expectations

How Do We Follow the Example of Our Good Shepherd?

Photo by  Jaka Škrlep  on  Unsplash

Photo by Jaka Škrlep on Unsplash

What is your perception of the role and work of a pastor? Considerable instruction and guidance are found in the Bible but pop culture also has a lot to say about it and a bit too much influence.

The Bible is the primary and obvious guide pastors and leaders ought to seek first. I think most do but expectations based on current trends and opinions compete with it in a strong way.

When expectations of pastors are driven by business leadership guidelines and principles, and a result-oriented culture, the role and work of pastors are easily skewed. Read more...


This post was written for Poimen Ministries but I thought I'd include it on Word-Strong this week. Just click the "Read more..." link to read the whole post.

Here are a few other posts I've written for Poimen Ministries but that weren't posted to Word-Strong (just click on the titles)

Biblical Knowledge or Biblical Ignorance?

Simple Not Simplistic

Teaching with Authority

What the World Needs Now!

Photo by  Mayur Gala  on  Unsplash

Photo by Mayur Gala on Unsplash

"What the world needs now—is love, sweet love..." is how a popular song in the mid-sixties went. It was sung by Jackie DeShannon and is still one of my favorite songs from the sixties. This YouTube video link of the song captures the innocent hope of the 60's for a universal love.

Another favorite song by the Youngbloods called "Get Together" became somewhat of an anthem for the peace movement of the 60's—"Come on people now—smile on your brother—everybody get together—try to love one another right now."

The 60's were a tumultuous time of expectant hope and, at first, altruistic belief in the goodness of humanity. It was a decade with a divergent mix of protests and campus unrest, an unpopular war overseas, economic change, and a moral and spiritual vacuum.

Lost innocence

A naive hope seemed to die with the close of the decade and the beginning of the "Me Generation" of the 70's. Today we're in a similar era with a divergent clash of expectations but without innocence or hope.

In fact, there's a whole lot of mud-slinging and name-calling, but it's not just political. It permeates our culture in so many ways. What the world needs now is love with humility. At the very least, some civility.

When you look into the heart of God—who is love (1 John 4:7-8, 16)—the nature of His love is humility. Out of His great love, He gave His Son for the whole world (John 3:16).

God is love and the nature of His love is humility

Jesus—love personified

Looking at Jesus we see humility. The apostle Paul pointed this out when he exhorted the church in Philippi to be unified through humility towards one another (Philippians 2:1-4). Then he points them to Jesus as our example—

Have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had. Although he was in the form of God and equal with God, he did not take advantage of this equality.
Instead, he emptied himself by taking on the form of a servant, by becoming like other humans, by having a human appearance. 
He humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, death on a cross. (Phil 2:5-8 GW)

Jesus—the personification of God's love—said this about Himself—

Place my yoke over your shoulders, and learn from me, because I am gentle and humble. Then you will find rest for yourselves (Matthew 11:29 GW)

Looking at Jesus we see humility and love personified

Wrong emphasis

We in the American church, including evangelicals, are too often caught up in being right—doctrinally and morally. The focus of teaching and how we are to live is more on upholding moral standards and protecting our rights and freedoms.

Having good moral standards is honorable, and the great privilege of living in America is that we enjoy certain rights and freedoms (see US Constitution for more details).

But with privilege and freedom comes responsibility and true morality is not based on human goodness, but the nature of God.

Genuine morality is not based on human goodness, but the nature of God

Wrong direction

I fear we—the church—are moving faster and faster in the direction of becoming modern-day Pharisees—self-righteous and hypocritical and lacking in mercy, grace, and humility.

The Jewish leaders who longed for their messiah to come deliver Israel missed Him when He did come. They condemned Him and found a way of putting Him to death.

They were too caught up in themselves and maintaining their own sense of rightness to see that the Messiah they had waited centuries for was Jesus.

Are we—the church—moving in the direction of becoming modern-day Pharisees?

Changing direction

How can this be reversed? Can it be? If it can't, we are hopeless. Ah, but a solution exists.

Change comes one life at a time, one heart at a time. Then, and only then, lasting significant change will take place in our churches, our nation, and our world.

Jesus said, "Come learn of Me..." and called all believers—all true followers—to deny their selfish ambitions and desires, pride, and self-centeredness, die to themselves—take up their cross and then follow Him (Matt 16:24).

Change comes one life at a time, one heart at a time

The solution to world peace

He calls us into a simple, intentional, relational, and intimately personal life of discipleship. When disciples are disciple makers and people's lives are changed one at a time, the peace of God extends throughout the world exponentially.

