Front and Center

When was the last time you had an argument about church, religion, or some other topic in the realm of theological things and actually "won?" And when I say "won," I mean actually saw someone start to follow Jesus or at least get a little closer to him? My guess is never. If you're anything like me, the only experience you've had with apologetical arguments is frustration for both parties and more questions left to be asked than questions that actually got answered.

Now, don't get me wrong, I love a good debate, but they're not always the most helpful conversations. And as the wise Preacher of Ecclesiastes says, "For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under the sun." And it's very important to know when the right time for a debate is and isn't. 

Jesus Front And Center

The reason most of us don't like to do evangelism (tell people the good news about Jesus) is because when we go to talk about him, we don't actually talk about him. What I mean is that we easily and quickly get side-tracked by questions and arguments that don't matter and we wind up losing sight of what really does matter. We quickly become intimidated by the answers we don't have and we become overwhelmed by our inability to "win the argument." It's not a joyful experience and therefore, we're unlikely to do it again.

When the Apostle Paul preached the gospel (evangelism), he was sure to keep that which was of first importance in its rightful place. First! Paul's primary concern in evangelism was simply to tell people about the life, death, burial, and resurrection of Christ. 

Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you...For I have delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the Twelve...Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. - 1 Corinthians 15:1, 3-8

For Paul, because he had seen and experienced the love of Jesus, Jesus was the only person he wanted to talk about. And he was a master at keeping Jesus front and center. He didn't get side-tracked with topics such as God's triune nature, the hypostatic union, or where Christ went after he died. It was simply the person and work of Jesus that he was concerned about. 

Now, don't get me wrong, those other things are extremely important and I hope you someday have the opportunity to have discussions (and debates) about them. But they are rarely arguments that allow people to see and know the full beauty of the life, death, burial, and resurrection of our Savior. 

Insist On These Things

At the end of Paul's life, he wrote a letter to a man named Titus. As he closed that letter Paul wrote:

The saying is trustworthy, and I want you to insist on these things, so that those who have believed in God may be careful to devote themselves to good works. These things are profitable for people. - Titus 3:8

What are "these things?" Well, a few verses earlier Paul tells us what they are. To sum it up, Paul told Titus (and us) to insist on telling people that God saved us as a complete act of grace, mercy and kindness. There is nothing in and of ourselves to deserve salvation. But God, through his Holy Spirit, has regenerated our hearts, and through the work of Jesus, has reconciled us back to himself. We are justified, not because of our works, but because of Christ's finished work. 

Grace. Mercy. Justification. Reconciliation. Jesus. These are the important things. These are the things we need to insist on because they are the things that keep Jesus front and center. Contrast this to the things we should avoid.

But avoid foolish controversies, genealogies, dissensions, and quarrels about the law, for they are unprofitable and worthless. - Titus 1:9

Paul goes on to say that these things actually cause division, and that if a person causes divisions in the church over foolish arguments that don't highlight Jesus, that person is to be lovingly warned about the damage he is causing. And if he doesn't respond in repentance he is to be removed so that his division making will be stopped. 

Jesus Is Enough

What are you insisting on when you tell people about Jesus? What do you really want them to see? That your church is the best? That your arguments are well thought out? That they are wrong? 

As we approach Easter, we need to be reminded that Jesus is enough. He is sufficient in and of himself and he doesn't need us to argue the finer and more controversial points of theology. He does, however, want us to keep him front and center.

He lived perfectly. Died our death. Was buried. And rose three days later. He is Alive! This is enough.

 

 

Abide In Christ

I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. -John 15:5

It's easy to forget how much I need Jesus. Yet the reality is that I need him every day. And so do you. The above verse reminded me of this truth this morning. 

I often live life as if I accepted Jesus and then moved on. But the reality is that he is the vine and I'm the branch. This means, that for me to truly have life, I need him every waking moment of every day. Have you ever cut a branch from its vine? It has the appearance of still being useful, but the reality is that it immediately begins to wither and die. This is what our life is like severed from the vine of Jesus. Sure, we might not appear to be dead immediately, and we might be able to have some fruit to show for a while, but eventually we dry up and the fruit falls off.

Now, the good news for the Christian is that he or she will never be severed from the vine of Jesus. As Jesus points out in John 10, he is the Good Shepherd and nothing will enable us to be snatched out of his hand. Furthermore, he has such a firm grip that we can never jump out (Nor would we want to if we've really experienced his salvation). Our salvation is secure through the sheer grace of God and through faith in the finished work of Jesus. 

