Monday, May 25, 2009

The Kingdom: Scot Mcknight Presents the Gospel

"God loves you and everyone else and has a plan for us: the kingdom community.

But you and everyone else have a sin problem that separates you and everyone else from God, from yourselves, from one another, and from the good world God made for you.

The good news is that Jesus lived for you, died for you, was raised for you, and sent the Spirit for you - so you all can live as the beloved community.

If you enter into Jesus' story, by repentance and faith, you can be reconnected to God, to yourself, to others, and to this world.

Those who are reconnected like this will live now as God's community and will find themselves eternally in union with God and communion with others.

Those who preach this gospel will not deconstruct the church. Instead, they will participate in what God is doing: constructing the kingdom community even now."

Friday, May 15, 2009

The Kingdom: Christ and Job Loss

And now, brothers, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did also your rulers. But what God foretold by the mouth of all the prophets, that his Christ would suffer, he thus fulfilled. Repent therefore, and turn again, that your sins may be blotted out, that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that he may send the Christ appointed for you, Jesus, whom heaven must receive until the time for restoring all the things about which God spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets long ago (Acts 3.17-21).

There can be nothing more shocking, or numbing, than being called into your bosses office to find out that you are being laid off. At this point your whole life changes. All those plans for the future come to a halt and all hope for a stable life seem to vanish; worry sets in and the question, "what will happen next?" is constantly running through your mind. This is a situation that is being faced more and more today as companies lose money and can no longer afford their employees.

What does the Bible have to say about all this? I believe that true comfort can come in these troubled times by recognizing the truth that Jesus, the Messiah, has come. A good way to describe this world is 'chaos'. Sometimes there is good but other times it seems that everything is wrong with this world; people suffer from hunger, some face injustice by the governing authorities, while others lose their jobs and can no longer afford the 'cost of living'. When man first sinned against the creator God it brought on the curse and chaos ensued. But God's plan is not to leave the world the way it is. His plan is to save it and he has acted to save us from the evil in ourselves and the world at large.

When God's people were suffering because of their sin God made a promise to his people that one day he would make this world right (see Isaiah 35). All these promises have been made good in Jesus. He has come to take the curse of sin upon himself so that we, the ones who justly suffer for it, would go free, "But what God foretold by the mouth of all the prophets, that his Christ would suffer, he thus fulfilled. Repent therefore, and turn again, that your sins may be blotted out." For those who come to Jesus we can have our sin problem dealt with when we repent and believe. Moreover, we can be confident that we will experience 'times of refreshing' at Jesus' second coming. Jesus is coming to restore all things. He is coming to make all things right. He has entered into our chaos so that we might be freed from it. Turn to Christ and be saved.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

The Word: Mere Avoidance

Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons, through the insincerity of a liars whose consciences are seared, who forbid marriage and require abstinence from foods that God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth. For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, for it is made holy by the word of God and prayer (1 Tim. 4. 1-5).

It is easy to be like a clock; since the Bible tells us that Christ's kingdom is already here we can swing to one side and act as though we are going to solve all the world's problems in the here and now. Other times we can act as though Christ is not sitting at God's right hand, swing to the other end, and act as though there is nothing more to the Christian life than a lot of waiting.

When Christ ascended to the right hand of God he brought with him times of great joy. The spirit has arrived and people from every tongue and nation are coming to Christ in repentance and faith. Nevertheless, these 'last days' bring danger as well as great blessing. One of the threats that the church constantly faces is false teachers/teaching. There is such a thing as 'damning doctrine' and the god of this age loves when God's church fails to be discerning.

False teaching can be easy to detect at times. When we are told that it is okay to indulge in immoral sexual activity, tell lies, or anything else contrary to the will of God we know that we are to have no part in it. However, the devil and his demons are often more crafty than the 'in your face' kind of false teaching. Many times he fools Christians into thinking that the way to holiness is the way of 'mere avoidance'. After all, God's word tells us not to be worldly so, perhaps, the way we might do this is to avoid anything that brings pleasure. The craftiness behind this deception is the fact that it totally by-passes the heart of the matter. It is easy to avoid things and then look at ourselves and think, "I'm doing pretty well; not like those people over there".

