Contend Earnestly: April 2011

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Interview With Pastor Tim Keller

This interview's climax happens in the last minute. Speaks clearly of what I believe we, as the church, are called to be and do.

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Monday, April 25, 2011

Pursuing Discipleship Leads to Death

If you read my last post on discipleship, understanding that it starts the second you meet someone, the next thing I must warn you is that discipleship leads to death. Well, it leads to death if one does it the way that God has lead us to disciple. The title, "Pursuing Discipleship" is one that doesn't mean that we start trying to disciple, but it means that discipleship must be one that is a pursuing relationship.

The reason we must pursue others, is because it is clearly how God has always been towards, not only us, but towards all of man in all of history. Not only does God pursue, but he shows us the depth that he pursues and the characteristics of true Godly pursuit. Think of it.

God pursued Adam and Eve daily in the cool of the day

After they sinned...God pursued them in the garden asking, "Where are you?"

After kicking Adam and Eve out of the garden, God still pursued their children, Cain and Abel, for relationship

After Cain killed his brother, God pursued Cain and asked, "Where is your brother?"

As the story continues, sin was overflowing, but God pursued Noah.

God then pursued Abram and brought him out of the land filled with pagan gods and promised him a great nation that would glorify his name.

God gives us a clear understanding of how great his pursuit is when he tells the Israelites that he didn't choose them because they were strong, or some sort of great nation. It was merely because he truly loved them.(Deut 7:6-9)

This continues as God's nation is built and decides to leave him and intermarry with pagan countries, etc. When his people find trouble, God pursues them and saves them, but always desiring a relationship with them.

I have spread out My hands all day long to a rebellious people, Who walk in the way which is not good, following their own thoughts
Isaiah 65:2

After pursuing this nation for hundreds of years through the prophets that weren't listened to (Jer 35:15) God finally showed how far he would go in this pursuing. He sent his Son to us. He literally came down to earth in the flesh to pursue us. This pursuit, the depth of this pursuit, shows us how far we are to go. Jesus died on the cross. He gave up his very life for us, not only that, but he is now "trapped" in the flesh, as an eternal Being, in a human body (although glorified, still flesh of some sort) for eternity. That's the depth of God's pursuit for us. Do you fathom this? That through all of this, all this pursuit, that even as the Christ is hanging on the cross, being spit on, he still pursues by asking the Father to forgive them.

Not only do we see this in the scriptures, but ask the Spirit to show you how much he has pursued you, even while you were yet a sinner. We clearly see that God has always pursued people, even though they rejected him.

So, the question comes, "What does Christ tell us if we turn to him, what is this going to cost us?"


Jesus tells us to take up our cross and follow him. He tells us to be a living sacrifice, that to gain life, we are to lose it. This is the depth of discipleship.

So, now what?

If discipleship starts the second we meet people and begin relationship with them, when are we allowed to stop pursuing them? If we see how God has pursued man, and ultimately us, the answer is never. We are to pursue in love always. No matter the response from the other person. This is why we are to return evil with love. This is why we are to love our neighbor like ourselves.

Christendom has a terrible name of pursuing others like a zit faced teenager pining after the cheer captain that is out of reach. Once rejected, the cowardly teen grovels in self misery and pity. He then either gives up pursuing women entirely, or moves on to another in his pitiful state.

This isn't to be us. We are to pursue others as God pursued us. Not in some sort of annoying way, but in a way out of love for our neighbor to show them what God is like. When we "move on" or give up, we do not show off our God, but we show off what it looks like when we live by our own power with our own motives.

Our goal in discipleship is not to convert people, our goal is to show others what God is like. Period. We water, we plant...God grows. The problem is that we plant the seed and stare at it for a day and see no growth so we move on...leaving the seed feeling unloved and rejected by yet another crappy Christian farmer.

We have the very power of God living inside of us that raised Jesus from the dead. We don't serve some sort of beggar. We serve the King of kings. Lord of lords.

What if we lived like this? What if we lived in light of what Christ has done for us and the depth of pursuit he showed us to others? How would this change our community? How would this change our relationships? How would this change the views of the people of God?

