The Game Changing Gospel

Three Crosses and Silhoutted Person in Prayer at Sunrise

Through the gospel God exerts his power to transform lives and change cultures. I am of the opinion that the church does not need another summit or conference on racial reconciliation or multi-culturalism; what’s needed today are preachers who will prophetically proclaim the gospel.  When the gospel is preached to people whom the Holy Spirit has prepared to receive it, they receive it, and they demonstrate their faith in the gospel by walking in “newness of life.” (Romans 6:4)  Let me suggest that anything short of this (changing or accommodating our music styles, or creating night club like atmospheres in our sanctuaries, etc.) will not bring the needed flame of radical revival, but will produce a mere reshuffling of the same old deck of lukewarm cards.

I love this section from George and Woodward’s book, The Mark of Jesus. Using an example from the history of the church, George and Woodward challenge us to consider afresh the power of the gospel to change our lives. They write:

The Testimony of Justin Martyr

Justin Martyr effectively depicted and defended the lifestyle of Christians. In his First Apology (c. A.D. 155), Justin challenged Emperor Antonius Pius to take a good, hard look at the way Christians lived. Justin apparently did not fear that an investigation by the emperor would find the Christians to be hypocrites: “It is for us, therefore, to offer to all the opportunity of inspecting our life and teachings, lest we ourselves should bear the blame for what those who do not really know about us do in their ignorance.” Then, in a marvelous passage, Justin described how the power of the Gospel had transformed Christians at the very core of their aspirations and desires:

Those who once rejoiced in fornication now delight in continence alone; those who made use of magic arts have dedicated themselves to the good and unbegotten God; we who once took pleasure in the means of increasing our wealth and property now bring what we have into a common fund and share with everyone in need; we who hated and killed one another would not associate with men of different tribes because of [their different] customs, now after the manifestation of Christ live together and pray for our enemies and try to persuade those who unjustly hate us, so that they, living according to the fair command of Christ may share with us the good hope of receiving the same things [that we will] from God, the master of all.

According to Justin Martyr, Christians turned their backs on sexual immorality, on the making of money as a life avocation, and on yielding to racism. Rather, they shared their goods even with those whom they had formerly disdained for racial reasons—those who belonged to other tribes. Many Christians were living in unity and were intent on seeing their non-Christian neighbors come to Christ. They prayed for their enemies with the hope that they might likewise become followers of the true God. They believed that only those persons were worthy to be called Christians who actually obeyed their Lord’s teachings.

As for those persons who did not obey Christ’s teachings (hypocrites), Justin Martyr offered little comfort: “Those who are found not living as he taught should know that they are not really Christians, even if his teachings are on their lips, for he said that not those who merely profess but those who also do the works will be saved. For he said this: ‘Not everyone who says to me, Lord, Lord, will enter into the Kingdom of Heaven, but he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.’”Justin Martyr, therefore, viewed “apologetics”(the defense of the faith) in a somewhat different fashion than we often do, if we limit its scope to the presentation of the “theistic proofs”or historical arguments for the resurrection of Christ. Certainly Martyr made the case for fulfilled prophecies in Scripture, the reality of Christ’s miracles, and the truthfulness of the resurrection. But Martyr was not hesitant also to make the point that many of the Christians he knew obeyed Christ’s teachings. This would mean that any hypocrisy charge regarding them would not stick. He wrote: “Many men and women now in their sixties and seventies who have been disciples of Christ from childhood have preserved their purity: and I am proud that I could point to such people in every nation.”

Justin Martyr’s presentation of how Christians actually lived out their faith received confirmation of sorts from a surprising quarter. Pagan critics, while condemning Christianity as an irrational faith that attracted the weak-minded, on occasion paid backhanded tributes to the Christians by describing them as those who kept their word and shared their goods with each other. Undoubtedly, the early church had its hypocrites who by no means followed Christ in the way Justin Martyr indicated. At the end of the second century, Tertullian complained that he knew Christians, including members of the clergy, who ran after money and church offices rather than seeking to follow Christ’s teachings. For many early Christians, not following Christ’s teachings indicated a person was worse than a hypocrite; the person was a “non-Christian.

