Posts Tagged ‘the gospel message’

Numbers 9:1-14 (Part 5)

The Second Passover

I recently read an article, Lesbian Bishop Wants to Remove Church Crosses So Muslims ‘Won’t Be Offended’, at www.christianpost.com. The idea behind the removal of the crosses in the seaport area where this bishop presides was so as to not offend the multicultural seafarers that enter the port city of Freeport. This is what Christianity has become – a female gay bishop proclaiming that we should not offend people of other faiths with symbols of our faith. There was once a song by Aaron Tippin back in the whose lyrics included the words, “if you don’t stand for something, you will fall for anything!” Never have these words been more true when a leader in the Christian church suggests that we water down our faith to the point that we no longer hold that the symbol of our faith, the cross, as a non-negotiable aspect of who we are. This bishop defended her position by saying we will not negotiate the tenets of our faith but just the symbols of the faith. From the mere presence of this bishop in the position that she is in makes it appear that we have already begun negotiating the faith away to suit the world’s desires. The mere existence of this woman in her position and with her characteristics means that we have negotiated away certain aspects of the faith that are offensive to those who desire to be a part of the faith. When we begin negotiating away the symbol of the cross. It is just another watering down of the nature of Christianity. In twenty centuries, we have become a religion and not a faith. We have gone from being willing to die for our faith twenty centuries ago to not wanting to offend anyone with our faith.

 

If we have already ripped out certain parts of the Bible to accommodate this bishop, why then not tear down the crosses! Why not say that Jesus is no longer the only way to the Father. Just rip those words of Jesus, right out the Bible. It’s all negotiable! Jesus being the only way to God is offensive in the multi-variant world in which we live. That other people who have belief in something other than Jesus are doomed to hell is offensive and, well, it takes the pressure off too. If all roads lead to heaven, we as Christians do not have then the desperate need to evangelize not only the non-believer but the believers of all the other religions of the world. That’s too much work! Let’s just say it’s OK that if you believe in something other than Jesus you will get to heaven. If it God’s Word is timeless and eternal then why are we negotiating away the faith in ways that make us more palatable to the culture around us. Have we become so enamored with our culture that we have watered down our faith to make it acceptable to the culture. What would our Christian forefathers think? They died because they would not deny Christ for the culture. They willingly gave up their freedom or even their life rather than denounce or turn their back on Jesus Christ. And now it has come to the point that we suggest taking down the crosses from our churches in coastal Sweden so as not offend. We are so afraid that we might have be house churches again, sneaking from one place to the next to share the gospel, so afraid that we might be underground once again that we are stripping our faith of that which makes it our faith.

 

The fact that the gospel by its very nature is offensive to the world culture, regardless of time period, and how we have forgotten that in today’s world is what the Holy Spirit put on my heart this morning when I read through this passage one final time before we move on to the next. Let’s read through the passage, Numbers 9:1-14, for the fifth and final time this morning and for this morning, let’s concentrate on vv. 13-14 today:

 

 

9 The Lord spoke to Moses in the Desert of Sinai in the first month of the second year after they came out of Egypt. He said, 2 “Have the Israelites celebrate the Passover at the appointed time. 3 Celebrate it at the appointed time, at twilight on the fourteenth day of this month, in accordance with all its rules and regulations.”

 

4 So Moses told the Israelites to celebrate the Passover, 5 and they did so in the Desert of Sinai at twilight on the fourteenth day of the first month. The Israelites did everything just as the Lord commanded Moses.

 

6 But some of them could not celebrate the Passover on that day because they were ceremonially unclean on account of a dead body. So they came to Moses and Aaron that same day 7 and said to Moses, “We have become unclean because of a dead body, but why should we be kept from presenting the Lord’s offering with the other Israelites at the appointed time?”

