The Very Natural Gospel

Jesus Healing Work – Restoring the World Back to Normal Again

In my reading and studying for our sermon series on the Gospel of Mark at Christ Presbyterian Church in Mansfield, (You can check it out for yourself if you want: The Way of Paradox: Following the Right-Side Up King in an Upside-Down World) I keep coming across great quotes and ways of expressing an unavoidable theme – that the miracles of Jesus are not the suspension of the natural order, but the reversal of the unnatural order back to what should be natural wholeness, health and restoration.

Here’s one from the ESV Gospel Transformation Bible on Mark 7:31-8:26

“When Jesus heals people such as this deaf man, we tend to view these miracles in the Gospels as interruptions of the natural order. Yet given the promises of the Old Testament to restore the world to the way it was at the very beginning, miracles are not an interruption of the natural order but the restoration of the natural order. We are so used to a fallen world that sickness, disease, pain, and death seem natural. In fact, they are the interruption. Jesus’ supernatural miracles are a return to the truly natural.”

Tell me, is this how you read and understand the miracles in the Bible? If not, why not?

If this way of thinking is new to you, I’d love to know and hear what thoughts or questions you may have. Take 30 seconds, leave a comment and let’s talk about it.

Hope Shines Through – Gospel Centered Lent Reflection – Day 2

Gospel Centered Lent, Day 2 Reflection rainbow_elam_21

“Yet, in the midst of the gloom and in the aftermath of the storm of God’s judgment, we see hope shine through. Noah looks up and sees against the gray clouds the dazzling glory of the rainbow emerging where sun and storm meet. And there in the clouds he sees the bow of God’s wrath laid aside in the promise of peace.

And that great promise is that no matter how dark our sin might grow, God will not turn his face against us again. Instead, God would sooner point the bow of his wrath upward, towards heaven, at his own Son, than unleash his wrath upon us again. And on the cross, where the sun of God’s love and the storm of God’s wrath would meet again, Jesus would die in darkness so that the brilliance of the glory of God’s saving plan would shine forth into our hearts. All this without a hint of divine regret.”

From Redeemer Presbyterian Church Lenten Devotional

Receiving God’s Word for Lent and Who Knows? – Gospel Centered Lent Reflection – Day 1

A great thought and implication on Joseph’s response to hearing of Mary’s pregnancy. 'Joseph's_Dream',_painting_by_Gaetano_Gandolfi,_c._1790

“Who knows what might happen, this year, if even a few of us were prepared to listen to God’s word in scripture in a new way, to share the humility of Joseph, and to find ourselves caught up in God’s rescue operation?”

From N.T. Wright, Lent for Everyone: Matthew, Year A

Without the Gospel

Deforrested forrest

“Without the gospel everything is useless and vain; without the gospel we are not Christians; without the gospel all riches is poverty, all wisdom folly before God; strength is weakness, and all the justice of man is under the condemnation of God. But by the knowledge of the gospel we are made children of God, brothers of Jesus Christ, fellow townsmen with the saints, citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven, heirs of God with Jesus Christ, by whom the poor are made rich, the weak strong, the fools wise, the sinner justified, the desolate comforted, the doubting sure, and slaves free. It is the power of God for the salvation of all those who believe …” – John Calvin

Make the Most of Bible Reading for 2015

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It’s a New Year, and I’m willing to bet many of us have made it a goal (or a resolution) to read more. For those of us who call ourselves Christians, at least one of these books is probably the Bible.

This is good, and important. The great 20th century theologian, J.C. Ryle said, “‘True Christians delight to read the Scriptures, because they tell them about their beloved Savior.”

We should read the Bible to be able to know and delight in our Savior, Jesus Christ. We also need to read it to know how to live as God’s people in God’s world.

And if you’re like me, and have tried to read through the Bible, you probably have more examples of failures and frustrations than successes. Now over the years, I have read through the Bible. I have taken time to study it, on my own and at seminary. But it is still a challenge to make my way through a regular and disciplined approach to reading the Bible.

This year, I have created a system to help get myself, and our church – Christ Presbyterian Church in Mansfield, TX – along with anyone from our wider community – both online and in Mansfield, TX – to hit the New Year strong with a quick “win”.

We are reading through the entire Bible in 32 days. Think we’re crazy? Probably. But here’s what this means.

We have taken the most significant chapters and episodes throughout the Bible, and singled them out in a 32 Day Reading Plan, so that in just over one month, we can not only create the habit of regular Bible reading and meditation, but also cover the entirety of the storyline of Scripture, from beginning to end.

