God has been writing a story since the beginning of time and it is EPIC. What follows is a brief history of the universe written to help you see how it all hangs together and introduce you to the main character of the story: Jesus Christ.
Chapter 1: The Beginning
Genesis 1:1, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” This is the start of our story. Notice how I said that it’s the start of our story. Not the beginning of The Whole story. Just our part. God existed before there was ever a heavens or an earth.
So God created the universe, the stars, the plants, our world, and everything on it. And He did it in steps. There was order to creation. We don’t know everything about the beginning of time, but we do know that it did not come together by random chance. As we look through the creation story we can see that God is imaginative, powerful and is really enjoying His work. Over an over again God looks at what He is doing and says that “it is good”. He likes what He sees. He made the skies, the oceans, the birds, trees, sun, moon… all of it. God, in an amazing process, formed all of creation out of nothingness… and calling it a good thing.
And then after everything else was created… He started His greatest work. God literally saved the best for last. He decided to create humanity. All of the rest of creation was a good thing… but this was going to be the best thing. God formed a man out of the dust of the ground. The last thing that God did while creating all that has been created was to lovingly design humans, and breathe His very life into them. He bestowed upon us something unique in the world… a living spirit. Humanity was designed to bear God’s own image and carry inside of them divine breath. We are the best thing He ever made, and He loves us very much.
And He took His two favourite creations, Adam and Eve, and put them into a wonderful garden. There was endless food, total comfort, no sin, no shame, nothing to fear. Greed wasn’t a problem, relationships weren’t a problem, sex wasn’t a problem, disease wasn’t heard of, and best of all, these humans had the glorious privilege of walking and talking with God face to face. It was the best place ever. But it didn’t stay that way.
Chapter 2: The Fall
Adam and Eve, with some help from the devil himself, decided it wasn’t good enough. God had placed them where they would have everything they could ever need, but had only one rule: Don’t eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
A world of delicious options and only one tree from which they weren’t aloud to eat. Can you imagine a world where there is only one bad choice? Everything else on the entire planet was a good choice. There was only one bad one.
Many have asked why God would put that tree there at all. The answer is simply this: without it, there would have been no choice. In order for His creation to have free will and the ability to love, there must be the option of choice. There must be a way to choose not to love, not to obey, not to believe. If there is to be free will, rejection must be an option.
If the only flavour of ice-cream ever invented was vanilla, then it really doesn’t make sense to go around saying that your most-favourite flavour is vanilla! Of course it is. There is only meaning when there is another choice.
And Adam and Eve made the other choice. They chose not to trust their creator. They chose to believe God was holding out on them. They chose to take that which they were not allowed to have, and which they had been warned would do them harm. That choice changed the whole of creation.
Chapter 3: Cast Out From Eden
The moment Adam and Eve decided to eat of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, everything changed. It was at that moment when sin entered the world. God had warned them that everything would change, but they chose to anyway. He told them of the consequences, but they looked and saw that it was good looking fruit. They knew that once they ate it, they would have a special knowledge which they didn’t have before. They wanted that… and they ate. Before that moment they only knew good… after they took that bite and followed through on their temptation to sin, they would know “good and evil”.
And since God is good, perfect and holy, and He can’t be around evil – He has no part with evil or evil-doers. Their action made it so that He could no longer communicate face to face with His beloved people any more. Things had changed.
The sin not only affected them, but the rest of the world as well. They were the pinnacle and the stewards of creation, and now that they had sinned, all of creation was marred – it’s like it bled from them onto everything.
Soon after we see shame, anger, distrust, fear, blaming… weeds, toil, pain, frustration… everything changes because of sin. In an act of divine grace they were cast out of Eden so they would not eat of the Tree of Life and be sustained by it forever in their sin.
As God had promised, Adam and Eve would know death. You see, death was something that wasn’t a part of God’s perfect design. But every choice has a consequence, and the consequence of disobedience is the need for just judgement. As people who believe in justice, we understand this. A good society, a good God, punishes wrong. The punishment for sin is death.
All bad news, right? Well, even though it was all bad news, there was one glimmer of hope in the whole midst – the promise of salvation to come. Even in the midst of judgement, God shares the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ, telling them that the problem they just made would one day be fixed (Genesis 3:15). God promises that there will one day, Someone born of women will finally do something to reverse all of their mess. Though it would be bleak for a while, and the consequences were dire, there would be hope for humanity.
Chapter 4: Noah
Now even though humanity had fallen and was no outside the Garden of Eden, that didn’t stop them from “going forth and multiplying”. Adam and Eve were having children, and their children were having children, and the world was being populated. The Bible says that Adam lived 930 years and someone can have a lot of kids in that amount of time!
Not only were people multiplying, but their sin was multiplying too. People were acting getting worse. The bible says that by the time of Noah things were really grim. Now Noah was Adam’s Great x 8 grandson. Eight generations had gone by, and there were lots of people on the earth, but they were inventing new ways to be evil, violent to one another and corrupt to the core. They were now disregarding their Creator completely.
The Bible says that God was grieved that had made humanity at all. He had such a great love for them, but they had so completely turned their backs on Him, His reason for creating them, and were doing such harm to each other, that He was sorry that He had made them in the first place. So He decided to send a flood to wipe them out. Not to destroy humanity, but to destroy the wickedness of that generation which had gotten completely out of control.
But again, there was grace in the midst of judgement. God decided to save Noah and his family, the one family left who were listening to Him. Was Noah perfect? No, but He did love God and seek to live He mattered. It was not that Noah was worthy to be saved, but that He was the only one listening to the message of salvation.
After, God used Noah and his family to repopulate the world again. He started over. That’s what God does. He takes in impossible situation and adds creativity, and grace, and love, and hope. Yes, they would fall again. Noah didn’t make it very far out of the ark before he and his family were sinning again.
Even this pointed to Jesus in that we are reminded that even the most righteous man on earth was not good enough to stay righteous for long – there was a deeper problem, an internal problem with humanity – a darkness and depravity that went to every human’s core – that needed to be dealt with. God promised never to wipe humanity out again because He was about to put His full plan into motion.
Chapter 5: Abraham
Right around the death of Noah, possibly even the same year, a man named Abram was born. God’s narrative of grace continues as He decides to show love to an obscure, pagan man. Abram wasn’t anyone special, just a guy who God decided to work through. God says, “leave your country and your people and go into a different land.” and Abram obeys.
God then makes a promise to Abram – who was then a senior citizen, married to a barren wife, and had no children – that he would have many descendants and they would become a great nation. In fact, God promises that the whole world would be blessed because of his family line. He would give them a special place to live and would take care of them. God changes Abram’s name to Abraham and gets to work.
This was a pretty good deal for Abraham, but he never gets to see the plan fully worked out during his lifetime. That doesn’t mean God didn’t keep his promise, though. Abraham did have two children, and his grandson would be a man named Jacob.
Jacob was the one who would really see God’s blessings taken to another level as his children became the 12 patriarchs for the nation of Israel. It was these twelve families that would form the political and geographic system through which the rest of God’s plan would be carried out.
Chapter 6: Joseph
God needs to make sure that this family is taken care of, which is where we get the story of Joseph, one of the sons of Jacob. God amazingly uses the anger and jealousy of these brothers to save them from starvation, years before a terrible drought would hit the land. Most of us here know or have heard the story of Joseph.
His story was personally tragic as his brothers sell him into slavery, he’s falsely accused of rape, and is sentenced to jail for many years. After a while God gives Joseph the opportunity to help the Pharaoh interpret a bad dream he was having – a dream about a terrible drought to come – and Joseph is put in charge of preparing for it.
In an amazing way, God takes care of His people by bringing them down to Egypt to be saved from a famine that would have wiped them all out, and prepared them for the next phase of His plan.
Chapter 7: Moses
Jacob and these 12 brothers were down in Egypt and were more than accepted there, but then a different Pharaoh came into power who didn’t know about Joseph and the promises that the previous administration had made to his family. Instead he started to fear Jacob’s family (who were now being called “Israelites”), and instead of keeping the covenant with them, he made the whole nation slaves to the Egyptians. They were in slavery for hundreds of years. Suffering, but still having children.
One of these children was named Moses. At the right time in history, God worked some powerful miracles through plagues on Egypt. The final plague would once again show God’s mercy in the midst of judgement and point to the Saviour who was to come — the Passover where a spotless lamb would be killed and it’s blood used to save people from death. Moses would be the person to lead His people out of Egypt as one, unified nation, ready to get back home to the land that God promised their father Abraham — an exodus to the “Promised land”.
But first, God brought them to a place where He would make a covenant with them. He wanted to make an agreement that as long as they would commit themselves to being His special people, trusting and worshipping Him alone, He would take care of them.
God, in His grace, knowing that they would sin and harm each other, just as all humanity had done for all time, He wrote laws for them to live by. Know that I am the only God, don’t murder each other, don’t steal from each other, honour your parents… all these rules were for their own good, and to make sure that the relationships between Him and themselves could continue.
God couldn’t be around sin, but He gave them a religious system by which they could finally approach their Creator, know Him better, and get temporary forgiveness for their sins.
God’s people were free from slavery, ready to take back the promised land, had a good leader in Moses, laws to protect them, and God’s promise to take care of them… But of course, still being marred by sin, broken in their souls, they rejected God and started praying to, worshipping and putting their trust into created things – even statues of their own making.
Even a good leader and a Law written by God Himself wasn’t able to keep people from committing evil and preferring sin to righteousness. And death still existed in the world. There was more that needed to be done.
Chapter 8: Sin, Suffer, Repent, Repeat.
The next chapter in human history is sort of the in-between time which I’m calling Sin, Suffer, Repent, Repeat. It was the time of the Judges, the Kings and the Prophets. In the time between the giving of the Law and when Jesus the Saviour would come a lot of things happened, but it seemed to keep to this endless cycle of Sin, Suffer, Repent Repeat.
As far as good things that happened: With God’s help they conquered most of the people that had moved into their Promised Land, and divided it up amongst the 12 different tribes. They built some great cities and became one of the richest civilizations in history. They even took down the tabernacle – the temporary tent of worship – and built a beautiful temple.
A lot of bad things that went on too. The Law that God put in place through Moses as a way to make sure that their relationships to Him and others would be strong… well, they broke all of them. They crafted idols to worship, they cheated and abused each other, committed adultery, dishonoured their parents, broke the Sabbath, and even sacrificed their own children to demons. Throughout this time God kept raising up prophets to warn them about the consequences of their bad decisions, but they kept killing the prophets!
For a long time, God was the King of Israel, but eventually they decided that they didn’t want God to be their King anymore, but instead wanted to be like all the other nations and have a human king. This was like a slap in God’s face! He had always been their ruler, their Law giver, great judge, provider, the one to keep them safe and lead their armies — and now He wasn’t good enough. God’s chosen people, the one that he picked out from among all the others, the one that He had promised Abraham would be a great nation, turned their backs on Him, just like all those who had come before.
They put the king in place, but God in His mercy kept sending prophets to show the people how to live, the dangers of their sin, and the way back to peace with God and each other. Each of the prophets would share God’s mercy, remind them of His hatred for sin, about how much He wanted the people to come back to Him, warn them that if they continued on the path they were on that He would have to discipline them for their own good.
Then, since no one would listen, the prophets would talk about Promised One that would finally come and end this repetitive cycle of Sin, Suffer, Repent, Repeat, once and for all. They reminded the people about the One who was promised to Adam and Eve, the One who would come through Abraham’s tribe, the One that would conquer evil, sin and even death. The coming of Jesus is typified, alluded to, or outright prophesied in every book of the Old Testament.
This cycle went on for years… hundreds and hundreds of years… Sin, Suffer, Repent, Repeat, and all the while God was continuing to prepare the world for the One who would finally end all of this. He was showing everyone that there was not one person who could obey the Law, not one who would worship Him. The prophets would show their weakness, the priests would fail the nation, the kings would become corrupt, the people would rebel… the Law condemned everyone.
