A Value: Story over Sin

We all like a good story. A good story simulates our souls and evokes our emotions. I went and saw The Last Jedi. People have such divided opinions on the movie because of how they are connected to the largest Star Wars metanarrative.

I will indict myself in this next number, but in America 490 billion dollars are spent watching movies and being entertained watching stories.  The average American spends 5 hours and 4 minutes daily watching tv, which increases when you have a streaming service. That kind of money and time into being entertained by stories either that we can relate to or that we can escape from (watch something non-sensical). We have been hard-wired by our Creator to be drawn into stories in a real way—we kind of need them. Think about it: before movies, there were plays, campfires, dinner tables, cave walls. We were created in a story and for a story.

The problem of our consumption of stories is that stories shape us and disciple us. They give us a worldview, a way of seeing the world around us. According to Matt Chandler and Tim Keller, in our American context, there are five false narratives which we consume that conflict with the narrative to which we as Christians submit.

  • Consumerism: the good life means that you have the kind of stuff that people would look to you and see – the meaning of life is getting more stuff. More will make you happy
  • Secularism: all there is what you can see and verify. The happier you will be is once you realize there is no supernaturalism.
  • Nationalism: success and supremacy of our own nation from political purity would make our world a better place.
  • Progressivism: just keep making forward progress that we will move our way toward utopia.
  • Cynicism: nothing can be trusted, everyone is in it for their own gain, nothing is beautiful, doubt anything good or beautiful. The only trusted source is self.

Trying to live life under one of these false narratives is like continuously picking up rocks. You have to keep picking up rocks. Eventually, the rocks you pick up crush you. In the world, real people, your neighbor, your co-workers are being crushed by these narratives.

We are drinking these narratives in with every movie, idea. Because we all consume something, we will stumble back into one of these narratives. When we act on and adopt these narratives we are lead to sin. Ultimately, each of these narratives entices us to believe the lie that we are at the center of the story.

Christians are not immune to the pervasiveness of these lies. When we reflect on our life we can often see God as one of the characters in our story. We look for him when we need him and expect him to be grateful when we serve him. He is a lovely piece of our story, but we still think of it as our story. But it is not our story. It is God’s story as creator and rescuer. We exist to expand the goodness of His story throughout the world.

The story God as told in the Bible is the only true narrative. Our disbelief in who God is and how he acts leads us into sin–defining right and wrong according to our perspective instead of God’s. God’s story shapes everything.

Christians have one true story really well so that we can spot the false narratives. This involves the ones we believe first, those that the culture spews second, and those others believe third. Before we can move past this point, we have to know how God’s story intersects our individual stories.

There is a murderer turned missionary named Paul in the Bible who started a church in the ancient city of Ephesus. While in prison, He writes back to the church as he awaits trial in Rome for sharing the story of Jesus and it’s implications.

And you were dead in your trespasses and sins in which you previously lived according to the ways of this world, according to the ruler of the power of the air,the spirit now working in the disobedient. We too all previously lived among them in our fleshly desires, carrying out the inclinations of our flesh and thoughts, and we were by nature children under wrath as the others were also. But God, who is rich in mercy, because of his great love that he had for us, made us alive with Christ even though we were dead in trespasses. You are saved by grace! He also raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavens in Christ Jesus,so that in the coming ages he might display the immeasurable riches of his grace through his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For you are saved by grace through faith, and this is not from yourselves; it is God’s gift— not from works, so that no one can boast. 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared ahead of time for us to do. – Ephesians 2:1-10

For believers, you and I have this story in common. We have a shared story. I do not know about you, but the first time I was made alive was in the second row of a youth conference where God took me from death to life. It is the place where my self-created identity failed and God said, “Mine.”

“Dead in trespasses and sins” and the consequences of destructive actions explain where we come from and what’s wrong with the world. Into the brokenness, God sends the Son to save.

