June 23, 2012

The Nature of Christianity


I preached a sermon similar to this at our church last month, and plan on using these notes tomorrow. Thought they might be useful to someone. (Okay really, it's just that if they are here I can't lose them!)


The Nature of Christianity

Our topic this morning is Christianity. This may seem something of a broad and obvious topic for church service. But I think for us to understand properly how we as Christians are to live, we must first understand what really the nature of Christianity is. The reason this is of fundamental importance is that what you believe defines who you are. You will always-always-act in accordance with what you truly believe. And so if we miss the boat on the meaning of Christianity, we are in big trouble. And quite frankly, I believe most of what we might call current Evangelical teaching has most certainly missed the boat. So, with that being said, I want to give you three things right out of the gate that Christianity is not about. These three are
1)Christianity is not about works,
2)Christianity is not about comfort,
3)Christianity is not about you.
These are three things that we will reference back to, and we will shortly turn those statements over and view positively what Christianity is about. As you may have gathered from the statements above, what I want to do is break down our study into three parts. These three parts are
1)Christianity’s foundation
2)Christianity’s essence
3)Christianity’s goal
This will be by no means exhaustive, but I do believe it will give us a solid foundation from which to examine this thing called Christendom.

A side note here: While it is to many a dirty word, I do believe religion is absolutely fitting when we describe Christianity. We say that our relationship with God is without any form of religion we in essence divorce ourselves from 2,000 years of church history. This seems unwise at best, and at it’s worst, misled to the point of arrogance. We must keep in view the fact that we are not the only Christians to have ever lived, and the things passed down to us through extra-biblical teaching and tradition and quite rightly called religion. There is nothing wrong with this. The error comes when we move from worshipping God to worshipping the religion itself(see Romans 1).

End note. Let us next turn to the Scriptures themselves. Turn to the book of Romans chapter one. We will read verses 1-7
Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy Scriptures, concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord, through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of his name among all the nations, including you who are called to belong to Jesus Christ,
To all those in Rome who are loved by God and called to be saints:
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.  (Romans 1:1-7 ESV)

The first thing I noticed when I read this is something I would also like you to see. Who is the author of this letter? Verse one says Paul. What part of his letter are we reading? The introduction. If you are familiar at all with Pauline literature you may notice that this introduction is different than his others. Let’s look for example at his letter to the Philippians, where he gives a rather “normal” introduction.
  Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus,
To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are at Philippi, with the overseers and deacons:
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.    (Philippians 1:1-2 ESV)
Now what difference do you notice? The first thing that strikes me is the length. In Philippians he simply says who he is, who he’s with, and sends a greeting of grace and peace to those whom he is writing. Romans is much longer. This should cause us to take notice. To perk up our ears and listen, as it were. You might say that Paul starts preaching from verse one. So, the question then becomes, why? Well, obviously if he departs from his normal routine in writing it is something he finds to be of pressing importance. Which would then make us wonder, what is it that is so important? And that is what we want to look at.

We will first look at our first point-Christianity’s foundation.
*The Gospel
Romans 1:1-4
1 Corinthians 15
Genesis 1
Genesis 3
History of Israel
Romans 3:9-12; 23-24
Ephesians 2:1-5

You cannot earn salvation, it is a gift! Christianity is not about works, it is about Jesus! His work and person are our ultimate foundation.

Point two-Christianity’s essence is the obedience of faith.
Romans 4
Hebrews 11:6
James 2:14-17
Romans 12:1,2
1 Peter 2:21-24
Romans 6

What sort of faith is this? John 3; Matthew 10;

Not a comfortable faith. That is not what God has called us to. Christianity is not about comfort, it is about believing and following Jesus, in any circumstances. Romans 8:28-39


Point three-Christianity’s ultimate meaning is the glory of God.
That’s what Paul means by saying that the Gospel that saves us is for the obedience of faith, which is for the sake of His name among all the nations. This can be a tough pill for us to swallow. But it is thoroughly Biblical. Ephesians 1:3-14
Isaiah 43:6b-7, 25

This is foundational to our comfort and joy.
Psalm 23:3


1-Do you believe it?
2-Do you live like it?
3-Do you count Him more valuable than all? Matthew 13:44

June 22, 2012

Tidbits


This is a series of snippets from previous posts.  I have a tendency to clutter pages with many words, so I tried to sift through and pick out a few that I thought might be helpful.