This has always been the Lord's solution to world peace. It requires no degree or certificate or special training. It's a matter of sharing the life we have in Jesus with others. 

Really, it's that simple. But, it's an investment of life and time in the lives of others. It requires self-discipline and commitment and humility.

Are you ready for a change? Submit yourself to Jesus—the humble personification of love and the Lord of Lords.

Are you ready for a change of direction in the world around you?

It starts with you and me.

An Unknown God—part 2

unsplash_RPelati

unsplash_RPelati

Formulaic ways of presenting the gospel—the message of God's redemption of humanity—have been developed and taught to many eager evangelists. But I wonder how many times someone, prepped with an evangelistic formula, shares the gospel only to meet with disappointment and rejection? I know I've experienced this on both sides of the gospel—hearing it and sharing it. 

As a young man lost in my own spiritual search, two clean-cut college guys approached me at the beach to share the gospel with the four spiritual laws, telling me I could be a Christian and still own a sports car. Their approach was far off the mark for me. I experienced several other off-target attempts as I've shared before.

As with so many things in life, we can set ourselves up for disappointment with unrealistic expectations. Formulas and approaches go along with our penchant for results. But more and more I want to equip people with the story and heart of the gospel. Reading through all four gospels and the book of Acts it's hard to find any set methodology.

A city full of idols

As mentioned last week, when the apostle Paul arrived in Athens he saw a city filled with idols (Acts 17:16). This disturbed him but he still went to the Jewish synagogue to share the gospel, as he had done in other cities and regions.

He also went into the public market area to preach among those who were not Jewish (Gentiles). While engaging in discussions with those in the marketplace, he was questioned about what he taught, since it seemed so foreign to them.

Some philosophers wanted to hear more about this Jesus he spoke of and about the resurrection, so he was invited to Mars Hill (the Areopagus), the city court where much debate took place (Acts 17:17-21).

Paul's message to the Athenians

Paul realized the gospel he preached in the synagogue was foreign or strange to the ears of these philosophers, which is much like what cross-cultural missionaries experience overseas. It's also similar to sharing the gospel with those who have a postmodern mindset.

Based on this context, Paul adjusted his presentation of the gospel for a people who were ignorant of the Scriptures and the theology revealed in them.

I see three general parts to Paul's message at Mars Hill focused on connecting with the Athenians at a level they would understand. The text for Paul's message is found in Acts 17:22-31.

Connection

Paul first acknowledges they are "very religious," what we might call superstitious, as he sees all their objects of worship (idols). He establishes a connection with the Athenians by noting an altar to "the unknown god" (vs 22).

Paul says to them, "What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you" (vs 23). By saying this he stirs their interest because those gathered at Mars Hill "would spend their time in nothing except telling or hearing something new" (vs 21).

He also establishes himself as an authority regarding this unknown God. He preaches to them, but in a way they can relate to as philosophers.

Creator and Sustainer

The first thing he tells them about this "unknown God" is that He is living and is the Creator of all (vs 24). Not only the Creator but the Lord over all He's created. He is transcendent above all and doesn't live in a temple or shrine created by humans. He wasn't imagined or designed by anyone.

He's not in need of anything people can offer. Instead, God is the Sustainer of all humanity to whom He gives life itself, breath, and everything else (vs 25). Paul goes on to speak of God's relationship with people from God's perspective.

All humanity began with one person (vs 26). It's God who established the seasons within a year and set the boundaries of earth, the oceans, and our atmosphere, as expressed in the ancient book of Job (chapters 38-40).

God makes Himself known and seeks people out so we may know Him and have a relationship with Him (vs 27). He is the Sustainer of all life and Paul relates this truth to what their own poets have said (vs 28), making another point of connection with the Athenians.

Challenging the status quo

Paul begins challenging them to think differently about God, "the divine being," since we are "God's offspring" (vs 29). God isn't like any of the idols or images their artisans have imagined because God is Spirit and not restricted to human or physical constraints.

Then Paul tells them that their ignorance of God, whom they call unknown, is no longer acceptable to God. A day of judgment is coming and people need to repent and turn to God for the timing of this judgment day is already determined by God (vs 30).

He then introduces them to Jesus but not by name. There is one person whom God has appointed as the one who will be the judge. This person is known by His resurrection from the dead (v 31), an unparalleled supernatural event.

The resurrection is the open door into a personal relationship with God and eternal life. This is a truth Paul made clear to a church he planted not long after this message (1 Cor 15:20-22).

