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The Last Week: What Kind of King is Jesus

February 23, 2015 0 Comments Tweet This

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Today is the first Sunday of Lent and the first Sunday of our series called The Last Week looking at the last week of Jesus life here on earth.

Before we jump into the Scripture and the story of the Sunday before Jesus death on the cross, better known as Palm Sunday, I thought I would share a little bit on Lent for those who didn’t grow up in the church or are unaware of what Lent is. Lent is a season of the Christian Year where Christians focus on simple living, prayer, repentance, and fasting in order to grow closer to God. It’s the forty days before Easter. Lent excludes Sundays because every Sunday is like a little Easter. Basically, it’s about one-tenth of a year (like a tithe of time). Lent runs from Ash Wednesday through Easter Sunday.

Over the next 6 weeks we will look at the Last week of Jesus life. We will walk through Palm Sunday, Holy Monday and Tuesday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter Sunday. We will also spend 1 Sunday (March 22) in service to our world. And we’ll spend one Sunday gathering around the Table for a time of reflection, a simple meal, feet washing, and communion. And all throughout these next 6 weeks we’ll be looking through the lens of the gospel of Mark as he tells the story of Jesus last week on this earth.

So today we’ll be looking at the story that occurs on the beginning of Holy Week, sometimes called Palm Sunday but also called the Triumphal Entry. This story happens in all 4 of the Gospels but we’ll be looking at this story, as I mentioned before, through the lens of Mark. So turn to Mark 11:1-11 as we begin to talk about and explore what kind of King is Jesus.

Mark 11:1-11 tells the story this way, “As they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage and Bethany at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two of his disciples,  saying to them, “Go to the village ahead of you, and just as you enter it, you will find a colt tied there, which no one has ever ridden. Untie it and bring it here.  If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ say, ‘The Lord needs it and will send it back here shortly.’” They went and found a colt outside in the street, tied at a doorway. As they untied it,  some people standing there asked, “What are you doing, untying that colt?”  They answered as Jesus had told them to, and the people let them go.  When they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks over it, he sat on it.  Many people spread their cloaks on the road, while others spread branches they had cut in the fields. Those who went ahead and those who followed shouted, “Hosanna!” “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”  “Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David!”“Hosanna in the highest heaven!” Jesus entered Jerusalem and went into the temple courts. He looked around at everything, but since it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the Twelve.”

So today we are going to look at this familiar text but through a new lens, the lens of Kingship and royalty. We are going to talk about what kind of King is Jesus and we’ll see that this story begins to show us what kind of King Jesus actually is. We’ll also see the connections between this story, and the story of Moses and the Exodus. And we’ll also unpack the political and religious understandings that are happening within this story.

Now the first thing that you need to know about is when this story took place. It happened during Passover, which commemorates God delivering the Israelites out of the hand of the world’s first superpower/empire Egypt. Being that this took place during Passover Jerusalem would have swelled to twice the size that it normally was. Travelers and Pilgrims would be there as would the powers that be. You see Passover again was all about freedom time and kingdom time. The time when all the hopes and dreams of freedom, of God’s sovereign hand, and God’s deliverance would again happen. The Jewish public were looking for a second Moses, one to deliver them out of the hands of Rome, the current Empire under whose thumb they currently resided. They were looking for a King in the line of David who would ride into Jerusalem, kick out the Romans and set up a new Empire/Kingdom. And their eyes turned to Jesus. Their messianic hopes rested on Jesus.

So Jesus made the trip from Jericho up to Bethpage, and Bethany at the Mount of Olives. The trip from Jericho to Jerusalem is only 17 miles but goes from 825 feet below sea level to 2500 hundred feet above sea level, rising more than 3000 feet in such a short distance. When travelers would crest the hill at Bethpage and Bethany at the Mount of Olives, Jerusalem would come into view. Jerusalem, the home to their hopes, dreams, and their faith. It reminds me in some small way of the first time that I saw the Tetons rising from the earth. Kim and I were driving in Wyoming and we crested a hill and off in the distance we got our first view of the Tetons and it took our breath away.

Once Jesus and his disciples climbed that hill, their destination came into view, the city in which the son of man would be crucified as a common criminal. When their arrived Jesus sent two disciples into the village of Bethany (where Lazarus, Mary and Martha lived) to get a colt that no one had ever ridden. This is the second and third pieces of evidence in connecting this story to Jesus being King and finding out what kind of King he is. You see in the Mishnah (Mishnah is the first major written redaction of the Jewish oral traditions known as the “Oral Torah”. It is also the first major work of Rabbinic literature) there is an instruction that says “no one may use an animal on which a king rides” So Jesus got two of his disciples to get a colt that no one had ever ridden knowing that this was going to set off flags in his disciple’s minds that this move was a royal move, a coronation if you will. That was the second piece of evidence in seeing Jesus as King.

The third piece was his choice in choosing not to walk but to ride into Jerusalem. His choice, gives us a clue into what type of King Jesus is. You see a warrior King (like King David) would have gotten a war horse or something very majestic. But Jesus got a colt and was seeking to show his disciples and others that he was a King of peace. Colts were ridden by men of peace not by men of war. Also Jesus was fulfilling a prophecy about the coming peaceful King and his Kingdom from Zechariah 9:9 which says, “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your King is coming to you; He is just and having salvation, Lowly and riding on a donkey, A colt, the foal of a donkey.” Jesus didn’t ride into Jerusalem on a war horse to establish his Kingdom. No, he rode on a peace animal into the heart of the empire to have the empire eventually kill him and shed his blood in order for his Kingdom to be established. Instead of a King who shed others blood, he had the empire shed his blood. All of the while being a King, a King of peace, again symbolized by his choice of animals.

We also see the royal connection related to an earlier coronation found in 1 Kings 1:38-40 with the coronation of Solomon, “So Zadok the priest, Nathan the prophet, and Benaiah the son of Jehoiada, and the Cherethites and the Pelethites went down and had Solomon ride on King David’s mule and brought him to Gihon.  There Zadok the priest took the horn of oil from the tent and anointed Solomon. Then they blew the trumpet, and all the people said, “Long live King Solomon!”  And all the people went up after him, playing on pipes, and rejoicing with great joy, so that the earth was split by their noise.” This doesn’t sound too different than what we read in Mark 11.

So once they had gotten the colt, they spread cloaks on it as a saddle, and then Jesus got on it and off they went. Now here is where we see another royal or kingly understanding and expectation that the people had for Jesus. They began to spread their cloaks and branches on the ground in front of Jesus. And they began to shout “Hosanna!” “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”  “Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David!”“Hosanna in the highest heaven!” There are a few things that we can see from this part of the text that shows us that the people believed him to be King, but not the kind of King he actually was. No, they pictured him like all the other kings. Jesus however was not the sort of royalty that either Israel or the rest of the world were used to.

There is an Old Testament tradition that when one of Israel’s Kings of old was proclaimed King in defiance of an existing one, his followers would spread their cloaks under his feet as a sign of loyalty (see 2 Kings 9:13). They were determined to make a statement about what they thought was going on. They would also wave branches that they had cut from the trees to make a celebratory procession for this King. This too carried “royal implications”. So the people laid down their cloaks and waved palm branches, no doubt knowing what they were doing. They were seeking to proclaim Jesus king in defiance of the current rulers, not only the Jewish ones but even more importantly that rulers of the Roman Empire. They believed that now was the time, and Jesus was the man. Jesus was going to deliver them from the hands of their oppressors.

You see their hopes were not in a King of Peace, but in a King of war when they shouted, “Blessed is the coming Kingdom of our father David”. They were hoping that Jesus would initiate again a Davidic Kingdom. A Kingdom where the Messiah would rule and reign over Israel and not some foreign empire. Where a Jewish person would establish Jewish rule and reign and lead his people to freedom, deliverance, and prosperity not seen since David was King. All their hope and dreams from all those years under the thumb of Rome come exploding to the surface and they proclaim Jesus King. But as we see less than a week later Jesus, the King not spilling the blood of his enemies and establishing his Kingdom, but allowing his enemies to spill his blood and establishing his Kingdom of peace, salvation, redemption, and reconciliation.

We have definitely seen in this account of the triumphal entry that Mark is definitely emphasizing the idea of Jesus as King. I believe that this coronation if you will, this triumphal entry was one of the many reasons that came together that week in order to get Jesus killed. Royalty and others in power want to stay in power, and when they see a challenge to their power and throne, they fight it with all their power and strength.

No doubt, as we have seen in this story, that Jesus is indeed the King, but not in the way that many expected him to be. He is indeed the King of Kings. His rule and reign will move on from this time forward or as Handel’s Messiah says, “The kingdom of this world Is become the kingdom of our Lord, And of His Christ, and of His Christ;And He shall reign for ever and ever, For ever and ever, forever and ever,” But what does this mean for us today? What does it mean that Jesus is in fact King, but not in the way that we expect or even hope? How does this affect the way we live? How does this affect the way we read the rest of Scripture? And what are you seeking to lay down into front of King Jesus showing him your loyalty to his rule and reign? These are some of the questions that we’ll unpack together.

1. What thoughts, comments, insights, questions, applications, etc.. do you have regarding the Scripture and/or the message?

2. What does it mean that Jesus is in fact King (though not in the way we expect or hope)? How does this affect the way we live? How does this affect the way we read Scripture?

