Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Putting Your Money Where Your Faith Is

A quick update to this post: Jim Tressel resigned over the weekend as the scandal at Ohio State seems to get deeper and deeper. As we learned from the Reggie Bush sanctions against USC (which were just upheld on appeal) the school will get hit while the coach gets off scott-free. Meanwhile, Cam Newton and his laptop were picked first in the NFL Draft, so he should make enough money to pay for his dad's church to get up to code.

So in this cesspool of college athletics and religion I keep waiting for the next shoe to drop. Mark Richt, evangelical celebrity and University of Georgia football coach, just put his two-million dollar home up for sale. A home he bought just a couple of years ago. A sign of trouble ahead? To quote Lee Corso, not so fast my friend! (man, I can't wait for college football season to start back up)

After rampant internet speculation of Richt being in danger of losing his job, Georgia being under investigation, or some other malfeasance, the coach came out and stated that he is selling his home because of a book. The coach was convicted by The Hole in Our Gospel by World Vision president, Richard Stearns, who writes that 40% of the world's population lives on $2 or less a day and 15% live on $1 or less. Meanwhile those in the United States live on an average of $105 a day. In that backdrop, this coach who has made more than $25 million since joining UGA choose to sell his home.

It is exciting to see someone actually put their money (literally) where their faith is. Like Francis Chan, who also was convicted by Jesus' example and downsized his home and eventually stepped out of his mega-pastorate, Mark Richt is catching criticism for valuing treasures in heaven more than things on earth. Yet I pray his example, and the examples from books like Stearns', Chan's, and David Platt's motivate Christians in this country to re-examine our priorities and comfortability.

"Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will not be exhausted, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." (Luke 12:33-34)

Thursday, May 26, 2011

The Mission Field in Front of You

Yesterday I talked about world missions with the desire to preach the World until the whole world hears. But doesn't the "whole world" include the world right outside our doors? Take my co-worker, whom I mentioned organizes mission trips to Russia and Mexico. During his 4-5 hour drive on the way down to Mexico, he will drive by on the order of ten million first-generation Mexicans. Most of us will never get the chance to take a missions trip, but how hard would it be to board a bus to the inner-city?

Last week I had the blessed opportunity to visit the headquarters of World Impact and take a tour of their Teen Center. I find it funny that an urban missions organization calls itself "World" Impact and is headquartered in the heart of Los Angeles. Until I consider the above. The truth is, the whole world is represented in LA, so I can spread the gospel to the "whole world" by driving only an hour or so. I like World Impact's vision: they consider urban areas a mission field, "missionaries" move-in to run their programs, and they plant house churches in blighted neighborhoods where they then train up local pastors and lay-leaders. An inspiring model, quite honestly. In the process they've opened up schools, recreation centers, and medical clinics just as you would on the foreign mission field.

Completely coincidentally, I had the opportunity to  hear World Impact's founder, Dr. Keith Phillips, speak at a National Day of Prayer function. His short talk blew my socks off. He started by himself in Watts in the mid 60's. (think about that for a second) Once he realized the Projects were too tall a task for only him, he solicited the help of Biola University and soon he and 300 students were reaching out to more than 3000 inner-city youth.

If your vision has been focused on the mission field overseas, consider: in LA 45,000 people slept in garages in want of a home while 45,000 more slept on the street in want of a garage (citing Dr. Phillips' numbers to the best of my recollection). A million and a third people in the inner-city of LA do not have access to a hospital. On average, most children who grow up in the inner-city will never travel further than five miles from where they were born. Those stats stirred my heart and Dr. Phillips didn't even mention crime rates, average income, the number of children growing up without fathers and mothers without husbands (the modern-day orphan and widow), the ridiculously low life expectancy, and I could go on and on.

Yes, foreign missions are important. And if we don't have the opportunity to go, we should generously give what we can to support those who do. But at the same time, we cannot neglect the needs right in front of us.

"Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world." (James 1:27)

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Missionary Man

You can tell it's that time of year when churches are fundraising for foreign missions. Videos are being posted on Facebook from sponsored churches and missionaries are making the rounds to local congregations. Churches may be raising money to send someone from their own congregation long term or for the summer, or they may be raising money to support a church in the mission field. My church is in the midst of the latter, supporting churches in the Baltic and Nordic regions of Europe.

