Saturday, January 11, 2014

Good News in Untenable Circumstances

Revelation 14:6 (ESV) Then I saw another angel flying directly overhead, with an eternal gospel to proclaim to those who dwell on earth, to every nation and tribe and language and people. 

A word has been on my mind lately.  That word is "imperative."  It is a lot of fun to debate the points of Calvinism against Armenianism.  It's intriguing to look at which Bible translation is more correct, the NIV or the NASB or the KJV.  It's certainly engaging to argue over which apologetic approach is more effective, the existence of God, the authority of the Bible, or the historical fact of Jesus.  It's very interesting to look at the angles of various denominations on things like salvation, baptism, atonement, and so on.  But as I study my way through seminary, a line of thought sticks out in my head: When faced with untenable circumstances, one should consider their imperative.  

The definition for imperative in this context, as a noun is: "something that demands attention or action; an unavoidable obligation or requirement; necessity"

When I worked as a journalist, a great deal of time was spent holding interviews, jotting down notes, and finally writing up the article.  But often the most important part of the process was in taking all the details of the story and refining it down into the inverted pyramid, of the most important data first, and less important data descending after to the least important at the bottom.  This process involved cutting out large chunks of text, full paragraphs, plenty of great and useful information, because I had to consider the primary purpose, the imperative of the article. 

I can wonder about the details of God, of Jesus, of the Bible and the many hidden mysteries within and beyond my understanding, but what is my primary imperative while I'm operating on Earth?  What is my primary objective, my mission, as I live on this planet under these unique conditions?

(After I've received the good news)It's to share the good news.

Psalm 96:3 (ESV) Declare his glory among the nations, his marvelous works among all the peoples! 

And I'm going to be as creative as I need to be.  I'll leave a Bible here, a Bible there.  I'll talk to friends.  I'll lead a Bible study.  There are so many things I can do.  And if I'm scared to talk to strangers, well I can pray for people.  And I can pray for courage.

Matthew 24:14 (ESV) And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come. 

Romans 10:13-15 (ESV) For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” 

Have beautiful feet!  We've gotta preach.  Not just the properly ordained youth pastor, pastor or evangelist, everyone.  I don't mean standing on a soap box either.  I mean just talking to people.  Writing a blog.  Tweeting Bible verses.  Facebook sharing Youtube sermons.  Or just leaving a Bible at a food pantry or free book swap.  Inviting friends to church?  Somebody has to preach.  Preach = share.  We can do that!

Last semester I studied the history of the Christian church from the resurrection of Jesus to the dawn of the reformation.  Over and over again I saw something happening in the history of the church. There were constant theological debates over what often seemed to be minor differences.  The Protestant reformation?  I believe absolutely an important debate that had to happen.  The Arian dispute?  Yep, also a fairly important debate.  In the early Roman empire, which was massive, there were basically two churches operating.  The eastern church and the western church.  The western church survived, while in the 5th century when the Muslims came conquering through the old fallen empire, the eastern church collapsed for the most part.  My purpose for bringing this up, is why did it collapse?  It collapsed because the eastern church was so hopelessly divided on minor issues of doctrine and theology, that the citizens were confused and disenfranchised, and welcomed in many cases a new set of beliefs found in the Islamic faith.

Such issues have often confused and jaded the people of the United States.  I know I certainly had a colored view of Christianity coming up in this country.  And not necessarily from personal experience.  I did have some troubling experiences, but it was more just a general attitude that seemed to rub off on me.  Science and scientists had my best interests at heart, and the preacher wants my money, he has an agenda.  That's just the mentality that was prevalent.  On the news, "scientists have now discovered insert the blank new awesome appliance or fact" and everyone is excited and reaping the benefits of the new wisdom and technology.  Later that night "Catholic priest found to have touched several boys."  And that was the view.  It's something to watch for anyway.  We as Americans, and citizens of the world take in a lot of data.  But here a bit later on in my life from high school and college, I find so much of the data I was collecting was jaded, biased, and often all together untrue.

With all the misinformation out there, and the poor example being set, Christianity finds itself in trouble.  More than ever, I have to consider my imperative.  But are these untenable circumstances?  Entirely.  I am a sinner, a member of a fallen race that lives in a country that is quickly falling into corruption and all depravity imaginable.  Outside this country is quite more of the same, and in general much worse, with even basic essentials like food, water, and shelter being greatly wanted for across most the surface of the planet.  The problem is not only outside myself, but it's within myself.  It's within everyone around me.  It's amongst the culture.  It's not even just within the culture, it's quite well established within the churches representing the solution.  These are most certainly untenable circumstances, and in untenable circumstances I must consider my imperative, which is my Christian duty to spread the good news of Jesus Christ.