3. What are you seeking to lay down in front of King Jesus and therefore showing him your loyalty to his rule and reign?

4. What is God saying to you and what are you going to do about it? What is God saying to us and what should we do about it?

iDoubt: Questions about Faith Week 7: How do you share your faith without pushing others away?- Matt Wheeler preaching

February 16, 2015 0 Comments Tweet This

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Good morning! Today, we are wrapping up our 7-part iDoubt series. You can find the sermon notes from the first 6 parts at www.veritaschurchpa.com. Today’s topic: How do we share our faith in a way that won’t push others away?

We will look at the Scripture for today, from I Peter 3, in just a moment. I would like to begin with the same disclaimer that Ryan has put on each installment of this series thus far. It is important for us as brothers & sisters in Christ to agree right now that it is okay to come at this question from different vantage points. We can also agree that we are allowed to express different points today, & that, if we do, we should do so with an attitude of love and grace. Let us explore this question, seeking God’s truth, & submitting ourselves as a community to Jesus. Through Christ, we can have love & grace for everyone – even those who we might strongly disagree with.

The key verse here is verse 15, but let’s look at some more of its context for a fuller picture. Let us read I Peter 3:13-18:
I Peter 3:13-18 (NIV)
13 Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good? 14 But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. “Do not fear their threats; do not be frightened.” 15 But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, 16 keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander. 17 For it is better, if it is God’s will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil. 18 For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive in the Spirit. 

It is natural for those of us who have been – & are being – saved by Jesus Christ’s sacrifice, His death & resurrection, His victory over sin & over death, to want to share about it. We have been invited into the larger story, to know our Creator, our Savior, & to live for a greater purpose. It only makes sense that this reality would be central to our lives as Jesus’ followers, & that we should unashamedly identify with Him & be happy to let others know it. The question is – what does that look like in day-to-day life? Are we to direct every conversation into a discussion about Jesus? Should we be willing to bully people into believing as we do?

Make no mistake, the truth that we desire to share when we speak of “sharing our faith” is not merely a mental assent. It is possible, on an intellectual level, to know quite a lot ABOUT Christ, without actually KNOWING Him. I have heard a saying about the importance of knowing Christ being not just in our mind, but in our heart – making that “18 inch move” from head to heart. What I think that phrase is trying to express is that knowing Christ is about relationship – about trusting, about conversation, about becoming more like Jesus because we have been around Him & know what He is really like.

I see sharing my faith as more about introducing a person to my best friend & less about winning a debate. And that fundamentally shapes how I would answer the question we are exploring this morning. You see, I don’t think it is ME that does the saving, but rather God working through the Holy Spirit in the lives of others that saves them. That does not mean that I have no responsibility in the matter – I am to be Christ’s hands & feet to others, to be a vessel of His grace & love, & that may take a variety of forms, depending on who it is that Jesus has put in front of me. A good question to ask ourselves is, “What is the Good News to this person right now”? If it is your birthday, & what you really would like is day trip to New York City, & I ignore any hints that you have been dropping to that extent, & just get you what I think you might like, & I end up getting you a bowling ball, you might get the sense that I don’t know you very well, or don’t care to. Maybe I just really like bowling, so I figured that a bowling ball would be a great gift, never mind that you have never shown the faintest interest in bowling. It is a somewhat silly example, but it says a lot about how important it is to earn the right to vulnerability with another person. To get to know Christ requires some vulnerability, some openness to the Truth of Christ, & I need to approach it with more than just a persuasive argument. And that is where the gentle, humble element of our faith-sharing comes in. Matthew Henry said, “The readiness of the Christian’s defence of himself and the Church from all moral aspersions is not to be marred by any self-exaltation or improper confidence.” We are vessels for sharing Jesus’ truth, not trumpeting what wonderful communicators we are, or what big hearts we must have for caring to share the Good News with other people.

The song “Hands & Feet” by The Brilliance illustrates a lot of what I have been talking about. I want to take a few moments & play the song for you – here it is.

Hands & Feet
by The Brilliance
Lyrics:
For all the strides we’ve made

For all our blessings

We’ve fallen far away from truth

Turning our face away 

From this hurting race

We’ve turned our face away from You



We want to be Your hands, Your feet

Without words we’ll let our actions speak



For every broken heart

For every widow

For those without shelter from the rain

We lift our eyes to You

Looking for answers

When we have been called to ease the pain



We want to be Your hands, Your feet

Without words we’ll let our actions speak



So here we are

Words can only go so far

Draw us closer Your heart

Bring us back to You, bring us back to You



We want to be Your hands, Your feet

Without words we’ll let our actions speak


We want to be Your hands, Your feet

Without words we’ll let our actions speak



Here we are

Words can only go so far

Draw us closer to Your heart

Bring us back to You, bring us back to You

Bring us back to You, bring us back to You

Please understand, I do not mean to play down the usefulness of words when sharing our faith. We talked last week in our discussion about the “blessing strategy” & the “speaking strategy” for sharing our faith, though I grant that I may not have the wording of the terms we used exactly right. I think that a balance is possible. And, as much as the popular quote that St. Francis of Assisi may or may not have said – the “Preach the Gospel, & use words when necessary” quote – is used, words are extraordinarily valuable in sharing our faith, when they are backed up by our actions & shared in love as we have earned relationship with others. Interestingly, something that St. Francis of Assisi definitely DID write sheds some more light on how to share our faith. He said, “…love one another, as the Lord says: ‘This is My commandment, that you love one another, as I have loved you.’ And let them show their love by the works they do for each other, according as the Apostle says: “let us not love in word or in tongue, but in deed and in truth.’” He also said, “It is no use walking anywhere to preach unless our walking is our preaching.” & “…As for me, I desire this privilege from the Lord, that never may I have any privilege from man, except to do reverence to all, and to convert the world by obedience to the Holy Rule rather by example than by word.” Consider also, though, Romans 10:14, in which Paul says, “How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how will they hear without a preacher?” I believe that the right approach comes from balancing both of these factors.

To quote the Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard, “To love another person is to help them love God. “ What does this mean to you? What does sharing your faith in Christ mean to you? Let’s discuss this.

Questions:
1. What thoughts/comments/pushback/encouragements do you have based on these Scriptures & this message?

2. What experiences have you had with sharing your faith in Christ with others, whether in word or deed?  What words or actions by others do you feel helped point you to Christ?

3. So what – what does this mean for you individually, & for us as a church community?

iDoubt: Questions about Faith Week 6- “Is Jesus the only way?”

February 9, 2015 0 Comments Tweet This

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Today we are looking at probably one of the most challenging questions that we got, but a question that if you are engaging with anyone in our world and culture, you’ll eventually have to answer in one way or another. The iDoubt: Questions about Faith question that we’ll be exploring today is “Is Jesus the only way?”

This question is a question that each of us as follower’s of Jesus need to wrestle with, think through, and seek God on. I think too often this question however become a litmus test when asked. From the more “conservative” side of things, it is a question on whether or not you are an orthodox Christian or not. From the more “liberal” side of things it is a question about tolerance, supposed bigotry, pride, and arrogance.

So let me reiterate something that I’ve said a few times during this series and then I have a few more things to say before we jump into the Scripture for the morning. First, let’s agree right now that it is okay to come at this question from different vantage points. That is okay. Can we also agree that we are allowed to express different points today but can we also agree to do it with an attitude of love and grace. Can we seek God’s truth in this question and submit ourselves as a community to Jesus? And can we have love and grace for everyone even those who you might strongly disagree with.

Secondly, when we approach this subject of the exclusivity of Jesus, we go to the text that we’ll be looking at today especially verse 6 in John 14. This text has been used to clobber people over the head with Jesus. Can I say that that posture is wrong. Anytime we have used this text to demean, put down, cause harm, hurt, or inflict violence on someone else, this is not in the spirit of Jesus. When the church uses violence it ceases to be the church and becomes the world. We have seen too many times Churches and Christians who have been arrogant and violent in how they have presented the gospel. So let’s agree never to use this text as a means of clobbering someone.

Thirdly, I want to say straight out that I believe that all truth is God’s truth. I believe that there is a level of truth and beauty in all religions. There is something to be affirmed in almost every religion (I wondered about whether Satanism was a religion and is there something to be affirmed in that or not). I never want to pretend that I am a better person, more worthy, etc.. because I follow Jesus. Our relationship with Jesus should never lead us into arrogance, self-righteousness, or condemning of others. Jesus never condemned anyone.

Fourthly, let’s move this discussion away from which religion is right and which religion is wrong. I am not referring to religion in this message. The text that we’ll be looking at isn’t about religion. It is first and foremost about Jesus, and to be completely honest, Jesus didn’t come to start a religion. He came so that we could be reconciled and redeemed to God, each other, and the world/creation around us. And live in this reality that he called the Kingdom of God.

And lastly, something that we’ll seek to address in this message is the secondary question, “If Jesus is the only way, what is he the only way to?” Is this Jesus’ way of saying “I am the only way to heaven” or is there more to it than that?

Okay. With those things out of the way let’s turn to our text for today John 14:1-9 and let’s talk about the question, “Is Jesus the only way?”

John 14:1-9 says, ““Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me.  My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.  You know the way to the place where I am going.”
Thomas said to him, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?” Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.  If you really know me, you will know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.”  Philip said, “Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us.”Jesus answered: “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?”

Let’s do a little bit of historical research that will help us understand this passage a little better before we really get down to verse 6.

First thing that we need to know about this chapter and the next 3 chapters (running from chapter 14-17) is that this section is called the Farewell discourse and Jesus spends a great deal amount of these chapters informing and commenting on his impending death on the cross. So much of the conversations in these chapters relate to prepping his disciples for what was to take place and how this one event in history would shake the foundations of the world as they knew it, and how that event would then ripple throughout history into our own time and beyond our time.

