Monday, February 25, 2013

What is Good News? (5)

To summarize what I have learned about the gospel:

(1) It is
It is a message, or truth, of the Spirit. It is not man-made. It doesn't require man's input, consultation, teaching, etc. It is only revealed and received by God's Spirit. The natural mind cannot accept or understand this supernatural message.

(2) It is the POWER OF GOD!
For those who believe, the gospel is the power to bring peace, hope, salvation, apostleship, and transformation.

(3) It SAVES us!  It makes us disciples.

(4) It SENDS us!  It makes us apostles.

(5) It SANCTIFIES us!  We are different because of it. God fills us with His power and we are forever changed!

(6) It is SENSELESS!
Because of everything noted above, we can conclude that it makes no sense to our human wisdom. In fact, it is foolishness.

So what?!
**Pray for people to receive the Spirit of Christ. It is the only way people can believe the gospel. Because the gospel defies human reason, we need to spend more time praying for people to have their minds "set on things above" or that the "Spirit will testify with their spirit" so they can receive Him. Practically, we need to pray the gospel into people's lives as much, if not more, than we preach it. (This doesn't mean the preaching should stop, as is evident in the next two points.)

**Keep it simple.
The gospel is always, and always has been, all about Jesus! Don't add "rules" to it and make it about other things. It is not about religion, but relationship. The gospel is not a set of principles, the law, the Bible, habits, routines, church attendance, etc. Keep the focus on Jesus. Talk about Him and leave it at that. We are solely concerned with someone's response to Him, not the other stuff.

**Tell it plainly. Jesus was/is human. He was a descendant of David. Jesus also was/is God. He created everything. He died to forgive our sins. He was raised back to life to empower us and transform us. We can live new, different, holy lives as He leads us and fills us with His Spirit. (Yes, it's crazy and miraculous, and it takes a radical change-of-mind - repentance - to embrace this message. But it is what it is.)


Friday, February 22, 2013

What is Good News? (4)

Another critical point about the gospel is that it does consist of a message, a wonderfully simple yet profound message. The key is that it is a miraculously mysterious message.

In short, the gospel message is Christ died for our sins and Christ was raised from the dead! No more. No less. He died and rose again!

The gospel, according to
Galatians 3, was actually given as a promise to Abraham a long time ago. It was later revealed fully in Christ so the Gentiles could also receive the Holy Spirit. What is critical to remember is there is mystery to it. I'm starting to conclude that we can actually be counterproductive if we work so hard to explain the gospel that we take away the mystery. We think we are doing a great thing by putting everything in easy-to-understand human reason, but maybe I would be better off just presenting the simple gospel stated above and letting the Spirit reveal the mystery as only He can. Instead of trying to solve the mystery for others, we should simply invite them into the wonder of it.

Perhaps, our problem with communicating the gospel lies in the fact that it is still truthfully a mystery to us because we've preoccupied ourselves with a false substitute.


Monday, February 18, 2013

What is Good News? (3)

Probably the most interesting revelation I had about the gospel is also one of the silliest. I mean that in the sense that it should have been the most obvious part all along. The revelation is that the gospel is spiritual!

Okay, so you're thinking, Duh! Of course, it’s spiritual. It's the gospel, moron! But think about this. I was an ordained pastor and involved in church leadership. That means I studied and read a lot. I went to countless seminars, trainings, and meetings. The point of much of that time of study and preparation was so that I could explain the gospel to others. Indeed, it was viewed as the most important work a pastor or evangelist could devote himself to. And yet, there is a catch.

The irony of our approach to the gospel is that we believe it is so important that we must be able to communicate it to lost people. So, we come up with numerous tips and strategies and tools. Sometimes, they are profound and make sense. Other times, they are so cliché that they become ridiculous and it is no wonder people mock them. But get this, according to the Bible, the gospel cannot be presented or understood by the human mind! It takes a supernatural revelation. In other words, it is SPIRIT-ual.

Practically, here is the point.
The gospel is spiritual because it is only revealed and received by God's Spirit! The gospel cannot be presented and understood in our human mind, as stated above, but moreover it is so senseless that it actually causes people to stumble without the Spirit! Once we have the Spirit, then the gospel message of Christ crucified becomes our POWER. The foolishness of the Cross becomes our Salvation!

