Tuesday, April 06, 2010

The Real Hope of the Resurrection

This past Sunday was Easter, the most important day of the year for Christians. It marks the day that Jesus rose from the dead, forever defeating death. While it doesn't get the press that Christmas does, it is certainly more important. For some perspective, if you take away the accounts of Jesus' birth, you lose about 4 chapters in the bible. But if you take away the death and resurrection of Jesus, you lose the entire meaning of the New Testament, in addition to the last 2000 years of history! Here are some things that we know about Jesus' resurrection, according to 1 Corinthians 15:1-11:

It is the most fundamental truth of the Christian faith (v. 1-3a). Paul is reminding them of the gospel - the good news that God has graciously saved sinners. The resurrection is of "first importance."

It is upholds the truth of the bible (v. 3b-4). Everything about the Jesus' death, burial, & resurrection is supported by scripture. Isaiah 52:13-53:12 speak most directly to Jesus as the "suffering servant." Psalm 16:9-10 echoes the resurrection. But a deeper echo of the resurrection I believe is found in Genesis 1-2 where we see God as Creator. For what does God create? He creates life, not death, which led Jesus to teach himself on the resurrection in light of God being "The God of the living" (Mark 12:26-27). Interestingly, the Jews didn't expect the Messiah to resurrect. They only believed in a corporate resurrection, not an individual one. So when Jesus resurrected, that actually cemented his claim as the True Messiah in a day when there were many so-called "messiahs' who would get caught & killed...and stay dead.

It is an historical fact (v. 5-8). There were hundreds of witnesses that Paul mentions here that he is begging the Corinthians to talk to in order to check out his story about Jesus. 1 Corinthians (along with Philippians and Colossians which contain some early creedal hymns about Jesus' deity) predates the gospel accounts of Matthew, Mark, & Luke by a decade and John by two decades. 1 Corinthians was a public document meant to be distributed and read. By going so public with Jesus' resurrection, it underlines the truth of the event. And, there is simply no other way to explain the transformation of people's lives, the explosive growth of the church, and the impact on the history of mankind if the resurrection never happened.

The core of the resurrection is grace (v. 9-11). At the heart of the resurrection is a loving God who did what we were unable to: rescue us from our sin. Sin leaves us powerless. We can't work hard enough, do enough good things, serve or give enough, be kind enough, etc to be connected to God and have the promise of heaven. So God decided out of love to show his lost children grace - giving them a blessing they did nothing to deserve. Jesus took all of our punishment and penalty for sin on the cross and then defeated death by his resurrection. That grace is what then motivates us to work, give, serve, and do good. All we're asked to do is believe it (v. 11).

I pray that you believe the truth of Jesus' resurrection. Because if (or should I say since) the resurrection is true, then everything changes. You can have real hope. You can have real healing. You can experience true transformation. If you do not have this faith in Jesus, or if your faith is struggling, all you need to do is ask God to give you faith to trust in His grace that He gave us in Jesus through his death, burial, & resurrection - the fundamental truth of the Christian faith.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Killing the Religious Idol

The last post dealt with the types and symptoms of religious idolatry. I want to be clear that I don't believe that religion in and of itself is bad. Religion can be a good and beautiful thing, as long as it's kept in its proper context. Formal religion (liturgies, creeds, systems, structures, denominations, etc) is simply a tool to help us know Jesus and grow in our faith. We are finite, linear creatures that need structure, even in our spirituality - thus, religion comes into play. God himself is the author of this, when he first gave Moses the law.

But where everything gets jacked up is when people put too much stock into the form of religion and not the object of religion, namely Jesus. The result is a heavy, weighed down, performance-driven life that doesn't free people to love God, but enslaves people and puts fear into them, because if they don't "do things right", they will no longer be acceptable to God (nor the religious community).

How can this religious idol be killed? The answer is one word: faith.

We see this in verses 13-14 of 1 Corinthians 10. Verse 13 is an oft-quoted verse about being able to get out of a sticky situation where you'll be tempted to sin. But what we need to keep in mind is the context of the verse. Paul exposes the religious idol in verses 1-12, and then writes the refrain in verse 14 "Therefore my beloved, flee from idolatry." The context is of utmost importance.

