Category Archives: Theology

Waiting By The Grave

IMG_0115It’s Holy Week and I sit next to a grave.* It’s the grave where my son was buried nearly twelve years ago. So no matter where I am at, there is always a part of me that is here next to his grave.

For some, a grave is a painful reminder. I understand, as it is for me too. Yet this ground in which my son was buried is also a sacred place of memory and anticipation.

It’s been five years since I have stood here in Searcy, Arkansas where my son, Kenneth James Butts, was buried nearly twelve years ago. In some ways, it seems far too long. Yet here I am and I come still asking why he died, wishing I could turn back time and change what happened.

But I can’t! So now I only a grave to stand by and remember.

Holy Ground

But this I am convinced of… That this ground has become holy ground. It’s holy ground because God has made it his place of dwelling, if only for a while.

During Holy Week we remember the final journey Jesus made into Jerusalem where he was arrested, crucified, buried and resurrected. I generally focus on the death and resurrection of Jesus. After all, these two events remind me that I am justified as a sinner and living with the hope of eternal life. But between the death and resurrection of Jesus is his burial in the tomb… a grave.

The grave is a cold and lifeless place of silence. Jesus is buried there to take his place among the dead. But God the Father is there too. Jesus is his Son, the second person of this Triune God. Jesus is the one through whom the Father has become flesh and now he is buried in the grave.

Holy Ground!

Waiting

So here I am next to my son’s grave. God knows! He knows because he’s been here, because he is here with me… with Kenny. It’s a sacred place of waiting. It’s waiting for the promise of the Father, that his Son, Jesus, would not be abandoned to the grave. That is the rest of the story remembered during Holy Week.

It’s my story and our story. By the grave there is waiting. By the grave God waits with us, just as the Father waited when his Son was laid in the grave. God waits with us as he waited for that early Sunday morning when his Son would rise.

I come to the grave not as a place of permanence but as a place of waiting, a holy ground where God waits too. And waiting in faith and hope for that day when the wait will be over, when I will no longer need to remember the past because the future will become eternally present.

But until then, I’ll be waiting!

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* This same article is published in Connecting 29 (April 17, 2014), a biweekly publication of the Columbia Church of Christ.

N.T. Wright on Gospel and Mission

Recently N.T. Wright lectured at Oklahoma Christian University. Below is a YouTube video of one of those lectures, probably a “chapel sermon,” on the relationship between gospel and mission, the vocational challenge we have as followers of Jesus. I believe you will really be encouraged and challenged by what you here, so do yourself a favor and listen.

Book Review: God, Freedom & Human Dignity

Among the western world, freedom is arguably the chief value we seek as democratic societies. Our freedom is what dignifies us as human beings but that evokes the question of what exactly is freedom and whether or not God is a suppressor of freedom. This is the issue that Ron Highfield* addresses in his book God, Freedom & Human Dignity: Embracing A God-Centered Identity In A Me-Centered Culture. Published in 2013 by InterVarsity Press, the book is 227 pages and includes both a subject index and scripture index. Also, to my delight, the book includes footnotes rather than endnotes.

The book aims to show why God is the foundation for true freedom and human dignity, whom we can love God and give ourselves to without loss of joy (p. 12). In order to unpack this claim, the author divides the book into two sections. In the first half, the author explores how we, as autonomous individual modern selves, the “Me-Centered” selves, conceive of freedom and view God as an obstacle to freedom. The second half of the book then explores the Christian view of God as the self-giving Father, Son, and Spirit in whom we find our true identity and gain true freedom and dignity to live as the people God has created and redeemed us to be which is a “God-centered” life. The book weaves a tapestry of theological and philosophical voices from into conversation with the biblical story, making a very solid argument for a wider range of readers. In other words, scholars and pastors will appreciate the depth of the book while students and lay people will benefit too because of the book’s accessibility.