That may not sound sexy, but both are hit with unique challenges. In the Baltics, they still bear the scars of the former Soviet Union. I met a guy last week who was in Russia for nine years. He was in the middle of Siberia. We talked about how when communism fell everybody wanted to go to Russia, but few made it further than Moscow. In the meantime, the former Soviet Republics were suffering for being a forgotten mission field. In the Nordics, the situation is different. They are not necessarily hurting financially; they are first-world, yet they are taxed to such an extent that there is very little disposable income. No disposable income translates into an inability to pay ministry staff, rent facilities, or otherwise maintain an active church (unless that church is state-sponsored). Before I moved to California, the church I was a part of supported churches in the Philippines, Cambodia, Vietnam, and Laos who face abject poverty, communism/dictatorships, and many other obstacles to the Gospel. So they, too are on my heart.

I can't embed the Flash videos from Facebook, but here are updates from the Baltics and from the Pacific Rim. (I'm not sure if the privacy settings will let you through or not, they're not my videos)

At the same time, there's a risk of being tempted to just throw money at the mission field without a personal stake. An attitude of "let someone else deal with it." David Platt gives an example in his book, Radical, where he was speaking at another congregation and was being thanked by the local pastor:
"Brother David, we are so excited about all that God is doing in New Orleans and in all nations, and we are excited you are serving there. And, brother, we will continue to send you a check so we don't have to go there ourselves...
I remember a time at my last congregation when a missionary from Japan came to speak. I told that church that if they didn't give financial support to this missionary, I was going to pray that God would send their kids to Japan to serve with that missionary...And my church gave that man a laptop and a whole lot of money." (Radical, pg 63)
So I admire those who are willing to pack up their things and actually put boots on the ground. One of my coworkers organizes semi-annual mission trips to Russia while also spending a long weekend in Mexico quarterly. One of these days, I tell myself, I'm going to tag along.

Once upon on a time, my family of churches shared the attitude of "go anywhere, do anything in the name of Christ." As we've all gotten older that attitude seems to have waned. It will be easy for some to give exponentially to these foreign missions, while I recognize in the current economic climate it will be hard for others. But I wonder if it would be easier for all of us if there was an actual passion on our hearts for that mission field. That if we can't be boots on the ground, we can pray fervently, we can keep in contact with the churches overseas (made even easier today with Facebook and Skype) to encourage and strengthen them in the faith, and we may share their struggles with others to possibly inspire and encourage another to "stand in the gap" in our place. That together we may share the Gospel until the whole world hears.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Unitl the Whole World Hears

In case you missed it, the world did not end Saturday (but we'll get a second chance in October). While it would be easy to point fingers and mock those who sold everything, quit jobs, and otherwise lived as though they wouldn't be sitting next to you at church on Sunday, we need to remember that Jesus can return at any time, like a thief in the night.

With that in mind, I'll repeat a point that was buried in the text Friday: don't ask yourself what you would do if you knew you only had a short time to live, ask yourself what you would do if you knew in a short time you'd be standing before the Creator of the universe.

Another important point to consider regarding Jesus' return is that he promised he would not return until the whole world hears.

"And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come." (Matthew 24:14, emphasis added)

While this could be disputed (the whole known world was reached during the time of the Acts of the Apostles) the point is still important considering the Great Commission in Matthew 28 and an alternate version in Mark 16. (make disciples of "every nation" in the former and go into "all the world" in the latter) Those commands are still valid today.

Will Jesus come back in October? I don't know. He might come back tomorrow. But has the whole world heard the Gospel of Jesus? It is estimated that there are more than 11,000 "people groups" in the world (unique ethnicities, not necessarily nationalities) and six thousand are "unreached" (based on numbers from David Platt's Radical Together). Another way to look at it is the 10/40 window where nearly two-thirds of the world's population resides and includes the poorest regions of the world as well as the most unreached.

Either way you slice it, we have our work cut out for us if Jesus is to return in October. Maybe He was planning on coming Saturday and saw that we weren't finished yet. No, that doesn't work either, you're either ready or you're not.

