What is a Christian? (Jude in July)

JUDE in JULYWhat is a Christian?  What are we when we call ourselves Christian?  A million possible answers could pop into our heads and many may be very insightful.  None is better, though, than the heart-warming nugget contained in the intro to the letter of Jude.  (I’m preaching through this small, strange, and often neglected letter through July and I’ll be micro-posting along with that).
Jude greets the Christians he’s writing to as …those who are called, beloved in God the Father, and kept for [by] Jesus Christ. (v 1b)  There, concisely and beautifully, is what we are when we call ourselves Christian.  We are:

Called. To be Christian is to have heard the call of God and responded.  God is all about calling a people to Himself.  Starting with Abraham, the nation of Israel, the inclusion of the Gentiles (non-Jews), and right up to the present day.  To be Christian is to be a part of that.  It’s right even to say that “called” is almost synonymous with “Christian”.

Beloved.  Loved by God, specifically by the Father, that’s what a Christian is.  Be careful to not dismiss this as mere idea; the Father’s love is to be experienced.  To be the object of such love is the privilege of all Christians.

Kept.  Either to be kept for service to Jesus or kept by His faithful preservation.  Both options are encouraging and blessed.  We’re neither purposeless nor left to our own devices.  Jesus does not save us from our sins and then leave on our own.  We’re kept.  Safe and sound by his care.

What is a Christian?  Called, Beloved, Kept.

Human Flourishing and Religious Freedom

Andy Crouch makes a compelling case for the role of religious freedom to enable human flourishing.  Religious freedom, in fact, is essential for human flourishing.  This is especially so in regards to the authenticating mark by which human flourishing should be measured:  how society’s most vulnerable are treated.

And religious freedom is not, not, not reducible to freedom to worship privately or believe personally.

It is the freedom to engage publicly with the implications of those beliefs.

Christians should seek religious freedom for all our neighbours.  We do this for a very good reason.  We should seek such not because it’s easy – it is not – but because it is hard.

 

* from Q Ideas conference, April 2015.

If Famous Preachers Left Yelp Reviews of Lakewood Church

Steve Swan:

I don’t think this could get any more awesome.

Originally posted on Strange Herring:

Screen Shot 2015-06-06 at 6.41.03 PM

Luther, M.
Wittenberg
95 Friends

“This miserable jackanapes who makes a pretense of preaching would have the Christian avoid tribulations, which are twofold: from divine wrath and from divine goodness. But this miniature Demas, in love with this present world, judges both only according to outward appearances, and makes himself a theologian of glory. In the face of tribulation, if one is spiritual, strong, wise, pious, gentle and humble, he will become more spiritual, powerful, wise, pious, gentle and humble, as the Psalmist says in Psalm 4:1: ‘Thou has enlarged me when I was in distress.’ But this addlepate is no Christian but a Turk and an enemy of Christ who would deny the Christian this cross; for here the Apostle speaks: ‘We glory in tribulations.’

“O-stink glories only in vanity and is blind to the God who accepts no one as righteous whom He has not first tried. But He tries us through the fire of…

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Truth & Reconciliation – and Prayer

T&RC

What follows is roughly what I shared as some pastoral commentary this Sunday with my own congregation, The King’s Fellowship.

This has been an historic week for Canada wherein the findings and recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission have been released.  They, of course, address the residential school system that has been, and remains, a blight on our national heritage.  Our own city, Winnipeg, is at the centre of these historic events.  It is critical that Christians are aware of this cultural moment and respond with prayer for victims and for our country.

The report findings and recommendations have been made public.  Justice Murray Sinclair, an altogether impressive man, has said: “we have led you to the mountain, we’ve shown you the path, now you must climb”*  The report is a challenge that Canada must respond to.  The specific recommendations can be discussed/debated and perhaps should be but that is to be done by those better qualified than myself.  What I can say is that while all Canadians should be made aware of the T&RC, those of us of Christian faith should embrace a special duty.  At this historical juncture – why shouldn’t we pray for the healing of our nation(s)?