This type of discipleship that pursues because we have been pursued and loved by God is one that will lead to death...death of self. Because as one pursues like this, we pursue those that don't want to be pursued, we pursue those that hate us in return, we pursue those that reject us over and over again. But, if our identity is found in Jesus and not our converts or how people react to us, it is a beautiful thing to die to that self.

Let me ask you. If Jesus told you, "Your neighbor will never turn to me, but will remain in his sin for eternity." Would you pursue him and love him like you love yourself still? Or would you stop the relationship and focus your efforts elsewhere? The answer to that question shows your heart why you are pursuing.

We should always pursue to show off what our God is like, not for the sake of what we'll gain from that pursuit and relationship, knowing that it lead our King to his death...but this death leads to life.

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Friday, April 22, 2011

What Does it Mean to Make a Brother Stumble?

One of the things that always comes up when you speak of tattoos, smoking, drinking, et al is the issue of making a brother stumble to show why one should abstain from doing those things at all. When one proof texts and reads current culture into the passages, they seem to have a great point and one that kept me under a heavy yoke for some time. What actually ended up happening is that this so called "weaker brother" kept me under his yoke of conscience instead of me being able to seek out Christ and his easy yoke and burden that is light. I kept trying to refrain from certain things because I was always worried that I would make a brother stumble and was so consumed by this, my life was more about the weaker brother and his issues than the glorifying of God in my actions and actually loving the weaker brother.

We have extremes here that need to be pointed out. One extreme is like the one mentioned above, where we worry about everything, whether it is sin or not and abstain from it all. The other extreme is we say, "screw the weaker brother" and we do whatever we want without care. Like most orthopraxy, extremes suck and fly in the face of Christ and his cross and, so, we need to find the correct balance and test it to Scripture. I want to do some defining to search out how we should live within the context of the weaker brother and what it means to make him stumble.

First, what is a "weaker brother"?

We find the main passages concerning the weaker brother in 1 Corinthians 8 and 10 and also in Romans 14. The weaker brother is the one who wishes to abstain from certain things. They are not the mature in the body, but they are the weak needing care. These people would be those who abstain from things that are not sinful, such as smoking, drinking alcohol, getting tattoos and of course eating meat sacrificed to idols. But, if you know the context of 1 Corinthians 8, 10 and Romans 14 we are not speaking of people who have merely been told that these things were sinful, but have a deep bond that ties the conscience to them. The weaker brother would be someone who has been addicted to smoking or alcohol, or who has a family history of addiction to these things. The weaker brother would be someone who came from a tribe who used to tattoo themselves for the sake of their pagan gods. The weaker brother is one who was in an idolatrous nation that sacrificed meat to gods for worship. These things are deeply entrenched in who they are and what they are about. These things identify them with the "old self."

The weaker brother is NOT someone who has issue with these things because of their culture and how they were brought up. One is not a mere weaker brother because they have always been taught that smoking is a sin or that drinking alcohol is a sin. Paul goes much deeper than this and is found when he uses the term to "destroy" the weaker brother (which we will handle later).

Paul and Jerusalem Council are dealing with a much deeper issue than someone not liking meat sacrificed to idols, they were dealing with an issue that was deeply ingrained in the people that practiced idolatry in a way that was demonic and part of every day life that associated one with the devil. Again, it would be the same as getting a tattoo for the dead in Leviticus 19:28 to worship some pagan deity. This was binding on the conscience, not because it was "odd" to them, or they were uncomfortable with it, but they were dealing with demonic opposition and something that identified them with their old self when their father was the devil.

So, the weaker brother is not merely some nutcase that wants you to abstain from something they don't like, the weaker brother is someone who is coming from an old life in sin, that is dealing with those things associated directly with their sin. Again, think of pagan worship in sacrifices when thinking of 1 Corinthians 8,10 and Romans 14.