So what are you doing to make sure the whole world hears?

Friday, May 20, 2011

See Y'all Tomorrow!

That is, I assume if you’re reading this you’re a Christian. In which case I’ll wave to you as we’re passing through the clouds. And if you’re not, well it sucks to be you.

In case you haven’t heard, the world is ending tomorrow. I couldn’t quite figure out why tomorrow, but Matt at The Church of No People ran the math and it now makes perfect sense. Comforting to me, is seeing who’s behind this. No, tomorrow’s series finale isn’t news to me, but this article was the first I’ve seen that connected tomorrow’s big event to the same prediction back in 1994. I vividly remember that day. Some friends and I were in our school’s library at the prescribed hour watching the news for something, anything, to indicate there might be a hint of truth to that prediction. There wasn't any. Of course, like most predictions of this kind, when the end of the world does not come the reason is usually some kind of math error: “I forgot to carry the one.” (Or “I forgot to check Jesus’ words that I wouldn’t know the day or the hour. That’s what I get for only reading Revelation and Tim LeHaye.”)

There is legitimate reason for concern, of course. This article from Slate sums up all the disasters around the world that could give us pause, or at least remind us of our own mortality and fragility. These are called “Black Swan” events, where the consequence is so high it would be catastrophic, yet the probability is so low that it shouldn’t keep us from getting out of bed in the morning.

At least that article is based on good science. I got home yesterday with a flier in my door warning me of the end of the world. Not tomorrow, necessarily, but sometime in the near future. Their reasoning isn’t global warming which was dismissed as being a political distraction from the real issue- Solar Flares. Yep. All the earthquakes, flooding, and tornados recently are because of solar flares. And the solar panels being installed all around town, especially at our local schools, are to protect those facilities from the oncoming devastation. I didn’t know that’s what solar panels were. I thought they were for, like, producing electricity or something. I also didn’t know that there were shadows on the moon that cause explosions that could destroy the Earth and that they just started happening, like last week!

If you look at my Twitter profile, I describe myself as a “space geek”. That’s not in an amateur astronomer kind of way, but in a I-do-this-for-a-living kind of way. I couldn’t believe the bad-science this church was promoting. Of course the motivation of it all was to get right with Jesus. I guess if solar flares motivate your relationship with Christ, more solar power to you.

When faced with the end of the world, or our impending death, many consider what they’d do if they only had a couple hours, days, weeks to live. A “bucket list” so to speak. Recently when putting together notes for my Crazy Love small group, I turned the question around into a personal gut-punch. The question isn’t what you’d do if you only had one day to live (spend more time with family, tell my boss what I really think, etc) but rather what would you do if you knew that in one day you would be face to face with the Creator of the Universe. Different question entirely. And the reality is, good or bad science, end-times theology or not, we all have to face that question because that moment could come at any

time. (Made you think I raptured, didn’t I)

(One final note. In the NYT article above, a few say they'll be waiting for Jesus' return by being "glued to our TV sets, waiting for the Resurrection and earthquake from nation to nation." Yep, nothing looks more like following Jesus than watching TV. If I really believed the world was going to end tomorrow, I'd be out sharing the Gospel until the moment Jesus comes back. I wouldn't be watching the news for reasons to gloat. I'm sorry, but that attitude ticks me off.)

Monday, May 16, 2011

Night Driving

I recently went on a business trip, driving after work six-plus hours through the night to get to my destination. Driving through the night can be intimidating. There are no streetlights with only the moon to light the sky. And it is lonely with only the occasional fellow red-eye driver on the road. Not to mention having to fight off sleep and keeping the mind from wandering too far.

Along this long stretch were few signs. And as the miles and hours passed, the signs to guide the way seemed further and further apart. My inner-clock deceived me into thinking that I have been driving longer than the many times I had been on this road before. I began to feel insecure. Did I miss a turn? Did I miss a sign? At night I couldn't see any landmarks to guess at my location or even determine my direction, and I was too tired to trust the miles rolled off my odometer. I just had to have faith I was on the right road, heading the right direction.

