I’ve been emphasizing our need to work together to take the micro-steps necessary for us to realize our macro-vision of Healthy Church. As Jesus said, “Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much” (Luke 16:10).
In conversations with GCI leaders around the globe, I’ve been pleased to learn that we are in substantial agreement concerning many of the steps we need to take, including recruiting, equipping and deploying new, younger leaders who will work in team-based ways to help their congregations develop the adaptive leadership and vibrant love, hope and faith venues that are so vital to church health. To help them take these steps, many of our leaders are gathering in cohorts, seeking the Lord’s answers to these two important questions:
Where will our new, younger leaders come from?
How can we provide environments where they will grow and flourish?
A plea to pastors
Pastors, I urge all of you to prayerfully seek the Lord’s answers to these questions in your context. As you do, please consider the pressing need we have for pastors to serve as mentors of new, younger leaders. I know you’ve heard this plea before, but perhaps we’ve not adequately defined the type of mentors that are needed. At this time in our journey, GCI needs each pastor to be what I’ll refer to as a sponsor-mentor. This is a mentor who provides their protégés with three essential things: space, resources and relational support. Let’s look at each one.
1. Provide space
Providing “space” for an emerging leader means giving your protégé meaningful team-based (as opposed to solo) opportunities to contribute creatively to ministry within your congregation. Such a space includes the latitude to succeed and to fail, and thus to learn and grow. Learning is greatly enhanced when there is the possibility of failure. Effective sponsor-mentors walk with their protégé through the lessons of disappointment as well the triumphs of success.
2. Provide resources
Sponsor-mentors provide their protégés with the resources they need to learn and grow—things like adequate funding, tools (equipment, meeting space, technical support, etc.), and the man- and woman-power needed to conduct successful events or activities. One of the most crucial resources involves access into the mentor’s network of relationships. Vouching for a younger protégé in a way that connects them with the right people is the ‘electricity’ that ‘lights the bulb.’
3. Provide relational support
Even when adequate space and resources are provided, an emerging leader’s development is stifled when their mentor fails to provide them with abundant relational support. Though effective sponsor-mentors don’t micro-manage, they do make themselves accessible, showing keen interest in the person and ministry projects of their protégé. Relational support is extended by asking good questions that facilitate growth-enhancing dialog and by being their protégé’s number one cheerleader.
Pastors, in asking you to be sponsor-mentors, I’m not asking you to clone yourselves. Instead, I’m asking you to recruit and develop brave, creative new leaders who, following your example, will become mature leaders who work powerfully, in team-based ways, through other people.
Ministry leaders, much of what I’ve said here applies to you as well. The need for new leaders at all levels is great, and the time for each of us to step up as sponsor-mentors is now. Please identify a protégé or two and sponsor and mentor them with all you’ve got!
Asking the Lord for more sponsor-mentors,
Healthy Church: R.E.A.L. Teams (part 1)
A vital aspect of realizing our vision for Healthy Church is having in place what we call R.E.A.L. Teams. For details, check out the infographic below (click to enlarge). We encourage you to discuss this information with your leaders to help you grow in the practice of team-based ministry.
Healthy Church: Connection Card
Here from the GCI Ministry Toolbox is an infographic that shows how to use a connection card in you congregation as a tool for connecting with visitors and guests who attend your worship services and outreach events. The infographic provides a template to use in producing a locally branded connection card (click on the image below to download it in PDF).
Worldview Conversion: The Role of the Church
GCI Caribbean Nations Mission Developer Charles Fleming continues the series begun last month, now looking at the role the church has in facilitating a process that leads to worldview conversion.
How can we, under-shepherds of the Great Shepherd Jesus Christ, help our members understand the need many of them have for the conversion of their personal worldview into greater alignment with the mind of Christ? I’ve wrestled with that question since 2004, when I began seeing the need for the realignment of my own worldview.
The role of the church
As I wrestled, it became clear that the place to begin is with an understanding of the disciple-making mission given by Jesus to his church. Only then can we understand how discipling people includes helping them embrace a worldview that aligns with the mind of Christ rather than with the values, perspectives and assumptions of the dominant, secular culture.
Note what the apostle Peter wrote to Christians concerning this issue:
You are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. Dear friends, I urge you, as aliens and strangers in the world, to abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul. Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us. (1 Pet. 2: 9-12)
As Scott McKnight points out in his commentary on 1 Peter, this passage is one of the earliest examples of an answer to a vital question: How are Christians to interact with society and culture? As McKnight notes, Peter’s letter sheds light on “one of the first struggles in the church with society” (The NIV Application Commentary: 1 Peter, p. 37).
The Christians Peter wrote to were being marginalized and even ridiculed by the society around them. More and more, they were being viewed as enemies of the culture’s vision of the good life. But what relevance does Peter’s advice to 1st-century Christians have for us in 21st-century Western culture? The answer is that it has a great deal of relevance. You see, there was a time when Western culture gave Christianity an honored, even favored position. But times have changed, and the leading Western culture-shaping institutions are now largely post-Christian, even anti-Christian. As a result, like the Christians Peter wrote to in the 1st century, Christians in the West today are both marginalized and ridiculed.
The need for renewal
It’s widely recognized that the church’s influence on the culture in the West today is small (and in many places, nearly non-existent). But that situation is not new. As many church historians note, when societal conditions favor Christianity, the church tends to become more conformed to the culture with the result being that its witness to the culture is weakened. But when the church is under duress, it tends to live closer to its calling from God, and its witness to the culture is strengthened. So, though many Christians decry the lack of Christian influence in Western culture today, there is hope for the church and its witness, just as there was in Peter’s day—if (and this is a big if) the church—perhaps even a small part of it—is renewed in its calling to be the redemptive presence of Jesus in the world.
The fruit of renewal
In the passage in 1 Peter quoted above, the apostle points out six ways Christians are renewed as individuals when the church as a whole is renewed in its calling:
Their identity is renewed. They begin to see themselves for who they are—”A people belonging to God.” As that happens, they discover the freedom and personal dignity that comes with letting God, and not the surrounding culture, define their identity.
Their sense of calling is renewed. They begin to understand that they are “a royal priesthood,” called to serve with Christ, the High Priest, as he sacrificially and redemptively serves humankind. As they are renewed in their sense of calling, their experience of joy grows.
Their priorities in life are renewed. They begin to see that their number-one priority is to live within the culture in such a way that non-Christians take positive note and God is glorified.
They are set free to live counter-culturally. Setting a positive example for non-Christians does not mean capitulating to the dominant, secular culture. Instead Christians, to quote Peter, are “aliens and strangers in the world”—not rejecting the people in the world but rejecting the culture’s secular worldview with its unchristian (Peter calls it “pagan”) beliefs, values and perspectives. Peter’s admonition emphasizes the need we all have as followers of Jesus to be aware of the impact that the secular culture has on the way we think about all manner of issues.
