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What Are We Promising?

I saw this on the home page of a church website today.

Is this really an accurate representation of what the church is supposed to be?

————————

You are welcome here.

lisa-engel-church

At (our) Church—

You will find a family who will make you feel and know that you are wanted and welcomed.

You may want to dress casual or be dressed up.

You may be hurting or praise filled.

You may come for yourself or for your family.

The Lord and His people are ready to embrace and welcome you.

———————-

Paraphrase. You are all that matters. You feeling wanted, welcome, comfortable, free to let your emotional state go unchallenged … that’s why we exist. Come, because God is ready to be your servant.

I feel compelled to offer an alternative.

You are welcome here.

At (our) Church—

You will find a family who does want to know you and love you.

But you need to know that your personal feelings of warmth and comfort are not our goal.

You see, God is glorious and good … and we are not. Like everyone else in our church, your life falls out of alignment with the way God wants us to live. So, there are issues to be addressed in seeking (re)connection with Him.

So, if you are new to seeking out a relationship with God, you will likely not feel warm and fuzzy at first. Those feelings may come at some time, but we don’t promise them, and certainly don’t want them to be your expectation. 

If ultimately your willingness to attend a church depends on your choice of clothing or the music mix, we’re off to a bad start. If it depends on the people of the church affirming you to the point that there is no call for repentance or life change, you’re in the wrong place. If you’re a religious consumer, looking for spiritual goods that meet your expectations, you need to know that we’re not in that business.

If you’re interested in seeking out God on His terms, and seeing your sins forgiven, your life healed, and your eternity squared, and are ready to take God’s directives in order to experience these blessings …

Then know that the Lord and His people are ready to embrace, welcome and walk with you you into life lived extraordinarily well.

I would want to attend this church.

– EO

 

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The Evangelical Exchange: The Gospel for Life Coaching

The Evangelical Exchange: The Gospel for Life Coaching

I was reminded today that … well, the fastest growing churches in our land are producing guilt-ridden workaholics rather than a community of men and women who believe in Him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of [their] faith, the salvation of [their] souls!” (1 Pet. 1:9). Rather than the celebration of peace with God, I fear we promote a spiritual anxiety in people who feel like, if they are following God the way they should, their lives should be fixed by now. 

LCoachI was reminded of this tension as I read this Facebook post today. It’s from an old friend, talking about his church’s upcoming weekend services. Needless to say, the names are fictitious:

Tomorrow is going to be an epic day at our Midtown Campus! John Doe, Jim Doe and Josh Doe combining on a message about Lazarus. Jessie Doe narrating. Jen Doe communicating. Jeremy Doe leading music. Our bulletins to take notes on… they are toe tags that read: Deceased: Lazarus. Physician: Jesus. Funeral Director: Martha. Case #: John 11. We’ll be looking at overcoming obstacles, trusting for miracles, and removing entanglements. I’m so excited for how God is going to use this in my life and in the lives of others.

It sounds like quite a production. There was a day when I would have been proud to be a part of such an “epic day”.

Now, there are a few things about this enterprise that make me squirm a bit, but aren’t that big a deal. All of the terminology is strikingly not-church (campus, communicating, leading music, bulletins). Jesus being termed as “physician” (only?). Playing into our culture’s CSI-enflamed media passion for crime dramas. It’s obvious that this service has been designed with seekers in mind … so the gathering seems produced to capture the fancy of non-Christians, more than to engage its own membership in the Biblically-prescribed worship of God through Christ.

LAZWhat I find most disheartening, though, is the hermeneutic of the “message”. The story of Lazarus is a narrative story that speaks of the grandness and glory of God, the power of resurrection, and the beauty-for-ashes reality of salvation! It’s about how great God is, and how we should praise Him, be assured by Him, and believe in Him. That’s why “these things were written” (John 20:31).