The book demonstrates how among western culture freedom is an ideal without limitations which we must achieve through our own initiative. The problem with the western notion of freedom is that it requires the removal of every impeding obstacle and therefore satisfaction is never found because there is always another obstacle which we must overcome (p. 103). Though the modern autonomous self regards this illusion as freedom, it always falls short of true freedom. Alternatively, God is the foundation and giver of true freedom, as  Highfield demonstrates. This freedom, which is found in Christ, stems from the fact that in Christ, God has set us free from sin and death. This gives us the freedom to live as our true selves, the people whom God has created and redeemed us to be, which mirrors the image of God (p. 189-190).

One book can only do so much and will always leave the reader with unanswered questions. Having said that, I wish the book would have explored how this understanding of true freedom finds expression within the church, since the church is the collective new creation of people who belong to God in Christ. Speaking of the church, I also believe that some discussion questions at the end of each chapter would help as well. That’s because this book will make for a very useful small group discussion or even for a “Bible” class to read through. Nevertheless, this book is a great read! It is an easy and engaging read, providing a good overview along with solid theological and cultural engagement on a subject that hits very close to home for many people, including myself.

I am thankful to both Ron Highfield and IVP for providing me with a copy of this book.

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Ron Highfield, is the Blanche E. Seaver Professor of Religion at Pepperdine University where he teaches classes in systematic theology and Christianity and culture; he also serves as a Shepherd of the University Church of Christ.

A Good Minister of Christ Jesus

When I was a student at Harding University, I belonged to the “Timothy Club.” [1] This was a group for those preparing to serve as ministers of the gospel named after the Apostle Paul’s protégé Timothy. The club provided further encouragement and mentoring for ministry students beyond the college classroom. And all of these students, including myself, believed God had called us to serve as ministers and was preparing us for that task so that he may send us out. [2]

Leaders Among the Church

Paul wrote Timothy saying, “If you point these things out to the brothers and sisters, you will be a good minister of Christ Jesus nourished on the truths of the faith and of the good teaching you have followed” (1 Tim 4:6). Space will not permit much analysis of what “these things” are. However, the passage hints at the great responsibility Paul expected of Timothy and under different yet similar circumstances, I believe Paul expected the same of Titus.

Whether we call them ministers, evangelists, or else, the work of Timothy and Titus was a continuation of what Paul began in helping establish the churches in Ephesus and Crete.  From a cursory reading of 1 & 2 Timothy and Titus, this ministry involved preaching and teaching as well as administrative work, all for the purpose of building up the churches as God’s holy people. For example, when it came to addressing the concerns of widows, Paul told Timothy to “Give these commands” [2] to the church (cf. 1 Tim 5:7, NRSV).

As a minister of Christ Jesus, this responsibility comes from Jesus himself. While all good ministry involves communal discernment, it is not a responsibility subject to the church’s approval but for the sake of the church — so that the church may continue participation in the mission of God. Both Timothy and Titus were sent as leaders among the church… not the only leaders, as they were to appoint elders and deacons (cf. 1 Tim 3:1-13; Tit 1:5-9), but leaders nonetheless.

The Need for Ministers

Churches today find themselves among a drastically different historical context and sometimes facing very different issues. Nevertheless, even though the circumstances are different, churches still need a minister of the gospel like Ephesus and Crete needed Timothy and Titus. Churches need ministers who spend time drinking from the deep well of God’s word so that they may preach and teach the scriptures, always pointing the church in the way of Jesus. Likewise, churches need these ministers acting administratively so that God’s people may, as followers of Jesus, increasingly become living expressions of the scriptures.

Whether a minister serves in the role of a “lead” or “senior” minister or in other specialized roles, such as a“youth” or “children’s” minister, they serve with the church as ministers called and sent by God to the church. Whatever fiscal arrangements are made for supporting a minister, these provisions should not bear upon the minister’s spiritual responsibility. This is not to suggest that there are never circumstances in which a minister has lost the ability to serve but to say that a minister’s service should not be reduced to employment.

Like elders, deacons, and even the church, ministers are not perfect. However, a good minister, one who understands the responsibility as working for God, has spent years learning and continues learning. Like Timothy, a good minister nourishes “on the truths of the faith” and has a good sense regarding what is necessary for building the church up. Likewise, a good minister is not defined by the approval of the church but whether or not that minister remains committed to that “good teaching” from the word of God.

