God’s Story, Your Story: The New Testament

If you could sum up the Bible in one word, what would it be?

This may be tricky for some. Some may be thinking we can’t sum up the Bible in one word.

I think we can sum up the Bible with the word, JESUS. After all, in Luke 24, Jesus tells the disciples on the way to Emmaus that all of scripture points to him. Paul, in Colossians, says that all things are held together in him. So as we read scripture, even the Old Testament, we should be able to see Jesus in everything.

As we take the time to talk through the New Testament, remember how the storyline of the Biblical narrative goes:

Act 1: Creation, Fall, Israel

Act 2: Jesus, Church, New Creation

Last week, we saw the 39 books of the Old Testament are divided up into categories:

Pentateuch (Torah), History, Writings/Poetry/Wisdom, Major Prophets, Minor Prophets

The New Testament is divided up into categories as well:

Gospels of Jesus, History (Acts), Paul’s letters (longest to shortest), General letters (longest to shortest), Apocalyptic

So the way to think about the layout of the New Testament is like this:

Jesus’ life, death, resurrection, ascension 

The spread of the message (Acts)

Living out the Christian life through the empowerment and presence of the Holy Spirit (the letters and Revelation)

Now, if the whole Bible could be summed up with JESUS, can we think of key passages that help explain the gospel and the way the Christian is supposed to live in the world?

Many know John 3:16 (For God so loved the world the he gave his one and only Son, that whosoever believes in him shall not perish but have everlasting life.)

Unfortunately, this is where many people stop—at the point of gaining their own salvation. But the Christian life and faith is so much richer and deeper than simply personal salvation—it’s about being in community, sharing life together, and laying down our lives for the sake of others.

The second part of the gospel we need to hear, and live out, is 1 John 3:16 (This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters.) This is why we follow the command, and example, of Jesus to take up our cross and follow him. We follow him even though we, as believers, will have challenges and suffering in this life. We follow him because he is the only source of hope and life.

So many people think the Christian life is just for them—it’s become what can Jesus do for me here and now? How can my life get better? But see how we miss out on the power of the gospel? The power of the gospel is found when we live our lives in community, when we seek to bring new people into the family of God (this is kingdom growth not just numerical growth). The power of the gospel is found when we live our lives for others instead of ourselves.

This is why there is so much emphasis on not judging, gossiping, slandering, anything that destroys or devalues another human life. The emphasis is on love—a word that has honestly lost it’s meaning because we over use it. (I love hamburgers, I love my spouse, I love (pick your favorite sports team).) Love in the Bible is not a feeling, or even how we feel in the moment. Love is the way of life. Love is at the core of who God designed us to be.

A little pastoral care moment: When we “speak truth in love” our goal is never to belittle the person but to build them up and encourage them. So often we attempt to speak, what we call, truth and end up having anger in our hearts towards the person. This is not the example of Jesus at all.

Christ followers are to emulate and imitate Jesus in their everyday lives. This is the point of the epistles (letters) from Paul, Peter, John, Jude, James, the author of Hebrews. What’s incredible is how the Spirit continues to speak through these words today—with the intention of building up the community and growing the kingdom of God (God’s rule and reign in the world).

Then we come to the book of Revelation. This is a book that has been misunderstood and misapplied for the last 200 or so years. We’ve said it before, the point of Revelation is to show how God’s people can and should stand firm in their faith even when everything is going to pot. 

The ancient readers would have understood this was a letter, written in code, so they could understand what’s happening in the world to them at that time. We do know that Christ will come again and set things right (true justice not revenge). That is why we can live in hope and joy—we know the end of the story.

This is the New Testament, in a brief nutshell. 

One more thing to consider. There really is nothing new in the New Testament that is not in the Old Testament. In fact, what we see is an expansion of the thoughts and teachings from the Old Testament. (Think Sermon on the Mount which we’ll begin next week.)

This is why it is so important to study and read through the Old Testament. There are many resources available to help us study to learn the history, traditions, and context of the Old Testament. When we better understand the OT, we will begin to see more of the beauty found in the New Testament.