 

8 Moses answered them, “Wait until I find out what the Lord commands concerning you.”

 

9 Then the Lord said to Moses, 10 “Tell the Israelites: ‘When any of you or your descendants are unclean because of a dead body or are away on a journey, they are still to celebrate the Lord’s Passover, 11 but they are to do it on the fourteenth day of the second month at twilight. They are to eat the lamb, together with unleavened bread and bitter herbs. 12 They must not leave any of it till morning or break any of its bones. When they celebrate the Passover, they must follow all the regulations. 13 But if anyone who is ceremonially clean and not on a journey fails to celebrate the Passover, they must be cut off from their people for not presenting the Lord’s offering at the appointed time. They will bear the consequences of their sin.

 

14 “‘A foreigner residing among you is also to celebrate the Lord’s Passover in accordance with its rules and regulations. You must have the same regulations for both the foreigner and the native-born.’”

 

Here, in this passage, God, first, says that His own people would suffer judgment for not obeying His command for the Passover rites. He also said that foreigners living among the Israelites must follow the same prescribed regulations. This principle designed for foreigners was not to beat them over the head with the ways of God’s own people but it meant that if you wanted to be a part of God’s people there were non-negotiables of the faith. In the same way, we should not cover up or water down our beliefs as Christians in today’s world to make our message more palatable to the world around us.

 

As we compromise our faith, we lose it wondrous offensiveness and we lose its unfathomable urgency. The gospel is offensive because it is hard on sin. We think, “The gospel is really offensive. It could be better received if we weren’t so hard on sin.” The trouble with this is when we pull on that string we unravel the whole thing! Think about it, what is at the heart of the offense of the gospel? It was Paul that said the gospel is folly to those who do not believe in Jesus Christ as the one and only Son of God (1 Corinthians 1:18) and He said that almost 2,000 years ago.

 

What is the folly? What is the foolishness? It is the cross. So, if in effort to remove the offense we would unwittingly remove the substance! There are sharp edges to this gospel. There is blood, death, wrath, sin, greed, and anger. You can’t sand that down without losing it all. Paul continued to preach Christ and him crucified (even though he knew it was perceived as folly) precisely because he knew that this same (foolish) gospel was also the saving gospel. It is the offensive nature of the gospel that we cannot be good enough and we cannot negotiate away our sins by doing more good than bad. We are screwed! We are damned before God because of our first sin much less all the others that we commit. That’s offensive. We cannot fix it ourselves. We cannot do enough good! That’s offensive. We need intervention from one person and only one person, Jesus Christ. That’s offensive.

 

That we cannot offset our sin nature by good works and by self-improvement and self-actualization is offensive. That we cannot negotiate this sin away because the culture says it is OK and acceptable is offensive. That there is only one way to fix it is offensive. That there are not multiple ways to fix it is offensive. Jesus says we are sinners all of us! But he offers us reconciliation to Father through Him and Him alone. This is a huge point. If we think of the gospel and our mission in the world as Jesus coming to bring us the birthday present for our moral awesomeness then it is not the gospel. It is by grace that we are saved. Grace is a gift. Salvation is from sin, Satan, and death. Anybody can pat us on the back for doing good but it is only Jesus Christ than can save us from our sins.

 

When we water down the gospel to the point that we take the cross down off a church then we have ceased to be the church. We are a culture club of self-improvement. When we become a culturally palatable self-improvement club, we eliminate the very offensive core of the gospel and the very high burden that we have as Christians.

 

The offensive core of the gospel is that we are all sinners in the eyes of God and that we have not hope on our own. We have only one hope and that is to believe that Jesus Christ was the Son of God who came to die for sins in our place and take the punishment that we deserve for our sins. And that it is through His resurrection that we have eternal victory over our sins and can exist in the presence of God forever through Him and Him alone. The fact that only Jesus can save us always places a high burden on us to take the offensive message to everyone we know and do so in love. It is urgent that we share that there is only one way and it is urgent that we do so in a loving way because it is not because we are superior that we share this message. We are the condemned who have been set free. We are the sin alcoholics talking to other sin alcholics and teaching them about the one and only way we got sober. We are the beggars telling other beggars where we found food.