The first thing we need to know…is that ultimately, the glory of God is the primary reason our focus is to be on the Gospel. We see this in verses 5 and 6[of Romans 1]. We have received grace and apostleship to bring about obedience through faith for the sake of His name among the nations. Nations including us, right here, right now. All ministry, all personal growth, all faith, obedience, and work are meant not to somehow earn God’s favor, which Ephesians 2 makes very clear is a gift that we cannot earn. It is meant to display the glory, the weightiness, the importance, and the worthiness of Almighty God to the nations.

-The Import of the Gospel in Youth Ministry



God's glory is the Big Deal. I am saved, the Gospel exists, and God redeems sinners for the sake of His name among all the nations.

-Gospel Centered Youth Ministry (Part 2)



Andie: Will, please wash the dishes.

Will: What do you mean by the word, “wash”?

Andie: You know what I mean by the word wash, it means the same thing now as the last thirty times I used it saying I was going to wash the dishes!

Will: That’s all fine and wonderful dear, but while for you the word wash means to clean them thoroughly with soap and water and rinse them with clean water and then proceed to dry them to put them away; as you do regularly; my interpretation of that word means that if I place them outside and let the dog lick them and let the rain rinse them off that I have sufficiently executed my duties.



Now, if I do the dishes my way, have I done as I was asked? No, because Andie was the one asking. Therefore, she determines both the terms used and the meaning of those terms. My interpretation is of no value if it does not agree with her intended meaning.

So if I go to Scripture and read that I am to love the Lord my God; does my 21st Century interpretation of the word “love” affect what is meant by the writer of that verse? No. Rather, in order to understand the writer correctly, I need to attempt and understand what the original intent of the writer was. Scripture interprets Scripture, as Calvin would have it.

-Thinking…the first of a few posts on the subject.



By all means question. People who are afraid to question are afraid of the truth…deeply question and take those questions to God Himself. But be prepared for the answer you will receive. God will not change for us. But we are obligated to change in light of who we are and who He is calling us to be. That is where nearly all honest questioning leads. A heart change that leads to life change.

--A quick thought on Christian thought.



[I]t is of extreme importance to keep in mind that things such as love, grace, justice, mercy, holy, and other words we use to describe God are just that descriptive. Our words do not constrain Him.

-A quick thought on Christian thought.



[Of most] importance is the message of the Gospel. Christ and Him crucified. God reconciling man to Himself on account of Jesus. We need to be lights to this dark world. That starts by loving God, pours out into loving His people, and overflows into loving this world that so desperately needs Him.

-Honor, Love, Fear



Do we have such a longing for God that we are willing to give up things that we have longed for in order to see our relationship with Him grow? Do we pray prayers for ourselves and others that we would see the beauty and majesty of God, that we would be satisfied in Him-and Him alone? This is what we need. We don't need "our best life now." We don't need "heaven" in some abstract, floating on clouds strumming a hapr sense. We don't need a land flowing with milk and honey, a better job, or an easy life. We need Jesus.

-Desperate for His Presence



Do we beg the Almighty for a glimpse of Him? Do we echo the Psalmist in in Psalm 42 crying out for the Lord with same passion as one who is dying of thirst calls out for a drink? Do you long for communion with your Maker or are you satisfied with life as usual? Are you okay with the way things are or do you wish to be broken before Him?