Below you can find the links to the resources we are using to helps us get through this goal. Once we finish, we will then look at other ways to continue the new habit of reading Scripture – whether it’s utilizing a “Read through the Bible – Old Testament and New Testament in a Year” type plan, or simple “Read the Bible Book by Book” (both available through the Bible App from Youversion).

Let me also encourage you to find some partners in your goal of reading through the Bible. Whether it’s available through your church home, or simply done with some friends, get with one or two others and share what you are reading, learning and how you are applying the Word of God in your life? If you need help with this, and you are in the area, we’d love to help you at Christ Presbyterian Church (email us at info@cpcmansfield.org).

You can also do this online, by using the hashtag #grow2015 and our @cpcmansfield address on Twitter and Facebook, and we’d love to interact with you, engaging your thoughts, insights and questions as you read with the rest of us.

Let’s read the Bible to know, see and savor our Savior, Jesus Christ, and grow in what it means to live as His people in His world, together.

For the 32 Day Bible Reading and Prayer Guide, and Questions to Ask resources, go to http://cpcmansfield.org/#/resources.

To see my example of putting the questions into practice, click https://www.evernote.com/l/AAOfENoBpAhGBZKhaHWjYyDLsDlNDg2U86c

God is a God of Stifling Freedom, or Beautiful Limitations

1“The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it. And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” (Genesis 2:15-17 ESV)

In one of the earliest chapters of the Bible, we come across this verse. What are we to make of it?

For starters, we should probably lose the notion that God is a detached, impersonal, and uncaring “being” in regards to the world. Notice that right after God created everything (Genesis 1), He makes man to “work and keep” all that He has just made. Man was given responsibility to cultivate the “garden” – the arena of all God’s creation activity.

Next, we need to see that God is not a  stuffy buzz-kill.  God gave Adam nearly unrestricted access to everything in creation. There was only one thing that was off limits. Not 10. Not a 187 point referendum on what was acceptable or unacceptable. Not a litany of voluminous pages of do’s and don’ts. One. One simple restriction.  Far from being overly panicky about rules and regulations, we see God as someone who is generous and fairly liberal in what He finds acceptable or unacceptable.

This leads us to consider why the one restriction. Many people have speculated over this for centuries. While there’s much to be said about the distinctions between the two trees in the garden (Tree of Life and the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil), I think it’s safe to say that whatever the reasons are for the restriction, the essence of it is whether or not man will listen and heed God, or his own wisdom.

And that my friends is the essence of creation and sin. God was not interested in merely having someone do His bidding – like a robot, and automaton, or simple cog in the machinery of creation. Nor was he interested in letting all of His creation simply go and dow whatever they wanted, or felt right, or thought would be good.

God created everything, man included, for relationship. And the basis of that relationship is trust. Man was given only one restriction in the Garden to see, ultimately, would he trust in God, or himself.

And that is a beautiful and glorious limitation. Far from stifling our freedom, we are free to express ourselves and enjoy all of creation, as we trust in the God who created it and commissions us to cultivate it. In that trusting relationship, there is freedom, joy and life!

But apart from that trust, we have the world we currently live in. Where we need more laws, rules, regulations to keep everyone and everything in line; where boredom and drudgery sap our joy, and where life is exchanged for the status quo of death, destruction and dysfunction.

Which world would you rather live in? One of “stifling freedom” because we all want what we want, no matter the cost or who it affects? Or one of “beautiful limitations” based on listening, trusting and obeying the Word of God?

Great deal on ESV Study Bible – Best Single Volume Resource on Understanding the Bible!

If you are looking for a one-stop, single best resource, I recommend the ESV Study Bible. It is overall, the best study bible on the market, with helpful contextual notes on the passages, pertinent articles and commentaries, and it’s introductions to each book of the Bible alone is worth more than the price of the book itself.

Oh, and it’s 50% right now (most versions at least).

So if you haven’t already, pick up a copy today! And maybe buy one or two for those in your life who are looking, or wanting, to be able to read and understand the Bible for themselves.

Sin is Dealt With How?

"Grace makes beauty out of ugly things." - Bono

“Grace makes beauty out of ugly things.” – Bono

“Sin is dealt with by the One who was a strong, conquering King and intentionally laid down His life as a sacrifice to atone – make up for and put right with regards to – the sin of His people.

And in doing this, He takes from us our sin – our weakness, our failure, our “ugly”, our ashes – and gives to us His strength, His success, His beauty, His glory!

You can’t put on Christ’s righteousness over your wreckage.

You have to give Him your “ugly” in order to receive His “beauty”.”

From the sermon, The Coming King on Isaiah 61, by Chris Gensheer, Lead Pastor of Christ Presbyterian Church, Mansfield, TX.