The sending of Jesus did not happen because God was putting together a team of super people. We were not saved because our parents were good disciple-makers. We were not saved because God looked at our unique skill-set and said: “Oh I could use some of that in my kingdom.” We were not saved because we used to do bad things and now we don’t. We were saved because God is gracious and kind and in His mercy he saved us.

This common story transcends all of our differences Which is why the church can come together being politically, socio- economically, racially different. So you have where we come from, what went wrong, how God has fixed it, and our purpose in life all in 10 verses. This is our story and this story is incompatible with the five false narratives. You cannot embrace our story and embrace these other narratives. There is no group hugging these narratives together.

What do you do to help you reorient yourself to the one true story?

Likely, you attend Sunday worship services and at most, you spend 2-3 hours weekly to reorient you to the grand narrative. Now compare that time allotment to the 5 hours and 4 minutes you spend daily consuming false narratives (feel free to lump in social media for you non-tv watchers).

We cannot just reorient ourselves to God story when we gather, but the story has to be evident when we scatter. We have to be so caught up in God’s story that we choose story over sin. When we filter every area of life through the gospel we put God’s story over sin.

The gospel is: God himself has come to rescue and renew all creation through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.

Every area means every area…the good and the bad. We can apply the gospel to all areas of life. Here are a few worldview examples…

Our story compels us to be generous, while consumerism says hoard or get your own. Our story is that everything that has been given to us is by the grace of God and should be held loosely at our fingertips eager to give it away and be generous to others.

Our story drives us to see the beauty and goodness in God’s world, while cynicism says there is no real good. Our story is that God has been kind to us even when we did not deserve it and were even not kind in return. Therefore, we should strive to cultivate beauty, justice, and trust just as our God did for us.

Our story acknowledges that we cannot solve our own problems, while progressivism says we will eventually find a manmade solution. Our story is that God provides the solution to sin and brokenness in Jesus Christ through his selfless love. One day He will bring full restoration and right all wrongs. Therefore, we can serve and love self-sacrificially with no strings attached.

Our story sends us to hear other’s stories and testify about the one true story before we condemn anyone for their sin. Jesus does not expect us to become the saviors and behavior modify people out of sin. We are invited to live in response to the story of the savior. God’s story overcomes our sin.

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Books I’ve Read Recently

download-1Saturate by Jeff Vanderstelt. The vision which drives the book is “every man, woman, and child in every place having a daily encounter with Jesus through words spoken and deeds done through his people.” Saturate is written to encourage the everyday Jesus follower to engage in the everyday stuff of life with the goal of seeing Jesus saturation for everyone in every place. Vanderstelt is thorough in articulating the vision which God has placed on his heart. There is a unique balance of Scripture, story, and vision casting. Vanderstelt longs to see the church re-connected to the everyday stuff of life instead of disconnected from life. Instead of people doing church, Jesus is supposed to be living life through his church. Meaning, Christian is not an adjective for activities, events, or things; people are Christian. Therefore, followers of Jesus can make disciples who make disciples when they are shaped by the gospel in every area of life. Vanderstelt articulates how environments help shape followers of Jesus. The reality is that people are being discipled and discipling others whether they realize it or not. The question becomes: to what or to whom are you discipling them? My hope is that you consider reading Saturate for a gospel-centered vision on discipling and gospel worldview.

 

download-2The Atlantis Gene/ The Atlantis Plague by A.G. Riddle. I have been trying to reintroduce fiction into my literary diet. I found the first two books in a trilogy absolutely riveting. I am excited to read the final book. Riddle blends history, science, religious theory, and potential real-world events to uncover worldview and mankind’s motivation.

For example, “The war is always the same, only the names and places change. There are demons upon this earth. They live in our hearts and minds.” Riddle does well to communicate the longing of humanity’s soul is to find meaning and a place where the random violence makes sense.