However, our day to day life must still consist of our utter dependance upon the gospel. For the finished work of Jesus is not something that we needed just at a certain point and time in our past, no, it's what we need every day. The finished work of Jesus has not only saved us, it's also what sustains us. And it's through a constant belief in the gospel that we are sanctified and made to look more like him. 

Apart from Christ we can do nothing. The works of religion might look good for a while, but in the end they're fruitless. But as we abide in him, we're made to be more like him, and our faith in him will produce much fruit.

So stop yourself today and simply abide in Christ. Fruit will come.

Be A Friend Of Sinners

As we begin the process of planting Taproot Church, one of the realities about the life of Jesus that stands out to me most is that he was–and still is–a friend of sinners. Jesus was continually found hanging out with the outcasts of his culture. The tables of tax-collectors, lepers, and sinners were the ones he frequented for his meal time (Matthew 11:19; Mark 2:15; Luke 15:2).

Yesterday I came upon this quote:

To put it simply, Jesus did not keep his distance from anyone who needed the love of God, whether they needed liberation from demons, healing of sickness, or forgiveness of sin. This was his mission from God, and it left him no room for protecting himself from being contaminated by the impurity or immorality of others.*

My prayer for Taproot Twin Falls is that she would be a people who befriends sinners. I'm praying that we would risk contamination to see the poor, the marginalized, the weak–the ones who need the love of God most–actually experience his love.

*Quoted from Jesus: A Very Short Introduction by Richard Bauckham. 

Inside The Heart Of Man

Do you trust people? 

I've found that it can be quite difficult to trust our fellow man. Too many times I've been deceived. To many times I've been made promises only to see them under delivered. Too many times I've made promises, only to under deliver. 

The Heart Is Wicked

The bible teaches us that the heart is not to be trusted.

The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it? - Jeremiah 17:9

This passage is not talking about the physical organ that we know to be the heart. It's talking about our motives. The very core of our being that drives us. It's our heart. It's a part of us that we can't understand. I'm sure you've experienced this. Have you ever done anything that surprised you? Something that you didn't think you were capable of? I have. And it's because my heart is sick.

Jesus Knows The Heart Of Man

Jesus, more than anyone else, knows the hearts of humanity. When he lived on this earth, the bible tells us he entrusted himself to no one because he knew what was in the heart of man. He knew the deceitful nature of the human heart. 

But Jesus on his part did not entrust himself to them, because he knew all people and needed no one to bear witness about man, for he himself knew what was in man. - John 2:24-25

These people that Jesus did not entrust himself to were people who believed in him. They were people who followed him. Yet he knew they weren't in it for the long haul. He knew they were only following him for what they could get out of him. 

How many of you follow Jesus like this? You follow him to get out of him what you can, and once you've gotten it, or once things get tough, you're done. I've certainly been guilty. 

Jesus Changes Your Heart

The reality of this deceitful heart is something terrifying. It's a desperate situation that neither you or I can take care of on our own. We need something done to our hearts. Praise be to God, something has been done. 

The promise was made in Ezekiel:

And I will give them one heart, and a new spirit I will put within them. I will remove the heart of stone from their flesh and give them a heart of flesh. - Ezekiel 11:19

This promise made is fulfilled in Christ. He took the wickedness of humanity upon himself, calls us to him, and transforms our hearts! In Christ, our hearts are no longer solid stone, but moldable flesh. 

Entrusted By Jesus

This heart change now makes you and I people to be trusted. Yes, still sinful, but no longer deceived like we used to be. It is the Spirit of God now in us that motivates the desires of our heart. Hearts that formerly delighted in rebelling against God now delight in obeying his commands. 

And now Jesus entrusts his mission to you and me.

Before he ascended into heaven, Jesus gave his disciples the command to make disciples of all nations. To bear witness to him. This Jesus, who once trusted no one to bear witness to him, now entrusts this rag-tag group to build his church! That's a big change.  

He continues to entrust his disciples with the same task. Make disciples of all nations. Bear witness to the risen Jesus. You and I can do this, not because of anything that we have done or even continue to do, but because of what he has done and continues to do in us. 

 

Champs!

Tis the day after the most boring super bowl (in my own opinion at least) in the history of Super Bowl's. Don't get me wrong, I'm stoked that Seattle absolutely shut down Denver (though I do feel bad for Peyton). But the game in and of itself was a let down. I was really hoping for some excitement. A nail biter. A game decided by the final drive. Instead, the tone was set from the first snap and a blowout ensued.

This morning I woke up asking myself the question, What's changed? Living in Seattle, the only thing being talked about is this Super Bowl Championship. I've heard people talking about how they can finally die happy and how this year will be the greatest year of their lives. And I have to wonder...really? This game, that had absolutely no significance for you personally (other than maybe emotional stability), is now going to change the entire course of your year and life? You can now die happy because your team won one Super Bowl?

