Wednesday, March 31, 2010

The Resurrection - Is it important?

In one of the most pivotal passages on the resurrection in all of the New Testament, Paul writes:

But if it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead. But he did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men. – 1 Corinthians 15:12-19

How important is it that the resurrection is a historical reality? Can't we just believe in an eternal God who grants forgiveness of sins and makes us right with God? Is it a deal-breaker to believe in the resurrection?

It seems clear that Paul and the early church said an emphatic YES!

Theologian Michael Horton recalled a time when he was asked "When were you saved?" He responded, not trying to be coy, "Two thousand years ago."

It was the resurrection that made salvation a reality. Salvation was offered when Jesus walked out of the tomb. His death was a sacrifice for sin and His resurrected life defeated death (meaning there is never a time when we must be separated from God) and offers salvation to everyone. The resurrection as an historical fact is the proof of that. If Jesus was not raised, then he was just a religious martyr to a lost cause.

The Gospel isn't a present-day scheme to get you converted to a religion called Christianity. It is the announcement of the news that God offers salvation and transformation in and through Jesus Christ. The act happened long ago in history. Nothing more needs to be done by God because Jesus did it all. Now its up to us to respond in faith, receiving Christ's sacrifice for us and living for Him, or to choose a different path away from and ultimately against God.

In any case, it all hinges on the resurrection and our response to it.

How do you react to this? Have you ever thought about the resurrection like that before?

Friday, March 26, 2010

A Christian, but not a Disciple? - Part 2

Last week I challenged you to put your place in the pastor's shoes and answer the woman's question Dallas Willard shares in his book:
A lady came to a pastor who had been emphasizing discipleship and said, "I just want to be a Christian. I don't want to be a disciple. I like my life the way it is. I believe that Jesus died for my sins, and I want to be with him when I die. Why do I have to be a disciple?" (Renovation of the Heart, pg. 245)
There were some good comments made and now I would like to share my thoughts.

First, disciple is not a mysterious word. Lots of people had disciples then (like John the Baptist) and lots have them today. A disciple is literally a follower or a student of someone else.

In simple New Testament terms, however, a Christian is a disciple of Jesus.

What does that mean practically? Here are at least four examples:
  • Matthew 11:28-30 - Jesus commands His followers to take on His "yoke." A follower of any Rabbi (teacher) would take on their "yoke." It meant living by their teachings and patterning their life after the Rabbi's way. Jesus is commanding His followers to follow His way.
  • Luke 9:23-26 - Jesus commands His followers "deny" themselves and to "take up their cross daily." Clearly this indicates a total dying to oneself in order to follow Jesus. Matthew 10:38 takes it further and says to not "take up your cross" is to "not be worthy" of Jesus. Jesus is commanding His followers to give up their lives in order to gain His.
  • Luke 14:25-34 - Jesus says that people need to "count the costs" of being His disciple, implying it will cost something. Jesus is commanding His followers to totally surrender in order to be part of Him.
  • John 12:23-26 - Jesus ties together eternal life with following Him saying, "whoever serves me must follow me." Jesus' command indicates that one cannot experience eternal life if they are not a follower of Jesus.
I could go on with more examples, but I believe the point is clear that one CANNOT be a Christian if they don't simultaneously choose to be a disciple of Jesus. Discipleship is not extra credit to the Christian life. Discipleship to Jesus IS Christianity.

That, I believe, is where good people fundamentally go off course. They think being a Christian and being a follower of Jesus are two separate things. They aren't and the Bible seems pretty clear about that. There is no answer to the problem of sin and separation from God other than Jesus. Likewise, there is no answer to any fundamental question about life and how we should live it that isn't found in the basic life and teachings of Jesus. That is why Jesus is "the way, the truth and the life."

It's all found in Him and one experiences that by being His disciple.

How do you react to this? Are there other scriptures that inform your understanding of discipleship?

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

A Christian, but not a Disciple?

Dallas Willard tells the following story:
A lady came to a pastor who had been emphasizing discipleship and said, "I just want to be a Christian. I don't want to be a disciple. I like my life the way it is. I believe that Jesus died for my sins, and I want to be with him when I die. Why do I have to be a disciple?" (Renovation of the Heart, pg. 245)
Though I have never been asked this question quite so bluntly, I have been asked questions like this many times as a pastor. Ironically, this question is asked by people who have been part of a church for years as well as people who have yet to make Jesus Savior and Lord.

I have a pretty definitive answer, but I don't want to spoil it for you just yet. I want you to think about it and respond first.

Can you be a Christian without being a disciple?

Is this an important question or just another act of religious trivia?

If you were the pastor, how would you answer her question?

Friday, March 12, 2010

Eternity - Make Sense of that One!

This week I am preaching on eternity - an eternal Jesus actually - taken from Matthew 25:1-13.

Every time I think about eternity, the subject seems so vast. The best analogy I can think of is the ocean and it's vastness. Can anyone really describe the ocean? Can anyone really tell us how many gallons of water it contains? Of course not - it's so unfathomable. But that doesn't make it any less real!

That is what eternity is like for me. I know a bunch of the theological explanations about eternity and I accept them, but that still doesn't mean I understand the concept. Eternity is forever, totally void of our understanding of time and space. History, current events, future planning - none of that really makes sense when you really try to focus on eternity.

When I was a kid I remember wanting to know if my favorite foods would be in heaven - lots of pizza and cheeseburgers, but definitely no tuna casserole or lima beans. I remember thinking that a perpetual worship service sounded kind of boring. Who would really want to be in church forever? That is how I thought as a boy.

Now, as I sit here as a 32 year old man trying to contemplate eternity, I think I have at least a more mature perspective. However, the whole notion still seems too vast to fully grasp.

So here is what I believe:

1. Eternal life is real - and I'm living a taste of it now!

2. Depending on the life we choose, we will take one of two eternal paths - what the bible calls Heaven and Hell.

3. The offer has been made to every person to embrace the man Jesus as Son of God, Savior of sins, Lord of life. Doing that grants one entry into the eternal kind of life I am living now.

4. Somehow, in ways I don't fully understand, aspects of that eternal life - peace, joy, deliverance from sin, transformation into Christlikeness, hope, etc. - are already taking shape in me. Indeed, as the days and weeks go by I can see it taking shape more and more.

5. The eternal kind of life I hope for in Heaven is so much different and greater that it simply blows my mind to try and define it.

6. Sadly, the hellish alternative is just as impossible to fully grasp in all its terrible consequences . . . and I am thankful Jesus has kept me from that experience. And I pray that my life will be used by Him to keep others from that experience as well.

When you think of eternity, how do you come to terms with the enormity of it all?

Friday, March 5, 2010

Confrontation Jesus Style

In John 8:1-11 Jesus confronts a woman caught in adultery, but not like the crowds expect or want Him too. Instead of stones, he refuses to condemn her and offers her a way to sin no more.

In John 4:1-26 Jesus confronts a woman at a town well who has been ostracized by her community because of her sexual past and current lifestyle. He offers her living water.

When asked why He ate with tax collectors and sinners, Jesus responded, "It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance." (Luke 5:32)

Jesus' harshest confrontations came against the religious leaders of the day (Matthew 23).

Paul and other New Testament writers repeatedly admonish Christians to carry each others burdens or to speak truth in love, etc., but that is always directed from one Christian to another.

So, if we want to be faithful followers of Jesus, how do we confront sin and confront others who are living in sin? What is the best way? What should be the goal? Are there times when it is not appropriate to confront? Are there different standards for confrontation between Christians and non-Christians? Why do we find this whole practice so difficult?