They needed one who would be called the Messiah, hich means “Chosen One”. He would be the one who would finally break the pattern. He would finally obey the law perfectly, love God and others perfectly, be the perfect prophet, perfect priest, and perfect king. He would conquer their enemies, bring justice to the oppressed, and lead people into a right relationship with God. He would be called the Christ, the Anointed one. And for years, Israel waited.
Chapter 9: The Messiah
God waited until the world was just right (Gal 4:4). Israel was at the pinnacle of their rebellion. The Romans had built a civilization that would allow the gospel to travel easily. God waited until just the right moment to send His greatest Gift to the world. But He surprised everyone by how He did it.
Consider the irony of how Jesus entered the world. Since the beginning of time people were waiting for this One Person to come. This would be the most important person in history, the Saviour of the world from their greatest problems. And when He finally came… almost no one knew. When the Messiah, the Christ, finally arrived, He didn’t come as a mighty King on a white horse leading a huge army. He didn’t come in a bolt of lightning and a booming voice proclaiming the Judgement of God.
No, as the old Hymn says, “He was no stately form, He had no majesty, that we should be drawn to him”. He came as a baby, a helpless infant. The Son of a virgin, adopted by a poor, Galilean Carpenter. Born in a humble stable, in a tiny village – a nobody from nowhere.
No palace like King Solomon. No fanfare like King David. No blasts of fire like Elijah. The Chosen One came in so quietly that His presence went nearly unnoticed by almost all of those who were looking for Him. The Jewish scholars of the day (and today) are looking for a political leader, a military conqueror… but that’s not what they got… at least not yet.
And what did humanity do with Him? Well, His identity didn’t stay hidden forever. What did people do when they finally found out this Messiah that had come?
Today is Palm Sunday. Today is the day that the followers of Jesus worshipped Him as Messiah, laid palm branches and their cloaks at the feet of Jesus who was riding into Jerusalem, showing Himself to be the King of the Jews and the one foretold by the prophets. They were celebrating the forthcoming conquest of the Roman army, the overthrowing of their political oppressors, their new position as the most powerful kingdom in the world. They were right to celebrate, but they were wrong about how Jesus would do it. And when He didn’t do things their way… their disappointment turned to anger.
I can’t say it any better than the Deacon Stephen does to the Jewish Ruling Counsel before his martyrdom in the Acts 7. He was standing before the very people who were supposed to care for the Israelite people and teach them all about the coming of Jesus! These were the ones who should have been the first to know, acknowledge and spread the news that God had sent the Messiah!
Here’s what Stephen says to them:
“You stubborn people! You are heathen at heart and deaf to the truth. Must you forever resist the Holy Spirit? That’s what your ancestors did, and so do you! Name one prophet that your ancestors didn’t persecute! They even killed the ones who predicted the coming of the Righteous one – The Messiah whom you betrayed and murdered. You deliberately disobeyed God’s law, even though you received it from the hands of angels.”
Humanity did it again! God Himself enters the world in human form. He sends His own beloved Son, 100% God and 100% man, the only one with the qualifications to exchange His life for ours. The only one who could save us from sin and death. The perfect one to teach us how to live, love and worship. And what is our response? We condemn the Anointed One, the Messiah, the perfect Son of God, to the worst, most painful, agonizing, excruciating death imaginable… a Roman cross. We murdered Him.
One would think that that would be the end of the story. Where do you go when there is no more hope left? How can an author write a story when the hero is killed before the villain is defeated? You can’t. The story must stop when the hero is dead. Right?
For a moment, God’s pen lifts from the paper. The world looks bleak. There is no hope. The disciples are scattered. The Messiah is dead. The villain won…
Chapter 10: The Resurrection
But our God is the greatest author of all. His pen stops for only a moment. He turns the page and begins the next chapter. The death of Jesus Christ would not be the end of the story. Three days after Jesus dies God writes a story that turns the greatest defeat in history into the climax of His Epic tale. He turned silence into a crescendo! He turns the ultimate tragedy into the ultimate victory!
God turns all of History on its head. In the story God is writing there are no mistakes. The One who was to be our Saviour… was supposed to die. His victory came because of His death. No one can write a better story than this one. There is no greater hero than one who would give His life for others. The name of this Hero is Jesus Christ. He gave His life for us.
At the beginning of the story God said that the consequence of sin would be death. The Messiah was going to come and defeat the greatest enemy of this world. Almost everyone thought that this meant that it would be a political, military, human victory. But God, the great author, reveals that humanity’s greatest enemy isn’t any person or nation or empire… the greatest enemy in this world is death – death that came because of sin. So what needed to be conquered? Sin.
The judgement and effects of sin – physical and spiritual death, and the total removal of the grace, love and presence of God that would be found in Hell – which entered the world with Adam and Eve, and has poisoned every human soul, needed to be dealt with. His righteous judgement needed to be poured out to bring about perfect justice. We will never understand the full measure of the punishment that Christ took for those who would put their faith in Him. Jesus came as our representative – the perfect human, the only One who did not deserve judgement – and chose to take the punishment for anyone who would believe and trust in Him.
Jesus is the ultimate hero as He walks out of the grave, conquering the greatest enemy ever. He defeats the effects of sin. He beats death. That weight of judgement that all of humanity had borne for thousands of years was placed on His shoulders, and He carried it, paid for it, and then offered the freedom that He bought with His own blood, to anyone who would believe in Him.
Chapter 11: Living In The Denouement
Today, we are living in the denouement. We are living at the end of the great Epic. The story has unfolded, the villain has been conquered, the Hero has been lifted high. We are living in the days of epilogue before God brings His story to a close at the final judgement. Every day gets us closer to the end of this story and closer to next book, the story of eternity.
This Epic gives us the greatest message that can be known: That you were created for more than just what you see and touch. You were designed by a loving creator who gives you a hope and a purpose. Your life is more than just burgers, cars, money, sex, career.
You are a created being whose decisions have eternal consequence. You need not fear death, and you can trust that even your most difficult times can be turned into great victories because of our awesome God. You can experience divine love, be cleansed, and made new. God will never leave you, never forsake you, and because of the work of our Hero, Jesus Christ, you can live in His presence today and forever.
This is a great story because it is a true story. People have loved it so much, and believed in the Hero so deeply, that they have died to tell it to others. I urge you, if you have not already, to accept the free gift of salvation through Jesus Christ, and to tell His story to as many people as you can.
* There are lots of important pieces of the story which I didn’t share. Not because they are unimportant, but simply because I wanted to keep it short and understandable for anyone who hasn’t heard the story told this way before.
Developing close friendships and meaningful relationships with other believers isn’t easy and can be quite intimidating to talk about. If it was easy, it would be happening, but unfortunately it isn’t.
You’ve all heard, and maybe even shared, the criticism that “big churches” are impersonal. You can walk in and walk out, and though you are surrounded by hundreds of people, no one knows you. So what’s the solution? To find a small church where people will see you, are more friendly, where you will be noticed, missed, and meet people. We smaller churches are always bragging about how much better it is to be part of a small church for those reasons.
Well, that hasn’t been my experience, nor is it the experience of many others. I know lots of people who attend smaller churches and feel just as alone in them as they would in a mega-church.
There are many men who feel distant from their church, who will serve if they are asked to, and have breakfast when invited, but who don’t feel close to anyone they see each week. If they were stuck on the side of the road, in the middle of the night, and needed a pickup, they might call someone from the church – but probably not. And certainly if they were falling into temptation — stumbling out of a bar, addicted to pornography, their marriage falling apart, being abused by their boss – and they needed rescue, help, prayer, and accountability, most men in the church wouldn’t even consider talking to the other men in their church.
There are many women who come week-to-week, put on their face, act friendly, wave their hands in service, make the coffee and snacks, serve in the nursery, teach Sunday school… but they don’t feel a close affinity to the women of the church. Not really. When they share, they share superficial prayer request, usually involving the health of someone else, their kids, their grand-kids – anyone other than themselves, but certainly not the true and deep struggles of their heart. They feel compelled to serve, but they feel more like a name on a list than a member of a team, let alone a valued member of the body of Christ. When they are tempted, afraid, overwhelmed, anxious, confused… they would never think to call someone from their own church! No way! What if it got around? The trust simply isn’t there.
So these men and women come to church, their small church, week after week – unless they can find an excuse not to – and they sit, and smile, and sing, and serve, and drink the coffee, eat the cookies, talk about the latest movie, or the weather, or work, or whatever, but they go home every single week feeling no closer to their fellow believers than they did the day before, the week before, the year before.
It is a deeply, tragically ironic thing to a place built on the sacrificial love of Jesus, the overwhelming grace and forgiveness of God, empowered and protected by the Holy Spirit, where each person desires to be closer to God and has a deep longing to know and be known – and it doesn’t happen. There is a serious disconnect there. Something is deeply wrong.
Close Christian Relationships Are Biblical
What’s going wrong? We are meant to. The Holy Spirit prompts us to. Jesus invites us to. God commands us to. So, why aren’t the people of God connecting to one another as they should be?
At the very birth of the church, in Acts 2, we read this:
“And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.” (Acts 2:42-47 ESV)
That’s what is supposed to happen among believers. What’s going on?
In Hebrews, when the church was under attack and people were leaving because of how hard it was to be identified with Jesus, Christians are told to,
“…consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” (Hebrews 10:24-25 ESV)
We are told in Galatians 6 to
“Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.”(Galatians 6:2 ESV)
That law is found in John 13:34-35,
“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
This should be normal among Christians, so why isn’t it?
Barna: Six Reasons Young Christians Leave Church
The Barna Group, probably the most famous Christian market research groups out there, completed a study a short while ago which turned into a book called “You Lost Me: Why Young Christians are Leaving Church and Rethinking Faith”. It gives six reasons, and though some of them are certainly geared to people aged 18-29, I believe many of the roots of the issues are universal and apply to anyone of any age.
I’m going to share with you the six reasons from a summary article on the Barna website, and at first, they are going to seem disconnected from what we are talking about – Developing Christian Relationships – but I believe they all point directly at it when we look deeper:
Reason 1: Churches seem overprotective.
“… much of their experience of Christianity feels stifling, fear-based and risk-averse. One-quarter of 18- to 29-year-olds said ‘Christians demonize everything outside of the church’…. Other perceptions in this category include ‘church ignoring the problems of the real world’ (22%) and ‘my church is too concerned that movies, music, and video games are harmful’. (18%).”
When I look at that reason what I see is simply that the church spends a lot of time talking about rules, do’s and don’ts, and not nearly enough time interacting with these people on an individual level. Instead of walking along-side these folks, building relationships with them, pointing them at Jesus, and intentionally mentoring them along a transformative, discipleship path, we set up a list of rules, some easy answers, and let them figure it out on their own. Instead of having small groups that listen to people’s hearts and meet their most basic spiritual needs, we have bible studies where people argue about semantics to avoid going deep with one another. And so the people leave because we care more for our rules and reputations than we do for them.
Reason 2: [Their] experience of Christianity is shallow.
“A second reason that young people depart church as young adults is that something is lacking in their experience of church. One-third said ‘church is boring’ (31%). One-quarter of these young adults said that ‘faith is not relevant to my career or interests’ (24%) or that ‘the Bible is not taught clearly or often enough’ (23%). Sadly, one-fifth of these young adults who attended a church as a teenager said that ‘God seems missing from my experience of church’ (20%).”
Now someone might argue that this means we need to jazz up our churches, get better music, blame the preachers for not being interesting enough. I don’t believe that’s what this is saying. People will see something as boring when they don’t understand what’s going on, when it has no meaning to them, and there is no connection to their lives.
I can sit and enjoy watching curling because I used to curl and I know the game. I can enjoy watching hockey because I understand the rules. But if I don’t know a broom from a button, or why the referee keeps blowing his whistle every time the puck crosses the little red line, I’m going to lose interest quickly.
I believe it’s the same in church – it has far more to do with understanding what’s going on and seeing the meaning and value behind it than how fancy and modern the production is. And how do people learn what’s going on? How do they learn the meaning of what they are experiencing? How do they find value in the experience of church? It’s not just what happens on Sunday morning, but throughout the week.