I think sports are great. I think the Seahawks are great. I'm really excited to see the kind of player Russell Wilson develops into. But this game did absolutely nothing to change my life in any way. And ultimately, when you really think about it, I doubt it's really changed yours either. 

In the end, I'm simply reminded that Jesus is better. Whether your team won or lost, Jesus is always better than a Super Bowl Championship.

Jesus won the ultimate victory. He defeated the toughest opponents (Satan, sin, death, Hell). He rose from the grave and lives for forever. This means that there is never going to be a let down from Jesus. He won't win the victory one day and then let us down tomorrow. Next season will always end up as great as the next because Christ is the victor and he's always on the throne!   

It was a great season. I imagine next year might be similar. But I hope to never lose sight of what really matters. 

Jesus is better than championships.

Is Your Faith Sinking?

If your faith is weak, and you feel like you're constantly sinking, it's because your eyes are not fixed on Jesus!

In Matthew 14, we see that Jesus has authority over everything. He's able to multiply some fish and bread to feed over 5,000 people. He heals people's diseased bodies. He walks on water and calms waves.

Jesus is clearly in charge! 

A Commanding Faith

This power that Jesus possesses is meant to be attractive. It's meant to make us want to follow him and even do as he does. We see this in Peter. Peter tells Jesus, "Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water" (emphasis mine).

Peter's faith is a commanding one, and God wants ours to be commanding as well. The problem, however, is that we often want our faith to be commanding for the wrong reasons.

Faith is always meant to bring us closer to Jesus. But in the text we see that Peter's faith wasn't necessarily to get closer to Christ. Instead, it was simply for the sake of walking on water. I think we do this often. We do something radical or crazy and we call it "faith." But the reality is that, though it looks like a commanding faith and acts like a commanding faith, it's probably a sinking faith. And It's a sinking faith because it's more concerned about what we've personally done than getting closer to Jesus.

When Our Eyes Don't Stay On Jesus

When our eyes don't stay on Jesus, we begin to sink. A sinking faith is a faith that does just enough to get that certain thing (which likely took great faith to do) done. But as soon as that thing (preaching a bold sermon, evangelizing someone you know is hostile toward the gospel) is done, our eyes go off of Jesus. And we begin to sink. You see, the issue is not so much about the faith as much as who the faith is in. 

This is what Peter did. He got onto the water and walked to Jesus, but as soon as his task was accomplished, he took his eyes off of Jesus. Peter began to look around him (I imagine feeling pretty darn special). But the moment he took his eyes off of Jesus is the moment he began to sink. Peter looked around and saw wind and waves, and as he saw the waves breaking around him, he began think about all the things that could possibly go wrong. Even though he had no reason to, Peter began to panic. Think about it; Jesus was right next to him. All the disciples had seen him walking on the water and he was still standing on it in the moment. It also seems that the boat was still pretty close. And we also know that Peter can swim. He was a fisherman. He knew his way around the water. It was highly unlikely that he was going to drown or anything like that. 

But in that reality lies the problem. When our eyes are off of Jesus and on our own abilities and what we think we know, we begin to sink. Peter's faith had turned from Jesus to himself. 

Jesus Will Not Let Us Go

I think it's easy, in these sinking moments, to think that we are losing our faith or maybe that we aren't Christians at all. It's easy to think that our self-dependency has somehow caused us to sink to a place where God can no longer pull us out of the deep end. But it hasn't! 

Peter cried out, "Lord, save me." And immediately Jesus reached out his hand and took hold of him (Matthew 14:30-31). 

I think Peter's cry was a cry of repentance. He recognized that he took his eyes off of Jesus (something he would do again). He realized that he was trusting in himself (something he was quite known for). But he cried out to Jesus and Jesus was right there to pull him up.

So it is for us. When we feel our faith is sinking, we need not give up, because we are never too sunk. We simply cry out to Jesus, "Lord save me," and he pulls us up. 

Our life is filled with moments where we feel we are walking on water. Jesus is directly in front of us. Our eyes are fixed solely around him. Our faith is strong.

But waves do come and our heads often get turned.

Jesus wants us to know that he remains right next to us. When Jesus died on the cross and went into his grave, he sunk to the lowest of lows for us so that we don't have to. And in rising victoriously from that grave, we simply need to look up to him with faith and repentance, and we too will be raised to eternal life.

So, "O you of little faith," cry out to Jesus today.  He is amazing. He is powerful. He is in control. He is the one and only Son of God worthy of our full attention and worship. And he will always keep you above the water.