Later, in a book steeped in science and evolutionary theory an exchange happens between a scientist and a soldier, “You already know that the universe supports the emergence of human life. In fact, the universe is strictly programmed for it. If any of the constants were even slightly different—gravity, the strength of electromagnetism, the dimensions in space-time—there would be no human life. There are only two possibilities: either human life emerged because the laws of the universe support it by random chance, or the alternative: the universe was created to foster human life.”

 

download-3Not the Place to Ignore Me by Joshua Motes. I have a unique connection to this book. Josh is one of the members of my Church Planting Residency Cohort. Josh writes about his experience in Afghanistan where he survived a horrific ambush. “Thousands of miles from home, on the business end of a daring mission into a deserted Afghan cityscape where friend and foe blend, author Joshua Motes hears God speak these words, calling him back to wholehearted devotion and a renewed commitment to be an influence for Jesus among the men he led. As one of the few American soldiers serving in the military that has experienced direct fire combat where life and death are a constant reality, First Lieutenant Motes offers a unique perspective on living out a committed life of faith.”

I am thankful for Josh and his service. Having served multiple tours, Josh is someone who listens to God and obeys. Josh is very honest about the tension he lived in and how as Christians we face a very real enemy.

“We worship God when we abandon ourselves to Him, and forsake our pathetic attempts to weather whatever it is we are facing under our own perceived strength.”

A Growing Heart Gives Thanks

A few weeks ago I attempted to get back into the lifting mode. I have been going to 24-hour fitness a few days a week to play basketball, but since my college football career ended I have not done any serious lifting. After a few games of pick-up, I pull off my basketball shoes and put on some others and head into the workout area. Jim and I were going to bench. As I and a couple guys walk that way, I notice something. Everyone seems to have on headphones. I am not a music person, so as I observe the room I wonder why people listen to music. Being curious, I ask Jim, why he listened to music when he worked out. His response was profound. “I use music for motivation. Everyone needs motivation.”

We all need motivation. We all use something for motivation. What do you do for motivation? Where do you go for motivation? Or better, what is your motivation?

God desires to grow our heart. If we are honest, this world is tough on our heart. Rather than experience a growing heart, it is easy to experience a shrinking heart with increasing skepticism, pessimism. For something like a workout, music is appropriate. For life, we need something more lasting.

TheBranch.GrowingHeart.Kyle.008For Christians, our driving motivation is something called the gospel. I love how the Three Circles Method encapsulates the message of the gospel.

Brokenness – We live in this world and it is characterized by brokenness. We do not have to look very hard to see this. It seems like every week the news gets worse. Sex scandals, violent shootings, that’s just on a national level. For you, it might be financial troubles, crazy kids, loss of a loved one. Even if you are someone who thinks life is pretty good, chances are you have a growing skepticism and concern of the world at large. Mentally you go somewhere, or practically you do something to maintain your motivation to keep going.

God’s Design – The world we live in was not God’s original design. The way that we have gotten ourselves into brokenness is something the Bible calls sin. All sin really is, is defining good and evil according to what we think is best, or better, that we can do anything better than God. Turning away from God’s Design and pursuing our own way.

Brokenness eventually leads us to death and destruction. Ultimately, separation from God.

God doesn’t want us to be in brokenness so he gives us a way through the brokenness. That way is Jesus. Jesus comes and enters into our brokenness. The death that we deserve for brokenness, Jesus takes our place and dies on the cross after living a perfect life. Then, Jesus rose from the dead making a way out of brokenness.

People try many things to get out of brokenness: religion, success, relationships with other people, education, abusing substances to escape. None of these things extract us from the circumstances of life.

The only way through is to turn from our sin and to believe that Jesus lived, died, and rose for us. We can then begin to experience God’s design in our life as we get to know Jesus. We are then sent back into brokenness to make Jesus known and help others pursue God’s Design. One day, the hope of eternity is how God will eliminate the brokenness and we will live fully in a restored world.

God wants us to experience His design and therefore grow our heart. In the midst of life, God’s desire is for us to be motivated by the future hope we have through Jesus and live in the present as if it is already here.

