Holiness By Grace

Holiness By Grace by Bryan Chapell has been one of the most influential books on sanctification and living the Christian life that I have read. Chapell reminds us that not only are we saved by grace through faith, but we are also sanctified by grace through faith. To often we flee from the Grace of the Gospel to a “Christianity” that is marked by our striving in our own strength to live a holy life. This life is marked by discouragement, frustration, disappointment, shame, and guilt. Chapell reminds us that the power and motivation to live out the Christian life come from the Gospel of Grace. We aren’t performing, we aren’t trying to get God to like us or be pleased with us, or delight in us.  The joy that comes from knowing that in Christ, God delights in us and is pleased with us gives us strength and motivation to respond to what God has already done for us in Christ, instead of trying to secure it ourselves. I would highly recommend reading this book.

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God is the Judge – Not Us

A “conservative Christian” group has mounted an internet campaign and boycott against JC Penny in response to their announcement that Ellen DeGeneres will be their new spokesperson. They say that by having an openly homosexual spokesperson JC Penny is taking sides in the “culture war” and offending those with traditional family values.

Controversy like this isn’t new for Ellen, who was also at the center of some “conservative Christians” boycotting Finding Nemo and Disney because Ellen was the voice of one of the fish in the movie.

A question: “Is it even our job as Christians, to judge, condemn, criticize, non-Christians?”

Paul doesn’t seem to think so. See 1 Corinthians 5:9-13 . Neither does Jesus. See John 3:17. You can also check out any of Jesus interactions with the “sinners” of his day.

What would it look like for Christians to show Ellen, and others in the world, mercy instead of judgement, love instead of condemnation? Do you think Ellen and others in the world would respond differently to Christians who did their job and left the judging to God? Would this more accurately show forth the gospel than what is happening in this situation? What is this group communicating about the Gospel or the Triune God in their approach to Ellen?

Don’t get me wrong, sin has to be addressed in the Gospel. Mine was, and yours was. And to share the Gospel with Ellen and the world will involve a discussion of their sin and a call to repentance and faith. But shouldn’t that discussion happen in the context of a loving relationship, instead of a condemning internet campaign?

 

 

Interpreting the Parables in the Gospel of Mark

Dr. Hans Bayer, Professor of New Testament at Covenant Seminary, did a lecture on Interpreting the Parables in the Gospel of Mark. If you have 52 min. and 28 sec. it would be worth your time checking it out here. This is just a broad introduction to interpretation of parables in Mark, but I hope it will encourage you to spend more time in the parables in Mark.

Bayer has a forthcoming book on the Theology of Mark, that is on my “To Buy” list. Keep an eye out for it too.

Freedom to Say Life is Hard

I saw this article bouncing around Facebook the other day, Don’t Carpe Diem. The author was writing about experiences she has had when older ladies have stopped her and her small children in stores and said,  “Sugar, I hope you are enjoying this. I loved every single second of parenting my two girls. Every single moment. These days go by so fast.”

The author comments,

“Everywhere I go, someone is telling me to seize the moment, raise my awareness, be happy, enjoy everysecond, etc, etc, etc.

I know that this message is right and good. But, I have finally allowed myself to admit that it just doesn’t work for me. It bugs me. This CARPE DIEM message makes me paranoid and panicky. Especially during this phase of my life – while I’m raising young kids. Being told, in a million different ways to CARPE DIEM makes me worry that if I’m not in a constant state of intense gratitude and ecstasy, I’m doing something wrong.”

This article seemed to resonate with lots of young moms who found in this article the freedom to say that they “don’t carpe diem”, the freedom to say life is hard. It resonated with me as well. She captures grace and expresses it in real world terms.

I wonder, do we give people this freedom in the church, or do people feel the pressure to have it together all the time? Do people feel like they are doing something wrong if they don’t  live up to the qualifications we have set for being a “good” Christian? What does it say about the gospel if people don’t have this freedom?

