Thursday, June 23, 2016

A Radical Invitation

Has the first word of the biblical salvation message has been lost through disuse? Given the climate and message of today's evangelical church, one has to wonder. Jesus preached, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." The Apostles preached, "Repent!" Even when just counseling the woman caught in adultery Jesus said, "Go and sin no more." Let me ask you, is that the kind of thing you preach?

Where is the "REPENT!" in today's preaching? It just isn't part of the evangelical fabric that's in fashion these days. Have we become so afraid that people will not respond to that nasty little word that we have abandoned it and now depend on manipulation and marketing instead? When we rely on such measly human efforts that utilize enticement and stroke the flesh, what sacrifice is any respondent prepared to make?


The discipleship crisis the American church is in today starts with the message that initially enlists today's supposed disciples. Folks that enter thinking they don't have to turn, won't turn after they enter. I'm not a fan of fire and brimstone preaching--faith, not fear, is the only motivation that sustains a life of following Jesus--but to become a Christian a person must embrace their own death and trust Christ to raise them to a new (and better) life. People today, though all-modern-and-educated, must  still hear and respond to the call to repent and follow Jesus, as any disciple in any former age did.

Christianity is about a radical change in direction, a night and day difference in one's life. The result of a new birth cannot be the same old, same old, for birth means leaving an old way of life for a new one, 
or it's not birth at allFor those would who style themselves as radical and innovative preachers in this day and age, the message that actually matches that characterization starts with the word REPENT! Now that's a radical invitation that stands a shot at producing new life.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Sugar-coating the Bread of Life

Sugar coating: originally a process in the food industry whereby sugar or syrup was applied in some fashion to the surface of a food product, making the product sweeter and thereby more delectable. Often used in conjunction with food that was less tasty or desirable in order to increase its consumption; e.g., the breakfast cereal industry, or as in a song in Mary Poppins.

Why would the salvation wrought by Christ need to be sugar-coated? In itself, of itself, it already promises knowing our Creator personally, living forever without disease, decay or death, and being free from doing stupid things we will rue but do regardless (among other things). Could there be a sweeter deal? Salvation is an absolute dream come true, but being a disciple of Christ comes at a cost even though it is truly free.

Salvation entails acknowledging that we don't run the show and us bowing to the leadership of Jesus. In this day where willfulness is celebrated and self is elevated, the temptation is to assume that most of the people we're trying to coax into the Kingdom of God won't buy into such a deal. So, repentance is soft-pedaled, sin and judgment is back-pedaled, and continuing on in life with Jesus merely added on is floor-pedaled. Can such a vitamin supplement approach to the gospel actually cleanse the conscience here and now or ready the soul for a welcome in the age to come?


It's not those who call Jesus, "Lord" who are saved but those who actually do as he says.

Buying into the gospel means selling everything else we had before the gospel came into our lives (at minimum, in attitude). Families may ostracize or desert us. Riches may have to be abandoned. Sexual pleasures will not be guaranteed to us. Just because we had a dream doesn't mean that God will buy into it or help us to achieve it. It's the price of Jesus being Lord.

A gospel that doesn't stop us in our tracks is not going to get us on the right track.

I like toast with breakfast. As a kid, I particularly like cinnamon toast. When mom made it, most of the sugary coating was shaken off back into the bowl. When I got my hands on it, I usually found a way to load those tasty slabs of cinnamon goodness with more sugary sweetness. If mom ever saw what I was doing she would never have stood for it, but then she cared about my health and wanted me to enjoy having teeth for the rest of my life. 


Making adjustments to the gospel makes what is adjusted no gospel at all. If we truly care for those we try to win with the gospel and want them to be whole throughout all eternity, we need to stick to the truth that sets sinners free. Coming to grips with who and what Jesus is and following him exclusively is food and drink indeed. If we want to feed the folk we preach to something that can nourish them eternally, we need to stop sugar-coating the Bread of Life.

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Who's the Boss?