Let’s look deeper at verses 1-3 and see what Jesus is actually saying Verses 1-3 says, ““Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me.  My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.  You know the way to the place where I am going.” Jesus here is using a metaphor of marriage to talk about relationship with him. There is definitely a Bride and Groom metaphor that is taking place. To understand that we need to understand the 1st Century Jewish betrothal and marriage process. The first step in 1st Century Jewish marriage process is the marriage covenant. The Father of the groom would give a dowery to the Bride’s family and therefore establishing a marriage covenant. When the Bride agreed to the arrangement that is when the betrothal would begin. The second step is that the son would return to his Father’s house to prepare the bridal chamber and the annex (connected to the Father’s house) that the bride and groom would live in. This process of building their living quarters would take roughly a year. The third step would be that once the annex was completed, the Father of the Groom would give the okay to the groom that the annex was ready and it was time to go get his bride. Then the groom and the groomsmen would set off for the bride’s house. Although the Bride was expecting her groom to come for her, she didn’t know the time of His coming, and as a result the groom’s arrival was preceded by a shout, which forewarned the Bride to be prepared for his coming. Once the groom got his bride, he would take her back to the Bridal chamber and consummation the marriage.

So we see this marriage process being talked about in relation to Jesus’ church, his bride. Here we see the process of Jesus giving us a marriage contract, by dying on the cross, then going to his Father, and eventually resurrecting. Now the interesting thing about this is that most of the time when we hear the word place in this text we think of heaven. That this text is about going to heaven. Now that is certainly true. But I believe Jesus is talking not only about a physical place but probably more so about an abiding relationship. So the reference’s to the Father’s House are not to be taken totally as a synonym for heaven. Instead this reference to the Father’s house needs to be read first in the context of mutual indwelling of God and Jesus. This idea of Jesus taking up residence within us has been stressed from the opening verses of the Gospel. So yes, as I said before, there is the idea of heaven in this passage, but even more so it is about a relationship here and now with Jesus, and allowing Jesus to live in and through you. And him creating a way for us to enter into God’s Family and to live out the reality of the Kingdom of God.

And so after Jesus talks about his going away, he tells them that, “You know the way to the place where I am going.” Jesus, I believe is talking and reminding the disciples of the last 3 years of their lives in which they spent learning the way of Jesus. He is saying that you have been with me for 3 years and you have seen the way that I have lived, how I have loved people, even my enemies, how I have served others, how I have healed others, how I have lived out the Kingdom of God in front of you. And so he is reminding them of all these things and is saying to them, “You know the way to the Kingdom. Just follow my example.”

Then Thomas, I believe missing what Jesus was really saying, asks Him, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?” Thomas is frightened about the prospect of Jesus going away, and how he would live without Him. He was also struggling with the realization that the earthly Kingdom where Jesus and the disciples reigned in power was not going to happen, and that Jesus was not going to kill to take over the reigns of the empire, but be killed by the empire to set up his rule and reign and the Kingdom of God. One thing that many people think he was asking that he really wasn’t was “Jesus are all non-Christians going to Hell?”

And so we come to the verse which all of you have been wanting some help in understanding. In verse 6 Jesus replying to Thomas’ question about knowing the way, says, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” This verse is multifaceted and multidimensional. First of all Jesus is seeking to answer the question that Thomas asked in the verse 5 but also comfort him. What Jesus is saying here to Thomas is something like, “When I’m gone, continue to do the works I do. Follow the pattern I have set before you in the way I lived my life, and you’ll be following the way. And when you follow the way, you’ll be in relationship with God through me.” This statement is connecting back to the beginning of the chapter where we talked about being in an abiding relationship with Him. What he is saying is if you want to know God, then know and live out how I lived my life. Because later on in this text we see him saying, “If you really know me, you will know my Father as well” and “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father.” The primary question that is being asked isn’t about access to heaven and Jesus is saying, “You have to get through me to get to God and be in heaven.” No the primary thing that Jesus is talking about here is about life in the Kingdom and being a disciple. John 14:6 doesn’t define who is in and who is out, it defines who God is for the disciples. That God is Father. It defines Christology for us that Jesus is “the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being,” (Hebrew 1:3) Gail O’Day has this to say, “The particularism of John 14:6-7 does de facto establish boundaries; it says, ‘This is who we are. We are the people who believe in the God who has been revealed to us decisively in Jesus Christ.” Rather than using it as a means of condemning others, it should be seen as a doxological statement of who we are as children of the Father through Jesus And so this statement in John 14:6 is about the incarnation of Jesus, coming to earth so that we could see what God is truly like. And then we can pattern our life around this God that we see in Jesus. And then live the Jesus way, the Jesus truth, and the Jesus life best known as the Kingdom of God. I like how Eugene Peterson puts it, “Only when you do the Jesus truth in the Jesus way do we get to the Jesus life.”

So the original question was “Is Jesus the only way?” I assume the ending of that question is “to go to heaven when you die”. But I don’t believe that this is the primary question that Jesus is answering in this text. I do believe that our question is part of what he is getting at, but a small part of it. (Look at what Luke says in Acts 4:11-12, “Jesus is “‘the stone you builders rejected, which has become the cornerstone.’ Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.”) Do I believe Jesus is the way to the Father. Yes, I believe that Jesus and the Father are one. So that when you know Jesus you know the Father. I like what Michael Frost and Alan Hirsch say in Re:Jesus, “It is true that Jesus is like God, but the greater truth, one closer to the revelation of God that Jesus ushers in, is that God is like Christ.”

I think then that this text is asking us a few questions which take us back to the first week where we explored the question of “What is a disciple?” I think this text is primarily asking us these 3 questions: 1. Am I living the Jesus truth? Yes we need to live the Jesus truth but not isolate from the others because if we only focus on the truth it yields a disembodied orthodoxy which means all the right words with no behavior to make the words believable. We need all 3. 2. Am I living the Jesus way? Do I know how Jesus lived his life, and I am committed to living my life in the same way (through the Holy Spirit’s power)? And lastly 3. Am I living the Jesus’ life. Am I living out Jesus life in and through my own life?

So let’s talk about your questions, thoughts, ideas on the question itself “Is Jesus the only way?”, the message, and the Scripture. Let’s also talk about how we as individuals and as a community seek to live out the Jesus truth, the Jesus way, and the Jesus life and which one we struggle with the most. And what God might be saying to us and what we should do about it?

1. What thoughts, comments, insights, questions, etc.. do you have about the question “Is Jesus the only way?”, the Scripture and/or the message?

2. How as individuals and as a community live out the Jesus way, the Jesus truth, and the Jesus life? Which one of these do you have the hardest time living into?

3. What is God saying to you and what are you going to do about it? What is God saying to us and what should we do about it?

iDoubt: Questions about Faith- How do you know if you are part of the “select few” those who will be saved?

February 2, 2015 0 Comments Tweet This

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Today we enter our fifth week in our series iDoubt: Questions about Faith. We’ve been exploring some significant and deep questions together over the last few weeks together. We’ve talked about what it means to be a disciple of Jesus. We’ve talked about what salvation is and can you lose it. We’ve talked about what baptism is and is it mandatory for salvation or just a public declaration. And last week week was probably our deepest and (at least for me) most challenging topic- that being Is the bible reliable.

Today we are looking at an equally substantial and defining question. The question that was submitted was “How can you know if you are part of the ‘select few’ those who will be saved?” This question is exploring some fundamental questions within Christianity. The person asking this question, whether they knew it or not, was asking questions around soteriology- which is, in other words, the study of salvation or the theory of salvation…how does it work, who will be saved, what is salvation, etc.. This person also is asking about atonement- what took place on the cross two thousand years ago, who did Jesus die for, and what was accomplished by Jesus death and resurrection.

Historically speaking in relation to soteriology and atonement there have been three varying theories around the question of salvation. There is on the one hand, shown in even how the wording of the question is framed, the reformed side of things which says there is the select few or called the elect that Jesus died for, and that only the elect (or predestined) will be saved. And those who aren’t elect are predestined for eternal damnation. The second position is called universalism and it says there isn’t a select few that will be saved because everyone is the select few and everyone, no matter what, will be saved. There are two versions of this..the Christian universalism belief that says all while be saved through the work of Jesus on the cross, and through his resurrection. And universalism that says it everyone will be saved no matter what and no matter what God they worship or don’t worship. (Just as an aside, I don’t believe that either Christian universalism or universalism in general can be taught from a biblical standpoint….though I do believe we should desire that all are saved. I wish that Christian universalism was true because I do want all to be saved.) The last position historically falls more in line with Arminianism and the belief is that when Jesus died on the cross, he died for everyone, hat all have the possibility and the potential to be saved and that we have free will to chose to accept Jesus and his work for us on the cross or to reject it. The “select few”then are those who select Jesus or who opt in, if you will. There are, I believe, a select few, that will be saved, not because they are chosen to be saved, but that they opt in and follow Jesus. Matthew 7:13-14 makes it pretty clear that only a “few” will follow Jesus…“Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.” But this doesn’t mean that salvation is only limited. I believe in one way there isn’t a select few, Jesus died for all people and all can be saved. But in another way I do believe there are a select few who do choose the way of taking up their cross, denying themselves and following Jesus.

So let’s explore two Scriptures that will help us more deeply explore the question, “How can you know if you are part of the “select few” those who will be saved? First let’s look at 1 Timothy 2:4-6 and then we’ll also look at 2 Peter 3:9. So let’s turn to these Scriptures and see what they have to say about soteriology, atonement, and salvation.

