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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The Alabama Election & Christian Witness

Mark Galli of Christianity Today wrote a solid commentary about Christian witness in light of today’s special election in Alabama. Albert Mohler also addresses the crisis of conscience. The biggest loser in the Alabama election is not Democrats or Republicans; it’s the Christian witness. Our Christian witness can be revived if we learn to suffer patiently in the public square. We would rather fight than suffer.

We all like a good story. A good story simulates our souls and evokes our emotions. 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. In our context, there are predominant false narratives which we consume that conflict with the narrative to which we as Christians submit. The Alabama Election brings one to the forefront.

The fight for the culture’s heart through political means has undermined the integrity of the explicit Christian witness. We choose to do what is right in our own eyes, “which results in moral, psychological, and social suffering unheard of in our history.” We fight for moral purity without the basic expectation of moral purity in our candidates.

One of the false narratives which pervade our culture is nationalism. If you do a quick Google search the initial results come back as 1) patriotic feeling, principles, or efforts, and 2) an extreme form of this, especially marked by a feeling of superiority over other countries.

I would also add that nationalism is further oriented towards developing and maintaining a national identity based on shared characteristics such as culture, language, race, religion, political goals or a belief in a common ancestry. Who are we as a country? The answer isn’t quite so clear-cut as one would hope.

On the surface level, loving one’s country is not a bad thing. God has ordained nations. However, whenever a good thing becomes a God thing the result is idolatry. While some would disagree that nationalism is a false narrative, and would even directly challenge my ensuing conclusion, the fight for the heart of American culture resides in one’s own view of morality. Moreover, if the only way to display the gospel is through political means, then one has bought into the lie of the false narrative. Further, if one’s perspective of the nation is elevated above the implications of the gospel, then lie is present there as well. Because of the United States history, trying to separate politics from faith is like trying to unravel Christmas lights. It’s time consuming, meticulous, and if only it had been done right initially. Knowing what should have been done does not alleviate the current situation of knotted Christmas lights–or better messy politics.

Like many of us choose to do, we would rather buy a new set of lights than deal with the mess. We attempt to do the same with politics. We would rather purchase a new nation through political aims than take the time to unravel and use what we have. It is an indictment against us all because we believe a lie shapes us all.

Whether you are on the right or left, chances are the purity of nation will make the world a better place. Here is the lie. One’s definition of pure usually involves thinking and acting exactly as you would. Self is at the center of pure. If only people would do this, we say, then the problem would be solved. In the end, the clamor is for uniformity in action and perspective.

The political right views purity of nation through one lens, while the political left views purity of nation through another. Regardless, the expectation is the same: a uniform identity. The identity proposed is usually divorced from any real conversation about real differences. The very plea for purity undermines the shared national identity of our history.

As Galli notes in his article, “The problem with many Christian conservatives is this: They believe they can help the country become godly again by electing people whose godliness is seriously questioned by the very people they want to influence.”

I would not limit the problem to Christian conservatives. The problem with many Christian liberals is this: They believe they can help the country improve by electing people whose moral superiority is seriously questioned by the very people they want to influence.

Because the United States has always been a melting pot of culture, language, race, religion, political goals, and common ancestry, one of our greatest values is love for the story others bring to the table. In order to do this, our conversation and our politics must be steeped in humility and moral accountability. As a Christian, fear cannot rule my politics; it displays the love of self. As a Christian, cultural congruency cannot rule my politics; it displays the love of self. The Christian faith has never been about fighting for something but serving and suffering the Savior the who modeled it for us. The Christian witness will be revived when love neighbor testifies to the love of God.

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.

Making Jesus Known

Yesterday I had the privilege to preach at The Branch again. View the sermon here. I will have a few more opportunities before the end of the year. We continued our series “Jesus is_______.” The idea from the series comes from Judah Smith’s book Jesus Is______. However, the burden for the series arises out of the mission of The Branch Church. Many people in the Pacific Northwest are uninformed, misinformed, or under-informed about who Jesus is. Therefore, the Branch has a singular mission which affects everything it does. Dave and Lori Vigna have done a wonderful job of keeping this mission front and center.

Know Jesus. Make Him Known.

We need to have an accurate depiction of Jesus. The Jesus we imagine will be the Jesus we follow. The type of Jesus we imagine or characterize a lot about how we feel and then subsequently act in light of our belief about who Jesus is.

How do you picture Jesus? Jesus uses various titles to describe himself in the Gospels, one of the most referred to titles is the “Son of Man.” It is a way in which Jesus testifies that He is the long-awaited Messiah. How would you complete the following sentence: ‘The Son of Man came…’?

There are three ways that the New Testament completes that sentence; while the first two are well known (and might have come to your mind), the third is usually surprising:

  • The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many (Mark 10:45).
  • The Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost (Luke 19:10).
  • The Son of Man came eating and drinking (Luke 7:34).

While the first two oft-quoted verses tell us about Jesus’ purpose in coming–to serve, to give his life as a ransom, to seek and save the lost–the third describes his method. If you flipped through the pages of the Bible and made some basic observations, there are a couple things I think you will notice about Jesus: 1) He is always being invited to parties. 2) He is always at a feast or eating a meal with someone. 3) Complete strangers are coming up to him, both to make audacious requests and to simply be near him.  4) Jesus was always with people. 5) He was always celebrating—at parties, at festivals, at holidays even with the cross coming at the end of his life.

