God Leads

Click here to read 1 Samuel 17.

These are the stories that capture our imagination and restore hope. Rudy, The Karate Kid, Cinderella Man, Million Dollar Baby…these are all stories where the “wrong person” wins. But these stories stick with us. Why? Because of who wins! We love for the underdog to win. Why? I think it’s because we get tired of the powerful winning and we want to see some justice and order back in our world.

That is what happens in our passage today. David is the ultimate underdog. So, here’s the line up and flow for this event:

In one corner, we have Goliath. A huge, beast of a man with so much armor that he had to have an armor bearer carry his shield.

In the other corner is scrawny David, a measly shepherd boy who had been told a few months earlier he was going to be the next king after Saul. He had no armor, no sword.

The scene.

The armies are lined up on each side of the battlefield. The Philistines (sea people) had travelled for many miles and needed a way to cut through so they could trade their goods. But Israel stood in their way. Israel knew the Philistines would attempt to capture and subdue them, so Israel decided to fight. This was a battle that had been going on for years.

The Philistines had the biggest and strongest people. They also knew their “god” was leading them to victory. In fact, what we are witnessing is something that was common in the ancient world—the battle of the champions. What is this?

The battle of the champions was a military strategy, that many armies used. They believed their “gods” were fighting the battle for them, so all was needed was on person from each camp to fight. This would determine the winner for that battle. Sending Goliath out was the Philistine’s attempt at their chance for victory against the small Israel.

For 40 days Goliath taunted the Israelites. For 40 days he instilled fear into them. For 40 days, Goliath mocked and ridiculed the God of Israel.

David, the shepherd soon-to-be-king boy, came to bring his brothers some lunch. That’s when everything changed. David heard the taunts from Goliath. He saw the fear in his brother’s eyes, in the other men, especially King Saul (who was supposed to be the one to lead to victory). David couldn’t stand it anymore.

He found out Saul’s wage for whoever wins against Goliath—no taxes ever, his daughter in marriage. Now that’s a pretty cool “payment” for victory. And after trying on King Saul’s armor and sword, David decided it was too big so he began walking to the center of the battlefield with nothing. Though he did find five smooth rocks along his way.

Running through David’s head must have been the victories he had against lions and bears just so he could protect his sheep. What was also interesting is Goliath didn’t say anything when David began walking toward him. It wasn’t until David got close to Goliath that Goliath even seemed to notice David’s presence.

From a distance, Goliath appeared to be this massive, experienced, strong, tough warrior. But when David got closer, he saw something different. David noticed that Goliath couldn’t focus on him so David was able to out maneuver Goliath with his sling and stone.

Have we ever wondered why David won so quickly?

It’s because Goliath wasn’t the warrior he was presented to be. But that’s not the point of this story, this event.

For many years, we have told people to “be like David, defeat your giants.” But this puts a bunch of undue pressure on us. The reality is, the giants we face (fear, addiction, anger, etc.) cannot be “defeated” with human standards. Oh, we can suppress the urges, which gives a false notion of victory; but we cannot ultimately defeat and conquer our enemies/giants on our own.

Here’s something we have to get out of our heads. We are not David. It is not us who steps on to the battlefield. It is not anything we can do. The reality is, we are the Israelite army who is sitting in fear because the giant is too much for us.

We are not David. Jesus Christ is.

Right there, we should have a sigh of relief. Why? It is not up to us to win over the giants we face. This victory is only done with the power and presence of Jesus Christ. We do not need to add anything else to cause us anxiety, guilt, shame, worry, fear. Just witness and receive the grace of God who is working in us to remove everything that stands in the way of us fully worshipping him.

God comes in to wipe away sadness, anxiety, fear, anything we’re dealing with. He doesn’t sweep these under the rug and pretend they weren’t there. No. When God does a work in our lives, it is a healing work meaning we can live as free people who are no longer controlled by those emotions and situations.

Yes, the memories will always be there, but the memories become the battlefields of God’s victories so we can see how we have been led, by God, to the place of victory God brings us.

King Saul, the human leader, was not capable or strong enough (emotionally) to defeat Goliath. His eyes and perception got the best of him. But, as we talked about last week, God sees through even the toughest armor and sees right to the heart—God sees the enemy as the enemy is…weak and not deserving to be in or around God’s people.

So what does God do? God leads his people to victory through his power. Yes, it was the human David to kill and behead Goliath, but this is because the Spirit of the Lord was powerfully upon David (1 Samuel 16:13). Because of God’s Spirit in and working through David, God ultimately gets the victory.

What seems like an impossible victory, God shows he can win and be victorious.

We all need victories in our life. We all need to see the world is not going to crush us. We all need to see there is purpose and hope. We all need to see proof of the Living God in and among us.

That is what the historical narrative of David and Goliath teaches. It teaches, when we allow God to lead and guide, there is nothing that can stop us. There is no group too small, no army/enemy too big, no amount of armor or weapons too powerful to defeat the living God.

Through God’s Spirit, he leads his people to places they would not normally go. He leads his people to be in the dark places of this world. Why does he do this? Because his people are the bearers of his light in this world.

God’s people shine bright because God is leading them. God’s people know who and where their “power” comes from. God’s people use the “sword of the Spirit” (Ephesians 6:17) with them always because the sword (the Word of God) is sharper and more powerful than anything we can come up with (Hebrews 4:12).

Church, this week, pay attention to the Lord’s leading. Watch as God is walking on the battlefield in your soul and pay attention to his presence that is making all enemies, all dark forces to leave. Trust in his might and his strength. Without God, we cannot do anything.

But with the presence of God, we are unstoppable to accomplish his mission.

Praise be to God who leads his people on to victory.

God Sees

Click here to read 1 Samuel 15:34-16:13

How good a judge are you of someone’s character? How well do you have the ability to choose/pick who the next leader should be? Has it worked out for you in the past? These are questions that we should be thinking about when we read the passage today.

One of our challenges we face, today, is an opinion overload. What I mean is that everyone has their opinion and it can be tough to sort through the opinions to find the truth. But this is what we must do. We must not let our opinions, our preferences, rise above the standards and vision God has in this world.

Now before we say we can do all of this, listen to this fictional letter about the resumes of the 12 disciples. Based upon leadership standards today, and assessments, this is quite possibly how this would go down.

To: Jesus, Son of Joseph
Woodcrafter’s Carpenter Shop
Nazareth 25922

From: Jordan Management Consultants

Dear Sir:

Thank you for submitting the resumes of the twelve men you have picked for managerial positions in your new organization. All of them have now taken our battery of tests; and we have not only run the results through our computer, but also arranged personal interviews for each of them with our psychologist and vocational aptitude consultant.

The profiles of all tests are included, and you will want to study each of them carefully.

As part of our service, we make some general comments for your guidance, much as an auditor will include some general statements. This is given as a result of staff consultation, and comes without any additional fee.

It is the staff opinion that most of your nominees are lacking in background, education and vocational aptitude for the type of enterprise you are undertaking. They do not have the team concept. We would recommend that you continue your search for persons of experience in managerial ability and proven capability.

Simon Peter is emotionally unstable and given to fits of temper. Andrew has absolutely no qualities of leadership. The two brothers, James and John, the sons of Zebedee, place personal interest above company loyalty. Thomas demonstrates a questioning attitude that would tend to undermine morale. We feel that it is our duty to tell you that Matthew had been blacklisted by the Greater Jerusalem Better Business Bureau; James, the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus definitely have radical leanings, and they both registered a high score on the manic-depressive scale.

One of the candidates, however, shows great potential. He is a man of ability and resourcefulness, meets people well, has a keen business mind, and has contacts in high places. He is highly motivated, ambitious, and responsible. We recommend Judas Iscariot as your controller and right-hand man. All of the other profiles are self-explanatory.

