Category Archives: grace

How to Make the Gospel Seeker Friendly

Watch Your Own Film Lately?
     There are some great communicators out there in the world. Last month, I had opportunity to communicate truth through a 90 minute one man show. While I don’t think it put me in a class among those men, it did renew my appreciation for such men. 

     The amount of time poured into the craft of communication cannot be understated, if one is to do it with excellence. Today, I’m watching video of my performance with a critical eye and a yellow pad of paper. World class communicators make it a habit to “watch the film” like elite athletes who seek to achieve peak performance.

Two Extremes and an Extremely Dangerous Center
     There is great value in learning from mistakes and honing one’s craft. But, there is a tension in our culture between sharpening one’s communication skills on one end, foolishly “winging it” on the other end, and yet an even more dangerous spot in the middle where we become worshipers of our gift of communication instead of relying on the Giver of all gifts (often referred to as “the liability of ability”). This happens when we cross the line of developing our skills and believing our own press…

     But, there is a reason why Paul makes it a point to explain that he didn’t use flowery language, etc., isn’t there? There is a reason why so many were astonished at Peter and John, though they weren’t “educated men” (Acts 3 & Acts 4), isn’t there? Was it because they dumbed down the gospel? Was it because they had graduated from the Tony Robbins school of Communication on the Cutting Edge of Relevant Leadership?

Who Does the Attracting?
     In His letter to Titus, Paul gets to the bullet points of preaching and teaching and makes it clear how to make the gospel as appealing as possible. Paul never advocates for being intentionally foolish and simply blurting out nonsense. But, Jesus hints that it’s not our words that draw people to God, rather the God of the word who does so. (See John 6:43) Further, here are a few points Paul also does not make:

  1. Make the music in your worship service as appealing as all other contemporary artists so that converts to Christianity will not be repelled by it.
  2. Manipulate crowds of people by emotional altar calls designed to answer temporal needs (freedom from addiction, restored marriages, financial prosperity) rather than clearly addressing their greatest need: a Savior and Lord, who delivers them from depravity and eternal damnation.
  3. Stay away from words like “sin” and “judgment” that are unappealing or even offensive to a culture steeped in the gospel of self esteem.

     The gospel is about grace, not performance. But, the overflow of a life surrendered to Gospel is… wait for it… godlinessGod initiated, God directed, God glorifying and God pleasing performance. (Not to be confused with man made behavior modification or putting on airs of “fake it till you make it”.) 

     The common thread here is this: don’t rely on your slick communication, some grandiose new, “relevant” presentation of the truth, or softening, denial, or watering down of the truth to make the teaching of the gospel more appealing to the lost.  Instead, abide in Christ and God’s agape love so tightly that the natural overflow of your life is godliness – this is the outward manifestation of a changed, exchanged life which God Himself uses to attract others to the Savior. Performance is the result of grace, not the other way around. And, it is this performance that God uses to attract the lost and dying.

Meditate today on these:

“Teach slaves to be subject to their masters in everything, to try to please them, not to talk back to them, and not to steal from them, but to show that they can be fully trusted, so that in every way they will make the teaching about God our Savior attractive. (Titus 2:9-10)”

For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not come to know God, God was well-pleased through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe. For indeed Jews ask for signs and Greeks search for wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, to Jews a stumbling block and to Gentiles foolishness, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men. (1 Cor. 1:21-25)”

“No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws them… (John 6:43a)”

in Christ,

AP

Are You Taking the Easy Way Out? Monday Morning Momentum… Tuesday Afternoon

For last week’s most popular post,
click here.

Side note: I got a couple of great private comments on last week’s post on Gay Marriage. I hope if you haven’t read it, you get a look and it serves as a compass for you even after Resurrection Sunday.
Words vs. Deeds…
     In the parables of the two sons and the parable of the tenants (Mt. 21), Jesus lays out two examples of men who resist or reject God and His authority either in word or deed, but ultimately, in heart. 

  1. In the first, Son “A” rejects God’s command, but “repents” of his rash words and later obeys his Father’s command with good works. It’s an example of “saving faith”: someone who doesn’t just make an empty confession at an altar call, but with deeds that demonstrate a true faith. Son “B” pays his Father lip service and then doesn’t follow through. Jesus demonstrates that the God of the New Testament is indeed the same God of the Old Testament, who in Isaiah talks of a people who honor Him with their lips but whose hearts are far from Him (see Is. 29.13).
  2. In the second parable, the tenants factor out God in their “coup de vignoble” (coup of the vineyard), rejecting the Landowner’s messengers and eventually rejecting and murdering His Son.