Life doesn't have signposts. We're not given directions in advance. And we're often too prideful to stop and ask for directions. Am I on the right road? Am I going the right direction? I think I've been down this road before.

“Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it." (Matthew 7:13-14)

The road following Jesus is narrow. It may be scary to look over the ledge while carefully navigating each switchback as you climb closer to heaven. But you are safe. There aren't many other cars on this road, but you're not alone. Thankfully, you don't have to make this drive in the dark of night. You can follow the light ahead of you. And you don't have to know the way. Jesus isn't your co-pilot, he's your GPS.

This post is part of a blog-carnival hosted by Peter Pollock. Our theme this week is "road". Check out other contributors for more road-wise posts.


I'm not much of a poker player. I can't keep a stone-cold face to hide whether my hand is good or bad. And I don't have much of a betting strategy. But I like to play. Maybe more so, I like to watch. There's just something about watching pros at the table playing a game of wits, wondering what they are going to do next. I know it's not for everybody, but I get a kick out of the tension and the drama, especially when someone decides to go all-in.

All-in. At that moment you are totally committed to your course. There's no turning back. You either survive to fight another hand or you are knocked out. So you just hope beyond hope that you're holding the better hand.

The dramatic made-for-TV reaction when going all in, is the player who stands up, steps back from the table and takes off either their hat or sunglasses. They dramatically hop around anxious for the results. And really, there's no reason to stay at the table. At that point, there's nothing more they can do but await the outcome.

I think a missing piece to modern-day Christianity is the notion of surrender. Going all-in, fully committed to Christ, with no turning back. Instead we subscribe to a casual faith from which flows a casual commitment. Consider Jesus' own words:

“Or suppose a king is about to go to war against another king. Will he not first sit down and consider whether he is able with ten thousand men to oppose the one coming against him with twenty thousand? 32 If he is not able, he will send a delegation while the other is still a long way off and will ask for terms of peace." (Luke 14:31-32)

And then the kicker:

"In the same way, any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple." (v 33, emphasis added)

My small group has completed Francis Chan's Crazy Love and now we're moving on to Chip Ingram's Living on the Edge. Surrender/going all-in is a significant theme of this book, as it digs into the example of discipleship described in Romans 12. I'm not going to blog on it week-by-week as I did with Crazy Love because I already did so last year. Check out the R12 tag for those posts.

I believe there's a hunger in mainstream Christianity for something more... Christ-like. Almost daily this site gets hit on Google searches related to R12. Most frequently questions like, "why is Christianity so hard?" or "what does it mean to surrender to Christ?" It is sad that many cannot answer these fundamental questions (it's not supposed to be and I'd love to sit down, open up the Bible and show you). I pray reading this blog leads some to the answers they seek. I pray also it calls each of us higher, away from casual complacency towards all-in surrender.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Grass of the Field

A couple of weeks ago I transplanted a tree. In my head the chore seemed simple enough- dig up the tree, dig another hole (3 times the size of the root-base of the tree), drop the tree, add potting soil/fertilizer mix, top off with the dug up grass, wipe the sweat from my brow, call it a day. It didn't exactly work out like that.

I don't have a green thumb. I'm 3.5 for 7 successful in planting trees at my house. The half is for the tree I transplanted. I'm not ready to call it a success, but it's not yet a failure. It wasn't dying. But it wasn't growing either. Where I live, the ground is mostly clay, so it takes some work to get things to grow. This tree's roots couldn't spread and it wasn't getting enough water. Fill in your favorite agriculture reference from your Bible:

He (the one who delights in the law of the Lord) is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither. (Psalm 1:3)

Some fell on rocky places (or clay), where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. (Mark 4:5-6)

Since this tree didn't have much root, digging it up was the easy part. The trouble came digging the new hole. I knew it would have to be big, and that I'd have to fill it in with better soil than was there to begin with. What I didn't expect was how hard it would be to dig up the grass.