Jesus is the creator of all things and through his death he is working to reconcile all things whether in heaven or on earth. Jesus is exercising his Lordship over all creation. So the way forward is not mere avoidance. It is doing everything in life in a way that reflects the truth that Jesus is Lord. Take sex for example: Pornography is a terrible misuse of God's good gift of sex. As a response Christians should not avoid sex all together. Rather, married couples should express the truth, through prayer and thanksgiving, that God made man and woman for each other and that together they reflect the image of a wise, generous, and loving creator. In this way Jesus is taking sex back.

The fact that Christ is Lord is not an excuse to indulge in sinful activities; nor does it mean that Christians become holy by the avoidance of things that God created for our good. Rather, we should live in a way that truly bears witness to the fact that Jesus is king and is working for the glory of God in all things.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Everything Else: The Transfiguration by Sufjan Stevens

When he took the three disciples
to the mountainside to pray,
his countenance was modified, his clothing was aflame.
Two men appeared: Moses and Elijah came;
they were at his side.
The prophecy, the legislation spoke of whenever he would die.

Then there came a word
of what he should accomplish on the day.
Then Peter spoke, to make of them a tabernacle place.
A cloud appeared in glory as an accolade.
They fell on the ground.
A voice arrived, the voice of God,
the face of God, covered in a cloud.

What he said to them,
the voice of God: the most beloved son.
Consider what he says to you, consider what's to come.
The prophecy was put to death,
was put to death, and so will the Son.
And keep your word, disguise the vision till the time has come.

Lost in the cloud, a voice: Have no fear! We draw near!
Lost in the cloud, a sign: Son of man! Turn your ear!
Lost in the cloud, a voice: Lamb of God! We draw near!
Lost in the cloud, a sign: Son of man! Son of God!

-From the album Seven Swans by Sufjan Stevens

Monday, May 11, 2009

The Word: The Mystery of Godliness

He was manifested in the flesh,
vindicated by the Spirit,
seen by angels,
proclaimed among the nations,
believed on in the world,
taken up in glory
(1 Tim. 3.16 ESV).

The Bible has no hesitations about linking Christian godliness with biblical orthodoxy. In order to be godly Christians we must be confessional. If someone were to ask us, "How might I become more like Christ?" how might we respond? It seems clear that the way the apostle Paul would respond would be, "Let essential Christian truths shape your life; this is the mystery of godliness."

What are these essential truths? First of all, Jesus Christ identified with us and died for our sins. When Jesus appeared in the flesh he lived the life that his people Israel, and the whole world, could not. He was completely faithful to the Father and did his will in all things, even as he went to the gruesome Roman cross. It was at the cross that Jesus reconciled God and man making peace by his blood; Jesus was vindicated at his resurrection showing that he was God's anointed one.

Second, Jesus has gone to heaven, the place where God and his angels dwell. We will see him again when he returns but this doesn't mean that Jesus is not actively reigning. In fact, because Jesus has entered into heaven the time has come for the great promise made to Abraham to become a reality (i.e. that the gentiles would come to him).

Third, Jesus is the true Lord of the world. This is good news because of the kind of Lord that Jesus is, namely, the one who brings peace, justice, and will fill the earth with righteousness. Now Jesus, through his Holy Spirit and by the will of the Father, is calling people to allegiance to himself.

These are the central beliefs of the Christian faith that can cause a person to be transformed into the image of Christ. As the church prayerfully mediates on these doctrines then the world will see what it looks like when people have their sins forgiven and are subject to the rule of the world's true Lord. This is what happens when Jesus becomes King.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

The Kingdom: N.T. Wright on Building for God's Kingdom

We are not building the kingdom by our own efforts, no. The Kingdom remains God's gift, new creation, sheer grace. But, as part of that grace already poured out in Jesus Christ and by the Spirit, we are building for the kingdom. I use the image of the eleventh-century stonemason, probably illiterate, working away on one or two blocks of stone according to the orders given to him. He isn't building the Cathedral; he is building for the Cathedral. When the master mason/architect gathers up all the small pieces of stone at which people have been working away, he will put them into the great edifice which he's had in mind all along and which he alone can build—but for which we can and must build in the present time. Note 1 Corinthians 3, the Temple-building picture, and the way it relates directly to 1 Cor 15.58: what you do in the Lord is not in vain, because of the resurrection.

I have absolutely no idea how it might be that a great symphony or painting, or the small act of love and gentleness shown to an elderly patient dying in hospital, or Wilberforce campaigning to end the slave trade, or the sudden generosity which makes a street beggar happy all day—how any or all of those find a place in God's eventual kingdom. He's the architect, not me. He has given us instructions on the little bits of stone we are meant to be carving. How he puts them together is his business.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

The Kingdom: Do You Have the Spirit?