But, in true contemporary Evangelical fashion (and I say this with great warmth, since I, too, have been an Evangelical for so many decades), they’ve taken this glorious story, and turned it into a self-help seminar. Jesus is the one who can help us overcome obstacles and remove entanglements … perhaps even perform a miracle if we trust in Him correctly. The “gospel” behind this version of the story is: Incorporate Jesus into your life, and He will make it run more smoothly. Your life is what matters, and Jesus is here to help.

Again, I have to admit that I would probably have taken the same tack on this passage a few years ago. That’s before I was introduced to the classical hermeneutic of “law and gospel”. Preaching the law (telling people what they should do to be pleasing to God) is a painful-yet-necessary word for those who aren’t Christians. They need to know why they should repent of their sins, and seek to be forgiven by God. But, for the truly repentant, broken soul – the Christian – what’s needed is not the law, the but comforting assuranceget to work of the gospel: God’s love overwhelms your sin, so that you are at absolute peace with God. This gospel also serves as the greatest motivator to righteous conduct.

John 11 is, as much as any passage in the New Testament, a celebration of the completed work of Jesus – the gospel! To turn this around and use this text to instruct people how they should do their faith (appropriate the life-helps offered by Jesus … not in this passage, but perhaps elsewhere) lays burdens on the lives of believers from which Jesus came to alleviate! And, as we baptize our services in the trappings of contemporary culture, affirming to our world that you aren’t supposed to be like God, but that we and God want to be just like them … we fail to tell unbelievers that what they need most is a repentant heart, not the instructions of a life coach.

I’m so thankful for those who have recently nurtured me in classical understandings of the gospel. I wish I had known these things earlier. I am genuinely sad for the lives I’ve stressed out over the years of overemphasizing “practical application” (the “so what” and “now what”). Lord, in Your mercy, hear my prayer of repentance, and continue to lead me to an authentically redemptive proclamation of the gospel.

– EO

 

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Wrestling with Fred: “Ministers”

Frederick Beuchner is one of my favorite authors. His insights into the spiritual life, with Christ at its center, have been very formative to me. I recently signed up for a daily Buechner quote – great!

Wrestling with today’s quote from Fred …

“Ministers have their heads in the clouds, which is just where you should have your head when your mind is on higher things … Ministers are as anachronistic as alchemists or chimney sweeps … The perspective of ministers is so hopelessly distorted and biased that there is no point in listening to them unless you happen to share it.”

Hmmm…

1 Corinthians 2:13-15 comes to mind. Here, Paul says This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, explaining spiritual realities with Spirit-taught words. The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness, and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit.” 

So, to the world, we believers are perceived as “hopelessly distorted and biased” fools. It should come as no shock that people without the Spirit will not listen. Because the cannot listen. In Jesus’ terms, they don’t have “ears to hear”.

The simple, Biblical truth is that Spirit must precede the embrace of truth. We can’t make Spirit happen – only God can. But, we are promised that “the gospel … is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes” (Rom. 1:16). Gospel -> Spirit -> Truth. Any alteration or deletion from this process will prove impotent.

GospelSpiritTruthI’ve been a minister for decades. Sometimes I fall into the trap of believing that I’m some kind of  divinely appointed DA for the Lord, guiding testimonies in the court of public opinion. If I do my job right, I’ll be able to lead the “jury” to my appointed conclusions. That’s why I’ve been lured into my share of (what I have found to be counter-productive) social media rants, thinking that my clear delineation of spiritual realities through Spirit-taught (Biblical) words will win the day.

Oops. Fred reminds me to embrace the spiritual, Spirit-taught realities: Don’t be surprised or angry when (not if) the Biblical truth you share is misunderstood and rejected. It will be – it’s written in stone.

Before we all resign our pulpits, let’s remember Paul’s other words in the same chapter: “We do, however, speak a message of wisdom among the mature, but not the wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are coming to nothing. No, we declare God’s wisdom, a mystery that has been hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began” (1 Cor. 2:6-7). To this end we preach … head fixed in the clouds, rejoicing with the faithful, and experiencing the collective sanctification that will shape us into a community that first lives and then proclaims the gospel … through which the number of anachronistic fools will swell. 