We see this when circumstances are far from ideal in Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians. The backstory for this book is found in the book of Acts. It is where Paul and his coworker Silas went to the Ancient Greek city of Thessalonica. After one month of telling the good news about King Jesus, a large number of Jewish and Greek people gave their allegiance to Jesus and became the first church community there. But trouble was brewing. Paul’s announcement of the risen Jesus as the true Lord of the world led to suspicion. As the hearts of the people changed, their actions began to reflect attitudes of gratitude and joy and action peace and love, which were subversive to the culture.

The Christians in Thessalonica were eventually accused of defying Caesar, the Roman Emperor, and they said there is another king named Jesus–they were merely following His example. The persecution actually became so intense that they had to flee the city. This was painful for them because they loved the people there so much.

This letter is Paul’s attempt to reconnect with the Christians in Thessalonica after he got a report from Timothy that they were doing more than okay, that they were flourishing despite this intense persecution. Paul writes the letter with two movements. The first is a celebration of their faithfulness to Jesus. Then, he challenges them to keep growing as followers of Jesus.

The Thessalonians lived in a culture where all of life was permeated by institutions and practices which honored the Greek and Roman gods. Transferring your allegiance from the gods of the age to the Creator God through King Jesus this came at a cost: isolation from your neighbors, hostility from your family.

But for the Thessalonians, the overwhelming love Jesus who died for them and the hope of His return made it all worth it. Everything they did was motivated by hope in the coming kingdom of Jesus, a full return to God’s Design.

As Paul concluded his letter, he encourages the Thessalonians to live out the will of God.

16 Rejoice always, 17 pray constantly, 18 give thanks in everything; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

One of the oft-said phrases when taking Xavier on a bike ride is “Look up. Look ahead. See where you are going.” Inevitably he becomes distracted, nervous, too confident, and ends up getting stuck in the grass, or getting stuck on the curb.

When we do not look up, look ahead, and see where we are going we will likely wreck.

Playing basketball on a regular basis, I am always amazed at how many guys dribble with their heads down, especially when they are pretty good players. When their head is down, their eyes are down. Because they are not looking up they miss obstacles, players trapping, and opportunities, players making good cuts.

When we do not look up, look ahead, and see where we are going we miss obstacles and opportunities.

I remember teaching my sisters how to drive. Initially, they would always look right at the front of the car, or even at the car in the next lane over. My words echo what I say to Xavier as he rides his bike–look ahead. Your eyes take you where you want to go. Good eye discipline keeps you in your lane and allows you to anticipate by making adjustments when other cars break, or you need to make a lane change.

When we do not look up, look ahead, and see where we are going we are ill prepared to travel the road ahead.

When Paul encourages the Thessalonians to give thanks [to God] in everything (or all circumstances). We are directly challenged. The qualifiers Paul adds to basic thankfulness conveys the importance of thanking God within all circumstances of life, even the difficult ones. In Thessalonica, these circumstances include suffering. It is important to notice, however, that Paul reminds the Thessalonians to give thanks in everything, not for everything.

I was reminded of this passage when I heard of the church shooting in Sutherland Springs, Texas. A gunman entered a small, rural Southern Baptist church and opened fire, killing over 25 people according to reports. This horrific event has stirred up another round of cultural debate over gun laws, showing that our society is not only sharply divided but willfully politicized. Blood has not even cooled on the ground before pundits issue their pronouncements. Lost in much of the commentary was the fact that Devin Kelley was apparently denied a gun license by the state of Texas. Evil, it seems, will overcome almost any barrier. I appreciate how Owen Strachan’s response to such evil.

We know this from the Word of God: evil has an expiration date. Jesus is going to return. He is going to judge the quick and the dead. Those in Christ will be privy to experiencing God’s design in full. Those apart from Christ will get their hearts longing with life eternal apart from GOD.