I will worship God better on Sunday when I am comfortable and feel close to the people I’m worshiping with – even if I don’t like the style, I can love the musician, the singer, and the people in the pew, which makes it meaningful. I will listen to the sermon better, and get more out of God’s word if I know that I will have a chance to ask questions of a trusted mentor later, will be held accountable to it, and be able to practice the application with the support of my friends and fellow believers. I will volunteer to serve more, and get more out of serving others, and meet God in my serving, when I know the needs of the people around me, how I can help them, know I am valuable to them, and that they will serve me and love me back – not that they are using me because I’m willing.
Reason #3: Churches come across antagonistic to science.
“One of the reasons young adults feel disconnected from church or from faith is the tension they feel between Christianity and science. The most common of the perceptions in this arena is ‘Christians are too confident they know all the answers’ (35%). Three out of ten young adults with a Christian background feel that ‘churches are out of step with the scientific world we live in’ (29%). Another one-quarter embrace the perception that ‘Christianity is anti-science’ (25%). And nearly the same proportion (23%) said they have ‘been turned off by the creation-versus-evolution debate.’”
You may think that this isn’t relationship based, but listen to what they said. These people look around at the smug Christians who think they have all the answers and don’t want to be a part of that group. This is a group that hasn’t shared their doubts. The relationships among that group are not free enough, and there is no permission, for people to share their fears, their doubts, their faith struggles, their unanswered prayers… they feel they must put up the show, have the pat-answer, and project confidence. What they are not seeing are authentic Christians who struggle with the same problems they do.
They’ve been “turned off by the creation-versus-evolution debate” not because they don’t value debate… but because of the unkindness, arrogance, militant nature of how Christians are doing it! They do not see loving people who are pursuing the truth and graciously defending the scriptures, they see angry fundamentalists who are more interested in talking than listening.
This is a relational issue. We all need to have a place where we can come and feel safe enough to share our struggles, our fears, our hurts, our doubts, and know we are not going to get pat-answers, but be surrounded by people who will say “I’ve struggled with that too… here’s my story.” Or “I am struggling with that… can we work together to figure it out?”
Reason #4: Young Christians’ church experiences related to sexuality are often simplistic, judgmental.
“With unfettered access to digital pornography and immersed in a culture that values hyper-sexuality over wholeness, teen and twentysometing Christians are struggling with how to live meaningful lives in terms of sex and sexuality [and so are many men and women who are much older than twentysomething]. One of the significant tensions for many young believers is how to live up to the church’s expectations of chastity and sexual purity in this culture…. Research indicates that most young Christians are as sexually active as their non-Christian peers, even though they are more conservative in their attitudes about sexuality. One-sixth of young Christians (17%) said they ‘have made mistakes and feel judged in church because of them.’”
What you are reading here is not as much about the changes in societal mores (which is certainly true and a cause of some of this tension) as it us the shame people feel when they are around other Christians. When they come to church and “have made mistakes” who do you think makes them “feel judged in church”? Certainly some of it is the Spirit of God working in their heart to move them towards repentance, but it’s also the eyes of everyone around them.
Why? Because they have no idea that anyone else is struggling with sexual sin too. They’ve never talked to another man about sexual temptation. They’ve never talked to another woman about their sexuality. They feel alone, and the only people talking about it, the only ones who make them feel normal are outside the church telling them that everything they do is okay as long as it is between two consensual adults. They feel in their heart that something is wrong with that, but when they look around at church, who are they going to talk to about it?
Who won’t judge them? Who won’t tell them to pray about it and then walk away? Who can they trust won’t gossip about it? Who will meet with them over and over and over as they fumble and fall, never letting them go, being patient with them, helping them?
They look around, in pain, in confusion, feeling dirty – knowing God will forgive, but also knowing they will do the same thing again – and feeling defeated, and they can’t see any Christian they are close enough to tell. So they go to the world.
Reason #5: They wrestle with the exclusive nature of Christianity.
“Younger Americans have been shaped by a culture that esteems open-mindedness, tolerance and acceptance. Today’s youth and young adults also are the most eclectic generation in American history in terms of race, ethnicity, sexuality, religion, technological tools and sources of authority. Most young adults want to find areas of common ground with each other, sometimes even if that means glossing over real differences. Three out of ten young Christians (29%) said ‘churches are afraid of the beliefs of other faiths’ and an identical proportion felt they are ‘forced to choose between my faith and my friends.’ One-fifth of young adults with a Christian background said ‘church is like a country club, only for insiders’ (22%).”
Again, this is all relational language. They are willing to look over huge diversity in order to have relationships with each other – and they come to church and find clique after clique. They gloss over differences so they can be together – and yet they have a hard time finding a mature Christian who will accept them for who they are. They see how we treat one another, how we talk about other belief systems, and they don’t hear kindness, gentleness, self-control, and love, they hear fear – and fear is not attractive to anyone.
Christians, who have been in church, raised in church, say that it’s “like a country club, only for insiders.” Do you know what I hear there? That they never felt like an insider while they were at church. They never got inside. They always felt outside. Or, they were on the inside, but when they brought someone they cared about to church, they were never really allowed in. They looked at their peer group and said “I like you guys, but you’d never fit in with the group of Christians I hang out with on Sunday.” So for a while they kept their Christian group separate from their other group, until the day they realized they felt closer and more loved by the non-Christians than the Christians. At that moment they thought, “I’m not an insider anymore… maybe I never was…” and they turned their backs and walked towards the people who really cared about them.
Reason #6: The church feels unfriendly to those who doubt.
“Young adults with Christian experience say the church is not a place that allows them to express doubts. They do not feel safe admitting that sometimes Christianity does not make sense. In addition, many feel that the church’s response to doubt is trivial. Some of the perceptions in this regard include not being able ‘to ask my most pressing life questions in church” (36%) and having ‘significant intellectual doubts about my faith’ (23%). In a related theme of how churches struggle to help young adults who feel marginalized, about one out of every six young adults with a Christian background said their faith ‘does not help with depression or other emotional problems’ they experience (18%).”
Could this be any more clear? This is all about relationships within the church! These people don’t feel safe. They feel as though they are being trivialized. They feel shut out from asking hard questions. They have no connection between their knowledge of the gospel, and how that translates into being something that transforms their lives – and the reason is because they are not in close relationships to people who are modeling that for them, and there is no one around who is admitting they have the same problems. The stigma of depression and emotional pain should not be present in the body of Christ. Every one of us has a story to tell about this. Every one of us has the ability to help others bear their burdens.
We cannot be like this! This must not be true here. Yes, I know we are busy people, we are being entertained into oblivion, we don’t know where to start, we have no practice, our house is dirty, our schedule is full, we’ve been let down before, we are afraid of any kind of intimacy or sharing on deep levels because of scars in our past.
I know, and it takes great courage, tenacity, and a miracle of God to change that – but we serve a God who works miracles. We serve a living saviour who gives us what we need to do what we must, and that includes deepen ourselves through relationships to one another.
We cannot be the superficial group where no one grows. We cannot be the church where people are afraid to speak. Women and men of the church are encouraged and commanded to get into one another lives. Throughout scripture we are taught to pass along our faith and practice to the next generation of believers. This isn’t meant to be something that is arduous and life-sucking, but something that builds you up, opens your heart, helps you grow in faith, and know you are useful to the kingdom and the Father.
Titus 2 commands older women to mentor the younger women. 2 Timothy 2 commands men to mentor young men. We are reminded throughout scripture to be intentional about passing along our faith and life, and so just as I encouraged you last week to pursue your Christian leaders, this week I encourage you to pour your faith and life into someone else.
The main point of last week’s message was to give you a little push towards being intentional about your spiritual life and getting out of your comfort zone to ask someone to speak into your life. This week I encourage you to do something that might be much harder – to get out of your comfort zone and have the courage to speak into someone else’s life. Be a mentor, be a good Christian friend. Be the one who builds that relationship that you wish you had when you were young in the faith. Take the risk to open up your life and go deep with the younger believers around you.
And if you are a younger believer – or feel like one – God still wants you to be an encouragement and a help to others along their faith journey. Listen to the Spirit of God and speak the messages He gives you.
I was privileged to be able to give another talk for the AWANA program. I called this one “Know The Truth” and it was given to a group of kids aged 5-12 and their leaders. I believe it has a message we all need to hear, no matter what age we are.
Here’s the audio (11 minutes):
Spot The Difference
Do you ever play Spot The Difference? Great! You guys are very good at this!
There’s something important I want to tell you today and I’m really glad that you are good at “Spot The Difference” because you need a keen eye and ear to notice some of this stuff.
Did you know that there are some people in the world who talk about God, Jesus, and the Bible… who even call themselves Christian… but actually are not? It’s true!
Did you know that there are even some preachers and teacher who stand behind pulpits in churches, and who say they know the Bible, that they know Jesus, and that they know the Gospel… but they really don’t? Unfortunately that’s true too.
When they talk about Jesus, they are not talking about the True Jesus because they teach things that aren’t in the Bible. When they talk about God, they are not talking about the True God because they teach things that are not in the Bible. And perhaps saddest of all, when they talk about the Gospel… the Good News that is supposed to lead them to being saved from their sins… they are not talking about the True Gospel because they teach things that are not in the bible.
And it’s really important that we are able to Spot-The-Difference between people who are telling the truth, and people who are not!
You are all very blessed to come to AWANA in a place like this that teaches the True Gospel, with leaders who know the True Jesus, who love the True God, and who love you so much that they are willing to tell you the truth from the Bible!
Know the Truth
The Big Idea I want you to know today is how important it is that you know the Bible so that you can be able to know if people are telling the Truth! You need to know, when they start talking about Jesus, or God, or the Gospel that they are talking about the True Jesus, the True God, and the True Gospel.
Why would people do that? Why would they tell people about a different God, a different Jesus, and a different Gospel? Why would they pass along lies?
Sometimes these people don’t know any better. Sometimes they are just repeating things they have heard. Have you ever done that? Have you ever told someone something that you thought was true… you really did… but it turned out it wasn’t?
- Have you heard the one that if you eat a bunch of pop-rocks and then drink a coca cola really fast that you will explode? I’ve heard that one! Some people think it’s true, but it’s really not…
Do you ever eat at McDonalds? There are LOTS of made up stories about McDonalds! They actually set up a special website, and pay someone to write to people who ask questions, just so they can tell the truth about their food!
- Have you heard the one that says that McDonalds ice cream is actually made of chicken feathers? I’ve actually heard that from people who believed it! How gross would that be?
- Have you heard the one that says McDonalds is the world’s largest buyer of cow eye-balls and they use them in their burgers? That’s not true either.
Sometimes people teach wrong things about God, Jesus and the Gospel because they are just passing along something they were taught, but they’ve never checked it out themselves! That’s why it’s so important to be good students of the Bible and to ask lots of questions of your leaders, pastors and Christian friends. That way you won’t be passing along things that aren’t true.
They Want To Believe
Sometimes people teach wrong things about God, Jesus and the Gospel because wrong that’s what they want to believe, even though it isn’t true. But when you think about it, just wanting to believe something doesn’t make it true, does it?
I can’t believe that I can fly and then jump off of a cliff and fly away, right?
But some people talk like that! Have you ever heard someone say, “Well, that’s just what I believe!” as though that was enough to make it true.
That doesn’t work at school does it?
Can you imagine walking into school, or up to your parent if you are homeschooled, and saying to the teacher, I’ve decided to believe that 2+2 equals FISH… I’ve decided to believe that the capital city of Canada is Tokyo, Japan… I’ve decided to believe that grandpa lives on the moon and likes to eat green cheese! It doesn’t work, does it?
These people who want to believe something usually give the reason that it makes them feel good, and therefore it’s ok to believe it. But believing something that isn’t true doesn’t help, does it? In fact, believing something that isn’t true actually leads to feeling bad!
Imagine walking into the kitchen and saying, “I want to bake a cake! But I don’t like the way the recipe book says to make it, so I want to use all MY FAVOURITE ingredients and then call it cake!