– EO

 

 

 

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Thy Kingdom Come … Now!

It’s Christmas Eve! At sundown, let the 12 Days begin!

But for these last hours of Advent, and for our final leg of the journey, read Amos 9:13-15 one more time.

hills“The time will come,” says the Lord, “when the grain and grapes will grow faster than they can be harvested! Then the terraced vineyards on the hills of Israel will drip with sweet wine. I will bring my exiled people of Israel back from distant lands, and they will rebuild their ruined cities and live in them again. They will plant vineyards and gardens; they will eat their crops and drink their wine. I will firmly plant them there in their own land. They will never again be uprooted from the land I have given them,” says the Lord your God.Amos 9:13-15, NLT

Two days ago, we saw that the “booth of David” would be rebuilt from the ruins. Yesterday, we were told that this Kingdom would be international in scope, possessing a remnant from “all the nations.” Today, we get a peek at what this rebuilt global community will look like.

A God-man cooperative! God will bring the people back, and God will plant them in the land. But it will be the people who will rebuild the cities, and plant the vineyards. Immanuel, “God with us”, will enfold us into a life of purpose, productivity, and celebration. (If any of you think heaven will be boring, don’t!).

wineAbundant prosperity! Our God, Who says “blessed are the poor”, has great riches in store for His people when He comes again. The imagery here is fantastic – enough to excite any commodities broker to buy low, and sell high! Production so abundant that the supply chain can’t even keep up? So much wine that it will look like the hills are dripping with it? (That doesn’t sound like Genesis 3:17-19, does it?) No more let thorns infest the ground … He comes to make His blessings FLOW far as the curse is found!


Abundant life!
I so love this picture. We’re not talking about a one-time feast (like many of our Christmas day celebrations). And we’re not talking about the consumerism-induced transience that has turned today’s believers into a bunch of frenetic church hoppers. And we’re not talking about “churches” that have become “as-long-as-the-front-door-is-bigger-than-the-back-door” retail franchises. No, God is going to “firmly plant them” in the land- what will now and forevermore be their land. Deep roots. No deracination. Never again will these aliens and strangers, these wanderers, these sojourners, have any cause or reason to leave. Home. Rest. Health. Peace.

Is all of this coming in the future, or do we get to experience it now?

Yes.

We celebrate Christmas Day on the 25th (the manger, the shepherds, the holy family). But the “thrill of hope”, why “the weary world rejoices”, is that the incarnation of Jesus on that first Christmas brought His Kingdom to bear on this world now! Through the work of the Holy Spirit, the divine cooperative has commenced. We can, now, experience abundant life, and usher others into the “foretaste of glory divine” that is life in His church! Hallowed by Thy name, now! Thy reign in the lives of your chosen people come, now! Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven, now!

– – – – – –

In conclusion, the short version of our Advent journey: We are a hell-bent people. We live for ourselves, and disregard others. And our worship of God is terminally infected by this condition. The Day of the Lord is near, and on that day, the plumb line will ultimately be dropped by God. He rules the world with truth and grace: Those who remain in their stubborn, selfish, godless ways will face a horrific judgment. Those whose hearts are pierced to repentance will get 9:13-15!

May your Christmastide be rich as you enter into the feast of abundance with your wonderful savior. He has come! … and is coming again! Maranatha!, and Merry Christmas.

– EO

 

 
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Posted by on December 24, 2015 in Advent 2015, Amos, Christianity, Eschatology

 

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The Gospel According to Amos

Again, Read Amos 9:8b-15

HOPE! Part 2 of 3

Two more days until we celebrate Jesus’ coming! Amos is really helping us see how significant this coming, and the establishment of Jesus’ new Kingdom on earth, truly is.

