Talk about Jesus

“How to talk with people about Jesus” was the topic of my sermon Sunday.  Here are some highlights and a video well worth the time.

Three things we need to understand to prepare to talk accurately, passionately, and regularly about Jesus.
1.  Understand yourself.
Know who you are not who you ought to be.  God purposefully uses imperfect people to share his perfect love.
2.  Understand others.
Know who you are talking with.  Listen, don’t just talk.  Inform yourself about other beliefs and backgrounds from yours.  Know people…not your version of them.
3.  Understand the Gospel.
Know what you are talking about more than how you will say it.  Know the truth of Jesus well. Hide the Word of God in your heart and be ready to share it with others.

If You really want to talk with people about the truth that Jesus died on the cross to save us from our sins, you must be willing to talk about 4 topics:  sin, grace, faith, and confession.

Here is a video that is a great presentation of the way I like to talk with people about Jesus.  It is using one verse.  Romans 6:23.  Take some time to watch it.  It is worth the 11 minutes.

To Not Offend

I preached on forgiveness this past Sunday and I had planned a post on what to do when reconciliation is not possible with someone. I just feel that is poorly timed with the news of the last two days. I will post that later.

How to not Offend when you are Offended

Emotions run deep and emotions run high. There are issues that get you fired up and ready to fight and there are issues that do not. Some issues are worthy of such a response, others, are not. They are simply the pet issues of a generation or day.

Emotions run deep and high when people are murdered because of racial and/or religious views…and those emotions are appropriate. How do we respond to offense without offense?

Jesus did not offend when offended…he forgave. Father, forgive them for they know not what they do. Those soldiers did not deserve such love and grace. The Pharisees did not deserve such love and grace. And thus was the purpose of Christ…to give his life as a ransom for many.

The position of forgiveness, however, is not a position of weakness nor of silence. Jesus had not been silent about the wrong in the world. Jesus was not weak in the face of offense. He was the opposite. Jesus spoke up and he spoke out…and did so without offense.

The difficulty of our choosing to not offend in the face of offense is there exist social issues that deserve and demand attention. The key to speaking well into such issues is to be “quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry.” This applies even in your use of social media. It has been evident to all of us that many people have yet to consider this reality as they respond to racism, transgender issues, differences of opinion about marriage, police/community relations, and other recent social issues.

Some key thoughts about not adding offense to offense:
1. What is the good in it?

Not what is right behind it…what is good in it? Right does not always mean good.
You can be right about the truth you speak and horribly wrong about how you say it.
2. Who is your audience?
If you need to have a conversation with a particular person, go talk to them face to face, please.
3. Do you know what you’re talking about?
Honestly. Do you know all the facts? If not, be slow to speak.
Religious people, do not speak like you are the voice of God, especially if you are not quoting God. Just because you do not want something to be wrong does not mean it is not…and just because you want something to be right does not mean it is.

4. Is what you are sharing spoken in the same type of language and spirit you would speak it?
If not, do not share it. You will never honor Christ (nor make a difference) in a meaningful discussion by sharing someone else’s profanity-laced or racially-insensitive or bigotry-accusing article or post.
5.  Is it time to talk or time to think?
Thinking is a good thing…I promise.

So in response to the terrible news of the last 2 days, I want to say I am praying for this church and this community. I am outraged that such issues exist today in our culture and country, but I am not surprised.

The racial issue in particular is one that bothers me deeply in a season where I have personally dealt with racism in a church (not mine) and in a culture and country I recently visited. Today I ask God to do in others the type of work he has done in me. I was never a racist at the level we have observed in this inexcusable action, but I was, at one time in my life, very different than I am today about race. So today I praise God for the classmates, teammates, friends, co-workers, and mentors of other races he put in my life along the way. You have changed how I see all of us. I am very grateful for that. I am grateful that my position about race is no longer defined by the fact that I do not “hate,” but that I “love.” I am so grateful that God did not allow indifference about racial relations to define my position. Thank you God for not allowing me to live in a white world…I truly love the variety and creativity you created.

I can say the same about religion. I am personally very conservative about and committed to my beliefs, but God has allowed me, through beautiful relationships, to have the ability to appreciate and deeply love those I sincerely and whole-heartedly disagree with. Sure I pray that God saves their souls, for this is what I believe, but I can love them today while disagreeing with them. Thank you God for such friends.