What’s your favourite food?
Ok, lets mix all that together… burgers, fries, bacon and eggs, oysters, fish sticks, peanut butter and jelly, olives, potatoes and gravy, tacos, sugar, hot-sauce, pickles, hot dogs, mustard, lobster… and we’ll blend it up in the food processor… and then stick it in the oven… no wait, the microwave will be faster, and everything should be FASTER, right! We’ll stick that goop in the microwave and then call it a cake. That will work, right? It’ll look and taste like a perfect cake, won’t it?
You see, just wanting to believe it’s going to be good, and adding all of our favourite things, does not make it a good cake. We need to use the right ingredients to make a cake.
Only God has the right recipe for being saved, and it is only found in the Bible. That’s why it’s so important to read the bible, study the bible, and talk to Jesus about it. That way, instead of just coming up with things we think are right about God, Jesus, and the Gospel… we will be able to know things that really are right!
Know Your Bible
And so, as I said before, the Big Idea here is that I want you know your bible so well that you will not be fooled by anyone who wants to tell you something wrong about God, Jesus or the Gospel. I want you to love your Bible and love good teachers who want to teach you what is really in the Bible because they know that in the Bible are the words that will lead you to everlasting life.
AWANA is amazing because it will help you fill your mind and heart with Bible verses that teach you the truth. So that when someone comes up and says:
– “God only loves you when you do good things!”
You can say, THE BIBLE SAYS God loved us before we had ever done anything good, before we were even born, and sent His only Son to save us. (John 3:18, Ephesians 1:4-6, 2:1-9)
– “You are not strong enough to serve God because you’re just a kid.”
You can say, THE BIBLE SAYS, “I can do all things through him who gives me strength!” (Phil 4:13) and “God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong.” (1 Cor 1:27)
– “I don’t need to be saved by Jesus because I’m a good person.”
You can say, THE BIBLE SAYS, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Rom 3:23)
– “God won’t forgive you because you did something too bad to forgive.”
You can say, THE BIBLE SAYS, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us and purify us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9)
– “I have a different way to go to heaven, I don’t need Jesus.”
You can say, THE BIBLE SAYS, “Jesus answered, “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6)
I want you to learn and love your Bible… and you are in the right place to do it!
It is my deep desire to help you pursue your faith, fall in love with Jesus and His church, serve and make your church the place where you expect great things to happen. What happens in the Christian Church is what is going to last for eternity. What we do together is what we will be talking about and celebrating with Jesus one day. Your church is worth pursuing and sacrificing for.
The Most Important Organization on Earth
I’ve been part of the Christian church for a long time. For literally as long as I can remember, with only a short period of rebellion during my first year in college to break the chain, I have been a part of a Christian family and have attended Christian services.
The Christian church is very important to me and the closer I have gotten to Jesus the more I care for His church. The longer I have worked for the church the more I’ve grown to believe that it is the most important organization on the planet. We are capable of so much more good than any other organization. There are Christian churches in every nation in the world full of believers who want to do good for others and share the message of salvation. Christians around the world are working hard to make the gospel real in people’s lives by sharing not just the message of salvation, but practical examples of grace too.
Christian Relief Organizations
I don’t usually make political commentary during my sermons. Politics are complicated and I don’t consider myself informed enough to be able to speak on the subject with any kind of authority, so I generally avoid any kind of political commentary. But something happened a little while back that bugged me, and seemed to bug a lot of evangelical Canadians. Thomas Mulcair, leader of the NDP, said that evangelical Christians go “completely against” Canadian values and law. He was talking about the Crossroads group that builds wells and provides clean water to people in Uganda, who also teach that homosexuality is a sin.
This irritates me because on of our national core values is being a nation that helps other nations — and it is the Christian Church throughout the centuries who has led the charge of mercy missions throughout the world. No, Christians don’t have a perfect record, but it is overwhelmingly the Christian church who have left their homes, spent their money, risked and lost their lives, in order to bring mercy (and the gospel) to the world. That’s very Canadian.
I did a quick search of the top disaster relief organizations in the world and then specifically went down the list of groups that went to aid in Haiti in 2010. They are overwhelmingly Christian organizations. Samaritan’s Purse, Catholic Charities, The Salvation Army, Feed the Children, Food for the Poor, Habitat for Humanity, and World Vision (and I could go on and on) help millions and millions of people around the world and they are all Christian-based organizations [even Red Cross was started by a Christian]! Of course, this doesn’t even count the work of local Christian churches. These amazing people have been bringing global assistance to victims of natural disasters, war, disease and famine, at great cost to themselves. They share food, water, shelter, and education to the most struggling, most dangerous areas of the world — in Jesus’ name. The Christian church is changing lives all over the world, all the time, and I am proud to be part of that group.
Living Out Our Purpose
Over the years I’ve learned a lot of lessons about what it means to care for His people and the place He has for me in His organization. I spent a lot of years working through who I am in Him, and who I am NOT – and trying to reconcile those two things for His glory. In the same way I have been praying about and working out our church’s place in the global body of Christ – our responsibility, our local expression of the Kingdom. I believe that God has a mission and a purpose for every believer, and I believe that He brings believers together locally to accomplish a His special purpose together.
God plants His churches and calls every Christian. He has a purpose for us, and it is up to us to work out together what that is. It is only when we are pursuing our purpose that our relationship with God will grow, we will mature as disciples of Jesus, we will see the work of the Holy Spirit, and our love for each other will grow deeper.
Applying the Truth
I was talking to a pastor whom I hold in very high esteem this week who reminded me that I missed an important part of my sermon last week (and maybe the last few weeks): the application. He reminded me that it’s not enough to simply relate the truth, it must be grounded in reality and give us something to do. His words ring in my ears, “Most people don’t really care about the truth… they just want something that works.” So I can stand up here all day long sharing truth, but it only becomes helpful when coupled with application I think a lot of people, if given a piece of truth can’t (or won’t) naturally take the leap to applying it without some guidance.
The Apostle Paul, as he was writing his various letters to the churches, would write deep theological truths, and then give commands and encouragements on how to apply it. It’s almost a 50/50 split – half teaching, half application. God is just as interested in us knowing the truth as He is in us living it out.
A Deficit of Maturity
Last week I said this:
“If we are in KOINONIA with Jesus, then we will have KOINONIA with the people of the church. It’s a powerful truth that the closer we are to Jesus, the closer we will feel to His people, and the further we are from Jesus, the further away we will feel from His church.”
I want to go back to that for a moment. There is a dramatic deficit of mature believers today, and I believe one of the key reasons people are distant from Jesus is because they are distant from the church. There is a consumerist mindset among Christians where they are more concerned with being “fed” than growing closer to Jesus and the people around them.
Some of you feel a tug in your heart to grow closer to Jesus but you don’t really know where to start. You have questions that plague you, which are a stumbling block on your spiritual journey. You don’t know where to find the tools you need to take the next step towards Christian maturity. Some of you are struggling with relationship issues, addictions, fears, anxiety, anger, depression… and you’ve never told anyone – or you’ve only told a few people who have been affected by your pain – and you don’t know what to do.
Some of you have a gift, but you’ve never used it to serve God, and don’t know what it’s like to bless others in the way God designed you. You may even think that you don’t have a gift because you don’t look like the people around you. There are things you love to do, that you are good at doing, and have no idea how to do it in a way that would serve God and His church. Some of you have a passion in your heart, something you’ve wanted to do for a long time, but don’t know how to take the next step towards pursuing that passion.
This is why God created the church! You are in the exactly the right place to become exactly who God has created you to be – but many Christians don’t know, or don’t believe that to be true. They are looking for something else, when what they need is right in front of them.
God designed this organization, His Church, to be a place where you can reach your full potential to bless God and others. This is a place where you can find healing for your deepest hurts, and support in your darkest times. This is the greatest organization in the world, which has the greatest resources, the longest reach, the best cause, the most reason, and the best Leader – Jesus Christ.
Over the next couple of weeks, as part of this Foundations series, I want to share with you a few ways that you can reach your potential right where you are.
Lean On Church Leaders
The first way that I want to share with you about how to use the church to grow as a believer is to Lean on Your Church Leaders. As one who God has called to be a church leader, this one is particularly close to my heart but it’s difficult to talk about. If I don’t tread carefully here I can easily come across arrogantly, as though I have some kind of Messiah complex or think I’m better than everyone else. I don’t believe that, so I want to make a bit of a biblical case for what I’m talking about here.
A Biblical Case for Christian Mentors
The scriptures talk a lot about imitating not only Christ, but also other Christians especially good, Christian leaders.
- Paul says to the Philippians , “Join with others in following my example.”(3:17).
- To the Thessalonians he says, “You became imitators of us and of the Lord… And so you became a model to all the believers.” (1 Thess 1:6-7).
- To the Corinthians Paul says, “I urge you, then, be imitators of me.” (1 Cor 4:16)
- To the elders of the church Peter says, “…be examples to the flock.” (1 Peter 5:3)
Hebrews 13 has a couple of verses which give some pretty strong commands to believers:
- “Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith.” (Hebrews 13:7)
- “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.” (Hebrews 13:17)
Why It’s Not Happening
Christian mentoring is supposed to be normative in the church, but it’s not happening the way it used to. I believe there are a myriad of reasons why it isn’t happening in churches today.
1. Because of some very high-profile failures, people hesitate to trust Christian leaders, and so they write them all off.
2. Some people worry that imitating another Christian or even having leaders in the church goes against scripture because it makes idols of them. Which can be true, but I would argue is rarely the case on the local level (though it can happen to people who begin to idolize certain “celebrity” pastors and teachers).
3. Another reason might be the rise of these “celebrity Christians” who become a long-distance models for Christians who would consider them their mentor. They don’t meet with them, talk to them, know them, or pray with them, but they consider them mentors. It’s not that we can’t learn from these folks, but Christian leaders and mentors are meant to be people who you meet with regularly, who know your name, your family, your struggles, and who care for you as an individual. Long-distance, celebrity preachers, can’t do that.
4. Another problem is that there are a lot of Christian leaders who simply are not worth imitating because they are not pursuing their relationship with Jesus. It’s not a lack of desire for some people, but a lack of option. Unfortunately the Canadian and North American church does have some bad eggs, and many churches are stuck with immature elders and leaders, and they are ruining it for those who desire to grow.
5. Another problem is that many Christian leaders don’t see it is their responsibility to mentor other believers. In my experience, and after a lot of reading, I know that many church leaders think their job begins and ends with getting their ministry tasks done. I know of very, very few Christian leaders who believe their primary job is to replicate their faith into the next generation of believers. I’m not sure if it’s laziness, or they are too busy, or it’s lack of training, (or all of those), but most Christian leaders don’t find mentoring and training to be an important part of their job.
6. On the other hand, there are some great leaders out there who are not being taken advantage of! It really does break my heart that there are some great Christian leaders, pastors and teachers in North America – hundreds and even thousands of competent ministers who know the scriptures, pray for their people, have wisdom that they want to share – but are watching the people they care for whiz by them towards destruction without so much as a word. These leaders, both the professionals and the lay-leaders (and I know how they feel), stand ready to bring sound teaching, good doctrine and wise counsel, practical love and have access to lots of ways to help – but coming up against a wall that they can’t seem to get over.
How To Pursue Your Church Leaders
So my encouragement to you, as it is to every Christian I talk to, is to pursue your local Christian leaders. That’s how God designed his church to work.
Here’s what I’m not saying: I’m not saying we are perfect – far from. But I and the other leaders of the church have been given to you as a gift from God (Ephesians 4:11-12) – and that can come across as prideful, but believe me I (and the other leaders here) don’t see it that way – if anything, it’s terrifying (especially Hebrews 13:17)!
