Category Archives: Gospel

Grace and Truth: The Only Gift the Church has to Offer

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth… For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. John 1:14, 16-17

“The world can do almost anything as well or better than the church…You need not be a Christian to build houses, feed the hungry, or heal the sick.  There is only one thing the world cannot do.  It cannot offer grace.” Philip Yancey (What’s So Amazing About Grace?) quoting Gordon MacDonald

grace and truth

Batteries Not Included

Gift-giving can be tricky. Over my years of celebrating Christmas with family and purchasing, assembling, prepping and wrapping hundreds of gifts, I have learned some things the hard way. For example: waiting until the wee dark hours of Christmas morning to begin assembling a child’s Christmas gift…NOT A GOOD PLAN. And these lessons come at a cost, both to us and to those for whom the gifts are intended.

For at least an entire adult generation, there are three simple words that, if not heeded, represent a huge failure in Christmas gift giving: “BATTERIES NOT INCLUDED”. Yikes! Those words bring back so many bad feelings! If I don’t see them printed on the box early enough in the whole gift-giving process, they can turn the most awesome gift ever into the biggest disappointment of some child’s season.

The Church has a Gift for the World

I wonder if there is even consensus today about what gift, exactly, the church has to offer the world. It is not just food for the hungry nor shelter for the homeless nor healing for the sick. Those are all just the …

The Weapons of Outrage (and Why They Won’t Work in the Church)

For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh.For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds.We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ… 2 Corinthians 10:3-5

A Broken Culture

I don’t have to tell you about the ridiculous state of brokenness in our public discourse. The divide between worldviews in our culture grows deeper by the day. The rules of engagement are changing faster than any of us can fully absorb. So are the weapons. Each “side”, in its obsession with destroying the “other side”, gets more and more creative with its narrative. And, to the extent there are any institutions with any integrity left, both sides have gone after them mercilessly in order to coop them for their own political purposes.

The culture wars tainted social media and completely coopted mainstream media. Similarly, well-intentioned non-profit organizations have been turned. Alas, even the church has been twisted, reshaped and weaponized for the battle. The great divide took an untold number of otherwise profound, complicated social problems and sucked them into the fray, reducing them to trite, idealogical soundbites. This pretty much guarantees no real solutions will be forthcoming. That is because problem-solving is no longer the goal. Winning is the goal. No matter the cost.

The Weapons of this War

In this culture of outrage, all problem-solving begins with an underlying assumption that one “side” must win and one must lose. There are no options outside this false duality. That is the war we are fighting. Those are the rules of engagement. The weapons are false narratives, confirmation bias, identity politics, and fear mongering. These are the weapons …

Truth, Knowledge and the Humility with which We Hold Them

Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. I Corinthians 13:12

 

There is so much wrong with our public discourse these days, even among Christians…maybe especially among Christians. The arrogance, the tribalism, and the mere screaming across the cultural divide (as if adding a little outrage to my message will make it more convincing) is just sickening to me. Maybe it is to you as well.

I have no idea what mirrors looked like back when Paul wrote these words to the church in Corinth. But I’m certain they weren’t as good then as they are now. I rather suspect that the image in the reflection was pretty poor, maybe like looking at your reflection on the back of a silver spoon. However their mirrors worked then, one thing is clear: Paul is telling us that our state of “knowing” spiritual things is pretty poor on this side of Heaven.

For me, this is a truth which keeps me humble, especially when I am discussing theology or scriptural interpretations or even more general matters of God. Whatever it is I think I know, however certain I think I am, I must hold even that certainty with a healthy dose of humility. And when I lose that humility, I lose my ability to influence those who might disagree with me. By that I mean that any hope of conveying that truth to anyone not already inclined to listen is lost.

