Created on Tuesday, 12 April 2016 10:37
Written by Jonathan Whitaker
I read an interesting article a few weeks back that cited a study of nearly 58,000 participants from the Millennial Generation. The study compared the religious practices and beliefs of Millennials to a similar population of Gen Xers and found that hallmarks of religious life (prayer and church attendance) are in major decline. There was a five-fold increase since the 1970’s among 18-22 year olds who say they never pray and the number who attend church (ever) was cut in half.
The study found one odd and alarming fact, among people who never pray or attend church, the belief that when they die they will go to heaven…increased
. That is the world’s standard of accountability. The world now says you no longer have to talk with God, worship Him, or even believe in Him to go to heaven. These folks certainly don’t believe that God created the world and man and I suspect the thought never occurred to most of them that if heaven exists, God would have had to create that, too.
In the Air Force we call this conundrum a “self-licking ice cream cone.” In essence, heaven exists in my imagination, I set the standard for going there when I die, and I do the quality control check for who gets into heaven based on my own criteria. It seems like people have replaced accountability to the sovereign God with accountability to themselves alone. Personally, if I were going to invent a make-believe heaven, I would not make dying one of the prerequisites for entry.
This lunacy is not Christian accountability. The fact is, we are all going to die, and we are all going to be judged (Heb. 9:27-28), but you, Christ follower, will be raised to life; that means there is work for you to do here and now. In the modern protestant parlance, accountability is among the churchiest of words, no doubt you have heard the term. Some of you have even thought through how you can get some of that accountability in your walk with Christ. You may even have gotten an accountability partner or accountabilibuddy, but what is accountability anyway? IMHO it is being held to a standard by something or someone greater than yourself.
Here is the thesis: for the Christ follower, the standard of accountability is the grace of God (Rom. 6:1-14). Since Christ died for your sin, you are no longer held to account by death, instead you are held to account to God, by the resurrection of His Son Jesus Christ. The resurrection is a much higher standard than death for two reasons.
First, the resurrection overcame death.
Second, it took the God of the Universe dying on the cross in our place to achieve that standard.
A Christian person can expect to either be conformed to the image of Christ by trusting in the resurrection and walking in it, or they can expect to be conformed to the image of Christ by ignoring the resurrection and being held accountable to it. Paul says in Philippians 1:6, "I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ." The question is, are you going to go willingly, or kicking and screaming?
Christ has a plan for His church and good work for each one of us. That work begins when we turn from sin and serve Jesus with our whole hearts (Rom. 1). This also means that when our brothers are caught in sin it is our duty to pull them from the fire, so that they can be restored (Jude 23). Accountability is not about rule following, it’s about holding one another to the standard of righteousness that is the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ…the standard which we claim as our salvation.
What’s crazier? Believing in heaven while denying its creator, or believing in the Creator then denying Him with your actions? I don’t know about you, but when your
kids misbehave, I don’t punish them, but when my kids misbehave, discipline is a certainty. Do you see the difference? God disciplines those he loves. We are His children.
There is you preview of this coming Sunday. Come to church this weekend and get the main show! See you soon.
Created on Tuesday, 05 April 2016 10:34
Written by Aaron
I know, when I have to start out saying this is NOT a political blog, it seems like this must be some sort of political blog…it’s not, trust me (I’m not a politician). What I want to share is in regard to engagement in the current political process; it has very little, if anything, to do with candidates and policies; it actually ties in to what I was saying last Sunday (if you missed the message you can listen here
In past few weeks I have had conversations with people from a wide variety of political persuasions, but one thing seems to be a constant, they all show their dislike for the other party by making fun of the opposing candidate’s name. As believers in Jesus I believe we should make our views known, but not in a way that destroys the humanity of someone else. Many people I have talked to do not even know what the buzzwords of their favorite candidates mean; words from ‘democratic socialism” to “conservative values.” I say this to point out to you that the most recent study done of American politics shows that most people have no idea what their candidate of choice would actually do as an elected official, which tells us we are going by how we feel
and not basing our decisions of who to back based on facts and truth.
According to the latest Barna survey (Barna.org
), Christians who say
they are most concerned for the upcoming election and the future of the United States are actually the most indifferent to their candidates’ actual beliefs. I don’t know about you, but I’ve seen this firsthand with certain friends. These friends are often very vocal about their opinions on social media, but when you talk to them in person, they admittedly have no clue about a candidate’s policies—they just like them. This should be concerning to us not just as Americans, but as Christians first. Our support of a candidate should not be because of our feelings; it should be because we hold certain core beliefs.
I believe that God has placed us in a country where our vote not only matters, but counts. I believe that if you don’t vote, you have no right to complain about what happens in our political process (this includes Facebook posts). I also believe that we cannot simply vote for “the nicest guy” because the nice guy may in fact be perpetuating evil. What are the things that God has clearly told us as believers to fight for?
That life is precious and all people have dignity. Does your candidate of choice treat others with respect and fight for the value of all life born and unborn?
That we are to be peace makers. Does your candidate of choice seek peace before the occasional necessity of battle?
That truth is a staple of our lives. Does your candidate of choice tell the truth or have they been found lying?
That we are to become a generous people. Is your candidate of choice generous with their own wealth and not just everyone else’s?
We choose what is good and right because it is what Jesus calls us to, not because it is politically expedient or socially acceptable. Let’s face it; being “right” most times it is neither of those. James 4:17 So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.
Our problem is that many times we don’t like “the right thing.” We like the thing that makes others like us, and unfortunately (or fortunately), that is not what we are called to.