A Final Word

There is so much more to say about the responsibility of a minister. However, in closing this essay, remember Paul’s encouragement to Timothy saying, “For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God…” (2 Tim 2:6). The greatest service a minister can offer the church is to do just this.

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  1. This post is dedicated to my fellow Compadres (you know who you are), who serve God and the church as ministers of the gospel. Keep up the great work!
  2. A similar article is published as the same title in Connecting 29 (March 20, 2014), a biweekly publication of the Columbia Church of Christ.
  3. The word paraggellō involves making an announcement and is an expression used throughout the New Testament in an authoritative sense, see Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, 3d ed., rev. Frederick William Danker (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 760.

Two Profound Words on this Ash Wednesday

This Sunday I’m preaching from one of my favorite Bible stories, in John 11, where Jesus exclaims, “I am the resurrection and the life.” The context of the story is the death of Jesus’ friend Lazarus and so the text speaks voluminously on the theme of life, death, and hope.*

One of my favorites scenes in the story is when Jesus approaches the tomb where Lazarus has been buried and sees Mary along with some other Jews crying. There, the text says two words, “Jesus wept” (v. 35).

Though it’s the most simple of sentences possible, it’s a profound statement about God. You see, from the Gospel of John wants us to know that Jesus is God in the flesh. In fact, the beautiful mystery of the incarnation is not that Jesus is like God but that God is like Jesus. And in this story God is so identified with the pain and suffering of those mourning the death of Lazarus, that God weeps too.

Ash Wednesday and The Suffering

This is who the church is to follow, this God who comes full of grace and truth, who has become flesh in the person of Jesus the Messiah. As Jesus identifies with the suffering of the world, weeping with those who weep, so also must the church.

Enter Ash Wednesday. It’s the beginning of Lent, a season that some Christian traditions observe for forty-six days leading up to Easter Sunday. The practice derives from an ancient religious practice of using ashes to express mourning. For example, after suffering his afflictions, Job sat among the ashes and later used ashes in his response to God (cf. Job 2:8; 42:6). So a part of Ash Wednesday and Lent is reminding ourselves that we, as the people of God, are identifying with the brokenness and suffering of the world.

I neither commend nor condemn the observance of Ash Wednesday and Lent for Christians. I believe we have the freedom in Christ to either participate in this observance or not. However, as followers of Jesus, we must be people who learn how to identify with the suffering of others. In doing so we become the hands and feet of Jesus, offering the expression of God’s grace and truth. It’s an expression that acknowledges the unfairness and pain of a broken world marred by suffering but it’s also expresses the promise of hope we have in Jesus. For Jesus’ next act is the raising of Lazarus from the dead, a sign pointing toward his own resurrection which stands as the assurance of life to all who believe in him.

Identification With the Suffering

Of course, Lent is just a season for those Christians who choose to observe it. Identification with the suffering isn’t just for a season. This wonderful ministry should last until the day when Jesus returns, making all things new and drying up the tears from every eye.

Fortunately, in my experience, the church has done this well. I’m aware of the horror stories in which churches have failed the suffering miserably but that hasn’t been my experience. When I lost my father at the age of twenty-two, it was the church — a particular church I barely knew — that identified with my suffering. I remember the cards, the calls, and the visits. When my son died and life for my wife and I suddenly seemed to collapse, it was the church that lifted us up. I remember the church gathering in the trauma center to weep with my wife and I. We remember the days that followed with the church coming by to just listen, to serve, to comfort (we remember the little puppy we named “Shadow” that was given to us), and occasionally speak a needed truth, a word of hope. None of that ministry required any fancy programming or high-cost expenditures, just people willing to be the hands and feet of Jesus Christ.

And, of course! This is what we are called to be as the church of Jesus Christ.

So with the power of the Holy Spirit, may we enter the suffering world around us as people bearing witness to the grace and truth of God!

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* This post is published as an article of the same title in Connecting 29 (March 5, 2014), a biweekly publication of the Columbia Church of Christ.