I sometimes think that we in the evangelical church have convinced ourselves that our job is to persuade. We act as though the gospel, despite its inherent power, somehow needs our polished communication skills …

Our Place in the Culture Wars

About that time Herod the king laid violent hands on some who belonged to the church. He killed James the brother of John with the sword, and when he saw that it pleased the Jews, he proceeded to arrest Peter also. Acts 12:1-3

persecutionThere is a fair amount of debate these days over just what the accurate number is of Christians in this world who are being persecuted for their faith. A lot of that debate has to do with how we define “persecuted for their faith” and which genocidal numbers should or should not be included in that count. There is actually a pretty decent description of those numbers and that debate from this Christianity Today article last year. Our struggles here in the U.S. do not yet rise to the level of “persecution”. Indeed, I am embarrassed that we sometimes use that label to describe our culture wars here in this country, when our brothers and sisters around the world are being tortured, dismembered, and killed by political entities. Still, for our purposes here, suffice it to say, genuine followers of Christ are finding the journey more and more difficult.

I am struck, then, when I read about the early church’s responses to political persecution. And I am convicted when I compare their response to our response today. From the account of Peter’s miraculous rescue in Acts 12, here are a few observations about the natural tension between Christ followers and the world in which they are called to be salt and light:

  • The battle is the Lord’s and, as with all battles He fights, He wins in the end. OK, we don’t necessarily learn that from this particular passage. In fact, this account takes place as the culture wars are only just getting started. But still, you

Who are Our Daniels?

Then this Daniel became distinguished above all the other high officials and satraps, because an excellent spirit was in him. And the king planned to set him over the whole kingdom…When Daniel knew that the document had been signed, he went to his house where he had windows in his upper chamber open toward Jerusalem. He got down on his knees three times a day and prayed and gave thanks before his God, as he had done previously. Daniel 6:3, 10

DanielOur circumstances are similar to Daniel’s in some respects, aren’t they? Babylon was not his home. Rather, he was exiled there for a lifetime, instructed to invest, make a home, and seek the welfare of this lifetime home. As Christ followers, this world is not our home. It is merely where we are for this lifetime. And we are instructed to invest, make a home, and seek the welfare of our lifetime home. God expected Daniel to be salt and light in his new home. God expects the same from us. Finally, like Daniel, we find ourselves in a culture that is increasingly antagonistic toward us and toward the God we worship. So, what does Daniel have to teach us about these circumstances?

When the opposition organized against Daniel and created laws which his walk with God simply could not abide, what did Daniel do? How did he respond? Here’s a list of ways he did NOT respond:

  • He did not take to his loud, proud social media voice and begin slamming those who had conspired against his God;
  • He did not stoop to his adversaries’ political ways by mobilizing his own political action committee to fight the battle in the world’s arena;
  • He did not create a bunch of hateful protest signs and organize a march on King

Hope for the Immigrant…and for the Rest of Us

The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear?
The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?

When evildoers assail me to eat up my flesh, my adversaries and foes, it is they who stumble and fall.

Though an army encamp against me, my heart shall not fear; though war arise against me, yet I will be confident.

One thing have I asked of the Lordthat will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life… Psalm 27:1-4

immigrationHonestly, it does not matter to me whether or not the current administration intended to bring about what I see as a positive thing happening on the issue of immigration. To me, what they intended is far less important than the fact: suddenly, a much larger percentage of Christians and churches have been mobilized to the borders with the most important message of hope any immigrant will ever hear. I say “suddenly”, because it is shameful how blind many of us have been to those issues at least throughout the course of my 58 years…probably more than that. So, seeing such large groups now mobilized toward a more compassionate response to the huge struggles of the immigrant is, in my mind, quite the silver lining to an otherwise startlingly dark cloud.

One of the important people in my own life is an immigrant. Tanzila (Tania) Kaiumova is very much like a third daughter to me and my wife. Tania currently lives with us. A few years ago, she and her single mom walked away from their home and most of their belongings in war-torn eastern Ukraine, not knowing if they would ever be able to return. They have still not returned. …

Relationships: the Building Blocks of God’s Work

Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw—each one’s work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. 1 Corinthians 3:12-13

Then she fell on her face, bowing to the ground, and said to him, “Why have I found favor in your eyes, that you should take notice of me, since I am a foreigner?” But Boaz answered her, “All that you have done for your mother-in-law since the death of your husband has been fully told to me, and how you left your father and mother and your native land and came to a people that you did not know before. Ruth 2:10-11

friendship coffee relationship

My pastor loves to say, “let’s build a church”. I love it too. It clarifies, for all of us, that “church” is not something we merely attend; rather, it is something we build together. It reiterates that we all have a part to play in that building process.