Making the Weaker Brother Stumble

Now that we see what is means to be a weaker brother, we need to look at making that brother stumble. This term stumble is used almost synonymously with Paul using the term "destroy". Paul isn't speaking of making someone look at you in a light that is odd. It isn't making someone uncomfortable, but it is literally making them stumble into sin. It would be like you handing someone a beer that you know is an alcoholic and telling them to drink. You, in your freedom, have made the weaker brother stumble or have destroyed them. The thought is putting something (a rock) in the road that they are walking on so that they will trip and severely hurt themselves.

People use this for all sorts of things, as though we must have a swivel on our heads to make sure people don't look at us and think we are sinning. This isn't what Paul is speaking on. If this is the case, then Jesus was a sinner. He did things all the time that made people think he was a sinner, but he didn't make them sin. Think of the Pharisees of those that wear suits to church, don't drink, don't smoke, don't play cards, don't watch certain movies, listen to certain music. They do this so that they "will not make someone stumble", but in reality are showing that your sanctification and righteousness comes in what you don't do instead of whom you trust in. Jesus was not for this. What is interesting is that the term "stumble" can be both positive and negative. You can make someone stumble into sin, or make them stumble into righteousness.

"See, I lay a stone in Zion,
a chosen and precious cornerstone,
and the one who trusts in him
will never be put to shame."Now to you who believe, this stone is precious. But to those who do not believe,
"The stone the builders rejected
has become the capstone,"and,
"A stone that causes men to stumble
and a rock that makes them fall."They stumble because they disobey the message—which is also what they were destined for.

1 Peter 2:6-8

This is the point that no one actually brings up. If someone is trying to be self righteous in their abstention, the best thing you can do is be a stumbling block to them so that they can see that Christ is the corner stone of their faith, not their abstention for self righteousness. This brother, that abstains for the sake of self righteousness (which none of them will admit) is not the weaker brother, but the prideful brother that needs to be shown their sinful acts. This is why Jesus didn't care if he drank in public, ate with the sinners and loved the hookers. He did it partly to show the self righteous Pharisees their stupidity. We find further evidence of this when Peter has his vision and then eats with the Gentiles. Notice what the self righteous Jews do:

So when Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcised believers criticized him and said, "You went into the house of uncircumcised men and ate with them."
Acts 11:2

Did Peter then decide to abstain from eating with them? No, he corrected their self righteous thoughts by telling them the vision of God and using this an opportunity to show the gospel to them. Here is the key. Someone who loves Jesus and not their self righteous deeds will react to this by not condemning the brother living in his freedom but will praise God.

When they heard this, they had no further objections and praised God, saying, "So then, God has granted even the Gentiles repentance unto life."
Acts 11:18

Could this have been a stone of stumbling for these Jews? Yes. Did Peter refrain, or teach? He taught. Their reaction is an insight to their heart towards the love of God. They reject their self righteousness and cling to their new found Saviour.

So, Now What?

How are we to handle this then? You will notice that Paul has a huge point that he makes when speaking of refraining, and it does not mean that he will refrain always, only when he is knowingly among those whom bears a conscience against meat sacrificed to idols. People like to use Paul's hyperbolic term to bear witness against this when Paul says, "Therefore, if food causes my brother to stumble, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause my brother to stumble." Paul is using this in speaking to someone he is directly in relationship with at all times, not for the sake of believers out there somewhere who have issues with this. Meaning, if Timothy had issues with this, Paul would never eat meat in fellowship with Timothy. He doesn't mean, he will literally never touch meat again. We see this clearly in the following:

If some unbeliever invites you to a meal and you want to go, eat whatever is put before you without raising questions of conscience. But if anyone says to you, "This has been offered in sacrifice," then do not eat it, both for the sake of the man who told you and for conscience' sake — the other man's conscience, I mean, not yours. For why should my freedom be judged by another's conscience? If I take part in the meal with thankfulness, why am I denounced because of something I thank God for? So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.
1 Corinthians 10:27-31

Paul states to enjoy your freedom, but to refrain when among someone who has a conscience against something. So, if I am going to a nation of tribes who once used tattoos to worship their god, I will cover up my tattoos. I will do this because this is something that is personal to them and hard for them to take. I will also cover up my tattoos if I go into a home where I know tattoos used to be a way for the person to sin against God in rebellion and they are trying to refrain from such things. I do this with those I KNOWLINGLY have deep issues with certain things that is related and identified to their old life of sin. So is the case with having a vegan over to my house, an alcoholic or someone who was addicted to smoking.