Don't you agree?  I mean these people, millions and millions, their immortal souls hang in the balance every single day that I see them.  I've got to reach out and help them.  Yes, they will hate you and me for it, and often mock us and hurt our feelings.  But maybe someday a few of them will thank us.  Better yet, maybe they'll thank Jesus.  Because it's all about Jesus Christ anyway.

So how we can we as Christian knights of truth and honor in a dark and fallen world live out our imperative?  I'd like to look at three areas where, if we improve, we can see decisive victories in this struggle... the ever-present fall of mankind, as the redemptive ladder hangs over the planet waiting, a bright blue florescent light shining down from heaven, available to all, rejected by most.

I'd like to see Christians improve in three key areas.  I believe these areas are foundational to maximizing our effectiveness.  The first, but not necessarily most important would be the apologetic defense of the faith.  And it's not just defense, it's evangelism.  This is the external method of the solution.

1 Peter 3:13-18 (MSG) If with heart and soul you’re doing good, do you think you can be stopped? Even if you suffer for it, you’re still better off. Don’t give the opposition a second thought. Through thick and thin, keep your hearts at attention, in adoration before Christ, your Master. Be ready to speak up and tell anyone who asks why you’re living the way you are, and always with the utmost courtesy. Keep a clear conscience before God so that when people throw mud at you, none of it will stick. They’ll end up realizing that they’re the ones who need a bath. It’s better to suffer for doing good, if that’s what God wants, than to be punished for doing bad. That’s what Christ did definitively: suffered because of others’ sins, the Righteous One for the unrighteous ones. He went through it all—was put to death and then made alive—to bring us to God.

You don't have to read a million books or be an expert to get a basic feel for apologetic work.  Go to and run a search for Ravi Zacharias, William Lane Craig, Frank Turek, A.W. Tozer, Francis Collins, and Francis Schaeffer, among others.  Google the Veritas Forum, they host many debates and talks.  There are many great Christian apologists to choose from.  Watch some debates and open forums, and just examine what they talk about and how they make their defenses.  You can learn a lot from just observing the methods of the greats!

The second area has nothing to do with sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ, yet it has everything to do with it.  It's being conformed to an image.  The image of the Son of God.  This is the internal method of transformation.

Philippians 4:8 (ESV) Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. 

As an introvert in the church, my gift, the gift God has given me to give to his church while on Earth I believe is found in the inner process of transformation, that God calls sanctification.  I imagine, pray, and hope that this will be the gift that I give and receive as a member of the body of Christ.

Hebrews 10:14 (ESV) For by a single offering he (Jesus Christ) has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.

We are to be conformed to the image of the son, slowly over time.  This is what is called the fruit of the Holy Spirit.  The Holy Spirit works on us in our lives, and adjusts us, clips away at our faults, prunes us along our many years on Earth making us more and more like Christ in character and desire.

Romans 8:29 (NIV) For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters.

I pray that my message within the body of Christ will be that of self examination and inner healing through cooperation with the Holy Spirit, of God the Father, through Jesus Christ.  How can any Christian show evidence of transformation unless that person cooperates with the Holy Spirit as he leads the person from area to area in their life that needs work?  Such is the message that I am best at conveying, because as an introverted, intuitive, feeling, perceiver (INFP) I am sensitive and tuned into the communication of God, through the Holy Spirit.  I am perfect at it?  Nope.  I am even particularly good at it yet?  Not really.  It's a journey, day by day, minute by minute learning and growing.  

The point here with the second area, is that how can we go among all nations when we care not for our own friends and family?  How can we pick up the Bible when we can hardly manage a care anyway?  How can I talk to strangers about God when I'm afraid to look the world in the face?  I have got to be healing internally.  I have got to be growing in my walk internally.  It's an extroverted church out there.  Go, go, go, socialize, talk to people, be mr. smiley pastor, and don't show your true self.  But I see a powerful need for a message of solitude, inner-transformation, quiet prayer, and meditation in the church.

Luke 5:16 (NIV) But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.