 

When we water down the gospel, when we negotiate away the faith to make our faith more palatable to the world that does not wish to see itself as sinners, when we start editing God’s Word to meet the needs of the culture, we lose it all. We lose our message. We have no message. We have no mission. We have no church.

 

Amen and Amen.

Matthew 10:1-4
These Guys Changed the World? Part 10 (Thaddeus)

Thaddeus (also referred to as Saint Jude in the Catholic church) is believed to have been the nickname or surname of Judas. There is some confusion as to whether Thaddeus was the brother or son of James but it is known that they were related. Thaddeus was not a leader of the twelve disciples and he is not mentioned often throughout The Bible. He is believed to have brought the gospel message of Jesus Christ to Armenia and it is believed that he was martyred there while evangelizing. Although there is no general consensus among Christian scholars and researchers, there are a number of scholars who believe it is Thaddeus, equally well-known as Jude, who wrote the next to last book of the New Testament, the Book of Jude. I think that the lack of valid evidence otherwise would lead us to believe that Jude (Thaddeus) was the author of this book. Therefore, his book gives us a look at this apostle who helped change the world.

The book of Jude is a General Epistle (Apostolic Letter). The author is Jude the brother of James, both of who are half-brothers of Jesus Christ. Jude wrote it circa 75 A.D. The purpose of this book is to address false teachings and to illustrate a contrast between the error of heresy and the truth of Jesus Christ. Jude consists of only one chapter.

• In verses 1- 16, Jude identifies himself and quickly delves into the dilemma of false teachings. “For certain persons have crept in unnoticed” (vs. 4), heresy was obviously seeping into the region, disturbing the churches, and deceiving believers. He begins by illustrating similarities between false teachers and condemned individuals from the Old Testament citing Cain, Balaam, and Korah.

• Verses 17-25, Jude urges Christians to “remember the words that were spoken beforehand by the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ” (vs. 17). He was referring to all of the apostles and disciples in the past, which had warned about false teachers and prophets that were coming to deceive. His advice is to focus on Jesus Christ and to watch out for each other so that no one is misled into error.

• Those who place their faith and trust in Jesus Christ are secure in salvation, not by their own good deeds, because no one is good enough to do that, but believers are secure by the vicarious work of Jesus Christ on the Cross. It is only by, “Him who is able to keep you from stumbling, and to make you stand in the presence of His glory blameless with great joy, to the only God our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.” (vs. 24-25).

From the Apostle Jude, we must answer the question that we have asked throughout this series of blogs (What can we learn from him?). I think that there are several things. First, we learn from the man himself that we do not have to be well-known to know and preach the gospel. Second, we learn from the book some attribute to him that we must understand our faith and not be led astray by false teaching. In the end, the conclusion that we draw is that Jude teaches us to focus on Jesus. It’s the message that matters!

