Putting the Resurrection on Display: Walking and Talking as Witnesses of the Gospel’s Power

witnessesWhen Jesus told his disciples to stay in Jerusalem until the power from on high came (Luke 24:49), he said that they would be “my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8). Ten days later, the Father sent the Holy Spirit and innervated the church with Christ’s power (Acts 2).

Since then, Christ’s pilgrim people have traveled the globe, witnessing to the resurrection of Jesus Christ (cf. Acts 1:22; 2:32; 3:15; etc.) and upsetting those who refuse to submit to Christ’s lordship (17:6). In every place the gospel has gone, local churches have sprung up to give a permanent witness to the kingdom of Christ.

As one of those churches, it behooves us to ask the question: In what way or ways should we witness to Christ’s kingdom? And how well do we do it?

Believing the Bible to answer such questions, we see that the lives we live and the words we speak play a significant role in Christ’s ability to work through us. In truth, it is not just the church who preaches the gospel. Ephesians 2:17 says Christ himself preaches the gospel of peace. But seated in heaven he preaches by proxy; it is his Spirit and his bride that say, “Come!” (Rev 22:17). Therefore, the effectiveness of Christ’s evangelism is contingent upon the purity of our lives. As we continue to consider what Jesus’s evangelism program looks like, let’s see how our lives contribute to the power of our witness. Continue reading

The Lord’s Supper: A Messy Meal for Messy People

traySilver trays, clean hands, fresh bread, sterile cups, and a well-ordered room may be just a few of the things that keep us from seeing how messy the Lord’s Supper is. And how the Lord’s Supper is for messy people.

Think about it. The cross of Christ was invented to be the most horrendous bodily experience known to man. It is reported that spectators sometimes vomited as they watched the crucifixion. One account describes the physical effects of the cross this way.

Naked and embarrassed, the victims would often use their remaining strength to seek revenge on the crowd of mockers who had gathered to jeer them. They would curse at their tormenters while urinating and spitting on them. Some victims would become so overwhelmed with pain that they would become incontinent, and a pool of sweat, blood, urine, and feces would gather at the base of their cross (Death by Love, 25).

In Jesus’ case, we know he did not use his remaining hours to malign his accusers. Rather, he prayed for those who killed him; he granted pardon to the thief next to him; he cared for the mother who had once caressed him; and he prayed to the God who was abandoning him. In all of these ways, Jesus’ death was wholly other. And yet, his body beaten and bleeding, lacerated and lashed to the cross, was a mess.

From what we know of crucifixions at the time, Jesus’ “cross was likely already covered in the blood of other men. Timber was so expensive that crosses were recycled; therefore, Jesus’ blood mixed with the layers of blood, sweat, and tears of countless other men who had walked that same path before him” (ibid.). All in all, Christ’s crucifixion was anything but a sanitary affair.

Pure and holy? Absolutely!

Clean and sterile? Hardly! Continue reading

A Heart for Christmas or for Christ?

images

“This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me”
– Jesus –

The Christmas music played in the background as Rod wrapped packages. While the music brought back many happy memories, recent events took his mind in another direction.

Work at the courthouse was increasingly difficult. Last year they removed the Ten Commandments. This year county employees received a memo requesting everyone to tone down “Christmas” rhetoric. They didn’t outright censor “Merry Christmas,” but they might as well have.

Closer to home Rod received his yearly Christmas list: Put up the tree. Buy non-perishables for the church’s homeless offering. Put up the crèche. Have some holiday cheer.

“Very funny,” Rod thought to himself. “My wife thinks of everything: Have holiday cheer!”

And she did. She knew the pressures of work and the added stress of church had made Rod more than just a “grouchy bear,” as she liked to call him. Only two weeks remained until Christmas, and he was overwhelmed with Christmas events at church. And as a result his Joy to the Lord was out of tune. So to spark his Christmas spirit, Rod’s wife put him to work on the crèche he loved. It worked marvelously. Continue reading

Be Careful, Little Flock, How You Hear

preachA few years ago Thabiti Anyabwile published a little book, What is a Healthy Church Member? In it, he urged healthy church members to be expositional listeners, by which he meant that just as the faithful pastor makes the main point of his message the main point of the text (i.e., expositional preaching), so healthy congregations will also make it a priority to comprehend the expositional sermon. About that say time, Christopher Ash wrote a little guide on the same subject: Listen Up! A Practical Guide to Listening to Sermons.