The central core of Christian faith is it's understanding of Jesus, in particular, its understanding of his authority. Jesus is recorded asking people, "Do you believe I can do this?" Believers, like the centurion, recognized his authority, whereas unbelievers disdainfully asked him, "By what authority do you do this?" That range of opinion represents a nice metric for which to measure the concept of effective faith. 

So what does it take for faith to be effective? I have explored the moment it comes into existence over the last couple of blog offerings. With this article I approach it from a different tack and offer the following postulates, which I believe characterize true faith and which I believe faith must exhibit in order to be effective. In other words, they limn out what is means to believe in Jesus in a way that counts.

1) Effective faith perceives Jesus as the Lord (i.e. the ultimate authority in one's life)
2) Effective faith sees all authority in heaven and earth as given to Jesus
3) Effective faith recognizes that the name of Jesus represents the highest authority
4) Effective faith accepts Jesus' word as enduring in it's authority.

Whether we are talking about salvation or about miracles, faith that produces the desired end is faith that fully embraces the authority of Christ.

By the authority of Christ granted to them to use, the apostles healed the sick and cast out demons. When they were shaky about that authority, they couldn't cast out a demon and were rebuked for a lack of faith. By that authority Peter walked upon the water. When Peter became fuzzy about it he sank into the waves. Apprehending the authority of Christ is the difference between praying hopefully and commanding forcefully.

I wish clarity regarding this was my constant experience, but alas, it isn't. There are moments when the authority of Christ is so clear to me, and at those moments, awesome things happen. Then there are those moments when it's only theory in my head, which I assent to readily, but it's not singular or instant. I have to think about it before its crystal clear. The difference between one and the other is command and request, knowing and hoping.

I wish faith wasn't so elusive. 

Would any of us even break through to effective faith if it wasn't for the Spirit's inspiration? In regard to salvation the answer is any easy "no!" In regard to the miraculous, it's little more complex. By God's design, however, the task of believing in either regard is ours, and that is what makes faith so slippery. 

God has no doubts about who's in charge. When we're certain as well, our experience erupts into a faith moment. Could you do with more faith moments where you're crystal clear instantly about the authority of Christ? I know I sure could. Trees would be flying! But while they remain anchored to the soil, the only real question that matters is, "Who's the boss?"

Thursday, June 2, 2016

The Faith Moment: Charismata

How does one have the faith to do miracles? There aren't any mountains or mulberry trees flying by, so one would think that kind of faith is extremely rare. Nigh unto impossible to muster, one might think, but miracles do happen and much more frequently than would be expected given the apparent lack of that quantum-like quantity Jesus called a "mustard seed". So the faith to do miracles does arise, and broadly enough to make it worth asking ourselves how we might engage in it.

It seems to me, the moment when the faith to do miraculous feats arises is similar to that which leads to salvation. Although not strictly necessary (remember the Centurion), for the most part, I think it also requires the assistance of God to distill. Also like that moment, the final disposition of the aimed at goal must come through us, not God. There is nothing irresistible about the grace that stirs true faith into being.

Now there is a charismatic gift of faith through which faith is inspired in an individual for the benefit of the body. That occurs for a specific purpose at a particular time--it is not ongoing, which is the intrinsic nature of a manifestation (phanerosis) of the Spirit. Like anything else the Spirit inspires, it is quenchable. We are not puppets in the hand of God, after all, that would insult the one in whose image we are made.

I once had a Bible college professor, Bill Crew I think it was, who posited that a gift of faith came with along with any other manifestation of the Spirit. His idea was that the faith to act came along with the ability to act under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. I don't think that is so (it's too speculative without the backing of scripture), but I do think that the stirring of the Spirit that alerts us to the moving of the Spirit is itself a grace-filled invitation to believe. It's that tap on the shoulder we need to get out beyond ourselves and get on the same page with God.

When the breath of God is exhaled across the face of the inner man a moment arises--a moment which awakens faith and calls us to possibilities of moving as the hand of God bringing the miraculous.