The Impertative of Thinking out of the Box

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The significant problems we face today cannot be solved at the same level of thinking we were at when we created them. (Albert Einstein)

The headline of David Farenhold’s article (Washington Post, 12/16/2014)  read:

NASA built a $349 million tower — for a program scrubbed years earlier: What happens to a big bureaucracy after its sense of mission starts to fade?

When I read this article I thought to myself, “What ever happened to the Grace Commission Report on government waste?”  If you are not familiar with the  Grace report, it was commissioned by President Ronald Regan in 1982, and presented to congress in 1984.

The report claimed that if its recommendations were followed, $424 billion could be saved in three years, rising to $1.9 trillion per year by the year 2000. It estimated that the national debt, without these reforms, would rise to $13 trillion by the year 2000, while with the reforms they projected it would rise to only $2.5 trillion.  Congress ignored the commission’s report. The debt reached $5.8 trillion in the year 2000.  The national debt reached 13 trillion after the subprime mortgage-collateralized debt obligation crisis in 2008.”

The report said that one-third of all income taxes are consumed by waste and inefficiency in the federal government, and another one-third escapes collection owing to the underground economy. “With two thirds of everyone’s personal income taxes wasted or not collected, 100 percent of what is collected is absorbed solely by interest on the federal debt and by federal government contributions to transfer payments. In other words, all individual income tax revenues are gone before one nickel is spent on the services that taxpayers expect from their government.” (http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Grace_Commission)

Has anything changed in the way our government does business since the Grace Report was released 34 years ago?  The answer is, “No.” (Since 1980 we have had 20 years of Republican leadership in the White House, and – by the end of President Obama’s second term – 16 years of Democratic leadership)  Therefore, the question is, “Why hasn’t anything changed?”  Let me suggest that things have not changed because we have not changed.  To paraphrase Pogo, the problems that we face are not the Republicans or the Democrats, it is us; “We’ve met the enemy, and the enemy is us.” Looking into the mirror and noting that the “enemy is us” is the first step to freedom.

I love the scene from Remember the Titans, where coach Boone tells his players,

Everything we gonna do is changing. We are change. We’re gonna change the way we run. We’re gonna change the way we eat. We’re gonna change the way we block. We’re gonna change the way we tackle. We’re gonna change the way we win.

Winning (freedom), according to coach Boone’s philosophy, does not start with analyzing the other team’s strengths and weaknesses, by adding new players to a broken team, or by taking note of the inadequacies of the playing field, and then protesting that the game is slanted against you.  According to coach Boone, winning (i.e., freedom) starts within.  Winning starts with changing the way we think.  Winning starts with thinking outside of the box

The question is: What is at stake if  we don’t change our thinking?  Answer:  We will continue to be stuck in the loop that Einstein warned us about; we will continue to try solving our problems with the same level of thinking that created the problem in the first place.  G. Carter Woodson put it this way:

“History shows that it does not matter who is in power or what revolutionary forces take over the government, those who have not learned to do for themselves and have to depend solely on others never obtain any more rights or privileges in the end than they had in the beginning.”Carter G. Woodson, The Mis-Education of the Negro

The road to freedom always begins within, and traversing freedom’s road is the pursuit of life, liberty, and happiness.  The journey begins with thinking outside of the box.

Romans 12:2 Don’t be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what is the good, well-pleasing, and perfect will of God. wisdom seeker

What Friends are For

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When my wife and I finished reading the book of Job for our daily devotions one very convicting take away that the Lord brought to our attention was how easily criticism flows out of our mouths to either condemn and pass judgment on others.

When Job’s friends observed Job’s life collapsing right before their eyes they wrongly judged him by thinking that all this calamity was happening to Job because he was guilty of something.