1 Timothy 2:3-6 says, “This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all people. This has now been witnessed to at the proper time” This letter is to Timothy from the Apostle Paul and this part of the letter is about prayer and the importance of it in relation to worship, following Jesus, and even praying for rulers. And so in the midst of this section on instructions for worship we find these 3 verses about soteriology and atonement. So in verse 4 we read, “who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.” This statement is pretty radical because part of the people that Paul is speaking about are the people that the followers of Jesus’ that Paul is writing to are supposed to pray for in verse 2, “for kings and all those in authority.” These Kings and authorities would include people like Nero and other ungodly leaders. The Lord hadn’t written them off and neither should those who follow Jesus. The question then would be, “If Jesus desires all people to be saved, do yo also wish it, and if you do wish it, do you pray for it?”

So there is a lot in this passage that we need to explore together. First we read the words “wants all people to be saved.” The word wants can also be translated as wills as in “wills that all people to be saved.” Now there are two different verbs in the NT for will, first being determination and the other is desire. In this context the best word would be that God desires that all people to be saved. This verses then teaches that God desires, but doesn’t determine that everyone be saved. If God wants all to be saved, then why aren’t they, the question can be asked. It comes down to the difference between desires and determines. God desires all to be saved but doesn’t determine that all people are. To determine would mean that we would lose our free will and we would become robots. God desires for all men to be saved is conditioned on His desire to have a genuine response from human beings. He won’t fulfill his desire to save all men at the expense of making men robots that worship him from being simply programmed to. And so obviously this implies the possibility of men and women accepting it or rejecting it.

Next we need to look at what the Apostle Paul means by the word people. There are some who have tried to make this statement about all people to mean “all types of people” or all people from various tribes, ethnicities, groups, etc… So does all people mean all or all types of people? I truly believe that we need to take the plain reading of this text that all means all. That everyone has access to the gift of salvation extended by Jesus and through his work on the cross. Not that everyone will take the offer as we see in life and also in Matthew 7 that we mentioned before, but that the offer is for everyone.

In verse 5 we read these words, “For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus,” This is a crucial piece of our puzzle when we are talking about soteriology and atonement. That this discussion about salvation, and atonement points to Jesus, his life, death and resurrection. That there is enough in the work of Jesus on the cross for everyone. No one will be turned away because He ran out of love or forgiveness. This would also agree with Acts 4:12 which says, “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.” Salvation is in Jesus because as verse 6 spells out so plainly, “who gave himself as a ransom for all people.”

When you read verse 6 in the Greek it comes out reading more like this “who game himself as a ransom on behalf of all people.” This gets at our point again that this grace, this salvation, this work on the cross done by Jesus is not merely for a privileged few but for all. His sacrifice on the cross was inclusive not exclusive. Just look at one of the most famous Bible passages in all of the Bible, one that many of us probably memorized. I know it was my first Scripture that I memorized…John 3:16 which says, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” Notice a few words in this verse including “the world” and “whoever believes” Again the work of the cross was an inclusive work not an exclusive work, and is for all people.

God wants people of every race, color, language, to come to him and find true salvation. And he is calling us, as his representatives here in this world, through this passage to pray for people and to be as inclusive as Jesus was. That if we want to see our friends, neighbors, co-workers, etc.. come to faith and the knowledge of Jesus Christ, and to begin walking this journey with Jesus, then we need to be in prayer for them. We need to be talking with Him about them on a regular basis. And then be praying for opportunities to share the love, grace, compassion and mercy of Jesus with them. And we need to be for all people, just like Jesus. That Salvation is open to all no matter the nationality, race, creed, sect, sexual orientation, etc…. And we should liberally share the gospel in word and deed. But this sharing of the gospel, of our faith, must not be forced on people. There should be no force in religion. Jesus wants all people to come to a knowledge of him. That word come implies not being forced. Anytime force is joined with Christianity, it ceases to be Christ-like and Kingdom-like. (examples like the Crusades, street evangelism, etc..) Jesus never forced himself on anyone and never will. And we shouldn’t either. People should have the free will to choose or not choose to follow Jesus. To either opt in or opt out.

Let’s move on to the next verse which is 2 Peter 3:9 and see how this verse written by the Peter, one of Jesus disciples, gets at the question about how to know if you are part of the “select few” those who will be saved. 2 Peter 2:9 says “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” Now the context of this passage is related to the second coming of Jesus but it shows God’s heart and affection for all people. It proves that God has a sincere desire that all people should come to have a relationship with Him. That he is patiently waiting for people to come to Him. The word that we encounter in this passage is the Greek word pas which means all or everyone with no exceptions. It again spells out that salvation is available to all people and not just for a select few. But at the same time only a “few” will actually choose the narrow road.

So to straight out answer the question of “how do you know if you are part of the ‘select few’ those who will be saved?” let’s go back to the first week of our discussion on what does it mean to be a disciple. We talked about being an apprentice of Jesus, standing on his shoulder, learning how he lived his life, and then seeking to emulate it in our life, to live it out in and through us. And that he calls us to deny ourselves, take up our cross and follow him. That is how you know you are a part of the select few, or walking the narrow road mentioned in Matthew 7. Each person has the opportunity to be in right relationship with Jesus. Salvation is open to everyone, bought by the death and resurrection of Jesus. The Kingdom is an inclusive Kingdom and Jesus is calling all people to come and be a part of the Kingdom of God and live life as a disciple of him. So my question back at the end of this sermon is “have you decided to follow Jesus? Have you opted in to his offer of love, grace, forgiveness, redemption and reconciliation? He loves each and every one of us and wants to be in relationship with us. All we have to do is say yes to his offer. My prayer for each of us is that we have said yes to his offer and that we have begun to walk with Him and follow Him. If you haven’t said yes, today would be an amazing day to do so.

So let’s talk about applying this message. Let’s talk about other questions that come up in relation to our overarching question of discussion for today. Let’s unpack what it means to us as individuals and as a community that Jesus loves and wants a relationship with all people. How does this play out in our individual lives, our corporate life, and our missional lives?

1. What thoughts, comments, questions, insights, etc.. do you have regarding the question, the Scriptures and/or the message?

2. What does it mean to you to know that God desires everyone to be “saved” and come to a knowledge of him? How does/can/should knowing this impact you as an individual, us as a community, and our missional engagement with our wider community?

3. What is God saying to you and what are you going to do about it? What is God saying to us and what should we do about it?

iDoubt: Questions about Faith. Is the Bible reliable?

January 26, 2015 0 Comments Tweet This

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Today we continue our 7 week series iDoubt:Questions about Faith looking at 7 questions that were submitted by some of you. We’ve explored questions like: What does it mean to be a disciple? What is salvation and can you lose it? And Is Baptism mandatory for salvation or is it simply a public declaration?

Today we cover probably one of the harder questions that we will explore in this series and it revolves around the text that we gather around each and every week. It revolves around this book that we call the Bible. The question that was submitted was “Is the Bible reliable?” And so we are going to explore this question together. But know that there is no one that I will be able to answer all the questions that come from that question. I can’t explain everything in 20 minutes or so. That is why I have some books and a For Further reading sheet in case you’d like to do some more reading and research around this topic. If you take a book let me know which one you took.

To explore this deep, tough, but essential question we are going to break it down into several sections of the sermon. So we’ll explore what and how the Bible came to be. We’ll talk about why I believe it is reliable through discussion on things like manuscripts, archeology, and facts. We’ll talk about what it is and what it isn’t. We’ll talk about the purpose of the Bible. And lastly we’ll look at what the Scriptures say about itself.

So the Bible is a collection of 66 Books. 39 Old Testament books and 27 New Testament books. These 66 books were written over 1600 years, over 60 generations, by more than 40 authors on 3 different continents, in different circumstances and places, in different times, in 3 different languages (Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek), concerning stories of controversial subjects but it speaks with one unified vision. The New Testament was all written within 2 generations of the time of Jesus which would be somewhere by the end of the 1st century at the latest. It means that many of those who would be reading the gospels could have been eyewitnesses to the accounts in the gospels. The 4 gospels, Acts and the 13 letters ascribed to Paul were regarded as authentic and authoritative from early on- as early as the early to mid end century. We possess literally hundreds of early manuscripts. There are dozen’s of NT manuscripts from the 3rd and 4th century and a few as early as the 2nd century. Let’s compare this to other ancient writings that people don’t normally question the accuracy and reliability of the manuscripts. Look at Plato. He wrote 427-327 BC, our earliest copy fragment is from 900 AD or a time span of 1200 years and only 7 copies. Aristotle was between 384-322 BC. Earliest fragment from 1100 AD or a timespan of 1400 years and there are 49 copies. What about Homer’s Iliad, one of histories best example of reliability, and accuracy. It was written in the 9th century BC. Our earliest fragment is from 400 BC or a time span of 500 years there are 643 copies and the accuracy of these copies is 95%. When we compare these to the Bible, and specifically the New Testament, we see the overwhelming evidence for the reliability and trustworthiness of our Bible that we have today. The NT was written between 40-100 AD, our earliest copy is from 125 AD or only a time span of 25 years. There are over 24,000 copies of the New Testament and the accuracy of the copy is 99%. In fact, when shepherds in Israel in 1946 found what we call the Dead Sea Scrolls, some 981 different texts (not all Biblical texts), researchers found that when they compared those ancient scrolls and texts to the texts that we have today in common use that our modern day texts were 98% similar to the Dead Sea Scrolls.