     Here, Jesus tells the religious people of the day that two kinds of people are in danger of missing out on inheritance in the Kingdom of God:

  1. People whose hearts spring up empty words. (Mouths that write checks their actions can’t cash.)
  2. Those who do good things motivated by hearts not surrendered to God. Implied here is that a broken clock is right twice a day – still a wicked heart… I mean, clock.

     Throughout scripture, God makes His three desires for us clear

  1. A surrendered heart that bears good fruit. Obedience is greater in His eyes than sacrifice. Sacrifice can often be a half measure – while it costs something, it doesn’t cost any of ourselves and can be done without full surrender to God. See 1 Sam. 15:22.
  2. A surrendered heart that bears good fruit. “Don’t fool yourself into thinking that you are a listener when you are anything but, letting the Word go in one ear and out the other. Act on what you hear! (James 1:22 MSG)”
  3. A surrendered heart that bears good fruit. “Therefore I tell you that the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit. (Mt. 21:43)  

Think on These Things?

  • Where are the places you know God is calling you to obedience but your words are not matching your deeds? 
  • Is there a word, a commitment, a promise you’ve made that you just don’t “feel” like doing right now? 
  • How can these be reconciled to the words of the Lord written above?

Ask the Lord: “Please, reveal to me anywhere I’m just ‘doing good works’ out of my own strength rather than in obedience to Your call.”

  • Lastly, is there obedience You are calling me to that goes beyond mere sacrifice of my stuff to sacrifice of myself? Where am I taking the easy way out?

     This weekend, we celebrated the Resurrection. It is an event like no other: the linchpin of history where the Old Testament promises are fulfilled and the most important legal transaction in history was signed in the blood of the Lamb. This sacrifice required the full surrender of Christ to the will of the Father. To be “in” on the “us” side of this transaction, we must surrender fully, not just our stuff, but ourselves.

Be Encouraged
     The Gospel is not about a bunch of important rules that we are to live by. It’s never been about good deeds and it never will be. It’s about surrender of the heart that’s so complete that good deeds naturally result. The great news is, whether you’re “saved” or not, the Gospel is for you. Sometimes in making a correct distinction between “salvation” and “sanctification” we err on the side of thinking “I’m in with God… Now, I can get back to work.” Paul made it clear to the church in Galatia that this is not the case. We are saved by grace… but we are also kept by grace.

in Christ,

AP

Gay Marriage and "Equality"

In the Shadow of the Gay Marriage Debate     In the shadow of the gay marriage debate is the shadow of something even bigger…  a pair of beams weighing over 100 lbs… tied together, stuffed into the earth, and casting a 10′ shadow… “What? What is he talking about?!” We’ll get there…

     A lot of us who profess the name of Christ are at risk of being distracted by a very emotional news story that just so happens to be going on at a time when our hearts and minds should be focused on the most important story of all… the Resurrection. Across America, people are talking about “marriage equality”… Apart from Christ, we already have equality – we’re equally wicked and guilty of eternal crimes against an eternal God… Bent on our own agenda, the agenda of the flesh: “me”. But, there’s good news… It’s “Good” Friday…

      Today, I’m not here today to comment on whether gay marriage should or should not be legal. Nor am I worried about the Supreme Court’s decision(s): I believe in a God who has seen these court cases’ outcomes before the world began and will not be thwarted in His plans either way. I’m not here to hate anyone or judge anyone outside the faith. Is homosexuality a sin? I firmly believe so, because of what God has said about it consistently throughout scripture. If you don’t believe scripture, you’re not the center of this discussion. 
 
     Actually, as a man who came out of that lifestyle, I pray you come to know the same peace, freedom, and joy available on the other side of the cross. I’m also grateful for God’s deliverance, knowing that only He could truly know or change my heart… or “theirs”. I’m here today to remind us all that it is Passion week. You’re either blind or not on Facebook if you haven’t seen the red banner with the equal sign standing for “marriage equality”. Once you discovered what it meant, some of you expressed annoyance at its ubiquity, others excitement. But, I’m here to remind you that however you see it, you have something even bigger to be annoyed about… or excited… or both:

We “all fall short.”
There you go. Equality, Romans 3:23 style.

Equally Short of the Glory of God
      One of the strengths of the one-on-one discipleship work I get to do is transparency. I’m honest about my faults and shortcomings. For example, this week I yelled at my wife once. Nothing I’m proud of. And it’s a sin. I called someone I didn’t know a moron (‘raca’). I told a “little white lie” to someone about how late I was going to be. I dwelled on a lustful thought for more than 1.5 seconds. Ok, it wasn’t this week, it was yesterday. But, I’m a Christian… not The Christ. I was distracted from the cross. Ever been there? Good news is, because of that red banner of blood, shed by the perfect Savior, casting that shadow on the hill of the skull – I’m acquitted. Ever been… there? Liberating.

