Preach the Word

2 Timothy 3.10-4.5. As I reflected on this passage, I was blown away by Paul’s desperate appeal to Timothy to stay true to the Word. The last words of a dying man. So I have a question, What is truth? And what does it have to do with preaching the Word? And what does that have to do with me?

I shared a tweet this week… “Truth is relevant, not relative.” For me, that is why fidelity to the truth, the biblical story is so important. Because like we said last week, ever since the fall, our natural orientation is very earthy and self-centered. We tend to ask, “What’s in it for me?” It’s our time, our finances, our resources. We are too busy running our own universe to give loving God, much less loving people, a second thought.

Adam and Eve in the garden. Tree of the knowledge of good and evil. What knowledge did Adam and Eve gain when they ate of the fruit…the serpent promises that they would be like God, knowing good and evil. But didn’t they already know what was good? Wasn’t that God’s assessment of creation? Didn’t they know that God was good and the Definer of the good? So what did they gain? They gained the ability to define the good for themselves. Now they could determine what was good and evil, what was right and wrong, what was true, apart from what God had revealed. In becoming their own gods, they also became their own barometers of truth. And so truth would seemingly become relative. But the truth has never been relative. When heaven and earth split apart in the fall, it was those who looked to the things above, to the heavenly realities who followed God and were willing/able to see the truth as truth. Those focused on earthy realities continued to define truth according to their own image, according to their own sliding scale.

When we first trust in Jesus, the Bible says that we are new creatures; but our perspective isn’t automatically realigned. The noetic effects of sin, vestiges of the flesh and a culture hell-bent on dragging us away from God tend to keep us very earthy and self-centered. And we continue to look like the world around us. We see truth as relative. And that’s why fidelity to the Scriptures and preaching the Word has to be foundational.

Last week we said discipleship is the process of learning to think and act differently. To reorient our perspective so that we begin to see the world through God’s eyes and to respond to others the way He would. It’s not an automatic process, but a change in lifestyle. Paul calls it “being transformed by the renewing of the mind.” And that only happens as we become immersed in the Story, as we remind ourselves who we are and what God is calling us to. It’s learning to see my resources – my time, my money, my relationships, my life – through God’s eyes.

As I thought about my own life, I had made the decision long ago that the Bible was true. I don’t remember consciously saying it. And I don’t remember anyone telling me that. It’s just the way I’ve approached it for as long as I can remember. I’ve never had a problem with a six day creation, a worldwide flood, the walls of Jericho falling at a trumpet blast, the sun standing still for Joshua or the shadow moving back up the stairs for Hezekiah. I’ve never questioned the reality of angels or demons or the resurrection from the dead. The Bible said it, and I believed it.

I remember being in college at a “Christian” university when a professor began to teach that the Bible really wasn’t true. That it was good for moral instruction, but not really reliable historically, that science had already debunked the creation myth and the flood account. The world was surely the result of an evolutionary process that took hundreds of millions of years. It disturbed me greatly that he could/would take that stance. I listened to his arguments, but never wavered. I don’t know why I didn’t. Untrained, undiscipled, and not really walking with the Lord at that time. Now I’m even more convinced that the Bible is God’s Word…and that it is true. And my commitment is to teach the truth and to say the hard things even if they are not popular because that’s what I know to do. I’ve seen too many churches that have strayed from making the Word central and have wandered into dangerous territory. I don’t want that to be me. I don’t want that to be us.

One of the scariest things for me in this passage is the fact that the challenges to the truth come from within the church. If we do not have a strong commitment as a church to the truth of the Scriptures and sound doctrine, then we as a church will be in danger of falling into error. We all have to be committed. Because false doctrine may seem to start innocently enough with an applicational thought, “This is what this means to me…” which become a deadly disease that spreads throughout the body. And it generally happens when we let culture define truth. It may influence application, but it must not define truth. And the church disintegrates from the inside. It’s insidious – you need to be happy (back to fall, you are the center – the Eve story) … Right and wrong isn’t my opinion, but what Scriptures say.