They are set free to belong. Christians have a dual citizenship—usually citizens of the nation in which they reside and also citizens of what Peter calls “a holy nation.” This nation (God’s kingdom) is holy because it has been formed and set apart by God for his purposes. Though invisible to most people, God calls this nation forth as his servants in the world (Phil. 3:20). Though as citizens of God’s nation we may feel marginalized (even disenfranchised) within the nation in which we reside, we know who we belong to and that gives us great joy and hope.
They are given lives that matter. Our lives within the communion of the saints (the church), in union and communion with Christ, have eternal value. That value may not be evident to all the people around us (and sometimes it’s even hidden from us), but we are confident knowing that what we do in Christ’s service will, in time, be seen by all, and they will “glorify God on the day he visits us.” As members of the body of Christ, the church, we are participants in a precious work that is not ours to control, but to which we gladly give our lives, knowing its eternal implications. Any perceived loss of influence in the larger culture is more than offset by this eternal perspective.
It begins with us
As GCI pastors and ministry leaders, we might be thinking that it’s a tall order to lead our congregations in the sort of renewal Peter envisions. Where would we begin? My answer is that it starts with each of us seeking deeply personalanswers to the following questions:
Is my goal in life to so grow in Christ that living to glorify God and point other to God becomes my number-one passion?
Do I self-identify as a priest (minister) of Jesus, living in a Christian-unfriendly environment, yet seeking to love people who are often indifferent or even hostile to my Lord?
Does the reality of living counter-culturally shape my aspirations and expectations as to what my life should be like? Or do I simply default to the aspirational dream of the dominant secular culture around me?
When I am being counter-cultural, do my critiques of my culture emerge from Jesus’ rule over my mind and heart, or are my critiques merely the reflection of a social or political ideology in the country where I live?
Do the eternal implications of my participation in Jesus’ ministry create a sense of urgency in me to more effectively participate with Jesus in living for the sake of others?
I encourage you to prayerfully discuss your answers to these questions with God. For me, doing so is a lifetime challenge—one that, from time-to-time, requires periods of focused reflection. It’s amazing how deep into our souls the influence of the dominant culture reaches!
Having experienced a certain degree of worldview conversion in our own lives, we can reach out to help our members examine the need they have for renewal. In some (many?) cases, that will mean modification (even radical transformation) to the worldview they now hold. To help you think about this challenge, here are some ideas to consider:
1. Help your members identify the cultural assumptions that are incompatible with a Christ-centered worldview. Gary Deddo lists several of these assumptions in his article in this issue. To follow through, we will need to educate ourselves concerning worldview issues. Hopefully, this series of articles in Equipper will help. You might also read some of the books and other resources being referenced in the series, and use them as guide to research the topic for yourself on the internet.
If we fail to educate our members on these issues, they will tend to take what we preach and teach and cherry-pick the points that align with their current worldview—one that might be seriously at odds with the mind of Christ. Helping members attend to the conversion of their worldview is necessary, foundational work for us as pastors called to help facilitate the life-transformation Jesus offers his people by the Holy Spirit.
2. Develop a clear mental model as to what a worldview is. I find the diagram below to be helpful in assessing the influence our worldviews have on us. It shows the correlation between our values/beliefs and our worldview, helping us see where our actions and decisions come from.
Note in the diagram that behavior, which is visible to others, is just the “tip of the iceberg.” Beneath it are what is less visible—the beliefs, values and perspectives that shape behavior. In some cases, we ourselves may act out of what might be called unconscious values, where things just “feel right” and we act accordingly. Undergirding all this—shaping and integrating our values and beliefs—is our worldview. Though it often goes unrecognized, it is a powerful force that determines how we view reality and thus how we think and act. As Gary Deddo points out in his article in this issue, a Christ-centered worldview is undergirded by a theological understanding, which is then undergirded by Scripture, with Jesus, the Living Word of God, being the cornerstone that undergirds it all (Eph. 2:20-21).
3. Use the diagram above to help you answer these questions:
Why did I act or decide the way I did? What value, belief or assumption might be behind what I said or did?
Why do I find it so easy to support or oppose… (name a given cause)?
4. Follow the steps below in helping your members assess which aspects of the prevailing secular worldview might be forming the worldview that currently prevails within your congregation:
Through Scripture reading and Spirit-guided prayer, ask yourself this: How well do my members understand their identity and their calling in the light of Peter’s instructions? You can adapt the questions you asked yourself to congregants as you discuss this with the Holy Spirit.
Preach interactive sermons on Jesus’ design for the church, showing how Christian witness in your nation may have come short of some aspects of this beautiful description of our calling. In your messages, reflect on how failure to live out elements of Peter’s description may have triggered reactions in the culture and paved the way for some of the erroneous worldview issues to gain influence in the larger culture. Learn from what is said during these interactive sessions. The way people respond may reveal where they are—aligned with our calling, or perhaps out of step. Use what you learn as the basis for additional conversation and teaching.
Be patient. Worldview conversion is not a one-shot project—it’s a lifelong journey best done in community. Note in 1 Peter that the apostle’s leadership was marked by giving the people he served high support and high challenge, with grace always. Let’s invite our members to join us in a journey of attending to our worldviews—the “place” where we integrate (knowingly or unknowingly) the values, beliefs and assumptions that determine how we think and then live.
Worldview Conversion: Whole-Life Discipleship
Grace Communion Seminary President Gary Deddo continues the series started last month, now looking at how the church can facilitate worldview conversion through a process of whole-life discipleship.
Defining the issue
Sadly, in the post-Christian Western world, many Christians have (often unknowingly) adopted a worldview that is largely secular—one that yields non-Christian perspectives on the nature of human being, what gender is, what equality is, what human rights are, what relationships between parents and children should be, what the church is, how one comes to know truth (if it can be known at all), what science is, what faith is, etc.
A secular worldview (and there are many variations) undermines a believer’s ability to embrace and live out of the truth (with its worldview) that is found in Jesus. When the church operates out of a secular worldview, its calling to be the church of Jesus Christ is undermined.
What shall we do?
How can we in GCI helpfully address this issue with our members? The answer is that we must first understand what worldview is and why it matters (see Ted Johnston’s article on worldview in last month’s Equipper), then facilitate the conversion of our members’ worldview through an educational process we are calling whole-life discipleship. That process helps members of all ages and all maturity levels identify the worldview they currently hold, and any need to have it converted (transformed) to more fully align with a Christ-centered worldview—one that is expressive of Jesus’ faith, hope and love; embracing his values, priorities and ways of being in this fallen world.
