Gospel Posts

One One Year Later – Let’s not give up. – July 7, 2017

A year ago tonight, fourteen people were shot and five Dallas Police officers were killed during a peaceful protest in downtown Dallas. It was the single most fatalities among law enforcement since 9/11. And Dallas was brought to her knees. The peaceful protest had been formed in response to the deaths of Philando Castile and Alton Sterling, two black men who were killed by law enforcement in Minnesota and Louisiana, just days earlier. The sniper said he wanted to kill white people, and white officers in particular.

Like many, my summer evening was interrupted by images on TV, as I watched in horror, struggling to believe that this could happen here in our beloved city. Immediately my mind raced back to a few years earlier when my friend, Pastor Bryan Carter, and I asked the question, “What if Ferguson happened in Dallas? Would we be ready?” The quick was answer, “no”, we realized we were not ready to respond. The greater Church of Dallas was not ready to respond, so it would be difficult for the city to come together and respond in peace with a collective response to bring hope and healing.

The broader church of Dallas, across racial lines, simply did not know each other. We began pulling pastors and leaders together to talk about the racial divide in Dallas and our nation. Over time, we did come to know each other. As a result, we came to love each other. We began meeting, praying, swapping pulpits, serving together, and members of our churches met members from other churches across racial lines. And God showed up. Through Movement Day, Transform Dallas, the pulpit swaps, prayer meetings, men’s and women’s gatherings, our hearts were softened, grace was extended, and we were ready to love others, only after we came to love each other. We learned that empathy truly is the pathway to peace.

“He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” Micah 6:8

We began to ask : How do we do justice in Dallas, Texas? How do we love kindness? How do we walk humbly? We discovered that humility leads to empathy, kindness leads to progress, and justice leads to healing.

We have a long way to go, but we know this: Racial reconciliation is a result, an implication, of the Gospel. If God’s people love Him and embrace the Gospel and its implications, we will display the Gospel in every aspect of life. And in its corporate expression, its diversity, would reveal the love of God, “so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places.” Ephesians 3:10 Literally, the “multi-colored wisdom of God” would be on display.

In many ways, by the sovereign Hand of God, we were ready when the shootings took place a year ago. The Church was ready and responded. We came together the next morning at Thanksgiving Square (credit the work of our mayor, Mike Rawlings, who reached out to the faith community). We came together the next night at Concord Church to declare, Together We Stand. In the days that followed we organized a clergy mobilization meeting that continues to meet. Pastor Richie Butler has led an initiative called, The Year of Unity that continues on throughout this year. We have discovered that we need each other in ways we never realized. We’ve learned that we must recognize and embrace the definitive source of our Hope. The Good News of Jesus Christ actively undermines the sins that feed racial strife, and leads to a many-colored and many-cultured kingdom expression of God’s people. If we go at this alone they will not believe. But together we challenge presuppositions and prove that the Gospel makes one what was formerly divided. Our love for each other proves our faith in Christ.

A year later I think progress has been made, but we have long way to go. We must not give up. We must walk in humility, seeking to understand and empathize. We must, “Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.” Romans 12:15 When someone’s life is taken (black, white, officer, civilian) it is not the time to talk about the “facts”. There’s a time and place for the facts, but it’s first a time to weep. Can we not simply weep and grieve with families who have lost loved ones? Can we pray with them and for them? And when our brothers and sisters are weary and sad, it is time for the entire Body of Christ to respond with understanding, in prayer, and love. “If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.” 1 Corinthians 12:26

Let us empathize. Let us intentionally pursue one another. Let us persevere. Don’t give up. Increase your ethnic I.Q. You cannot get a G.E.D. if you don’t understand white culture, but you can get a doctorate and know nothing about black culture. Expand your relational world into places where people don’t look like you.

Thank you to my black brothers and sisters who have not given up, who put up with us, who have forgiven us for saying things we did not understand. We are sorry that it has taken such a long time to understand. We are sorry that many of us have not stood with you in the past. It is a new day and many are ready to stand with me, with you, as we seek one nation under God. Even more, let’s be the answer to the prayer of Jesus in John 17 – one Church, under God, in Him. Let us not give up. May this anniversary help us grieve, weep again, determining to be the change we want to see in the world. Let us be angry over injustice and yet not sin. May we pause, pray, and remember. And then, let’s finish the work that God has called us to.

 

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Grace changes everything.

