Pondering: Bearing Witness about the Light

I am presently preaching through the book of Acts, the last two weeks in chapters 18 and 19 we have had mention of those who had only received the baptism of John. Reflecting on that these last few days has caused me to plan a detour for this Sunday back to the Gospel of John explaining a little more about who John the Baptist (Witness) was and what his ministry was all about and what that should mean to us, especially during the Advent season.

First let us look at John 1:6-8 which I believe gives us both a summary of and the purpose of John’s ministry.

 6There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. 7He came as a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him. 8 He was not the light, but came to bear witness about the light. (ESV)

 

Witnessing is such an essential part of who we are, it defined John’s ministry and I believe it should define ours as well.

While the witness of the individual is important, more important I believe is the witness of a group of local gathered believers called the Church. We are collectively the Body of Christ in the place where God has placed us (for our church that is the Drexel Gardens Community in Indianapolis, IN.)

I believe that sometimes we send a mixed message to the people around us, who while they have heard of Jesus, they really are not in a place to receive him or the message of the gospel, the condition of their hearts does not allow the message to sink in. We try to give people Jesus who have no clue what it is to receive him. We have people profess a faith in something that they know little or nothing about, not because we haven’t taught them with words, but because we haven’t prepared their hearts to receive him in his fullness.

God  thought that the condition of the heart was so important that he sent John to prepare peoples hearts to believe in Jesus when he did come.

Just maybe we have got this all wrong or at least partially wrong, instead of just telling people about Jesus (which is important) maybe we should invest a little more time in getting to know them and the condition of their hearts.

John’s witness/ministry was about preparing people’s hearts, showing them the need for repentance so that when Jesus came that they would be able to hear and respond to him.

I think we leave this step out sometimes, it is difficult, if not impossible to help/minister to people that you don’t truly know and might I add that don’t know you.

We need to invest time in developing relationships with people, so that we can give them the help that they need, we need to show/witness to the fact that we care about them as people, I believe that it is through  bearing witness in that way, that the light of Christ is allowed to enter into the darkness of their heart.

“There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him.  He was not the light, but came to bear witness about the light.”

Pondering …

 

 

 

 

 

Tension Between Gospel and Biblically Driven Mission Models

This is written in response to the following blog:

http://www.edstetzer.com/2011/12/the-mission-of-the-church.html

“It is my hope is that as people debate the mission they might not get distracted from it. On that we can be united.”

My hope to is that we can move past the debate and simply live in the tension between the two. I believe that really is the only way that this will ultimately be productive for the Church.

It is the working together in this tension that a true, strong, lasting relationship can/will be formed, and isn’t that what people need to see modeled so that they can come to know and believe in Christ.

Most people who are either marginal christian or not christian at all don’t give a crap about this debate.

The best witness to them is to see a biblically and gospelly (if that is a word) driven church community faithfully carrying out its mission in the world.

I think we could possibly talk about this forever, but that would be unproductive.

It is time for us to simply get on with living the message. (loose paraphrase from Dietrich Bonhoeffer – The Cost of Discipleship)

Death, Advent and Presence

This week has seen four people that my wife and I care very deeply about lose loved ones, with another person giving us the news that her 14 year old niece has had hospice called in her battle with terminal cancer. As a pastor you would think that maybe I would have an easier time than most dealing with death, for me at least that is not true. I tend to get drawn in to peoples lives and have a hard time separating mine from thiers, their joy becomes my joy and there pain my pain.

I have been pondering today death and Advent, usually when someone close to us dies around the holidays, we tend to look upon it as bad thing. I am sitting here today though thinking that it really doesn’t doesn’t have to be a bad thing, especially at Advent when we are awaiting the coming of our Lord, celebrating his birth and the new life for us that it represents and at the same time remembering his second coming with all of its promises …

I at times have a hard time expressing exactly how I feel, I get choked up even trying to pray or carry on a conversation about someone who is close to me who is suffering, it is something that I  am in no way ashamed of, it is who I am.  I tell people all the time not to worry about finding or having the right thing to say, that your presence is what counts, being present is more important than you know.

A word comes to mind for me this time of year more frequently than at others; that word is Immanuel – God with us and that is what sustains me. God has been made himself known to us in the presence of his son and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. His presence in our lives loses it significance when we fail both corporately ( as the church) and individually to be that presence in a world that and to people that desperately need him.

In the face of death we have the promise of his presence, in the face of death are we being that presence to others who are suffering?

So much more that can be said …

Longing for a community where these things can be more fully realized, but longing faithfully and slowly, knowing that these things take time.

Resting in his sweet embrace, have you allowed someone to rest in yours?

It is time to simply get on with it, to get on with living the gospel

Jesus, keep us from the tragedy of blaspheming your name because we have succumbed to a watered-down faith. Make our spirits restless whenever we think that the way things are is the way things have to be. Amen.

For we know that by faith that the way things are, is not the way that things have to be. But I ask you, what will you do about it.