We wish you every success in your new venture.

Sincerely,

Jordan Management Consultants

(Eating Problems for Breakfast by Tim Hansel, Word Publishing, 1988, pp. 194-195)

Unfortunately, with the standards we have set in place today, and the types of qualifications we end up looking for in leadership, this is something that most likely would happen.

But when we read a passage like 1 Samuel 16, we see something different. What we see is faith being lived out in spite of fear and we also see God has a different vision for leadership and what really matters than we do. What we are seeing, in this passage, is a direct contrast with how the people chose to have a king and Saul was chosen versus how God chooses David as the next king, the king who will be the lineage of the King of kings, Jesus the Christ. So this is an important decision.

So, what’s happened? Saul was the answer for the people, but the position of power went to his head and he began to focus on what he wanted to do rather than what was in the best interest of the people, of the nation, of the decrees of God. After the decision to not finish the battle as Samuel directed Saul (1 Samuel 15), Saul lost his anointing from God and became tormented with an evil spirit.

Demons and evil spirit aside, what we are seeing is God’s favor has been removed from Saul. Can you imagine the torment and torture that would take place with God’s favor removed from you? Praise God for his grace. Praise God for Jesus’ words and promise that he will never leave us nor forsake us.

Because of this situation, Samuel was grieved for Saul, and he went back to his home in Ramah never to see Saul again.

Saul’s actions and attitude does not stop the movement and working of God. God makes Samuel leave his town and head to Bethlehem to the family of Jessie, for the purpose of anointing the next king of Israel.

Now, Samuel would have been terrified because it would have been against the law, against the king to anoint a new king while the king was still living! But Samuel knew he’d better obey God, so he went.

When the people of Bethlehem saw Samuel, they knew who he was, what he was capable of, and what his job, as a prophet, was. The people were afraid because they knew what the sacrifice was about and why he came. They knew how Saul would react if “public enemy #1”, Samuel was known to be doing these actions.

But Samuel trusted God and knew God knows things we don’t. So he continued the journey to complete the task at hand.

When Samuel gets to Jessie’s house, he asked to see his sons, and they prepare for the sacrifice. Jessie’s sons come forward to meet Samuel and he thinks “Surely the Lord’s anointed (Messiah, savior, king) is among these brothers.” But who would God choose? What is God looking for?

Samuel looked the brothers over and was told over and over again (paraphrased), “Stop it! You’re looking at the wrong things. I don’t care how these men look. What matters is their heart, their motivations, their character. I want someone who will be a man after my heart and follow my ways, which is what is needed.” So Samuel waited (patiently?) for the Lord to reveal who the next king would be.

Patience is something that is lacking in our world, in our culture, today. We all want what we want when we want it. But when we read the scriptures, we find patience (waiting on God) is the right thing to do. It’s the best way to find out what is best.

None of the brothers fit the mold for the next king God had in mind and Samuel asked if there were any more brothers? In other words, “Jessie, are you hiding anyone from bring here today?” I’d have to think Jessie hesitantly admitted the youngest one was out in the field doing the work. After all, why would the youngest one be the one God would choose?

Throughout the scriptures, we see God choosing the younger over the older several times, especially when it comes to his covenant and his relationship with his people. Again, God chooses who God wants and sees things in people we may not always see.

The youngest brother comes in and God tells Samuel, “That’s him! Anoint him!” Samuel, once again, obeys. And in a secret ceremony, Samuel pours the oil over David’s head to anoint him the next king of Israel. After this episode, Samuel leaves and heads back home to Ramah.

I have to ask you this question, have you asked God for the same eyes, as he has, to see the world and his people? Have you asked God for his vision? Or are we content with knowing what we know and only seeing what we see?

If we are, then we continue to seek after the things and ways that we think are what’s needed. We’ll continue to operate under the mentality the ends justify the means and seek after our own comfort and preferences. This may mean that we keep making mistake after mistake and veer off the course and path God intended.

Remember, God calls his people, God responds to his people. Now we know God sees his people and who they really are and what they’re capable of doing. Yes, David will mess up and do things that satisfy his desires for the moment, but he is still considered a “man after God’s own heart.” Why? Because David consistently sought the movement, presence, working, and will of God, especially when David sinned and messed up.

Waiting on God and seeing what it is God has in store for his people is important.

An example fo this. I was 34 years old before I got married. I always felt like I would just “see” something in the girl I would marry. There would be some sort of spark, in her eyes. I did date a few people, yet I never really found anyone I wanted to spend my life with. No one seemed right. Until…

This beautiful girl and I began talking. When we met up for a cup of coffee, at a Starbucks, I opened the door for her, saw her, and said “Wow!” From that point on, I sought after her. We even married 5 months later. Best decision ever! Patience paid off. Waiting to see what God sees paid off.

I challenge each of us to wait patiently for whatever it is you are asking God to reveal to you. It is easy to jump the gun and seek after the best, the brightest, the biggest. But are we patient enough to try and see what God sees? That’s a question we should ask daily. Why? Because if we can find peace, trusting God has the right answers, then we’ll have peace we are living in the manner God desires. We can be people after God’s own heart.

Let me tell you this, that’s the kind of life I desire to live. I hope you do too.

God Responds

Click here to read 1 Samuel 8.

Samuel is an interesting character. He is a mild-mannered prophet who has no problem removing the head of enemy kings. He is someone you can go to in order to hear from God, and also someone who will make sure the job gets done. (Stay with me this series). 

Samuel is the last of the judges in Israel. Remember the judges were raised up by God to order and administer justice in Israel and to help protect the people from their enemies. (Samson, Deborah, Gideon, are examples of the judges I’m sure you know their stories) Some of my favorite stories come from the book of Judges.

When we read the Bible, we have to understand there are different kinds of literature within this book. In fact, the Bible we have is actually a library of books. The Old Testament is broken up this way:

Torah (law)

History

Poetry

Wisdom

Major Prophets

Minor Prophets

The books of 1 and 2 Samuel are part of the historical writings. What this means is we get to see how the history of Israel pans out, even watching the beginnings of their monarchy unfold. Now, the period of the judges lasted around 200 years. 

It may seem as if the people of Israel did not have a set leader during this time, but the reality is, Israel was set up as a theocracy (meaning ruled by God), which was different than the rest of the nations. In fact, the entire way of life for Israel was set up to be different from the rest of the nations. They were to point the rest of the world to God because God had set them apart and made them holy (see Exodus 19).

This is the kind of life we, as followers of Jesus, are to live today.

But something begins to happen when we live a life different from everybody else. We can begin to think their way of life is better than ours because they can do things we can’t

(It’s always amazing to watch us think we’re missing out on doing things that are actually not good for us, isn’t it?) But this is what we do, and we’ll end up neglecting what we have just because we think something else is better.

So here’s the story.

Samuel was called by God, we talked about that last week. We also showed that God is always working even when we can’t see it. God always has a plan. Keep that in mind as we keep talking.

Samuel has been leading the people of Israel for several years, and gets to a point he knows his time is ending, so he makes his sons the new leaders after him. But his sons were not like Samuel and veered from the path of God. The people of Israel did not like that.

One day, some of the leaders (maybe not a representation of the entire nation of Israel), came to Samuel and said they do not like his sons and do not want to be led by them. Instead, the people of Israel wanted a king…so they could have what the other nations had.

Some things to consider: 1) Do we always know what it is really want or need? 2) Do we always know what it is we are really asking for?

