5 things the world needs to hear from the church

“The world” means not only institutions and cultures, but every person. “The church” means not only preachers and organizations, but every Christian. The world is full of prejudices and misunderstandings, and the church is full of bad examples and average people without all the answers.

We all could use some clarity.

1. We [Christians] are not interested in collecting converts like trophies on a shelf. If we are talking at you to prove anything to ourselves, our Christian friends, or God, we are completely in the wrong. Christians are under scriptural mandate to respect all people (1 Peter 3:15). We adhere to a biblical, dual anthropology which teaches that, on the one hand, every human being is an image-bearer of God and therefore valuable and honorable, and that, on the other hand, humanity is, comprehensively, morally broken and spiritual bankrupt, Christians included. In other words, we are no better or smarter than anyone else. In fact, we may appear weaker and more foolish (1 Corinthians 1:27), because God wants us to be amazed at him, not ourselves.

The reason we want to talk to you about our faith is that we earnestly believe Jesus is who he said he is and that he really is able to give the joy, peace, answers, and fellowship with God that he offered. We want the world – especially our friends and family, the people we care about most – to hear him out.

2. We care deeply about personal morality, but not for its own sakeThe aim of a Christian’s life is this: to worship God and express love for him by thinking, feeling, speaking, and acting like Jesus Christ. This means much more than behaving like a better person or giving up bad habits for good ones. It is more spiritual and more profound, and more impossibly difficult. Some of us with the right genes could pull off being “good people”; i.e. people with enough morality and likability to please the culture. None of us accomplish Christ-likeness in its fullness before we die. The idea of grace is so important to us for this reason. We want to be like Christ, but we fail miserably, and still, God chooses to love us as if we had succeeded, for Christ’s sake.

This is the tension behind our views on personal morality. The personal conduct of you and me is extremely important because it has to do with the aim and orientation of our lives, and yet is almost trivial when considered in the light of our failure and God’s grace.

3. We actually believe what the Bible says about Judgment Day, the wrath of God, and life after deathWe believe that God, who is exactingly holy, is angry with the world. We do not believe that he is only angry – Jesus taught that God loved the world to the point of sending his Son, Jesus, into it, to save it (John 3:16-17). Yet our scripture teaches that God will not overlook our outrageous disregard and mockery of him, which is the disease of sin that infects both our societies and our personal lives, forever. Soon, God will demand from every human being an exhaustive account of how they lived their lives. On those souls not shielded by the substitutionary sacrifice of Jesus Christ, God will rain down his justice in hell. It will be terrible, and fair.

In a culture of Self and non-accountability, we take this seriously. We want to do whatever we can to help people save themselves from themselves by entrusting their lives and their fates to Christ.

4. We struggle (with depression, anxiety, stress, unhappiness, loneliness, unmet expectations, sexual temptation, doubt, and on and on) as much as everybody, but we believe that Jesus is more real than all of itWe do not fool ourselves into thinking we have it all together or can refute every argument. We understand that Christian belief is hard – the  apostles understood that (Matthew 28:16-17). Our inner turmoil is often intense and our lives are often a mess, like everyone else.

We are also aware that we are not doing everything as we should be doing it, and that very often our words must speak louder than our actions. The difference for the Christian is not his or her own ability to rise above. The difference is faith in a God who transcends us and a Messiah who knows what it is like to be us.

5. What we are staking our lives on is Jesus, especially his death and resurrectionThe death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth are even more fundamental to Christian faith than the existence of God or the inerrancy of the Bible. That is, we believe in God and the Bible because Jesus did, and we believe in Jesus because he rose from the dead. At the center, our belief stands or falls with him. Understanding the Bible and dealing with questions about Christianity’s rationality become possible in the context of faith in Jesus.

We believe that intellectually satisfying answers to questions about God and the Bible exist and are accessible. It is true to say, however, that everything we are and believe hangs on one person, and the historical reality of two events. Jesus is the central thing, and we believe that every person must ultimately deal with him.

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meditations on Holy Week (2): in the garden

Matthew 26:36-46Mark 14:32-42Luke 22:40-46

The Bible opens with a garden – Eden. It closes with one too – the New Jerusalem. In between, in the midst of Holy Week, another garden comes to play in God’s story of redemption – Gethsemane.

Jesus went to Gethsemane to pray as no one else has ever prayed, before he went to the cross. The canonical gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) record excerpts of his prayer, which contain that same incredible tension found in the psalms and throughout the Bible: honest emotion, genuine expression of pain, authentic human desire; coupled with total trust in God and surrender to his will. Don’t skip too quickly to “your will be done” and miss the “take this cup from me.” Both make up all real prayer, and ultimately, real relationship with God. God does not ask that we lie to him – he commands us to be real – but that we trust him.

It’s important for Christians to take home the lesson about submission to God and dependence on him even in the face self-sacrifice. Jesus’ night in the garden of Gethsemane was for a far bigger purpose than our prayer lives, however. In the garden, the Son of God stretched himself out on the night’s cold ground and prepared to take on the sins of the world.