But what about you? Does culture define truth? Or does God’s Word? Is right and wrong a matter of opinion, or clearly laid out in Scripture? A friend of mine issued a healthy challenge to me on this passage. He said, “You’ve convinced me that sound doctrine is important. You’ve convinced me that truth is not relative. So what? What do I do? Now that I am convinced of this, how is it going to change my life? What does it look like for me, Joe audience member with no formal training and a fear of speaking? Or me, high school sophomore in a public school for the first time?” Paul writes to Timothy. I’m not Timothy. I’m not leading a church. I’m not a preacher. So I must be off the hook. Not quite. Paul says, “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; 17so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work…preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction…”

Two things: First, hold fast to the conviction that the Word is true in your own life. Keep reminding yourself of the Story and where and how you fit into it. Don’t let culture define truth. Leave that to the Bible. Second, the word that Paul uses for preach can also be translated proclaim. Proclaim God’s truth, His Word in your relationships. Proclaim it to your family – believing or unbelieving. Proclaim it in the workplace. Proclaim it at school. Proclaim it when it’s popular and when it’s not. Don’t waver in your conviction. You will be tested. You will be persecuted. You will be counter-cultural. But you will also experience the peace of God and more confidence in your walk with Him.

This story challenges us to move away from the cultural trend to define truth as relative and to redouble our commitment to God’s Word. To boldly proclaim the faith that we hold to and introduce others to the Story. We expect attacks from the outside, but I pray that it doesn’t come from within.

My prayer this week is that we will take seriously our commitment to stay true to God’s Word even when it isn’t popular and even when it may cost us, that we would keep preaching the Word central.

Until next time…stay salty.

To hear an mp3 of this sermon, visit us online at: http://www.centralchristian.org.

 

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Making Disciples

Matthew 28.18-20. As I reflected on this passage, and the “Great Commission”… Jesus’ call to make disciples of all the nations, I couldn’t help but think how well it fits with the “Great Commandment”, loving God and loving people. The natural out working of our love for others is sharing with them the hope that we have, pointing them to way back to Father God through Jesus. Often when this passage is shared, the focus is on evangelism…sharing the gospel, and that fits the going and baptizing aspects of the Great Commission. But what about discipleship? Why is discipleship so important?

I shared a tweet this week… “Discipleship is a change in perspective…learning to see and engage the world like the Master.” For me, that is why discipleship is so important. Ever since the fall, our natural orientation is very earthy and self-centered. We tend to ask, “What’s in it for me?” It’s our time, our finances, our resources. We are too busy running our own universe to give loving God, much less loving people, a second thought.

When we first trust in Jesus, the Bible says that we are new creatures; but our perspective isn’t automatically realigned. Vestiges of the flesh and a culture hell-bent on dragging us away from God tend to keep us very earthy and self-centered. And we continue to look like the world around us. Discipleship is the process of learning to think and act differently. To reorient our perspective so that we begin to see the world through God’s eyes and to respond to others the way He would. It’s not an automatic process, but a change in lifestyle. And like learning a new skill, a new sport, starting a new diet…there is a period of disorientation before we truly begin to realign ourselves to the new reality. It’s learning to see my resources – my time, my money, my relationships – through God’s eyes.

The process of discipleship is intentional, and while it can and should involve some individual spiritual disciplines like time in the Word and prayer, it only truly happens in community, as we gather around the Word with fellow believers and encourage, instruct, rebuke, correct and point each other back to Jesus. I know of no other more effective means of discipleship. We see hints of community even in the baptismal formula. God lives in eternal community – Father, Son and Holy Spirit. And He calls us to the same experience of life together.