The Web of Faith, Love, and Hope . . . And Doubt

In my church we sing the songs Lord, Reign In Me and I Surrender All. But to actually totally surrender ourselves to the Lord and let him reign in and over every part of our life… Well, that’s difficult to do.*

I tried doing this once. I prayed to God that he would have his complete way with me, transforming me into the likeness of Christ so that he could use me for service in his kingdom however he saw fit. Then my son died.

At the time, I wondered how Kenny’s death might be part of this process. As time went on and I began to see how God was using the tragedy of our son’s death to shape me, I became afraid to pray that prayer of surrender because I was afraid of what else it might cost me.

In some ways, I still am afraid of that prayer. But I know that I’m not alone.

What I’m speaking of is the struggle to trust God. And I know that there are many Christians who struggle with this. It’s not that we don’t have faith in God or that we don’t believe in Jesus. It’s a different struggle . . . a different sort of doubt. Imagine being hit by a car as you cross a street and then being asked to cross the street again. And so it is with life!

They Got Hit!

I imagine this is part of the struggle the Thessalonians were encountering. They put their faith in Christ and were taught to live a new life in Christ, renouncing their ungodly living, with the expectation of the immanent return of Christ. But when some fellow believers passed from this life before Christ returned, they got hit! Doubt set in and questions of trust gripped the consciousness of their faith.

After giving a report on some of his ministry happenings and exhorting the Thessalonians in godly living, the apostle Paul addresses the coming of Christ (1 Thess 4:13-18). This is Paul’s way of reassuring these Christians that they have not believed in vain. Paul continues on, saying in 1 Thess 5:8-10:

“But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, putting on the faith and love as a breastplate, and the hope of salvation as a helmet. For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. He died for us so that, whether we are awake or asleep, we may live together with him.”

Paul actually uses the action language of “putting on” faith, love, and hope because of the promise of life — salvation through Jesus Christ.

Keep Putting On…

As mentioned earlier, there are times when I’m still afraid to completely trust God and perhaps there always will be. Yet I do try and as I do, I am consciously aware of my own sinfulness and the need keep allowing God to transform me into the likeness of Christ. I’m also aware of how much the sting of death still haunts me, casting doubts through unanswered questions. It would be easier just to say “no” in not so many words and keep God at an arms distance away. But that isn’t faith, nor is it love and hope.

Perhaps this resonates with you, even if in different ways. My word of encouragement is Paul’s word of encouragement: keep putting on faith, love, and hope, knowing that we have received a promise of salvation that God will fulfill in its entirety when Christ returns. It’s the promise of the life that we will have together with God.

And Gathered With My Church…

As a final thought, let me say a word about the church in relation to our struggles of faith. In the larger world of Christian blogging there’s been a lot of conversation about the church lately and whether we need the church? Putting aside the theological issues with such a question, I believe that the church does matter and that we do need the church because it’s the church that helps us put on faith, love, and hope.

It’s the church that has passed on the gospel tradition we belong too and the scriptures that teach about this tradition. It is also in gathering with the church for worship, fellowship, and ministry that we remind ourselves of the truth and in doing so, assembling as a church becomes a way of putting on our faith, love, and hope. When I gather with my church, the Columbia Church of Christ, I am reminded of God’s grace and truth . . . of God’s promise in Christ. And gathered with my church, the Holy Spirit strengthens me to carry on with this web of faith, love, and hope that is sometimes mixed with doubts.

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* A similar version of this article was originally published in Connecting 29 (February 20, 2014), a biweekly publication of the Columbia Church of Christ.

Freedom Isn’t Free… But The Price Is More Than You Realize!

According to Google, the first definition of freedom is “the power or right to act, speak, or think as one wants without hindrance or restraint.” Of course, that is only one definition of freedom but it is the operative understanding of freedom in Western democratic societies. In his book God, Freedom, & Human Dignity, Ron Highfield explores the ways this sense of freedom is expressed, showing how such freedom depends completely upon human effort (pp. 91-96). Such freedom is obtained and preserved  by the political means of economic, military, and technological initiatives. Or so Western people think this is what makes them free!