Many give up on the fight for purity because of past failures or habitual sin. This is precisely where Satan wants us to land. My counsel to young men has always been, “The good guys fight”, meaning that you’re either in the fight or you’ve given up the fight. Even “good” men (and women) battle sexual lust and temptation. Sexual sin is Satan’s easiest door to shame. In John 4, a Samaritan woman encounters Jesus and it transforms her, from a life of shame to forgiveness. This story exposes a kind of shame that defines many of us because of past sins, driven by on-going misplaced affections. Shame is a step beyond blame.

  • Blame says, “I’ve done wrong and I deserve to be punished.”
  • Shame says, “I am wrong and I cannot change. I can’t overcome my past, my mistakes, my failures.” I am who I am. Shame leads hopelessness and despair.

How do we move from shame to forgiveness? Like the woman at the well, when we realize that we are fully known and completely loved, our lives are changed. In his book, The Meaning of Marriage, Tim Keller writes: “To be loved but not known is comforting but superficial. To be known and not loved is our greatest fear. But to be fully known and truly loved is, well, a lot like being loved by God. It is what we need more than anything. It liberates us from pretense, humbles us out of our self-righteousness, and fortifies us for any difficulty life can throw at us.” To be known fully and loved completely is the greatest truth you’ll ever know.

1. God knows you fully. (vv. 1-15) Like this woman, God knows where you are and He’s gone completely out of His way to come to you, to find you. Like her, we seek diversions, a rerouting of the truth about ourselves. We guide our conversations, in an attempt to avoid the truth, so no one will truly come to know us. Many of us go through our lives like this. Are you fully known? Your greatest need is to be fully known. God knows everything about you. Psalm 139 says He knows when you get up and when you lie down. He knows what you’ll say before you say it. You can’t go anywhere and be away from His presence. He formed you in your mother’s womb. Wherever you are, He knows where you are right now. He’s pursuing you.

2. God loves you completely. (vv. 16-26) She was thirsty for love and clearly, she sought to satisfy this thirst through relationships with men. She thought that what she needed most would be found in the next man, a better relationship, the next love, in someone who would finally love her. We are all thirsty. We’re all craving love. He alone satisfies. And before we do write this off as a third-person story, don’t miss this: We all have lovers. Call them idols, other gods, false identities- we all have them. Who are you sleeping with? Jesus seeks to provide for you the one thing that He knows you actually need. The only thing that can quench this soulful thirst of the human heart is the love of God. What we need is what Thomas Chalmers, the Scottish minister, called, “the explosive power of a new affection.” Her problem is ours; it’s love out of order, disordered love, misplaced affections. Disordered love is when good things become God things. Misplaced affections need to be replaced by the far greater power of the affection of God, of the Gospel- what He has done for us in Christ. She needed what you need today, what I need: to be fully known and fully loved. What you need is a greater satisfaction in Him, the explosive power of a new affection. This is a life-changing reality: God knows you fully and He still loves you completely.

We see another sexual sinner in John 8, the woman caught in adultery. The woman turns to Jesus condemned by the law and the religious leaders. And after He silences those who wanted to stone her to death (by telling them, “If any of you are without sin, then let him case the first stone.” He then says one of the most amazing statements of grace (of the Gospel) in the Bible:

“Neither do I condemn you. From now on go and sin no more.” John 8:11

Notice the order of His words: You are not condemned by me, but forgiven – fully known and completely loved- let my love transform you and NOW, go and sin no more. Let my love compel you to holiness. Let my grace propel you into a life of obedience!” Most of us would say the opposite – “Get your act together, then I will no longer condemn you.” God’s acceptance of you is the power that liberates you toward obedience, not the reward of liberating yourself. We obey God, not to gain His approval but because we already have it (in Christ). Listen: God is not mad at you.

“There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” Romans 8:1

Sex is not the answer, it is however, an expression of the question. Another person is not the answer. More money is not the answer. A better job is not the answer. A new and improved you is not the answer. These things, these pursuits, these thirsts point you to the question. And they are designed to point you to the Answer. It’s why you can’t stop working. It’s why you’re never satisfied. It’s why you’re anxious. It’s why you can’t rest. Your restless soul is not the answer but it IS an expression of the question. And the ultimate question is: Can I be fully known and fully loved? YES, and His…

3. Grace changes everything. (vv. 27-42) She leaves her water jar (I love this detail). The greatest need in her life had been met- she realized that she is fully known and completely loved. This is the foundation upon which you can build your entire life, because circumstances cannot touch that. She had a new identity, a new resolve, a new motivation, and a new purpose, and a new message. She had no need for a jar that would slow her down. She has a new, relentless urgency, a new purpose altogether.