If that doesn't make much sense to our world, it shouldn't! That's the point! Maybe all the time spent training people to adequately describe and explain God to people would be better spent praying for God's Spirit to enlighten people (them and us) to get what cannot ever otherwise be received without His Spirit.

Let me add one final point from
Galatians 1. The gospel is received from Christ, and cannot be taught by men. Man has no role in approving or validating the gospel. Let that sink in!


Friday, February 15, 2013

What is Good News? (2)

Romans 1 is a tremendous chapter in the Bible for understanding the gospel message. What I learned from this part of the Bible is that the gospel is something/someone promised a long time ago. The promise was Jesus Christ, a human man that is also God's Son. How we know Jesus is the fulfillment of God's promise is the Resurrection. The gospel is God's POWER and God's RIGHTEOUSNESS. So, the gospel SAVES us! We receive grace.

The gospel calls us to belong to Jesus as apostles (sent ones) to call others to obey Jesus. It is proclaimed so that we will become an offering and sanctified to God - in other words, so that we will give our lives to Him.
So, the gospel SENDS us!

The gospel SAVES us and SENDS us. A complete response to the gospel will have us embracing both parts - our salvation and our mission. So many times we settle for an inadequate response to the gospel and only want it to save us. If it doesn't move us to action, then we may question whether we have received it at all. This was one of the biggest ‘Aha!’ moments for me recently. Receiving Christ is not only "Come just as you are" but also "GO just as you are now." Why have I missed that second part for so long?


Monday, February 11, 2013

What is Good News? (1)

Not too long ago, I began to realize that as I have been on this journey of re-discovering Biblical truth about so many things, there really can't be anything that is off limits. It has led me to re-examine basic, fundamental parts of Christianity, such as the essence of the gospel, discipleship, and the church itself. Basically, the primary question with all the areas I am "re-searching" (as in, searching again) is, What does the Bible plainly teach?

My method of discovery has been an elaborate two-step process:
(1) Open the Bible.
(2) Read it.

Not sermons, websites, commentaries, etc. - just a plain reading of Scripture in context. Sure, it leaves me with lots of questions, but there are also many plain insights apparent to any objective reader.

One of my strategies has just been to take a word or concept, use a concordance or index to find the times and places it is mentioned in the Bible, and then go read those passages in the context of the chapter or book in which they are found. Recently, I did that with the word "gospel."

I began with the premise that the gospel is, in fact, the thing we are supposed to teach and preach. It is the good news! So, my follow-up question was, Do I really know the gospel? In turn, I wondered not only what it is, but what it does. How is it conveyed? Is it simple or complex? What is the centerpiece of the gospel? These are the kinds of thoughts that guided me into an interesting personal Bible study about the gospel. I begin sharing what I discovered in the next post.


Friday, February 8, 2013

A Case for Simplicity

For those new to the concept of simple church, it is an expression of church that attempts to remain simple in how it spreads the gospel message throughout the world. The simpler that messages and practices are, the more reproducible they are. Simplicity releases the multiplying power of the kingdom. The aim is to keep everything as easily reproducible as possible by as many people as possible (regardless of age, gender, education, training, etc.). Another simple aspect is that there is very little financial cost (and often none at all) to "running" these kinds of churches, which also serves to make it much more reproducible. (Reproducibility is probably the quickest test of whether something is actually "simple" or not.)

Another reason for keeping things simple is because it keeps the focus on Biblical truth. Rather than getting caught up with who is in or who is out, what a pastor should do, what a church building should look like, having board meetings about budget concerns, or a host of other issues, we can simply ask, "What is the Holy Spirit leading us to do?" This process frees people up to be guided by only the Bible and God's voice. There is no need to spend a lot of time on preparing curriculum, reviewing doctrinal manuals, attending seminaries, etc.

While there is great variety in forms of simple churches, they are often united and networked more by a philosophy than an organizational structure. For the groups I participate in fellowship with, we don't construct buildings, purchase property, or hold executive board meetings.