The first thing that we see from Jude is that he was a man that was passionate enough about the gospel to go be a missionary in Armenia. He was not the flashiest of the apostles. He is not the most popular of the apostles. He was just a guy who came to an understanding of what Jesus meant and what Jesus taught and took it to heart. He was a worker in the harvest. He did not gain wide acclaim as some of the other apostles. He just did the work of the kingdom. In that, we see what we can learn. Let us check our motives for our service to the gospel message. Are we doing this to get people to pat us on the back? Are we doing this so we can see how many followers we can gather? Or are we doing this to give glory to Jesus Christ? The message must be the most important thing. We must be willing to sacrifice our ego-driven needs for self-affirmation and make the message the thing! We must make Jesus Christ the star of the show not ourselves. When I think of Jude, I compare some of the more famous evangelists of our day today and those evangelists who lead their flocks in relative obscurity on the grand scale. My kind of rule of thumb on what the motives are is when you think of an evangelist today even on the local and regional level, do you see their face plastered all over their church’s or organization’s website or is it hard to tell who is evangelist is when you look at their website. To me, that leads the question, who is more humble. If an evangelist feels the need to have their face everywhere on their website and materials, who are we trying to promote here? Is it the evangelist or the message? At my church, there is no more tireless an evangelist than my senior pastor, Pastor Jeff Hickman. But nowhere will you see his face plastered all over our website or church materials. Jeff is a tireless worker in the field and the message is the thing with him. He has often told me that if it came down to it about the survival of LifeSong Church as the church that spreads the gospel in our community in a real and tangible way, he would walk away from it, if it meant the message would live on. We could say the same thing about Christian authors. If you are writing Christian books to make a name for yourself and so you will have a private jet and a big fine mansion for yourself and your family members, what is your message really about? We need workers who care about the message more than they care about their name. Jude shows us that even if thousands of years later people are not even sure who you were that is the message that matters not our fame. May we have more Judes in our midst in today’s world where Jesus is needed more than ever.

The final thing is that Jude understood the message and it pairs up with the relative anonymity of his life. He warns in his epistle against false teaching. Those who twist the gospel into something that it is not. He reminds us to keep the message clear about who we are as sinners in the eyes of God and what Jesus means to us. It is only through Jesus that we come blameless before the Lord. We cannot do enough good deeds to make the cut. We cannot be good enough. We are humbled by this fact. No matter how we try to be good Christians and live a certain way, we are all utter failures at it and we must rely totally on the grace that Jesus Christ gave us at the cross. False teachings will take it more than that. Somehow false teachings will twist the message into either following a person, doing certain deeds, and saying the right things, hanging with the right people. But it is all meaningless because we are fallen sinners. One sin does us in. And we are sinners to the core. Jude gets it. He expresses it in that we only have Jesus to rely on not ourselves. We are up the creek without a paddle without Jesus. His message is to keep our focus on Jesus as laypeople and as preachers. Anything different from that is heresy. We must keep our eyes on Jesus and his message. We must keep our eyes on the cross. The cross is what redeems us not our actions. The cross makes us clean. The cross gives us new life. In that, it humbles us. When we get that message and know our destiny outside of Jesus at the cross, we are laid low. We become humble. We are utterly thankful for the cross. We serve because of what Jesus did at the cross. We overflow with joy because of the cross. We carry the message of the cross out of the overflow. When we get it like Jude does, we do not care about our name in lights. We care about the message. We spread it. We defend it. We love it. We get it. It is the message that matters.

Amen and Amen.

Luke 9:46-48 — Back when I was a junior in high school, I had US History with Mrs. Moseley. Early in the year, I mean within the first week, she quickly realized that I was a talker. I was always talking with my friends during class. Having conversations totally unrelated to the subject at hand. Sometimes having conversations that I did not want the teacher to hear. It was a daily thing for about the first week and half of school that year. It was a class where everyone in my circle of friends was in that class. I was, an still am, a class clown. So, imagine, me with an audience of friends. Something had to give. Mrs. Moseley made an example out of me. Not just for a couple of days but for the rest of the school year. She called me out. She made me move my student desk right up beside her desk at the front of the room. That is where I sat for the rest of the year in US History. She called me out for being distracting to the purpose of her class. As the school year went on, I became a favorite of Mrs. Moseley because of my natural wit and charm and because I really did enjoy learning. But early in the year, she let me know who was boss and she let me know what the most important thing was – US History. Not who was seeing who, not about who you were going to the ball game with Friday night. US History was the thing!