So, that being said, let me share a few ways that you can take the ball and run with it. I’m going to share some of these from a personal perspective, but I believe they are universally applicable for other church leaders as well. So, here are some ways you can use your church leaders to help you grow in spiritual maturity:
1. Test us. Make sure they are called of God and qualified to lead. God has a list of requirements in scripture for the men and women He calls to be leaders in His church. The list of qualifications for elders in the church is found in 1 Timothy 3:2-7 and Titus 1:6-9. The list of qualifications for deacons is found in 1 Timothy 3:8-13. Before you submit to their authority and give them a voice in your life, check out their life out and test them first.
2. Tell us your dreams, aspirations, fears and anxieties. Take off the mask, and take down the wall. Share your heart with them, not just the news and weather. My heart is to help you meet Jesus in new ways, and to help you explore your full potential in Him, and I can’t do that unless I get to know you better. It does you no good at all to pretend in front of me, make things up, or put on some kind of holy façade to impress me. Let me know what is going on in your heart, and let me help you unpack that from a Christian, Biblical worldview.
3. Bother us. Don’t think you’re a nuisance or a bother because serving you is what we live for! I have been given to you for the purpose of helping you meet Jesus. Like any other person I am happiest when I am able to exercise my gifts and abilities for the glory of God – but my gifts require you in order to exercise them! You are not a bother, you are the whole reason we are here.
4. Ask us tonnes of questions. We’ve put a LOT of work into studying life, scripture, theology, history, the church, personal and family counselling, and some other things because we want to be able to help you. Pastors all over the world are seeking God in prayer and studying their little hearts out so they can be of service to you! So ask us some things – there’s a good chance you’re going to get a decent answer, or at least you’ll have a fellow believer who will be seeking those answers with you. The only thing keeping you from a good answer to that nagging question is yourself.
5. Trust us. This could come across as a sort of power trip, but if you have checked us out using the criteria in 1 Timothy and Titus, then we are supposed to have a good reputation, care for people, be sober-minded, respectable, not quarrelsome, gentle, and not be in this job for money or our own selfish pursuits. One of the qualifications of an elder is that we not become “puffed up with conceit” because as soon as we start power-tripping or manipulating people or situations to our advantage we lose the blessing of God.
This is just standard, no-brainer advice. If you walk into the doctor and he says, “you’re sick, take this pill”, you do it. If you walk up to your personal trainer and he says, “eat this and do these exercises”, it’s not a power-trip, it’s why you came to them in the first place. Yes, anyone can be wrong, but hopefully what this Christian leader is saying is coming from scripture, blessed by the Spirit of God, from a heart that cares for you, and is tempered with the wisdom of experience. No, you don’t have to submit, and there’s really nothing we can do about that, but it’s to your own disadvantage not to. At least give it a try!
6. Help us pray for you. I’ve said this already, but it can’t be overstated – share your heart and concerns with us. Stop me where I am and ask for prayer. Call me and ask for prayer. Email me and ask for prayer. It’s not that my or any other Christian leader’s prayers are worth more than yours, or anyone else’s, or that God somehow listens to us more than you, but a huge part of my ministry, according to scripture (Acts 6:4), is to pray for you, and I can only do that effectively if I know what is happening in your life. I can mobilize people to pray for you too. I have a voice and connections you don’t have, and I can get more people to pray, if that’s what you want. Share your prayer concerns with me and the leaders of the church.
7. Get to know us as people. Some people see Christian leaders as talking-heads who aren’t really people, but super-busy, bible-quoting machines, holier-than-thous who float above everyone because they get to go to special meetings and talk on Sunday. Let me assure you that Church leaders are just people. I like wings, beer, steak, pizza, pool, sports, books, and tv – maybe even a little too much. Many Christian leaders are introverts (including myself), and so it’s tough for them to get to know people sometimes. Sure, we love people, but we also hide behind the work of ministry so we don’t have to get out of their comfort zone. So we need you to come at least half-way. I would like to get to know you and your family more, so please give me a call and let’s get together. Not because it’s my job, but because I really want to know you more.
8. Lovingly support us, and help us grow so you can grow. The scriptures say in 1 Timothy 5:17, “Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching.” This is a tough job. It’s public, political, religious, and all-encompassing. Our hearts are on the line every day. We are under constant spiritual attack. It is a HUGE, terrifying, weighing, responsibility to bring the Word of God to people week-after-week in a way that is infused with the Holy Spirit, proclaims the gospel of Jesus, honours and worships God, and helps the people we care about.
Pastors and Christian leaders are dropping like flies – 1500 leaving the ministry each month due to burnout, conflict or moral failure. If you have a good pastor (elder, deacon), be good to them and take care of them. Do what you can to strengthen them, and help them to grow as a believer, a leader, and a person. Take care of them financially, physically and emotionally. Bless them so they can be a blessing to you.
For some, a “church” is simply a building. If you punch the word “church” into Google images that’s what you get – pictures of beautiful buildings. You’ve probably been asked the question, “Do you go to church?”, as though “church” was a destination to reach, or an address to be found. If it was the middle of the night and you happened to drive by your church building you might say, “That’s my church!”, even if the lights were off and no one was there. The word “church” can be used to describe a building, but that’s certainly not the full meaning, and the etymology of the word “Church” is actually quite interesting.
EKKLESIA – “A Congregation”
The word we normally read in the New Testament as “church” is the Greek word EKKLESIA, which simply meant “a congregation of citizens called out from their homes into a public place” – there wasn’t really a religious connection to the word – it could be any congregation of people for any reason. When Jesus looked at Peter and said in Matthew 16:18, “…on this rock I will build my church…” He was used the word EKKLESIA to refer to His “called-out ones”, or His “congregation” – the special group of people that would be His followers.
Throughout scripture the word “church” is used to describe a congregation of believers, but never to describe a building. In Romans 16:5 Paul says, “Greet also the church in their house.” showing the clear difference between the congregation and the building. A New Testament believer would never have said “I go to church”, they would have said “I’m part of a church”. The church is the people, the house is the building.
HODOS – “The Way”
Another common word used in scripture to describe the followers of Jesus was HODOS, or “The Way”. When Paul was running around persecuting the church he was chasing a group who called themselves “The Way”. Acts 9:1-2,
“But Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem.”
Jesus called Himself “The Way, the Truth and the Life” (Jn 14:6), a word that simply meant “the path”, or “the road”, but was also used to describe “A way of thinking, feeling or deciding”. Just like today if we said we want to “walk a mile in their shoes”, we don’t their actual shoes, but their way of life. Followers of Jesus said that they were following The Way of Jesus.
CHRISTIANOS – “Christians”
“For a whole year they met with the church [Notice it doesn’t say “they met at the church”] and taught a great many people. And in Antioch the disciples were first called Christians.”
This wasn’t meant to be complimentary. The ending “–ians” simply means “belonging to the party of” or “follower of”, so it was shorthand for this crazy group of people who kept talking about this back-from-the-dead Jesus fellow who turned random people into brothers and sisters who met together regularly to eat His body and drink His blood (Christians were pretty misunderstood at the beginning – and still are today, I suppose). These “Christians” said that Jesus was the one whom the Jews called Christ, so the culture around them started calling them “Christians” – “followers of Christ”. Amazingly, and in a relatively short period of time after Jesus walked the earth, these believers went from being a small “congregation” to an identifiable group, distinct from Judaism and distinct from the Gentile religions.
KURIAKOS – “Church”
Let’s see what we have so far. We have a Congregation [EKKLESIA] of Christians [CHRIASTIANOS], who call themselves “The Way” [HODOS]. So why do many English translations of the bible use the word “Church”? Where did that come from?
The word “Church” actually comes from a different Greek word – KURIAKOS which simply means “the lord’s” or “belonging to the lord” (KURIOS = “lord”). It is used in scripture a couple of times (1 Cor 11:20, Rev 1:10), and the word could mean any human lord, but it always refers to Jesus in scripture. For Christians there really is only one Lord, so when Christians started to gather into larger groups, designate places of worship, and even build buildings, they would call them KURIAKOS – places that “belong to the Lord”.
This really took off when Emperor Constantine (circa 300AD), the first Christian Emperor of Rome, started building places of worship all over the place and wanted to set them apart from the other public buildings he was erecting and so called them KURIAKOS. The pronunciation of the word changed over the years, but now the buildings that we build which are meant to house a group of believers still have that same name –we call them Churches.
And so, to summarize, on Sunday morning you sit in a “Church”, a KURIAKOS, which is a building dedicated to the Lord. Surrounding you are Christians who make up the EKKLESIA, the Congregation of people who have been called out from the world to become followers of the HODOS, The Way, of Jesus the Christ. Don’t you love word studies‽
Word studies are so much fun, let’s do one more. We’ve talked about the names of this body of believers, but there’s another great word that describes what happens among the people who are part of this group. It’s a word that is used both to describe and to identify what the church is and does.
It’s the word KOINONIA. The Church of Jesus Christ is meant to practice, experience and be defined by their expression of KOINONIA. It’s used 20 times in the Bible and is such a wonderfully expressive word that it takes many English words to fully capture it’s meaning.
KOINONIA = Commitment
It’s first occurrence is in Acts 2:42, right at the birth of the church, shortly after the Apostle Peter has given his first sermon and 3000 are converted to Christianity. It says, “And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship [KOINONIA], to the breaking of bread and the prayers.” It describes the group of people who had come together under the banner of Christ. They committed themselves to one another. They became a community, a group, a united front built upon faith in and love for single leader, Jesus Christ.
KOINONIA = Spiritual Unity
aul uses it in Philippians 2:1-2 as he is teaching believers about pursuing Christ like humility and how to treat other believers. He says,
“So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation [KOINONIA] in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.”
This is the spiritual aspect to KOINONIA. It’s not just about being united in our minds, wills, and decisions, but also describes how Christians are drawn together by the Holy Spirit to care for one another and worship God. It describes a group of people who are not only seeking agreement and united in their purpose, but serving God, one another, and serving alongside one another with love and joy.
KOINONIA: From Jesus to Church
This love for one another does not come from inside ourselves, but is built upon and flows from our relationship with Jesus. KOINONIA is also used to describe our relationship with Jesus. Listen to 1 John 1:6-7,
“If we say we have fellowship [KOINONIA] with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship [KOINONIA] with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.”
If we are in KOINONIA (loving fellowship, agreement, service, intimate communion) with Jesus, then we will have KOINONIA (loving fellowship, agreement, service, intimate communion) with the people of the church. It’s a powerful truth that the closer we are to Jesus, the closer we will feel to His people, and the further we are from Jesus, the further away we will feel from His church.
We cannot say that we are loving, serving, enjoying, and participating with Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, passionately pursuing the mission God has for us, while at the same time being distant from His people, arguing with another believer, avoiding another Christian, or sinning against a brother or sister in Christ. They work together. We express our love for God by loving His people. We express our service to our Lord Jesus by serving His people. When we are listening to the Holy Spirit, He will point us towards His people. Our KOINONIA with God flows directly into our KOINONIA with His church.
Therefore if you feel stuck in your spiritual life, if you feel a distance from God, if you are feeling dispassionate in your relationship with Jesus, if you don’t regularly see the work of the Holy Spirit in your life, one sure way to reclaim that is to pursue KOINONIA with His people.
KOINONIA = Sacrifice
Consider that another way this word is used is to describe a sacrificial gift given from one believer to another (or group of believers) who is in need. In the same section of scripture where Paul is talking about being a cheerful giver and teaching that God supplies our needs generously so we can give generously (2 Corinthians 9:6-15), he uses the word KOINONIA to describe “generously sharing” with other believers who are in need.
In other words, when you are meeting the needs of another believer, whether in friendship, or service, or through a financial or practical gift, you are exercising KOINONIA and are not only growing closer to that person, but closer to God.
KOINONIA = Communion
Allow me one final use of KOINONIA in scripture. Listen to 1 Corinthians 10:16-17,
“The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation [KOINONIA] in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation [KOINONIA] in the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread.”