Here's what's going on, I believe: at the heart of religion is our efforts to be acceptable to God and be about his work. It's basically what we "do." And I will propose that this is the default of the human heart, particularly in American culture. If we want something done, we need to do ourselves. We believe that if we work hard enough, we can accomplish anything. People really, really believe these statement. And since they really, really believe them, they really don't need God to do anything for them. They can do it themselves. Enter the religious idol. The "temptation common to man" is the temptation to depend on moralistic, legalistic, religious effort and performance to be acceptable to God.

The point of verse 13 is that we may be able to endure the temptation (or "testing", which is the root word). If we always had a tangible "escape" from all testing, the result would be an extremely weak faith. Think of it like lifting weights. You strain (or test) your muscles in order for them to grow and get stronger. Same with your faith. The only way for your faith to grow is for it to be tested. And every time you are able to endure a testing of your faith, you can endure a greater testing the next time. And what's more, as a Christian you have the ability to endure any temptation. Why? Because as a Christian you have the Holy Spirit - God Himself - dwelling inside of you. And nothing is too great for God!

So what is the way of escape then? It's the exercising of your faith. Sometimes the "escape" we need is simply to wait on God and let Him be God. When you find yourself in an apparently overwhelming situation, don't look to act right away; pray and wait on Jesus. (what I don't mean is intentionally putting yourself in a sinful situation - sometime you do need to flee like Joseph did from Potiphar's wife; I'm just saying that's not exactly what this particular passage is talking about). But if you try to do God's job for him simply because you refuse to wait on Him, then you will fall into religious idolatry; just like the Israelites did with the golden calf in Exodus 32 (they stopped waiting for Moses to come down from the mountain, so they took things into their own hands, and paid a dear price for their idolatry).

So in order to fully kill the religious idol, we must first keep religion in its proper place and remember that it is a tool to help us connect to God and grow in Him. Secondly, we must exercise faith in Jesus when we feel tempted to simply get something done on our own. We need to remind ourselves that through our faith in Jesus and his finished work on the cross, are we fully accepted by God. And as we wait upon the Lord, we will find our faith strengthened and will experience a very real reality of God in our lives, and will experience much joy and give much glory to God.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Types & Symptoms of Religious Idolatry

I've been preaching the last month on idolatry from 1 Corinthians 8-10. The basic understanding of what idolatry is comes from Romans 1:25, where creation is loved more than the Creator, of the gifts are loved more than the Giver. Idolatry is basically taking good things that God gives us (creation, family, relationships, position, possessions, etc) and loving them more than God by finding our value & identity in those things.

One of the more difficult idolatries to identify is the religious one. Why? Because it's the God-stuff! The very tools that we use to worship and grow closer to God can be the very things that get valued more than God Himself. This is what Paul addresses in 1 Corinthians 10:1-14. All too easily can we lean on our religious traditions, liturgies, leadership, practices, & programs to functionally "save us". What I'd like to now is simply identify the types of religious idolatry and the symptoms people may possess that may expose their religious idolatry.

Types of Religious Idolatry:
  • Rightness of Doctrine. This is when you love your particular theological system or tradition more than Jesus.
  • Spiritual Gifts. This is when your faith is more fixed on experience and manifestations of spiritual gifts more than it is fixed on Jesus.
  • Ministry Success. This is when your worth and value is more placed in program attendance, quality of production, number of decisions, or ministries started or overseen than in Jesus.
  • Leadership. This is when your allegiance is more with a particular pastor, author, or theologian that Jesus.
  • Moral Living. This is when your acceptance is based on your religious activity or general morality (particularly in avoiding the "wrong" places, people, and activities) than in Jesus.
Symptoms of Religious Idolatry
  • Unresolvable guilt…always letting God or yourself down
  • Condemned…live in light of punishment
  • Need to stay busy…rest=not earning your keep
  • Defensive…forced to justify positions or actions
  • Angered easily…too much pressure on you, thin skin
  • Lack of assurance if God loves you… “what if’s” and “buts" fill your speech
  • Dry prayer life…no motivation or connection
  • Dry scripture reading…don’t want to; text is lifeless; full of rules
  • No joy (or fake joy)…Christianity is a chore, not a blessing
  • Control freak…No freedom; Christianity has enslaved you, not freed you
Later this week we'll finish up this with how to kill the idol of religion.