So I pray that today in our world, God will put in your life someone who does not look exactly like you. And that God would put someone in your life that completely disagrees with your beliefs. And I pray that you will love them.

I also pray that God will put before you (and me) those who do not love those who look different than them and do not love those who disagree with them. I pray that we will love them too. For I find those people (who often look like me and who unfortunately and inaccurately quote from the same sacred Scriptures that define my life) much harder to not hate…much less love.

Love your enemy…God does.

As Big As

“As” is a big, little word. As and like are used in common and powerful little sound bites of communication known as similes. We use these because they make since. “Be quiet as a mouse.” “He is as strong as an ox.” Simple statements that are clear in communication because they give a clear and meaningful word picture.

Ephesians 4:32 says Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ Jesus forgave you. AS…there it is. That is the word picture for forgiveness. Forgive as God in Christ Jesus forgave you. AS the cross, the scourging, the sacrifice, the love, the grace, and the bearing of our sins. That is what forgiveness looks like. The little word as is quite powerful.

What is forgiveness, really? There are 2 Greek words used to describe forgiveness. One means to separate offense from offender and offender from offense. It is the same word that is used for divorce actually. It means a complete and absolute separation. One that sounds Biblical. “As far as the East is from the West, so far has He removed our transgressions from us.” The second Greek word means to give completely or to give up custody of. It is the concept of giving generously but not how we consider generosity. It does not simply mean to give much. It means to give all. It means to give away authority and control of.

Knowing what forgiveness is and being able to forgive are two very different things, though. All the word studies in the world will not change the difficult challenge of forgiving a hurtful offense.

Jesus gives us the process of forgiving someone in Matthew 18:15-20. Here are some key points we must remember, understand, and (most importantly) do.

  1. An offense is committed.
    The Biblical process for dealing with an offense helps us establish the offense. We bring 2 or 3 witnesses (not allies) into the situation to help us understand IF an offense exists at all and what it is. We are also challenged by this process to consider our part in the problem. (We are challenged to see the plank in our own eye as we consider the sawdust in our brothers.)
    2. The Price is paid.
    Forgiveness always costs the who forgives, never the one who is forgiven. Jesus died “once for all sin.” He paid the full price of sin…that price is death (Romans 3:23). The question we struggle with is “when do I pay the price?” Do we pay the price of forgiveness before or after the offender makes right toward us. Well if we are to forgive as God forgave us in Christ then we must remember that “God demonstrated his love for us in that we were still sinners Christ died for us.” Pay the price now. Make the decision to release custody of the wrong owed you, first. It is God’s kindness that draws us to repentance.

  2. GO FOR FORGIVENESS.
    This point is so key to this process. In Matthew 5:23-26 and 18:15-20 both sides of forgiveness are addressed. When you are the offender and when you are offended. In both situations, God calls us to GO and to be made right with the other person. The goal is to win our brother…never to win our argument.
  3. And apology is spoken (when appropriate)
    Not every offense demands an apology. “Love covers a multitude of sins.” When you truly love someone you cover over many little wrongs along the way. We must realize, however, that this is a form of forgiveness. You cannot cover over and keep a record. If you are incapable of covering it over, you are responsible to go to the other person and deal with the offense.

    When you offend someone and you know it, apologize. Pride comes before the fall.

  4. The Offense is released.
    Now the full price of the offense has already been paid. Jesus paid the full price of sin on the cross. He died for sin “once for all.” Nothing else is needed. He has fully done the work to separate the offense from the offender. He did this by “bearing our sin in his body.” It was separated from us by being separated to Him. He is our “propitiation (or atoning sacrifice). “Not only for our sins but for the sins of the whole world.”

    Jesus paying the full price of sin does not, however, cause the offender to be separated from the offense. This is the decision of the offender. They must accept this grace “through faith.” When this offer of grace is given to a person (by Christ or by us when they have sinned against us) the offense is separated from the offender and the offender is separated from the offense…as far as the East is from the West.

    You have to release it. Give it up…completely. It is no longer yours. You no longer have any right to hold that offense against the person who offended you. We must remember that forgiveness is given, not gotten.