When we have Communion, the Lord’s Supper, we are participating in an exercise of KOINONIA. We are expressing our KOINONIA with Jesus, and our KOINONIA with His church. I read a section from a passage in 1 Corinthians 11 every month during the Communion Service, but let’s read context:
“17 In the following directives I have no praise for you, for your meetings do more harm than good. 18 In the first place, I hear that when you come together as a church, there are divisions among you, and to some extent I believe it. 19 No doubt there have to be differences among you to show which of you have God’s approval. 20 When you come together, it is not the Lord’s Supper you eat, 21 for as you eat, each of you goes ahead without waiting for anybody else. One remains hungry, another gets drunk. 22 Don’t you have homes to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I praise you for this? Certainly not!”
So what’s Paul’s problem with the church here? The KOINONIA, the intimacy, fellowship, joy of service, unity in spirit, is broken. The church gets together to eat, to worship and to celebrate the Lord’s Supper, but they aren’t serving one another, they are divided, they are abusing each other, disregarding each other’s needs, not helping those who need it, letting those who need food go hungry, some eating and drinking it all before the rest can even get there!
Like many churches, they are doing their religious thing, putting in their time, going through the motions, but the KOINONIA isn’t there. They should be loving one another, serving each other, seeking unity, taking care of the ones who have needs, blessing each other, encouraging the weaker among them… but instead they come to church and pretend that it exists for them, and that their relationship with God has nothing to do with the Christians around them. They do their religious duty thinking only of themselves.
Paul looks at this church and says, “You’re not eating the Lord’s Supper, you’re just having a worldly party. Because you have lost your KOINONIA, you are no longer a church.”
He continues in verse 23,
“23 For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, 24 and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.” 25 In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.” 26 For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.”
Now read to the next part carefully:
“27 Therefore, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord. 28 A man ought to examine himself before he eats of the bread and drinks of the cup. 29 For anyone who eats and drinks without recognizing the body of the Lord eats and drinks judgment on himself. 30 That is why many among you are weak and sick, and a number of you have fallen asleep.”
Communion is a time for us to examine ourselves, but some ministers (myself included) may be negligent in reminding us what we are to be examining ourselves for. Consider the context, what is Paul really concerned about? KOINONIA!
An Unworthy Manner
What does it mean to “eat the bread or drink the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner [and] sin against the body and blood of the Lord”? We often assume it means just searching our hearts for sins that no one knows about, that we haven’t confessed yet, bitterness or jealousy or lust we have in our hearts… and that is only part of the meaning. We should certainly do that. But remember the context.
We “sin against the body and blood” when we participate in the Lord’s Supper and are not in KOINONIA with Jesus and the brothers and sisters around us. This is why the Lord’s Supper is reserved for believers alone. Only those who have given their lives to Jesus can have KOINONIA with Jesus, and with the Church. This is why many churches only allow members to take Communion, in an attempt to not bring judgement upon their church for allowing people who are not in KOINONIA to participate in the Lord’s Supper.
Eating & Drinking Judgement
Look at verse 29 again to see how serious this is, “For anyone who eats and drinks without recognizing the body of the Lord eats and drinks judgment on himself.” What does it “recognizing the body of the Lord” mean?
It means two things:
First, we have to recognize the actual body of Jesus Christ, which was give up for us at the Great Exchange, made the Propitiation for our sins, and which was hung on the cross in our place. We must have that at the forefront of our minds as we partake in the bread, which symbolizes Jesus body, given for us, and the cup, which reminds us of His blood which was shed for the forgiveness of our sins.
Second, we must also recognize the other way the “body of the Lord” is used in scripture. Over and over and over in scripture the Church is called the “body of Christ” (Romans 12:5, 1 Cor 10:17, 12:27, Eph 4:12…”). Jesus is the head, we are the body. We are His hands and feet in this world, the body by which He manifests His will and through whom He works the most.
When we take communion without being in KOINONIA with the brothers and sisters around us, we eat and drink judgement on ourselves. How serious is this? Verse 30 says that in the Corinthian church God’s judgement came down “That is why many among you are weak and sick, and a number of you have fallen asleep.”
One of my commentaries says this,
“To not come to the table in unity and acceptance of fellow believers revealed arrogance and ungratefulness for what Christ had done. To take the Lord’s Supper – to eat the bread and drink the wine – as though it were no more than a regular meal to assuage hunger is to miss the sanctity of this spiritual rite. Those who did so were eating and drinking God’s judgment against themselves. This ‘judgement’ was severe, one of the most severe in the New Testament. The judgement was disciplinary in nature; that is, it did not refer to eternal judgment, but it was sever enough to cause many of the believers to be weak and ill, while some had even died. That some of the people had died may have been a supernatural judgement on the Corinthian church. This type of disciplinary judgement highlights the seriousness of the Communion service. The Lord’s Supper is not to be take lightly; this new covenant cost Jesus His life. It is not a meaningless ritual, but a sacrament given by Christ to help strengthen believers’ faith.” (Life Application Bible Commentary – Pg 165-166)
What’s In A Name?
There’s something beautiful about the simplicity of the word “church”, and the complexity of how it came about. The story of how we came to call this place, and these people, a “church” gives us a glimpse into the complexity of the organization and the simplicity of what is meant to do. What happens here, among us, each day, each week, while we are in service together and while we are caring for one another during the week, is unique to the Christian church. We are the only group that can experience KOINONIA with God, with Christ, with the Holy Spirit, and with Each other.
We are the only group who has the HODOS, The Way, because we know the One who truly is the Way, the Truth and the Life. We are the EKKLESIA, the called-out ones, who were once part of the world, but are no longer. We are now CHRISTIANOS, those belonging to Christ, His people. And we come here, to this KURIAKOS, this place that belongs to the Lord, this place of worship, fellowship, discipleship, service, love, joy, commitment, praise, power, unity… so that we can be KURIAKOS a people who belongs to the Lord.
Through my years as a Christian, and as a pastor, as I have learned to love Jesus, I have learned to love His church and His people too, and it is my prayer that you would do the same.
Sermon Reflection Questions:
- What do you think of when you hear the word “Church”? What positive and negative connotations does the word
- What does it mean to be part of an EKKLESIA – “A Congregation”
- What does it mean to be part of HODOS – “The Way”?
- In what ways has the meaning of the word Christian changed for you?
- What is KOINONIA?
- How serious does Jesus take The Lord’s Supper? How has today’s lesson changed your view of Communion / The Lord’s Supper?
Small Group Study:
Icebreaker: What are three things you would most like to accomplish in the next year?
Read & Discuss: 1 John 1:6-7
- Why would some say they have “fellowship with Him”, but not really mean it? What benefits are there in giving lip-service to the faith?
- What does it mean to “walk in darkness”?
- What does it mean to “walk in the light”? How can we “walk in the light as He [Jesus] is in the light?”
- Look at how the verse builds. “IF we walk in the light…[THEN] we have fellowship with one another AND the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.” How does all that work together? What is the connection to having “fellowship with one another” and being “cleansed from all sin”?
There is no simple answer to this question because Christians are multifaceted: they believe certain truths, do amazing things, and they experience the power of God.
I Want What They Have
I’ve heard a lot of people’s testimonies and one common phrase that keeps coming up is: “I want what they have.”
Many people’s testimony has a scene where they walk into a church, a small group, or into a Christian’s home and see something in that person’s life that was missing from theirs. They speak of inner turmoil, addiction, frustration, fear, anxiety, depression, uncertainty, hatred, sadness, loneliness and a host of other problems. But when they look at the Christian, they see something else. They see love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. They see the things that are missing from their life which they desperately want, but don’t know how to access or generate within themselves.
And very often the scene transitions to a place where they finally get alone with God in prayer and say, “God, I want what they have, but I don’t know how to get it.
I’m a mess and can’t clean myself up.
I’m addicted, and don’t have the power to clean myself up.
I’m angry and don’t have the ability to calm down.
I have no purpose, I have no reason to live, I have no idea what I’m doing here.
I’m living like it’s all about me, and I’m not enough anymore.
If you’re real… I need you to figure this out… I need you to fix me.” And as is so often the case in Christian testimonies, they finally say, “I don’t have anywhere else to turn.”
Over and over and over, testimony after testimony, we hear of the same result: God shows up. God grabs hold of the person. God changes how they think. They meet Jesus — the real Jesus. They read the Bible and the Spirit makes it new, exciting, comforting, and life-altering. Jesus becomes their Lord, their Saviour, their Friend… their Reason.
Raised in Futility and Hopelessness
Jesus provides for Christians that which meets the deepest needs of every human being. Satan and the world provide counterfeit promises and experiences all over the place which are meant to give people a portion of what they desire, but never what they really need. People turn to all sorts of places, from sex to career, food to friends, popularity to punishing themselves, in an attempt to get what God is offering in Christ, to all believers.
That’s part of the reason my heart breaks so much for young people and young families. They have gone through their whole lives being told there is no such thing as truth, that they are descended from primates, that their past has no purpose, their future has no hope, and everything they do is ultimately meaningless. They have been taught they can’t trust anyone as divorce rates have risen, church leaders have fallen into scandal, the news media is shown to be manipulative and wrong. Over and over they’ve been given reasons not to trust organizations, not to trust companies, not to trust government, not to trust teachers.
So they band together in a seemingly random order trying to find some kind of meaning and purpose and construct social systems based on the garbage they are fed by the world, willingly swallow anything just so they can feel some kind of joy, distraction and connection to community – even if it is unhealthy, addictive, and destructive.
This is why people need the gospel – why they need Jesus. This is why they need to see and experience authentic Christianity. They don’t need religion, or tradition, or Sunday school, or another sermon, or a guru who gives them three easy steps to find God and feel forgiven. They need to be shown, in the lives of real Christians, what a relationship with Jesus looks like and how it is better, more meaningful, deeper, stronger, and more right than any other choice this world offers them.
Unfortunately, there don’t seem to be many real Christians around anymore. There are lots of religious people who attend religious services and know lots of religious jargon. There are charismatic leaders who know how to whip people into a froth and promise them things that make them feel good. There are churches which are more akin to mausoleums than houses of worship, who refuse to adapt to culture, who fear change, who have no plan to grow deeper in Jesus, and wouldn’t know what to do with a person who walked through the door and was begging to be a Christian.
So many lost people. So many broken people. And millions of people sitting in churches week after week being given the answers which will give that broken person hope and meet their deepest needs. Why is it those two groups don’t get together very often?
What Is A Christian?
What these people desperately need is to become a Christian. But what is a Christian? There are dozens of stereotypes from televangelists to Mother Theresa, Sister Act to GCB. Every other blogpost on the internet is trying to differentiate the subgroups within the Christian community — Catholic from Evangelical, Reformed from Missional, and everything in between. What is a Christian?
Part of the reason I want to teach “The Foundations” is because many people can’t give a good answer to that question beyond the most basic answer: :A Christian is Follower of Christ [or Imitator of Christ]”, but what does that mean?
Let’s talk about three things that make a Christian a Christian. Of course everyone will have different expressions of their faith, different ways they meet God, will mature at different rates, and have different questions, needs and hurts that need to be addressed, but I believe every Christian will have these three characteristics.
A Christian Believes…
The first is that a Christian has certain, specific beliefs. We have already covered a lot of this during the past few weeks in Five Solas, but we didn’t cover everything. I want to give you another tool which summarizes the core of the gospel and Christian theology in only a few paraghraphs. It’s called the Nicene Creed.
The Nicene Creed
People have been trying to take apart and alter the scriptures, the gospel and the story of Jesus in a lot of ways over the years, and the response of the Christian church has often been to assemble the best theologians and to write (or reaffirm) a creed.
The Nicene Creed is over 1600 years old and many churches recite it each week as part of their liturgy. It’s something of a yardstick of orthodoxy (or correct belief) where someone can quickly identify the most basic of Christian beliefs. It was put together to combat false, heretical teachers who were teaching non-biblical things about Jesus, particularly those who were saying that Jesus is a created being, not eternal, and is not One and the same with the Father.
The Nicene Creed goes like this:
“I believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible.
And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds; God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God; begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father, by whom all things were made.
Who, for us men and for our salvation, came down from heaven, and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the virgin Mary, and was made man; and was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate; He suffered and was buried; and the third day He rose again, according to the Scriptures; and ascended into heaven, and sits on the right hand of the Father; and He shall come again, with glory, to judge the quick and the dead; whose kingdom shall have no end.