Ultimately, discipleship itself, looks and feels differently from the familiar routines of most conventional churchgoers. Rather than having numerous Bible studies and courses for members to attend, people become disciples of Jesus by doing what He says to do in their life's context. This method of discipleship is, perhaps, the single most important distinctive of the simple church. As we formed our first simple church, I explained our approach: "We believe people are best discipled when they are encouraged to listen for God's voice and seek His Spirit WHILE they are working at jobs, raising kids at home, shopping in the market, having dinner with friends, and basically, living life!" In other words, as my wife likes to put it, there is not an emphasis on going to church one day out of seven, but instead on being church 24/7.

{Note: The labels "simple" and "organic" are often used interchangeably when describing this type of church expression. Sometimes, these churches are called "house churches," which may accurately describe specific situations. In fact, we often call our gatherings "house church" meetings, but this label does have some limitations and "baggage" attached to it. I prefer the term "simple" because it conveys the mindset behind this spiritual movement, though "organic" is a very instructive and scripturally-rich term for it, as well.)

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Our Simple Church Story

The following is the update I submitted to the Nazarene Organic Church Network (associated with the Church of the Nazarene denomination) as our story for their consideration to publish:

Our small simple church in central Texas has been a blessing and demonstration of God's grace for the members of our group. We still have a long way to go and much to do, but a couple current examples of how we have been able to minister to others include conducting monthly services for the residents of a local nursing home at which one of our participants has an active visitation ministry and bringing together our contributions to support a monthly backpack food program for families at a local middle school. In the past couple years, we were also able to provide special birthday parties for children in foster care by partnering with a local YMCA and adoption agency. We also appreciate the work of the pastor and congregation at Hill Country Nazarene Church as they endeavor to serve the community in meaningful and practical ways.

The most significant growth has occurred through our realization that there is no separation between clergy and laity in our structure. We recognize that we are all ministers in our families and vocations, and individuals in our group have been set free from guilt about religious duty and released financial resources to bless people outside our group. We are constantly discussing and praying for one another's workplaces and homes, and including our children in the process. When someone in our group is going through a difficult time, we show care and lift them up in prayer. Our focus is more and more where it should be: fixed squarely on Jesus. The future is bright with hope for new ministries and opportunities. We are grateful to God for His faithfulness!

I did not have much space for the submission, so I couldn't get into future goals too much. However, here I would like to add that as we move ahead, I would like to see us become even more missional and focus more on disciple-making. Personally, I also hope to create a better way to orient people to the simple church approach and become more invested in the cause of stopping human trafficking, as well as see others in our group realize their dreams for impacting the world around them. Many of my personal ministry passions are related to my job as an educator and wanting to see God glorified in the public school setting as kids' lives are changed.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Who is Jesus?

The most fundamental and critical issue in all of Christianity is the identity of Jesus.  If He is God, then it means one thing.  If he is not, then it means another.  Billy Graham, C.S. Lewis, and so many others have reiterated this point throughout history, as did the Bible writers.  Do Jesus' claims make him a liar, lunatic, or the Lord? 

The question is so important that Jesus uses it as the springboard to building His church.  In
Matthew 16, He wants to know who people say He is.  More specifically, He wants to know who His disciples say He is.  There were many answers given, all meaningful when understood in their cultural and historical context.  Once Peter acknowledges that Jesus is indeed the Christ, and realizes in essence that He is the God-man, then Jesus affirms his declaration as true and revealed from His Father.  So it is time to begin the Church.  Thus, the Christian church is born on a correct understanding of who Jesus really is!  When that foundation cracks, you no longer have a Christian church.

Jesus' question to His followers back then still resonates with each one of us now -
Who do you say I am? With such a life-altering and enormously important question before us, where can we go for the trusted answer?  Do we just answer that question from our gut?  From what our parents tell us?  From what we hear pastors preach?  From friends?  Scholars?  Skeptics?  Media?  No doubt people all over draw their conclusions about Jesus from all these sources, but there is one that is more certain than all of them.  We need to have our view of Jesus shaped by the Bible!

While reading the Bible, I sometimes simply make a list of the facts about Jesus, the Son of God, as I come across them. I just write them as I see them. No interpretation or paraphrasing. Even this simple exercise that any child could do often reminds me of profound truths. At times, I am surprised. Perplexed. Refreshed. Strengthened. Awe-struck. I have many reactions as I allow Scripture to begin painting the portrait of our Savior. And it is worth it every time.