Grass gets a bad rap in the Bible. It quickly withers (Psalm 37:2, Ps 90:5-6, Ps 102:4 & 11, Ps 103:15-16, Ps 129:6, Isaiah 5:24, Is 15:6, Is 37:27, Is 40:6-8, Jeremiah 12:4, 1 Peter 1:24), is compared to the wicked (most of the same refs as before plus Psalm 92:7), and is thrown in the fire (Matthew 6:30, Luke 12:28, Revelation 8:7).

Yet it is the go-to popular ground-covering for our homes. Why? Because they're weeds. They don't require a ton of water, their roots entangle which preserves the soil from eroding or blowing away, and it is easy to plant.

It's the entangling roots that got me thinking. The hardest part was digging through this dense network of roots. The top layer of grass was a single piece. I couldn't just dig with my shovel and toss aside whatever came up with it. I had to literally cut out pieces of grass of manageable enough size to lift, and then dig my hole. Ok maybe that's obvious to the rest of you, but it wasn't to me.

Back to that network of roots. Isn't that how God wants us to be? Sure, we get the illustration of the tree planted by water. But I live in a desert and when I see trees like that, they are usually standing alone. But grass is plentiful. It spreads. And each blade depends on the others. Alone they are frail, but a five-foot across circle is strong (and heavy!).

You will know that your children will be many, and your descendants like the grass of the earth. (Job 5:25)

Let grain abound throughout the land; on the tops of the hills may it sway. Let its fruit flourish like Lebanon; let it thrive like the grass of the field. (Psalm 72:16)

When you see this, your heart will rejoice
and you will flourish like grass (Isaiah 66:14)

Monday, May 09, 2011

Your Heaven

I woke up the other morning with this song in my head for some reason. It's Five Finger Death Punch's "Far From Home". The video below, with over three million hits, is a tribute to America's Armed Forces. The video is moving, but I wonder about the lyrics.

The chorus goes: "It's almost like, your heaven's trying everything to keep me out" Keep me out alternates with "break me down."

Doesn't sound like any heaven I know. What is misunderstood in the Gospel message is that heaven is exclusionary- keeping certain people with certain beliefs or certain lifestyles out. Yet the truth of the Gospel is that heaven has come down to earth for every one of us. Jesus, the Son of God present at the creation of the world, walked on this earth in the flesh experiencing all the same struggles as you or I only to be gruesomely killed to atone for our sins. Heaven isn't keeping anyone out because heaven came down to us.

It's almost like, my heaven's trying everything to get me in.

Saturday, May 07, 2011

Do You Agree with Rachel?

(A rare Saturday post to participate in the Rally to Restore Unity being hosted by Rachel Held Evans, author of Evolving in Monkey Town. When I first heard about this from other bloggers I follow, I thought "hey, that's cool" but didn't go check it out. I finally did take a look yesterday, and wow! There's a lot to digest there, but it's all worth reading. I don't agree with everyone, but that's kidna the point. On with the show...)

When I was converted in a campus ministry I left behind the traditional, religious experience of most of my life. It was hard. Harder, was knowing that there were good friends of mine who I knew sincerely loved God and Jesus but, in my new found convictions, were way off-base. I felt like Paul lamenting over his people:

"I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, those of my own race, the people of Israel. Theirs is the adoption as sons; theirs the divine glory, the covenants, the receiving of the law, the temple worship and the promises. Theirs are the patriarchs, and from them is traced the human ancestry of Christ, who is God over all, forever praised! Amen." (Romans 9:2-5)

Then I read Jesus prayer in John 17 and this became my new prayer: "God, I pray for all who believe in you through your Son, that we may all be one just as You and He are one, so that the whole world may believe." (v 20-23) Well God answers prayers in funny ways.

Not long after I started praying this prayer I started to see fliers around campus reading "Do you agree with Rachel?". The next day, the same question written in sidewalk chalk. And this continued for week or so before the signs were updated with a date, the next Saturday. The next phase of this viral campaign (before there even was such a thing!) was t-shirts that others started wearing around campus. But the message again changed. On the front the t-shirt read "Do you agree with Rachel?" and on the back it read "Rachel believes in Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who died for your sins and rose again three days later." No denominations. No direct tie to any campus ministry (though one of the more prominent ones was behind it). Unity under one message: the Gospel of Jesus.