And I believe in the Holy Ghost, the Lord and Giver of Life; who proceeds from the Father and the Son; who with the Father and the Son together is worshipped and glorified; who spoke by the prophets.
And I believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church. I acknowledge one baptism for the remission of sins; and I look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come. Amen.”
I find it to be quite beautiful and very succinct. These are the core beliefs of a Christian. They are not religious but they do guide our religion. They are not merely traditional, but they are certainly historical. They are universally applicable and incorporate the most important parts of the Christian faith. They are the foundational beliefs of a Christian.
A Christian Does…
As important as good theology is, it’s not enough to know the right things if they are not practiced. A person can be fat and out of shape while still reading health magazines, studying exercise techniques, and even have a gym membership. The knowledge isn’t making them any healthier – they must exercise what they know. Therefore the next answer to “What is a Christian?” is that a Christian does certain things.
Part of the consequence of meeting your Creator, meeting Jesus, being forgiven by God, being shown mercy, goodness, kindness and grace, is that it has a distinct effect on how you live your life.
If you asked people what a Christian does, they might say “go to church”, “try to be good people”, “pray”, “read their bible”. But is that it? Is that the culmination of the Christian life? I think not.
I made a list a while back of the kinds of things Christians do. It was fairly substantial (and a little overwhelming), but after a while I realized that the list can be broken down into only four different categories: Worship, Fellowship, Discipleship, and Outreach. When someone asks me “What does a Christian do?” or “How can I grow as a Christian?” or “What is the church?”, these four words are always my answer.
A Christian Worships.
They seek God in multiple ways, all the time, in every area of their life. For a Christian, worship doesn’t just happen when music is playing on Sunday morning, but during every part of every day. As 1 Corinthians 10:31 says, “Whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.” Colossians 3:17 says, “And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.” 1 Peter 4:11 says, “If anyone speaks, he should do it as one speaking the very words of God. If anyone serves, he should do it with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen.” A Christian’s life is a life of worship.
A Christian Fellowships.
Fellowship is just a fancy word for hanging around other people who share your interests – in a Christian’s case the chief interest is Jesus. If there is a word that encapsulates the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the motivation of all Christian endeavors, it would be the word “Love.” The most attractive thing we have to offer each other and the world beyond our doors is our love for God and for one another. As 1 Corinthians 13 says, no matter what we do, and how well we do it, if we do not have love, we are nothing.
God does not call Christians to be alone. God calls them to be part of His Church, His group of like-minded people who will support and care for each other. This is why churches spend a lot of time trying to convince people to stay, eat, have coffee, come on Wednesday nights, get into small groups, go to church functions, and find Christian friends… because a Christian who is alone cannot grow as healthily as one who is around other believers.
If you’re introverted like me, then sometimes it’s difficult – but it’s still necessary. Consider that many of the things we are supposed to do, which we are commanded to do in scripture, can ONLY happen in community. The best example are the “one another” passages (Hebrews 3:13, 10:24-25; Galatians 6:2; Colossians 3:16; James 5:16; 1 Peter 4:8-9; Ephesians 4:32). They simply can’t be done in isolation.
A Christian is a Disciple.
In other words, they pursue a better and deeper knowledge of who Jesus is and how to be more like Him. Being a disciple means not only expanding our knowledge, but expanding how we apply that knowledge. It means asking hard questions, looking for answers, and then using the answers we have found to serve others, help them grow, and to draw them closer to Jesus.
I love the old blessing, “May you be covered in your rabbi’s dust”. It was a phrase which meant that as you were being discipled by your rabbi, you would walk so closely behind your teacher, and sit so close to his feet as he taught, that you would be caked in the dust that he would be kicking up. That is the desire of a Christian. To be so close to Jesus, so zealous to learn from Him and do what He desires, that we would be covered in the dust of our rabbi.
Even when that path leads to suffering, we follow. It’s not too often we would answer the question “What does a Christian do?” with “A Christian suffers well”, but it’s true. We follow our Teacher, our Saviour, our Lord, wherever He would have us go, and under whatever conditions, because we know He knows better than us what we need in order to grow to be more like Him.
A Christian Practices Outreach.
A Christian has a concern for the world beyond ourselves and a desire to obey the command of Jesus to “go into the world and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching tem to obey everything [Jesus] commanded you.”
We serve the world, pray for them, love our enemies and do good to those who harm us. (Luke 6:27-28) We have an answer prepared for those who want to know about the hope that is within us and we do it with gentleness and respect(1 Peter 3:15).
A Christian shares their faith, does not fear reprisal for giving glory to God, and is willing to look foolish in the world’s eyes for the sake of Christ. We do not fear the world, and we enjoy the good things in it, but we do not become the world. We use the tools of this world to bring glory to God and to proclaim the name of Jesus Christ.
A Christian Experiences…
“What is a Christian?” isn’t only answered by “A Christian believes…”, and isn’t fully answered by “A Christian does…”. It also requires us to remember that all Christians will experience similar things.
As a conservative, Baptist, Christian Preacher, I’m often pigeonholed by people thinking that I don’t like experiences – maybe you’ve been treated the same way. Baptists [Christians] don’t have fun, don’t laugh, don’t tell jokes, don’t dance, don’t go to parties, don’t, don’t, don’t. They study, they obey, but they don’t experience their faith.
Maybe some don’t, but I certainly believe that real Christians do – and even should – experience their faith! When a person meets Jesus they are going to have some amazing things happen. Maybe not all at once, and sometimes it will take some training, practice, and maturing before the experiences come about, but they are common among all believers. I believe some of these common experiences are summarized in Galatians 5:22-23, what the Bible calls “The Fruit of the Spirit”. Have you experienced these?
Christians experience and share love. A believer will begin to have emotional connections in places they never thought they would. Their heart will break for things they never cared about before. They will discover what it means to love and to be loved, and then what it means to be rejected by those they love. God will deepen their ability and desire to love.
Christians experience new joy. They no longer worry about being happy because they realize that being happy isn’t what the world is all about. They realize that they can have joy – deep joy – even when their circumstances aren’t happy.
Christians experience peace. Whereas before they knew Jesus, or committed their life to Him, they were all over the place, upset, angry, anxious, frustrated and fearful, they are now able to find peace in Christ. They now know how to access peace, the Author of peace, the Prince of Peace, and they have the Holy Spirit inside of them showing them things and giving them resources to draw on that they never had before.
Christians experience patience with themselves and with others. As God settles on their heart an eternal perspective, they will rise above the day and the difficult situations they have before them, and realize that God is in control, and they are not. They will remember how long it took for them to turn their lives over to Him, and how many times they have failed, and they will extend the same grace and mercy God has shown them over to others.
Christians experience what it means to be kind. Before, they lived for themselves and were very pessimistic about the world. They knew everyone was out to get them, and no one could be trusted. Now they desire to spread joy and love by being kind to people – for no reason. They extend the benefit of the doubt to people, and let them have their own way. They take the next spot in line, and don’t get upset in traffic when things aren’t going their way.
Christians experience the amazing benefit of being good. They felt bad before, guilty, judged, and dirty. Now they feel, because of the love and forgiveness of God and His new Purpose in their life, good. They desire good things. They put sinful, unhelpful, unloving, gross things behind them and they desire good things that are helpful and that build them up. The change is sometimes shocking to them, as their tastes and desires change because they now want to live an upright life and walk with a clean heart.
Christians experience faithfulness. As they learn that Jesus will never let them down, so they don’t want to let others down either. They move from being untrustworthy to trustworthy, from manipulating others for their benefit, to allowing others to actually going out of their way and doing things they don’t want to do simply because it’s the right thing.
Christians experience gentleness. Now remember that gentleness, or meekness, doesn’t mean weakness, it means power under control. It describes a powerful, wild horse that has become obedient and useful to their master. They are no less powerful, but now that power is being directed. The biggest, gruffest, scariest guy, when Jesus gets hold of their heart, makes them gentle. They turn their power, their will and their abilities over to Jesus and He teaches them how to use that power for His glory. The meanest, most manipulative person, once Jesus gets hold of them, now desires to be gentle, to bring their natural talents under God’s control and to be gentle. Suddenly, weaker people, those who can’t help themselves, become far more important. God doesn’t create weaklings, He takes the power He gives people, and shows them how to use it gently.
Christians experience self-control. A Christian experiences something most people don’t have. Because of their new nature they can make decisions and stick to them. They can put down things and not pick them up. They can go places they never thought possible. All because the Holy Spirit within them is strengthening them and forming them into the person Jesus is creating them to be.
(Sorry about the audio, we’re working on it!)
One of my favourite preachers, Mark Driscoll, had a very good, insightful Facebook update this week. He said, “All theology is cat theology or dog theology. Let’s say two pets have an amazing, kind, generous owner. The cat thinks: ‘I must be an amazing and valuable cat.’ The dog thinks: ‘I have an amazing and valuable master.’” Someone else said, “Dogs have masters, Cats have support staff.”
That’s clever, and it’s also quite true – about people anyway. People seem to have two ways to look at their religious path: I can do it myself or I need someone to do it for me. The question is, which are you?
Most people, as we said a while ago, are do-it-yourselfers. They want to find their own way to their own form of god. This wasn’t always the case though.
What Religion Are You?
If you were to go down to the Byward Market, or stand in Bayshore Mall in 1950 and ask the question “What religion are you?” you would probably have received the answer “I’m Baptist, Lutheran, Methodist, Anglican… and a lot of ‘I’m Catholic’”. There would be a few atheists, some Jewish people and a couple eastern religions, but they would have been few and far between. People would have basically divided themselves by Christian denominations – though they may or may not have been attending at the time.
If you were to go ask the same question today you’d get a lot of people saying, “I’m spiritual, but not religious” or “I don’t go to church”. You would get a rainbow of different religious outlooks: Atheists, Agnostics, Buddhists, Muslims, Jews, Bahai, Hindus, Wiccans, Scientologists and probably a couple who practice Kabbalah.
You would find a lot of people, if pressed to give details, that have a sort of interfaith spirituality where they mix and match all sorts of practices and parts of different religions to come up with their own favourite blend.
My wife served me a tea the other day that had a mix of a couple different kinds of tea in it, and I’ve had coffee that was mixed with partly dark and partly medium roast, part decaf, part caffeinated. These people treat their religion like that – just mix some stuff together until it tastes right to them.
They read the Bible, use crystals, light candles, pray, practice meditation and have a spirit guide… and that’s their “faith”. Some will practice Native spirituality, go to a Buddhist temple, and then read The Secret so they can practice the Law of Attraction and make good things come to them. There are people who call themselves Christians, but read horoscopes, and believe in the karmic view that if you do good things then good things will happen to you. It’s all about finding their own path.
People can’t get away from their spiritual nature, because it is as much a part of them as their physical nature, but that doesn’t mean that they are going to let anyone dictate how they exercise their spirituality. In a short period of time the question you would ask to North Americans moved from “What Christian denomination are you?” to “What have you come up with as your way to practice spirituality?”
The Enlightenment Game
Take a look at this board game. It’s called “Enlighten” and its tagline is “The new board game that’s taking people on a spiritual journey to explore the world’s religions.” Let me read you the game’s description from the website: “Each individual will travel around the board, answering questions about the six major religions…. Once the players have completed their spiritual journey around the world, they enter the Enlightened Path, where players identify notable quotes from major religious and philosophical leaders…. To make this journey more fun, Enlighten summons players to debate questions in a quest to reclaim their turn. Players can also land on a Life’s Rough Patch where they lose their turn and have to atone themselves through sacred ritual. Enlighten is never dull, as players engage in renewing spiritual rituals while learning more about the world and its people.” In big red letters on the page are the words, “Open your mind, free your spirit, come play with the rest of the world!”
Very interesting, eh? This game is just replicating what perhaps you, your friends, family and neighbours are already doing. They are looking around the world at different religions, opening their mind, and they are no longer assuming that the only path is the one given in the Bible. It’s either somewhere else, or something they come up with all by themselves.