1 Thessalonians 5:22 reminds us Abstain from every form of evil
. We don’t just get to stay away from the “greater” of two evils and vote for the lesser, we are to abstain from it. I believe we should be involved and we should share our views, but they must be informed by Jesus first. If we decide to support a person, we must take a close look at their lives so we are not inadvertently lifting up evil. In all things we must remember that the world is messed up by people and people are not the solution, Jesus is. The only person who will ever bring lasting hope and change is our great redeemer. If you have a chance to lift up anyone this political season, lift of Jesus.
Created on Tuesday, 26 January 2016 11:37
Written by Aaron
Last week our Gospel Community was meeting to discuss the previous week’s sermon and someone asked, “Why did Jesus have to die?” I asked what they meant, because I knew this person trusts and believes in Jesus and His sacrifice for us. They said (I’m paraphrasing), “Why couldn’t God just say, ‘All’s forgiven’ rather than have Jesus die?” This is a really good question.
I mentioned it to our staff two days later in staff meeting, and someone asked how I responded. They suggested I share my response in a blog post, because this is something that has come up in multiple Gospel Communities during Notes Night. I had no idea this was a common occurrence. If you have been wondering about this question, are a GC leader who has been asked this question, or never even thought about it until now, this post is for you.
It is hard to start answering this question in any other place than the book of Genesis. In Genesis, God creates everything, including man, and lays out what is good in front of man. The Hebrew word for good is tov
); the word refers to everything good, in the broadest sense possible. God determines what is good and beneficial and He imparts that knowledge and wisdom to the man He creates. God fashions man with His hands, He makes man in His image, He breathes His very own breath into the man to make him alive, and then He instructs the man on what is good and right and places this man in the garden.
God then tells the man the consequence of sin—he will die. You sin, you die (simple, right?), and yet we have made it so much more complicated today. To make this as simplistic as possible, death is separation. Death is not the stopping of our hearts, or the blood in our veins turning from red to blue (it’s all still red anyway), and it is not the synapses in our brain no longer firing impulses to our bodies. Death is separation from life. God is life and He tells us that if and when we sin, we are/will be separated from Him. Death is separation, not just from life, but also from all that is good.
In Genesis, God separates
for the man what is light and dark
, truth and lies
. God makes the distinction between life and death
for the man. This explanation of what constitutes life and death includes the idea that man is free to live and love God and His creation in any way the man sees as most useful. The man is not part of the garden; he was fashioned and placed within the garden to nurture and take care of its beauty because beauty is good
When man decides to go his own way in the garden, without God, and do what he feels
is right, he sins. In Genesis 3 you see that as soon as the man and woman sin, they tragically died. The scriptures use words like “shame” and “exposed” to illustrate what has happened. Their sin made them lose their innocence and their connection with each other and God; they became separated, they died. They, like us, no longer know the beauty of innocence, the good
that allowed them to face one another without shame was now gone. They also lost true life that came from being in connection with God, the world around them, and each other.
The saddest part of all comes in Genesis 3:8. “Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the LORD God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day
, and they hid from the LORD God among the trees of the garden.”
They hide from God. Adam was the head of the human race and because he died, we are all born into life with a deep-rooted propensity to sin and seek our own “good.” However, man cannot know good apart from God showing us what it is—He alone makes that definition. To this day, sin runs rampant in our lives and causes us to be separated from others, our Creator, and eventually our own flesh.
How can God restore us to the place of understanding and knowing His definition of good? In the rest of Genesis 3, you see God comes walking into the garden, this place of rebellion and death, and He calls out to the man. It is not that God couldn’t see Adam hiding behind a bush trying to cover his baby-making parts; the point is that God comes looking for the man because the man could never find God on His own. God is on a rescue mission to redeem His people from death.
God then makes a promise, in His holiness, that He would provide Himself as a sacrifice to remove man’s sin and restore relationship. We see the first sacrifice when God slaughters an animal to clothe Adam and Eve’s shame. We can oftentimes gloss over this verse, but it is devastating—blood is spilled as the cost of man’s sin. The fact that God made this sacrifice Himself shows how important and necessary it was. Sinful people cannot dwell with a holy God. Eventually, this leads to the whole Old Testament sacrificial system, which ultimately points towards the final sacrifice for our sin, Jesus.
The writer of Hebrews sums up the entire Old Testament by saying in Hebrews 9:22, “Without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins.
” So God Himself provided Jesus, His son, at the appointed time to be the One that dies for us, in our place, as our substitution. God could not just wink at sin and say it was no big deal, like when our kids do stupid things and we act like it is okay. God is holy, just, right, and true. If He brushed sin off, He would cease to be God. Because He defined the consequence of sin as death, He had to follow through because His words are true. This is why blood, which is related to life, is required for the sin we commit.
The problem is that we could never pay for our own sin, because our own lives, our blood, are tainted because of our sin. What is taught through Scripture is clear - either you die
, forever separated from God, or you trust
in the provision of God through His Son, who has died for you. Your death for His life, your sin for His righteousness—Martin Luther referred to this as The Great Exchange.
I am trying to keep this blog on the shorter side, but the idea of our regaining life is rooted in the idea of sacrifice—more specifically, His sacrifice for us. Why did Jesus have to die? Because we are so evil, and the cost of sin is death. Why DID Jesus die? Because He is that good. Don’t let this get you down. There is a reason it is called “good news” or the Gospel; it is the only hope we have ever had. Our God has sought us and bought us with Himself. We don’t live in despair because of what it cost Him; we live new lives of joy because He has first loved us and given us a reason for great joy.
We are not dead. We are redeemed.