In verse 8b, the ray of hope peeps in at the conclusion of Amos’ prophecies of judgment on Israel. The Gospel! … Do you see it? The house of Jacob will not be utterly destroyed!

Okay, that’s great … for the house of Jacob. But that ain’t me, is it?

God never has, isn’t now, and never will be dealing with Israel strictly in terms of their national interests. No, since the call of Abraham, this whole “chosen-nation thing” has had everything to do with the whole planet, not just the Jews. Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Gen. 12:1-3). Sometimes called “The Great Commission of the Old Testament”, this call and promise encourages Abraham to rise above his ethnic and familial ties, and go on a mission that will (don’t miss this!) bless “all the families of the earth”!

God’s relentless mission to redeem for Himself a people now plays itself out in His word to Israel through Amos, in two Ways:

 “For behold, I will command, and shake the house of Israel among all the nations as one shakes with a sieve, but no pebble shall fall to the earth” (v. 9). God is dealing with Israel, but is not doing so privately. Their judgment is not intended to go unseen by the watching world. They are being shaken “among all the nations”. As Abraham was a blessing to Canaan … as the Israelites were a blessing to Egypt … as the Ark of the Covenant was a blessing to the house of Obed-Edom … as the people Judea would be a blessing even to Babylon, while in Exile … and, of course, as the Messiah Jesus would come to bless all mankind, they have this in common: All were shaken among the nations. God has always paraded His suffering people around the world, as a testimony of His grace and truth to all, and as a means of His blessing to the world through their sacrifice.

“In that day I will raise up the booth of David … that they may possess the remnant of Edom and all the nations who are called by my name” (v.11-12). When was the booth of David raised up? When Jesus, of the line of David, came to establish His Kingdom. This Kingdom, though, is far bigger, wider and inclusive than the political nation of Israel, and the ethnic clan of the Jews. It will even include “the remnant of Edom”, now “called by My name”. (Edom … remember “Jacob I loved, Esau I hated”? Here, we have Esau’s tribe being included in the new Davidic people.) Not only the Edomites, but “all the nations” who are called. Jesus’ command that the gospel be preached to the four corners of the earth displays that His Messianic Kingdom is, literally, for all the nations.

When Jesus comes, He will be born into a lost people, Israel. One people among many lost peoples in a lost world. He will come to save them … and us. Now, we, too, will be a part of the people of God. Now, we, too will be shaken among the nations for the glory of God and the blessing of mankind. And we will be the ones who will receive an amazing inheritance when we return! (That’s the finale…see you tomorrow!).

– EO

 
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Posted by on December 23, 2015 in Advent 2015, Amos

 

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Last Minute Gift Idea

Read Amos 8:7-10

(As we get closer to Christmas day, all of our cultural cues are telling us to immerse ourselves in nice thoughts and cozy things. Thus, it gets harder for us to look squarely at the tough passages in Amos. Hang in there with me! It is always darkest toward the dawn. Keep your hope stretched, your longing strong, and remain an Advent disciple to the end. I truly believe it will enhance your celebration of the 12 Days of Christmastide.)

A reminder before we get started: The people of Israel at this time thought everything was fine! Sales were up, net worth was up, attendance at attractive church services was up … how odd that this Judean farm boy was saying these ridiculous things about our need to repent!…

Each week, during our church’s morning worship service, we begin with Confession and Absolution. We collectively obey the scriptures to together confess our sins, and then we receive the assurance of God’s forgiveness, according to His Word (e.g., 1 John 1:8-9). Each week, I walk through the shame of my personal valley of the shadow of death, and am taken to the green pastures of experienced grace. My soul depends on this. As the Psalmist says, “If you, O LORD, kept a record of sins, who could stand?” (Ps. 130:3). Instead, “as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us” (Ps. 130:12).

That’s why verse 8:7 is so startling to my eyes and ears. According to God-through-Amos, not only was Israel in the wrong, but they had taken the LORD to the point of no return. “The Lord has sworn … ‘surely I will never forget any of their deeds!’” If God said that to me … to any of us … we would be lost forever. Our eternal separation from God and consignment to the horrors of Hell would be final.