What this concept of freedom requires is the removal of every obstacle that is believed to stand in the way of such freedom. Every obstacle that is… including God! In the Western sense of freedom, God is ultimately viewed as an obstacle to freedom and a great illustration of this is the way that Western democratic societies view sexuality. Whereas God is viewed as restricting our sexual liberty, we believe, in our Western sense of freedom, that we should be able to have sex whenever and with whomever we choose so long as our “partner(s)” is a willing participant too (their freedom of choice). Thus, if it is God that stands as an obstacle to this sexual liberty then it is God that must go. How ironic it is that conservative Americans who want to conserve traditional American values, including the Western notion of freedom, also lament the “removal of God” from American culture. It’s ironic because the very notion of freedom that conservatives (as well as liberals) want to preserve ultimately requires the removal of God in order to chase dream of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” — as we become our own gods.

“…We’re like a prisoner escaped from jail.”

The sad reality is that Western society is far from knowing freedom as it is actually enslaved to its own spiritual blindness. Because the democratic sense of freedom is one that is obtained and preserved completely through human effort, it is a dream of freedom that is never fully achieved. This freedom is an illusion and it’s much like a rainbow with the illusion beautiful enough for us to keep chasing but always remaining just beyond the hill (whatever obstacle that may be). This democratic pursuit of freedom means that we’re like a prisoner escaped from jail. We may no longer be restricted by the confines of a jail cell but we must keep on the run, always looking over our shoulders, remaining in hiding as we keep fighting without any peace or rest. What a pity! Especially since the price of this illusion has been a lot of bodies piled up on the battle field in order for us to try reach the pot of gold at the end of that rainbow.

But as I said earlier, the Western idea of freedom isn’t the only idea of freedom. Another idea is to remember that our lives have been created by the living God, who sustains our lives with every breath of air. Apart from him, we slowly die. In fact, we have been slowly dying since the original sin in which the man and woman attempted to become like God rather than to live dependent upon God (cf. Gen 3:4-5). Because God is the source of life, creating and sustaining all life (a notion that goes against the deistic philosophy that Western societies have built upon), we find true life, liberty, and happiness in God. But how… “If [we] insist on being the absolute cause of [our] existence, desires and actions, how can [we] acknowledge that [we] are God’s creature[s], preserved by his power, obligated by his law and in need of his grace?” (Highfield, p. 95).

“…we find true life, liberty, and happiness in God.”

The story of good news told in the Gospel of John begins by declaring to us that God is the Word who has become flesh in the person of Jesus, the Son of God. It is in Jesus, the Incarnate Word that we find life by believing in him (cf. Jn 1:1-4; 20:30-31). Because we find life in Jesus, who teaches us how to live again, we find the life, liberty, and happiness we were created to enjoy. It’s not a freedom in which we are able to live however we want, as though we are able to live apart from God and his will. Rather, it’s the freedom to be the people we were always created to be, living a life sustained by God and his will revealed to us in Jesus.

Consequently, the freedom we have in Jesus, the Incarnate Word, is able to fully satisfy our longing for happiness, joy, and peace because we are no longer trying to achieve what is impossible for us. Drinking from the living water that Jesus gives (cf. Jn 4:10, 13-14) frees us from futile need of having to secure freedom on our own and at the expense of people who are either in the way or become an expendable means to maintain the pursuit.

The good news about this divine freedom, is that it isn’t something we have to work for or fight for in any sense of the notion. Divine freedom is the gift of grace given to us from “God who so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life” (Jn 3:16, NRSV). It’s the gift of grace given to us by God the Father who raised his Son Jesus from death and then sent the Spirit as a promise of this eternal life. And that’s the truth that sets us free!

“Divine freedom is the gift of grace…”

So yes, freedom isn’t free. It costs more than we will ever truly imagine. It cost the life of Jesus who died in agony upon the cross so that we could be reconciled with God and live eternally again. Some people, however, will object with their “but…” as they insist we must chase the ever illusive idea of Western freedom if we are to be free. Sadly, some of these people are Christians, but what they don’t realize is that their self-pursuit of Western freedom isn’t free either. It’s an expensive cost too and it’s not just the cost of soldiers serving and dying in wars for “the cause of freedom.” Those who persist in persist in pursuing their own sense of freedom will pay the price of their own lives as they live enslaved to that illusive dream… working and fighting for a dream of freedom that never fully materializes as they hope it would.