This illustration came to mind when reading through this passage. Jesus was the teacher. He was the headmaster of the class. He could hear this bubbling conversation going on behind Him. He knew their thoughts. He could have ignored it and just chuckled at the silliness of such a conversation. It certainly had nothing to do with the mission of Jesus. It was like a couple of guys in the back of the classroom arguing over who is more popular. No, I am more popular than you. No, you are not as popular as me! Jesus stopped the journey right there in its tracks. Jesus stopped the class and called out the disciples. This awkward moment reminds me of that moment when Mrs. Moseley had reached her limit with my distractions and called me and told me to physically bring my desk to the front of the room. Awwwwkkkkkkwaaard!

The disciples were jockeying for position with one another as to who was going to be Jesus’ right hand man. They were trying to establish the pecking order within the group. It kind of reminds you of some of the traditional old churches out there. Some churches are like this. Oh you have only been at our church for 6 months. You cannot hold that position. I have been here for 60 years and my family has been here for 6 generations. I have higher rank around here than you. I have been a Christ follower for 50 years but you have only been a Christ follower for 5 weeks. How dare you think of serving in this position? I have a higher rank around here than you. Have you ever been to a church like that? Pecking orders make Christianity about performance and about seniority. Sure, there is wisdom that comes with being a true Christ follower for 50 years vs. 5 weeks, but when you boil it down the true 50 year guy knows that there is really no difference between him and the Christ follower of five weeks – both are forgiven sinners. Pecking orders are man-made things to fulfill that need in us that wants to be better than others. We want there to be segregators among people. That way I can stand above you like I want to. These disciples are so like us. They wanted there to be a pecking order in Jesus coming kingdom. Jesus calls them out! That awkward moment!

Then He brought a little child to His side. Then, He said to them, “Anyone who welcomes a little child like this on my behalf welcomes me and anyone who welcomes me also welcomes my Father who sent me. Whoever is the least among you is the greatest.” Wow! Could you imagine being one of the disciples at the moment. Jesus just basically told you that you had it all wrong. He just said all that you guys were just talking about has nothing, absolutely nothing, to do with the mission of Jesus and the Kingdom of God. Welcoming the little children was Jesus’ both literal and metaphorical lesson here. It is our job to welcome the little children, those that are new in the faith, to our family of believers. We are to celebrate new life. We are to celebrate new believers. We are to seek out those who do not know the gospel and tell them of Jesus so that they can accept or reject it. When they accept their need for Jesus and for the forgiveness that He offers, we welcome them into the family. We celebrate that. We live for that. That is the point of the mission. It is not who is the greatest in Jesus’ leadership structure. It is the winning of souls for the kingdom that matters. It is welcoming those that have the least to offer, new believers, as if they have been given the most (which they have). The gift of salvation makes us all just a like. We are all forgiven sinners whether you have been a saint for 5 minutes or 50 years.

Just as Mrs. Moseley made sure that I knew what the point of our getting together 5 days a week during 5th period in her classroom was all about…US History, Jesus is taking this moment to teach His disciples and to teach us that the point of what we are doing is about reaching and saving of lost souls with the gospel message. It is not about how I rank vs. how you rank. It is not about buildings and structures. It is not whether my church has a family life building (in non-Christian speak, that means gym) and yours does not. It is not about whether you are a trustee and I am not. It is not about me being in a position and you not. It is not about any of that stuff. Like the lady on the GEICO commercial says, “That’s not how this works! That’s not how any of this stuff works!”, that’s what Jesus is saying to His disciples and to us. Let us remember why we are here. We are here for what is going on out there not what’s going on in here. Church is about what’s outside the building not what goes on in it.

Father, help me to not get caught up in popularity contests at church. Help me to see the point of being in the collective of believers is so that we are enriched and fueled to be sent out into the world to make Jesus’ name known to those who do not know Him. Help me to remember that church is not about who’s on what team and not about who leads those teams. It is all, all, all about Jesus. It’s all, all, all about taking his message outside our four walls to a world that needs Him. It is all about welcoming new saints, new little children, to the adoptive redemptive family of Jesus Christ. Help me to remember that is what it has always been about and that will always be what it is about. Amen.