As I thought about my own life, the greatest periods of growth have always come as I’ve wrestled through a given passage with a group of guys on a Tuesday morning. Because as we’ve wrestled with the Word, the implications for our lives bubbled to the surface. The times in my life that I’ve been the furthest from God as a believer have been those times when I’ve isolated myself from others…those are periods of time when sin festered. And why is that? Because I can easily fool myself into thinking that I’m growing in maturity while it’s just me, my Bible and a cup of coffee. But when I run into someone else, then I find out my real struggles in loving others…

But what about you? When you think about the Great Commission, are you excited or terrified? If discipleship is a group process, what is your responsibility as an individual? To go (pursue) and to initiate conversations where you share the hope that you have. It is the Holy Spirit’s job to convict and to woo, but we have to engage. And then invite them into your community where they can begin to grow.

This story challenges us to join God’s mission to reconcile the world to Himself. It’s an exciting and somewhat daunting task, but the rewards are worth it. It reminds me of the Mission Impossible movies…our mission, should we choose to accept it, is to change the world one person at a time.

My prayer for us this week is that we would take seriously our job of both being and making disciples we look for opportunities with those one or two folks in our circles who don’t know Jesus to engage them in gospel saturated conversations to point them to the hope we have in Jesus, so that we might make going and making disciples central.

Until next time…stay salty. BTW you can listen to an mp3 of this sermon entitled: “Fulfill the Great Commission” in our “What is Central?” series at: http://www.centralchristian.org.

Loving God, Loving Others

Matthew 22.34 But when the Pharisees heard that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered themselves together. 35One of them, a lawyer, asked Him a question, testing Him, 36“Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” 37And He said to him, “‘YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND.’ 38This is the great and b foremost commandment. 39The second is like it, ‘YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.’ 40On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.”

As I reflected on this passage, I wondered why loving God was considered the great commandment, I mean why must we be told to love God. Doesn’t that come naturally, or shouldn’t it? And if not, why doesn’t it? And why is it so hard to love other people?

And as I talked to some friends of mine this week about this passage, it hit me why I must be told…no scratch that…commanded to love God with all that I am. Genesis 3. You see in Genesis 1 & 2 we have this beautiful story of creation, where all of the universe is the work of a benevolent Creator who lovingly fashions a world that He describes as good, even very good. He makes a man and woman, our first parents, in His own image from dust of the ground and breathes into their nostrils the breath of life, and they become living beings. And He gives them charge over all the earth. Think of it. A perfect world with no death, no corruption, no hatred, no ugliness of any kind. A perfect relationship with God and with each other.

Enter the serpent in Genesis 3. Through deceit and manipulation he convinces our first parents that being image bearers is not enough. Having dominion over the earth is not enough. No, they really want to be their own gods. And they fall for the lies of the enemy and forgetting the benevolence of their loving Creator and not being content to simply be image bearers and stewards of creation, they seek to be their own gods. And all of creation suffers the repercussions of their betrayal as perfection becomes deeply marred and the image of God tainted. Sin enters the world and death through sin. And now the love of God is no longer innate, love of self would become predominate and competition with others a part of the legacy of the fall.

So what was once natural…loving God and loving people…has become very unnatural. And frankly, impossible, given our fallen state. But even in the midst of our rebellion, God provided for our redemption…hope for a way back. It was a risky proposition. It would cost Him everything. His own Son would have to die, but in so doing He would redeem the world that He had made, and so He gave them the promise of Genesis 3:15, the Head-Crushing, Seed of the Woman, who would one day ride into Jerusalem on a donkey, cleanse the temple, face down the political and religious elite, be beaten and crucified, then buried; three days later He would rise from the dead and ascend to the right hand of the Father awaiting the day when He would once again ride into Jerusalem, this time on a white horse… In the meantime, having accomplished redemption and having provided the way back to the Father, His Spirit is at work building His kingdom, rescuing one person at a time.