The residential school system is the shame of our entire country.  We shouldn’t step back from acknowledging the Christian role in this system.  It was not just bad public policy.  Churches participated and that was bad evangelization, bad theology, bad methods, with a bad outcome.  We ought to pray for mercy.

And yet the Gospel message should both correct the bad that came before and be of present help now.  The Gospel, the good news of Jesus, has truth and reconciliation at heart of its message.  It has the truth of who God is and the truth of the human fallen condition.  It offers reconciliation between humanity and our Creator.  By implication it brings reconciliation between women and men to one another.

Now both sides of this issue in Canada need truth and reconciliation.  Even if no one is Christian on either side, God’s common grace can extend.  We can pray for truth to come forth and for reconciliation to happen between the First Nations and the rest of Canada.  We can pray that as the people who have experienced the ultimate truth and ultimate reconciliation.

Tree of life - City of GodWe can also bear in mind the end, the goal, of the Gospel. That is, the coming City of God.  We await a renewed society of perfect peace and justice, where perfect truth and complete reconciliation exist between us and our Creator, and between all the redeemed.  The Apostle John describes this City of God in the final scene of the entire Bible.  He tells what lies at the City’s centre – the Tree of Life.  And we’re told that …the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. (Rev 22:2)  In light of that final hope, we can pray for the healing of the nation of Canada and for the 600+ First Nations in our country.  Sin remains and so complete healing of the world will not happen until then.  We can, however, pray for partial but profound healing in our lifetimes.  If we care to read the findings and recommendations of the T&RC, we’ll know we need that healing.

 

 

 

* this is a paraphrase from memory of what I heard Justice Sinclair say on CBC radio.  It may not be an exact quote.

God’s Gift of God – Pentecost Meditation

Pentecost

What are we given when we are given the Spirit?  We are given everything.  As Peter Leithart has said, Pentecost is God giving God.  The Spirit of God is God Himself, God’s gift of God.  While the Spirit is called the 3rd person of the Trinity, He is the first we meet as it is by and through the Spirit that we receive all things from the Father and Son.  The Spirit was at Creation and has been with God’s People since the beginning.  But at Pentecost, God’s gift of God came to fill and be within His People.

This Sunday is where Christians have traditionally remembered the Day of Pentecost.  As with all special days, they are not special in themselves.  The realities of Christmas, Good Friday, Easter Sunday, and even Pentecost are such that they should be with us every day.  So the day is not special in itself.  But a day can give us opportunity to do specific reflection upon a certain spiritual reality.

Pentecost was a pre-existing Jewish festival to remember the giving of the law to Moses at Mt Sinai.  That, though, is not why Christians remember it.  On Pentecost, God did something profound.  He sent His Holy Spirit to fill and empower Jesus’ disciples.  Those small group of disciples became the new-born Christian Church.

The entire story is spectacular and almost impossible to imagine what it would have been like (although it’s fun to imagine!)  Noise like rushing wind, tongues of fire on their heads, speech in foreign languages they would have never been able to know naturally.  But then the true purpose of Pentecost happened.  Whatever was happening in that room burst out into the public realm, the ethnically diverse crowd from many nations around the world heard them tell the mighty works of God.

This was not the only filling of the Holy Spirit in the Book of Acts – being filled is a continual command and joyously repeatable! – but it was the first.  And it shows what the great purpose of the Holy Spirit is.  Not to give gifts and experiences to God’s People so they can enjoy them like toys.  But to cause them to burst out into the world and make Christ and His Gospel known.

Making a strong case, Graham Cole recently said that the filling of the Spirit is never for it’s own sake in the New Testament.  Experiences are given and should be enjoyed and testified of.  Spiritual gifts should be sought and used.  These, however, always are in service to the greater purpose – the expansion of the Gospel into all the earth.  The Spirit fills, and empowers, and gifts, for that grand purpose.

Pentecost is the Anti-Babel.  To reverse the sin caused division and confusion of the peoples of the world.  It is God’s People filled and empowered to let all peoples hear of God’s mighty works.  It is to bring the Good News of Jesus Messiah to all those who need to hear.  God’s Spirit gives power for God’s Mission.