At the time there was a lot of competition between different campus ministries for numbers and reputation. One group would tell incoming freshmen not to go to another group. The larger groups would intentionally schedule devos and events on top of smaller groups to take away their membership. And gossip, lots of gossip (you wouldn't believe what what's her name got away with in that group!). Rachel simply wanted it to stop.

I met Rachel before anyone knew who she was, or what we were even agreeing with. My small group co-leader and I had a nice conversation with her one day at the food court. Here was a girl that I could tell struggled under the weight of Jesus' prayer in  John 17. Who loved Jesus so much she was willing to risk her reputation for him. Who was grateful to meet other believers who felt the same way she did. Of course I didn't know she was behind the campaign. It never even occurred to me to put two and two together (her name was Rachel, duh!). But I walked away from that conversation thinking, "there's someone who gets it" while at the same time hoping she'd come and check out my campus ministry because it was obviously better than all the others.

Of course when word got out who Rachel was and what her message was going to be there was significant backlash on this liberal campus. Jesus was mocked. Teachers who wore her shirt were suspended (separation of Church and State and all that), and she was openly persecuted.

When I found out who Rachel was I smiled and thanked God for answering my prayer. Then I skipped her rally because my church had something else going on that was more important.

Maybe I didn't agree with her after all.

Friday, May 06, 2011

Flashback Friday: Call Your Mother!

***Originally posted right before Mothers' Day 2009. I think I've called my mom at least once since then. :) ***

Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother, his mother's sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, "Dear woman, here is your son," and to the disciple, "Here is your mother." From that time on, this disciple took her into his home. -John 19:25-27

Even in Jesus' most trying time, he remembered to take care of his mother. Even after being arrested, humiliated, beaten, and crucified his mother stood by him to the end. Thank God for moms.

Happy Mother's Day

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Legalism versus Obedience

As my small group concludes Crazy Love, I’m struck by the opposition this book gets. The most common theme I’ve seen is that it swings too far from the “Prosperity Gospel” towards a “Poverty Gospel” (watch the interview of Francis Chan by Mark Driscoll and Joshua Harris to see this debate in action) and for some this translates into a “salvation by works” doctrine.

Of course that ruffles the feathers of many. “Saved by grace through faith alone” I believe is a security blanket held on to so tightly than anything approaching a “hedge” such as raising standards or expectations is avoided out of fear of legalism. But what is legalism anyway? Is it works? Why does Hebrews say we should encourage one another? (Good deeds) What are we saved for? (The works God has prepared for us) What is faith if absent of works? (dead as a doornail) So the fruits of the Spirit, evidenced by works isn’t legalism, it isn’t a poverty gospel, it isn’t preaching sanctification through personal sacrifice. At the same time, we’re reminded that such acts if unaccompanied by love are worthless.

In this book, and in his life to be perfectly honest (and I think this is why his views upset the status quo), Francis Chan simply puts his money where his faith is. And he’s not alone. Nor is he alone receiving such criticism.

David Platt just released the anticipated sequel to his bestseller, Radical, called Radical Together. I like the approach- the first book challenges what you are doing on faith personally, and he follows up with mobilizing churches to do the same. But he has to devote an entire chapter (short as it is) to deflect the criticism he received in the first installment.

And the criticism is coming from surprising corners of evangelical celebrity. Jared Wilson, author of Your Jesus is Too Safe (doesn’t that sound legalistic?), raises the above issues and cites similar concerns from Skye Jethani, author of The Divine Commodity and Chaplain Mike at Internet Monk. Now I’m not familiar with all of their writings, and I don’t know them personally, but just based on their public persona and the titles of their books/blogs, you’d think they’d be lockstep behind Chan and Platt. Like I said before comparing Crazy Love to Mere Churchianity, we all see the same problem and are moved to do something about it.