It really does seem like what other people have is better than what we have. Why is this? Because we get insecure with the identity God has given us. This is why followers of Jesus Christ end up bending to the culture—so we don’t have to stand out from others and make statements of what is wrong. Insecurity does a huge disservice to us, to our life, to the life God has given us. Insecurity in our identity will lead us to become jealous and covet what we perceive others have.

We’ve all heard that phrase “the grass is greener on the other side.” What we don’t always know is the effort, work, sacrifice, certain lifestyle that was put into that work. After all, no matter what side of the fence the grass is on, it still needs to be watered and cut and cared for.

This is what Samuel is trying to tell the people of Israel when they asked for a king. He was telling them everything they will be getting into if they went that route and chose to live as everyone else

Remember Israel was set up as a theocracy, so their asking for a king, in reality, was not rejecting Samuel or his sons, it was a rejection of the sole reign and rule of God. This is why Samuel was upset and “sad” when the elders of Israel asked for a king to lead them.

As a parent, we know there are things that are not good for our kids, but they have to learn their lessons the hard way, sometimes. It is not easy to watch mistakes happen, but this is also part of the growing up process.

Yes, the people of Israel asked for this new way to be led, new way to live in this world. What does God do? He responds.

This is something to always know will happen. God will respond to the requests we make. You may be sitting here thinking “well yeah.” But when we think about how God responds, our society seems to think God will act out in some kind of vengeful way. But pay attention to how God responds.

God responds with grace.

He knows the people have chosen to live differently from their calling in this world. He knows they have a desire to be like everyone else. So in an act of grace, God gives them the request, but makes sure they know what it is they are asking for.

Before anyone here thinks I’m saying God will give us all of our requests, we have to understand that everything God does is an attempt to bring us back to himself. This is where it can get hard to hear. Sometimes God may allow things to happen to us for the purpose of leading us back into his fold and his way of living. The Apostle Paul, in his first letter to the Corinthians, gives an example of this when he writes, “hand this man over to Satan for the destruction of his flesh, so that his spirit may be saved on the day of the Lord.”

We come to God with many requests, each day. We plead with God to act and to reveal himself. We may or may not see, or experience, our requests, but we can be assured God has and will respond to what we’re asking him for. The answer may be yes, no, or not yet (meaning do what we’ve been told to do before we get the next answer).

This event did not take God by surprise. God responded even before the people thought about making the request for a king. Here’s what I mean by God has responded. 

The people of Israel asked for a king because they wanted to be like everyone else. What they may have forgotten is God has already given provision for Israel to have a king. In Moses’ final sermon (Deuteronomy), God laid out for how the king and monarchy was supposed to run:

  • God chooses the king (must be from among the people of Israel)
  • Will not accumulate more stuff than needed (especially for military)
  • Must stay in the land the Lord provides
  • Must not have too many wives or too much money (or will be led astray)
  • The king writes his own copy of the law and read it daily
  • The king will not consider himself better than anyone else

God made these provisions, but the people still wanted to be like everyone else, so they entered into a new way of life, serving a human rather than solely God. Even though this was not God’s plan for his people, God still provided a way for them to live, and to return to knowing, loving, obeying, and worshipping him and him alone.

I know each one of you is going through something today. I know life is not always easy. But I also know that God has heard every one of your prayers and requests and has even worked out a plan for you to know the answer. Always find a way to praise God no matter the answer. Why? Because everything God does is to lead you into his graces and love and forgiveness.

The people of Israel, because of many circumstances, will have to face evil kings, bad enemies, exile, but they are still God’s people.

How do we know God responds to his people with grace today? Just look at Jesus the Christ. Jesus is how God has provided for us to come back to him. Following the true King, Jesus, will lead us to a life of promise, of hope, of love, of joy, of peace. That is the life God is calling us to.

Our life may or will not always be easy, but we can always count on the response of God – “Come to me, all who are weary.” The response of God is always calling his children home, so they know what a holy life is like.

Made in the Image of God

Created in the Image of God

“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth…Then God said, ‘Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness…So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.”[1] The imago Dei has been a doctrine of debate for many years. “Theological anthropological claims were derived by applying the general account of creatureliness to human creatures in particular, qualified by the claim that what distinguishes them as specifically human is that God creates them into the image of God.”[2] Throughout the centuries, people have been in many discussions and studies about what it means to be made in God’s image. There are many theories from being made in the image of love, to being a good and moral person, to having the creative ability to steward and care for the earth, to…I’m sure many other ideas. All of which point to the character and personhood of God. Just what is the image of God? What does this mean for humankind and its identity? What are the implications for salvation and life everlasting?

For a while, I have fallen into the camp of saying God is love and we are created in the image of love, but I have come to better understand this is true, yet not a complete understanding. Why? Because of the way love is defined in our current culture—more dealing with feelings than as a way of life. Another way I have understood the image of God is we have morality within us. It is true humanity has the moral law written on our hearts. This is why we can determine what is right and what is wrong. Duane Stephen Long writes, “The moral life has its origin in our creation in the image of God and its end in our restoration and return to that image.”[3] But I have some reservations about this. Is the imago Dei “just” about morality? Are we not considered “moral” when we move on from this life? Or does “morality” take on a new meaning, or dimension, when we transition into the next life?

Now we come to, what I think is, the real issue—who is God and what is God like? I also believe how we live out our life shows what we believe about the nature and person of God within us. When we take the time to study, reflect on, and pray about who and what we are, we can begin to understand our purpose in this world because we understand there is a deep level to goodness there is within the world, and within the nature and character of God. “The triune God is complete goodness…the triune God is the perfect fullness of being…God loves his own goodness such that he seeks to share it. This occurs through the second person of the Trinity, who is the image of God.”[4] Our entire life should point and be directed to the Son, the second person of the Trinity, Jesus Christ to best understand the image of God.

To this end, I am concluding the image of God is about relationship. To be made in God’s image shows we can have a deep relationship with the creator, other people, ourselves, and creation. One of the things to understand is God is in relationship with Godself through the Trinity. The Trinity, the relationship with the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, show us it is possible to live in perfect harmony and peace with others. I believe this is God’s intent—we live, with the Spirit of God dwelling with us, in perfect harmony and peace with everyone and everything around us while we take care of and tend to the created order, as God would do here since we are the image-bearers of God and God’s representatives here on earth. As Stephen Fowl writes, “In creation God freely wills not simply the existence of humans created in the image of God, but God also desires fellowship with humans, offering them a share in the divine life. This is both the intention with which God created and the end for which God created.”[5] And everything was all well, and good, until, free will got the best of humans and the divine image within humanity became marred through the entry of sin and evil in our world.

Image of God Broken Within Us

Humanity was created to be God’s image-bearers on earth and take care of the created order. “The issue at stake, rather, is the theological account of the specific relationship of two causalities to each other—the triune God, creator and redeemer, and the human being, created in the image of God and existing under the condition of sin.”[6] Now that we understand this concept, we have to take responsibility and respond to God. We can either accept gratefully this image and task, or we can reject it. When we reject God, this response, “may take the form of efforts ‘to be self-constituting and isolated being’, i.e. the form of sin that distorts the image of God vertically and horizontally.”[7]

Because of sin, we easily lose our divine purpose, within us, and end up making ourselves made into the image of anything else that makes us happy. Thus, idolatry, greed, murder, thievery, adultery, etc. become the “gods” we seek after to fulfill us and we have allowed these other “gods” to lead us to live a life for us rather than the life God created for us. We continue to mar the image of God within us by reshaping our lives by the relationship(s) we have with other entities we feel are more valuable than the life of God within us. We miss out on living out the divine relationship of the Trinity in which we have been created. Why? “Sin obtains, with the consequence that the entire relations that constitute persons is distorted or ‘fallen’”[8] meaning we have lost our way, our purpose, and our identity. Unfortunately, because the reality of sin and evil, has entered into our world, and every human, there is nothing we can do, on our own, to change our relationship with God and restore us to the divine image.