-Broken



Our primary source of spiritual food, as it were, needs to be Scripture. God has given us the revelation of Himself in written form; I can read every book published and read every article written, and listen to every sermon preached-but if I am not reading the revelation of God Himself and praying for the Holy Spirit to open my eyes to it's truth, then all the rest of it is mute.

-A World Full of Resources



It really is selfish robbery of me to walk into church week after week, “be fed”, and leave without doing anything to build up and edify the other parts body. If your right hand decided to call in sick to work one day it would be a very inconvenient day for you. If it quit working entirely you would be at a place where you might be better off to have it amputated and have a prosthetic put on in it’s place, rather than continuing to nourish it by allowing it to still be attached. Are you a lively hand, or a dead one?

-Church isn’t about you.





Is Sunday Morning Christianity compatible with Jesus radical call to discipleship? Jesus says people were going to hate us for following Him...are we? If no one can tell the difference between us and the world, are we really following Jesus? And if we aren't following Jesus, do we really believe He is who He claims to be?

-Do we really Treasure Christ?



Am I a disciple or a poser? There is no "Christian-light." It's all or nothing.

-Posers



Do you see a world full of inconveniences for you, that you just want to die and be rid of? Or do you see a lost world desperately in need of the Gospel—the Gospel that you have been entrusted to share with the world? In the words of John Piper, “don't waste your life.” Because someday you will die. And there are no second chances.

-Death



[Life’s trials] steal from me that which I seek

And make my place here feel so bleak

In spite of this I thank the One

Who gave for me His only Son

And so I need not clear skies

I need the One who for me dies

To wreck my joy pain may endeavor

But my joy in Him endures forever

-Peace



[T]he question is not “will we be enslaved”, but rather, “to what master”?

-Pondering Treason





My life should reflect my chief affection, and my affection should be for the only One who is worthy of it.

-Reflection of Affection





You see to be Christian

Has this as it's goal

To live for God's glory

For there joy is made whole

-Christian?



June 20, 2012

Christian?

We use the term Christian
But what does it mean
Do I trust in the Gospel
Or some man made dream

Do I cling to my Lord
For His help every hour
Is my fath in His promise
To be a strong tower

Do I abandon myself
Lay my life at His feet
Or do I chase after pleasure
And my own comfort seek

For whom do I live
Is the question today
Do I serve my own self
Or do my Lord I obey

Do I have a grand vision
For living this life
Or am I caught up
In just avoiding much strife

You see to be Christian
Has this as it's goal
To live for God's glory
For there joy is made whole

June 16, 2012

Easy Reads and Milk Seeds (Or, thoughts on translations)

Disregard the milk seeds, I simply felt like rhyming. Just a quick thought on the value of thought and/or meditation and/or wrestling to understand. I want to break my thoughts into to groups of reading, first Bibles, and second, everything else. This post will only cover #1. And perhaps not even that.

So, Bibles. Consider this my critique of paraphrastic "translations" (eg, the New Living Translation), and/or straight up paraphrases (eg, The Message). Before I go too far I do want to be up front and say that part of my frustration with paraphrases is that it can be very frustrating when you know a passage to tun there and find words all out of place or changed. And that frustration can be found even among more literal translations, simply because there are a lot of words that can be translated more than one way. It simply is more common in a paraphrase. Also, I do not claim to be any expert on translations, most particularly because I do not read, write, or speak any of the original languages of Scripture (Hebrew, Aramaic, Greek). I'm dependant largely upon the help of a good concordance and a few commentaries. I realize that no translation is perfect, because no language perfectly corresponds to another. This is the nature of language.

