Month: March 2013

Does Jesus Need Us to “Take a Stand for Him”?

When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly. 1 Peter 2:23 NIV

It occurred to me today while speaking about Christ on the cross, that he never once asked his followers to defend him or attempt some rescue. I’m guessing if he did not need defending that fateful Friday, he probably does not need our defense today. I am certain Jesus would much rather us follow him than defend him.

Heaven and its advancing kingdom are not under threat of siege or hostile takeover. Each generation has moments when it seems the world is about to suffocate the teachings of Jesus, but the light of truth always overcomes darkness. We are not the first Christ-following generation that has faced tough and complex questions about sexuality, marriage and violence. We will not be the last.

Yes, we should preach and teach the Scriptures and proclaim the coming kingdom of Christ. We should repent and teach others to live lives that are honoring to God, but the reality of Jesus, the fully human and fully Divine savior of the world, will survive and thrive despite any secular debate or scrutiny.

Historically, the church that humbly follows Jesus by loving each other and serving others has flourished and multiplied, while those who felt the need to perpetually protest were swept away by public cynicism. We have the same choice today. I choose love and serving. It was the radical new way of living that Jesus showed us on that bloody cross. He could have called for an angelic rescue and maybe a few generations would have retold that story.

Instead, Jesus joined us in our sufferings, gave up his life, and allowed the same Holy Spirit that is at work in us today to bring him from the grave. This story will be told for all time. When Jesus ascended a short time later, he went to an established kingdom that has no end and left behind a church that was built on an immovable rock. He needs no defense but he sure needs believing followers who will live as he did, maybe die as he did, but most certainly will be resurrected as he was.

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Feet on the Rock, Head in the Clouds

In N.T. Wright’s profound book, Justification: God’s Plan and Paul’s Vision, he writes, “The point of discourse is to learn with and from one another. I used to tell my students that at least 20 percent of what I was telling them was wrong, but I didn’t know which 20 percent it was: I make many mistakes in life, in relationships and in work, and I don’t expect to be free of them in my thinking. But whereas in much of life one’s mistakes are often fairly obvious—the shortcut path that ended in a bed of nettles, the experimental recipe that gave us all queasy stomachs, the golf shot that landed in the lake—in the life of the mind things are often not so straightforward.”

The reason I appreciate Wright’s candor here is that in my experience, those who suppose they have figured out all there is to figure out about God rarely are extravagant worshipers. We don’t chase what we’ve already caught. We don’t seek out what we’ve already secured.

Certainly, there are things we “know that we know” about God—creeds, for example, bedrock issues of faith that simply aren’t up for debate. But aren’t there thousands more things that we still wonder about, things we take strong positions on but in our heart of heart say, “You know, I really don’t know.”

Here’s an image that is helpful to me, a sort of visual goal I keep close by: I want to keep my feet planted on the solid rock of truth, while my head stays in the swirling clouds of mystery—those things I just don’t know about God.

Whether we’re talking about the silencing of women or the ordination of women or whether you can root against the LSU Tigers and still call yourself a Christian, I want to stay open, curious, eager to be swept away by the wonder that is God himself. Feet on the rock, head in the clouds. This is a very good way to live.

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Praying and Responding to Special Offerings

The Scriptures are full of stories of God’s people giving special offerings. Solomon built a spectacular temple for worship and then had to tell people not to give anymore because there was more than enough. Paul challenged the young New Testament church to sacrificially give to the Jerusalem church that was suffering. For years, Pam and I have been blessed to be a part of numerous special offerings that went toward buildings, land, planting churches and opening orphanages around the world.

This Sunday, our congregation will give a special offering to Move the Mountain in all of our Sunday gatherings. How should we pray and how should we give when these special offerings come along in our spiritual journey?

1. We should pray and listen.

I know this sounds obvious, but most of us determine what we can logically give and then we pray about it later. However, if we pray and listen first, the answer may surprise us. There have been times, I have heard to give a smaller amount, but there have also been times Pam and I have given sacfricially. Pray first, listen and then obey.

2. Know why you are giving.

Giving is more than a corporate collection of resources. It is the catalyst many times for significant spiritual growth. Giving is a pronouncement that money is a gift from God, but not our god. Money seems to entangle us in a web of greed and control, but when we release our monies, by faith, our spiritual souls are cleansed from a potentially powerful idol. Pam and I give as an act of worship and to remind ourselves what is truly worthy of our worship.

For our New Life congregation we are giving to get out of debt so we can give more generously to our city and to our world. We believe debt really is a type of slavery that keeps us shackled and unable to respond to the real needs all around us.

Last year, we paid off $3.3 million of debt which allowed us to begin the purchase and renovation of our first apartment complex for homeless single moms, to expand our care for the poorest women in our city at the Dream Center Women’s Clinic and we just added a military chaplain to our team to help us care for the miltary families in our city.  All of this because our congregation prayed, listened and obeyed with generous giving.

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