A lot of people coming into the church now are going to have issues, things they need to heal from.  Do you know how many issues I came in with initially?  Drug addiction, alcoholism, major depression, codependency, anxiety, post traumatic stress, nightmares, and so on.  That's what Christian counseling techniques are for.

That's why I switched my major from Theology to Christian counseling.  I can argue and debate over the finer points of calvinism or armeniamism while my flock is suffering and dying around me of everything from depression to hatred to sexual addiction, and meanwhile I'm giving sermons that "self improvement isn't Christian, you need to empty yourself" and blah blah blah and give them some sort of vacant idea of a Christian walk.  What am I doing, cosmically projecting Jesus?  Nope!

I'm trying to be more like him though.  So as a Christian I do need to work on myself, deal with my issues, read books to help those issues, so I can be a more effective picture of Jesus Christ!  As a Pastor I don't want to be arguing the finer points of theology every Sunday, I want to see people being conformed to the image of Christ, as well as making disciples, hopefully with the help of the 1st area which is Apologetics in evangelism.

The third area is passionate love for Jesus Christ.  This is the internal motivation for living the solution.  I've got a very very stubborn head as a human being.  Without God working in my life, I'm headed toward the nearest quick pleasure.  I'm headed down to the dark alley.  It seems to me that the original sin nature I've inherited from my parents, their parents, and their parents all the way back to the first two humans is of paramount concern when considering this idea of love.  I do not have a heart that is jumping up and down to love this Jesus Christ guy, some dude I've never met who died for me or whatever.  My heart naturally wants to go in the direction of serving myself, being served, and just curling up in the warmth of my own satisfaction in depravity.

Thank God for Jesus Christ!  He is not just some guy who died for my sins.  He is my friend.  He is my comforter.  He is my King.  And if you were raised outside of the truth, let me tell you something now: Jesus Christ is alive today.  He is 100% alive, and he is able to be here in my living room with me working in my life, and also working personally, present, listening, and interacting with you as well, right now, wherever you are on the planet.  Jesus Christ is not limited by space or time.  He is not limited as we are.  The amazing thing about Jesus Christ is that not only did he die for my sins, paying for every sin, from the first one I made, to the last I'll ever make, but he wasn't even done there.  He is also my comforter and my helper, he guides me along the way, every step of the way, helping me to repent of my addictions and poor behaviors, so they stop repeating in my life.

Pastor Mark Driscoll over at Mars Hill church calls this the threefold ministry of Jesus Christ.  Jesus is personally working in my life to convict me of the sins I'm in (The Prophet).  He is also working in my life as my comforter, the peace-giver, helping me to repent by changing my heart and consoling me along the way (The Priest).  On top of all that Jesus Christ is the King of Israel, leader of all man kind, and that translates in my personal life in Jesus Christ being sovereign over every area of my life, not just some areas, but all areas (The King).

Often out there, before I knew the love of my heavenly Father, I would journal endlessly about my struggles in my addictions.  After ten years of being in those addictions and analyzing them critically, just as I now analyze my spiritual journey, I had come to one inescapable conclusion: I had become enslaved to a repeating disaster.  It wasn't enough to be addicted.  But what would happen was I'd constantly swirl around in this awful repeating loop.  The drug use would progress over a few months from fun, tripping, seeing colors, and then the drug trips would turn nightmarish, where I would see demons, dark things, and begin to lose myself in strange delusions and alternative realities.  At the breaking point, I'd be quite sick, my body would be deteriorating, and I'd be losing weight.  My mental state would be torturous, with incredible swells of self hatred, loathing of society, and confusion that is unparalleled.  At that point, I'd often be found crying, or attempting suicide, laying in a road or something.  Then my family would put me into a detox, or a rehab.  Then would come days of "coming down" off all the drugs, night sweats, vomiting, hallucinations, and finally sort of coming to.

I'd be quite hungry, and eat a lot.  Kind of shuffle about on the detox unit.  Talk to the nurses.  There was always a lot of fear.  The prime question was, would I be able to stay clean this time?  Fear, fear, fear.  And really what I was wondering was, has my ego finally been crushed enough to where I'm humble enough to listen to instruction, go to support groups, actually seek the daily help I need?   Often during the time of detox and rehab I'd have a succession of powerful moments of "spiritual awakening" where I was growing, and starting to understand the depth of the problem.  I'd smell the roses, smile at the birds and dare to hope.  A week or two later, I'd leave feeling optimistic about the future.  I'd have gained 10-15 lbs back.  I wasn't pale or half crazed anymore.  But then I'd come home, into my old environment.  The old friends would be texting me.  I'd start to feel the depression and self hatred coming on again.