What happens next is humanity will begin to seek after other things, people, statuses to believe they have found who they are and what their purpose is for life. Idols and idolatry now come into view, which distorts the vision humans have of themselves and the created order even more. We think we can “fix” this problem on our own, so we will do everything possible to try to “earn” God’s favor and acceptance, but we can end up making things worse because our focus is not on God but on ourselves and how we want God to fix us so our lives are better. It is too easy to treat God as our magic genie, who works for us, and expect God to do our bidding, thus attempting to make God an idol who works for us. We need the grace of God. We need God to do something, to intervene in our lives to make this change for us. We need God to remind us who we are and replace the image of ourselves once again with the divine image to restore all relationships in this world.

God Reveals Himself

Due to the fall (sin and evil becoming attached to human life and existence), humanity had lost so much of its identity concerning how to be in relationship with God, others, self, and creation, that is it impossible for us to restore the relationship status we were created in without any assistance. Therefore, God sent the Son, Jesus the Christ, as the one who would save and atone for the sins of the world. What this means is God descended from heaven to show the people of Israel (eventually the world) what it means to be human and live into the divine image. To best reveal himself to the world, God sent Jesus, the human revelation of God in flesh. Jesus is the way we can experience a restored relationship with God, others, self, and creation.

Before Jesus came, humanity did not have a full revelation about who God is and what God’s nature is like because God revealed small amounts of the divine character at different points in history (see Noah, Abraham, Moses, David, the prophets). Humanity was not able to grasp the richness and deepness of God, so God needed to send a full representation of himself to show the world who he is and what his character is like. Jesus is this revelation for humanity. In Colossians 1:15, the Apostle writes out a hymn and confession of faith that was taught to teach about who Jesus is. “The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation.”[9] The revelation of God has been made known through Jesus the Christ. Without Jesus, God would still be unknowable, in the manner we can know God today. Therefore, humanity would not know the divine image given to humanity at creation. It is also through the Holy Spirit, within us, we can more fully understand who we are because of the image of God by leading us to Jesus Christ. “The gift of the Holy Spirit invites us to participate in the life of God by drawing us into the life of the Son.”[10]

Made in the Image of Christ

“As a human person who is the image of the invisible God, Jesus Christ is not merely a spirit or soul but an embodied human being.”[11] Jesus is the way humanity can personally know God—who God is, what the character of God is like, and thus who we are, as people. “To know who God is, the theological virtue of faith is necessary.”[12] To be restored to the image of God, God allowed humanity to have faith in God’s Son, Jesus the Christ. “Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God…”[13] Jesus tells his disciple, Phillip, “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father.”[14] To know Jesus is to know God. To know God is to know who God is. To know who God is reveals who we are. To know who we are reveals the divine nature within us. To know the divine nature within us reveals how we should live, in relationship with God, other people, ourselves, even the created order.

Jesus has been made known to the world, and now humanity can know what it means to be made into the image of God by being recreated, reformed into the image of Christ because of God’s grace through our faith we direct back to God through Jesus the Christ. The image of Christ does everything possible to proclaim and connect the world with the already yet coming kingdom of God. We can see how this is carried out within the pages of the New Testament.

“In the New Testament the imago is identified with Jesus…the imago was not fulfilled at creation but rather is a divinely given eschatological destiny. This destiny is fulfilled by the eschatological Spirit, who, transforming human beings by incorporating them ‘in Christ’…drawing them into participation in the divine life.”[15] One of the ways we can see this lived out and practiced is in the letters of Paul to the people at Corinth. He writes, “Follow [imitate me] my example, as I follow [imitate] the example of Christ.”[16] To fully live into the divine image, we (humanity) need to follow the example of and imitate the life of Jesus. It is in Jesus Christ the image of God is fully lived out. We, humanity, now have the chance to display and live into love, morality, joy, peaceful relationships, etc. because this is all part of the divine image, the imago Dei. This is all possible by placing and grounding our faith in Jesus Christ.

Faith, in Christ, is where this transformation begins. “Persons are re-created, the image of God restored, when they are conformed to Christ.”[17] “The theological virtues, gifts, and beatitudes restore us into the image of God, Christ, whose life is the foundation for this restoration. Through his incarnation and its meditation through the church in word and sacrament, we participate in his righteousness.”[18] This kind of life leads us to the gift of salvation and understanding how we should live, in this life, and in the life to come.

Salvation and the Goal of Salvation

For people to fully realize a life lived in and with the imago Dei, humanity needs to be recreated into the original image God intended. Nothing will be set right, no relationship will ever be peaceful or just until the imago Dei is fully restored in the life of the follower of Christ. This begins a process of being recreated, being made new in Christ. In the process of being made new, being recreated, this does not take away our uniqueness, it simply means the essence of who we are (our motives and focus in this world) will be recreated and re-centered around the God who created us. “Re-created persons truly image God. Thus personhood is inherently centered outside itself. Since, as created, personhood is already intrinsically related to God, God’s relating to re-create does not threaten person’s autonomy and subjectivity.”[19] All of this is made possible through the work of Jesus Christ. As the Apostle Paul reminded the people of Corinth, “if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come. The old is gone, the new is here!”[20] Humanity can, and will be recreated into something new, something that God intends, something that will allow humanity to dwell and live with God in life everlasting, or as N.T. Wright says, “life after life.” This is the goal of salvation–theosis.

Theosis (divinization) is not, of course, a ‘becoming God’, but being made into the ‘likeness’ of God, which means being drawn much more deeply into the relationships in which God exists as a Trinity of love…salvation is a ‘coming closer to God’ or an ‘ever intensifying relationship.’”[21] What this means is humanity moves closer and closer to the original design of perfect relationships whole, at the same time, moving away from the relationship and damage of a life guided and lived under the curse of sin.

One of the beautiful aspects of salvation is the past, present, and future aspects of the working of God in our lives. We have been saved. We are saved. We will be saved. God’s act of salvation is constantly moving us closer and closer to the divine and deeper and deeper into the divine relationship. With each act of God, we realize more and more of the divine image within us and we can see how God, because of the work of Jesus Christ and the activity of the Holy Spirit, is moving us to live into more of the divine image. Forgiveness of the sin nature within us is transforming the marred part of us and transforming the sin nature back into the imago Dei.

What Does This Mean?

Restoring the divine image within us, transforming us into the image of Christ, means God is making us whole. We will not have to think there is something we’re missing out on because we find our completeness in the presence of God. After all, we will find God’s image within us and working through us. It is our relationship with God that makes us whole. Being whole means we see how we are set apart—made holy. This is the goal of reclaiming the imago Dei in us. We become a set-apart people shining forth God’s light, love, and character into the world. We live into the Great Commission (going, teaching, baptizing, making disciples) because this is who we were created to be and because we have a deep longing for others to know, realize, and live into the divine image within themselves too. How cool is it, God gave us the Holy Spirit to know God personally and to know God is guiding, directing, encouraging us each step of the way to not forsake or quench the Spirit within us, but to become more and more into the likeness and image of Jesus Christ? This is the image the world needs today and what the world needs to see so transformation can take place and we can visibly witness the kingdom of God reigning and ruling in this world. We become, by the grace of God, new creatures, transformed into whole and holy people doing the work, and living the life, God originally intended for God’s people.