Not only is the Bible reliable in that we have overwhelming historical evidence in relation to manuscripts, but we also can see the Bible’s reliability in relation to the idea that this work is not a work of mythology. Many of the places that are talked about in the Bible can be found today. When it mentions places like Bethlehem, Jerusalem, Nazareth, etc.. these places can be found on a map and can be visited. Even more obscure places have been found through archeological digs. Many of the names that are in the Bible have also been uncovered through archeology. Almost no one disputes that fact that there was a historical person by the name of Jesus of Nazareth. They might dispute who he was, but almost all historical scholars believer there was a person named Jesus who lived 2,000 years ago.

So let’s turn the corner and talk then about what the Bible is and what it isn’t. The Bible is a place where, according to N.T. Wright, “heaven and earth overlap and interlock.” and “is part of God’s answer to the ancient human quest for justice, spirituality, relationship, and beauty.” The Bible is full of different genres like narrative, poetry, song, law, history, letters and apocalyptic literature. But overall the Bible is a story, a grand epic narrative (think more like Lord of the Rings than like a science text book from school), and a love story. A story in which we are invited to take part and have a role to play. It is also the story of God’s redemptive work in and for the world. It is the story of God’s interaction with humanity and humanities experience with God. This epic narrative has a plot. There are many scholars and theologians who have their own ideas of the plot line of the Bible. You have some who see it as a four act play that starts with Creation, then Fall, then Redemption, then Consummation. Brian McLaren has a 7 chapter story all beginning with C…Creation, Crisis, Calling, Conversation, Christ, Community, Consummation. But probably my favorite is, (surprise) N.T. Wrights 5 act epic where Act 1 is God creating the world, Act 2 is Humanity Falls, Acts 3 is God calls and works through Israel, Act 4 is the climax in the person and ministry and life of Jesus. And then Act 5 is where you and I come in as the church, we are called to live out the story, and also the very ending of Act 5 we know the ending. The question for us then with this concept that the Scripture is story is what story are you a part of? What story are you living out in the world? And then there is a time in every Christians life when we must come to embrace the Bible as our own story and the story of the Kingdom of God.

So if the Bible is an epic narrative, a story of God’s encounter with humanity, and our encounter with God, then what isn’t the Bible? The Bible isn’t a Science textbook or a textbook at all for that matter. I believe we do a huge disservice to the Bible when we hoist our modern scientific worldview back onto the worldview that is found in the Bible. The original authors did not see what they were writing as meeting the critiques of a 21st century audience. And so discrepancies that are in the Bible that we make a huge deal over (like how people were counted) simply weren’t that big of a deal in those days. The Bible isn’t a divine rule book of what we are to do and even more so what we aren’t supposed to do. It isn’t a law book or a constitution. Are there guidelines for living in the Bible? Of course, but it is so much more than that. The Bible isn’t an instruction manual on how to live..or like some people say Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth. It isn’t to be compared to an owner’s manual for your new car or your new vacuum cleaner. The Bible isn’t the fullest revelation of God. Yes it is one of the revelations from God which includes Scripture and the creation itself, but he fullest and best revelation of God is Jesus. And the Bible isn’t to be worshipped, that is called biblio-idolatry. Often Christians are called People of the book, but is that what we are called to be? People that are defied by “the book” or people defined by Jesus? Is the Bible important, of course it is. But we need to make sure that nothing comes in between us and Jesus, and that means the Bible as well. Let me ask you a question, when you hear “the word of God” what comes immediately to mind? The Bible or Jesus or both? Jesus is the ultimate Word of God (see John 1) and we come to know the ultimate Word of God through the Bible, the word of God. That is where the Bible points us to.

So now that we have talked about the Bible from the outside looking in, let’s open the Bible and see what the Bible says about itself. Let’s turn to probably the best known Scripture that refers to itself, 2 Timothy 3:16-17 which says, “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness,  so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” The Apostle Paul in these two verses lays out what Scripture is and what the purpose of it is. Basically what Paul is saying is that the Bible is inspired by God. God did not physically write the book, and the authors weren’t just being dictated through. Some really conservative people believe in what is called the dictation theory where the authors literally were just dictating. But this theory is more muslim than Christian. Paul is saying that Scripture is inspired by God, written through the authors. Personalities of the authors are definitely alive and well in the text of Scripture. The writers, compilers, editors and even collectors of Scripture were people who, with different personalities, styles, methods and intentions, were nonetheless caught up in the inspiration of the Holy Spirit and the purposes of God. And the Bible therefore is to then enable God’s people to be “equipped for every good work” or in other words, to do God’s work in God’s world. The Bible fashions us, and forms us, it, according to Paul, “teaches us, rebukes us, corrects us and trains us.” Trains us to be God’s people in the world seeking to be the hands and feet of Jesus and to be about his work in the world. We fall inline then with Christians down through the centuries who have said that the Bible was inspired by God or I like to say, as Paul does, God breathed. It was an act of his creativity. What else does this idea of God breathed bring up? It ties into the beginning where God formed mankind from the breath of his lungs and created us. God breathed again into mankind, gave mankind his creativity, and these authors wrote the Bible. N.T. Wright has this to say about the Bible, “The Christian Bible we know is a quite astonishingly complete story, from chaos to order, from first creation to new creation, from covenant to renewed covenant, and all firing together in a way that none of the authors could have seen but which we, standing back from the finished product, can only marvel at.”

So let’s look at another Scripture that the author makes reference to what Scripture actually is and what it isn’t. 1 Thessalonians 2:13 says, “And we also thank God continually because, when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as a human word, but as it actually is, the word of God, which is indeed at work in you who believe.” Paul writing to the church at Thessalonica calls the Scriptures what it is. It is the word of God. He also says what it isn’t. It isn’t just human words. Yes humans obviously wrote it but as I mentioned before these are the words of God, inspired by Him, and written by mankind. These believers in Thessalonica received the word of God as it actually was, the word of God. God breathed (which is what the word inspired actually means) into 40 different authors who then took up their writing instruments and wrote under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. We, as Christians living in the 21st century half a world away need to do the same thing that the believers in Thessalonica did….receive the Bible as the word of God and not just human words.

So even though we are talking about the Bible, and the Bible is definitely one of God’s revelation, if we make it strictly about the Bible, we are missing the point. We are missing the point of the Bible. Don’t look at the Bible, look through the Bible. Look where the Bible points. It points to and directs our gaze to Jesus. And then we should use the lens of Jesus to then go back into the text and read all of Scripture in the light of Jesus. The Bible somehow becomes an authoritative instrument of what God accomplished through Jesus- particularly his life, death and his resurrection.

So what is my prayer as we come to the discussion part of our time together? One that we would read the Bible more. We are become less and less Bible literate and that needs to be changed. We would spend time in it, reading it, meditating on it, applying it to our lives. Also that we would let it read us. Secondly, that we would begin to see it not just as a book for individuals but that it truly is a community book. It was written in community, to communities, and for communities. And that we as a community would engage the Scriptures together. We do that each Sunday as we gather but we also do that in 2 Community Groups that meet. We can do that by joining our Scripture reading group that reads the same Scriptures on the same day together. But that we could come up with other ways of engaging the Scriptures in community together. Thirdly, that hopefully we have seen that we can know that the Bible is reliable and we can trust it. (And again if you want to do further reading and research on this question, there are a few books that I have that you can borrow). And lastly that we would allow the Bible to point us to Jesus, His Kingdom, and the story that he is writing and wants to write in and through us. So what story are you living out and into? Your own or His?

So let’s talk about the Bible some more. What other questions do you want to unpack together regarding the reliability of the Bible? What are your thoughts on the Scriptures that we used? And lastly what is God saying to you and to us about his word and how we are to engage with it as individuals and as a community?

1. What other questions, thoughts, comments, insights, etc..do you have around our question “Is the Bible reliable?” that you’d like to share?

2. What are your thoughts, comments, insights, etc… around the Scriptures that we used (2 Timothy 3:16-17 and 1 Thessalonians 2:13)

3. What is God saying to you and to us about His word and how we can engage it as individuals and tougher as community?

iDoubt: Questions about Faith- Is Baptism mandatory for Salvation or is it simply a public declaration

January 19, 2015 0 Comments Tweet This

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So we are on our third week and our third question in our iDoubt: Questions about Faith series. We have covered the questions: “What does it mean to be a disciple?” and “What is Salvation and Can you lose it?” Today we tackle the question, “Is Baptism mandatory for salvation or is it simply a public declaration?” We’ll find out that again this question is strongly tied into our discussion about what it means to be a disciple of Jesus, to follow him with your life and not just a mental ascent to a series of propositional truth phrases. That is why we began our series seeking to wrestle to the ground the concept of being a disciple of Jesus, and then seeking to answer the questions based on the dialogue and discussion around discipleship.

So the question for today again is “Is Baptism mandatory for salvation or simply a public declaration?” Now it might seem like this is a simple question to answer from our thoughts and from Scripture but let’s dive deeper into it, and we’ll see it isn’t as simple as it seems. There are various Scriptures that talk about baptism and its’ relationship with salvation. Let’s read two and see what we might learn and how we answer this question about salvation and baptism. And we’ll see that on the surface it might look like these two different Scriptures actually differ in their understanding of the relationship between salvation and baptism.

Let’s look at Acts 10:44-48 first then we’ll turn to 1 Peter 3:21.

