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Disciple-Making Life

Welcome One Another

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Romans 1-9 gets all the love. All the attention. As it should. It’s a dynamic exposition of sin, God’s wrath, justification by faith, and the power of the Spirit. It’s a tour de force from the Apostle Paul.

But today, as I’m finishing up reading through Romans, it struck me how important Romans 14 and the first six verses of chapter 15 are. I was struck a second time when I realized how vital they are for Christians, particularly in the United States, at this particular juncture in history.

To sum it up, Paul first tells his readers that Christians are not to pass judgment in non-essential matters (in his context, he’s referring to the choice to observing festival days or not). In non-essentials, people are free to do what they like (provided, of course, they aren’t being a jerk doing it.) Everyone is accountable to the Lord in these matters.

Second, he writes that believers are not to cause others to stumble. Paul isn’t forbidding women from wearing a bikini, here (that’s an entirely different blog post). Rather, he’s cautioning his readers to watch their actions so that others aren’t tempted to return to a particular lifestyle they had before their conversion.

Then, at the beginning of chapter 15, Paul gets at the root: Don’t live to please yourself. Live to please your neighbor. Welcome one another.

In other words, people–even other Christians–are different than you. We agree on the most fundamental tenants of our faith. But there are other areas where we disagree. Welcome these people. All of these people. Live in harmony with them. Love them. Accommodate them.

Welcome one another. 

Why?

Christ has welcomed you.

Why would Paul say that? Thick guilt trip? No. True freedom from the peripheral entanglements that enslave us? Yes. Jesus has welcomed all sorts of people into his kingdom, and there’s one common denominator. He is God and everyone else is not. That’s quite the difference. That’s quite the welcoming.

If Christ can welcome sinners, like you and me, we can welcome brothers and sisters in Christ who have different affiliations or are in another tribe, whether they are political, social, racial, economic, or otherwise. We can say to them, “I know we don’t see eye to eye on some things, but please come in. You’re family.”

Will there be some things to sort out? Oh my, yes. Will there be some course corrections that need to be made? Definitely. Will there need to be contrite confessions and long-term changes made? On all sides.

But what divides Christians in this country today is no worse than what divided Jews and Gentiles in the first century. Consider that task! The power to change back then and now is found only in the person of Jesus Christ, the One who welcomed rebellious enemies into his fold. It’s easy for us Christians to forget that even (especially!) we need Jesus.

At the end of the day, Jesus did not live for himself. He gave himself away.

Are we willing to do the same?

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Life

From Dust to Glory: Readings and Reflections for Lent

Lent begins next week with Ash Wednesday (February 10). If are a pastor or church leader and have not already, I would encourage you to consider observing Lent this year.

There are many great resources and devotionals available to use throughout this period. This year, I wrote a little devotional book for our church, From Dust to Glory: Readings and Reflections for Lent, and I want to share it with you.

Most devotional resources are heavy on reading the author’s thoughts. There’s nothing wrong with this, of course, and I have benefitted from things like that in the past. The church needs clear, articulate writing that encourages and challenges people! But this little booklet has a different aim. In the introduction, I explain what the book is and how to use it:

This is a devotional guide for Lent. Each week focuses on a different biblical theme: repentance, humility, lament, suffering, enemies, and death. A short devotional reading will introduce you to these themes. Each day of the week, there will be a Scripture reading related to that theme and also a passage from the Gospel of Mark, each accompanied with reflection questions. The readings from Mark begin in chapter 8 and will, successively, take you to the end of Mark in 40 days. Because Sundays are celebrations and anticipations of Easter, there will be a short Scripture text focused on resurrection and renewal each Sunday.

There is not a devotional article to read each day for a very specific reason: this guide is meant to get you into the Scriptures. The temptation with devotional books is to spend more time reading someone else’s thoughts on the Bible rather than the Bible itself. Devotional readings are wonderful servants, but bad masters. Be mastered by God through his word, for this is where the true power for transformation lies. The reflection questions are there to stir your mind and heart. Please, don’t feel confined to answer just those questions or even answer them at all. They simply “prime the pump” and, sometimes, only cover a single aspect of the passage. Let them stimulate your thinking, feeling, praying, and acting. Let them, also, merely be your servant, but not your master.

I pray this is a helpful resource to you as you pursue Jesus this Lent. To God be the glory!

Download From Dust to Glory: Readings and Reflections for Lent

Categories
Ministry

Ash Wednesday at Grace Chapel

Wednesday, February 18, is Ash Wednesday. This marks the beginning of Lent, the 40 day period before Easter (46 including Sundays). The word Lent comes from a Latin word meaning “spring,” which comes from an earlier Germanic word meaning “lengthen” or “long” (since the days get longer in spring). At Grace Chapel (a non-denominational, Protestant Evangelical church), we’re encouraging our congregation to observe this season—not to merit favor with God or even because it’s hip to be ancient. We want to take advantage of these valuable observances so we can dive deeper into the gospel. That’s it. It’s really all about Jesus.