This is why the belief in Sola Christus, Christ Alone, is so foundational to Christianity. It is the belief that there is only one Saviour and one Mediator between God and man and that is the person of Jesus Christ. We reject all other mediators and all other forms of salvation, and anyone who claims to have a special connection to God.
We have already said, in previous weeks, that our salvation is because of the work of Jesus on the cross Alone, by faith in Him Alone, and because of the work that He did on the cross – something none of us could have done for ourselves. I don’t want to go over the same ground that we have covered with the previous three Solas (Scripture Alone, Grace Alone and Faith Alone), but instead want to make sure we all understand this essential belief that our salvation is through Jesus ALONE.
Arrogant, Closed-Minded Christians
I preached a series a few years ago called “They Like Jesus but not the Church”, which was based on a book by Dan Kimball, where on one week I talked about how most people in the world have no problem with Jesus, but they do have a problem with Christians who arrogantly think that all other religions are wrong. The idea is that being a Christian automatically makes you closed minded and judgemental because we don’t allow for anyone else’s beliefs and we say that everyone else is wrong but us. Which is true, but doesn’t sound very nice in the country that we live in.
Some Christians I know have a problem with this too, and really don’t like the idea that what they believe is right and what others believe is wrong. I’ve even heard them say, “I believe Jesus died for my sins, and that Christianity is the right way, but whose to say that other religions aren’t just different ways of getting to Jesus?”
Some people will talk about the basic tenants of religions and how they all have the same things in common, even though they have different names. But is that true? Are there overlaps between Christianity, Buddhism, Bahai and Islam? Are they all basically the same thing, leading to the same place?
Dan Kimball had a very helpful illustration in his book that I want to share with you to help us all understand the differences, and why Sola Christus, Christ Alone is so important.
Do All Roads Lead to God?
The illustration starts with a picture of a mountain. The basic idea that many people have about religion is that “all roads lead to God”. No matter what place you start at the bottom of the mountain, when you get to the top, everybody gets to the same peak. Now, is that true? It seems so when you are looking at it from the bottom of the mountain.
At the bottom of the mountain, there are similarities and crossovers in the path. For example, there are similar sounding teachings. For example, Jesus in Luke 6:31 said, “Do to others as you would have them do to you.” Buddha said, “Consider others as yourself.” Jesus said in Luke 6:29, “If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also.” Buddha also said, “If anyone should give you a blow with his hand, with a stick, or with a knife, you should abandon any desires and utter no evil words.” Sounds the same, and I would say that the person who is speaking doesn’t make it any less true. Truth is truth.
Many faiths not only have similar teachings, but similar rituals like prayer, fasting, special meetings and celebrations with food. Some are also exclusive, like Christianity, saying that their way is the only way. Many religions believe in a form of hell where non-believers go. So there are some similarities at the bottom of the mountain where some of the paths seem to cross over.
The problem comes when we get closer to the top of the mountain. Some people assume that all paths lead to God, but what they don’t realize is how different the gods at the top of the mountains really are. It is categorically impossible that all religions lead to the same place. Let’s just take three of them, for example.
On the path of Hinduism, when you get to the top of the mountain there are many gods. Jesus may be one of the gods, but is not the only one there, or the only way to get to the top of the mountain to meet God. In the afterlife, there is reincarnation to pay off karmic debt (someone sends you back down the mountain to try again!), and eventually when you finally get it right you don’t go to heaven to meet a personal God, you becoming one with the impersonal “unchanging reality amidst and beyond the world” called Brahman.
At the top of the Islamic mountain, there is one god, Allah. Jesus is a prophet, but not one of the Trinity, and not the Son of God. The afterlife is either paradise or hell, but salvation is not by grace, it is based on the weighing of the good and bad deeds done during your life. You can’t really be sure that you will get into paradise until you get there.
At the top of the Christian mountain there is One God in Three Triune Persons (Father Son and Holy Spirit). Jesus is the Son of God, and faith in His atoning death and resurrection is the way to salvation. And the afterlife is either heaven or hell, not based on anything we do, but on what Jesus did.
Certainly, there are things that different belief systems have in common, but when someone explores further, there is no way to say that all paths lead to the same place. They are three completely different mountains. And according to Jesus, scripture and Christian theology, there is only one path on one mountain that will lead to salvation – the way of faith in Jesus that leads to reconciliation with our Heavenly Father.
The Stumbling Stone
The consequence of believing in Sola Christus is that we put the entirety of our faith into one person, Jesus Christ. I think this is where a lot of people stumble. Romans 3:30-33 says that the Jewish people in Paul’s day had the same problem as many people today.
“What shall we say, then? That Gentiles who did not pursue righteousness have attained it, that is, a righteousness that is by faith; but that Israel who pursued a law that would lead to righteousness did not succeed in reaching that law. Why? Because they did not pursue it by faith, but as if it were based on works. They have stumbled over the stumbling stone, as it is written, ‘Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense; and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.’”
People want to hedge their bets on getting into heaven by wanting to put faith into themselves or someone else, just to make sure. Some put their faith in Jesus, and then also in some superstitions. Some put their faith in Jesus, but also in their good works. Some put their faith in Jesus, and also in their denomination, their pastor, their nationality, their tribe, or something else. For them (and they wouldn’t say this out loud), they believe they will get to heaven and God will say, “Ok, now prove you are worthy to be here.” And they will need to pull out whatever they’ve got – their membership card, their charitable receipts, the list of things they’ve denied themselves, or say, “Oh, I’m here with pastor so-and-so, or prophet so-and-so.” That’s not how it’s going to work.
That’s hard, isn’t it? It’s difficult to put all our eternal eggs into one basket. But that is what Christians do. Christians put their faith into one person, Jesus.
We believe we will get to heaven and stand before the judgement seat and have nothing in our hands. When God says, “Why should I let a sinner like you into my Holy presence for eternity?” Our only answer will be, “You shouldn’t.” except that Jesus will be standing next to us as our advocate and say, “Father, this one is with me. I took their punishment on Myself and You accepted that. I have traded their sin for My righteousness, and you have already paid out the wrath they are due. I took it for them and they have put their faith in me.”
Jesus is Prophet, Priest & King
( Joel R. Beeke’s, “Christ Alone” helped me understand this better.)
For centuries, tracing all the way back to the fourth-century writer Eusibius, Christians have talked about Jesus as their perfect Prophet, Priest and King. This might be a new and challenging thought to you because it goes against a lot of what we are taught about individuality and pluralism in North America.
First, Jesus is our only Prophet. In other words, Jesus is the person from whom we get our instruction in the things of God. He is our highest authority on what God is like, what God says, how God acts, what His priorities are, and how we are to conduct ourselves in relation to Him.
We love pluralism today. No one is wrong, everyone is right. There are some who believe that eventually we’ll figure out all this religious stuff and come to one final solution where we will incorporate all beliefs and religious systems into one united religion that will satisfy everyone. We’ll put away this petty squabbling about little issues like who God is, and what eternity is like, and whose religious text is right, and we’ll just all get along – that’s pluralism.
As we just talked about, that’s not going to happen because of the exclusive claims of Christianity, and the exclusive claims of Christ. It is Jesus who is the only one who heals our blindness and frees us from our ignorance about who God is. He is our greatest Teacher, and the supreme authority on God.
Jesus is also our only Priest. He is the person through whom we gain access to God. In Scripture, particularly in the book of Hebrews, Jesus is called our “High Priest”. Hebrews 2:17 says, “Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people.”
Propitiation has two basic meanings – to appease the wrath of someone, and then to make reconciliation with Him. That’s what a priest does. He brings the sacrifice to appease the wrath of God and then performs the necessary actions to bring reconciliation.
Jesus, as the perfect High Priest, not only brings the sacrifice, but became the perfect sacrifice. He, once and for all, finished the system of bringing blood sacrifices to God. He also stands before God continuously doing what is necessary to bring about reconciliation. We bring our prayers to God, through Jesus Christ. We ask things of God in Jesus’ name. We are forgiven in Jesus’ name, because of Jesus’ blood, as Jesus stands before God as our propitiation.
Jesus is the only one who makes intercession for us. There is no need for any other priest, holy man, family member, living or dead saint, or any other person, to mediate for us, because Jesus is the perfect mediator between us and God. He is God and He is Man.
We do not pray to saints because we pray to Jesus. In many religions, and in Christianity during the middle ages, the priest was thought to have special powers and a special relationship with God that no one else could have. People would have to go to the priest in order to access God and only a priest could grant forgiveness, only a priest could administer sacraments, only a priest could bring your prayers to God. Jesus ended all of that and gives every believer direct access to God through faith in Him.
How can Jesus claim all of this? Because of Jesus is our only King. He is the person who rules over all things. He is the highest authority. He is, in fact, God.
Jesus made a lot of promises that He would have to back up. He said He had the authority to forgive sins (Matt 9:2). He said he could bring people back from the dead (Jn 5:21). He said he could protect the lives and souls of those who believe in Him (John 10:28). He said He had the ability to reward people in the afterlife (John 14:2, Mat 5:12). He said He is stronger than Hell (Mat 16:18). He said He has the power to answer prayers, even those said without speaking (Matt 21:22, Jn 14:13-14)
Those are big deals! He better have the authority to back that up. And if He does, why would we ever go to any other person or created thing instead?
Jesus Said and Proved He is God
We believe in Sola Christus, Christ alone, because Jesus is God. He is our Prophet, the one who tells us about God. He is our Priest, the one who brings us to God. And He is our King, the One who is God.
Why do we believe this? Because Jesus said it, and then proved it.
In John 8:58 Jesus said, “…before Abraham was born, I AM.” and the response of the Jews was to try to kill Him for blasphemy because they knew He claimed to be God.
In John 10:30 He said, “I and the Father are one.” The Jews looked at him and said, “…you, a mere man, claim to be God.” (John 10:33).
Jesus accepts worship on many occasions because He was God, and Thomas, one of His disciples, looks at Jesus after He has died on the cross and rose on the third day and says, “My Lord and my God!” (John 20:28) and Jesus doesn’t correct him, because he was right!
Jesus did things that only God could do! We have eyewitness testimony, and accurate historical accounts that Jesus physically healed people who were born with infirmities. He healed people from a distance. He altered time and space – consider that He changed water into good wine, and what does wine need to taste good? Time. Jesus altered time. He commanded demons to do things. And in His greatest work, He died, was buried, and then… as He predicted over and over… rose on the third day to conquer death.
Sola Deo Gloria
And this leads us to our final Sola – Sola Deo Gloria. All for God’s glory. Not for our own but His.
He is worthy of all our glory, and all things work towards His glory. We bring Him praise, and honour, and glory, and power, and dominion and everything else because of who He is and what He has done.
We are saved by Grace Alone, through Faith Alone, in Christ Alone, according to Scripture Alone, for the Glory of God Alone.
May God bless you as you find hope and peace in these truths.
Each week I write reflection questions and small group study material based on the sermon topic. I’m going to start posting here too.
Sermon Reflection Questions:
- Do you have “Cat Theology” or “Dog Theology”?
- How have you noticed the answer to “What religion are you?” change over time?
- Have you ever considered Christians to be arrogant and/or closed minded?
- Do all roads lead to God? Why not?
- What How is Jesus your Prophet? Your Priest? Your King?
- What does it mean that all things are done Sola Deo Gloria (For the Glory of God Alone)?
Small Group Study:
Icebreaker: If money were no object, what fun thing would you most like to do?
Read & Discuss: Hebrews 4:14-16
- What were the Old Testament priests for?
- What about priests from other religions?
- What descriptions from this verse qualify Jesus to be our High Priest?
- What does it mean that Jesus is able to “sympathize with our weaknesses”?
- Was Jesus tempted in “every respect”? How can that be?
- Why can we draw near to God’s “throne of grace” “with confidence”? From where does that confidence come?
- In what ways do we sometimes come before God in prayer without confidence?
- What is “grace”? What is “mercy”?