  1. Restitution given (when appropriate)
    Restitution is the right result of real repentance. True restitution is not gotten from the offender but is given by the offender. Restitution does not make the wrong right. It is just right.   When Zaccheus paid back all he had stolen 4-fold, he did not make right all of his treachery. He simply did what was right. If you have left someone else in a wrong position through the wrong you have done against them, make right what you can, not to be made right, but simply because it is right.
  2. Reconciliation continues.
    Forgiveness is the unavoidable cost of reconciliation. It must be done. Forgiveness is like the invitation to a Ball. Reconciliation is the dance. Spouses must forgive one another innumerable times over a lifetime of marriage. Through our kindness and love toward one another, we draw (or invite) one another to repentance and reconciliation. Once the invitation is accepted…we dance. Dancing is often awkward at first. A couple of steps on the toes here, a little out of rhythm there, and turning in different directions here and there, but after awhile we get the rhythm going. 

Forgiveness is an action. Reconciliation is a process.
Who do you need to go to this week concerning forgiveness?
How different would forgiveness toward others look in your life if considered fully the forgiveness of God in your own life?

A Few Resources on Forgiveness
1. Another blog will come out this week title “But what if…” I will be dealing directly with some of the more difficult and practical issues concerning forgiveness. Watch for it by Thursday at www.blog.fellowshipchurch.cc
2.  Forgive! As the Lord Forgave You by Patrick Morrison
3. Forgiveness: I just can’t forgive myself by Robert Jones

The Incredible Danger of Being Right

This week, we’re dealing with the ever-elusive goal of uprooting anger. Anger is a sneaky sin, often arising out of situations or relationships in which a legitimate wrong has occurred. Throughout my life and career I have come to term this “The Incredible Danger of Being Right.” 220px-Rage_faceThe fact that a wrong has occurred does not issue license to commit a wrong in response. Still, we see in Scripture that Jesus did respond in anger at times and that he clearly did not sin. So, is my anger sin or is it a form of righteous anger?

Robert D. Jones, in his book Uprooting Anger (P&R Publishing, 2005), has some helpful criteria to examine the righteousness of our anger. Here are some select excerpts from his book:

  1. Righteous Anger Reacts against Actual Sin

Righteous anger does not result from merely being inconvenienced or from violations of personal preference or human tradition. It responds to sin as objectively defined by God’s Word, including violations of both of our Lord’s great commandments (Matt. 22:36-40).

  1. Righteous Anger Focuses on God and His Kingdom, Rights, and Concerns, Not on Me and My Kingdom, Rights, and Concerns

Righteous anger focuses on how people offend God and his name, not me and my name. It terminates on God more than me. In other words, accurately viewing something as offensive is not enough. We must view it primarily as offending God.

  1. Righteous Anger is Accompanied by Other Godly Qualities and Expresses Itself in Godly Ways

Righteous anger remains self-controlled. It keeps its head without cursing, screaming, raging, or flying off the handle. Nor does it spiral downward into self-pity or despair…. Christ-like anger is not all-consuming and myopic but channeled to sober, earnest ends…. Rather than keeping us from carrying out God’s call, righteous anger leads to godly expressions of worship, ministry, and obedience. It shows concern for the well-being of others. It rises to the defense of oppressed people. It seeks justice for victims. It rebukes transgressors. Godly anger confronts evil and calls for repentance and restoration.

Too often, we take a personal offense against us and justify our anger by claiming some “righteous anger clause”. Jesus never responded in anger to criticisms or attacks against him. However, when the offense was against God the Father or the Kingdom that God is bringing, Jesus demonstrated anger (Mark 3:1-6; 10:13-16; John 2:13-17). Even in those times, though, Jesus’ anger was purposeful, controlled, and furthered the ministry of the gospel rather than hindering it. That last sentence by Jones is powerful, “Godly anger confronts evil and calls for repentance and restoration.”

When you are confronted with sin that is atrocious and disgusting and an affront against God, how do you respond? Are your words full of hatred, pride, and arrogance? Or do you approach the sin as a forgiven sinner who knows a hidden but now revealed truth – God’s ways are the best ways and they are possible through Jesus Christ? All of anger is an outflow of the heart, so be very careful of the incredible danger of being right. And, in your anger, do not sin (Eph. 4:26).