Thursday, February 04, 2010

Marriage & Sex

No matter what the running joke in our culture may be, marriage is not to be the end of your sex life...it is designed to be the beginning! Biblical marriage is the God-ordained environment where a man and a woman can fully enjoy each other and express their love to each other. Sex is designed to serve marriage through a number of ways:
  • Sex enriches a marriage. It's one of the main things that makes a marriage enjoyable. The frequency of spouses' sexual intimacy directly correlates to their overall marital health.
  • Sex encourages spiritual growth. At it's root, sex is a physical expression of a spiritual need for union. And (ideally) your spouse was your brother or sister in Christ before he/she was your spouse. So sexual intimacy actually helps your spouse grow spiritually.
  • Sex strengthens oneness. Sexual intimacy is an illustration - a literal physical reminder - of the emotional & spiritual oneness that a couple has.
  • Sex allows spouses to enjoy each other. Sex feels good because God designed it to be so! He wants married couples to enjoy each other.
  • Sex glorifies a marriage. Sex is supposed to be a team sport. It is supposed to love, serve, and bring pleasure to another, not just yourself. Sex celebrates the relationship.
With all this in mind, 1 Corinthians 7:1-5 speak of the importance of sex in marriage. Sex is supposed to be exclusive & monogamous and teach us humility (as each spouse "owns" the other). And since spouses are not to "deprive" one another, sex in marriage should be free and frequent!

But are there times when spouses should abstain from sexual intimacy? Yes. Perhaps times of emotional stress & overload, physical injury or illness, travel schedules, or the immediate time after pregnancy are all viable times. But in 1 Corinthians 7:5, there are clear guidelines to adhere to:
  • Both spouses agree to it. This should be a harmonious decision. Abstaining because of conflict, selfishness, or manipulation is sin.
  • It should be for a limited time. Don't leave it open-ended, make a plan for how long it will last.
  • Devote to prayer during the time of abstaining. Like fasting from anything else, the time needs to be used for spiritual growth, seeking direction & wisdom, combating selfishness, and learning to more fully to depend on God and united with Him.
  • Come together again. Plan the reunion! Celebrate your love & growth!
There is also a caution at the end of verse 5. If the practice of sexual intimacy or the abstaining from sexual intimacy is happening with the wrong motivation, it leaves a door open to Satan to tear the marriage down through things like anger, bitterness, and adultery (any sexual gratification outside of your spouse).

Marriage is God's only plan for people to have "good sex." Hebrews 13:4 says "Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled."

Monday, February 01, 2010

Biblical Marriage

There's lots of debate on marriage these days. Even though the permanency of marriage isn't valued very much, most people will get married. So what does the bible say about marriage? Here's few quick bullet points:
  • It is not good to be alone (unmarried) (Genesis 2:18)
  • We are made to marry (Matthew 19:4-6)
  • Marriage is honorable (Hebrews 13:4)
  • Prohibiting marriage is demonic (1 Timothy 4:1-3)
  • Finding a wife is finding a good thing (Proverbs 18:22)
  • Married people make the most ideal leaders (1 Timothy 3:1-12)
The bible is a very "pro-marriage" book because God is a "pro-marriage" God. Marriage is God's idea and creation for our good and His glory. Biblical marriage is a covenant - a God-ordained special promise that is witnessed, ratified, consummated, and remembered. Because of this, marriage is to be honored, respected, treated with dignity, and not gone into lightly.

We then have to ask what the purpose of marriage is. The best place to go to is Ephesians 5:31-32. The Apostle Paul makes a clear connection between marriage and Christ's relationship with the Church. CJ Mahaney defines the purpose of marriage as this: "Marriage between a man and a woman is meant to reflect the relationship between Christ and the Church.” This means two main things:
  • Marriage is to be God-centered. Marriage should not be centered on a spouse, a child, or a perceived need (comfort, sexual fulfillment, possessions, lifestyle).
  • Marriage is not about our happiness, but is for our holiness. No other relationship will confront selfishness and idolatry like marriage does. God's intention is for the marriage relationship to make his followers more holy and like His Son Jesus.
But what about things like romance, love, and sex? Where do they fit into the marriage conversation? Those things are very important! God gave us an entire book in the bible called The Song of Solomon to illustrate how important love, romance, and sex are in a marriage. But those are just not ultimate things about marriage. Marriage is "deep waters". And only when the "deep waters" of marriage are begun to be understood should a man and a woman humbly enter such a wonderful, sacred relationship.