This debate exposes the tension between Justification as taught by Paul, and the Kingdom as taught by Jesus. For more on this, check out this article in Christianity Today. The conclusion is not to start with either Justification or Kingdom, but rather the Gospel of Jesus himself. I couldn’t agree more. After all, Paul instructed us to “follow [his] example as [he] follows the example of Christ” and that our “attitudes should be the same as Christ Jesus”, that Christ is the “chief cornerstone” on which we build our own personal convictions, and to “live as Christ and to die is gain”. (1 Corinthians 1:11, Philippians 2:5, Ephesians 2:19-22, Philippians 1:21)

So now the question becomes, is expecting a Christian (recall the definition has nothing to do with belief, but rather imitation) to live a Christ-like life legalistic? Through the lens of “saved by grace” it would appear so:
  • In the parable of the four soils, three seeds sprout yet only one is saved. How can we tell the difference? By the one baring fruit.
  • In the parable of the talents (or bags of gold in the new NIV, blech) the only servant condemned is the one who does nothing. Even the one who does a little is rewarded. Also the reward is proportional to the service.
  • At the same time, in the parable of the workers in the vineyard, all are rewarded the same regardless of how much work is done. Yet there is still a connection between work and reward.
  • In the parable of the sheep and goats, Jesus couldn’t make it clearer when he delineates “that which you do for the least of these…” (In fact one of the Crazy Love study guides I found online tried to explain away this passage as only applying to service towards believers at the tribulation)
  • And I want to remind us of the rich young ruler. He was holding on to something that would keep him from entering into the Kingdom. We all have something we’re holding on to. It doesn’t necessarily have to be money or possessions. Yet just like the wealthy, it is impossible to give it up. “But with God, all things are possible”

Going back to the definition of love from 1 Corinthians 13, legalism versus justification or works versus grace can be resolved simply by establishing the motivation. Obeying Jesus out of fear, guilt, obligation, pressure or people-pleasing is legalism. But obeying Jesus out of love is not.

Love. I think that shows up in Chan’s book somewhere.

Monday, May 02, 2011

Are We Spoiled?

Today marks the 400th anniversary of the King James translation of the Bible and boy have we come a long way. From YouVerision's site:

In the 14–16th centuries, a controversial question had been dividing nations: should the common man be able to read God’s Word? It was so incendiary that some people were killed for their translation efforts.

The KJV was not the first translation of God’s Word into English, but it has been one of the most influential in making Scripture widely available to everyday people in their own language.

The KJV is revolutionary in its reach. It has endured as one of the most widely read books in human history.

Written during the era of Shakespeare, the KJV is praised for its beauty and poetry. Many phrases we use today originated in the KJV, like the salt of the earth, a drop in the bucket, eye to eye, and labour of love.
Are we spoiled today? I went to the local Christian bookstore the other day to look for a new Bible for my wife. She wanted a replacement for her favorite, of which its cover has come off, pages have fallen out, and is a general pain to carry around. She wanted something the same size and didn't want one with helps or devotions. Sounds easy, right? But I walk in and see an entire wall filled with Bibles of every kind and color. Different translations, different devotionals, different helps; each marketed to a different segment. There are Bibles for firefighters, Bibles for pre-teen girls, Bibles for retirees, and I could go on and on. Of course I'm a sucker- I own at least a half-dozen Bibles with different emphasis to aid in my Bible study, but what about a good, plain old Bible? I couldn't find one. Well I could, but it was only the extra thick, black bound, meant to put on a bookshelf and never opened version. There were ones like she was looking for, but then they had to gussy up the covers: flowers, camouflage, purple...

And don't even get me started on translations!

I guess I find it funny that a few hundred years ago you could have been killed for having a contemporary translation of the Bible. In some parts of the world today you could still be killed for having a Bible, no matter the translation, publisher, or color of leather binding. Some friends of my sister can't even name the country they're in translating for Wycliffe. Yet in America today we have more Bibles than we know what to do with. In fact, we have so many we find ourselves debating semantics and political correctness rather than focusing on its message.

Fact is, few of us are risking our lives by owning a Bible. It is hardly the radical document that it is meant to be. Many own one but never open it. Many (like me) own more than one just because we can. We've come a long way.

I love the movie The Book of Eli simply because of its theme: what lengths would you go to to preserve the last known Bible? And I'll be honest, I was tearing up at the end. The inspired Word of God is that beautiful, that powerful.

Do you take owning a Bible for granted?

For the Word of God is living and active... (Hebrews 4:12)