As I thought about my own life, examples of my failure to love God as evidenced by my failure to love others are multiplied. It’s evident in my selfish attitude toward my family (just ask them). It’s obvious when I look down on others or begin to judge their motives, which happens more often than I would care to admit. It’s plain to see when I’m too busy to be interrupted. But there are flashes of obedience when I see the pain of others and my heart is broken. When I become angry at the injustices done to others. When I share the gospel because I know that it’s the only hope that we have.

But what about you? Where are challenged to love others more? Are you spending time with the Lord, seeking to love Him with all that you are?

This story challenges us not to be like the Pharisees who have made the love of God a game of trivial pursuit, who have made loving others an optional exercise, but to be more like our Savior who made loving God and loving people central, who demonstrated His love for His Father by loving us who were made in His image.

My prayer for us is that we would grow in our love and devotion to God and that that would become evident as we look for opportunities with our classmates, with our neighbors, with our friends, with our family, with our co-workers to love others in very real and practical ways, to point them to the hope we have in Jesus, so that we might make loving God and loving people central.

Until next time…stay salty.

You can listened to an mp3 of this sermon online at: http://www.centralchristian.org.

 

Unexpected Rescue

Mark 5.1-20 has become one of my favorite passages. It’s the story of Jesus’ healing of the Gerasene demoniac. As I thought about the passage, I wondered why it was so important for Mark. All three of the Synoptic Gospels include the story of the demoniac, but Mark, whose narrative tends to be the most terse spends more space than either Matthew or Luke on this account. Mark found something extremely valuable in this tale. Something in it captured Jesus’ ministry for him.

Having just calmed a violent storm at sea, Jesus meets a man with an equally violent storm raging within him. In both cases Jesus is able to squash the chaos with a word. It would be easy to come to the conclusion that Mark is showcasing Jesus’ power or authority over both the natural and supernatural worlds. And it does that, but I think Mark is driving us to something even more powerful…Jesus crosses a violent, storm-tossed sea, faces down the forces of hell and is willing to sacrifice 2,000 pigs for one man! Did you get that? Jesus crosses a violent, storm-tossed sea, faces down the forces of hell and is willing to sacrifice 2,000 pigs for one man! And having rescued him, He sends him on mission to share his story – of “how much the Lord had done for him and how he had mercy on him.” Now that’s incredible!

So how do we relate to someone like the demoniac?

The message of this story hits us at multiple levels: It is a message for those who, like the demoniac, find themselves lost and as far from God as they can possibly imagine. Think about it. What hope does the demoniac have. He’s a Gentile in the Gentile Decapolis, living among the tombs, with a legion of demons holding sway over his soul. What hope does he have? None. And then he hears a voice…faintly at first and then it becomes stronger and he has his first encounter with Jesus who rescues him and sends the demons away. An incredible story of rescue and of God’s mercy. Some of us are longing to hear Jesus’ voice and to be rescued by Him. We want desperately that story of rescue.

It’s also a message those who have been rescued by Jesus, but now are in need of hope in a time of trial or torment. You’ve trusted in Him, but somewhere along the way you’ve forgotten how he’s rescued you and doubt whether He can today. We need to be reminded of what Jesus did for the demoniac, and realize He’s gone to equally great lengths for us. We were not all as bad as the demoniac, but we were all as bad off as he was. Jesus had to snatch us out of the horrors of hell just as much as He had to for the former demoniac.

But I also believe that Mark includes this story for a third group.

The townsfolk in Mark’s story are unbelievers…but is there a rebuke there for us when we fail to see people because of their problems? When we tend to hide folks away or marginalize them because we no longer see the person, but the problem?

Jesus is still on a rescue mission, pulling folks out of the fires of hell.

My prayer for us this week is that we would be a part of Jesus’ rescue party, reaching out to our friends, family, neighbors, co-workers, fellow students, etc. with our own story of rescue and the gospel.

Until next time…stay salty.

Check out the sermon at: http://www.centralchristian.org