Hebrews 10:32-39 (19-39)

But recall the former days when, after you were enlightened, you endured a hard struggle with sufferings, sometimes being publicly exposed to reproach and affliction, and sometimes being partners with those so treated. For you had compassion on those in prison, and you joyfully accepted the plundering of your property, since you knew that you yourselves had a better possession and an abiding one. Therefore do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward. For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God you may receive what is promised. For,

“Yet a little while,

and the coming one will come and will not delay;

but my righteous one shall live by faith,

and if he shrinks back,

my soul has no pleasure in him.”

But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who have faith and preserve their souls.

If we believe that God is who He says He is, than don’t we need to be doing what He has called us to do.

Our faith has been watered down in so many ways, through out the years. We have so many denominations, so many different labels, seeker, evangelical, missional, social gospel, etc… It is really no wonder that people don’t know what to believe, where to go, who will really help them.

In our own ways, we have worked to compete for winning lost souls, falling into the way the world does things, we have in a lot of ways become indistinguishable from the world. It shouldn’t be about who has the best plan, should it. I thought we were all supposed to be working from the same blueprint.

Why then are things the way that they are?

As people of faith don’t we believe that the way things are is not the way things have to be.

I love The Sermon on the Mount, in it Jesus teaches us what being followers/disciples is supposed to look like, I believe that in a lot of ways that the problem that we have in the church today can be traced back to the ignoring of this great teaching of Jesus as a whole. Sure we have used it in bits and pieces, but in doing so we have missed the main point as a whole.

Matthew 28:19-20

Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

This piece, I am sure to some will seem incomplete or inadequate, but than again, so is the the work of the Church, let us strive together in this work until its time of completion, and it will be in that striving together that its inadequacies can and will be overcome.

One last thought: We tend to focus a lot on justice today and very little on grace.

Ponderings on “his disciples believed in him”.

Throughout the gospels we are repeatedly told that after some word or deed of Jesus “his disciples believed in him.” The point of this statement is not that up to that point they had no faith, but rather that their faith deepened with the passage of time. To believe in God is more than simply to profess God’s existence; it is to enter into communion with God and — the two being inseparable — with our fellow human beings as well. All this adds up to a process. – Gustavo Gutierrez, from his book We Drink from Our Own Wells – excerpt from Sojourners, Verse and Voice – 1/13/10

Received this on the heels of reading John 2:1-11, as part of my sermon prep for this week. This is verse 11 in that passage: “This is the first of the signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested his glory. And his disciples believed in him.”

I don’t know where I was going to go with this, but the thought of it, I felt I needed to be put out there for others to see and maybe reflect on as well.

Was it a sign or miracle that caused you to believe at first?

If so, have you moved beyond that and entered into an ever deepening relationship with God?

If I believe in God,then don’t I have to believe in other people as well? That is, don’t I need to love them like God does? So that through that love, they too may come to believe also.

Is love God and love others, synonomous with; believe in God and believe in others?

If by believing in people, we give them hope, so that they can start believing in themselves, and that by believing in themselves they start believing in God, then they can start believing in people and giving them hope and so on …

If you think you might see where I’m going with this; then please comment on it,so that we can get a conversation going and maybe we can clear it up for both us and others.

Pondering …

Original post on Facebook Note on Thursday, January 14, 2010 at 2:57pm

Prayer for the Heart of the Other

 A prayer for the heart of the other:

Lord, help me to see the heart of the other.

Lord, help me to know the heart of the other.

Lord, help me to love the heart of the other.

Lord, help me to be the heart of the other.

Lord, also help me to let the other’s heart be mine,

so that I can see, know, love and be there for them,

in the way that both you and they need me to be.

AMEN

 

The Grand Illusion – on being a hypocrite 4

More thoughts about hypocrisy; being this grand illusion that the world sees and doesn’t really know what to make of it. Everyone putting on a show for someone else so that no one can see how things truly are, we don’t really trust anybody because we don’t really know anybody and we don’t know anybody because we truly haven’t taken the time to truly get to know them.

The problem is a very real one; though maybe not to the magnitude that I would like to think it is. If I make it so big that it seems impossible to overcome, than to me it is impossible to overcome, so then I don’t even try. It is easier after all when I view it as a grand illusion. After all you can’t really defeat something that you cannot see can you?

The hypocritical behavior on my part becomes my defense mechanism, but how can I be a hypocrite if I don’t even know the source from which that behavior comes. So even calling myself a hypocrite becomes part of the grand illusion…

Even just re-reading this gives me a headache, because at times I tend to over complicate things, it seems at times like a bunch of double talk going nowhere. I like to think that I know people pretty well, but I know at times that I am totally off base. Human beings are complicated by nature, so any attempt to define any type of human behavior will by nature be complicated and not easily understood. I say we leave that part to the psychologist and sociologist and focus on building relationships with people with the understanding that we might not get some people or understand some behaviors, we need to understand that the thing that is most important is just to love people, through entering into relationship with them and that through that, just maybe they will open up to us and us to them so that we can get to know and understand one another.

Hypocrisy is something that we do even in the best of times, but we can never let it define who we truly are.

I found the following words as I was doing some sermon research; I believe they explain what is going through my head right now a little more clearly than even I can.

