The Big Picture Continues…

The Big Picture of the Bible focuses on Jesus.

What about now? What about today? Did the story of God end with the New Testament or does it continue today?

The Church is today’s Big Picture.
The Church is God’s current collection of parts and people for his purposes and plans. We are “on screen” in the story of God.

In Matthew 28:18-20 we read Jesus’ last words to his followers before he ascends into the Heavens. They are words of action and mission. They are words of power and authority.

It is by the power of Christ and in the authority of Christ that we know that the eternal victory is won but the everyday battle continues. We know this battle and we have caught glimpses of this victory in our everyday lives as we struggle to faithfully live out our part in God’s mission.

This active mission is spoken in four action words: Go. Make. Baptize. Teach.
Go means, well, go. It means consistent, constant, and concerted effort.
Make means cause people who are not followers of Christ to become followers of Christ.
Baptize means to put under the water and bring up out of the water those who are boldly confessing with their lives that Jesus is Lord.
Teach means to instruct in a way that causes more than head knowledge but life change.

There are three tensions in this mission.
Go to get or get to go?
Is church something you go to get what you want and/or need in life? Or is church what you get to go be in the world around you?
Make meetings or meet to make?
Is church something you need to make sure you make the next meeting at? Or is church a place where you gather with the purpose of being a part of making disciples alongside other followers of Jesus?
Taught to learn or do we teach to teach?
Is the responsibility of leaders and pastors in your church to teach you so you might learn or to teach you so you might teach others?

We are not the ending point of this story. We are never the focus of any chapter in it. Jesus is the focus and he is the ending.

We get to go as ambassadors of Christ and make his appeal to the world around us.
We meet to make disciples. We have the privilege of not forsaking the gathering of the saints as we are corporately and individually made more into the likeness of Christ.
We teach to teach. The purpose of everything the Church teaches you is so that God might use you to teach others. Everyone is not a “teacher” in the traditional sense but we are all teachers in the spiritual sense. Who is learning who Jesus is because of you?

God has not invited us to church activities, but to be the Church in action.

This is not a call to abandon faithfulness in the gathering and working of the Church but a call to understand why you are there. You are not there for you. Jesus is the focus of this Big Picture. So get focused and get active.

Why did Jesus live?

Often when asked this question we simply answer with why Jesus died. I am asking a different question. Why did he live? Why did God inspire men to write down the stories of his life and fill pages with his quotes? If the sole purpose of the life of Jesus was the death of Jesus, why would we need so much other information?

God has never spoken more clearly than He did through Jesus.

In John 14:6-7 the disciple who Jesus loved wrote, “Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you had known me, you would have known my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.”

Jesus communicated and demonstrated who God is.

Jesus, also, communicated and demonstrated who we are.

How did Jesus accomplish all of this in 33 years of life and only 3 years of public ministry? Jesus is perfectly God and perfectly man.

Here are a few truths we should learn from the life of Jesus.

1. Jesus lived to be Truth and to bear the truth. In John 14:6, Jesus says he is “the Truth.” In John 18:37 he says he came to bear witness to the truth. Jesus being God, is the truth. Jesus being man is responsible to bear the truth. He is perfectly God and perfectly man.

2. Jesus lived to be the Law and to bear the Law. In Matthew 5:17 Jesus tells us he did not abolish the Law but he completed it. There is a story found in John 4 that speaks to immeasurable power of this truth. There is a woman that is caught in adultery and, by the Law of Moses, deserves to be stoned. Jesus is asked what to do with her. He says that the person without sin should cast the first stone. None do. Jesus looks at her and says, “Neither do I condemn you…Go and sin no more.” Jesus was without sin and could have stoned her. He did not because he would take that stoning on her behalf at the cross. He had to face every trial and temptation we face to bear the price of this sin. He is the Law and he paid the price of that Law.

3. Jesus lived to be the Light and bring the Light. In John 8:12 Jesus says he is the “Light of the World.” The power of his light is seen in his interaction with a Samaritan woman at a well. While talking about the life he came to offer he speaks to her of her husband. She says she does not have one. He agrees and says, in fact, you have had 5 husbands and the one you are with now is not your husband. It was true. The truth he spoke and the hope he gave her caused her to share the good news of Jesus with her village. Jesus did not live simply to show her how darkness was. He lived to be the very Light he would bring.