Response

One of the criticisms I've heard about Paul's message to the Athenians is the poor response to it as if the response to Peter's message on Pentecost in Jerusalem (Acts 2:41) is some kind of norm. It wasn't the norm then nor is it now.

Most of the reaction of those who heard this message was to the concept of the resurrection from the dead. It's a great dividing line of faith. Although some mocked the resurrection others wanted to hear more, and some believed and joined Paul (vs 32-34).

As I've made clear in an earlier post, we American evangelicals tend to be very results oriented. It seems to be in our Christian-culture-DNA. But we don't see this with Jesus nor the early church leaders. They were committed to discipleship which is a long-term investment in people.

Evangelism or discipleship? Both!

Jesus invested more than three years in His chosen apostles. Paul spent a year (with Barnabas) teaching the church in Antioch, then a year and a half in Corinth, and two years in Ephesus (Acts 11:26; 18:11; 19:10).

Evangelism needs to be linked with discipleship to be effective in fulfilling the Great Commission (Matt 28:19; Mark 16:15), for church planting (the book of Acts), and to equip the church for ministry (Eph 4:11-13).

There should never be a choice between evangelism or discipleship, as to which is better. It's not either-or but both in concert with one another.

So, what are your thoughts on all of this and sharing the gospel in our times and within our culture?

Be sure to look at the notes and cross-references below and please share this with others if you find it helpful!


Here are some cross-references to go with each verse and the 12 elements I see in Paul's message to the Athenians—

  1. Paul observed the religious pursuit of the Athenians (vs 22)
  2. They focused on "objects of worship" [idols] (vs 23)
  3. Paul identified the altar "to the unknown god" as a point of connection (vs 25)
  4. He presented the Living God as Creator of all (vs 24)
  5. God is transcendent above human or earthly origins (vs 24)
  6. God is the origin of life for all people and all that exists (vs 25)
  7. All humanity is descended from one person and God is sovereign (vs 26)
  8. God makes Himself known and seeks relationship with people (vs 27)
  9. God is the Sustainer of life and connects God's nearness to all with their own poets (vs 28)
  10. God is Spirit and not restricted to human or physical constraints (vs 29)
  11. A day of judgment is coming, people need to repent and turn to God (vs 30)
  12. Jesus is the judge and proven to be so by resurrection from the dead (vs 31)
  •  Here are the Cross references—
    • vss 22-25– Psa 19:1-6; Rom 1:20; John 4:24
    • vs 25– John 1:4-5; Gen 2:7; Isa 42:5
    • vs 26– Gen 5:1-4; Dan 4:35-37
    • vs 27– Rom 1:20; Eccl 3:11; Psa 139:7-16
    • vs 28– Psa 82:6; Col 1:16-17
    • vs 29– Psa 115:3-8; Rom 1:22-23
    • vs 30– Matt 4:17; Luke 24:47; Rom 3:23-26
    • vs 31– John 5:21-27; Acts 2:22-24; Rom 2:11-16

An Unimaginable Gift

unsplash.com_PLastra
unsplash.com_PLastra

"I can't believe I won!" As the winners shriek with surprise and jump up and down with joy, some of us watch it all with skepticism, while others may wonder, "Why can't this happen to me?"

I'm talking about those ads showing sweepstakes winners, and even those more sedate, even secretive lucky lottery winners.

This scenario is somewhat representative of a spiritual truth often met with skepticism or qualifications.

Hard to accept

One of the more puzzling paradoxes within the Christian faith is the response of people to the grace of God—God's unearned kindness, forgiveness, acceptance, and approval.

Many people have a hard time accepting the truth of Sola Gratiaby grace alone—because it seems "too good to be true." Granted, some people get it right away and are thrilled beyond belief. Others however, accept it, but later doubt their own worthiness to fully embrace it.

Then there are those who claim to believe in God's grace, but have a plethora of reasons why others don't qualify for this unimaginable gift of acceptance and favor. These same responses to God's grace are seen throughout the gospels and epistles in the New Testament.

Seen it all before

The Pharisees, and later those called the Judaizers, play the role of the spoil sport and point out how grace goes too far. They challenged Jesus during His ministry on earth, especially when He healed people on the Sabbath (Luke 6:6-11).

Those in the margins of society—the sinners, prostitutes, tax collectors and such—were delighted with God's gracious acceptance and favor they saw in Jesus (Luke 19:1-10).