[1] Genesis 1:1a; 26a, 27 New International Version

[2] J.B. Webster. The Oxford Handbook of Systematic Theology, 122

[3] Ibid, 460

[4] Ibid, 460

[5] Ibid, 348

[6] Ibid, 291

[7] Ibid, 132

[8] Ibid, 132

[9] New International Version

[10] J.B. Webster. The Oxford Handbook of Systematic Theology, 460

[11] Ibid, 75

[12] Ibid, 460

[13] 1 John 5:1 New International Version

[14] John 14:9 New International Version

[15] J.B. Webster. The Oxford Handbook of Systematic Theology, 129

[16] 1 Corinthians 11:1 New International Version (my addition of imitate)

[17] J.B. Webster. The Oxford Handbook of Systematic Theology, 132

[18] Ibid, 461

[19] Ibid, 132

[20] 2 Corinthians 5:17 New International Version

[21] J.B. Webster. The Oxford Handbook of Systematic Theology, 176

Mighty Acts of God

Acts 2:1-21

The scene. 

120 of Jesus’ followers were gathered in the Upper Room. What were they doing? Exactly what Jesus told them to do. Wait. But this was not a sit still, do nothing, kind of waiting. No. They were actively praising and worshipping God through Jesus Christ. Why? Because they knew the power of God from Jesus being raised from the grave.

Imagine the scene. Imagine the joy. Imagine the confusion? Confusion because they were told to wait for the coming of the power, of the Holy Spirit, to be witnesses of Jesus in all the world. What were they looking for? Anything special? How would they know when the power came in them?

I think this is a question many people ask today: how do you know when you’ve been filled with the Holy Spirit? How do you know when you are supposed to do and go? Will you be any different? Or do you just go by faith? The answer, of course, is yes.

Here’s what happened.

50 days after the Passover, the Jewish custom was to have the Feast of Weeks. This was the day the Jews thanked God for the grain harvest AND to remember God giving Moses the law on Mount Sinai (see Exodus 20 – the end of the book). We know this festival as Pentecost (Penta – 50). So there would have been thousands upon thousands of Jews (and converts to Judaism) in Jerusalem.

Suddenly, the house where the Jesus followers were was filled with the sound of a violent wind and, what looked like, tongues of fire that rested upon each head. Every person, in the room, was filled with the Holy Spirit, and they began to speak in other languages.

Now that would have been a pretty cool scene to witness. Just imagine a loud, violent, sound going through your house, not knowing where it came from or how long it’ll be there. Then, imagine seeing fire inside your house. What would you do? What would your reaction be?

Now, imagine you were on the outside of the house and heard a commotion. You see these people begin acting crazy. Do you call the police? Do you find the nearest mental hospital? What do you do?

You do like people today do. You pull out your phone and video the scene so you can publish it to social media and hope your video of these crazy people goes viral and around the world. Everyone needs to know how out of their mind these Jesus people are. They need to see why following this Jesus makes you act in a weird way.

The crowd stayed. The 120 followers began to speak. Jews, from all over the known world, were present in Jerusalem specifically for this Pentecost festival. Not all of them would be speaking the same language. But when they got the video footage on their phones, and heard about the commotion, they just had to come see for themselves what was going on. Suddenly, an Egyptian yelled out in the crowd, “Quiet! Their speaking Egyptian!” Then Romans here them speak Latin. Then all of the other 13 countries heard their own language. What was going on? What does all of this mean?

Like a good human, people began to make fun of the disciples because the scene wasn’t understood. So some began to say “they’ve been drinking too much wine!” It seems as if some in the crowd thought the disciples were worshipping with wine (as other pagan customs would do).

From out of the observed chaos, this guy comes center stage and begins to speak. We don’t know if he spoke in different languages, or if he spoke in Aramaic. But we do know when Peter spoke that day, all the people heard and understood the message.

So what was Peter saying? He was declaring the mighty acts of God! 

We can sit back, today, and go, “okay? So Peter was telling a large crowd about Jesus. What does that have to do with me today? You’re not asking me to go out in front of people and begin to speak about Jesus. We don’t do that today. It’s impolite and offensive to ‘force’ Jesus’ name down people’s throats.”

I know that sounds a little facetious, but there is truth in that last statement.

So, what does Pentecost have to do with us today?

Remember this was the beginning of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Another term for this is being baptized with the Holy Spirit. Keep in mind when your life belongs to Christ, the Holy Spirit fills your being. So, the Pentecost event (in some shape or form) is still happening today. When people are filled with the Holy Spirit, their entire life focus changes and there is something visibly different about their life. The person is changed and transformed completely, from the inside out.

On that first Pentecost Day, the crowd would have seen something different about the Jesus people. They, especially, would have noticed these unlearned people, who have probably never left their home region, began to speak in different languages. Now, Rosetta Stone software, would not have been that good yet, so this would have been impossible to learn a new language, especially that quickly.

When the Holy Spirit fills us, our communication changes. In Matthew 10, Jesus promises the Holy Spirit gives his people the words to speak when they’re needed. Throughout the historical narrative of Acts, the Holy Spirit empowers the people to speak to the crowds and groups. So what it is the Holy Spirit empowers his people to speak?

The wonderful acts of God. The mighty acts of God.

The Holy Spirit enables his people to speak about and point toward Jesus. That is his mission. So now we have to ask: “what are the wonderful or mighty acts of God?”

We have to be careful of thinking we have to witness something big, we have to see or do something big. So often we stop because we believe our excuses. Know this, “excuses only satisfy the ones who make them.” When this happens, when we think that way, we end of thinking we have to wait to have everything in order and perfect before we can step out “in faith.” But the reality is we have already been give the power (Greek dynamos) which simply means “the ability to do.”

God has given us himself, which means we have the ability to do the works he has given us. The reality is we do not need more machines, more technology, more programs, more or better anything. What is needed are groups of people to step out in faith, people not afraid to pray, people who live fearlessly into their giftedness and do the work of God in this world. The world needs people of faith to trust the abilities God has given them to do things the world thinks is impossible.

There is a sign in the library of Asbury Seminary in Florida that says something I can’t get out of my head: “Attempt something so big that, unless God intervenes, it is bound to fail.” Now that’s a statement. Can you imagine the people of Godattempting anything even though there is a chance of failure? Would you try anything today is there was a greater chance of failure than there was of success?

But that is what happened on that Pentecost Day. Peter, with the great chance of failure, began to speak to the crowd of thousands. Peter had a chance of getting stoned, humiliated, thrown of out town. His reputation, as a laughing stock, wouldhave been sealed that day. Oprah could have done a sob story on Peter.

But Peter had been given the ability to speak to the crowd and he sensed it was the right time, so he just did it. Sweaty palms, mind racing, his notes getting out of order. Peter does the only thing he can think of—he speaks about Jesus. That is a sign of the Spirit. 

The Spirit gives signs of his presence.

On the day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit gave the signs of wind(the presence of God, see Genesis 1 as an example), and tongues of fire (fire represents covenant and God’s promises kept (see Abraham covenant Genesis 15).

The point? God uses ordinary things to show his extraordinarypower and presence. If God can use ordinary objects to reveal his presence and his power, imagine what God can do through ordinary, seemingly insignificant, nobodies!

At the end of Peter’s “sermon” that day, 3,000 people accepted faith in Jesus Christ. That means the crowd was large! But there is a number specified as to how many responded. Every time we speak about Jesus, there are always people who do not respond favorably. With this logic, how many people turned down the message of Jesus and just walked away? Think about it.

The mighty acts of God were proclaimed and people still turned it down. What are the mighty acts of God? Life changes and world changers. 

Even when people see this first hand, it is still difficult to believe. But the Holy Spirit still empowers his people to proclaim Christ. We, as his people, just have to be careful not to quench, or put out the fire of the Spirit.

The power that was demonstrated on that first Pentecost is still available today. The Holy Spirit still speaks and empowers his people to do and say the message of Jesus. You have been gifted and empowered with that ability.