Jesus is the point of the Bible. Jesus is the point of the Christian life. How we live, in this life, matters and it has eternal consequences. I challenge you to read through at least one Gospel, a few letters, and Revelation this week. Ask God to reveal himself to you. The best picture of God is found in the person of Jesus Christ. 

Then, ask God to mold you into the likeness and image of his Son and give you the grace to live out the Christian life in community and help you be a person to build people up and work with God to grow the kingdom of Heaven.

Loving to Life Pt 2

MEETING PEOPLE WHERE THEY ARE

Last week we began a series to help us love people to life. When we go to a new place, it it easy to assume we know what people need to do. In many cases, we may be right.

The best thing to do is to pray, and listen, to see where God is working and how God is working in the new area we’re in. Go night to a new place and driving forward our plans, without seriously paying attention to the work of God already in progress, can create some issues. This is not saying God will not bring redemption through work we do;  but the work could actually take longer.

So, we’ve prayed and we believe we have listened carefully to God’s voice and have opened our eyes to see the work in progress. We must be careful not to give into the temptation to get to work right away. I know this seems odd to say. The truth is we would do so much better if we took our time.

Taking our time means we begin the process of getting to know the people. Plus, it gives us a chance to “meet people exactly where they are.”

Think about that for a minute. How did Jesus Christ begin working with your life? He met you, the person you were, in the exact situation you were in. I would also bet to say that when you realized Jesus was right there with you, he did not start off by saying, “I’m here to fix your life, so you need to do these steps right away!”

Instead, I believe Jesus first said to you, “I love you. Come and see what your  life can and will be like with me.” That’s basically what he said when he called the disciples in Matthew 4, Mark 1-2, Luke 5, John 1. He invited the disciples to join him, just as they were. That’s when the transformation begins.

Our number one priority in this life, aside from loving and worshipping God through Jesus Christ, is to love the people God created.

Now we have to ask the question, what does meeting people where they are look like?

This is really one of the hardest things we will ever do. This involves simply listening to their stories, what they say about other people, how they say they live their life, anything they want to tell you…without judgement. It involves us learning the area, past customs, past traditions, history of the area, learning what dreams people have. All of this is done at the same time we are praying for God’s wisdom, vision, for the area while we are there.

I have found that, most of the time, you will hear people begin to say things that are very similar to what God has been speaking to you. And, when we take time to get to know the person and witness their life, trust is formed through this relationship. Then, we can begin to see the work of Christ in their life. Afterall, this is how we would want other people to treat us.

We may have a grand vision, grand ideal, for an area, for the life of a person, or people group; but Jesus may be working on something deeper than what we can see and experience at the surface. This is why it is so important to meet with people where they are, as they are, so we can see how God is using us to work with him in that person’s life.

Here is something I have had to learn to consider in every situation: maybe it’s not just about working to make change in other people’s lives; maybe it is also about God’s redemptive and transformative work within our own life.

How is this sitting with you, right now? What did you know about this concept? What do you not agree with?

Additional questions to consider:

1) What do the people do/act like, that is hard for you to be around?

2) Do you think you have to patience to continue this work for getting to know people for months or even years without getting frustrated or impatient?

3) What do you sense God working on in your life, as you get to know new people and their stories?

Between Two Friends

Click here to read Acts 15:36-41.

Just when everything seemed to be going well, or at least moving in the right direction, another conflict arises. This time it does not come the outside world; but inside the Christian faith. The argument is between Paul and Barnabas about whether or not John Mark should continue to go with them.