And my grief would be relentless. As Amos puts it, days would be dark, feasts would be cancelled, songs would be muted … and then, most severe of all, God says “I will make it like the mourning for an only son” (8:10). At our church recently, a family experienced the death of their only son. He was only 11 years old. The sense of loss was truly overwhelming. They, and everyone who knew them, spent many days in incredible grief. It’s a pain that this family, and our whole church, hope to never have to experience again.

But, that pain is the trajectory for our unsaved, unrepentant world. They are on a crash-course for a forever separation from the God they choose to ignore today.

Our world, blind and deaf to God, doesn’t need a gift, a cookie, a cup of wassail, a carol and a snuggle. The gift they so badly need is the gift of repentance. They need not only the baby in the manger, but the piercing truth of His words, and the benefits of His cross.

Our Father God is truly “acquainted with grief” (Is. 53:3) He chose to experience the loss of His only Son, so that our collective grief can be replaced by joy to the world. Amos boldly called the people back to God. Will we do the same? And, by doing so, go beyond the cozy Christmas glaze, and introduce the lost to the only gift that matters?

– EO

 
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Posted by on December 19, 2015 in Advent 2015, Amos, Evangelism

 

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We Have Agreed to Meet…

First Saturday of Advent

Read Amos 3:1-3

“Hear this word that the Lord has spoken against you, O people of Israel, against the whole family that I brought up out of the land of Egypt: ‘You only have I known of all the families of the earth; therefore, I will punish you for all your iniquities.  Do two walk together, unless they have agreed to meet?…”

During Advent, we long for the coming of Christ – which will bring, once and for all, the complete and final abolishment of sin. But what is “sin”? And how do we know about it?

According to the truths of the Bible, sin entered the world with Adam and Eve. Since then, not only has everyone sinned (except for Jesus), but everyone has been sinful – stained by an inescapable inner propensity to sin.

God has chosen to let the human race know of their predicament of being sinful sinners. He did this by choosing a single nation to work with: Israel. He would give them the Law, which would describe God’s expectations on the race – expectations that they would soon find out that they can’t meet. The whole world would be able to understand God, His heart, His truth, and His plan, through his interaction with this chosen people.

In today’s passage, Amos refers to this special relationship and agenda God has with Israel. He has already mentioned their history together in 2:9-11 (“It was I who destroyed the Amorite before them…it was I who brought you up out of the land of Egypt…I raised up prophets…Is it not indeed so, O people of Israel?”). Now, he reminds them of their uniqueness: “You only have I known of all the families of the earth; therefore I will punish you for all your iniquities.” It’s not that the whole world was innocent, and Israel guilty…obviously not. But Israel has a different sort of relationship with God than others. “Do two walk together, unless they have agreed to meet?” God and Israel had met, and have been bound together by covenant. God holds them to a different standard than the other nations –  not a higher standard, but a clearer, revealed standard. To those with the Law, the consequences of sin must follow … thoroughly, and relentlessly.
At Jesus’ first advent, he was the fulfillment of the law –he lived the life God demands of every human being. Then, when he died and rose again, he conquered the powers of sin and death! True, we still sin, and we still die. But, eternally, the sins we commit and the deaths we experience will leave no permanent scars. We’ve been saved!

And while Amos’ Israel was chosen to model for the world God’s relationship to mankind, Christians have been chosen to model new, eternity-ready lives, lived in the Spirit. A gospel paraphrase of Amos’ words, for the church, could read, “You only have I known of all the people of the earth; therefore, I will forgive you for all your iniquities.  Do two walk together, unless they have agreed to meet?…”

We walk together with Christ. We’ve agreed to meet. Maranatha!

– EO

 
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Posted by on December 5, 2015 in Advent 2015, Amos, Uncategorized

 

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