As shown in the diagram above, whole-life discipleship begins by grounding our members in the knowledge and faith that is recorded in the written word of God (the Bible) and embodied in the Living Word of God (Jesus), who interprets Scripture for us. Grounded in that foundation, we then help our members add a well-developed understanding of the core beliefs (doctrines and theological understandings) that define the Christian faith (see our We Believeteaching tool for help with this). Then we help them use this knowledge to examine the worldview of the surrounding culture, noting how it contrasts with one that is fully Christ-centered. Doing so equips our members for living a life (a vocation) that conforms with a Christ-centered worldview. Note how this whole-life discipleship process is informed throughout by Holy Scripture, including these key passages:
Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. (Rom. 12:2)
See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the elemental spiritual forces of this world rather than on Christ. (Col. 2:8)
I want you to know how hard I am contending for you and for those at Laodicea, and for all who have not met me personally. My goal is that they may be encouraged in heart and united in love, so that they may have the full riches of complete understanding, in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. I tell you this so that no one may deceive you by fine-sounding arguments. (Col. 2:1-4)
We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ. (2 Cor. 10:5)
The conversion (deconstruction/reconstruction) of our members’ worldview involves engaging them in a journey of coming to see Jesus as Lord and Redeemer of all aspects of life: personal and social, public and private, financial, educational, vocational, intellectual, sexual, cultural, entertainment and leisure, political and recreational. As someone has said, If Jesus is not Lord of all, he is not Lord at all.
Deconstructing a secular worldview
Sadly, many Christians hold a worldview that is more secular than Christ-centered. A secular worldview begins to take hold when they either don’t care about or find themselves unable to make the connection between some area of life and Jesus’ gracious Lordship. This disconnect typically involves the lack of application of sound biblical doctrine and theology to every aspect of life. It also typically involves embracing the Western idea that the world and life are somehow divided into secular and sacred spheres, where the Bible, church doctrine and theology only have to do with personal, private spirituality and the religious activity of the church—what often is referred to as the sacred. In that way of dualistic thinking, the standards, norms, assumptions and values of the sacred sphere have no relevance within the secular sphere.
Over the last 60 to 70 years, the church has tried various approaches in seeking to overcome this sacred-secular dualism. One approach has been to help Christians see all aspects of life as sacred. However, the results using this approach have been mixed, and the challenge remains. A key aspect of that challenge is to somehow help Christians identify and examine the underlying assumptions that make up their worldview. It is sometimes (often?) the case that many of these assumptions are more secular than Christ-centered. These secular assumptions are usually held unknowingly—typically picked up along the way of life through education, entertainment, journalism, popular media, etc.
We want to help our members discover and critically examine these secular assumptions by cross-checking them against the foundations of the Christian faith. Doing so will help them bring the assumptions they may hold to light where they can be carefully scrutinized, then rejected when found to be contrary to the Christian faith.
Reconstructing a Christ-centered worldview
Having helped our members deconstruct any secular aspects of their current worldview, we then want to help them reconstruct their worldview to a point where it is more fully Christ-centered. How do we do that? I have found the Relationship Wheel diagram shown below to be a helpful summary of a whole-life discipleship approach. It shows that a Christ-centered worldview flows from our worship relationship with the Triune God (R1, F=Father, S=Son, HS=Holy Spirit). Grounded and centered by this worship relationship, the disciple moves out in relationship to others they are close to (R2) where they then bear witness to their relationship with (and worship of) the Triune God (R1). These R2 relationships take place first within the circle of the church (bounded by the dotted line), then expand to encompass other people they are close to, including those who are not Christians. From there they move out to encompass individuals, organizations and institutions even further beyond the boundaries of the church (R3).
Let us in GCI work together to help our members understand and participate in this whole-life discipleship approach to worldview conversion. We can do so by first helping them focus on matters of doctrine and theology, then helping them examine their sense of personal identity, and then their values, ethics, morals and actions. We can then help them explore how living out of the R1 center relates and interacts with all other aspects of their life. As they progress outward on the Relationship Wheel, they will, over time (in fellowship with other Christians) fill out a Christian worldview. As that happens, they will become more fully conformed to Christ, living out the good and right will of God. In that way they will experience more the wholeness, coherence and integrity of living out of God’s grace in every aspect of life—doing all they do with freedom and joy, to the glory of God.
Our journey in GCI
Looking at the Relationship Wheel, it’s significant to note that GCI has been following this progression as a denomination. For several years, we’ve focused on helping our members embrace orthodox, historic Christian doctrine viewed through the lens of incarnational Trinitarian theology. There can be no other foundation for our faith and life. Now, our challenge is to continue the journey on to the outer rings of the diagram—helping our members, especially the younger ones, embrace and then apply our doctrines and theology in ways in which Jesus is Lord and Redeemer of all of life—all they think and do in every aspect of life. This life-application aspect of whole-life discipleship will help our members identify obstacles to letting go of a secular worldview in order to embrace a worldview that is fully Christ-centered. It is toward that end that we are providing this series of articles on worldview conversion and whole-life discipleship.
The foundation of biblical doctrine and theology
In GCI, we are committed to a whole-life discipleship process that is built on biblical doctrine and theology, not on philosophical or ideological systems (even Christian ones). For example, we don’t want to encourage our members to develop a worldview that is more about contemporary political ideology than it is about the core beliefs and convictions of the Christian faith set out in the Nicene Creed (and summarized in GCI’s teaching tool, We Believe). Also, we are committed to an educational focus on discipleship (building up the body of Christ), rather than on mere apologetics (defending the faith). That being the case, we must be selective and not rely on Christian resources that have a focus that is mainly political-ideological, or merely apologetic.
Replacing secular assumptions
In referring to this educational strategy as whole-life discipleship, we are recognizing that the surrounding culture (with its predominantly secular worldview) is incessantly “discipling” our members, especially the younger ones. All of us are being fed fundamental assumptions/axioms about life and reality every day. This happens not so much by direct teaching, but indirectly through multiple forms of communication/media by which various assumptions are being conveyed. Such assumptions, though often hidden, are nonetheless influential, subtly (and sometimes not so subtly) shaping and reshaping our worldview out of a decidedly secular center. Here are several examples of such fundamental secular assumptions:
No one has a right to tell you what you ought to do once you are 18 years old.
There is no such thing as truth, only opinions.
There is no such thing as gender, it’s all just socially invented and imposed.
The church and religion are responsible for most of the wars in history.
The Christian faith is an invention of white Europeans.
Whatever two consenting adults decide to do together will never harm them.
Being sexually active is a need of human beings just as essential as eating and breathing.
Doing anything natural is good and right.
Each individual has a right to do wrong.
There is no purpose to life—each individual can only give themselves meaning and purpose.
No one can know God.
Belief in God is entirely a personal, private affair that you must keep to yourself.
You are what you feel or desire.
Being authentic means first and last being true to yourself.
I have a right not to be offended by anyone or anything.
There is no such thing as right and wrong, just individual opinions.
Tolerance requires that we affirm anything that another person believes and wants to do.
Following any God means losing your freedom.
Belief in God is an offence to human dignity.
You are only answerable to yourself and to no one else.
All religious belief is a cover-up for insecurity.
Christian faith is irrational and built on nothing but personal preference.
Christian faith is anti-scientific.