This may not seem like that big of a deal, on the surface. Paul was really hurt when John Mark left (deserted) them in Pamphylia. Why did he leave? Acts 13:13 says, “Paul and his companions sailed from Paphos to Perga in Pamphylia. John deserted them there and returned to Jerusalem.” We know where he went; but why did he leave? It doesn’t say. Maybe he got scared after “Bar-Jesus’ eyes were darkened and he began to grope about for someone to lead him around by the hand.” (Acts 13:11) John Mark would have been there when “Empowered by the Holy Spirit, Saul, also known as Paul, glared at Bar-Jesus and said, “You are a deceiver and trickster! You devil! You attack anything that is right! Will you never stop twisting the straight ways of the Lord into crooked paths? Listen! The Lord’s power is set against you. You will be blind for a while, unable even to see the daylight.” (Acts 13:9-11a) Constantly seeing acts like this and being there when Paul and Barnaba were thrown in prison and treated harshly, would make be nervous as well.

Maybe John Mark left because he needed a break. The point is Paul felt hurt by the desertion on their colleague. They wanted and needed him to be there with them; and he left. He went back home to a safe, familiar place. Paul did not want him to rejoin their group, Barnabas wanted to give John Mark another chance. Paul and Barnabas split ways.

This is how it seems to happen, even for us today. We can look at this passage and say that Paul was being too harsh and should have shown more grace. But Paul was too hurt and had a hard time believing John Mark would continue to stay with them even in the difficult times to come. But did he really have to get angry over the situation?

We should remember that anger is a secondary emotion. This means anger is manifested because we are hurt, tired, emotional, or a whole host of possibilities. When someone is angry, the best thing to do is let them calm down. Nothing productive comes to pass when both parties are angry and not listening. Staying in a state of anger can, and does, ruin relationships. So, listen to what is being said, ask questions (without making it worse), and be patient.

Maybe going different directions is what is needed at times. Maybe it is easier to part company than it is to work things out and get to the heart of the matter. But maybe we can allow our pride to get in the way and miss out on even greater things if we continue to pursue tasks out of anger.

Keep in mind, we are all human beings. We all live in this fallen state of humanity. It is when we experience the Holy Spirit living and moving in our lives that we will produce the fruit of the Spirit in us. It will not always be easy; but the time it takes to develop love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control will eventually prove to be worth it.

Yes, we will continue to respond in anger; but I hope and pray that we can all learn to get past ourselves and really listen to the other side. Maybe, just maybe, we can all learn how to better live with each other, developing more and deeper relationships instead of having more division.

NOTE: Paul does let John Mark rejoin him later on. J

Filled With The Spirit

Click here to read the passage for today: Acts 6:8-15 CEB.

Whenever you are out in public doing great things, doing great work, opposition will come. How we handle this opposition is important.

First of all, I would need to ask if we are bold enough to speak and do good works even when there is a chance for people to oppose or to speak ill? If we were honest, we would most likely not want that to happen because we would want to protect our reputation. So, then we need to ask, “what is more important? Our reputation or doing what God calls us to do?” Either way, we always have people watching whether or not we will stand our ground, or simply give up when the situation becomes challenging.

Now, this is not a license to say whatever we want or do whatever we want and claim God called us to do it. Instead, we learn that when God calls us to a specific task or vocation, it is always to build up the Kingdom of Heaven and will not do anything to cause division in this incredible Kingdom.

Stephen, from our scripture, was doing great works and signs in public and speaking grace. He was filled with the Holy Spirit and this caused an uproar with the religious leaders who were seeking to keep the status quo and their position. But God’s work in us will always come out in powerful and transforming ways which people will take notice of.

Look at what’s going on around you in your community. Where do you see God working? What do you notice? I hope the people of God will be revealed in such a way grace will be shown. Stephen was filled with the Spirit and was shown to be full of grace which caused his face to exude peace.

As you go out into the world, your daily life, pay attention to where God is working and join him in the task. Allow his Spirit to fill you so much that you will show how to handle opposition. The way to handle any opposition is to be filled with the Spirit of peace that comes from God. This is a peace that is beyond understanding; but comes out naturally when the Holy Spirit fill us.

Seek the face and peace of God in all you do and see what incredible works God will perform in and through you.

Filling Positions

Click here to read the passage for today: Acts 6:1-7 CEB.