Acts 10:44-48 is part of the encounter of Cornelius, the Roman Centurion and Peter. Earlier in the chapter we see that Cornelius has a vision and in the vision God tells him to send people to Joppa to have Peter come and visit him. He sends 3 people to find Peter. Almost at the same time Peter has a vision where a sheet comes down from heaven filled with unclean animals (representing the Gentile population) and God tells Peter to get up and eat. Peter turns him down, and God tells him to not label anything God calls as clean, unclean. The three men get to the house, call for Peter, tell him the story, and Peter goes back with them realizing that God was telling him the gentiles weren’t unclean. Peter preaches the gospel to all who gather including Cornelius and verse 44-48 pick up the rest of the story and their response to Peter’s preaching, “While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message. The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astonished that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on Gentiles.  For they heard them speaking in tongues and praising God. Then Peter said,  “Surely no one can stand in the way of their being baptized with water. They have received the Holy Spirit just as we have.”  So he ordered that they be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked Peter to stay with them for a few days.”

So let’s break down what happens in order. Peter preaches the gospel, the Holy Spirit comes upon his hearers, they receive salvation, Peter says “no one can stand in the way of these gentiles being baptized.” And then they were baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. It didn’t say that they got baptized and then received the Holy Spirit and salvation. Salvation came when each one of these Gentiles responded to Peter’s message with believing faith in their hearts, so that they were saved while they listened. Once they had received faith, baptism then was a recognition of the salvation that they had already received. Not one of the circumcised could object to Peter’s statement and decision to baptize these gentiles because as he put it, “they have received the Holy Spirit just as we have.” They realized that the Jewish believers and the Gentile believer’s were now on the same footing, there was no division anymore between Jew and Gentile. And so then these Gentile believers, after hearing the message of the Gospel, receiving the Holy Sprit, were then baptized in the name of Jesus Christ.

But what exactly is Baptism anyway and what does it mean? Baptism can be described as a symbol and a pledge. It is a symbol, or an external sign of an inward change or an external sign of an interior faith. And it is a pledge to all who witness it to continue to die to self, and raise to new life in Christ. Most Anabaptists believe that baptism is an initiation into “membership” in the church and also see it as a boundary marker for the church community “over and against the world.” Baptism is not a means to salvation but a sign of it. The early anabaptist (or sometimes called The Radical reformers) believed there were was what they called a 3 Fold Baptism. The first fold was the baptism of the Spirit. This meant when the Spirit came upon people, they confessed their sin, they gave their lives to Jesus, and they began to walk in obedience to Jesus. The second fold was the baptism in water. One of the early Anabaptist said this about baptism in water, “Baptism in water in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit … is nothing other than a public confession and testimony of internal faith and commitment.” And the last fold was Baptism of blood. Now when we hear this we immediately think martyrdom, and many early Anabaptists were indeed killed party because of their belief in believer’s baptism. But it doesn’t necessarily mean that. It means that even after baptism and seeking to be obedient to Jesus, followers of Jesus would still face the constant struggle of the flesh and of this world. The Killing of the old man (or women) so to speak was the third, panful and continual baptism.

And so when we break it down baptism is about obedience and discipleship. We seek, as followers of Jesus, to live and walk like he walked. Jesus was baptized so we should as well. But the waters of baptism are not salvific or regenerative. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t important or not necessary. Plenty of places in the New Testament salvation and baptism are intertwined. Many places when the gospel was preached and received the texts say the people “believed and were baptized.” Always in that order. And when the jailer in Acts 16 asks what he could do to be saved, Paul and Silas answered him, “Believe in the Lord Jesus.” The jailer and his family did so, and then they were baptized. Also the story in Acts 8 where Philip shares the gospel of Jesus with the Ethiopian Eunuch, the Eunuch pulls the chariot over near some water, and asks Philip basically, “what can stop me from being baptized” and we see Philip and the Eunuch getting out of the chariot, going into the water, and Philip baptizing the Eunuch.

So from the whole of Scripture it looks like an open and shut case regarding our question, “Is Baptism mandatory for salvation or is it simply a public declaration?” It seems like everywhere we turn salvation and baptism are linked, in that people come to believe in the Lord Jesus, are saved and then are baptized. It seems pretty clear that salvation happens first, and then people in accordance with following Jesus are baptized as believers. That baptism is not a means of salvation but a sign of it. But is it possible then to be a follower of Jesus, be a disciple, and not be baptized as a believer? I believe it is possible. It is possible to be saved without being baptized. But another question that I have is if Jesus was baptized, and we are to follow his example, his lead, and have our lives emulate his life, shouldn’t we follow his example of being baptized and then be baptized ourselves as believers?

But let’s take a look at another Scripture that on the surface might seem that it contradicts the idea that baptism itself isn’t salvific. Let’s look at 1 Peter 3:21 which says, “and this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also—not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a clear conscience toward God. It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ,” From a quick first reading it looks like Peter is saying that baptism saves. But let’s take a deeper look at what he is saying to see if that is indeed what he is saying. In this text (3:20) Peter is making the connection between Noah and the ark and baptism. He is saying that Noah’s building of the ark to rescue his family points forward to baptism. Noah’s ark involved people begin rescued through the great flood and is a fairly obvious picture of baptism. And so the flood is an antitype of baptism. The flood and Noah’s ark symbolizes baptism and baptism symbolizes salvation. Just as the water of the flood washed away sin and wickedness and brought a new world with a fresh start before God, the waters of baptism does the same thing, providing a passage from the old to the new. From death to life.

So baptism washes away sin and wickedness just like the flood, but Peter is careful here to point out that it isn’t the actual water of baptism that saves us but the spiritual reality behind the immersion in water. In fact, it is quite evident at the end of the passage what saves us. It is the resurrection of Jesus Christ. 1 Peter 3:21 shows us that the water of baptism symbolizes a spiritual cleansing through the power of the Holy Spirit gained through Christ’s victory over death. Baptism then places us alongside the Messiah in his victory over death, sin, evil and hell by his resurrection. Baptism means that we die and then we raise to new life with the Messiah.

So I believe it is pretty clear from the whole of Scripture that salvation and baptism are linked together. That Scripture calls us to be saved and to show that salvation, that inner faith outwardly through the sacrament of baptism. But this doesn’t mean that baptism is in anyway salvific or brings salvation. Only belief in Jesus, his life, death, and resurrection brings that salvation. But at the same time, salvation is worked out in fear and trembling, and every day when we get up. And I believe part of that working out of our salvation, is being a disciple, and seeking to follow Jesus, his life, and his example. And I truly believe then that as a disciple of Jesus, if we want to follow him that that will eventually lead us into the waters of baptism. Do I believe baptism is mandatory for salvation? No, they are as I said two different parts but are linked together in Scripture. I would encourage anyone who has either not been baptized before (at all) or who was baptized as an infant before coming to faith in Jesus for yourself, to pray and seek God and see if he might be calling you to seal your commitment to him in the waters of baptism. To symbolize your inner faith externally by being baptized. To go down into the waters, dying to yourself and your old flesh, and rising out of the water into new life with Jesus. I would be more than happy to sit down with anyone, answer questions, and have a dialogue about baptism.

So let’s unpack this question a little bit further together. What are your questions about this question, the Scriptures and/or the message? What are your thoughts about the connection between salvation and baptism? How does this play out in our missional engagement in the wider world? What is God saying to you and what are you going to do about it? What is God saying to us and what should we do about it?

1. What thoughts, comments, questions, insights, etc.. do you have about the question, the Scriptures and/or the message?

2. What are your thoughts about the connection between salvation and baptism? How does play out in our missional engagement with the wider world?

3. What is God saying to you and what are you going to do about it? What is God saying to us and what should we do about it?

iDoubt Week 2: What is Salvation and Can you lose it?

January 12, 2015 0 Comments Tweet This

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Today we tackle our second question in our series iDoubt: Questions about Faith. As I mentioned last week, this series came from 7 questions that people here at Veritas submitted. Also as I mentioned last week there will be times during this series in which we might disagree during our time of exploration and discussion. We might come at the question from different places and end up in different places, and I believe that is okay. Let’s agree today that in the midst of disagreement that we’ll stay in the tension, stay in the relationships, and agree to disagree. Too often in the church when we disagree with each other, there goes the relationship. So let’s buck that trend, and actually stay in relationship, even if you disagree with someone.

Today our second question also ties into our discussion from last week. Last week the question was “What does it mean to be a disciple.” We talked about the fact that a disciple is one who apprentices themselves to Jesus. We stand at his shoulder watching and learning from him, and then seeking to live his life in and through ours. He calls us to be disciples by taking up our cross, denying ourselves and following him. Not an easy thing to do.

Today the question is “What is salvation and can you lose it.” Many of us in our lives have probably experienced a time when someone we had spent time with, maybe discipled, been in youth group or church with, decided to walk away from Jesus. And we are left with questions like, “Were they really Christians to begin with?” “Are they still saved because they made a profession of faith at some point in their life.” “have they lost their salvation?” And so we thought we’d explore this question because, I believed, we probably have all been there and have known people who used to follow Jesus.

But actually when this question was submitted it just referred to losing your salvation. But salvation is one of those words in which we think we know what it means but a lot of time we don’t really. So I thought I would explore what salvation is, and then we can go from there to answer the question about whether you can lose it or not. Because I believe how you define salvation will lead to seeing whether or not you could lose your salvation. And as we’ll see in a bit, I truly believe our discussion about discipleship ties neatly into how we view salvation and our question that we’ll explore today.