Well, apparently, Anyabwile and Ash are not alone in their estimation that the congregation plays a dramatic role in the “effectiveness” of a pastor’s preaching. As I recently scanned D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones’ classic text, Preaching and PreachersI came across the same idea. In chapter eight, he discusses the “relationship of the pew to the pulpit” (143) and addresses the vital role that congregants play in the service of preaching. While not minimizing the role of the preacher, and abhorring the idea that the pew dictate what the pulpit should preach, he is exactly right to emphasize how churches confirm or deny the message of the gospel by means of their own inattention or eager anticipation. Continue reading

Dramatizing the Gospel: Church Membership

bodyIn recent years, the human body has been reshaped and sometimes reengineered. Whereas gender was once biologically determined, today society invites children to choose their own gender. And for some, when their body doesn’t match their gender preference, they are invited to trade their parts for new ones.

Fortunately, Christians know that our bodies are not plastic figurines. We believe our bodies gifts from God, even if we might humbly protest their size, shape, or strength. Sadly, the same cannot be said about the body of Christ.

Christians who decry modern manipulations of gender often ignore the manifold ways Christ’s body has been misshapen. By ignoring what Scripture says about the church (a subject known as “ecclesiology”), evangelical churches have willingly retooled, repackaged, and recreated what churches look like—often with mantras like, “we do church differently,” or “we’re not your ordinary church.”

Such sloganeering reminds us how far the church is willing to bend with this principle in place: As long as we don’t change the message, it doesn’t matter how we do church. The problem with such a view is that it fundamentally ignores the Bible, especially how the NT speaks about membership in Christ’s body. Continue reading

How the Lord’s Supper ‘Saves’ the Church

lord's supperYou cannot care for me with no regard for her,
if you love me you will love the church.
Derek Webb –

As Derek Webb’s song (“The Church”) points out, to love Christ without the church is like loving a man and loathing his wife. Such inconsistency isn’t socially acceptable. Neither is it spiritually permissible. Those who have been born again are joined to God’s family (1 Tim 3:15) and are called to submit themselves to a local church (Heb 10:24–25; 13:17).

The opposite problem is also possible. It is very possible to love the church more than Christ. Now, when this sort of thing happens, Christ is never denied, only demoted. And typically, it doesn’t happen by conscious choice or designed effort. There is never an advertising campaign to elevate the church above Christ. It happens the way that gravity causes bodies to sag—time and spiritual lethargy work together to pull the heart away from Christ.

Leaving our first love, as Revelation 2:4 puts it, doesn’t come through a traumatic event. Instead, it is what happens when members and pastors of a church focus their energy and conversation on church business, church budgets, church activities, church methods, and church growth.

Church, church, church. If all attention is given to the bride, the bridegroom will be lost.

Even when believers champion orthodox belief and defend biblical practices, men and women will still fall in love with a church more than Christ. Because our hearts are deceitful and naturally unbelieving (Jer 17:9; Heb 3:13), even the most committed churchmen are susceptible to loving the church more than Christ. In fact, the ones most committed to church are the ones most likely to love the church more than Christ. Continue reading

Dramatizing the Gospel: Baptism and the Lord’s Supper

baptimsBetter than any comedic skit or high-tech video, baptism and the Lord’s Supper dramatize the gospel. And when churches properly execute these two rites, they present in a very local, personal, and powerful way the gospel of Jesus Christ. Continuing to think about the way that the church is God’s authorized evangelistic ‘program,’ I want to show how these two ordinances display the gospel of Jesus Christ.

The Gospel

Before considering how the church displays the gospel though, it is vital to remember the gospel is a message to be believed, proclaimed, explained, and defended. It is not something we do, make, or build. It is “good news” that our Holy Creator sent his sinless Son to die on Calvary for the sins of his bride. It is a message proclaimed to all the nations, so that any and all who believe in Jesus may be saved from hell and have eternal life. This is the gospel of Abraham, Moses, Isaiah, Jesus, and Paul. It is the life-creating truth that saves Christians and assembles local churches.

That said, if the gospel is believed by a congregation, it will be evident in visible, practical, and tangible ways. A Spirit-filled church cannot stop talking about Christ because the gospel dwells richly in their hearts. Such gospel-centeredness does more than affect speech, however; it also shapes conduct, practice, and liturgy (i.e., the pattern of worship).

Therefore, borrowing the logic of James 2:14–17, the sincerity of a church’s faith (in the gospel) will be seen in the way they live, move, and have their being. And no place is this more apparent than in the way they carry out the ordinances of Christ—baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Continue reading

What Does Revival Look Like?

fireWhen the First Great Awakening occurred in the 1730s and 1740s, Americans experienced a great outpouring of the Spirit of God. Many cried out in terror from a deep awareness of their sins. Many more wept for joy as they experienced genuine forgiveness and the power of the Spirit giving them new life.

Concurrent with these works of God, many false professions were also reported. While the Spirit “awoke” many from their spiritual tombs, Satan also manifested himself as an angel of light by deceiving many into believing they had experienced God when, in fact, they had not (cf. 2 Cor 11:14). As pastors of the era observed, many reported having heavenly visions while others heard God speak sweet words to them. Yet, what made these experiences prove false was the way that such people showed no corresponding change in behavior (i.e., holiness towards God and love towards others), nor was there explicit trust in Christ’s death and resurrection.

