Monday, May 21, 2007

Fishing and Breakfast

Our minister, Charlie Robinson, gave a thoughtful sermon yesterday. He does so pretty often, but I thought it would be a good idea to expound on this particular sermon today, since I've been thinking about it. He talked about John 21:1-14 (last week he had discussed verses 15-19) where Jesus, after his resurrection, calls the disciples to throw their empty nets to the other side of the boat.

The interesting thing that Charlie brought up was how ordinary this situation was. The disciples are fishing—as was their trade—and Jesus was on the shore preparing breakfast for the disciples. He calls them to a miraculous catch, and asks them to bring some of their catch for a breakfast meal. How ordinary this scene is, considering the fact that he was just raised from the dead a week or so ago. Talk about a divine encounter in the mundane activities of life!

But Charlie made a point about this that deserves consideration. Jesus, the one who rose and demonstrated that he was God in the flesh, and the Son of God, serves the disciples breakfast! He cooks for them. And as a result, he is an example for them and us for what it means to be a witness of reality (the gospel message).

If we are to learn anything from this it should be that our witness in this world is our service to others coupled with boldness and honesty. We make better witnesses of Jesus if we do as he did. Not as a superior expositor, but in the ordinary way we go about our lives as ourselves. This is not a master plan of evangelism, but rather an intentional approach to being a fisher of men.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Mission Confusion

I've been reading the latest post on John Turner's blog about whether our churches are more inclined towards ministry or mission. John makes a very important observation in that churches that tend to be more ministry-focused, tend to get bogged down in placing more of its resources and time into their ministries and inward focus. While more mission-focused churches use ministry to make their mission more effective. Thus their resources are allocated towards achieving the mission, with ministry as the means.

The commentary is interesting. Some interpret his statement as creating a false dichotomy between ministry and mission. Granted, the title of his post gives this impression (Ministry vs Mission), but he simply is questioning whether we are confusing our ends with our means.

Some interpret his post as a polemic against too much ministry. They say that if anything is needed, the church isn't loving enough. We need to do more service, not less. And filling our churches should never be our goal. We need to serve people. And people come to Christ that way anyway. But again, that is not what John is getting at. He believes that the emphasis isn't in our ministry efforts, but our goals for ministry. Are we paying attention to why we do what we do? Did Jesus really want us to focus on ministry, or to minister with our focus on what he wants?

This brings up my concern for the modern body of Christ. It is amazing to me to witness in my lifetime a confusion about mission. Yes, loving people through ministry is important, but it has become more important than why Jesus came.

If we do not get beyond helping to save lives, we are no different than any other non-profit organization. We meet needs and love people, with the hope that they will "accept" Jesus. But what we believe about the implication of this is shallow. We either want to fill the pews with unrepentant, well-fed souls, or seek acceptance by worldly standards. Many ungodly people are concerned about people's lives. But what about their souls? Who cares about that?

When Jesus was discussing his impending death, Peter decided to rebuke Jesus for such negative talk. But Jesus rebuked Peter in response. He gave him this to think about:
"Jesus turned and said to Peter, 'Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men.'

Then Jesus said to his disciples, 'If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it. What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul?'"
Matthew 16:23-26
What can man give in exchange for his soul? Does that give us any idea of what is important to Jesus? Our lives, or the souls of men and women? Does a seed produce more seeds by comfortably remaining a seed? No, it must die first.

The faith of our current Christian culture is becoming decaffeinated. Just enough to get the taste, but not enough to keep us awake at night.

In the night of our times, we need to stay awake. Wake up!

Thursday, May 10, 2007

More Clichés

I've been paying more attention to a few clichés I've been hearing in Christian circles. They consist of things like, "All sin is the same." "It doesn't matter how you come to Christ. Just come." "Everyone can be saved. Just accept Jesus." "It's faith that saves you. Not works." And on and on.

Now each of these clichés have a ring of truth to them—that's why they have become clichés. But too often these things are repeated without the original meanings intact or completely understood.

For instance, most Christian's would agree that sin is all the same to God. We may separate sins into categories, but God doesn't do that. People tend to say these things because they want to make the point that judging others is wrong. In either case, the cliché stands on a set of assumptions: "We are not to judge others, therefore segmenting sin is wrong," or, "No one is righteous before God, therefore it doesn't matter what sins people are guilty of before God."

The truth that the cliché points to is that our standing before God is the same for everybody, concerning our separation from him. However, our salvation is secured regardless of our past sins, when we place our faith in Jesus. We are all unrighteous before God, yet we can all be made righteous—in the same way—by God. Our sins, in that sense, do not keep us any farther away from God than other person's sins.

The problem with not understanding this is that many people misapply this in making evaluations about conduct, acceptance, and sound doctrine. When this cliché is quoted, especially in churches, it is in reference to being unable to decide what are worse sins. It is good that we are afraid to make snappy evaluations of other people, or to believe that other people are not worthy of love because of a particular sin they are involved in. But it is quite another thing to be unable to help people caught in different kinds of sins, because we are too afraid to name the problem, or see the problem (even in ourselves).

The truth is that one sin cannot be forgiven. Some sins lead to death. The Old Testament is full of examples of different punishments for different sins. And even Jesus claimed that the those who know what they need to do, but fail to to do it, are subject to worse punishment than those who don't know, yet sin. Even the cities he condemned, will be judged more harshly than the cities that were destroyed in the past for their sins, because they had the opportunity to repent.

Why is this important? We need to be in line with the truth, not our feelings. Our feelings shift depending on the sides we take, our age, our experiences, and our likes and dislikes. But truth stands firm forever. How can we judge our own actions, if we believe falsely about them? How can we really help someone, if we lie to them about their lifestyle? How can we please Jesus, if we encourage sinfulness? How can we teach, rebuke, correct, or train in righteousness, if we don't know how to evaluate our beliefs and actions?

A misunderstood cliché is a travesty.