It is wrong to teach your children to believe anything in particular—they must be left free and unaffected by the beliefs of their parents.
There is no truth, all there is, is voting according to your own opinions.
All opinions are equally valid and should never be questioned nor required to be justified by reference to any facts, or moral or spiritual truth.
All that’s evil in our world can be eradicated by money, education, positive thinking or by non-violent or violent demonstrations and protests.
These secular assumptions often resist and even contradict biblical doctrines and theology. They undermine the faith we already have as well as stifle our growth in the faith. They can inhibit the application of biblical teaching, especially as it applies to the wider cultural context. They can also be sources of continual temptation to live inconsistently with one’s faith in the living God.
The damaging effects of being bombarded daily with messages that advance these kinds of secular assumptions become more and more apparent as Western societies move from being post-Christian to anti-Christian. The church has been largely naive about this movement—beginning centuries ago with thinking that Deistic beliefs about God are harmless and compatible with a Trinitarian and incarnational God. They aren’t. Furthermore, that kind of “civil religion,” as it has been called, which once was the favored compromise of the West, has now been banished. In Western culture, God is now almost entirely excluded from the public square (as seen in journalism, education, entertainment and even law).
Given this reality, the church must identify the secular cultural assumptions that are incompatible with a Christ-centered worldview and name them for the benefit of those we are called to disciple in the way of Jesus. Doing so will include exploring how and why these assumptions are incompatible with the mind of Christ, and where and how they are being promoted, protected and privileged within the surrounding culture. Though such a process will take time and effort, it is vital.
Understanding our context
In advancing whole-life discipleship, we need to realize that the particulars of what is addressed will necessarily vary from one socio-cultural context to another. Those overseeing ministry in a particular context (denominational leaders, pastors and teachers) will have to discern what cultural assumptions should get attention and which should not. They will then need to clearly communicate and dialogue about the secular worldview issues that are particularly influential within their context.
This task of worldview conversion through whole-life discipleship is vital because if we don’t help our members forsake a secular worldview and embrace a Christ-centered one, the wider culture will, by default, disciple them in a secular worldview. It will do so largely by misrepresenting Christian faith and sometimes even promulgating outright lies about it. The net effect is to make Christian faith largely implausible, thus stifling the spiritual development of the disciple, making it all but impossible for them to be involved in reaching out, through evangelism, to non-Christians with the message of the gospel of God’s grace in Jesus Christ.
The whole-life discipleship that leads to worldview conversion is not a philosophical or ideological program aimed at winning arguments or debates with non-Christians, nor is it about “taking back our nation for God.” It’s also not about fighting the moral decay in our culture or setting up a new moral code in order to transform society (though whole-life discipleship necessarily clarifies issues of morality). Instead, our program of whole-life discipleship needs to focus on helping our members (and others we have opportunity to disciple) to embrace the core doctrines and theology of the Christian faith, leading to exploring how to live that faith within the cultural context in which they live. Please note that this approach to discipleship is not about producing lengthy lists of do’s and don’ts. Instead, it’s about helping people think with the mind of Christ concerning matters of morals and ethics in all aspects of everyday life. I pray this series of articles in GCI Equipper on worldview conversionwill help us do just that.
Resources related to worldview conversion through whole-life discipleship:
God, Freedom and Dignity: Embracing a God-Centered Identity in a Me-Centered Culture, by Ron Highfield
Hidden Worldviews: Eight Cultural Stories that Shape our Lives, by Steve Wilkens and Mark L. Sanford.
6 Modern Myths: About Christianity and Western Civilization, by Philip J. Sampson
The Universe Next Door: A Worldview Catalogue. James Sire, IVP, 4th Ed.
Beyond the Modern Age: An Archaeology of Contemporary Culture, by Bob Goudzwaard and Craig G. Bartholomew
“Apples, Oranges and Gay Marriage,” by Robin Phillips (click here to read online)
Prayer Guide: September 2018
Here is the Prayer Guide for September (click on the image to download):
Kids Korner: Loving Our Kids to Life!
Kid’s Korner this month is from Lance McKinnon.
Have you ever heard someone say, “I love my kids to death!”? That statement is not meant literally. Instead, it’s our way of expressing a whole-life focused love. It’s the kind of love we see in Jesus, who went to the cross for the sake of bringing us into the wholeness of his life. The way we approach discipleship with our kids should mirror that love. Let us all aim to love our kids to life!
Over the next few months, through a series of articles on worldview conversion and whole-life discipleship, the focus here in Equipper will be helping people of all ages develop a Christ-centered worldview. I urge all of you who are on the front lines of discipling kids to take to heart what is said in these articles so that you can, in turn, help our kids live their lives centered on Christ.
Children and teens especially run the risk of drowning as they swim in a “cultural soup” that runs increasingly counter to a Christ-centered worldview. Those who disciple kids must be vigilant in aligning their own worldview with the mind of Christ, so they can then help protect our children from being swept away in the currents of our increasingly “me-centered culture.” As Ted Johnston noted in his worldview article in last month’s Equipper, there is a very strong “me-centered” current in our Western world that shapes the worldview and identity of many people. We would be naïve to think that this current does not taint our approach to youth and children’s ministry. However, it doesn’t have to.
As we let the Holy Spirit lead us deeper into the conversion of our own worldview, we can, in turn, find healthier and more effective ways to love our kids to life, rather than to death. We can be a powerful voice in their lives, pointing them to Jesus, the water of life, where true freedom and life-giving identity flows.
So, I encourage you to do the hard work of building awareness of the cultural soup we swim in, while developing a Christ-centered worldview that enables our participation with Jesus by the Holy Spirit, in discipleship with our children. I highly recommend reading Ron Highfield’s book (pictured at right), which was recommended by Greg Williams and Ted Johnston in last month’s Equipper. In my opinion, it’s a top read for anyone who wants to be informed and equipped in doing ministry in our culture today. I also encourage you to follow the discussion here in Equipper on this topic. As we move forward together in this direction, we can engage in healthy dialogue leading to better understanding and practice in how we disciple our young people.
Sermon for October 7, 2018
Scripture Readings: Gen. 2:18-24; Ps. 8;
Heb. 1:1-4; 2:5-12; Mark 10:2-16
Sermon by Lance McKinnon
(from Hebrews 1:1-4)
In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe. The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven. So he became as much superior to the angels as the name he has inherited is superior to theirs. (Heb. 1:1-4)
These first four verses of the book of Hebrews establish the theme of comparison—one the author returns to throughout the book. The goal is to present the all-surpassing sufficiency of Jesus as God’s revelation to us in comparison and contrast with the way God spoke prior to the Incarnation. In accordance with this theme, we find in Hebrews many old covenant/new covenant contrasts where the new covenant in Jesus comes out on top. Jesus is presented as superior to the prophets, to Moses, to the Sabbath, to the High Priest, to the sacrifices, and here in these first four verses as superior to the angels.