My Responsibility, My Prayer
      Let me not forget this week… especially this week… that a man died a vicious death 2,000 years ago not so I could marry who I want… or so you could marry who you want… or so “they” could… But, to marry me – an otherwise wretched sinner – to a perfect, loving, Holy God from whom my sin estranges me and makes me irreconcilable. Let me not forget, while fingers are pointing at “them” that sin… my sin… made me a “them”, against God and put every nail into the Christ. Let me not simply repent next time I sin and move on to the next thing… Let me honor the cross… its Messiah… its stains… its shadow… its inequality that a man who did no wrong should suffer for my wrongs… Let me do that despite all that’s going on in the news… on the web… in my own heart. 

Our Responsibility
      Let us all not allow one, small shadow to overshadow the most important shadow: the shadow of the suffering Christ who reconciles us to Him despite our constant rebellion. Let us remember that “reconcile” means “to bring into agreement or harmony; make compatible or consistent”. We’ll never have equality with God, but in Christ, we’re finally… equally… compatible…

     Equality… achieved at Calvary. Available only to the penitent, in the shadow of the cross, for the price of a confession: “Jesus paid it all… for all who confess with their mouths that Christ is Lord and believe in their hearts that God raised Him from the dead. (see Rom. 10.9)

Happy Resurrection Sunday.

in the shadow of the cross,

 
AP

Can You Love the Impossible to Love?

“We love because he first loved us…”
1 John 4:19

     A friend just told me a story about a guy who insulted him in public – cussed him out while he was stopped at a traffic light. My friend was probably in the wrong and probably had cut the guy off. Instead of apologizing, he pretended to be someone he wasn’t and wound up intimidating the guy with deceit. 

     Our eyes, ears, interpretations, and feelings can easily deceive us. When we respond only to them, we stand in the seat of Jonah the Prophet. Jonah was clearly a passive-aggressive exploder – the kind of person you and I probably find impossible to love. When confronted verbally, he often responded non-verbally with avoidance. When confronted more severely, he cranks up the pity-party music and deflects with suicidal ideation. “Throw me overboard… I’m the reason everything is miserable and I’d rather die than carry out my assignment.”

     This deep seated self focus makes it impossible for us to love or be loved – giving love is a selfless act and receiving love demands humility or it quickly devolves into a gift giving contest where one party tries to “pay back” the love. That’s not love at all… it’s false humility.

     Cristine and I had one of the most extravagant dates ever on Saturday night at a restaurant we’d never have eaten at were it not for the gift card that got us there. We felt like the Beverly Hillbillies as the valet parked our Toyota minivan between a 4 door Porsche and a $100K+ Mercedes. We were so wrapped up in the extravagance that we almost missed the meaning:

Christ loves us extravagantly. Not because of what we have done, but because we are His. So much so, that one day He will sing over us with rejoicing – see Zeph. 3:17. It’s unconditional love and while the meal we had was outrageously delicious and refined, it’s nothing compared to what we’ll taste in heaven.

     I shared my friend’s story with her as we ate, not knowing what we were in store for later. We drove to a nearby outdoor mall for a walk under the stars in the unseasonably warm evening. Pulling into the parking lot, a pedestrian raged at me:

“Hey, d!c#! Don’t you know how to F&$ing stop?!”

     Ouch.

     Wounded heart? I mean, who would publicly spout that much venom if they weren’t deeply wounded, and likely lost, separate from the love of Christ?

     Thank God for my friend’s story. I could have pulled a Jonah and yelled back at the guy to protect my honor… Yet, like Jonah, I knew I was in the wrong and God was far more concerned with the soul of that man than with my dented pride or Jonah’s comfort (see Jonah 4:9-11).

     Wish I could say I got out of the van, humbled myself before the guy, shared the gospel and brought him to salvation in Christ… But, that just wasn’t on the agenda. He was too busy staring the van down all the way to when I parked and aiming one, singular finger at my face as he walked to his destination.

     What’s important is that God got through to me – 

“Don’t get so caught up with the glitz and comfort of the things that are here today and gone the next… let your heart be broken for those who are far from me and far from each other. Don’t get so caught up in what others do to “not” deserve love that you forget to love them like I loved you when you were dead in your sin. That guy was created in my image and I love him, too. I will sing over him with rejoicing someday. The world has taught you well to love those who love you and are kind to you. But, I am the Lord and I challenge you to love them, bless them, pray for them even when they curse you (twice in the same breath).”

     I can love a God who would pick me up out of the mud I made and stuck myself in. In His honor, how can I not love a few people who throw mud at me?

     Love without expectation of anything but cursing in return. If you get better than that, it is a blessing. If not, you will be blessed at the judgment seat as one who overcomes.

Give ’em heaven.

in Christ,

AP