Archive for January, 2009|Monthly archive page

The Gospel as a Person

Nepal Living GoddessAs I continue to study and preach through the gospel of Mark I am struck by how Jesus is presented so clearly. Mark’s favorite title for Jesus is “Son of God.” In fact, Mark 1:1 states the following about Jesus, “the beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God (emphasis mine).” For Mark, “beginning,” as it is used here, is defined in terms of origin or principle. So, in Mark’s estimation the origin of the gospel, the principle which embodies the gospel is a person, namely, Jesus Christ. In other words, the gospel is more than a set of beliefs or truths to be checked off a list, rather, the gospel itself is embodied in a person. As Mark unfolds his narrative, he is not the only one who refers to Jesus as “Son of God.” Note well who else is prone to get the title of Jesus correct. The demons (Mark 3:11; 5:7); God the Father (Mark 9:7); Jesus Himself (Mark 14:61-62); A Roman centurion (Mark 15:39)

These confessions about the identity of Jesus state that something very unique is taking place. God Himself is bodily present on earth! This is good news! The picture to the left  is of a beautiful young girl from Nepal. What makes this girl unique is that recently she was confirmed to be the reincarnation of the Hindu deity Taleju. A panel of judges selected her after checking her for physical imperfections. She had to have perfect hair, eyes, teeth, and skin with no scars, and cannot be afraid of the dark. As a final test she had to spend the night alone in a room with the ritually slaughtered heads of goats and buffalos without showing fear. This little girl will live in complete isolation at the temple until she reaches puberty when she loses her divine status.

Here’s the point I will make. Jesus doesn’t have to have deity conferred upon Him. He didn’t have to earn it, buy it, or rent it for a little while. He won’t lose it like we lose our luggage or have it taken away from Him. Neither is Mark part of a panel of judges inspecting Jesus to see if He has perfect hair and teeth so he can give you the thumbs up. Mark is recording what has always been true and what will always be true of Jesus. He is God Himself…in the flesh! This brings up a great question for you to consider. Who do you confess Jesus to be? Your confession about Jesus reveals your relationship to Jesus. Jesus is unique in His person. He is the gospel personified, the Son of God.

The Story Behind the Story: God of This City

This video is Chris Tomlin talking about how he came to hear the song God of this City and also how it was written. Our worship team has been doing this song on Sunday mornings for about 6 months or so and I have always felt that every time we played it that there was just something special about the song. After watching this video, I now know the answer to why the music and the lyrics are so powerful. Please watch the whole video and then if you have never heard the song, follow the link here and listen: God of the City. I hope and pray you come to appreciate the beauty of how God is still blessing those who are obedient worshippers.

Jesus is Unique

Hannibal HillI have been preaching through the gospel of Mark on Sunday mornings and if I could describe the entire gospel with a picture, the one here would capture it perfectly. These are the hills that I used to ride my bike up and down as a kid in Hannibal and trust me, it was more fun to ride down than it was to pedal up. Often, we would get to the top and hunch over for greater aerodynamics and go as fast as we could down the hills, braking at the last second to keep us from going headlong into the cross traffic at the bottom. Here is why I want you to get this picture in your mind. The gospel of Mark is similar to this illustration in this respect. Mark’s gospel is about words like immediacy, haste, and urgency. In fact, the word “immediately” shows up in Mark’s gospel no less than 42 times. If Jesus’ earthly ministry begins at the top of the hill, Mark wants to get you to the bottom of the hill as quickly as possible. Why? Because what awaits you at the bottom of the hill when Mark puts the brakes on is the cross.

Mark’s gospel ultimately is about the urgent truth that Jesus is unique. With respect to this statement, people generally fall into one of three categorical responses. Making sweeping generalizations is not usually appropriate, but I am a pastor and I am pretty sure that it is part of the job description. The responses that people “generally” have are:

Jesus is not unique, He is not set apart from everyone else – In other words, Jesus is just a man who did really well for himself and had some ideas that caught on, which is crazy if you consider that success for Jesus was being publicly condemned, beaten, spit on, mocked, ridiculed, and ultimately crucified.

Jesus is unique, but there are others like him – Jesus was set apart, but not any differently than other spiritual gurus like Buddha or Ghandi which is crazy because Buddha and Ghandi are worm food while Jesus is still alive and well.

Jesus is unique, there is no one else like Him, He stands alone – People here say things like Jesus is God and many other exclusive claims which are great because they are backed up by a little something called the Bible.

The cost of believing one of the first two categories is extremely high. If a person remains in one of these first two categories, then they must be prepared for a lot of weeping and gnashing of teeth at an unbearable temperature for an eternity. By the way, that’s a really long time. The benefit for believing and following the Jesus described in the third point is that heaven awaits. So, the question on the table is…which Jesus are you following? No question could be more urgent for you to answer.

Losing Our Religion?

Ed Stetzer has posted a great article this morning discussing some statistics given by a recent Barna study of why those who are under 25 are dramatically less likely to turn to “organized” religion to explain and define their faith. The stats are eye opening and should serve as a wake-up call to the church. Please run over to Ed’s blog and prepare to be challenged.

Shotgun Shells: Guilty or Not-Guilty?

If sanctification is not about effort or applying a “means to an end” theology to our lives, then why are so many Christians harboring guilt with respect to sanctification? If you pay close attention, many Christians are living a guilt-ridden existence. You can see it on their faces, they are horrible at trying to hide it. Sanctification and guilt should never cohabitate in the heart of a believer. I should never feel guilty about the fact that I haven’t become more sanctified by now in my twenty years as a Christian. I should never be battered with guilt even though I am guilty. Let me see if I can explain what I mean.

Second grade was a tough year for me. Besides the fact that it was the first time I ever visited the principal’s office (more on this in a minute), it was also the fact that I had the meanest teacher in the entire Mark Twain Elementary School system, or at least this is what some well-meaning third graders felt obligated to share with me. Now, to get back to the point. One of the greatest events in the life of a second grader is show-and-tell. Desiring to impress my teacher and amaze my friends, I searched the house for the item that would drop jaws to the floor and cause tears of pride to well-up in the enraptured audience. Shotgun shells was what I came up with and I suppose for a second grader these met the above criteria superbly. Little did I know that bringing shotgun shells to school was not only not superb, but it was also flirting with a class C felony. The students were impressed as I pulled them from my backpack. Not so much for my teacher. Her hand covered her mouth and she began to clutch the desk as if she was going to faint. Needless to say, show-and-tell didn’t end with applause, rather it ended with the long walk to the principal’s office. Surprisingly, though, my discipline was waved by the principal. Apparently, second graders sometimes just don’t know any better.

Reflecting on such experiences often awakens in me something that I have always known as believer, yet never seem to experience as completely as I desire to, namely, the knowledge that even though I am guilty as charged, the final verdict is not-guilty. I never felt guilty for what I brought to school that day, even though I was guilty for what I brought to school that day. This is what I enjoy so much about the Lutheran view of sanctification. The other views (see below)seem to place you on the precipice of falling into a guilt-ridden existence as a believer. This is not where I want to be. I am afraid of heights. Rather, I would prefer to live with the knowledge that in Jesus Christ I have “redemption, the forgiveness of sins [emphasis mine]” (Colossians 1:14). All of my sins past, present, and future have been forgiven and no amount of sanctifying effort on my part will allow me to appreciate this fact more than I already do.