Looking at these contrasts, we might be tempted to view God’s way of speaking in the past as somehow “bad.” But that is not the author’s intent. Instead, the contrast the author makes is between good and best, beginning and end, promise and fulfillment. It’s important to keep this in mind lest we inadvertently see God’s work in the past in a way that would bring into question the goodness of God.
The incarnation of the eternal Son of God in the person of Jesus reveals that God is always good. There is no “good cop/bad cop” relationship between God in the Old Testament and God in the New. Rather, in Jesus, who presents to us God as he has always been, we find the God who can be trusted. We find him always working to bring his people, and ultimately all humanity, into the good purpose for which he created us.
What then is the relationship between how God dealt with people under the old covenant and how he now deals with them under the new? A helpful analogy is how pregnancy relates to giving birth. Given that pregnancy is part of the process of having a baby, we don’t consider it a “bad” thing once the child is born. But at the same time, we don’t desire to turn from the newborn child and return to pregnancy. That would be missing the purpose of the pregnancy altogether.
Analogies ultimately break down, but this seems to be the author’s intent in offering various comparisons. The point of the contrasts is to show that the old covenant and all the ways God chose to speak in the past are in preparation for God’s ultimate revelation to us in and through his incarnate Son. Now that the Son is here, it would be a mistake to try to return to the time when the Son was hidden in the womb.
The first thing we are told in today’s passage in Hebrews 1 is that God is a God who speaks. He is not a deaf-and-dumb God, but the one who, from all eternity, is a tri-personal communion of love—the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. This God created us to share in that triune communion and is not silent or detached in his dealings with us.
Within that introduction, we encounter four ways in which this speaking God addresses us in Jesus as contrasted with how he addressed Israel prior to the Incarnation:
All of God’s speaking before the Incarnation is now in the past, but after the Incarnation he speaks “in these last days” through his Son. The word that comes to us through and in Jesus is of cataclysmic significance. There will be no other way of God addressing us from this point forward.
God speaks to his people—to Israel before the Incarnation, and now, in Jesus, to the church. In Jesus, God speaks personally and uniquely. This is not a second-hand or indirect encounter with God. In Jesus, God is present with us face-to-face, not buried with dead ancestry, and he continues to speak today.
Before the Incarnation, God spoke by the prophets, but now he speaks by his Son who is “the exact imprint of God’s very being.” We can be sure that this ultimate “prophet” knows what he’s speaking about.
Before the Incarnation, God spoke in various times and ways but now speaks to us for all times in one way. Jesus, the Alpha and Omega, is the way the Father now communes with us. When we hear him speaking, whether through Scripture, song, prayer or sermon, we can know that it is the Lord personally addressing us.
The passage in Hebrews continues with a remarkable description of this Son in and through whom God speaks. He is shown to be unique and superior in that he is heir of all, creator of all and sustainer of all.
When the Son of God took on flesh, becoming the man Jesus, he headed up all creation. In doing so, he “provided purification for sins,” bringing us into the communion of the Father, Son and Spirit. It is in the name of Jesus that the speaking God eternally addresses us with his love. In this way Jesus is “superior to angels,” for he is the perfect revelation of the Father to us.
The author of Hebrews then compares angels, who are God’s messengers, to Jesus. We may find some application for us in this comparison. I doubt many today are tempted to return to the old covenant sacrifices, but we may at times be tempted to confuse messengers with the Savior.
Remember how God first spoke to you—how he called you to himself. Maybe he used a special experience or perhaps it was through the words of a specific speaker or author. Whatever the means God used to get our attention, we must be on guard not to confuse the messenger with God himself. Angels are messengers, not messiahs. If we forget that God is speaking to us through his Son, we may find ourselves pledging allegiance to a teacher or an experience rather than to the God who worked in our lives through those means.
As angelic as some messengers can be, or as heavenly as some experiences might seem, they pale in comparison to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, who is speaking to us today, ever turning us toward himself for face-to-face communion with the Father. So, let us look to Jesus, the full and final revelation of God to us all.
Sermon for October 14, 2018
Scripture Readings: Job 23:1-8, 16-17; Ps. 90:12-17;
Heb. 4:12-16; Mark 10:17-31
Sermon by Ted Johnston
(From Mark 9-10, drawing on commentary from New Bible Commentary,Bible Knowledge Commentary, and Mark for Everyone by N.T. Wright)
The High Cost of the Kingdom
Today’s reading in Mark 10:17-31 falls within a section that spans Mark 9:14-10:52. That section, which could be titled The High Cost of the Kingdom, occurs near the end of Jesus’ life on earth.
Though Peter and the other disciples are beginning to understand that Jesus is the promised Messiah, they do not yet see that Jesus is the Messiah who will suffer to serve and to save. They do not comprehend the high cost of the kingdom—the cost Jesus will pay to be its King, and the cost the disciples of Jesus will pay as its citizens.
This sermon is not about buying our way into God’s kingdom—it’s about participating with Jesus in his kingdom life, thus conforming our lives to his kingdom ways. There is a price to be paid for doing so, and Mark sets it out in this section by highlighting six characteristics of Jesus: prayerful dependence, self-denial, faithfulness, generosity, humility and persistent faith. Let’s look at all six with a focus on number four: generosity.
1. Prayerful dependence
[Note to preacher: for the sake of time, don’t read the passages referred to, except in section number four. In the other sections, just refer to the passage to help your members understand the overall context.]
First, we see in Mark 9:14-32 that Jesus is grieved by two things: the opposition he is receiving from the teachers of the law and the unbelief that is coming from the crowds and from his own disciples. The lesson is that kingdom victory (in this case over illness) depends not on the extent of our faith, but on the extent of Jesus’ faith, which he then, by the Spirit, shares with us.
In that context of human weakness, Jesus explains that part of the high cost of the kingdom is to turn to him in dependent prayer. Why? Because he alone pays the full kingdom cost, which is his soon-coming sacrificial death. Sadly, the disciples fail to understand.
In Mark 9:33-50, the disciples are shown that part of the cost of the kingdom is to abandon one’s need for supremacy and power. Self-denial is the path to kingdom greatness, which Jesus illustrates by pointing to weak, helpless children.
Because Jesus’ disciples were unable to practice self-denial perfectly, this admonition points to Jesus, who alone is perfect. Our calling is to trust in him—to embrace his person and follow his kingdom ways. Those ways of Jesus are not about being the greatest or the most powerful, but of denying self to serve God by serving people.
In Mark 10:1-16, Jesus shows that the high cost of the kingdom includes faithfulness in one’s closest relationships, including marriage. Jesus drives home his point by pointing to innocent little children as positive examples. Only those who receive the kingdom with the simple faith (trust) of a child truly experience what the kingdom is all about.
Now we come to today’s Gospel reading in Mark:
[If this passage was not read during the scripture reading, read it now.]
