpose).  They get afraid and run away.  At times, they’re downright mean. 

No, the Bible isn’t a book of rules, or a book of heroes.  The Bible is most of all a Story.  It’s an adventure story about a young Hero who comes from a far country to win back his lost treasure.  It’s a love story about a brave Prince who leaves his palace, his throne – everything – to rescue the one he loves.  It’s like the most wonderful of fairy tales that has come true in real life!  You see the best thing about this Story is – it’s true!  There are lots of stories in the Bible, but all the stories are telling one Big Story.  The Story of how God loves his children and comes to rescue them.