Next up: Sex & Marriage

Saturday, January 23, 2010

The Benefits of Gospel Relationships

So everybody always wants to know, "what I am going to get out of it?" That's not a bad question. It's not a primary question, especially when it comes to community, because it is quite a selfish question. But there is a reality to it.

In 1 Corinthians 16:5-12, Paul end this section in talking specifically about the benefits we do get to enjoy by God's grace when it comes to gospel relationships.

First, there is the benefit of opportunity. Specifically, ministry opportunity. Participating in someone's life getting transformed by the gospel is simply a great joy. Paul wrote 1 Corinthians from Ephesus. The account of his ministry there is in Acts 19-20. Upon arriving at Ephesus, he 12 guys that immediately responded to the gospel and began to work with him. Through their collective effort (because ministry is always a group project), they saw lots of great opportunity and response to the gospel.

A second benefit is that you never have to face adversity alone. The truth is, whenever there is great opportunity, there is always great diversity. Here are four big adversities that Paul faced, along with his ministry partners:
  • Demonic adversity - Acts 19:11-16
  • Cultural idols - Acts 19:23-41
  • Religious adversity - Acts 20:19
  • Personal idols - Acts 20:29-30
Life is hard. Life as a Christian is harder. Life as a Christian leader is even harder still. But going through it with others makes it better.

The last benefit that Paul touches on is enjoying the love and encouragement of others. In the 1 Corinthians 16:10-12, Paul talks about how the church should receive Timothy, Paul's main disciple, ministry partner, and future pastor of the church in Ephesus. While we all need love and encouragement, this is directly specifically to a church leader. Here's what Paul outlines:
  • "Put him at ease" - it's hard to be a pastor or leader, you're always 'on' and have expectations
  • "Let no one despise him" - pastors & leaders often have to say hard things to people for their good that aren't always received well
  • "Help him on his way in peace" - ministry is never done, and it's difficult to find contentment in a pastor's/leader's work
We all need the benefits of gospel relationships, whether we're pastors, leaders, workers, members, or Joe-pew-sitter (actually, Joe needs to get off his butt and start doing something). There is great opportunity out there as we labor for the gospel together, that will also bring with it much adversity, so we all need to be loving and encouraging each other with the grace & mercy of Jesus.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Practicing Gospel Relationships

In taking a close look at 1 Corinthians 16:5-8, we get a picture of how Paul practiced having gospel relationships.

The first thing we see is that Paul was intentional. He knew that having gospel relationships didn't just happen anymore than getting a spouse just happens, picking up a paycheck from a job just happens, or getting a college degree just happens. It all demands effort and intentionality. Paul planned to see the people in Corinth...he made an intentional effort to be with them. And not just to be with them, but to invite them on mission with him... "so that you may help me on my journey" (v. 6). Gospel relationships always include being on mission together for the gospel.

The second thing we see is that Paul created time margin. He had no desire to go through Corinth "in passing" but rather wanted to "spend some time" (v. 7). This really rubs our American culture! We're a drive-by, drive-through, microwave, Starbucks Via kind of culture. We value burning the candle on both ends and in the middle. But that does not allow gospel relationships to foster. You have to aggressively create margin in your life for relationships to flourish.

The third thing we see is that Paul lived in rhythm. He talks a lot about seasons and holidays (Pentecost - v. 8) to order his life. Rhythms are important to us. God gave us the gift of time and the Sabbath to help us order our finite lives around for our benefit. Having daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly, and yearly rhythms allow people to be healthy physically, spiritually, emotionally, and relationally. Saying you're a "spontaneous" person is just a nice way of saying that you're chaotic, lack self-control, and are ineffective. Developing and living in rhythms don't enslave you at all; rather, they free you!

So in an effort to live out gospel relationships, take some cues from Paul and be intentional, create some margin in your life, and develop some rhythms.

Next up: The Benefits of Gospel Relationships