It’s Pentecost – drink deep, be filled, and let us get to work.

The Danger of the Good

What are we more in danger of?  Idolizing something bad?  Or idolizing something good?  Where does the biggest danger lie for us?

Bronze SerpentThere’s an interesting story in Israel’s history that warns us of the danger of the good when it is lifted up over God.  Hezekiah was a decent king in a long string of mostly crappy ones.  We’re told he made a lot of efforts at reform.  He destroyed many idols of foreign gods but he also destroyed one thing that was once precious and good in the eyes of God.  He [Hezekiah] removed the high places and broke the pillars and cut down the Asherah. And he broke in pieces the bronze serpent that Moses had made, for until those days the people of Israel had made offerings to it (it was called Nehushtan).  2 Kings 18:4

That bronze serpent was made according to the instructions of God.  Israel had saved it since the time of Moses.  Jesus even positively refers to it.  But in the 1,000 years between Moses and Hezekiah, something had happened.  God’s People had started to worship it as an idol; they had exalted it over God.  So, for the reform-minded Hezekiah, it had to go.

In this we see something important.  It’s not the bad things in our lives (the outright disobediences, the gross sins, the obvious idolatries) that are the sneakiest.  It is the good stuff that is most dangerous.

The Bronze Serpent was what God-had-done-for-us-back-then.  It was something good and should have been held up as something to remind them of God and His goodness.  Instead, valuing the good gift over the Giver, they worshipped it instead.

The good stuff for us (the-last-thing-God-did-for-us, our work, our family, our comfort, our ministry), even these can be lifted up over God and become idols.  The danger not being that they are bad, but precisely that they are so good.

Be Still

Be Still

Be still, and know that I am God.  Psalm 46:10

Praying my way through the Psalms I came across this well-known verse.  It’s often viewed as an encouragement to inner serenity.  Or it is a spiritual posture to take in the Presence of God.  If applications are made along those lines I certainly don’t wan to take that away from anyone.  To seek God’s peace, to balance one’s inner storm before Him as we spend time in His Presence is a wonderful thing.  In fact, one of the main objectives in prayer may well be to do just that.  And yet, while Psalm 46 doesn’t say less than that, it also says more.

Be still and know that I am God serves as a conclusion to the entire Psalm.  The lead up tells us a lot about.  God is a present help in trouble verse 1 tells us.  The earth will feel like it’s giving way (v 2), the sea is stormy and the mountains are trembling (v 2-3).  Nations are raging and kingdoms are in tumult (v 6).  The world seems as though it is chaotic and the circumstances of God’s People, from their perspective, don’t look cheery.  It is into this reality that the command to be still comes.

Why this matters is that it is saying something much larger than finding inner peace in prayer time.  It is that in times of great upheaval, we must never forget that God is God, and we are not to be moved.  God’s People (both Old Testament Jews and New Testament Christians) have faced the tumult of their times.  As Christians today, we face shifts in the our culture and troubles in the world.

When we read the news from North America we’re told from many sources:

That our culture is getting less faithful all the time.  (this is very Western centric but I’ll let that slide for now).

That our children won’t follow in our faith once they hit university.

That the world is getting worse and worse.

That Christianity is going to die unless it changes certain moral beliefs or gets “relevant”.

And so on…

But it is in face of all that, that God’s People are told to be still.  Be still and stay put, stay faithful to God’s great work no matter what this decade brings, or that century.  “The  Church must learn to think in centuries” it has been said, and that is a good maxim.  God is a in control over all history and not on e of His promises will fail.  That’s what is meant by the command to know that I am God.

To be still is to not be moved from the faith once delivered to the saints.  Decades come and decades go, centuries also come and go.  Public opinion goes this way, public opinion goes that way.  It may seem to the faithful that the world is shaking and rocking but we’re told to be still and know that I am God.  To stay where we are in terms of faithful witness and not forget that God is in control.