  • Eliphaz – Job 4:7 ¶ “Remember now, who ever perished being innocent? Or where were the upright ever cut off? 8 Even as I have seen, Those who plow iniquity And sow trouble reap the same.
  • Bildad – Job 8:3 Does God subvert judgment? Or does the Almighty pervert justice? 4 If your sons have sinned against Him, He has cast them away for their transgression. 5 If you would earnestly seek God And make your supplication to the Almighty, 6 If you were pure and upright, Surely now He would awake for you, And prosper your rightful dwelling place.
  • Zophar – Job 11:7 ¶ “Can you search out the deep things of God? Can you find out the limits of the Almighty? … 10 “If He passes by, imprisons, and gathers to judgment, Then who can hinder Him? 11 For He knows deceitful men; He sees wickedness also. Will He not then consider it?
  • Zophar – Job 20:27 The heavens will reveal his iniquity, And the earth will rise up against him. 28 The increase of his house will depart, And his goods will flow away in the day of His wrath. 29 This is the portion from God for a wicked man, The heritage appointed to him by God.”
  • Elihu – Job 34:20 But the eyes of the wicked will fail, And they shall not escape, And their hope-loss of life!” … 34:35 ‘Job speaks without knowledge, His words are without wisdom.’ 36 Oh, that Job were tried to the utmost, Because his answers are like those of wicked men! 37 For he adds rebellion to his sin; He claps his hands among us, And multiplies his words against God.

Although Job’s friends had lots negative things to say about Job, God had this to say about him:

  • Job 1:8 Then the LORD said to Satan, “Have you considered My servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, one who fears God and shuns evil?”

What a great reminder this book has been to me to be careful how I judge someone. More often than not, what people need from me is not criticism, but sympathy, empathy, genuine concern and care. As Job’s friends, they did not offer him their love, support, and sympathy, but their criticism, their accusations, and their cruelty. And because these men were his “friends” I believe that their words stung Job harder than the loss of his wealth, his children, and his health.

Job 12:4 “I am one mocked by his friends, Who called on God, and He answered him, The just and blameless who is ridiculed.”

Job 16:10 “They gape at me with their mouth, They strike me reproachfully on the cheek, They gather together against me.”

Job 17:1 ¶ “My spirit is broken, My days are extinguished, The grave is ready for me. 2 Are not mockers with me? And does not my eye dwell on their provocation? …. 6 “But He has made me a byword of the people, And I have become one in whose face men spit.

Job 21:3 Bear with me that I may speak, And after I have spoken, keep mocking.

My prayer today is that the Holy Spirit will control my thoughts of others, and the words that I will speak to them.

“Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart Be acceptable in Your sight, O LORD, my strength and my Redeemer.” (Psalm 19:14)

If you are the object of someone’s criticism and scorn, “love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you,” (Matthew 5:44) And remember, that the only person who’s opinion of us really matters, is the LORD’s. As it is written:

Romans 8:33 Who shall bring a charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies.

God is my friend png

You are all one in Christ

Galatians 3:26 For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus.  27 For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

Whereas the flesh tells me that life is all about me, the Holy Spirit teaches me that life is all about God.  Through faith in Jesus Christ we not only receive from the Spirit the ability to worship God in truth, but we receive the capacity to love and serve like Jesus did.  Nowhere on earth is the love of Jesus more beautifully portrayed than when the church reaches outward and across sectarian lines to embrace and fellowship with one another in a genuine display of Christianity (Acts 11:19-26).  Only when our lives are God centered will the phrase “you are all one in Christ Jesus” truly have meaning.

I like Timothy George and John Woodbridge’s thoughts on Galatians 3:26-28, below.  They write:

The three pairs of opposites Paul listed in this verse stand for the fundamental cleavages of human existence: ethnicity, economic capacity, and sexuality. Race, money, and sex are primal powers in human life. No one of them is inherently evil, yet each of these spheres of human creativity has become degraded and soiled through the perversity of sin. Nationality and ethnicity have been corrupted by pride, material blessings by greed, and sexuality by lust. This has led to the chaotic pattern of exploitation and self-destruction that marks the human story from the Tower of Babel to the streets of Baghdad and Beirut. But the good news of the Gospel is that those who have become children of God through faith in Jesus Christ have broken free from enslavement to these controlling forces. A new standard and pattern of life now distinguishes the baptized community from the environing society all around it. Here, as nowhere else, we are empowered by the Holy Spirit to “bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2 ESV). (Taken from George and Woodbridge: The Mark of Jesus)prayer in unity