That’s why I put my faith in Jesus Christ and why I encourage you to do so as well!

“Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” – Jesus Christ (John 8:32)

Social-Media and Our Celebrity Status

One of the books I’m currently reading is God, Freedom, and Human Dignity, by Ron Highfield,* who was kind enough to have InterVarsity Press send me a free copy of the book. I have promised to write a review of the book which I will do when I finish reading but I want to share what I believe is a very astute observation about human culture in the age of social-media.

The fourth chapter of the book discusses ways in which humans can live indifferent to God. One of those ways is when we come to view ourselves as celebrities, which turns our focus inward. As the author notes, “Fame demands to be admired for its own sake” (p. 70). Consequently, when we see ourselves as a celebrity of some sort, we begin seeking admiration for ourselves.

I believe most people, including myself, struggle with the desire for a certain amount of fame. Besides the desire to be liked by others and appreciated by others, we want recognition for our accomplishments — especially from our  vocational peers. And while a certain amount of praise and admiration is necessary to our emotional health, we seem to live in an age that some might say has become very narcissistic.

Although the author never uses the term narcissism, he does speak about this celebrity problem saying:

The culture of celebrity so pervades our lives and the means of placing our words and images in front of the world are so available that we are tempted to aspire to something like celebrity status for ourselves. We rent space in the virtual world where we can display our pictures, our curriculum, vitae and our contact information. We report to our “friends” what we had for breakfast this morning or what we are thinking this moment. We tell the world about our family vacations and even post our home movies. …we are seduced by the celebrity view of existence; that is we do not feel that we exist unless someone is viewing our image, reading our words and thinking about us. Our value is measured by the number of people who know our names, and who we are depends on what people think about us (p. 73).

Of course, measuring our intrinsic value by what other people think of us creates a world of problems. We begin to view the world as revolving around us, where we become the god of our world, and… Well, were right back to the original sin and we know the fall out of that.

This raises questions for all of us who love blogging, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, etc… When is it too much? How do we use social-media for its incredible merits without developing and practicing a “celebrity view of existence”?

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* Ron Highfield serves as the Blanche E. Seaver Professor of Religion at Pepperdine University.

Making It Easy: The Gospel and the Lost

The church in Acts is driven by the call to live as witnesses of Jesus [1]. This missional thrust is driven by two primary convictions that are inseparably linked. First is the belief that God has raised the crucified Jesus from death and exalted him as Lord and Messiah (Acts 2:22-24, 32-36). The second conviction is that salvation is found exclusively in Jesus (Acts 4:12).

This is not a form of platonic dualism where salvation is the separation of the soul from the physical body and world en route for an ethereal view of heaven. Rather, salvation is the understanding that the world is lost in darkness but that Jesus makes it possible to live a new eternal life in which heaven and earth are coming together as they will be when Jesus returns. Because the world is lost and enslaved to the powers of darkness, the message of Christ is the good news (gospel) of salvation in which people find the freedom of new life in Christ.

This is the purpose driving the church we read of in Acts. Everything else we read of flows from this missional purpose and is rooted in this gospel of Jesus Christ. Most Christians probably agree that this is the anchoring purpose that should drive churches today. However, there’s one more idea to consider as churches strive in living on mission with God.

In Acts 15, as the Gentiles are turning to God, the church gathers to discuss the matter since some Jewish Christians believed the Gentiles must be circumcised. However, the church decides this is wrong and that the only prohibitions should be abstinence from practices rooted in idolatry (Acts 15:19-21, 29)[2]. The reasoning for this decision is stated in v. 19: “It is my judgment, therefore, that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God.” Think about the reasoning of this decision. The church in Acts believes that the Gentiles are lost and need the salvation found exclusively in Jesus Christ but they also believe they should make it easy for the Gentiles to turn their lives back to God.  There’s a lesson here that shouldn’t go unnoticed. The lesson is that churches should make it easy for people to turn to God.