What does revival look like?

This was the question being asked in that era. And today, we ask it from another angle: How would we know revival if it came? Would it merely increase religiosity in our culture? Would it mean less crime, better families, or improved race relations? Or is there something more Christ-centered, even cross-centered, that must be seen? These are vital questions when considering revival and perhaps the best answer can be found from the Great Awakening itself. Continue reading

What is Jesus’s Evangelism Program?

churchEvangelism Explosion.

Sharing Jesus Without Fear.

F.A.I.T.H.

The Alpha Course.

Christianity Explored.

Over the last few decades, the church has had no shortage of evangelism programs. Each of these mentioned above have been used by the Lord to add to the eternal harvest. But as I recently learned, each of these programs has, at best, a seven-year shelf life. Since each was created for a particular cultural moment, new methods are constantly needed, because culture keeps changing.

With great appreciation for these programs and for the godly men who created them, I want to ask a very simple question: Does the Bible itself give us a program of evangelism? Or more personally, what is Jesus’s program of evangelism? Has he left us to devise our own, only to trade them in every seven years? Or has he given us something more long lasting? Continue reading

You Are What You Eat: A Lord’s Supper Meditation

lordsupper“You are what you eat,” couldn’t be more true than when talking about the Lord’s Supper. When we come to the Lord’s Table we are declaring our confidence in Jesus’s body and blood as our singular hope for salvation. At the same time, we are receiving through a complex and simple sugars a taste of who we are—redeemed sinners adopted into the family of God.

Identifying the New Covenant Meal

When Jesus transformed his last supper into the Lord’s Supper, he took bread and broke it saying, “This is my body, which is given for you.” Then he took the cup saying, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood” (Luke 22:17–19). In his words and actions, Jesus was passing down a tradition that would forever recall the meaning of his death.

Jesus’s death revealed God’s judgment upon human sin, but because Jesus died for the sins of his covenant people, his death substituted for the punishment of his covenant people. Jesus spoke of his death and the Lord’s Supper in covenantal terms, because his blood inaugurated a new kind of relationship between heaven and earth.

Speaking specifically about the promises of the new covenant, Hebrews 8 teaches the believer what God has done for them in Christ. First, the new covenant moves me to delight in the law that is written on their heart. Second, it gives me saving knowledge of God through Christ. Third, it invites me into a personal relationship with God. And finally, it forgives me for all of my sins. In short, what the law could not do, weak as it was; the new covenant does by means of Christ’s perfect obedience and the Spirit he sent to us as he sat down at God’s right hand.

For this reason, we do well to take the Lord’s Supper often. Even more, when we take it we need to remember what Jesus Christ did for us and what his death says about our new-found identity in him. Indeed, the Lord’s Supper is a meal that defines a people. Since only those who have trusted in Christ are permitted to the table, it makes a visible distinction between those who partake and those who don’t.

A Meal that Identifies Us

For those who don’t partake, it is a reminder that they remain outside of the covenant blessings of God. Like Gentiles in Ephesians 2:11–13, those who do not take the Lord’s Supper are strangers and aliens to the promises of God; they are without God and without hope in this world. Consequently, the Lord’s Supper invites unbelievers (children or adult) to consider their own need for grace. In a visible way, it shows them they are outside the gates of Christ, but that the invitation remains to come to dine at the table if they will but trust Christ and turn from sin.

At the same time, the covenant meal also marks out the believer. While the world defines us by our skin color, social standing, education, sexual orientation, or working profession, the Lord’s Supper defines us as blood-bought children of God. It identifies us as the Lord’s covenant people, and it calls us to stop identifying ourselves by our past history, our personal problems, or our sinful living.

Like the food eaten in any temple the Lord’s Supper offers food that identifies us with Christ. Of course, we don’t believe that the bread and juice become are the body and blood of Jesus (as in the Catholic view of transubstantiation). However, we do believe that eating the meal identifies us with Christ, and more than that it defines our own identity.

In this way, we are what we eat. And when we take the Lord’s Supper, we are once again identified as his beloved children. Simultaneously, we are called to examine our hearts to consider whether our lives affirm or deny this identify. As an identify-shaping meal, it is vital we take the Lord’s Supper with regularity and that when we take it we understand what we are doing, and what it is doing to us!

Holy Father,
You sent your Son to identify with us,
now let us identify with him.
Forgive us for feeding on the food of this world;
Feed us on your faithfulness,
on the grace and truth found in your gospel.

 As we put bread and cup to our mouths,
may our hearts be close to you and not just our lips.
Incline our hearts to identify ourselves with you,
And may this Lord’s Supper further impress on us
A sense of your presence, your holiness, and your grace.

Soli Deo Gloria, dss