“One of the benefits of living in God’s presence is this: when you really see God, you see yourself; when you see yourself, you see your sin; when you see your sin, you cry out to God for grace and forgiveness, and you receive it. The saint is always more aware of his need of God than his successes in God, always more aware of how far he has to go than how far he has come.” (Excerpted  from preachingtoday.com/sermons/Haddon Robinson/Good Guys, Bad Guys and Us Guys)

Might I add that when we realize and live this as a truth, then others will see us for who we truly are and we will see them in the same way.

No hypocrisy needed.

Until then, the grand illusion lives on.

May we do our best to make this illusion less and less a reality.

The Grand Illusion – on being a hypocrite 3

1 Corinthians 9:19-23 (English Standard Version)

 19For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them. 20 To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law. 21To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law. 22 To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. 23I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings.

 Some might read this passage and say, see Paul was being a hypocrite, and he was pretending to be different things so that he could persuade others to believe. But if you read this passage carefully nowhere does it say that Paul was pretending. It says he became. There is a vast difference between being (becoming) and pretending.

 Pretending is all about seeking to persuade others by acting out what you think they need to see, so that you might win them over. This is indeed hypocrisy.

 Being or becoming is something that is very real, the only way to do this is by actually entering into another’s life, by becoming or being one of them; no pretense is involved, just genuine concern for the other. 

 I believe that when Paul says “I have become all things to all people”, that a lot of people automatically think pretense, which means hypocrisy.   

Are you “being” what others need you to “be”, so that by some means you might save them?

Or are you just “being” a hypocrite.

 The grand illusion goes on…

The Grand Illusion – on being a hypocrite 2

I guess I will continue for now, just some simple thoughts (or not) to throw out today.

I don’t want to defend the hypocrite here i.e. myself. But I think both science and psychology will bear me out on this and I am most certain scripture will as well. That if you say something long enough or do it long enough that you will eventually believe that it is true. It scripture Jesus called such a thing the hardening of the heart, I am not sure what psychology calls it but I am sure that there is a name a name for it.

I in my life have witnessed this from both perspectives. I won’t get into those here, that will probably be another wrting much later on.

In psychology; we experince a painful experience which has caused a really deep hurt in us ,which really eats away at us and to cover up this pain we gradually make up our story or sequence of events as to how this all happened and then we start telling ourselves and others this story, as time goes on this made up story becomes so ingrained in us that it somehow replaces the true story in our minds, it actually becomes truth to us (even though it is not).

I really don’t think that the hardening of the heart that I spoke of earlier is totally dis-similar, the main difference I believe is that instead of the individual making up the story to make themselves feel better, I believe that this new story comes in for them from a variety of different sources, but it is the same, in that it is told to them over and over again and eventually it becomes truth to them (again, even though it is not).

I struggle with both circumstances and have lived in both, and both definitely fit into what has come to be known as the grand illusion.

I am ever thankful that by the grace of God that I am ever being pulled out of this illusion, it is a struggle that continues and one that I still battle with daily, but I will not give up because God has not given up on me.

What we need to remember as we go through these struggles relying on God’s grace to constantly rescue us; is that there are many other’s out there who have yet to experience the grace of God, who walking around trapped is this grand illusion.

The real problem of hypocrisy here lies not in the story that we have come to believe, but in the fact that we deny that the illusion exists.

So the grand illusion goes on…

The Grand Illusion – on being a hypocrite

One of the phrases I use on a regular basis is:” it’s not all about you”.Been thinking about that a lot lately and just this afternoon, I have come to the grand conclusion that I am a hypocrite or as the Apostle Paul would say “I am the foremost of hypocrites”. Yeah I know he said foremost of sinners, but as I see it at least here, there is little difference. I am a hypocrite to the foremost. I am all the time telling people that it is not all about you, I say; it is about loving God and loving others. But secretly I hold on to the fact that I want it to me all about me, I do what it takes to paint a good picture, but really I am fooling nobody especially myself. Yet I continue to try and convince myself and others that it is not about me. The world that we live in can be a pretty bad place, sometimes it just out right sucks.

I think that instead of coming to that grand conclusion that I spoke of earlier, maybe it would be better said that I have been trying to create a grand illusion. Deep inside of me, I want things to be a certain way, I want people to act a certain way, I want people to say certain things, but want a minute here, I thought this wasn’t supposed to be about me, oh yes getting back to my grand illusion, I want people to love each other and get along with each other. So I talk about those things a lot, hoping against hope that just maybe those things will happen all by theirself, just if I continue to talk about it.

Ultimately, I get pretty disappointed in people, always claiming they believe something then sometimes even the next words out of their mouths contradict what they just said, and most certainly their life and their actions will contradict it.

The truth is I am more disappointed in myself for saying and doing the same things. But then I remember that this is not about me anyway and i just go on my way, living my grand illusion.

We at times get mad at God for the problems in the world, we wonder why he just doesn’t fix it. Then the thought crosses my mind, maybe that’s what he put me here for.

Naw, that can’t be it.

I just need to go on living my grand illusion…

To be continued, hopefully…