Saturday, December 22, 2007

God with Us

During a census driven by greed, in a town to which His parents had no choice about going, after a journey made laborious by labor pains, in an anonymous stable, in a trough nosed by beasts, Jesus was born. When necessities infringe on us, when unfair circumstances direct our paths instead of signs from God, when hardship and strain attend us instead of angels, it is tempting to think God is not with us. Yet, it is precisely in situations such as these that we find Immanuel, “God with us” (Matt. 1:23). We may hear testimonies from those blessed by heavenly signs (such as the wise men), or by the company of angels (such as the shepherds), but these should not be occasions for bitterness or grumbling against the Lord. For, like Mary, we have carried the Son of God within. We have freedom in Him even when we have no choice (2 Tim. 2:9). The presence of New Life gives us rest even when the world won’t give us a room for the night. He is the one to whom all signs lead, of whom all angels sing. We are of the same family as the King of Kings (Heb. 2:11). In tribulation, distress, persecution, famine, or nakedness, God is with us; “neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 8:35-39).

Saturday, October 06, 2007

True Christianity

True Christianity…where can it be found? This is a question that concerns every believer, for everyone wants to experience Christ in the most authentic way possible. Among Christians, there are many recipes for authentic Christianity, and each person’s choice of church or denomination probably reflects their convictions about what ingredients are essential to faith in Christ. Some hold that true Christianity is the most traditional, while others follow the current move of God. Some say true Christianity is found where the miracles are happening, while others say it is where they are not happening. Some put stock in rituals, some do not. Some say we should meet in church buildings, some in houses. There are proponents of contemporary, pop-style worship, and proponents of choral worship. Prosperity is preached by some, poverty by others. Variations of belief and practice are manifold. These days, true Christianity may come dressed in shorts and a t-shirt, or wearing a suit and tie.

In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul prayed “that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith” (Eph. 3:17). True Christianity, according to Paul, is found in the heart, where Christ dwells through faith, not in the outward appearances faith may take. When questioned about differences between Himself and John the Baptist, Jesus replied, “Wisdom is proved right by all her children” (Luke 7:25). In other words, being a child of God is not a matter of religious practice. Likewise, when discussing differences between Samaritan and Jewish worship, Jesus said, “[A] time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks” (John 4:23). Again, true worship of God is not a matter of “how” or “where” but Whom.

In light of these things, perhaps the question needs to be framed in another way all together. Does God want us all to conform to one “true Christianity,” or is He more concerned that our Christianity be true, regardless of what persuasion it is? Whatever convictions each of us have about tradition, miracles, rituals, worship, doctrine, and a thousand other things, it is possible to pursue our convictions with hearts full of faith, and to live our lives before God in spirit and truth.

The recipe, then, for true Christianity is, “And whatever you do, whether in word or in deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” (Col. 3:17). We cannot say the kingdom of God is here or there, in one outward expression of faith or another, “because the kingdom of God is within you” (Luke 17:20, 21). If we live by faith, Christ will dwell in our hearts, and where He is, true Christianity is.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Asking the Hard Questions

Disappointment with the church is something I regularly hear expressed by non-Christians and Christians alike. This is to be expected from non-Christians, and from Christians too, although it is hard to find out that we think so much like the world. Often, though Christians and non-Christians come from different perspectives, their conclusion is the same: somehow, the church was not what it claimed to be. Somehow, the church let them down, and they don’t want to be a part of it.
I do not deny that the church, being comprised of flawed individuals, has tectonic faults. The wealth of prophecy in the Bible not only confirms this but shows that the church’s biggest critic has always been God. However insightful we are when it comes to the church’s shortcomings, it has all been said before. The difference is that God doesn’t have the luxury of leaving. He made vows, vows in His own blood, to love and to cherish those He has called.
Ephesians 5:25 says, “Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word.” This is what the church needs. Unless the Lord continues to love her and give Himself up for her, she will never be what she is called to be. And how does the Head carry on this ministry to His body? How does my head care for my body? Through its members. Church, then, is a context in which the Lord can love His bride and give Himself up for her through individual members. “From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work” (Eph. 4:16).
Unfortunately, many Christians do not view injury as an opportunity to love and give themselves up for the church in the image of Jesus. Instead of suffering wrong, instead of letting death work in us that life may work in others, we come feeling entitled to a good experience and are offended if things don’t turn out (1 Cor. 6:7, 8; 2 Cor. 4:12). But are we above our Master who was crucified by His own people? Have we not understood Stephen’s speech in Acts 7? Jesus’s death crowned a history of God’s people persecuting their own—Joseph sold into slavery by his brothers, Moses rejected by those he was sent to deliver, and many others that Stephen doesn’t mention. If we took these things to heart, the things we suffer would not only make more sense but would have value (1 Peter 4:12).
Let’s take responsibility. It is our illusions of the church, and not the church itself, that have actually failed us. Perhaps…but this level of honesty is hard to come by. As victims, we are granted immunity from the hard questions, especially when it comes to asking the hard questions of ourselves. After all, we were injured, how could any fault lie with us? But we must ask ourselves the hard questions, and move from only receiving God’s love to being His love poured out for others.