The early church leaders also struggled with how far God's grace extended and who qualified to receive it. But in a sovereign way God revealed how far His grace reaches, when He poured out His Spirit on a Roman centurion and his household (Acts 10:45; 11:18; 15:6-11).

Then, the redemptive message of God's grace (the gospel) began to spread through non-Jewish (Gentile) people, as it did in Antioch (Acts 11:19-24).

The great shocker of all was the supernatural conversion of a radicalized rabbi (Acts 9:1-16). The radical rabbi Saul became the apostle Paul, who explained the theology of God's grace in Galatians, Romans, Colossians, and the book of Hebrews.

Though Paul vehemently stood against the truth of God's grace, he became the great teacher of the Gentiles, who explained the grace of God better than anyone since Jesus.

Why we struggle with grace

I'm thankful for my first pastor, Chuck Smith at Calvary Chapel Costa Mesa, back in the early 70's. I didn't have preconceived notions or teaching about grace, so I accepted what I read in God's Word and how it was confirmed by Pastor Chuck's teaching.

I don't remember if he said this exactly, but his attitude was that he'd rather err on the side of grace than legalism or judgment.

Over the years, I've watched people struggle with the simple but powerful truth of God's grace. We all do, even though we believe in it. There's a myriad of reasons why, but here's some that come to mind.

  • It seems to good to be true— human skepticism, even to the point of cynicism fueled by the world around us, is the biggest reason. It all started back in the garden when the first humans believed a lie rather than trust their Creator (Gen 3:1-7).
  • Looking for exceptions to the rule— this reason extends from the "too good to be true" attitude, but is characterized with "what ifs" and other limitations imagined or passed on by others, who contrive various scenarios where God's grace can't be applied.
  • Beyond the reach of God's grace— this is rooted in shame and the closed loop of unresolved guilt. Surely, we reason, there's some limit to God's grace, either because we've benefited from it so often or done something deemed so terrible.
  • Who qualifies to receive it— this includes various religious and moral hurdles church leaders and people contrive, similar to objections brought up to Jesus and the early church leaders (see earlier section).
  • You've gone too far— limits are put on how many times a person has appealed to God for His grace because of repeated failures. Also, the dreaded "blasphemy of the Holy Spirit" (Mark 3:28-30), which gets interpreted various ways according to a person's situation.

Here's what I've learned through the truth of Scripture in my own life of faith—

God's grace is greater than our failures, fears, doubts, and expectations of others.

Tying it all together

How do the first three foundational Solas work together?

  1. Grace and faith—Sola Gratia and Sola Fide– One of the clearest expressions of how grace and faith fit together is in Ephesians 2:8-9—For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.
    • This should free a person from a performance-oriented Christian life, since personal effort (good works) is of no value for gaining favor with God.
    • Grace is the great equalizer when it comes to faith, and humility is the true evidence of experiencing God's grace.
  2. Faith and Scripture—Sola Fide and Sola Scriptura— Paul reminds believers that faith comes from hearing the truth of God's Word (Rom 10:17).
    • Genuine Christian faith needs to be grounded in the truth of the Scripture through the work and witness of God's Spirit (Gal 3:2-6).
  3. Grace and Scripture—Sola Gratia and Sola Scriptura— our understanding of God's grace needs to be grounded in the truth of God's Word, not human reason (dogmatic beliefs) or emotion (shame or guilt).
    • This is spelled out in many places, especially in the epistle of Romans— Romans 5:8-10; 12, 15, 18-21.

Don't complicate the simplicity of God's grace, and don't despise its simplicity. The depth of God's truth isn't complicated, it's simple.

When you begin to doubt the truth of Sola Gratia, I encourage you to read through the epistle of Galatians, especially chapters 3–5, also chapters 5–8 of Romans.

What exceptions or exclusions have you seen people make about God's grace?

How has God's grace overwhelmed your failures, fear, and unmet expectations?


This is the 5th in a series of posts to consider the 5 Solas of the Protestant Reformation. Here are the previous posts—

 

Why Do You Believe That?

God Won't Fit In a Box, Nor Will I

Sola Scriptura—A Simple View

Gateway to God's Heart

 

Understanding terms—

Many of the theological terms used by Christians become like a foreign language to nonbelievers. Believers need to understand these terms well enough to put them in their own words, or as I call it IYOW (In Your Own Words).

I've tried to give some simple clarification of terms in these posts, but I encourage you to make your own effort at understanding these terms so you can explain them IYOW to others.

If there's a specific theological term that proves hard to grasp, let me know. I'll at least point you in the right direction for an answer, if I can't help you with my own explanation.