What wonderful/mighty acts of God can you communicate today?

Vitality of the Christian Faith

On July 2, 1789, John Wesley wrote a sermon called, “Causes Of The Inefficacy Of Christianity”. Click here for the full sermon.

This is a powerful, convicting, sermon on how Christianity can be more transformative in our world. Here is a summary and application for this important sermon:

Causes of the Inefficacy of Christianity

Jeremiah 8:22 “Is there no balm in Gilead: is there no physician there? Why then is not the health of the daughter of my people recovered?”

​“Why has Christianity done so little good in the world?” Why does John Wesley begin this way? He notices a “failing” of the people who call themselves Christians to bring about real and lasting change in the world. One of the biggest reasons for this is because of the deep corruption of human nature. Humanity is flawed and fallen, so this means there is a vast amount of work to do in the world.

Even with the reality of so much brokenness, all around us, Wesley says Christianity was supposed to be the remedy from our Creator. But he also laments because it is not known well and the Christian faith cannot do good where it is not known. He can say this because of the vast amount of Christians who do not seem to be doing their part to be part of the transformation of the world. The lack of “action”, to Wesley, is an indicator that few Christians know what Christianity means and are ignorant of how they are supposed to live out their faith.

But Wesley also notes there are some people who understand what it means to be a follower of Jesus Christ. They have laid their lives down to “deny themselves, take up their cross, and follow Jesus” This is the key, according to Wesley. Followers of Jesus Christ should pay attention to how their lives are lived so the glory of God will be demonstrated and revealed in the world.

All parts of our life, especially what we do with our money, should serve the kingdom of God. Wesley emphasizes how Christians should be gathered, in community, for worship. He also said how important it is to practice and deepen their faith through prayer and fasting. This, for Wesley, is what it means to be a Bible Christian.

Relevancy For Today

Now we get to the question, “Has Christianity done good in the world today? In some areas, yes. But there are still many issues all around us. According to Wesley, if all Christians lived out their faith, as it says in scripture, we would be able to see and live in a more peaceful place where there are no poor, or problems.

As in Wesley’s time, there seems to be a disconnect between faith and practice. Christianity is more than a status symbol, it is about life transformation. The transformation of one’s life happens when we deny ourselves, meaning we think of other’s interests above our own and we put the work of God ahead of everything else. Even in our day to day jobs, we still do everything for the glory of Christ by doing our best in all we do.

What’s interesting is that the same things Wesley says were the “failures” of Christians as well as how Christians should live, is the same principle that applies today. It seems as if we still have to guard against the notion of Christian being a status symbol to get a certain position. Instead, we should view our lives as humble, obedient servants willing to do everything necessary to be a sigh of relief to a hurting and broken world in separate need of God’s forgiving and healing touch. Christians would need to know this personal presence of God, on a deeper level so we can be his instruments in the world.

Yes, God is big enough (and smart enough) to find ways for his work to go on in the world; but there is so much that we Christians can miss out on by living solely for ourselves, or solely for what “rewards” we’ll receive “in the end.” There is great joy, hope, peace, and love we can experience here and now because of the presence of God working in us and through us. We can bring the healing and the presence of the kingdom of God wherever we go and in whatever we do. But it all begins with taking heed to the commands and guidance of Jesus.

So what should we do today? We should not neglect meeting together for worship. We should be involved in prayer and fasting. We should “earn all we can, save all we can, and give all we can” so we do not allow money to become a god in our life. Above all, we should practice what we preach. Then we just might see a change in this world.

Revival Can Come

“if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, pray, seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land.” ~2 Chronicles 7:14 NRSV

I see this Bible verse posted on yard signs, in windows, I hear it from the mouths of adults. Generally when I hear this verse, it is about America needing to repent so that God will heal this land from all diseases and troubles.

But I think we are missing something. I believe we have missed how revival and awakening happens. Revival, and spiritual awakenings, do not usually begin in a country, or large group setting. I know, through the grace of God, people groups and nations can turn to God all at once; but generally revival begins with the individual person and it spreads out like a ripple effect.

What is a revival? An event, time period, condition of the heart where people’s lives turn to God. It is a time of realigning our lives to God in the instant we experience his love and grace and begin to trust him completely for his provision and for his presence. This is a pretty cool thing to experience. When the Holy Spirit is palpable and tangible, the atmosphere changes and you can literally taste and see the goodness of the God who created you and who is pursing you all the days of your life.

I love the story of a young pastor who visits his mentor. The young pastor begins to say he is praying for revival and for an outpouring of the Holy Spirit so the community changes. The mentor quietly listens as the young pastor continues to say everything that is wrong all around him. Quietly, the older mentor gets up and walks to his desk and comes back with a piece of chalk. While the young pastor is continuing to speak, the mentor begins to draw a circle, with the chalk, on the floor around the young pastor. The young pastor stops talking and is watching what’s going on. Finally, the older mentor sits back down and says, “If you want a revival in your community, it begins right here, in this circle, with you on your knees, confessing, repenting, and calling on the Name of the Lord to do his work in and through you.”

This is the part of the verse, above, I think we miss. What’s interesting is how literal we take some parts of the Bible and metaphorical we take take others. Yes 2 Chronicles 7:14 was address to the people/nation of Israel. Yes God is speaking of literally healing the land and protecting it, if the people call on God. But what if there is a deeper level here? What if God is continuing to speak through this passage to teach us something today?

How many are drowning in their lives because of hurt? How many have broken relationships, crippled by diseases, grieving significant losses? The point is, land for us today is about our lives. Think about it. If your financially insecure, there is incredible stress. What brought you to the instability? Living above your means and living for yourself. Many diseases we face are brought on by ourselves, through not doing what’s necessary to protect ourselves or acting in a manner of sin that brings the disease on. There is so much brokenness in our world, and in our lives, that we can forget that God really is about healing, restoration, and redemption.

So here’s the deal. What if we took the time to call on God and confessed how we have lived as if he was not enough? What if we called on God and confessed how we don’t completely believe in who he says he is or how he says he is with us or will provide for us? (The root of all sin is unbelief because we begin to act in the place of God because we believe we can do better in some way.)

I am coming to realize how so much pain and brokenness in our lives is because we put we above he. The first step in a revival is realizing what we don’t believe about God, even if we cry out, “Lord, I believe, help my unbelief!” Then we become so full of the Holy Spirit and our land (relationships, emotional well-being, mental well-being, physical self, etc. begin the process of being made healed and whole.

I know many people are broken-hearted about the state of the world. But what if we took the time to be broken-hearted about the state of ourselves? God may not instantly heal everything “wrong” or broken in our lives, but our heart (and focus) is directed toward him and the process of being remade into the image and likeness of Jesus Christ begins to heal us, which works through us to share and show the healing presence of God to all we encounter.

How many of you are ready for a true and lasting revival? How many of you are tired of feeling like your life is broken? How many of you are tired of trying to do everything OT figure everything out on your own? Run to the cross of Christ! Find healing and peace when we die to ourselves. In this process, real joy and peace is found and we can live with the hope that is found in the promises of God.

Asking the Right Question

We have all been at crossroads and have to figure out which path to take that will be the best for your life. Some of the questions we ask are, “Which way does God want me to go?”, “How do I know if I make the right choice?”, “What is the best option for me right now and what if this is not the best option in the future?” If you’re not a believer, the question of what God thinks would not enter your thought process.

But here’s the deal. I think we are asking the wrong questions.

Recently, I have come to a crossroads where I feel like I need to make a decision. It has been weighing on me because I keep trying to think about every possible angle or outcome that could come along. In this process, I felt God just say stop and look. So I looked down and saw four different paths I could take while on this trail.