“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” Ephesians 2:8-9

You are totally loved, fully forgiven, and completely accepted by God. His grace changes everything. Now, as a portrait of His grace, live to the praise of His glorious grace.

On the Monday after Easter

it_is_finished-1Easter reminds us that we are part of a much larger story. And the Monday after Easter reminds us that it is still finished. For a pastor, the day after Easter is always a kind of let down. We work hard through the Easter season and we put a lot into the weekend. The Monday after Easter is real life. It’s where the reality of the resurrection is meant to be lived out, in the every day stuff of life. This is where we prove that we have joined the redemptive story of God.

Surely history is His story. The cross and the resurrection of Jesus is the epicenter of all history. He is the singular figure who split history into B.C. and A.D. and through the lens of Easter Sunday, everything makes sense. And without it, nothing makes sense.

But the day after Easter is a good day to ask: Is His story my story? Has the story of the cross and resurrection become your story? The way this happens is the same way it has always has: The cross precedes resurrection. Brokenness precedes blessedness. Death precedes life.

“When Jesus had received the sour wine, He said, ‘It is finished,’ and He bowed His head and gave up His spirit.” John 19:30 This final cry of Jesus is three words in English but it is one word in Greek: τετέλεσται. It means to bring to perfect completion, finished, accomplished, even paid in full. This is arguably the greatest word ever spoken. Notice, He doesn’t say, “I am finished”, which would be a cry of defeat; but, “It is finished”, which is a cry of victory.

What did He finish? Has it become your story?

  • He finished the perfect life. In the garden the night before His crucifixion:

“I glorified you on earth, having finished the work that you gave me to do.” John 17:4 He’s referring to His perfect life- lived as a substitute for us. Just as central to your salvation as the cross, is the fact that Jesus lived the perfect life for you.

  • He finished the payment for our sin. He paid the price. The word tetelestai was written over a debt, meaning “paid in full”.

“He is the propitiation (atoning sacrifice, payment) for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.” 1 John 2:2. God forgives you only because Jesus has paid the price for your sin.

“For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 6:23 And because He finished the wage (payment) for your sin…

  • He finished the punishment for sin. God will never be angry with you again.

“There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”

Romans 8:1 He finished the just punishment that was due us. People say, “Well, God loves us so He forgives us.” No, He does not forgive us simply because He loves us. God forgives sin only because Christ took on the wrath of God toward sin. God is loving yes, and His love is just. His justice is loving.

  • He finished the need for religion. Many people are surprised by this.

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.” Matthew 5:17 Jesus fulfilled all of the crushing demands of God’s holiness, through His sinless life. Many of us are trying to finish something that has already been completed. In Matthew 27:51 it says that right after Jesus cried out “Tetelestai”, the giant veil in the Temple- that separated the Holy of Holies (the presence of God) from the rest of the Temple- was torn in two. The barrier between us and God (the religion of man and a Holy God) was torn apart. And it says, from the from top to bottom. It was from heaven down. Not man to God, but God to man, opening up the Way, destroying all of our religious self-salvation projects.

“For God has done what the law, (religion) weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh.” Romans 8:3 People say Christianity is not about religion, but a relationship. This is not the full truth. Everyone has a relationship with God already. You are either a condemned sinner before a Holy God or you are an adopted son or daughter before your Loving Father. It’s one or the other. Religion says you must do certain things for God to seek His approval. But in Christ it is done.

  • He finished the pathway to eternal life.

Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. John 14:6

So that’s it. Has IT become your story? Is His story your story? He finished all that is necessary for us to experience LIFE. But like every great story, there’s a twist:

It is – This cry is in the present perfect tense which describes an action that was fully completed in the past and its effects are being felt in the present. Jesus could have used the aorist tense and simply said, “the work is done”. The resurrection means that it is present tense. His story continues as we receive what He’s done for us. His resurrection becomes ours- it is the turning point of history and it is the turning point of your life, when His story becomes your story. Is His story your story?

It – all that’s necessary for salvation… is – present tense, nowfinished.

The big story of God’s redemption has now shifted. In the Old Testament priests were not allowed to sit when they were on duty, symbolic of the fact that their work was never finished. This is the religious life. You’re never finished.

But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, He sat down at the right hand of God.” Hebrews 10:12 The Priest became the Lamb. The High Priest sacrificed Himself, and then He sat down. And through the lens of Easter Sunday, everything makes sense. This is present tense.