That being said, when I question people who prefer the NLT, The Message, or to a lesser extent the NIV, as to why they prefer their particular translation over and above what are typically seen as more literal translations (English Standard Version, New American Standard, New King James, King James, Holman Christian Standard) the main reason I hear is a little worrisome to me. That reason, more or less, is that the persons preferred translation is "easier to read" or "easier to understand." Now, at face value there's nothing wrong with that. In fact that reason no doubt is a large part of the reason that not as many people still use the old King James version. This indeed, is the main reason I prefer the ESV over the NKJV, even though my NKJV is the Bible I've had since I was 12 and is like an old friend. The ESV simply flows better, and I can comprehend what I'm reading about twice as fast as my old standby. I don't think there's probably anything wrong with that. But what I sense what some people mean by easier to understand or easier to read, isn't simply that the English flows easier. I think it probably has a lot more to do with our natural human disinclination to ponder or meditate on the Word of God. (Note:this obviously is not the reason for everyone, just something I pick up in some people.) Why do I say we have a disinclination to it? A couple of reasons. First, because sometimes thinking and meditating on Scripture is hard. It can be hard to focus. It can be hard to understand. It can be hard to match up what we're learning with what we already know (or think we know). And yet, this should not hinder us. David says over and over in the Psalms how delightful the Law of the Lord is. The Law. We Christians are all into that grace stuff, but good heavens, keep the law away. Don't make us read through Leviticus, we'd rather have teeth pulled. David said it's delightful. He only knew that because he meditated upon it and God showed Him something of Himself there that was beautiful. It wasn't from a cursory reading.

The second reason is because the Word of God is intended to reveal God. And the more we see of God, the more accurate picture we get of ourselves. And an accurate picture of ourselves is not a pretty picture. And so we are put off by it. (It is important to note here that the grace and love everyone wants to point out and claim is not nearly as beautiful and delightful as it is meant to be until we begin to see something of our ugliness in comparison to God's stunning holiness and justice.)
This is not necessarily excluded when our Bibles are put in simplified language. However, I do think there is a lot more difficulty in wrestling with something that has been paraphrased for us. A paraphrase is, by it's nature, someones rephrasing of a text into their own words. That is, they determine what they think it means, and then phrase it in a way that's easier for them to wrap their mind around. This, incidentally is something akin to what a preacher does on Sunday. Not precisely the same, but he is examining the text in it's context, and then attempting to explain to the people what it means (and how it applies). That's a bit oversimplified, but anyway. My point again, is not that there is anything (necessarily) wrong with taking a passage of Scripture and rephrasing it in order to wrap your brain around the meaning.

The problem comes when I go to the Scriptures looking for the life giving sustenance of God's word, and instead am given a mortal man's paraphrase, which may or may not be right. For an easy example, let's look real quick at John 11:1-6
first in the ESV, and then in the NIV.


1 Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha.
2 It was Mary who anointed the Lord with ointment and wiped his feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was ill. 
3 So the sisters sent to him, saying, "Lord, he whom you love is ill."
4 But when Jesus heard it he said, "This illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it."
5 Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus.
6 So, when he heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was.

1 Now a man named Lazarus was sick. He was from Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha.
2 This Mary, whose brother Lazarus now lay sick, was the same one who poured perfume on the Lord and wiped his feet with her hair.
3 So the sisters sent word to Jesus, "Lord, the one you love is sick."

4 When he heard this, Jesus said, "This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God's glory so that God's Son may be glorified through it."

 5 Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus.

6 Yet when he heard that Lazarus was sick, he stayed where he was two more days.

Now, if I'm reading the ESV, here is essentially what I see. Jesus is told that Lazarus is sick, he tells them it doesn't end in death but is for God's glory, and so because He loves them, He stays two days longer where He was at. Why? Well, presumably because it was more loving to them to show them the glory of God in the raising of the dead than to simply cure some sickness.
But if I've read that same text in the NIV, I'm not given the word so, but rather, yet. It would seem almost as if there was a conflict between Jesus' love for Mary and Martha and His staying where He is at. I would contend that some very deep meaning is lost, simply because instead of translating the word as so (which not only does the ESV, but also the NASB, NKJV, and HCSB...the KJV says "therefore"), it is switched to yet. That's a big problem because not only do I lose the fact that Jesus' display of His glory is an act of love, I am led to think that His actions were actually in conflict with His love.
 