As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. “Good teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
“Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good– except God alone. You know the commandments: ‘Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not give false testimony, do not defraud, honor your father and mother.'”
“Teacher,” he declared, “all these I have kept since I was a boy.”
Jesus looked at him and loved him. “One thing you lack,” he said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”
At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth.
Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!”
The disciples were amazed at his words. But Jesus said again, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.”
The disciples were even more amazed, and said to each other, “Who then can be saved?”
Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God.”
Peter said to him, “We have left everything to follow you!”
“I tell you the truth,” Jesus replied, “no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age (homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields– and with them, persecutions) and in the age to come, eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last first.” (Mark 10:17-31)
Here Jesus presses the point about the high cost of the kingdom. The rich man who approached Jesus possessed everything except what really counts: eternal life (which is kingdom life). Though he wants that life, he is unwilling to pay the high cost to possess it. Like the well-known story of the monkey that cannot get out of the trap because it’s unwilling to let go of what’s in its hand (see picture below), this rich man is unwilling to let go of his fixation with material wealth.
Though he is clearly lovable and eager; and, no doubt, morally upright, the rich man cannot face what it will mean for him (given his situation) to follow Jesus (which is what eternal life is all about). So, the rich man goes away sad from Jesus and we hear no more of him. He made his choice, at least for now.
Evaluating the situation, Jesus tells his followers that it is very hard for the rich to enter the kingdom of God. Indeed, without God’s help, it is utterly impossible! To make his point, Jesus uses a comical proverb—no camel can go through the eye of a needle!
Jesus also teaches that giving money to the poor and other sacrifices we make for the kingdom, results in reward (treasure) for us—but in heaven, not here on earth. The more we give, the more we will receive. However, this does NOT mean that if we give money to God’s work, we get more back, as some health-and-wealth (prosperity) groups falsely teach.
What Jesus is saying is that spiritual rewards in the kingdom (both now and in the future) will far outweigh any sacrifices we may make now to follow Jesus, even when following him means hardship, including persecution.
Speaking of that hardship, appended to this passage is another foretelling of Jesus’ suffering, this time in more detail:
They were on their way up to Jerusalem, with Jesus leading the way, and the disciples were astonished, while those who followed were afraid. Again he took the Twelve aside and told them what was going to happen to him. “We are going up to Jerusalem,” he said, “and the Son of Man will be betrayed to the chief priests and teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death and will hand him over to the Gentiles, who will mock him and spit on him, flog him and kill him. Three days later he will rise.” (Mark 10:32-34)
Something in Jesus’ behavior, as well as in his words, causes the disciples to be astonished and the crowd that is following them to be afraid. Somehow, they feel that a crisis is very near, and they are right.
Jesus’ words here are a powerful reminder of who pays the ultimate, very high cost for the kingdom—and Jesus does so on our behalf. Never forget that. He is the ultimate generous one, and we are called to follow him, to share in his generosity. What are we holding onto that prevents us from being generous, like Jesus? Something to ponder and pray about.
As the passage on the high cost of the kingdom continues, we come to Mark 10:35-45, where James and John, sons of Zebedee, come to Jesus seeking a high position in his kingdom. It’s hard to believe that they would be so self-promoting; so self-centered. Yet, we know that such attitudes are deeply ingrained in our fallen human nature.
Had these two disciples realized the true cost of high position in the kingdom, they would not have dared make this request of Jesus. Jesus warns them that they will suffer, but that suffering will not necessarily mean high position in the kingdom, because everyone must endure it. High position is for God alone to give.
The other disciples, who are, no doubt, just as self-centered as James and John, are angry at their request. They likely want these places of power and prestige for themselves. So, Jesus patiently explains again the totally different kingdom value, where true greatness is humble service.
Jesus, himself, is the great example of this humility. He came to be the suffering servant of God prophesied in Isaiah 53, who would give his life as “a ransom for many.”
6. Persistent faith
The passage then concludes with Mark 10:46-52, where Jesus, along with his disciples, leaves Jericho, headed for Jerusalem, where Jesus will suffer and die. Along the way, they encounter a blind man named Bartimaeus who begs Jesus for mercy. Jesus responds by restoring the man’s sight, declaring “your faith has healed you.” Bartimaeus then follows Jesus.
At one level, this is a lesson about human faith, which, though imperfect, is effective when persistent. Ultimately, however, it’s about Jesus’ persistent, perfect faith.
There you have it—the high cost of the kingdom: prayerful dependence, self-denial, faithfulness, generosity, humility and persistent faith. We experience the kingdom of God as we embrace and practice these characteristics. Sound a bit daunting? Yes, until we realize that these are characteristics of Jesus himself—characteristics that he, by the Spirit, shares with those who trust him and in trusting, follow him.
Our sharing in Jesus’ kingdom living is never perfect, but as we follow Jesus, he “rubs off” on us. This is the way of Christian discipleship. It’s not about earning a place in God’s kingdom—we have been given that place in Jesus. It’s not about earning God’s favor—we have God’s favor because of Jesus. What it is about is sharing in Jesus’ love and life. He possesses all these characteristics perfectly and abundantly and is willing to share them with us, and that’s exactly what he does, through the ministry of the Spirit.
Dear friends, followers of Jesus, open your hearts, and your whole lives to Jesus. Follow him and receive from him! Enter fully his kingdom.
Sermon for October 21, 2018
Scripture Readings: Isa. 53:4-12; Ps. 91:9-16;
Heb. 5:1-10; Mark 10:35-45
Sermon by Martin Manuel from Isaiah 53
Jesus: The Suffering Servant
Though most Christians know that the New Testament is all about Jesus, fewer are aware of the prominent place Jesus has in the Old Testament. We see that place in our reading today in Isaiah chapter 53. Is says a great deal, via prophecy, about who Jesus is, what he has done and what he continues to do for our salvation. Let’s take a closer look.
The book of Isaiah
Isaiah, prophet to the ancient Jews, ministered from about 740 to 700 BC. In chapters 41-53, his message is given in four hymns about a person identified as “the suffering servant.” The fourth hymn, found in chapter 53, offers deep insights concerning this person: who he is, what he does, his divine and human natures, and his relationship with all humanity.
Jesus’ divinity revealed
Sadly, many Jews in Isaiah’s day would not believe his message—Isaiah lamented, “Who has believed our message?” (Isa. 53:1a). The same was true in Jesus’ day—few believed that he was the promised Messiah.
Challenging the unbelief of his countrymen, Isaiah asked, “To whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed?” (Isa. 53:1b). This reminds of the time Jesus told Peter that it was God who revealed to him Jesus’ true identity as the Son of God (Matt. 16:17). Isaiah seems to be speaking here of Jesus, referring to him as “the arm of the Lord”—indeed, Isaiah has a person in mind, not a mere power. Note what Isaiah says in chapter 59:
The LORD looked and was displeased that there was no justice. He saw that there was no one, he was appalled that there was no one to intervene; so his own arm worked salvation for him, and his own righteousness sustained him. (Isa. 59:15b-16)
This person, this powerful “arm of the Lord” sent into the world is the one the prophet, in Isaiah 7:14, identifies as a baby called Immanuel (God with us), and then also Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father and Prince of Peace (Isa. 9:6b). These are titles, which taken together, belong only to God, now being said of the “arm of the LORD”—the one we know as Jesus Christ—the Son of God, who through the Incarnation, became the God-man Jesus. He was fully God, yet also fully human.