4. Jesus lived to be righteousness and to bring righteousness. In Matthew 9:13 Jesus says he did not come to call righteous, but sinners. We see this truth in his interaction with Zaccheus, a thieving tax collector, who wanted to see Jesus. Jesus called him from the tree he was in and went to his house. This interaction caused the self-righteous of the day to condemn Jesus for eating with sinners. That day Zaccheus repented of his lifestyle and committed to repay with interest what he had stolen. Jesus came to be the very righteousness he would bring.

5. Jesus lived to be change and to bring change. In Matthew 10:34-39 Jesus speaks of the difficulty of following him. He says that it will require son to turn against father and daughter against mother. The call is one to highest allegiance. The call to follow Christ is a call to any and every cost. We see this in the lives of the disciples who were fisherman and tax collectors and who left everything and everyone they knew to follow Jesus. They stepped outside of every cultural expectation to follow him. Jesus did not simply come to bring change. He, himself, is the change.

6. Jesus lived to be life and to bring life. In John 10:10 Jesus says he came to bring life and that life to abundance. We see the power of his ability to bring life in the resurrection of Lazarus. He called a dead man out of the grave and told those around him to unbind him from his grave clothes and let him go. Jesus is the very life we need, but he also lived so that he might personally bring this life to others.

Who is this?

Who speaks life where there is death?

Who unbinds the bound? Who frees the fettered?

Who calls out the corpse? Who gives life to the lost?

Who gives way to wayward? Who gives hope to the hopeless?

Who give grace to those too far gone?

Who is this?

Is this a man? Or is this God? YES.

Jesus is. Jesus is perfectly God and Jesus is perfectly man.

On Repentance

“16 Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your deeds from before my eyes; cease to do evil,
17 learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression” (Isaiah 1:16-17a, ESV)

Recently, in the latest bizarre turn in what has been an incredibly bizarre (and looooooooooooooong) process to widen Hwy 73 in front of our Prairieville Campus, someone had a less-than-brilliant idea. “I’ve got it!” they exclaimed with confidence. “Let’s split this road…IN HALF. Let’s run it this way for a couple miles, in front of various homes and businesses (and one church!). And best of all, let’s ensure that drivers have NOWHERE TO TURN AROUND!”

Genius, I tell you. Thankfully, not long after initiating this nightmarish design, someone realized that for this plan to work for any length of time, it simply must include crossovers and turnarounds at regular intervals. While the extra quarter mile past wherever it is you’re going may be a minor (and often muddy) inconvenience, it pales in comparison to the all-the-way-in-another-parish detour with which we were presented originally.

All this to say, I’m grateful for turnarounds. And as I survey the landscape of my relationship with God, I quickly find that turnarounds of the Hwy 73 variety are nowhere close to the most important ones I need. No, it is undoubtedly the opportunity- and God’s invitation- to repent of my sin and turn to Him that means far more to me than anything you or I will ever experience on an Ascension Parish roadway.

Repentance isn’t something we talk about much these days. Let’s face it- on the surface, it seems pretty unappealing. I mean, why in the world would I want to stop doing what I obviously wanted to do in the first place so I can do something different, especially something that seems, at first glance, to be boring at best and downright difficult at worst? In this way, initially repentance seems like anything but a gift. But in reality, there are few greater graces with which God provides us than the opportunity to do just that.

Often, when we consider repentance, we think of it as a ploy by God to somehow steal our joy. If He really loves us, we (falsely) presume, why in the world can’t He just let us be? This business of transformation seems like such a hassle, such a downer to our ability to enjoy our lives. But think about this- If you saw someone who you loved deeply engaged in some activity or pursuit that was clearly to their detriment, wouldn’t you work by every means necessary to call them to change, even at the risk of them doubting your motives and intentions? If you loved them as much as you claim to, of course you would! We can all point to examples in which we have done this very
thing.

That’s exactly God’s angle toward us in calling us to repentance, first in the ultimate sense of calling us from our sin to salvation in Him, and then all along the journey of growing into maturity in Jesus. God simply loves us far too much to allow us to wander unimpeded toward destruction- not only our destruction, but also that of others, and ultimately of His glorious name. God’s perfect righteousness just won’t allow Him to let the grievance of sin go unaddressed. So in calling us to repentance- that is, to turn around toward Him- God is not attempting to steal our joy. On the contrary, He is actively working- by whatever means necessary- to preserve our joy in Him!

Recognize this clearly- The opportunity to turn around- from sin into forgiveness, from destruction into restoration, from death into life- is not our right or our entitlement; it is an astounding gift of unmerited grace, made possible only by the work of God on our behalf. We do not, by our own initiative, have it in us to turn around as we must, to save ourselves from destruction. We all, without exception, desperately needed God to “create the turnaround” for us. And the Good News of the Gospel is that for each of us, He has- in the person and work of Jesus. Jesus’ perfect life, sacrificial death, and victorious resurrection laid the groundwork for us to get from a pathway to death to a road to eternal life.

