Thursday, April 28, 2011

A Matter of Orientation

I am not sure who first said it, but there is a quote floating around: "The church is the only institution that exists for the sake of non-members."

Karl Barth said something similar when he defined church as "community for the sake of the world." I would modify that slightly to "Christ-centered community for the sake of the world."

God's purpose for His people has always included an evangelistic component. Just look at the covenant promise to Abraham, restated many times to him and to Isaac and to Jacob. Loosely paraphrased, there are four parts to the covenant promise: 1) land, 2) offspring, 3) blessing, and 4) to be a blessing to all nations.

The fourth point is often called "the bottom line of the covenant." In other words, God's purpose in selecting Abraham, and through him, the children of Israel, was that the glory of God would be displayed to all nations and that they would be drawn to the worship of the One True God. That is Isaiah's point: "I will keep you and make you to be a covenant for the people and a light for the Gentiles" (Isa. 42:6b).

Unfortunately, Israel liked the first three parts of the covenant, because they were the recipients. But the bottom line did not seem to be such a great deal. That is why Jesus got so upset when a bazaar was set up in the part of the temple called, "the court of the Gentiles." He drove them all out saying, "Is it not written: 'My house will be called a house of prayer FOR ALL NATIONS'? But you have made it a 'den of robbers'" (Mark 11: 17).

Before we start pointing fingers at Israel, however, we in the church should take a long hard look at ourselves. Are we building the institution of the church for the purpose of blessing the world, or do we have a tendency to build it more like a fortress to hide in, hoping that Jesus comes back before the barbarians break through?

Jesus said, "The Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost" (Luke 19: 10). What changes should we make to reorient ourselves towards fulfilling our primary mission, reaching a lost world with the good news of Jesus Christ and the kingdom of God?

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

In His Tracks

So many things happened on the night that Jesus was betrayed. Perhaps the most intense was the prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane. Jesus faced the impending task of finishing his mission on earth. His "hour" for which He had been sent into the world.

As I think about the intensity of Jesus' struggles in prayer: "Lord, if it is possible, take this cup from me..." Then eventually, "Lord, if it is NOT possible..."

But always Jesus came back to the realization that this indeed was the Father's will for Him and He was needing the strength to go all the way. "Yet not as I will, but as you will" (Matt. 26: 39).

He took only three of His closest disciples with Him to "watch" or "stand vigil" with Him. Yet, they could not make it through a single hour.

I suppose many of us feel guilt when we hear Jesus exclaim, "Could you men not keep watch with me for one hour?" (Matt. 26: 40). But I don't think Jesus was angry or intended to shame them. Instead, I hear his sense of amazement, "Things are worse than I thought. Even my best disciples are powerless to join in spiritual warfare with me. Humanity is indeed utterly lost. I am not only alone, but ONLY I can do what needs to be done."

Jesus was our only hope for salvation. And He didn't let us down. He went all the way.

The writer of Hebrews says, "Although He was a Son, He learned obedience from what He suffered and, once made [complete], He became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey Him" (Heb. 5: 8).

Jesus showed us obedience. He calls anyone who wants to be His disciple to find out what they've been called to do, pick up their own cross daily, and follow Him in His example of complete obedience. Thus we are to "fix our eyes on Jesus, the Author and Perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God" (Heb. 12: 2).

I used to be an avid hiker. And when you hike through snow, someone has to go in front to make the first tracks. But if you are following, it is best to try to walk in their tracks.

Jesus is the pioneer of the faith who made a path for us to follow. Discipleship is simply following Him in such a way that we place our feet in His tracks and follow His example of radical obedience.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Breaking Our Narcissistic Bubble

I was born at the center of my universe and, despite God's frequent attempts to break through my narcissistic bubble, I remain locked in a Mark-centered world. And I'm beginning to think that this basic narcissism is what plagues most of humanity. We never grow out of our "me-centered" paradigms.

What do I mean by that?

Well, for example, I may participate in a small group, supposedly sensitive to everyone else's sharing, but come away with simply an impression about how I feel about the meeting, and whether I felt heard by everyone else, or even whether I got anything out of it.

Or to hit closer to home for me, I preach a sermon on Sunday, but instead of sensing w
hat God is doing in Fred or Jane or Marianne, I am more worried about how well I did. Secretly I whisper to my wife, "How was that? Was I okay?" If there is a big response, I may interpret even that as meaning something about me and as a result, I feel good about my performance.

Yet, when I consider Jesus and how He ministered, I realize His focus was never on Himself. After preaching The Sermon on the Mount, perhaps the greatest sermon in the history of sermons, he did not whisper to Peter, "How was that? Was I okay?" It wasn't about Him, but about what God the Father was doing.

Even after His challenging message in John 6 about "eating his body and drinking his blood," where lots of people got offended and stomped off, He was not full of remorse. He didn't worry, "Oh man, I really blew it. What am I going to do now?" He seemed prepared even for His inner circle to leave Him as well.

Paul seemed to have gotten out of his own narcissistic bubble. "If I were trying to please men, I wouldn't be a servant of Christ" he says in Gal. 1: 10. That's in contrast to the Pharisees, about whom Jesus said, "Everything they do is done for men to see" (Matt. 23: 5).

I believe the main antidote to our self-centeredness is The Cross. On the cross, Jesus demonstrated that He had laid down the self-determined life and had taken up the God-determined life--a life of reverent submission. If we want to be His disciples, we must do the same. "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it" (Luke 9" 23-24).

Are you serious about following Christ? Take up your cross daily and, like a heavenly sledge hammer, it will begin to break your narcissistic bubble.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

The Unforced Rhythms of Grace

In Matt. 11: 28-30, Jesus calls us to leave the legalistic and oppressive burdens of religious legalism and come to him to learn a new way of living.

"Take my yoke upon you and learn from me..."

Jesus is not saying that he has a yoke that he wants to place on you and then he will be the farmer driving the plow.
In the ancient middle east, the farmer would use a double yoke to train a younger ox by pairing it with an older, more experienced ox. Thus, the younger one would learn
from the older one by being yoked together with it.

Jesus is inviting us to become paired with him. The same kind of yoke that he took on is the one we must bear.

"If anyone wants to follow me [as my disciple], he must deny his [self-determined life], and take up his cross daily and follow me" (Luke 9: 23).

In other words, Jesus is the model of the life lived in humble submission to the Father. Therefore, let us be yoked together with him, "the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross..." (Heb. 12: 2).

Eugene Peterson, in The Message, renders it this way, "Walk with me and work with me--watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace" (Matt. 11: 29).

Rather than the burdensome and wearying life of religious duty, Jesus wants to lead us into a restful relationship of service walking with him. As we put our shoulder to the plow, we don't find him whipping us from behind, but pulling with us and teaching us the "unforced rhythms of grace."

Are you yoked to Jesus?