Jesus’ humanity revealed
The remainder of Isaiah 53 unpacks the dual nature of this Suffering Servant of God, this Arm of the Lord. In Isa. 53:2a, the prophet focuses on his person’s humanity, saying that he “grew up… like a tender shoot.” He then reminds us in chapters 7 and 9 that this person had been both conceived and born. Back in in chapter 53, he describes his human fragility, noting that “he had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him” (53:2b) and that he “was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain” (53:3). Though the arm of the LORD (thus possessing great power), his calling included being rejected by humanity, and then suffering to save us:
Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed. (Isa. 53:4-6)
Jesus endured the terrible pain of severe blows to his body and the prolonged torture of the cross. He could only experience such suffering as a human. Isaiah goes on to liken the human race to lost sheep and Jesus to a lamb among those sheep (and thus also human) who silently and without resistance experienced slaughter on behalf of the whole flock:
We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth. (Isa. 53:6-7)
Jesus lived and suffered as a human. Though not guilty of sin himself, he died on behalf of sinful humanity:
For he was cut off from the land of the living; for the transgression of my people he was punished. He was assigned a grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death, though he had done no violence, nor was any deceit in his mouth. Yet, it was the Lord’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer… (Isa. 53:8b-10a)
Yes, Jesus, in his humanity, died for us. But that is not the end of the story. Though Jesus died, the grave could not contain him—he was resurrected back to human life, remaining fully human (now glorified). Isaiah says this:
He will see his offspring and prolong his days…. After he has suffered, he will see the light of life and be satisfied…. I will give him a portion among the great, and he will divide the spoils with the strong…. (Isa. 53:10b-12)
Isaiah 53 is an amazing chapter, describing one person with two natures—divine and human. Consider these verses that speak of his deity: arm of the LORD (v. 1), by his wounds we are healed (v. 5), the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all (v. 6), he had done no violence nor was deceit in his mouth (v. 9), by his knowledge my righteous servant will justify many (v. 11), he will bear their iniquities (v. 11), he bore the sin of many (v. 12). Then consider these verses that speak of his humanity: he grew up (v. 1), had no beauty or majesty (v. 2), was a man (v. 3), was pierced (v. 5), was crushed (v. 5), had wounds (v. 5), was cut off from the land of the living (v. 8), died and was put in a grave (v. 9), poured out his life unto death (v. 12).
What Isaiah declared prophetically was made real in the life of Jesus, and clarified by the teachings of both Jesus and his apostles. Disputes about that teaching arose within the church in later centuries. To resolve the disputes, church leaders met in councils, with their consensus findings summarized in the great creeds of the early church, including the Chalcedonian Creed, which affirmed and clarified the teaching of Scripture that Jesus is fully human and fully divine—one person with two natures. Centuries later, theologian Karl Barth, in Dogmatics in Outline, summarized that understanding with these words: “True divinity and true humanity in sheer unity.”
The effect of the Suffering Servant of God on the whole of humanity is eloquently addressed in Isaiah 53:5, which says “by his wounds we are healed.” This metaphorical language speaks of Jesus’ work to heal all our ills: physical, psychological, social and, above all, spiritual. The eternal Son of God provided this healing by assuming our humanity via the Incarnation, and through his life, death, resurrection and ascension, reversing the outcome of the fall, exchanging his righteousness for all our fallenness.
As Isaiah notes, “the Lord…laid on him the iniquity of us all… for the transgression of my people he was punished… though he had done no violence, nor was any deceit in his mouth” (Isa. 53:6b, 8b, 9b).
By bearing the sins of all humanity in himself, Jesus, the Suffering Servant, brought about the justification of humanity (Isa. 53:11). This means that the status humankind had with God, which was lost in Eden, is restored in the humanity of Jesus. Isaiah also declares (in Isa. 53:12) that Jesus, in his humanity, now glorified, makes intercession for sinful humanity. As our high priest in heaven, Jesus ministers to God as our representative, interceding on our behalf.
Brothers and sisters, these profound changes to the state and status of humanity occurred in and through Jesus nearly 2,000 years ago. Let us believe that and rely on that. As the hymn says, “What a friend we have in Jesus!” As we, led by the Spirit, trust and obey Jesus as our Savior and High Priest, we are living into the reality that Jesus has created, in himself, for all humanity. With the mind of Christ at work within us, our wills become subject to our heavenly Father’s will, and the Holy Spirit leads us to take up our cross and follow Jesus in self-sacrificial service.
Sermon for October 28, 2018
Scripture Readings: Job 42:1-6, 10-17; Ps. 34:1-8, 19-22;
Heb. 7:223-28; Mark 10:46-52
Sermon by Sheila Graham
(from Hebrews 7, Job 42, Mark 10 and Psalm 34,
drawing from The Expositor's Bible Commentary)
Marvelous and Wonderful!
Remember the old hymn, My Savior’s Love? The refrain goes like this:
O how marvelous! O how wonderful!
And my song shall ever be:
O how marvelous! O how wonderful!
Is my Savior’s love for me!
The words and music were written by Charles H. Gabriel in 1905. He wrote an estimated 8,000 gospel songs, many about God’s love for us. You might recognize some of the titles: “He Lifted Me,” “More Like the Master,” “Higher Ground,” “His Eye Is on the Sparrow,” Will the Circle Be Unbroken?” “Since Jesus Came into My Heart.” So inspiring, uplifting and comforting! We have a God who actually loves us, in spite of ourselves, and we can be in relationship with him. How marvelous! How wonderful!
High Priest—then and now
Our reading today in Hebrews reminds us that we have an eternal high priest in Jesus. It tells us that at any time, we can go to him without fear or shame, knowing he made the perfect sacrifice of himself so our sins could be forgiven, and we could have that relationship with him:
The former priests were many in number, because they were prevented by death from continuing in office; but he holds his priesthood permanently, because he continues forever. Consequently he is able for all time to save those who approach God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them. For it was fitting that we should have such a high priest, holy, blameless, undefiled, separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens. Unlike the other high priests, he has no need to offer sacrifices day after day, first for his own sins, and then for those of the people; this he did once for all when he offered himself. For the law appoints as high priests those who are subject to weakness, but the word of the oath, which came later than the law, appoints a Son who has been made perfect forever. (Hebrews 7:23-28, NRSV)
Some of this passage may sound strange to us today, but the author of Hebrews was writing to people who were well acquainted with the Old Testament and the history and traditions of the Jews. They understood Jewish worship, which was centered on the law and the priesthood. God was approached through the priesthood and the prophets.