Trigger loop repeat.  It would start again at the beginning, start taking drugs, its fun for a few months, trip and laugh.  Then the trips would get darker, eventually back in rehab, and so on and so forth.  That same loop repeated for twelve years.

I often share this testimony with people.  And many of my agnostic or atheist friends argue with me over it.  Because I'll tell them after twelve years of that I called out to Jesus Christ, on my knees, and finally, I went back to support groups, to church, bought a car, got counseling and so on and so forth.  But they want to argue with me, and say that it was the power of my mind.  I just convinced myself that it was God, but it was really just me taking charge of my life..  And that I need to take credit for what I'm doing in my life!  Haha!

For twelve years friends, I tried to self-will myself out of that repeating disaster.  I tried every manner possible.  I could not self-will myself out of it, no matter how much I mustered my positivity, my desire to get better.  It was only by calling on a power outside myself, Jesus Christ, the son of God, that I was saved.  Jesus was willing and able to pull me from the repeating disaster loop.

That whole story, all that to say that without Jesus Christ we cannot even love Jesus Christ.  The third area, passionate love for Jesus Christ, is something we ought to ask God the Father for, through Jesus Christ.

Dear Father God, please help me to be passionately in love with your Son and what he did on the cross, In Jesus Name, Amen!

Keep praying for that too.  Pray everyday for it.

Luke 18:7-8 (NIV) And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly. 

Really with the 3rd area the point I'm trying to get home is that Jesus Christ and what he did on the cross have to be at the very center of everything we're doing as Christians.  With everything about my journey to the cross of Christ and the journey after it, what I'm saying is it's ok to not understand and to have to fight yourself.  But please do fight yourself.  Fight for your prayer life.  Fight by forcing yourself to read books about the cross of Jesus Christ.  Learn to love your Savior.  I promise, He will even help you to learn to love him.  Often my prayer is as simple as: Father, teach me how to love, because I don't yet know how.  

By learning to love Jesus Christ, and to understand the weight of what he did on the cross, our passion for every other aspect of the Christian life grows by leaps and bounds.  So really it works in reverse, the third area leads to the second area which leads to the first area.  By learning to love, I learn to join with God in the process of transformation, and when I have both love, and a transformed character, I am then able to fulfill my primary imperative on this planet: Sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ!

In Review: Living the Christian Imperative

 1. Christian Apologetics / Defense of the Faith - Answer the questions that non-believers have about the existence of God, the authority of the Bible, and the historical fact of Jesus Christ

How? Youtube the great Christian apologists, read the books on Christian apologies. Examine the methods of apologists, study the scriptures, be mindful of such evidences when sharing the Good News.

2. Being Conformed to the Image of the Son - Work with the Holy Spirit on inner healing, and the changes God wants to work in our characters and personalities.

How? Praying, joining 12 step groups on issues we may have, Celebrate Recovery, Christian counseling support books via or local Christian bookstores.  Joining a Bible study.  Personal meditation time.

3. Passionately Love Jesus Christ - Learn to love Jesus Christ and to understand what he did on the cross

How? Reading the Gospels, Watching sermons on the cross on Youtube, reading books on the Cross, Praying to God the Father to help you learn to love and care.  Getting out of yourself and helping others.

Thank you so much for taking some time out of your day to read this sermon.  I want to be here to encourage you.  And the simple fact of you being here is quite encouraging to me in and of itself!  I'm quite honored and humbled to be able to type these words to you.  My hope is that you will find some comfort, and some guidance from the words of a sinner like myself, and that the Holy Spirit would use me and speak through me at times like these.  I've been leading a Bible study for The Edge church in Wausau, Wisconsin here.  I also serve on the launch team for The Edge church.  I would like to ask you a special favor, that you would pray for us as we attempt to launch this church.  Thank you so much, and I'll close with this passage from Romans chapter eight, which I think is a powerful message from the Holy Spirit to you and me today:

Romans 8:31-37 (NIV)
31 What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? 33 Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. 34 Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. 35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? 36 As it is written:
“For your sake we face death all day long;
    we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”[j]
37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons,[k] neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

 -photo from the Hubble telescope, of the power and majesty of your Father.