Is His story your story?

His story becomes your story WHEN you surrender your life to Him and receive His finished work on your behalf. The Cross precedes Resurrection. Death precedes life. You must surrender your life to Him. You must give up trying to finish it.

  • You cannot add to it.

When you discover that Jesus has finished what matters most you realize that all that matters is finished. Your unending need for love is finished. Your need for purpose is finished. Your need for assurance is finished. Your need for forgiveness is finished. Your constant need for more is finished in Him- more money, more worth, more power, more affirmation, more applause, more happiness- all is finished. More will never be enough until you find that Jesus has finished everything for you.

  • You can rest in it.

If you could summarize Christianity in one word, it would be tetelestai. Only in Christ do you find rest, because only in HIM is it finished. 

When Buddha died, his last words were, “Strive without ceasing… never stop striving.” But the last words of Jesus are, “STOP striving; I have done all the striving necessary.”

Religion says, “finish the work”, but the Gospel says, “Receive the finished work.” Rest in Him. But His story is not finished until it is finished in you. Luke 9:23, Jesus says, “If anyone will come after me, he must deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow me.” This is the story we find ourselves in. Is His story your story?

Is His story your story? His story becomes your story when you surrender your life to Him and receive His finished work on your behalf.

IT. IS. FINISHED.

The Silence of God – Andrew Peterson

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It’s enough to drive a man crazy; it’ll break a man’s faith

It’s enough to make him wonder if he’s ever been sane

When he’s bleating for comfort from thy staff and thy rod

And the heaven’s only answer is the silence of God.

It’ll shake a man’s timbers when he loses his heart

When he has to remember what broke him apart

This yoke may be easy, but the burden is not

When the crying fields are frozen by the silence of God.

 

And if a man’s got to listen to the voices of the mob

Who are reeling in the throes of all the happiness they’ve got

When they tell you all their troubles have been nailed up to that cross

Then what about the times when even followers get lost?

‘Cause we all get lost sometimes…

 

There’s a statue of Jesus on a monastery knoll

In the hills of Kentucky, all quiet and cold

And He’s kneeling in the garden, as silent as a stone

All His friends are sleeping and He’s weeping all alone

And the man of all sorrows, He never forgot

What sorrow is carried by the hearts that He bought

So when the questions dissolve into the silence of God

The aching may remain, but the breaking does not

The aching may remain, but the breaking does not

In the Holy, Lonesome echo of the silence of God.  

The Saddest Day in History – Good Friday

"The Three Crosses" by Rembrandt

“The Three Crosses” by Rembrandt

“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”  Matthew 27:46

 We call it “Good Friday”. But like so many things in the Kingdom of God, it was good for us, but bad for Him. What we call “Good” was terrible for our Lord Jesus. As you go about your day today, consider these facts: Early on that Friday morning, after no sleep the night before, Jesus was taken to Pilate’s prison. He was beaten by professional torturers who knew their craft all too well. He was then presented to the crowd who chose the notorious prisoner over the very Son of God. Throughout the day Jesus was silent and, ironically, directing every move that took place.

He was taken into the courtyard (called the Praetorium) and the entire company of soldiers surrounded Him. They stripped Him down to His undergarments, put a crown of thorns on His head, a staff in His hand, and knelt down before Him in mockery. They spat on Him and punched Him many times, as hard as they could. Later that morning, exhausted and famished, He carried His own cross to Golgotha and was nailed to it at about noon. Darkness came over the earth from noon until 3:00 p.m. Not much later that afternoon, Jesus cried out “It is finished!” and He died. Around 5:00 or 6:00 p.m. the women came to prepare His body for burial and they placed it in the tomb. The massive stone was rolled into place as the sun went down on the saddest day in history. And the angels were silent as all creation watched to see what would happen next.

As you go throughout the day today, be in a constant state of remembering what happened to our Lord Jesus. Think about each event as though it was all happening today. Consider the horrific emotional strain of knowing you are about to be killed, and greater still, the anticipation of the very wrath of God upon sin that would come upon you. And remember, He did all of this for one reason: you and me, so that we might be trophies to the praise of His glorious grace for all eternity. Remember also that it’s Friday, the saddest day in history, but… Sunday’s coming…

Pray: Lord, today I will walk with You through Your sufferings. I will meditate on every phase of Your sacrifice for me. My heart breaks over my sin that put You on the cross.