Suppose you lived in a neighborhood full of single-mothers who could barely afford to purchase their children food. Or perhaps you lived in a country where children went days without a clean glass of water. How would you respond? Well you might say, “These are people who desperately need the gospel” and you would be right. All people, no matter what condition they are in, need to hear the good news that Jesus, the promised messiah and King of Israel, died for our sins and has been risen from the dead; that he now reigns from his throne and will one day return and do away with sin, evil and death forever. But what would you think of someone who said that that is the only thing they need. You would be right to say, in my estimation, that they haven’t fully understood the vocation of the messiah.

Jesus the messiah came to John the Baptist to undergo baptism. Russell D. Moore says, “Jesus is anointed through the baptism of John, pronounced the Son of God by a voice from heaven, and then, just as His father David, immediately sent in the power of the Spirit to confront the enemy of His covenant God (Mark 1:9-12; Luke 3:21-4:14; 1 Samuel 17).” Jesus received the Spirit and then went to proclaim and enact the Kingdom of God. Whenever Jesus healed a leper, healed a blind person or cast out demons he was confronting the enemy of God and bringing his kingdom to bear on the present.

After Jesus was crucified and risen Jesus told his disciples to wait for the gift of the Spirit (Acts 1:4, 5). When they received the Spirit they were given the ability to speak in tongues, prophecy, and some were given the ability to heal. These are all signs that we are living in the days of the reigning King (see Acts 2: 17-21). The church began to spread rapidly because of the gospel proclamation and the miracles that were being done in the name of Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit. The miracles performed were not mere magic tricks used to impress an audience. They met the physical needs of those suffering due to the fallen world in which we are living. The apostles didn’t say, “One day Jesus will come and destroy this world and make a new one so come on board so that one day you will be made well”. No, they healed them by the power of the reigning King (see Acts 3:1-10).

In his conversation with a lame man Peter says, “I have no silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk!” (Acts 3:6). I don’t know any Christians who have the power to heal but I know plenty of Christians (and all Christians have the Spirit). This means that we, just normal Christians, can, by the power of the Spirit, bring Jesus’ lordship to bear on the present. Sadly, there are many Christians who think that we must solely focus on preaching the gospel (which is an absolute necessity if anyone is going to be saved) and wait for the consummation of the Kingdom for anything physical to happen (which in some cases is true since not all of us have the gift of healing). But the early church knew that Christ is already Lord and is working through his church.

Many of us don’t have the gift of healing. Does that mean that we’re useless? No. “What we do have we will give”. We can help purchase food for our neighbor’s children. We can build wells in the name of Jesus. And when people ask us why or by what power we do these things we can answer, “It is through the power of Jesus, the crucified, risen and reigning Messiah that we do these things; repent, therefore, for the forgiveness of sins and receive the promised gift of the Holy Spirit.”

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

The Library: The Kingdom of Christ

"The Kingdom concept is a mystery older than the creation itself – a mystery that points to God’s cosmic purpose to sum up the entire cosmos under the rule of one human King, Jesus of Nazareth (Eph. 1:10)…Evangelical theology will remind Christians that the call to Christ is no a call ‘to go to heaven when you die’, but instead a call to be ‘joint-heirs’ (KJV) with the Messiah who will inherit an all-encompassing Kingdom… A renewed Kingdom theology can remind evangelical churches that they are the rulers of the universe – but not yet (1 Cor. 6:3). This means evangelicals can see the Kingdom of God as something more than the terminus point on the prophecy chart; something more than a crocheted sentiment hanging on the kitchen wall. It means that evangelicals can confront the Caesars of this age with a truth that once caused riots in the streets – there is ‘another king’ (Acts 17:7). It means that we can remind ourselves that the only perspective on the Kingdom of Christ that matters ultimately is quite old. And that perspective has already been addressed over the waters of the Jordan and in the caverns of a garden tomb, and will be repeated once more before a watching cosmos: ‘Jesus is Lord’ (Phil. 2:9-11)."

- Russell D. Moore, The Kingdom of Christ pp. 11-12

Twittering the Gospel

Here's my shot at it:

Jesus, the Messiah and true King promised in the Scriptures, died for our sins and, being raised up by God, has been appointed Lord of all.