If you have been in any position of leadership, you have heard about what aspects of the organization are missing or need to be redone. Anything that needs to be done can cause some anxiety among people because our first inclination is to fill the position quickly.

We look around us and find someone who has know-how for what needs to be done and then try to plug them into the role of the new ministry, new event, new aspect we know needs to come to fruition.

When we act with the mentality of placing a warm body to fill the position, how long does the program or event last? How much fruit/results will be seen through the new venture?

As we look at our passage for today, look at how the early Church filled positions. Notice the apostles had people come forward with complaints, with strong suggestions about what more needs to be done. We, as leaders, are not immune to having people complain or show areas that are not at their potential. It could be very easy for leaders to think they have to do everything and find the right people themselves. Or, if complaints are heard all the time then our hearts could become hardened to the true need around.

The apostles could have easily ignored the situation of people not getting food because they had “more important” work to do of proclaiming the gospel; but they didn’t. Instead, the apostles listened! They listened with concern for those around them. They listened with concern to those who were not getting what they needed. They listened.

Then, they commissioned the Greek-speaking disciples to seek out and find the right people. I am sure they took this task very seriously. If the rightly motivated, or gifted, people were not put in the roles of care, the task would not get done in the right spirit or carried out successfully.

Look at who they chose to provide the service: “Stephen, a man endowed by the Holy Spirit with exceptional faith, Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolaus from Antioch, a convert to Judaism.” They chose those who had been gifted and had the right demeanor for this important task. They were not just putting anyone in the position.

I have read books and have listened to great leaders and they always point to finding the people with the right passion and the skills can be learned. Many people believe leaders are made and not born. I believe it is a combination of both. If we can find the people with passion for the task and a vision to accomplish it, then we will hopefully get people who will encourage and build up the community. We are born with some leadership qualities and we can nurture and develop other qualities.

As you are searching for people to fill empty positions seek for passion, seek for being gifted, seek God’s hand, we will be able to have the right type of person to fulfill the task at hand.

Trust that when God places a vision on your heart for a new task, activity, mission, that he will also guide you to the right type of person to aid you.

Beyond Jealousy

Click here to read the passage for today: Acts 5:17-42 CEB.

Jealousy. We all get jealous at times. Sometimes we don’t even want to admit we feel this emotion. Jealousy, when left unchecked, causes us to act in irrational and hurtful ways. Oh, we want to feel excitement for the accomplishments and gifts of other people; but deep down we wish it was us getting that recognition, so we can try to do anything to undermine the work of another.

Often times, when I write a blog about scripture, I can see my own flawed nature. This is hard because I would like to think I am always striving to encourage and develop others; but honestly, this is not always the case. My guess is this same thing happens to you, would you admit it?

So where does jealousy come from? Our flawed humanity seems to be always seeking to acquire and use what we do not have. This is why the 10th Commandment is “do not covet anything of your neighbor’s.” (See Exodus 20:17) Why is this included? I believe this commandment is part of the other nine because if we desire to have what our neighbors (those around us) have then we will never be content with what God has given us and we will seek to be made in the image of the other person rather than being formed and molded into the image of Jesus Christ.

Have you ever thought of that? Why would we want to be a replica of another person who is flawed and imperfect? Why wouldn’t we strive to be made perfect through the grace of God working in and through us? People who are in leadership positions most certainly fall into this way of thinking and of life.

Whenever another person seems to have more success than you do, be careful not to fall into the trap of doing everything exactly the way they do. The other person has different gifts, and a different area to work in. Just because success is happening in a specific way in one area does not mean it will work in your area. Just because another company, organization, church, group has something we don’t have doesn’t mean we have to go out to bash it, to try and stop it, or even try to replicate exactly.

We see this behavior all over the place. Spectators who want to be coaches instead of fully enjoying the nature of the game. Bystanders who want to know they are not getting what they want instead of being part of the activity, ministry, mission to serve other people. Deep down, there is a desire to be better than the person next to us.