Learning Evangelism From Jesus

I just finished reading, Learning Evangelism From Jesus by Jerram Barrs. This is an excellent and challenging book on evangelism. This isn’t a book about technique or methods or programs. In it, Barrs examines passages of Scripture  looking at Jesus’ interaction with people to challenge our assumptions, heart, and approach to non-believers. Will you agree with all of his conclusions? Maybe, maybe not, but you will have to wrestle deeply with what it means to be a sinner, redeemed by God who has been blessed to be a blessing in this lost and hurting world. When looking at Jesus’ practice of spending time with the outsiders, tax collectors, etc… and the criticism Jesus received from the Pharisees for spending time with “sinners”, Barrs challenges us with this…

“What God desires from every true Christian believer is mercy for sinners. This, after all, is who God is, someone who delights in showing mercy to sinners. If it were not so, there would be not a single Christian in the world. Even if the friends we have appear to be so sinful that they scandalize some of our fellow believers, we need to be ready to endure criticism and persevere in loving those whom others may consider unlovable. “

I’m I ready to do this? Am I doing it? It got me thinking about the friendships I have or don’t have and why I have and don’t have them. Who would I have trouble being friends with and why? Who, by appearance or lifestyle, do I immediately dismiss the idea of being friends? Why?  What am I affirming or denying about the Gospel by my friendships or lack thereof?

The Help

Over the Christmas break I watched a movie called, The Help with my wife’s family.  It is a story about life in Mississippi during the Civil Rights era. If focuses on life from the perspective of the black maids who work for southern white families.

While watching it, I was very angered and saddened by how poorly the black women were treated by most of their white employers. They were treated as if they were sub-human. But interestingly what came out to me in the movie, was that the more that the white women acted in a way that denied the Image of God in the black women, the more in-humane (or sub-human) they became. For are we not truly human when we are living in life in restored relationship with God, restored relationship with man, and restored relationship with creation, in accordance with God’s Word.

Another thought I had was what in the world was the Southern Church doing during this period of our history, and even before. The marks of the church are preaching the Word, administering the Sacraments, and the practice of discipline. These marks were severely distorted by the Southern church to allow slavery and behavior as portrayed in the movie to go on unaddressed, and in some cases approved and argued for by the Church. What did this communicate about the work of Christ and the truth of the gospel? If the church had worked to fulfill its calling during this time we might be in a different place today.

If you grew up in the South, as I did, another question I have is this- If I had grown up during that period would I have acted any different? Would I have ignored how Scripture spoke into my culture, my life, my prejudices?

What are the areas of our lives and culture that we are blind towards today? Where does the Gospel  need to speak into our lives? Where are we acting sub-human? Does the reality of Christ’s finished work on behalf of sinners impact how we treat others, how we live our lives today?

Brilliantly Hopeless

A few weeks ago, Christopher Hitchens, one of the most influential atheists of our day, died of cancer. In 2010, he did an interview, where he discussed how he was processing life and death, in the midst of his cancer. Below is an excerpt.

“One of my occasionally silly thoughts is: I wish I was suffering in a good cause — a cause larger than myself. Or, larger than just the mere survival,” he says. “If you’re in pain and being tortured, and you felt it was helping the liberation of humanity, then you can bear it better, I think. I just feel this is partly random, and partly the sort of cancer that gets people like me at about this age. It’s a part of life. It’s a dress rehearsal for an important episode of life, which is how you wind it up and how you agree to face that — which is something you’re aware of even when you’re in apparently good health.”

On Beliefs

In his writings about his diagnosis, Hitchens has asserted: “To the dumb question, why me? The cosmos barely bothers to return the reply: ‘Why not.’ ” Hitchens concedes that the dumb question “is bound to occur” — but not for long. He says he decided on his beliefs a long time ago, well before he became ill.

“I’m here as a product of process of evolution, which doesn’t make very many exceptions. And which rates life relatively cheaply,” he says. “I mean, most human beings who’ve ever been born would have been dead long before they reached my age. And I would think in most of the rest of the world — well, I know it — is still true. So to be relatively healthy at 62 is to be dealt a pretty good hand by the cosmos, which doesn’t know I’m here — and won’t notice when I’m gone. So that seemed the only properly stoic attitude to take.”

Oh, Mr. Hitchens, how I wish you looked to the personal Triune God and not the impersonal cosmos. How I wish you knew that there was One who’s suffering accomplished much for others, and invites us to participate in a mission much greater than ourselves. How I wish you knew the hope that is found in Jesus. (1 Thess. 4:13-18)

How would you respond to Christopher Hitchens, or others with beliefs like his?

 

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