Unknown-1I am convinced some of us have a false view of Jesus. We think of Jesus as some stern old guy looking at everyone in disapproval.  We think Jesus and fun are fundamentally opposed, that God is a cosmic party pooper. Nothing could be further from the truth. That is a better picture of the Pharisees. Those far from God hated the Pharisees, but they absolutely loved Jesus. God invented happiness. He came up with the concept of humor. He created our ability to have fun. He built a beautiful world and gave us five senses to enjoy it.

Jesus is Happy. Jesus smiles. Jesus laughed. Jesus made jokes. Even think about your own experiences. You enjoy a good party. You enjoy friends and laughter. A defining theological principle throughout Scripture is that people are made in the image of God. Therefore, I think God has the best sense of humor and ultimately Jesus was one of the happiest people in the purest sense.

In talking about Jesus, Hebrews 1:9 says, “he was anointed with the oil of gladness above his companions.”

Jesus Is Happy.

That may be a controversial statement for some. Before I go too much farther, let me make another statement. I believe God wants us to be happy.

But here is the thing, being happy, or better, happiness is a fickle thing. In our culture today, happiness has been co-opted in a myriad of ways. Happiness is not an absence of conflict, nor of ultimate comfort. Happiness is not found, rather it is grown.

The pursuit of happiness is like trying to grab smoke. Happiness is like a mirage that we think we see as real, but as soon as we get close it disappears. People attempt to find happiness in status, individual satisfaction, security, and even in the search for self. Happiness makes a great emotion but a terrible master.

The outward display of happiness comes and goes like seasons. I liken the emotion of happiness to a plant. Let’s face it, sometimes we just do not feel happy, nor should we be. God has given us plenty of other valid emotions. Happiness is the fruit or flower of a plant, while internal joy is the root. Happiness is a fleeting emotion, which comes and goes with the circumstances of our life. Joy is rooted internally planted by the seed of salvation.

Therefore, if we want the genuine outward display of happiness to be Christ-like, then we have to cultivate the deep roots of joy. We should not chase after happiness. We should chase after Jesus.

I love how excited Jesus gets when the 72 return in Luke 10:17-24, even though Jesus has set his face towards Jerusalem, knowing he is heading there to die. I think it is one of Jesus’s happiest moments.

The seventy-two returned with joy and said, “Lord, even the demons submit to us in your name.”

He replied, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. I have given you authority to trample on snakes and scorpions and to overcome all the power of the enemy; nothing will harm you (I think Jesus is making fun of Satan). However, do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.”

At that time Jesus, full of joy through the Holy Spirit, said, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. Yes, Father, for this is what you were pleased to do.

“All things have been committed to me by my Father. No one knows who the Son is except the Father, and no one knows who the Father is except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.”

Then he turned to his disciples and said privately, “Blessed are the eyes that see what you see. For I tell you that many prophets and kings wanted to see what you see but did not see it, and to hear what you hear but did not hear it.”

Joy is rooted in eternity. Happiness is a natural result of knowing God and of experiencing his love. We are created by God and for God and we are restless wanderers until we find ourselves in God. Which means, we are happiest when we are joining God in what He is doing.

Trevin Wax in This is Our Time addresses the idea of happiness in light of following Jesus. Many movies allure us into thinking happiness is found when we follow our hearts.

Following Jesus in an era when everyone is following their hearts is difficult, partly because we think we must choose between two options: be authentic and true to yourself, or conform to society’s constraints.

Christianity says, “No thanks” to both. In response to people who believe we should be “authentic” above all else. we say: You don’t know yourself well enough to grasp your deepest desires, and even if you did, your desires are often wrong. We need deliverance from many of our deepest instincts, not the celebration of them.

In response to people who believe we should keep the rules and conform, we say: Salvation does not come through a checklist of rules, as if by willpower we can manage our sin. The gospel frees us from the burden of the law.

Christianity says something different altogether, combining authenticity and conformity in a most creative way.

To be authentic, as a Christian, means I am to be true to the person Christ has named me, not the person I think I am inside. I am to live according to what God says I am–His redeemed child, a person remade in the image of Christ–and I now act in line with that identity. As a Christian, saved by grace through faith, I am not authentic when I sin. I’m sinning against my newfound identity. I am being inauthentic when I choose to disobey God, when I give in to temptation. I’m rejecting the identity God has spoken over me. Tru authenticity is not accepting my own self-expression but accepting the self-expression of God through Jesus Christ.

To be a conformist, as a Christian, means we are seeking to have our minds renewed and our lives transformed. We want to be conformed into the image of Christ. But this conformity means we look like rebels to the rest of the world. The true rebellion is in the heart of the Christian who follows Jesus by swimming upstream against the currents of the world. That means, when everyone else is following their hearts, we will follow Jesus.

The disciples joined Jesus on the journey of eternity. When our story is shaped by God’s story as believers we are to be marked with joy and exude happiness. We should be people of celebration, who really love life! Christians should be the most fun people to be around. We get to live forever!

Eternal life does not start at death; eternal life starts the moment of your conversion. People should look at the church and say “I don’t know if I believe what they believe, but man, they have a good time!”

Jesus was happy and we should be too.

 

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.