But perhaps you are thinking I am making a mountain out of a mole hill. I suppose that is possible, I have a proclivity to such things. But I want to challenge you, with whatever Bible you're reading, to quit being happy with just reading. There are novels and chemistry books for that. If God gave us His word to know Him-why in the world are we not going there to know Him? I don't pick up a pair of binoculars in order to chop down a tree. I don't grab a spotting scope to dig a ditch. I use them to try and gaze upon stars in the night sky that my naked eye can't begin to comprehend. Likewise with Scripture. It is not God Himself, but it tells me of Him, and helps my weak eyes see something of His beauty that I could not on my own.
 
As for the translation-I simply want the cleanest and most powerful lens I can find.

June 05, 2012

Posers

Last night over in Harrison, I had the privilege of listening to Wayne Eve speak on Christian "posers." That is to say, those people who are so called "nominal Christians." He went over what a poser looks like, and contasted that with what God has actually called us to. 
And as I lay in bed last night afterward, I couldn't get the topic out of my mind, and my thoughts were churning relelntlesy.  I had to get up and open the Word, and God pointed me to Hebrews 10, and what I saw there is what I'm going to write.
You see, in Scripture there isn't anyone who could be called a "nominal" Christian. The term really is an oxymoron. Claiming the name of Christ without a willingness to lay aside all earthly things is of no lasting value. Romans 10:9 says that if you confess with your mouth and believe in your heart you will be saved. It sounds so incredibly easy. But then if you turn back to John 3:36 you will see the unmistakable link between belief and obedience. Furthermore, in John 14 Jesus says that if we love Him we will obey His commandments. Even in the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20), we see that Jesus' definition of a disciple is one who is baptized (public identification) and is being taught to obey all that He commands (the obedience of faith, see also Romans 1:4-5). Belief, that is, faith, saves. But all true faith is joined by action. Do my actions say I believe? Have I put my hand to the plow only to look back? Is my life a burning light for Christ, or I will I become a pillar of salt, something akin to Lot's wife? Hebrews 10 terrifies me.
"For if we sin willfully after we have recieved the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a certain fearful expectation of judgement, and fiery indignation which will devour the advesaries." (verses 26-27
Is that me? Am I willfully continuing in sin? I presume here that the author does not mean a single instance of choice in isolation (for my reasoning in this assumption, see 1 John 1, Romans 7), but rather a consistent, strong willed, bull headed rejection of what God has made clear. But that should not cause us to ignore it. There is still conisiderable reason to pause and give a moment to introspection here. What has God called me to do (or stop doing), either through the clear directive of Scripture or the prodding of the Spirit, that I am ignoring/rejecting? Can I continue to trample on the blood of Christ, and call myself His follower, and still expect continuos loving forgiveness from God the Father? I fear many Christians would answer "yes" here, where the author of Hebrews is saying "no."
"Anyone who has rejected Moses' law dies without mercy on the witness of two or three witnesses. Of how much worse punishment, do you suppose, will he be thought worthy who has trampled the Son of God underfoot, counted the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified a common thing, and insulted the Spirit of Grace? For we know Him who said, "'Vengence is Mine, I will repay,' says the Lord." And agian, "The Lord will judge His people." It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God." (Hebrews 10:28-31)
A fearful thing indeed. It would seem worthwhile to consider my life. How am I using it? Am I living a if I were a living sacrifice (Romans 12)? Or am I counting this world my home and living for a pleasure and a gain that are temporary and fleeting? Am I radically obedient to the one who loved me and reconciled me to Himself by the blood, or am I trampling that same blood and counting it as nothing? Am I a disciple or a poser? There is no "Christian-lite." It's all or nothing. And it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of a living God.

About Me

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I love Jesus, my wife, and my kids. Writing and teaching are two things I have a passion for. Gardening and fishing are cool, too. I blog @ willdole.com, you can reach me @ contact@willdole.com