So what did I do? I studied where the paths went. Of course I could have just went back the way I came (the fourth path). But then it was a surreal moment. It was as if a light bulb went off in my head and then a wave of peace came over me. It was nice. What was it that happened? It suddenly dawned on me that no matter what path I decide, God will be there working in and through me.

That’s when it hit me! We end up asking the wrong questions. We often wonder “what path I should go?” but we really should be asking what kind of person will I be/do I want to be in whatever decision I make?

This is really an important question. God will move and work wherever we are and in whatever we decide. When we consider what decision will feed our souls and help us become the person we desire to be/are meant to be by the grace of God, that is the path we should take.

So, as the Crusader tells Indiana Jones when trying to choose the chalice, be sure to choose wisely.

Reaching Our Cities for Christ

Christopher Wright said it well, “We argue about what can legitimately be included in the mission God expects from the church, when we should ask what kind of church God expects for his mission in all its comprehensive fullness.” (Wright, 534) Alongside this line of thinking, another way to look at this is “I may wonder what kind of mission God has for me, when I should ask what kind of me God wants for his mission.” (Wright, 534) To find any “success” in ministry, that thought is very important. To be effective, we have to allow the Holy Spirit to shape, mold, and transform us into the instruments and vessels he wants us to be. Otherwise, we are doing ministry for our sake instead of for the sake of the Kingdom of God. When looking at cross-cultural urban ministry, Wright’s questions help us put into, better, context what the Apostle Paul writes, “I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some.” (1 Corinthians 9:22 NIV)

So what does this look like? Is there a way to be effective in the way Paul was? Yes. Whenever Paul went to a new area, he made sure he went to the city centers. “[Paul] concentrates on the district or provincial capitals, each of which stands for a whole region…These ‘metropolises’ are the main centers as far as communication, culture, commerce, politics, and religion are concerned…Paul thinks regionally, not ethnically; he chooses cities that have a representative character.” (Bosch, loc. 3259-3274) Why did he do this? Because this is where Paul knew the most effective way to communicate to the regions was located. When he did this, he was able to “shift” his speeches and explanations of Christ to show the people he understood them and was willing to do life with them and guide them to come to faith in Jesus Christ. Paul knew how to be the kind of person the people needed, without giving up on who God created him to be. All of this helped to equip the people to carry on the ministry after Paul left and continued on his missionary trek. 

At the same time, Paul knew he was not doing his own work but, rather, the work of Jesus Christ in the world, empowered by the Holy Spirit. He practiced incarnational ministry and did it well. “The significance of incarnational ministry is that ministry belongs to God and His work, first and foremost.” (Buckman, 181-82) This is one of the reasons Paul was successful, he knew he was doing the work begun and continued by the Holy Spirit. He was confident in his calling and did not waiver in the message he proclaimed. So it should be with us. Do we know and have the confidence Christ has called us and given us purpose in this life? It is because of this confidence that we can handle what we go through. “The pastor…who enters a new culture, no matter how hard he or she tries to identify with the people, must expect to suffer, both out of longing for what is left behind and because of resistance to what the people are being called to accept or become.” (Wingeier, 38)

One of the interesting things about cross-cultural ministry is the opportunity to learn more about another culture. “Since most multicultural communities in the United States consist of the dominant (powerful) culture plus at least one other less-powerful culture, justice issues need to be paramount in any cross-cultural ministry, not relief, not charity, but what the New Testament calls righteousness.” (McConnell, 592) This means that opportunities are available if we take the time to learn about different cultures and how people live. “Henri Nouwen teaches us that a powerful ministry occurs with people of a powerless culture when we demonstrate a capacity to learn from them and a willingness to show our gratitude for the gift they thus offer.”( McConnell, 593) The gratitude we experience comes from the knowledge of the blessings God has bestowed upon us. As the cliché goes, “we are blessed to be a blessing.” “’Be a blessing’ thus entails a purpose and goal that stretches into the future. It is, in short, missional.” (Wright, 211) This brings us to contextualization.

Contextualizing the Gospel message to any culture is important. “Contextualization begins in those areas where the biblical context overlaps with the contemporary cultural context. One often talks about certain parts of culture in abstract terms like ‘collectivism,’ ‘honor/shame,’ ‘patronage,’ or cyclical vs. linear views of time. After all, no one today existed in the time Scripture was written. That distance creates an unavoidable degree of abstraction. The critical point at this stage becomes finding how we move from abstract categories to their concrete modern expressions.” (Wu, loc. 1686) There are ways of communicating, here in the United States, that would not fly overseas, like and area such as Saudi Arabia. What is the goal of the missionary? “We desire for people to see all that is good in the gospel. However, this takes time. Thus, we must take steps so that people can see, as much as is possible, what is good in this news. By drawing from the entire Bible, not simply our favorite texts, we gain a balanced perspective on salvation. By not developing a ‘canon within a canon,’ one identifies the major themes or motifs that God uses to explain salvation.” (Wu, loc. 1530) When we do this we communicate the full scope of the Gospel. Jackson Wu says it well, “In a word, the gospel is the message by which sinners are saved. Naturally, evangelism in its fullest sense requires we talk about sin in some form or fashion. This story is not complete without making clear God’s reaction to sin.” (Wu, loc. 1514) He also reminds us “judgment has a positive side. In judging his enemies, God brings salvation to his people and righteousness to the earth.” (Wu, loc. 1522) What about the cities?

Cities, urban areas, are very important. As we have seen, the Apostle Paul utilized the cities to spread the Christian message of Jesus Christ to the outlying areas. He was strategic in where he went and who he spoke to. We should do the same and realize how quickly the landscape is changing within the cities. “The rapid growth of urban populations is well known and has been well documented. In 1800, for example, less than three percent of the world’s population lived in towns of more than 5,000 people. By the year 2000, half of the world’s population lived in cities of more than 100,000 people. As cities have grown, they have become more diverse with respect to culture and class, as well as professional and residential differences, and almost endlessly multifaceted.” (Buckman, 183) Allan Buckman goes on to say, “Moreover, the City has enjoyed a reputation for being welcoming and hospitable toward immigrants and refugees…In other words, the considerable flow of New Americans into the City will almost certainly continue into the foreseeable future.” (Buckman, 183) What does this have to do with contextualization? For starters, this means there is a diverse group of people all in one place. 

Different groups (cultures) may live in certain pockets within the city limits, but they are still gathered and lives intersect with others. As Jesus says, “the harvest is plentiful…” (Matthew 9:37 NIV) so there is an incredible opportunity to reach different people. “In the city can be found pockets of small village-like communities where people live as much as they did before they migrated to the city. Within that community they shop at family-owned stores where personal ties are important. They discussed choices with their neighbors. Outside the neighborhood, however, they learn to make decisions as city folk do, and this begins to change their community.“ (Hiebert, 179) This makes strategic movements within the city very important. We cannot just go in and start something new, we have to take time and follow any “chain of command” there is, whether it is stated or not. “When attempting to develop a ministry or program among members of these communities, one must always receive some kind of approval of one or more of the community leaders. If a ministry is to be developed in a manner meaningful to the ethnic community you are trying to reach, it is obligatory.” (Buckman, 186)

One of the challenges with cities we should be aware of is migration. People come from all over the area just to live in the city, but refugees also come from other countries to live in the cities. As ministers/missionaries we have opportunities to reach these people as well. “According to the United Nations Population Fund, there are 214 million displaced people in the world, which is 3% of the total population.” (Wingeier-Rayo, 19) How we live our life affects this group of people also. We may even have to step out of our comfort zone to aid and support and minister to any person that is displaced. “Jesus has crossed geographic, linguistic, cultural, ethnic, gender, religious, and socio-economic borders.” (Wingeier-Rayo, 30) To illustrate this point further, Philip Wingeier-Rayo goes on to say, “[Jesus] left his comfort zone in Galilee…He identifies with the people of his region and shows solidarity with them…” (Wingeier-Rayo, 31) Ready to leave the comfort zone? To do this, we need to make sure we are sensitive to the culture and background of the people. Urban areas provide opportunities to come in contact with a diverse group of people. “This increased cultural and ethnic diversity demands that we attend to and respect the gifts of the various groups now represented in our society, church, and institutions. It also requires us to develop intercultural sensitivity and skill. Most importantly, it asks us to reexamine our understanding of ministry, which can be seen as a way of bridging different ‘cultures.’” (Wingeier, 35) How we communicate the Gospel matters.