In that first garden, Eden, Adam hid from God, disobedient and ashamed. He rebelled against his Creator, then hid himself among the trees because he now knew shame and fear. He sinned, then retreated. Although God cursed him, he did not bring Adam’s death sentence down on him that day. He spared him.

In Jesus’ garden, Gethsemane, Jesus undid what Adam had done. Jesus had nothing to hide, no rebellion to be ashamed of, no wayward thought at which to cringe. Yet, he gave himself up willingly. The sinful Adam hid and was spared. The sinless Jesus gave himself up and was condemned.

He was condemned for my sake, and for yours. It pleased Father, Son, and Spirit for Jesus to become a sacrifice for many, so that he may redeem a people for himself. Jesus’ blood now covers my rebellion and my shame. Jesus experienced the condemnation of a righteous God in my place. I am free.

He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls. 1 Peter 2:22-25

the gospel

gospel = good news that brings great joy

There is no other place to start than with the gospel. The gospel is the central message of Christianity and the grand theme of the Bible. It is the starting place and ending place of the whole Christian life. It’s a story, and it begins with God…

Get a bigger idea of God than the one that you have. God exists: he is completely self-sufficient, independent, perfect, pure, and eternal. He exists in an eternal fellowship of three persons in one essence, whom we call Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself. John 5:26

As for God, his way is perfect: the LORD’s word is flawless. Psalm 18:30

Who has understood the mind of the LORD, or instructed him as his counselor? Isaiah 40:13

God created the universe out of nothing, from the vastest galaxy to the protons and electrons of the smallest atom. He created spirits and a spiritual world. He created the earth and everything that lives on it. He created all these things for his own glory and purposes, and for the love and joy of his creation. At the pinnacle of his creation on earth he created humans to “bear his image” (represent his qualities; hold in themselves a reflection of who God is) and to rule the earth: not autonomously, but in everything dependent on God; loving him, praising him, loving and helping each other, and willingly submitting their wills to his.

You alone are the LORD. You made the heavens, even the highest heavens, and all their starry host, the earth and all that is on it, the seas and all that is in them. You give life to everything, and the multitudes of heaven worship you. Nehemiah 9:6

So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. Genesis 1:27

Humanity rebelled, and has continued to rebel to this day. Humanity’s rebellion against God, called sin, is an exchange of the worship of God for the worship of self and things God has created. God hates it, for it is a perversion and distortion of what he has made. Its results are suffering, misery, evil, and, ultimately, death and the holy wrath of God.

They exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised. Romans 1:25

All humans participate in this rebellion. Not just occasionally, when they lie or steal, but constantly, whenever they fail to worship God with everything in them, or when they love themselves more than other people. All humanity has turned away from God and gone their own way, and as a result, the world is evil, violent, self-serving, and corrupt. All of us have rejected God and pretended we were gods instead. And all of us deserve nothing other than his anger and judgment.

As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath. Ephesians 2:1-3

[God,] your eyes are too pure to look on evil; you cannot tolerate wrongdoing. Habakkuk 1:13

It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. Hebrews 10:31

Now, God – eternal, independent, all-powerful, self-existent, glorious – did not leave it at that. He never planned to leave it at that. In all love, in all kindness, in unimaginable grace, God the Son entered time and space as a man, a real man. He was conceived miraculously, was born naturally, lived sinlessly, was murdered unjustly, and was resurrected to life again after three days. His name was Jesus, which means “God saves.”

The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. John 1:14

Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know. This man was handed over to you by God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross. But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him. Acts 2:22-24

Through Jesus and only through him, reconciliation to God and freedom from sin and death are freely available. He lived perfectly so that those who believe can be credited before God with his perfect record. He died on a cross so that their debt to God can be paid for and their sins forgiven by his own taking on of the wrath of God. He rose from the dead because death could not hold him. God accepted his sacrifice on our behalf and promises the same kind of resurrection life to all who believe.

He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us; he has taken it away, nailing it to the cross. Colossians 2:13-14

Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die.” John 11:25-26

Through Jesus, the image of God in a person, once broken and distorted by sin, is restored. Through Jesus, sinful humans are recreated into what we were always meant to be. Through Jesus, the judgment of God is turned away and the love of God is lavished on us. Through Jesus, the unapproachable Deity becomes freely accessible; we are adopted into his family. Through Jesus, the Holy Spirit of God lives in us and changes us. Through Jesus come peace, joy, hope, freedom, value, and meaning. Through him comes true, indestructible life. He is the answer to our need, and the purpose of our lives. His love is the most incredible, truest reality in the whole world.

For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again. So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! 2 Corinthians 5:14-17

In him and through faith in him we may approach God with freedom and confidence. Ephesians 3:12

It is through faith – belief and trust in what Jesus has done – that any person receives this free gift of God called redemption. No one can earn it; any good thing a person does is merely what they ought to have been doing all along. And even the good things we do outside faith are distorted by wrong motives and self-love. If you think God will save you from judgment because you are “good enough” or because you try to love him, understand that you not good enough and that you hardly love him. Instead, understand, know, and believe that Jesus is in all ways good enough and that he has loved you first.

This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. 1 John 4:9-10

“The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!” Mark 1:15