Instead of waiting our energy tearing down another person or group because we’re jealous, let’s instead find a way to say “thanks” for the work they’re doing, for how they are using their gifts from God, for the opportunity to work together for the common good and goal of ushering in the Kingdom of Heaven.

Let’s take Gamaliel’s advice to the Jewish Council speak to us today, “Here’s my recommendation in this case: Distance yourselves from these men. Let them go! If their plan or activity is of human origin, it will end in ruin. If it originates with God, you won’t be able to stop them. Instead, you would actually find yourselves fighting God!”

So let’s praise God for the way he works through many different people and in many different ways. Let’s praise God for the way he works through you and me. Let’s allow more thanks and praise to flow from our lips. We have so much to give praise for because we, along with those around us, have the presence God working in us and through us AND we get to watch his work through other people.

Recognition & Generosity

Click here to read today’s text, Acts:5:1-16.

We live in a culture that makes us desire to look good and perfect in front of others. What this means is we are going to do everything we can to hide our faults, hide our weaknesses. Why do we want to be perfect? I think our pride, our desire to be liked, and our desire to be in relationship with others is what drives this “need.”

In the passage today, Ananias and Sapphira had witnessed Barnabas sell some property and people loved the action. Most likely, Ananias and Sapphira wanted to received this same kind of recognition and treatment. Does this sound like any people we know today? Receiving recognition really does not do anymore than feeding our ego so we can think we are somebody important.

If we take some time to assess our hearts whenever we give or whenever we do good works, we can see what our real motivation. Think about this. Why do we give our old clothes and worn out items to Goodwill? Many give because they want something new and the space is needed. Many give to make it seem like they are generous.

Generosity really is not giving our left-overs; but giving the best of what we have. If we were to truly be generous people, we would give away the things (food, clothing, items, time) that we could use for our personal consumption but know that another person will benefit more.

Our desire to be recognized for giving feeds our ego and gives us pride because we are doing something to “help others.” Ananias and Sapphira were in this same boat. They were trying to hide what they really had and only gave because they wanted to look good in front of the other people. They were not motivated by generosity; but, rather motivated by their pride and ego. Underlying all of this is really a lack of trust that God will provide what we need and we do not need to hold back to save for ourselves, especially if we have decided to be generous.

These are some harsh words to read in scripture. I imagine many people choose to skip this particular passage. My guess for why people would skip this passage is because it is something that God is desiring to work on in each of us and we don’t feel comfortable with the Holy Spirit convicting us.

Take joy in the fact you and I are being remade and recreated into the image God created us to be in. Take joy we go through inner conviction and turmoil so we can get to the place where God desires us. Take joy in the fact that when we allow God into our lives, his Holy Spirit works within us and transforms us. It is because of this transformation that great signs and wonders will be shown through our lives.

Because of the grace God has given us, we get to experience this incredible power in and through our lives and be part of the redemption of the world.

Community

Click here to read Acts 2:42-47.

Imagine Utopia, a perfect place were there is no conflict and everyone has what they need. Sounds like a great place? John Lennon thought of how the world would be different if we simply “Imagine”[d] doing things out of love rather than doing things out of self-preservation; but doing things for the betterment of society. That song has some good concepts in it; but it also takes away religion and faith and when a community is living out their faith, much good does come from it.

John Wesley was a genius at placing people into small groups to help foster spiritual growth with the new converts. He did this in a way so they could worship, develop relationships, and get accountable with how their life was being lived. We see the model he used as a similar model from how the early Church took care of believers spiritual needs. This is a perfect example to show how we need each other to grow in our faith. Individuals grow more spiritually when connected into a community fostering encouragement, empowerment, and growth through God’s grace.

Take some time to re-read the passage today.

42 The believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, to the community, to their shared meals, and to their prayers. 43 A sense of awe came over everyone. God performed many wonders and signs through the apostles. 44 All the believers were united and shared everything. 45 They would sell pieces of property and possessions and distribute the proceeds to everyone who needed them. 46 Every day, they met together in the temple and ate in their homes. They shared food with gladness and simplicity. 47 They praised God and demonstrated God’s goodness to everyone. The Lord added daily to the community those who were being saved.