Paul used the same metaphor in 1 Corinthians 3 to describe the work of the church. Indeed, Paul cautions us to be careful about the materials we use when building the church. He warns us that, in doing kingdom work, we should be using extraordinary materials, rather than common, everyday materials. He also warns us that our work will be tested. By fire. *gulp!*

So, what are these “building materials” in Paul’s metaphor? What, exactly, are the building blocks of the work of God in this world? I believe the answer is simple: relationships. They are central to every meaningful endeavor (i.e., work which has any eternal significance at all) by God’s people. And, in scripture, relationships are …

These Are the Times that Try Churches’ Souls

These are the times that try men’s souls. Thomas Paine, The American Crisis, 1776

He said, “Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him, for now I know that you fear God, seeing you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me.” And Abraham lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, behind him was a ram, caught in a thicket by his horns. And Abraham went and took the ram and offered it up as a burnt offering instead of his son.So Abraham called the name of that place, “The Lord will provide”; as it is said to this day, “On the mount of the Lord it shall be provided.” Genesis 22:12-14

Abraham Isaac sacrificeDuring the American Revolution, author/philosopher, Thomas Paine, wrote a series of pamphlets called The American Crisis in which he challenged colonists at the infant stages of a revolution to stay resolved and to have hope. Considered a liberal (most such revolutions against such a long-standing government as the British empire are), he reminded the colonists that the war against Great Britain was a just war, with God on our side. He denounced any thoughts of compromise or of negotiated peace, but called the colonists to hold onto the values and principals in which their only hope lay.

Some would argue the U.S. is in another similar time of crisis. The political divisiveness of our current culture suggests as much. While I agree we are approaching a time of crisis, I think it is for different reasons than the current state of political divide. After all, is today’s divide truly deeper than the race fights of the 60s? The Vietnam War crisis? The fights over prohibition? Women’s suffrage in the early 1900s? The slavery issue and the Civil War? No, …

First, Do Good. Then, Speak Truth.

 But Peter said, “I have no silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk!” And he took him by the right hand and raised him up, and immediately his feet and ankles were made strong…While he clung to Peter and John, all the people, utterly astounded, ran together to them in the portico called Solomon’s. And when Peter saw it he addressed the people…Acts 3:6-7, 11-12

Are you old enough to remember when it was said of the U.S. that our “national pastime” was baseball? I can remember it being said. I’m not sure I ever really believed it. Those were simpler times, to be sure. Nicer times. Less complicated. But what about today? What would you suppose is this culture’s favorite pastime? My educated guess is this: having a “take” and making it known. We are living in a culture obsessed with finding creative, persuasive, (controversial?) ways of communicating our beliefs or opinions about every single happening or news item or public personality. Racism? Here’s my take… Same sex marriage? Here’s my take… Abortion? Here’s my take… Politics? Here’s my take… Evangelicals? Here’s my take… Muslims? Here’s my take… You get the idea. It’s an obsession. All of us feel compelled to have a take and make it known. And we spend an enormous amount of our time either reading/listening to other people’s takes or coming up with our own.

In the Christian world, we usually call it “speaking the truth”. We may or may not want to be seen as going along with the crowd, so we may or may not intend to jump on the social media bandwagon of “have a take and make it known”, but we do …

Undercover Boss

“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’  “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’  “He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’  “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life. ”  Matthew 25:41-46

Have you ever seen the reality show, Undercover Boss?  I’ve always thought  the concept is brilliant.  It is truly a study in servanthood. What could be more entertaining than seeing a bad employee treat someone badly who turns out to be the CEO of their company?  It’s one of those awkward circumstances that make you stop and think…and cringe!

Jesus was pretty good at coming up with those circumstances as well.  There were times when you just know the disciples sat speechless, looking at one another…in horror.  I think the passage above is one of those times.  I think when Jesus spoke these words about servanthood, all of the disciples’ minds went to the exact same place yours and mine do…to that homeless man or woman in the street earlier today with whom we would not make eye contact, because we just did not want to speak …