“And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves
but for him who died for them and was raised again” (2 Corinthians 5:15).

Saturday, June 02, 2007

Household Jesus

Ephesians chapter one confronts us with One who existed before creation, who encompasses every spiritual blessing, in whom God consummated all times, places, and realms. When considering such a cosmic Christ, it is tempting to wonder how relevant He is to our daily lives. But the real question is: How relevant are we to God? That Christ is the beginning and end must deeply affect us. God will never be relevant to us until we realize that there is no relevance outside of Him.

As Paul shares, he seems to run out of breath. No words in any language can encompass the One He has seen by revelation. Is our own vision of Christ so breathtaking? Or are we more interested in a small Jesus that mostly helps us live our own lives but doesn’t take us captive to His vision and purpose? The Old Testament speaks of “household gods,” idols set up in a small shrine in the home. If one wished to rearrange the furniture or move to another house, the gods could be picked up and placed where one wished. They were at the disposal of the family who owned them, and their purpose was to ensure the health and prosperity of the household. This is probably the sort of Jesus many want and have—a Jesus that stays in His place, that we can take wherever we wish, whose purpose centers on us and our desires. Whatever can be said about this household Jesus, we cannot say it is the Jesus of the New Testament. For the Jesus of the New Testament—the One who is before all things, in whom all things hold together—says, “Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool. Where is the house you will build for me?” (Col. 1:17; Isaiah 66:1, 2). Anyone who has encountered Christ as He is understands they will occupy a place in His house, that He is free to pick them up and take them wherever He wishes, that their life exists for His purpose and desires.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Old Acquaintance Be Forgot

Imagine a new year’s celebration like this—

At midnight, there are no champagne corks popping, no noisemakers buzzing, no streamers or confetti flying. The neon orange ball does not descend in New York, no games are played, no half empty dishes of nuts or Chex-mix litter the tables. By and by, voices are heard all around. But instead of cat-calls and cheers, loud wailing clutches the air (Ex. 12:30).

The first Jewish new year was something like this. Exodus 12 begins with God telling Moses, “This month shall be for you the beginning of months” (Ex. 12:2). Following this, the Lord describes Passover: “Tell all the congregation of Israel that on the tenth day of this month they shall take every man a lamb according to their father’s houses, a lamb for a household” (Ex. 12:3). The lamb, of course, was to be sacrificed, it’s blood put on the doorframe of each house, so that God would pass over the house and spare those inside (Ex. 12:6, 7, 12, 13).

The beginning of the Hebrew year, then, was not determined by cycles of the sun or moon, by sowing and reaping, or by any other thing in nature. It began with the lamb who was slain (Rev. 5:6). At the stroke of midnight, the old had gone, the new had come (Ex. 12:29).

And yet the lamb was much more than the beginning of the year. Through the death of the lamb, God brought a new nation into existence, a people called to be His unique possession out of all peoples (Ex. 19:5, 6). Their history no longer belonged to or began with Egypt where they were slaves. Their beginning was the death of the lamb, by which they were brought out from among the Egyptians who said, “We are all dead men” (Ex. 12:33).

But the nation birthed through the Passover was not comprised of only Hebrews. Scripture describes it as “a mixed multitude” of Hebrews and non-Hebrews (Ex. 12:38). They were not a people because of common ethnicity but because they had believed God’s word and sought refuge in the blood of the lamb (Rev. 7:9, 10).

The Hebrew word for “beginning” is more literally rendered “head.” It can refer to a person’s physical head or to the ruler of a group. Exodus 12:2 could read, “This month shall be for you the head….” The people whom God passed over had a new ruler. They no longer suffered under the tyranny and oppression of Egypt’s Pharaoh. They were now under the headship of God and of the lamb, whose death purchased their freedom (Rev. 5:9).

We too have a Lamb according to our Father’s house—Jesus Christ (John 1:29). Paul says, “He is the beginning, the First-born from the dead, that in everything he might be pre-eminent” (Col. 1:18). When Christ was raised from the dead, we were all raised with Him and became “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, that you may declare the wonderful deeds of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9). We no longer find our history or beginning in this world. The Lamb of God has given us a new beginning in Him.

What was brought forth through the cross, what we now are, is of God (1 John 4:4). We are neither Jew nor Greek, nor are we defined by any other worldly designation. We are one New Man in Christ, sons of God because we have believed the truth, the gospel of our salvation (Gal. 3:28; Eph. 1:13, 2:14, 15).

Ephesians tells us that “the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its savior” (Eph. 5:23). Our Head nourishes and cherishes us as His wife—bone of His bone and flesh of His flesh (Eph. 5:29; Gen. 2:23). He does not lord over us to our hurt, or demand more and more of us like Pharaoh and his slave drivers (Eccl. 8:9; Ex. 5:9). For “Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish” (Eph. 5:25-27).

As this new year begins, I pray the Lord will deepen our experience of His Son. Newness of life is not only for those recently saved. We are to continually know Christ in the power of His resurrection, in His suffering, and in His death (Php. 3:10). Christ, our Passover lamb has been sacrificed and says to His beloved people, “I am making everything new!” (1 Cor. 5:7; Rev. 21:5).

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!”
(2 Cor. 5:17).