Dr. Hiebert writes, “Communication of the gospel across the chasms of cultural differences rests upon the quality of interpersonal relationships between human beings—between missionaries and the people they serve.” (Hiebert, 147) As we communicate, we have to know how to speak to the people. This is where it is important to live a life free of reproach so the message we proclaim is heard from words and actions. “[T]he mission in the church, according to Peter, includes both vertical proclamation and ethical living, and the impact of his tight argument is that both are utterly essential.” (Wright, 390) The context in which people live is important. Context really is king, especially when proclaiming the gospel. “We face a very practical question. When it comes to preaching the gospel, which context is king? The ancient biblical world? Literary context? The interpreter’s culture (or subculture)? How about the cultural context of our listeners? If we are honest, finding an answer is far more difficult and sobering than one might expect.” (Wu, loc. 266) Taking time to understand the meaning of the scriptures and how to communicate them, in any setting is essential. This creates a unique challenge within urban settings. You have to know who you are talking with, and at least some of their background, to be able to understand how to communicate with them the core of the Gospel: Jesus Christ is King. Proclaiming this fact can be done in any setting. “Contextualization, if done well, keeps in perspective for us the fact that Jesus is King of every context.” (Wu, loc. 671)

Before continuing, we have to realize we may not be called, by God to try and reach “everyone.” But we are called to go to different people. It is these people, and this culture, we can immerse ourselves in and learn how God is speaking to them today. This will help us to be flexible in the manner in which we proclaim the Gospel yet remain firm in the core message. “Christians need a contextualization method that has both flexibility and firmness…The gospel does not change. On the other hand, biblical writers clearly present the gospel in contrasting ways. Even within the Bible, there is no single prescribed way of preaching the gospel. In addition, the world’s cultures are diverse and ever changing.” (Wu, loc, 1363) For example, a person in China is more likely to respond to communication about honor and shame versus guilt and punishment. “A person in America may not use words like gaining or losing ‘face,’ but they might talk about ‘people pleasing’ or ‘trying to look good in front of others.’” (Wu, loc. 1391)

Now no matter what context we serve, there will always be the truth God “desires all people to be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth.” (1 Timothy 2:4) In urban areas, there are multiple places and venues and ways to find “a truth” that fits the individuals, even what will fulfill the desires each person faces. This raises the reality of other “false gospels” that people will buy into to be justified in the lifestyle they have chosen. “A culture’s false gospels also answer the four questions mentioned above. Thus, we first could ask, ‘Functionally, who is the savior-king in the culture?’ Personally, one asks, ‘Functionally, who is the savior-king figure in my life?’ Second, ‘What has this savior-king done in the past?’ Again, the answer to this second question clarifies both what kind of a person the “savior” is as well as his significance. Therefore, it matters that one knows about this savior-king’s character and power.” (Wu, loc. 2944) In Acts 2, Peter was speaking to a large crowd. They were in the city of Jerusalem at the time of Pentecost. It is possible some people were searching for a relationship with Jesus Christ. Then, when Peter got up to speak, they found what they’ve been looking for, in the mighty works of God through Jesus Christ Peter spoke about. The same is true today. To help people see why God is vital and is enough, we speak about what he has done. We do not have to be fancy with the language we use, we just speak about God. “When talking about God, we need to highlight his works in history in order to explain what God is like. We do not merely want to say he is omniscient, omnipotent, and omnipresent. This is how systematic theology describes God. Rather, we seek to emphasize how God demonstrates his character and attributes.” (Wu, loc. 1245) This is a great undertaking but well worth it. The works of God include the person of Jesus Christ and his atonement for the sin of the world, as well as the personal sin of the individual.

When we present the Gospel, especially to people who can find their pleasures fulfilled on a whim and find purpose in their jobs and people they hang around, there are going to be some questions that will need to be answered when giving a Gospel presentation. “The biblical gospel answers four key questions. I’ll review them briefly. There is a clear logic to the order of the questions. (1) ‘Who is Jesus Christ?’…(2) ‘What has Christ done?’ This question aims to show what kind of a person he is. (3) ‘Why does Christ matter?’ In other words, why is Jesus significant to us? This point largely deals with salvation. Traditionally, evangelicals have laid the greatest stress on this aspect of the gospel message. (4) ‘How should we respond?’” (Wu, loc. 2925)

Now, the challenge will be avoiding syncretism, especially when a concept sounds close to one the person has known before. In the urban areas, even cross-cultural settings, it is possible to keep certain traditions, customs, and way of life and still think they are living as a Christian. One of the ways to combat this is to fully immerse ourselves in the setting. Many call this “incarnational” ministry. The point is to become involved enough in the culture and community to gain the respect of the people. Relationships matter. “If the success of missions depends largely upon the quality of the relationships between missionaries and the people to whom they go, the parent/child relationship model is not biblical. The biblical model is that of incarnation. To bridge the cultural gap between heaven and sinful earth, God became human and dwelt among us, eating our food, speaking our language, and suffering our sorrows, yet without giving up his divine nature. Incarnation is identification, but it does not deny who we originally are. It is, in fact, a bicultural or by personal state. Just as God became one with us in order to save us, we must become one with the people to whom we go in order to bring them to message of salvation.” (Hiebert, 158) Only when living life, on some level, with the people will trust begins to develop and the mission and proclamation of Jesus Christ will be heard and lived out by the people we serve.

This is truly only possible with the presence and person of the Holy Spirit. It is the Spirit who guides as he did for the Apostle Paul by sending him to Macedonia (Acts 16:9). Following the leading and guidance of the Spirit prevents us from proclaiming our own culture and ideas. The Spirit helps us proclaim the full gospel. This is what is important in urban centers and any kind of cross-cultural ministry.

Bibliography

Beale, G. K. (2014). God Dwells Among Us : Expanding Eden to the Ends of the Earth: Vol. North American Edition. IVP Books.

Bosch, D. J. (2011). Transforming mission : paradigm shifts in theology of mission (20th anniversary ed. / with a new concluding chapter by Darrel Guder and Martin Reppenhagen.). Orbis. Kindle Edition

Buckman, A. R. (2012). Contextualization in an urban setting. Missio Apostolica20(2), 181–189.

Martin, M. (2011). Cross-cultural perspectives on the call to ministry. Vision (Winnipeg, Man.)12(2), 70–78.

McConnell, T., & McConnell, J. (1991). Cross-cultural ministry with church and family: the final report of a research project. Religious Education86(4), 581–596.

Wingeier, D. E. (1992). Emptying-for-filling: an approach to cross-cultural ministry. Quarterly Review12(2), 33–56.

Wingeier-Rayo, P. (2015). Jesus as migrant: biblical understand of immigration as a cross-cultural model for ministry. Apuntes35(1), 19–32.

Wright, C. J. H. (2006). The mission of God : unlocking the Bible’s grand narrative. InterVarsity Press.

Wu, J. (2015). One gospel for all nations : a practical approach to biblical contextualization. William Carey Library.

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.