I think it’s high time that we changed our tune on repentance, beginning to see it not as an unwelcome, unloving intrusion into a carefree life, but rather as a grace to be celebrated, as an opportunity to know a life we could otherwise never obtain for ourselves. Wherever you’re at today, as God calls and makes the way, will you turn away from your sin and begin to walk His way instead?

Faith, Failures, and Faithfulness

Does faith exist where there is no faithfulness?

In Genesis 12 we meet the Abraham. He is an important part of the progressing story of God’s restorative work in the world. Abram is the beginning of a great nation, the nation of Israel. God chooses this person so he might choose for himself a people. God chose for himself a people so that he might send a person, his son Jesus Christ, into the world to redeem the world.

The Big Picture of the Bible that focuses on Jesus. Learning the Big Picture allows us to better understand the small pictures along the way. This part of the picture is an introduction to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob….the first, second, and third generation of the nation of Israel. This father, son, and grandson set such a powerful foundation of faith for their descendants that generations to come would speak of God as the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.   What an amazing legacy.

In Genesis 12 God promises Abram that he will give him a land that he will show him and that he will make a great nation from him that all of the nations of the earth will be blessed through. Abram, in response, to this great promise and this open-ended set of instructions takes off toward a land he does not know

Go is the first step to great. No one has ever experienced greatness without taking some risk. Greatness follows obedience. The desire to make great of our great God requires obedience to go.

The blessings of God never have their complete purpose in the one who receives them.Abram is blessed by God in many ways, but the purpose of these blessings was so that the all the nations of the earth would be blessed through him. We, however, miss the greatest blessings of God in our lives because we desire to be a container for them instead of a conduit of them.

In the following chapters we see how Abram and Sarai, his wife, struggle with the promises of God as they age yet have no children. Eventually Sarai gives Abraham a servant to bear children by and Ishmael is born. This does not fulfill God’s promise to Abram because this was not God’s plan, nor his promise. Instead it causes generations of hatred and war as the descendants of Ishmael (the Muslim world) and the descendants of Isaac (the Jewish people) are still enemies with one another. Patience is necessary to live and live out the promises of God.

 

We learn a great truth through the failings of Abram and his family (like when Abram lies about Sarai being his sister because he is afraid for his life). We learn that God purposefully uses imperfect people to do his perfect work.

Abraham’s long awaited son, Isaac, who was born very late in Abraham’s life, had some interesting experiences in his life. One such experience is the time that he and his father set out to make a sacrifice on a mountain. They had all they needed but the sacrifice itself so he asked his dad where was the sacrifice. Abram answered him “God will provide.” Little did young Isaac know that he was to be the sacrifice because God had commanded it of Abraham

Abraham and Isaac left their servants at the foot of the mountain with the words that they would both return. Abraham obediently bound Isaac to offer him as a sacrifice, but God stopped him and provided a ram for sacrifice. He praised Abraham for his faith and faithfulness and promised to bless him beyond measure and to bless the world through him and his descendants.

This foreshadows the great sacrifice of Christ. The difference is that God the Father had no other substitute. There were no other options for the price necessary for our redemption so in spite of his son’s plea to “remove the cup from him,” God offered his one and only son as a sacrifice for our sins.

Faith is God will provide. Our faith is in the fact that God has provided salvation in His son Jesus Christ. Do you believe he will provide?

If you do, then you will live a life of risk for God. Isaac’s son’s Esau and Jacob also had a strained relationship as Esau sold his birthright and inheritance to his tricky younger brother, Jacob, for some stew. Jacob was a selfish young man that God changed through the years. Eventually Jacob wrestled with God and God made a covenant with him and renamed him Israel. God marked Israel as his own. This marking declared that Israel, and his people, were God’s own.

Israel had 12 sons that led to the 12 tribes of Israel. A great, but imperfect, nation of people was born. God chose these people for a purpose and a plan. God purposed the redemption of their souls long before Jesus walked the earth and died on the cross.

The Big Picture invites us to be prepared for the Gospel of Jesus, to present the Gospel of Jesus, and to participate in the Gospel of Jesus. How can you live more prepared to follow Jesus this week? Who needs to hear the great big picture of the redemptive work of Jesus from you this week? How can you participate in the grace and love of the Gospel personally this week?

The work of Jesus is a Big Picture. Praise God you are invited to be a small part of it.