I believe that if you mention the word salvation to any western Christian and you’ll probably hear the answer that it means going to heaven when you die. But is that what salvation truly is biblically speaking? I think if we believe salvation is a one time contractual agreement that we enter with God. (ie…when I say yes to making Jesus my Savior- not necessarily my Lord- then he is obligated to let me into heaven when I die. But I don’t necessarily have to be a disciple and actually follow him) than we think of salvation in terms of an end destination. And when we think in those terms, then questions like can I lose my salvation take on a bigger role in our life. But if salvation is something other than just about going to heaven when we die, we can see the question about losing salvation as actually less important than before. (Not that it isn’t important). We start to see how salvation and being a disciple are wrapped up together. It is like two parts of the same coin. Jesus rescues us from sin, death, evil and hell and also rescues us for life and life to the fullest (John 10:10) (that’s his part) and then our response needs to be to accept his rescue, but then live it out on a daily basis (and that is our part). Taking up our cross and following him. NT Wright says this about salvation, “the work of salvation, in it’s fullest sense, is 1. about whole human beings, not merely souls. 2. about the present, not simply the future and 3. about what God does through us, not merely what God does in and for us.” We need to realize this idea that we have been saved, we are being saved, and we will be saved. That we have been saved 2,000 years ago when Jesus died on the cross to set the world right (including our relationship with God, others, and the world) as well as when we said yes to following him. That we are being saved each day as we take up our cross, follow him and live a life of a disciple of Jesus Christ. And that one day if we continue walking in him, that we’ll be rescued fully, but not just ourselves but the entire cosmos will be saved and put right, the way that it has always meant to be.

Looking at salvation then as connected to discipleship, we begin to realize the importance of the everyday decision of taking up your cross, as some translations say, daily. You see, most anabaptist never thought of salvation in terms of a transactional guarantee of passage to heaven, but more concerned with the following of Jesus. The discipleship that he calls us to. Salvation then is something we attain by remaining on a path of obedience to Christ. Not that we can save ourselves, only God does that. But, it is like the Scripture that says, “work out your salvation with fear and trembling”, Jesus calls us to work it out.

Now you probably know by my discussion of salvation how I answer the question about whether we can lose our salvation. But let’s know look at a Scripture and see how it might help us unpack this question even further. Hebrews 6:4-6 says this, “It is impossible for those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, who have shared in the Holy Spirit,  who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age and who have fallen away, to be brought back to repentance. To their loss they are crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting him to public disgrace.”

The first thing we need to know about this passage is related to it’s wider context within the book of Hebrews. One of the reasons for writing the book of Hebrews was a call for the church to be faithful and to persevere till the end. You see the book of Hebrews was primarily written to Jewish Christians who were familiar with the Old Testament and were being tempted to revert back to Judaism or at the very least Judaize the gospel (add Jewish rules and regulations to the practice of the gospel). And so we see this call for the church to persevere to the end throughout the entire book.

Another thing we need to be aware of in the book of Hebrews is that it is filled with what is called warning passages. There are 5 warnings passages, of which the text that we read is part of 1. The 5 warning passages are 2:1-4, 3:4-4:13, 5:11-6:12, 10:19-39, and 12:1-29. Each warning passage follows the same pattern. First the subjects or audience are in danger of committing a sin. Secondly, the sin that leads to. Third, there is a exhortation to not fall into sin, which then if not followed, leads to 4. consequences of that sin.

There are 4 views of this particular warning passage. Or put another way there are 4 views of who the intended audience is for the warning. The four views are the hypothetical view, the false believer view, the true believer view, and the covenant community view. The first view is that this warning is real but the sin (the falling away) has neither been committed nor can be committed since, according to this view, true believers can’t fall away. It is a way to jar people back into perseverance. The false believer view is that the audience of these warnings are not true believers and that those who could commit that sin couldn’t be true believers. The covenant community view is that individual Christians aren’t in mind of the author, that the warnings are directed to Christian communities, and they are being warned about the rejection of God as a community. The last view, which I personally hold to is the true believer view. This view is that the audience of the warning passages are true believers in every observable sense, can commit the sin of following away, and can lose their salvation. Hence the call and warning to persevere to the end in their faith.

Now with that background in mind we can see that this warning follows the same pattern. The subjects in Hebrews 6:4-6 appear to be believers. We read verse 4-5 which lays out the case that the people the author is talking about were believers. Verses 4-5 read, “it is impossible for those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, who have shared in the Holy Spirit,  who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age” We see that these individuals, I believe, had experienced the grace of God. They received the Holy Spirit (how can you share something you don’t have?) And they had been enlightened. I truly believe they were saved. Even the author of the Hebrews, I believe, treats these people as true believers. Obviously, only God truly knows this but by every observable method, these people were Christians.

Secondly the sin in this warning passage is the sin of apostasy, which is the abandonment or renunciation of following Jesus. This is understood, in this passage and other places, as the deliberate and public refusal to submit to God and his will for people in Jesus Christ. We read this in verse 6 in relation to falling away and being brought back. We also have to see that this falling away is in relation to rejecting Jesus. As long as people are in the act of rejecting Jesus they can not feasibly turn back to him. That is why at the beginning of this text, the author uses the word impossible. Not that it is impossible for someone who was walking away to return to faith. But that according to Scot McKnight, “The contention that “impossible to repent” means only an inability to return to a former state of intimate fellowship with God is rendered at most unlikely by our synthetic approach.  If one examines the list above, especially the threatening dangers found at 10:26-31, one is pressed to agree what the author is not dealing here with the impossibility of reclaiming a recalcitrant sinner (who will nevertheless be saved in the end) but with eternal damnation because that person has apostasized from a former commitment to God’s salvation in Christ.”

When we break it all down, this text is honestly not really about losing your salvation or even the question can one lose their salvation. What this text is really calling each of us to is to continued maturity in our discipleship. To not get comfortable with where we are and get stagnant. But to continue moving forward and growing deeper in our journey with Jesus. The author of this book puts it this way, “Therefore let us move beyond the elementary teachings about Christ and be taken forward to maturity.” What we see also before the text that we looked at is the author’s call for the church to move beyond the milk and grow deeper in Jesus. In Hebrews 5:11-14 we read, “We have much to say about this, but it is hard to make it clear to you because you no longer try to understand.  In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again. You need milk, not solid food! Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness.  But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil.”

My prayer in relation to this question of whether you can lose your salvation is that we would see salvation as being connected to Jesus in discipleship and that discipleship is an everyday, day in and day out, get out of bed, and make a decision to follow Jesus. Salvation isn’t just a one time decision. It is an every day decision to follow Jesus. And that when we encounter someone who once walked with Jesus, we will continue to walk with them, loving them, serving them, and praying that they would return and begin to walk with Jesus again. We wouldn’t either say, “Well they were saved before and you can’t lose it so they are good.” or “You can lose your salvation and they have lost it for good.” The good news in the second situation is that the journey is not done and there is time to help disciple people back into the Kingdom.

How is this passage speaking to you? How do you read it? How have you encountered this question before and how have you handled it with others who have “walked away”? How are you growing in your faith each and every day? What spiritual disciplines are helping you work out your salvation with fear and trembling? And how are you discipling people who seem to be going away from Jesus? Those are some of the questions we’ll unpack together.

1. What thoughts, comments, insights, questions, etc.. do you have about the question, the Scripture and/or the message? How do you read this text?

2. Have you experienced this question in a personal way? Share a story that connects to the question? How have you or how are you continuing to disciple this person?

3. How are you growing in your faith each and every day? How are you working out your salvation with fear and trembling?

4. What is God saying to you and what are you going to do about it? What is God saying to us and what should we do about it?

iDoubt Week 1: What does it mean to be a disciple?

January 5, 2015 0 Comments Tweet This

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Today we begin a 7 week series called iDoubt: Questions about Faith. We will spend 7 weeks answering and dialoguing around questions that you have submitted that you have about faith, God, the Bible, following Jesus, and a bunch of other themes and topics. I’m excited to begin to explore these questions together and dialogue around them. But I also wanted to say something right from the start. During this series and in the topics of discussion, we might come to a place where we disagree with each other. You might disagree with where I come out in relation to one of the questions and I want you to know that that is okay. And that when we begin to dialogue let’s keep the dialogue open, loving, and respectful. It is okay to disagree, but we need to do it in love and grace. And I also want to say, let’s stay in the tension and in relationship. All too often when the church disagrees we feel this need that we need to split and not be in relationship. So let’s fight against this tendency, stay in relationship, love each other, even in midst of the tension. With that being said, I don’t think this week we’ll have much to disagree with each other about.

This week’s iDoubt: Questions about Faith question is “What does it mean to be a disciple?” I chose this question to explore first because I believe this question lies at the center of everything. I believe this question is the crux of the matter. I believe if we get the answer to this question wrong, than everything falls apart. And if we are honest with ourselves, the modern American church has in fact gotten this wrong. Dallas Willard in his book The Great Omission says this, “The greatest issue facing the world today, with all its heartbreaking needs, is whether those who, by profession or culture, are identified as ‘Christians’ will become disciples – students, apprentices, practitioners – of Jesus Christ, steadily learning from him how to live the life of the Kingdom of the Heavens into every corner of human existence.” And so according to Willard, people truly believe that it is possible to be a Christian but not be a disciple. That we can have Jesus as our savior, so that we can go to heaven when we die, but we don’t have to have him as Lord impacting how we live our life in the world until we die. This is not the gospel. This is not possible. You can’t be a Christian without being a disciple. But what does it actually mean to be a disciple?

First, before we jump into the Scripture for the morning, I think it might be a good idea to look at the word disciple and what the word actually means. This isn’t a term that we use in our world a lot unless we are talking about it in religious circles. But disciples were very common in the 1st Century Jewish world. The term “disciple” is derived from the Koine Greek word mathetes, which means a pupil (of a teacher) or an apprentice (to a master craftsman). I like the idea of an apprentice. In the trade world we have master plumbers (builders, etc..) who have apprentices who learn everything they can about the trade by basically staying on the hip of their “master”, and then doing the same thing that their “master” did. A disciple is no different in religious terms. In following Jesus we learn how to live the Kingdom life by watching how Jesus lived, and then seek to emulate his life in our own life. What he did, we are then called to do.