What does this involve? To begin with, it doesn’t involve watering down the gospel message or lowering the bar on discipleship. This much should be clear from just a cursory reading of the New Testament. What is involved in making it easy for people to turn to God is that churches should not allow their traditions to stand in the way of people turning to God by putting such people in a position where they must embrace the traditions in order to become a Christian. When I speak of traditions, I am speaking of issues like worship preferences (including a capella singing), dress codes, recreational hobbies, etc… Churches may attempt a defense of these traditions as “biblical” by proof-texting scripture but it is important to remember that one can make the Bible support about anything by proof-text.

Churches must consider what concessions are necessary to make it easy for  people turn to God with faith in Christ. This begins by making “the lost” a priority in conversations that churches have about vision and the future. Too often, people outside of Christ receive the least amount of consideration. The bottom line is this: Without watering down the gospel message or lowering the bar on discipleship, what must churches do to make it easy for these people to find salvation in Christ?

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  1. A similar version of this article was originally published in Connecting 29 (January 23, 2014), a biweekly publication of the Columbia Church of Christ.
  2. In fact, these prohibitions may have been made to make it easier for the Jews to join the Gentiles in table fellowship. See Charles H. Savelle, “A Reexamination of the Prohibitions in Acts 15,” Bibliotheca Sacra 164 (Oct-Dec 2004): 463; Luke Timothy Johnson, The Acts of the Apostles, Sacra Pagina (Colllegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press, 1992), 273.

Loving Ourselves As God Loves Us

And just like that, 2014 is well underway.* For some people, the new year is always a time to make resolutions which usually last for about a week.  I won’t complain because that’s how it always was for me. But I don’t make New Year’s Resolutions anymore. I’ve learned that when it comes to making changes in my life, it takes much resolve than just an annual holiday to do so.

However, with every day I want to be a better Christian than I was before and I’m sure you do as well. We want to be a followers of Jesus who loves God and neighbor, who loves our spouses and children, who loves our brothers and sisters in Christ… Of course, we don’t always do that as we should. After all, we are mere mortals.

But Can We Love Ourselves?

Here’s a suggestion: let’s learn to love ourselves as God loves us. I’m not talking about some self-serving love where we put ourselves above others. Far from it, I am suggesting that we learn to accept ourselves as God accepts us — which we don’t always do well.

I love the prayer of David in Psalm 51. This prayer is David’s response after becoming convicted of his sin involving the affair he had with Bathsheba and his involvement in the murder of Uriah, Bathsheba’s husband (cf. 2 Sam 11). From our human perspective, it’s hard to do more evil than that. Yet David turned to God in prayer and confession.

The most well known portion of this prayer is perhaps vv. 10-12, the three verses we sometimes sing as a hymn,

Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.

I used to read this Psalm as though David is bartering for absolution of his sin. It is as though if David will just offer a sincere enough confession and apology then God might just forgive him and restore his salvation. Such is the influence of a legalistic Christianity where God’s merit is earned by what we do. As it is, this makes us believe that penance is necessary when it comes to sin. If we will just pray a sincere enough prayer, confess appropriately, and so on, then maybe God just might…

I don’t want to minimize or negate the place of prayer and confession, as both are essential disciplines in the process of spiritual transformation. But neither prayer nor confession earns favor with God! David begins his prayer saying in v. 1, “Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions” (NRSV). Think about that! David is coming to God in prayer and confession knowing that the Lord already loves him with such a great mercy and that nothing will ever change this. David knows what we must know, that God still accepts him, that God will forgive him and restore him to the divine image bearing person he has been created to be.

Perhaps Then…

That is it! We all know who we are… the good and bad, the beautiful and the ugly. But God loves us still and in his great mercy, God still accepts as we are and offers us the grace of forgiveness and restoration. So let’s learn to love ourselves as God loves us. Pray to God, confessing our sins and mistakes as necessary, but do so knowing that God already loves us with steadfast love and an abundant mercy. Perhaps then we can learn to better love others as they are, as God already loves them!

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* A similar article of the same title was originally published in Connecting 29 (January 8, 2014), a biweekly publication of the Columbia Church of Christ.