Observing Ash Wednesday and Lent are not commanded in Scripture. Therefore, we’re free to observe them or not. However, there’s a few reasons you may want to consider observing them. Ash Wednesday and Lent can provide us the opportunity to:

  • Connect with the historical church. Our faith is not born in a vacuum. We aren’t the first of our kind. We have descended from a great community of faith which has gone before us, of which Ash Wednesday and Lent have been significant traditions.
  • Be confronted with reality of death and our need for Jesus. How often do you think about death? Ours is a death-averse culture, but we must face the reality that we are all going to die because of sin. In the midst of this bad news, however, the good news of Jesus’ death for us is our glorious hope.
  • Freely experience sorrow and lament. Individually and corporately, we make little room for mourning our sin and brokenness. This season provides a ripe time and space for that.
  • Fast with anticipation. We fast (abstain from food or other things) to deny temporal pleasure in order to pursue the ultimate pleasure of knowing, loving, and obeying Jesus as we long for his kingdom to come.

So to kick-off Lent, our church will gather this week on Ash Wednesday to lament and confess our sin, meditate on the glories of the gospel, and worship God.

Our Ash Wednesday gathering will be an interactive time. One aspect of the gathering that some Protestant Evangelicals may balk at is what Christians have historically called “the imposition of ashes.” This is when you receive ashes on your forehead in the shape of a cross. Why would we do such a thing? Isn’t that meritorious? religious? legalistic? ritualistic? It could be, but it doesn’t have to be. Ashes and dust in Scripture are symbolic of the brevity of human life and picture repentance (e.g. Gen. 3:19; 18:27; Job 30:19; 42:6; Matt. 11:21; Luke 10:13). The ashes are simply a tactile and solemn reminder that we are finite creatures and death looms over us all; they are drawn in the shape of the cross to remind us that in the midst of this bad news, there is infinite hope in the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Let me be up-front: the imposition of ashes is not a sacrament, and observing Ash Wednesday or Lent can’t save us. At the same time, even our repentance can’t save us. God alone saves us through his Son Jesus! Repentance is a response to God’s saving work, and while Christians are by no means required to participate in Ash Wednesday or Lent, we are praying that God might use these rituals to drive our congregation to repentance and faith in Christ. Who knows whether or not, in his grace, God will use these instruments to spur renewal in the hearts of individuals and our congregation as we anticipate the glory of Easter. Of course, this should be the normal rhythm of the Christian life! However, Lent provides us with a special time to zero-in on this as a church community. This approach to Ash Wednesday and Lent is undeniably Christ-centered and gospel-driven.

So if you are in the Capital Region, consider joining us this Wednesday, February 18 at 7pm at Grace Chapel. Even more than that, whether you join us or not, consider how you might take advantage of these forty days to repent of sin and fix your eyes on Jesus.

Categories
Life

My Favorite Theologian

Here are some great thoughts from my wife on lukewarmness and repentance.

And since you asked, you can now get direct links to her latest blog posts on the right hand sidebar under “My Wife’s Blog.”

Categories
Life

“I hate all your show…”

In Isaiah 1:11-17, God scolds his children for their external, self-righteous, neat-nick religion.  Read the passage.  It will be convicting, I promise. If we can paraphrase, God basically says:

Stop going to church! Stop singing! Stop your Sunday school classes and your Wednesday night Bible studies. It all drives me crazy! And stop praying, too, because I’m going to stop listening. Your prayers are an abomination to my ears. I’ve had enough of your religion. You need to learn justice, mercy, and goodness.

That is quite an indictment, but that’s how God feels towards fake religion. If your worship is rooted in self and reputation and not Christ, then God says, “I hate it.”  If you aren’t familiar with the rest of Isaiah (which some scholars call “the fifth gospel”), you would probably think that God is a cranky old man who loves making life miserable for human beings. Joyfully, that is not the case. In verse 18, God says, “You repent, and even though your sin stains your life like blood stains clothes, I will make you white as snow.”  Ultimately, this is fulfilled in Jesus, who shed his blood on the cross in our place.

Jon Foreman, in one of his solo projects, records a song called “Instead Of A Show” about this passage.  Foreman writes:

I hate all your show and pretense
The hypocrisy of your praise
The hypocrisy of your festivals…

…Your eyes are closed when you’re praying
You sing right along with the band
You shine up your shoes for services
There’s blood on your hands

I have read comments on this song on blogs and people have said things similar to: “He’s expressing what he has seen in the church and in the lives of Christians.”  One comment said this: “Is Foreman fed up of christian bands singing vanilla pop so records appeal to the vast majority? Is he pulling back the facades to worship from the heart — and not a rehearsed performance?”

These kinds of comments frustrate me.  From listening to Foreman’s other songs, both solo and with Switchfoot, I don’t get the feeling that Foreman is pointing his finger at Christians. I don’t think he’s fed up with Christianity.  I don’t think he’s tired of the Church, Jesus’ beloved Bride.

I think he’s pointing his finger at himself. I think Jon Foreman is fed up with Jon Foreman.

When I listen to this song, and most of Foreman’s music, and especially when I read the Bible, I see my own sinful self. And when I don’t see my own sinful self? Then I need to reflect, confess, and repent to God instead of pointing at and blaming other people. When Foreman sings, “I hate all your show.  I hate all your show,”  I think he’s reminding his soul that God is telling him, through Isaiah, “Jon, don’t be religious. Don’t be a Pharisee. Don’t play church. Don’t worship publicly if you never worship me privately. That makes me want to vomit.”

True Christians don’t sing about how religious and plastic and messed up everyone else is. Don’t get me wrong: there is a place for calling out sin. But we first preach to our own souls.  True Christians sing about their own sins and tendencies toward fake religion, and the greatness of a Savior who takes all of their blood-stained rags and gives them robes of righteousness because of the blood he shed.

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Listen to “Instead Of A Show” by Jon Foreman.