Our secular age speaks much of justice, in truth. But secular justice has no Christ. Specifically, it has no Christ-centered hope of eternity. It tells us that things are getting better, that we are making “progress,” that we can solve the world’s problems. We have to. We have to get it right, now! Though we can surely make gains in our society, we cannot heal our world. Only Christ can. Only Christ will. 

The Christian approach is decidedly different when it comes to the pain and suffering of this world. Since the believer trusts in a sovereign God who can turn any situation to their good and who can make someone more than triumphant in any adversity or other circumstance. Thus, our heart grows. We can love, forgive, be selfless because the death of the body is not the death of the soul.

Thanksgiving to God is to be given in adversity and prosperity, for no matter what happens all things work together for the believer’s good. To be thankful is a fruit of grace and is in contrast to the constant grumblings and ingratitude of a godless world. Look around. Our world is filled with blame and complain. The quick politicization of every tragedy will surely provide enough example. If all you have to live for is this life, then, of course, you get upset when something happens to mess all of that up.

Gratitude is subversive to the attitude of our day.  Gratitude is a sign of God’s Design. A Christian can be thankful because they have their eyes on eternity.

 

What motivates us to go forward is being thankful for the hope of eternity we are heading toward. Keep your eyes on eternity. Look where you are going.

Movements: The Reformation

The church has been growing for almost 2000 years and contemporary Christians would do well to learn from the men and women who have faithfully followed God throughout the centuries. One of the landmark moments in the history of the church is called the Protestant Reformation.

“Once a coin into the coffer clings, a soul from purgatory springs.” – Johann Tetzel

Today is the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. For those of you who are not quite sure what the Reformation is and why it is a big deal, I thought I would provide a quick overview. Though you may not be entirely familiar with the Reformation, it has deeply impacted the faith you practice.

Unknown-2Martin Luther was a Catholic monk and priest in the 16th century. A man named Johann Tetzel was selling indulgences in Martin Luther’s hometown of Wittenberg in order to raise capital for the rebuilding of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. Since AD 1215, pious Christians would build up a “treasury of merit” on which they could draw on, which would expedite their time in purgatory. An indulgence allowed a remission of temporal punishment due to sin. Indulgences could also be purchased for those who have been deceased. For baptism, according to the Catholic Church, washed away the guilt, but nothing removed the punishment.

During the Renaissance, with the resurgence of classical antiquity, Rome became adorned in splendor. Pope Julius II permitted the sale of indulgences in 1507 to raise money to build St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome and was renewed in 1513. Leo X later made a deal with the archbishop of Mainz, which corresponded to the selling of indulgences. If Archbishop Albert would agree to allow the sale of indulgences, Leo agreed to split the profits with him.

If you could pay then you could avoid spending a long time in purgatory. The fast track through purgatory aroused Luther’s ire. The church had lost the heart of the gospel—God offers salvation as a free gift. 

Luther posted 95 Theses to debate on the Castle Church door in Wittenburg on October 31, 1517.

When Luther circulates his 95 Theses, his thoughts were dangerously subversive ideas that posed challenges to the finances of the church as much as to its theology. Purgatory was never called into question in the 95 Theses; Luther’s challenge concerned the means by which one gets out of it as quickly as possible. Luther desired to rid the church of the flawed hierarchy. The cultural, political, and religious authority was flipped upon its head by Luther’s claims. The religious, social, and political turmoil which resulted from Luther’s actions set a precedent for future movements.

Pope Leo X finally addressed Luther on June 15, 1520, the conflict exploded giving birth to the Reformation. Leo issued the bull Exsurge Domine, (“Arise, O Lord”), which condemned Luther as a heretic. Many others such as Calvin, Zwingli, and Arminius followed in Luther’s footsteps and they were reawakened to the Scriptures and the Gospel. While their intentions were to reform the church, eventually core beliefs led to irreconcilable differences.