But, it doesn't stop here. You don't just refrain when you see these people, but you take the opportunity to teach them. You must teach the weaker, and not allow them to "turn you" into their weaker conscience. This was huge for the ministry of Christ. He was the one teaching the weaker, the weaker were not teaching him to turn to their ways. So, we should deal with the gospel with these people and love and aid them to the grace and freedom found at the cross.

Refrain out of love and teach out of love so that they may be won to the victory of the cross. There is a balance here. But, to throw out the "you might make a brother stumble" has become another way to control the actions of others to make them think they are more righteous. This is sin and contrary to the gospel. Also, those who freely do whatever they want without taking consideration of the TRUE weaker brother and don't take the opportunity to teach them in word and action what the Gospel is truly about, also sin.

We must live and teach the gospel to others without allowing them to bound up our actions so that we find the gospel as a restrictive gospel instead of a freeing one.

"Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and YOU WILL FIND REST FOR YOUR SOULS. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light."
Matthew 11:29-30

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Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Who is God? A Mere List of Facts?

So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him, "If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.
John 8:31-32

In discipleship we have taken this and flopped it. We start like this:

Know the truth

Be set free

Follow Jesus

because of this, many people have never actually seen what God is like, they only know facts about him. They can list off many things:

He is loving, gracious, all knowing, all powerful, everywhere, infinite, provider, caring, passionate.

Here is the issue... We never fall in love with anyone by a list of things we know of them when it's made like a grocery list. I was speaking to a young woman who said she was struggling with her faith, and very confused on who God was and struggled as well because this confusing God was also the very one she was supposed to tell her friends about, strangers about, neighbors about. She would list off all the things above but for some reason they didn't like her algarhythm of a god.

I then pressed into her.

She has a boyfriend so I asked her: What if I were trying to introduce you to your boyfriend before you guys met and I said:

He has two eyes, two legs, a face, hair, a mouth, he eats, he hugs people and he wears clothes.

Will you be so caught up about him that you'd fall in love with him?

She laughed and said of course not. I said, "how have you fell in love with him?" She responded with: our time in relationship with each other. Exactly. She spent time with and walked in relationship and life with him to see what he was like. So much so, that if I were to tell her, " Your boyfriend is a thief and a liar" you wouldnt believe me, because of your understanding of who he is and what he is like.

This is how it is with God. He has always wanted relationship with us, so we could show off what he is like to the entire world. This is why discipleship starts with the first time we have contact with a person. We show off what God is like as we walk in God's ways. Because we aren't merely memorizing facts about God, but actually experiencing those facts in relationship with him, we can show him clearly to others. So, instead of just saying God provides, we see that he provides as we lean on his provision and wisdom. We don't merely call him comforter, but we have experienced his comfort during our lives. These things are what we then show off to others as we live in community with them. Up close. So, when they begin to trust in Jesus, they've already seen what a disciple does and experienced it. Because of this, they have a relationship with God and not merely head knowledge that was proven to be more believable than the alternative.

Where did we get so off track? We've never had relationships like this. We've never merely known facts about someone and said we were in intimate relationship with them. . But, we can see many people that are living this way. They believe this list of facts, then they work the rest of their lives trying to do things to prove that God is real and true, the same way they know it. In reality, they've never been set free. They are still a slave. Jesus' burden is heavy, not light. And, in the end, the gospel isn't good news and it definitely doesn't bring great joy. Maybe this is the reason why so many pastors and Christians are burnt out...they have a relationship with a spreadsheet of facts instead of walking in the ways of Jesus in real relationship with the Father that sets them free, brings great joy, and who's burden is light.

We need to go back to discipleship that starts with walking with others as we walk with God in the cool of the day, so they'll know the truth and so that truth sets them free as it has set us free.

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