Give What You’ve Got

Live love, let love invade you. It will never fail to teach you what you must do…Unknown

Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children.  And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God…Ephesians 5:1-2 (ESV)

Yesterday marked the beginning of the summer season at Fellowship Church, and with it our brand new series, How To. Over the coming weeks, we aim to tackle ten key “projects” in the life of a follower of Jesus- practices that will enable us to not just survive, but thrive in our relationships with God, with others, and even with ourselves.

We kicked off yesterday with a familiar command from Jesus that most of us heartily agree with, but if we’re being honest, often have great difficulty practicing- “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Luke 10:27b). Fantastic idea, right? Of course it is. But what does it look like to live it? We focused on a few key steps in our time together, but none more critical than this one-

God has called you to love your neighbor as He has loved you.

In short form, if you’re going to love others as God has called and commanded, you’ve got to give what you’ve got– the active, lavish, sacrificial love of God displayed in the perfect Person and saving work of Jesus Christ. If you’re looking for a “how to” guide to love, the Gospel is it! So how, then, does God’s “Gospel love” for us inform the way we consider and practice “neighbor love” for others. Consider these three ways-

1- God doesn’t love those who are like Him, or those who like Him. He loves everyone- even His enemies.
The reason for this is pretty basic- Because there is no one like God, and apart from His gracious intervention, there is no one who likes, loves, and follows Him. God’s sacrificial love in Christ was given to those who were, on their own, His hell bent enemies (i.e. you and me!).

This means that our “neighbor love” must likewise extend broadly to include those who are very much unlike us, and even to those who don’t like us. Loving like God means setting aside our offenses and prejudices for the sake of God’s glory and others’ good- that is, for the sake of love.

2- God doesn’t love those who He deems important or impressive. He loves the last, the least, and the lost.
Hear this well- God doesn’t love you because He thinks you’re awesome. In fact, His love for you has nothing to do with what you can offer to Him. His lavish love is a function of His nature, His character, and His desire for His glory to be displayed in the earth. Knowing that, He isn’t up in heaven thinking to Himself, “Man, if I just find a talented guitar player, or a gifted preacher, or a fantastic kids’ volunteer, then I’d have something to work with here.” No, His glorious love is amplified by the fact that He loves those whom the world considers unworthy and unlovely– which, in His eyes, includes everyone, including you.

If we are to be obedient to Jesus’ command, our love must be given in the same way. We ought not direct our love in the direction of those from whom we think we can get something. We ought not make ourselves “judges” who incessantly evaluate others’ worthiness to receive our love. Instead, we must love faithfully- and as we’ll see, actively– those whom God places in our life’s path, with a special emphasis on those experiencing deep and desperate need.

3- God doesn’t love in thought and feeling. He reveals His love through action.
I recently heard it said that when it comes to love, “the thought doesn’t count.” It’s true; if you’re in need, a loving thought or warm feeling directed your way doesn’t do you a bit of good. No, it takes purposeful action for us to experience the benefit of love. That’s exactly what God gave us in the Person and work of Jesus- action. The action of the Incarnation- God becoming a man. The action of the crucifixion- God in the flesh taking our place on the Cross. The action of the resurrection- God in the flesh reclaiming His life from the grave.

As the people of this active God, we ought to love others actively as well. As 1 John 3:18 tells us, “Little children, let us not in word or talk but in deed and in truth.” This means that when we come into contact with a “neighbor” in need, we must do whatever we are able to respond within our capacity. If that means giving money, so be it; if it means giving godly counsel, so be it; if it means giving the Gospel outright, so be it. Whatever the case might be, we can’t be content to be a people thinking nice thoughts and feeling nice feelings. We have to do something to provide evidence of- and benefit from- our love. As author Henry Cloud says well, “Love is as love does.”

Here’s the bottom line- In Jesus, God gave us all that He had to give for His eternal glory and our eternal benefit. If you’ve received that personally by placing your trust in Jesus alone, that means you’ve got something to give to the world. So this day, this week, this year, give what you got to your “neighbors” as God brings them your way. Get to know their needs- physical, emotional, and spiritual too- and consider how you might respond to them in a way that picks them up and points them to Jesus.

In what ways does the Gospel of Jesus inform and empower the way you “love your neighbor as yourself”?