So if we were to then ask Jesus to answer this question for us what would he say? “So Jesus what is a disciple?” In Mark 8:34-38 we read words that Jesus speaks that, I believe pretty clearly defines for us what He believes a disciple of Jesus is. Mark 8:34-38 says, “Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.  For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it.  What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul?  If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels.”

According to Jesus, to be a disciple means simply (it is simple to understand and incredibly difficult to live out) to deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow him. That’s all. Jesus is saying that to be his follower you must die. That you won’t truly live until you walk down death row with Jesus. You can’t live a resurrected life in the way of the Kingdom without dying first.

When Jesus mentions the cross, all his listeners knew exactly what he was referencing. Everyone knew that the cross was an instrument of death. The cross was a way to execute people. His listeners walked by crosses everyday where those who got out of line were placed. Where “criminals” hung dying in front of everyone to see. And so the cross, the Roman cross, was an instrument of torture, of death, of execution.

The problem that we have now is that the cross has been sanitized. We have beautiful crosses that adorn our church buildings. We have gold crosses that are put around our necks. They are shiny, beautiful, and unlike the real thing. The cross was the ultimate instrument of death in Jesus’ day and his hearers knew that if they were to follow after Him, that it would lead to their own cross. Maybe not an actual cross and an actual death (though many who did follow him were put to death, some even on a cross) but a death to self, their own desires, and what they wanted.

What would restore the horror and true meaning behind these words in context for us? What if the text said something like “denying yourself, sit down in the electric chair, and follow me”? How does that come off? Jesus doesn’t promise us an easy life for those of us who have chosen to follow him. Jesus says that if we want to follow him, we must seek to do what he did, and that means death. It means the cross (or the electric chair if you like that picture better)

But what does it mean to take up your cross. Well Jesus said to deny yourself. So denying yourself equals taking up the cross. Denying yourself means to live as an others centered person. Jesus was the only person to do this perfectly, but we are to follow in his footsteps. So if a disciple is called to deny themselves and take up their cross, then a disciple of Jesus by definition is an other centered person. A disciple of Jesus puts other people before themselves. A disciple of Jesus puts other people’s needs before their own. I think all too often we have made being a disciple about things we do, like we pray, read the Bible and go to church. And also about things we don’t do; we don’t swear, drink, chew, or hang out with those who do. When in reality the life of a disciple is a lot about love of God and love of others. After all didn’t Jesus say, “They will know we are disciples by our love”?

So if we, as a group of people who are seeking to follow Him, don’t put others before ourselves. If we don’t live out the truth of this statement made by former Archbishop of Canterbury, William Temple, “the church is the only organization that exists primarily for the benefit of those who are not its members.” If we care more about our comfort in here, and our ease in here, and our safety in here, than taking risks, being on mission, and loving people out there. Then I would say we aren’t disciples. We aren’t truly following Jesus, who we claim to love and serve, if we aren’t living life together on mission, and following his footsteps. We haven’t denied ourselves, taken up our cross and followed him.

Taking up your cross also means letting go of yourself and making God the center and focus of you life and in turn living each day for him. You are no longer your own. You have been bought with a price, the price of Jesus death on the cross. Now because you have been bought, live like the one who purchased you for himself. Living like the one who purchased you for himself means loving others, even our enemies. In fact, I would even say that loving his enemies was central to who Jesus was. So loving your enemies needs to be a huge part of being a disciple of Jesus.

And that point, when you’re no longer willing to carry your cross (whatever that point may be…may be it relates to loving your enemy, may be it relates to holding a grudge and wanting the other person to get their just deserts, maybe it relates to holding onto unforgiveness, bitterness, etc..), is the point at which you are no longer following Jesus. Where in your life do you struggle at carrying the cross? Where do you need Jesus help in picking up that cross and continuing to follow him? Jesus calls us to live a cruciform life, shaped by the cross into the shape of the cross. So a huge part of what it means to be a disciple is about living a cross like existence.

This whole text in Mark is kind of like the book “Alice through the looking glass” by Lewis Carroll. The idea being in the book, that if you want to go towards a place, in that world you actually need to go “away from it” to get there. Jesus calls us to a “looking glass” like existence he calls the Kingdom of God. He says that if we want to live, we have to die. If we want to save our lives, we must lose them. If we want to be great in the world, we have to be a servant. To be a disciple is to live out the upside down Kingdom of God in our world today. NT Wright has this to say about denying yourself, taking up your cross, following Jesus, and the upside down Kingdom that Jesus calls us to, “Jesus’s call to follow him, to discover in the present time the habits of life which point forward to the coming kingdom and already, in a measure, share in its life, only makes sense when it is couched in the terms made famous by Dietrich Bonhoeffer: “Come and die”. Jesus didn’t say, as do some modern evangelists, “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life.” Nor did he say, “I accept you as you are, so you can now happily do whatever comes naturally.” He said, “If you want to become my followers, deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow me” (Mark 8.34). He spoke of losing one’s life in order to gain it, as opposed to clinging to it and so losing it He spoke of this in direct relation to himself and his own forthcoming humiliation and death, followed by resurrection and exaltation. Exactly in line with the Beatitudes, he was describing, and inviting his followers to enter, an upside-down world, an inside-out world, a world where all the things people normally assume about human flourishing, including human virtue, are set aside and a new order is established.”

So what does it mean to be a disciple? What does a disciple of Jesus look like in America in the 21st century? In one way it looks exactly the same as it did 2000 years ago. It means apprenticing yourself in the ways of our Master Jesus. It means standing on his hip watching how he lived his life. (We stand on his hip watching the master through classic spiritual disciplines like Bible Reading, Memorization, Prayer, Solitude, etc..) And then it means putting into practice the things that he did, in our life. It means loving like he did, and loving the people he did. It means serving like he did. It means living like he did. It means getting on your knees to wash the feet of people. It means loving your enemy when you would rather hate them. It means turning the other cheek when you want to react violently. It means blessing and not cursing. Wishing the best and not hoping the worst about people. And it means climbing up and putting yourself on the cross time and time and time again. To be a disciple of Jesus means dying to yourself in order to live for him.

So let’s talk more about what it means to be a disciple? What other questions come up in your mind? Where do we need to flush this question out more? In what area of your life do you find it harder (harder than normal…dying to yourself is hard as it is) to die and live for him? What might God be saying to each and every one of us today about being a disciple of Jesus?

1. What thoughts, questions, comments, insights, etc.. do you have about the question (what does it mean to be a disciple), the Scripture and/or the message?

2. If someone asked you the same question (what does it mean to be a disciple) what would you say? To what Scriptures would you point them? Would you use Mark 8: 34-38?

3. In what area of your life do you find it hard to die to yourself and live for him? (Not like that it is easy in any area). Where do you need work as a disciple?

4. What is God saying to you and what are you going to do about it? What is God saying to us and what should we do about it?

January 2015 Prayer Calendar

December 23, 2014 0 Comments Tweet This

Below you will find a link to our January 2015 Prayer Calendar. It is a way to be unified in our prayers in relation to Veritas. So download a copy, print it out, and then put it somewhere where you’ll see it and pray for Veritas each day in January. Help us kick of 2015 unified in prayer.

January 2015 Prayer Calendar

Peace by Esther Shi Eun Lee

December 22, 2014 0 Comments Tweet This

(This blog is written by an F&M Student who is part of our Veritas community and when I saw it I knew it needed to be shared.)

What an elusive word. What a powerful–but elusive–word.

Even now as I’m trying to describe it words escape me. There was a time when I thought I knew what peace meant. There was a time when I glided blissfully through life in my rediscovered faith, with the deepest, most intimate knowledge of peace that “surpasses all understanding.”

Confession: I don’t feel that anymore.

I think I used to operate under the implicit assumption that being a Christian would allow me to cruise through the pain and suffering of life as if I were above them. Like, the Spirit of God would shield me from that or something, desensitize me and dose me with unlimited peace and joy instead. I thought I’d be able to forgive easily because I wouldn’t feel pain and anger as deeply. I thought I’d be able to come to terms with my past because it wouldn’t matter as much anymore. I thought my faith in God’s promises would be so strong that it would not discourage me when I saw the world so, so far away from that hope.

Turns out that’s not the case at all.

They say he is the Prince of Peace.
And yet sometimes I wonder how much of that peace he actually experienced for himself, even. How could he, knowing full well the depth and breadth of the brokenness of every human being and the world, still walk in that? The two seem incompatible for a heart that has experienced only one or the other at a time.

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Today, as I flounder in my own spiritual, relational, and emotional brokenness and continue to feel burdened and exhausted by the hatred, fear, and violence of the world, I’m starting to think that engaging in peace-making is just as much a part of experiencing the Lord being at hand as actually seeing that reality. Engaging in peace-making confronts you with the reality that there is so little peace, and so much left to be desired of this world. And yeah, I guess I could try to ignore all of this in my pursuit of feeling the blissful calm I used to feel.

But maybe what God really calls his people to do is to seek Him while practicing peace, not seeking him just to feel “peace”.

I want to believe so strongly that the peace promised by my God is something larger than selfish naivete. I want to hope for a peace that means something beyond quarantined, desensitized psychological well-being.

I am ever restless. But maybe that’s not a sign of disobedience or spiritual immaturity that I guilt-tripped myself into believing.

Maybe restlessness is the actual way to true peace.

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