What is one thing that stands out to you? Why? One thing that stands out to me is “the believers devoted themselves…” So one question that brings up for me to ask is, “how devoted are you? How devoted am I?” This is an important question; but we should be careful not to think that if we do all of this “stuff” for God then we are good and stay in his graces and earn salvation. No. This kind of life that is described and lived out is not to earn grace or salvation; rather it is a response to God’s free gift of grace.

So, as the believers devoted themselves, they took time to study the scriptures together, pray as a group, be in fellowship with each other. Unity within a community does not mean that everyone does the same exact thing the same exact way. Unity means that we all unite for a common purpose and goal in order to live together peacefully.

So imagine a world where we devoted ourselves (as a response to God’s grace) to the studying of scripture, meeting together (not just on Sunday mornings); how much would we see the mighty and awe-filled acts of God in our midst because we’re open to them? Be prepared for the work of God in our midst and just see how people flock to a community true to their faith and devoted to God in all aspects of their life.

What does this kind of life look like for you?

Let’s pray for revival and God’s presence to be known all around us so others know and experience the Kingdom of Heaven.

Unjoining Union

Mark 10:2-8 “Some Pharisees came and, trying to test him, they asked, “Does the Law allow a man to divorce his wife?” Jesus answered, “What did Moses command you?” They said, “Moses allowed a man to write a divorce certificate and to divorce his wife.” Jesus said to them, “He wrote this commandment for you because of your unyielding hearts. At the beginning of creation, God made them male and female. Because of this, a man should leave his father and mother and be joined together with his wife, and the two will be one flesh. So they are no longer two but one flesh.”

Today, we look at a passage that can be a place of argument and division among people. There may be things I say people may not agree with, and that’s okay.

What is happening in this passage? The Pharisees are trying to trap Jesus by getting him to say anything contrary to the Law that was passed down by Moses. In one way, I think, they were trying to show their own superiority based upon their knowledge and were trying to show how “ignorant” or “uninformed” Jesus was. As we already know, Jesus proves the contrary.

The Pharisees were asking about a Law that was given by Moses. Right away, we can see they were elevating Moses to the position of God by saying his law had more authority. Jesus listened to their question, and answered their question directly. Not really going into further details or explanation except what had been written down in the Scriptures. The Pharisees were looking at this life from the point of view of man. Jesus was looking at life from the point of view of God the Father.

So, where does this leave us? I believe there is something in Jesus’ words that we can take out and help guide us today. What was He talking about? Division. Separation. Consequences of doing our own things.

The line that strikes me more than any of the others is “Because of your hardness of hearts…” The people were given what they wanted, a chance to break union “because of their hard hearts;” because of the human rebellious spirit. Now, to be clear on something, I don’t see Jesus here saying that every divorce is because of a person’s rebellious spirit, just wanting to get what ever they want. Commentators point out that Jesus was simply answering the question of the Pharisees. He wasn’t, here, giving regulations or stipulations that are acceptable for divorce.

I do think that Jesus is bringing the human condition to light. We simply want things our way, and will try in whatever manner to get it. Instead of leaving this statement alone and walking away, Jesus points all the way back to the beginning…God. He stressed the basis and purpose of God’s creation of humans, to be in relationship with one another. Then He talks about the two becoming one.

Glue is fun to use. I like to glue objects together to try and fix the brokenness. What happens when I try to take apart something that has been joined together by glue? A mess, the two piece are never the same. There has been an unjoining of the union. The two are no longer part of the one, they are separated. If this were done on people, we would feel a lot of pain.

I believe one of our purposes is to be in relationship with other people. Our relationship with people should be based upon our relationship with God. But our hard, rebellious hearts cause us to not look to God. But, we can go back and see God’s original purpose. At points like this, we can see grace because God has not left us.