Now, through Jesus’ life, death and resurrection, the old was gone, the new had come—an eternal priesthood was established with Jesus as the permanent high priest. Verse 25: “Consequently he is able for all time to save those who approach God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them.”
This message of grace through Christ was not only for those people, of course. It’s a message that has resonated through the centuries since Christ. No barriers exist between us and our Savior. We can freely approach him, and he will intercede for us. Our sins are forgiven.
But, does freely approaching God almost sound too good to be true sometimes? When we look at ourselves and our shortcomings and sins, we may feel unsure about coming before our perfect Savior. We know our God is holy and pure and righteous, and we are not. Does that create a stumbling block for us? If it does, it shouldn’t.
Let’s look at a couple of examples in the Scriptures when people—people like you and me—approached God fearlessly and even presumptuously.
God and Job
There’s the story of Job, a righteous man who Satan said would curse God if it weren’t for God blessing him all the time. A little background: Job wasn’t an Israelite; he lived in the land of Uz. But like Abraham he was an upright, honest, God-fearing man who God blessed and protected.
But Satan accused Job of hypocrisy. Sure, he’s righteous; who wouldn’t be with all you do for him? Satan said. God then allowed Satan to take away what Job had. First, he destroyed Job financially and then took away Job’s beloved children. Then Satan was allowed to inflict Job personally as well, with severe physical pain.
To make matters worse, his wife turned against him, and so did some of his friends, who accused Job of having some secret sins, assuming that God wouldn’t allow Job to suffer without a reason. Though Job didn’t curse God, as Satan said he would, he did get very depressed and began to complain about his situation and to question God. And who could blame him?
Have you ever questioned God? It’s easy to feel God’s love when all is going well for us, but what about when it’s not? What about when we have an unexpected financial setback or lose a loved one or suffer a severe health problem? We might feel we’re being treated unjustly. I hope we would hang in there like Job did, but we might also question God’s love and concern for us.
When we read Job’s story, we see God was quiet at first and just listened, but then God did answer him, and it changed Job’s life. Let’s read Job’s answer when God did respond to his questioning:
Then Job answered the LORD:
“I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted. ‘Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?’ Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know. ‘Hear, and I will speak; I will question you, and you declare to me.’ I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you; therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes.” (Job 42:1-6, NRSV)
Though God didn’t explain why he allowed Job to suffer, he did remind Job of who he was. Job was humbled. He had presumptuously complained to God about how he felt mistreated. Now God told him who he, God, was.
Sometimes we humans need to remember that God is God and we aren’t.
Among other things, the book of Job shows how little we humans can know of God’s purposes at times, yet we should still have faith in him. It also shows how a human being can have a close personal relationship with God.
All this time, Job thought God was ignoring him in his misery, but God was there with him throughout his sufferings. Though he was not being punished for any particular sin, he came to see he really didn’t deserve an explanation or anything else from God. For the first time he saw himself as he really was, and Job repented.
His friends were shown to be wrong. Just because Job was suffering did not mean God was punishing him for his sins. We can learn much from the story of Job.
There are many examples in the Bible of people presumptuously questioning God: Moses, Abraham, Gideon and Jeremiah, for example. But, did you notice, God doesn’t seem to mind. We’re his children. He loves us. God allows us to come before him with all our wants and needs and, yes, with our complaints and questions, even when we’re a bit presumptuous in doing so. Let’s look at another example.
Jesus and the blind man
Jesus and his disciples, followed by a crowd of people, seemed to be in a hurry as they traveled out of the city of Jericho. Let’s read the account in Mark 10.
They came to Jericho. As he and his disciples and a large crowd were leaving Jericho, Bartimaeus son of Timaeus, a blind beggar, was sitting by the roadside. When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout out and say, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” Many sternly ordered him to be quiet, but he cried out even more loudly, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” Jesus stood still and said, “Call him here.” And they called the blind man, saying to him, “Take heart; get up, he is calling you.” So throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus. Then Jesus said to him, “What do you want me to do for you?” The blind man said to him, “My teacher, let me see again.” Jesus said to him, “Go; your faith has made you well.” Immediately he regained his sight and followed him on the way. (Mark 10:46-52, NRSV)
This blind man wouldn’t be ignored, even though those following Jesus, probably including Jesus’ own disciples, tried to quiet him: “Don’t bother Jesus; quit your hollering. We’ve got someplace to be. Jesus doesn’t have time for you.” But Jesus did have time, and because Bartimaeus believed and wouldn’t be discouraged from speaking up, he was healed.
There are many other examples. Remember the Samaritan woman who wouldn’t leave Jesus alone until he promised to heal her daughter, or the woman who reached out and touched Jesus’ robe in the crowd, or the guys who dropped their sick friend down through a roof right in front of Jesus?
God always has time to listen to us, his children. He wants to hear from us, yes, in worship and praise and thanksgiving, but also when it comes to our questions and complaints. He wants a relationship with us.
Have you, like Job, ever been angry with God? You can go to him and express that anger. He wants you to. He knows how hard it is sometimes for us as human beings to understand. It comes down to a matter of faith and trust in him.
This world is temporary. God has better things in store for us. But, for now, we live in an unpredictable and dangerous world. We aren’t promised we won’t suffer while we’re here, just the opposite. However, we can take comfort knowing that God has promised that he will never abandon us in our pain, grief or loss.
Our relationship with God
Let’s read from the 34th Psalm:
Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the LORD rescues them from them all. (Ps. 34:19, NRSV)
Because of Jesus’ death and resurrection on our behalf, and through the ongoing ministry of the Spirit, we live in relationship with the almighty God of the universe. That’s difficult to get our minds around, isn’t it? As Christian author Paul David Tripp writes:
God is involved with every detail of our lives, he is near. He is so near that at any moment we can reach out and touch him. This means that every grace that you and I will ever need is near and available to us as well. So reach out today. The Author is near and he has grace in his hands. (“New Morning Mercies”)
Our God, who is a God of love, is approachable and loving. He wants a relationship with us. He is worthy of our adoration and worship. Though King David suffered some major setbacks in his life, he wrote many Psalms praising God for his goodness and mercy. Let’s conclude by reading from Psalm 34:
I will bless the LORD at all times;
his praise shall continually be in my mouth.
My soul makes its boast in the LORD;
let the humble hear and be glad.
O magnify the LORD with me,
and let us exalt his name together.
I sought the LORD, and he answered me,
and delivered me from all my fears.
Look to him, and be radiant;
so your faces shall never be ashamed.
This poor soul cried, and was heard by the LORD,
and was saved from every trouble.
(Ps. 34:1-6, NRSV)
Our God is a God of love, deserving of our praise and worship. We can come to him with our hopes and dreams and with our problems and faults. Our Savior understands. We can trust him with our lives. He is marvelous and wonderful!