Here are some claims Luther made:

  • God’s love is not conditional upon transformation; rather, personal transformation follows divine acceptance and affirmation.
  • One’s relationship with God is made possible through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ and is through faith. There is no longer any need for intermediaries- for the intercession of Mary or the saints to procure salvation.
  • Scripture is inspired, authoritative, and sufficient for Christian doctrine and practice.

The Reformation was about moving toward the Gospel–God himself has come to rescue and renew all creation in and through the incarnation, crucifixion, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. We learn about God through the Scriptures.

Rescue and renewal are offered as a free gift from God, one that could not be earned either by works or money, but only by grace through faith in Christ.

While these beliefs seem profoundly individualistic, and they are, they also have deep communal implications for how Christians value one another and seek Jesus. For many, Luther’s claims seem obvious. However, Christians tend to slip back into old habits in which salvation is earned, rather than given; and where many Christians rely on pastors for their intake of Bible than reading the Scriptures for themselves. Let us not take these developments for granted.

To The Scaregrounds

Western culture has become very compartmentalized. We divide our lives into work time, leisure time, family time, church time, and mission or outreach time. In many ways, we seek the ever elusive balance which so many books, blogs, and teachers prescribe. Those of us who have sought balance have found it like trying to catch fog. Right when you think to can latch on to balance, it slips through your fingers.

I have come under the conviction that we only have one present life to live. We should live our present life in light of our eternal life. The attempt to maintain the false divide between life, work, family, and play brings exhaustion and anxiety all for the sake of balance. The divide and discontinuity have filtered into the church. People want a form of evangelism they can stick in their schedule, switch off, and leave behind when they go home. Jesus calls us to a lifestyle of love.

The realm of our spiritual community is divorced from our daily routine. Now, before I go any further, what I am not advocating for is a life where you should go to a “church event” every day. Rather, as the body of Christ, we bring the church into the world.

For many years the growing myth in evangelicalism that there is a difference between one’s spiritual life and one’s personal life. Many wonder why Millenials and Generation Z are charting a new course. They want a faith which affects all of life and not just a segment of it. In particular, this is why social justice issues have been thrust to the forefront of evangelical discussion (rightly so). They are willing to leave a faith or seek a new course charted through a worldview which deals systematically and totally. I think one of the main reasons is the awakening to the futility of the divided life and the freedom of a single-minded one.

Living one life in light of eternity has very real implications for seeing more people come to faith in Christ. Evangelism must regain prominence in our vocabulary and posture.

One challenge the divided, or even balanced life leads to: We want to spend more time in evangelism, but because this can happen only at the expense of something else. The result: it never happens. Church, evangelism, and even discipleship are seen as something additional that needs to be tacked on to life.

15 Pay careful attention, then, to how you live—not as unwise people but as wise— 16 making the most of the time, because the days are evil. – Ephesians 5:15-16

We want to build relationships with unbelievers, but often our lives are so fragmented there is little crossover between worlds.

The non-Christians in our lives need to be introduced to the network of relationships that make up that believing community so they can see Christian community in action. The Christian relationships in our lives need to be introduced to the relationships with non-Christians we have so that they can begin to awaken to the idea of life as mission–where life is lived from the overflow of what God is doing in your life.

Here’s a series of simple questions to measure your engagement with others:

  • How many meals did you eat last week?
  • How many meals did you eat with a non-Christian?
  • How many meals did you eat with Christians?

34 The Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ – Luke 7:34

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We need to be communities of love where honest friendship and kindness reign. We need to be seen as communities of love by those who do not subscribe to a Christian worldview. The lines need to be blurred so that regular people see how faith impacts all of life. People need to encounter the church as a network of relationships rather than a meeting you attend or a place you enter. Mission–the idea of partnering with God in what He is doing in the world–must involve not only contact between unbelievers and individual Christians but between unbelievers and the Christian community. I am convinced conversion will flow from communion with others in community.

Last Friday, I went with a few students and adults to the Clark County Scaregrounds. While it may not be profound or world-changing, it was one small step to allow faith lived out with Christian and non-Christian students.