For more info, go to http://www.cpcmansfield.org

To listen to the Sermon, click this link and Subscribe to our: Podcast: http://cpcmansfield.org/media.php?pageID=6

Practice Sabbath Rest Well My Friend!

Man resting in field (Small 640x360)This past weekend I preached on Sabbath rest from Mark 2:23-3:6 at Christ Presbyterian Church in Mansfield TX. I was unable to finish everything I had on it, and decided to follow it up with a blog post, especially talking about and addressing some practicalities of observing Sabbath rest in light of the gospel. 

The highlight of the sermon could be summed up in saying that far beyond the mere absence of work, Sabbath is more about the presence of true rest. The gospel is that the rest we need and crave is given to us by Jesus and His finished work on our behalf, and once we rest in His unchanging, unending love for us, we can in turn reach out to those with not only withered hands, but also withered hearts, and join Him in His mission to redeem, restore and renew all nouns – peoples, places and things – back to life in Him. 

To listen to the sermon, go here. Would love to hear your thoughts so share a comment here, or there!

Bring Back the Sabbath.

That was the title of a 2003 article in the New York Times by Judith Shulevitz in which she poignantly observed the desperate need we have as a society to once again observe the practice of taking designated time to rest. One of the priceless observations she makes in that article is that the need for Sabbath – a structured and socially practiced period of time for rest – goes far beyond the mere cessation of work or activity. She writes:

“Most people mistakenly believe that all you have to do to stop working is not work. The inventors of the Sabbath understood that it was a much more complicated undertaking. You cannot downshift casually and easily, the way you might slip into bed at the end of of a long day….That is why the Puritan and Jewish Sabbaths were so exactingly intentional, requiring extensive advance preparation…The rules did not exist to torture the faithful. They were meant to communicate the insight that interrupting the ceaseless round of striving requires a surprisingly strenuous act of will, one that has to be bolstered by habit as by social sanction.” (“Bring Back the Sabbath”, NY Times, March 2003)

She goes on to address why this is so.

“[When] Sunday was still sacred….not only did drudgery give way to festivity, family gatherings and occasionally worship, but the machinery of self-sesnorship shut down…stilling the eternal inner murmur of self-reproach.”

The “eternal inner murmur of self-reproach” – the ceaseless striving we all have – is a part of who we are as human beings. And it is the work beneath the work of our days and weeks that make us truly weary.

This is the main point Jesus teaching on the Sabbath. If one were to go to Jesus’ teachings in the New Testament on what is allowable and what is prohibited to do on the Sabbath, you will be woefully disappointed because he does not say much. And even when He is asked questions to this end, He simply changes the subject; or perhaps more accurately, He reorients the question and questioner to see that such lists and regulations are of lesser importance than the true meaning of Sabbath rest and the implications of Jesus life.

The true rest we need is not the mere cessation or absence of activity; it is to stop our ceaseless striving to earn approval and achieve significance through what we do and instead rest in the completed, finished and satisfactory work of Christ on our behalf! When God Himself rested from His work of Creation in Genesis 1-2, it was not because He was tired, or He needed to recharge His batteries; nor was it because He had to observe a sacred rhythm and ritual of working and resting. He did so because He was completely satisfied with His finished work. It was a time for joy, celebration, and no longer tinkering, building or improving. He looked at all He had done and declared, “It was very good.”

Jesus on the cross declares again, “It is finished” and because of His perfect life and sinless, substitutionary death, the full Godhead (Father, Son and Holy Spirit) are once again satisfied. Our ceaseless striving not only can, but must cease, as we find our true rest in Him alone. It was because he suffered under the weight of our ceaseless striving, experiencing the “no rest for the wicked” what we deserve (cf. Isaiah 57), that we can receive, experience and rest in the rest He deserved!

Jesus heals shriveled humanity on the Sabbath – both those with shriveled hands as well as shriveled hearts! Far from being turned in on ourselves, true Sabbath rest moves us beyond ourselves and our activity to rest in Him and reach out to others.

This is all well and good, but what does this mean practically for you and me on Monday? Or Tuesday? Or when we go home, or to church, or though the rest of our days and weeks?

I want to offer a few hopefully helpful and practical thoughts for what it means for us to practice Sabbath rest (not an oxymoron) in light of the gospel. Because the gospel does not only produce profound, true, deep rest that we crave, but also movement and motivation to reach out to others – to God in worship and celebration, to our fellow family members of the faith in community and remembrance, as well as to a weary and tired world around us.

Here are Three Inner Disciplines and Four Outer Disciplines to help us practice Sabbath rest in light of the gospel.

Inner Disciplines

1. Practice Liberty

Sabbath is a time for freedom and joy, not slavery and drudgery. One of the principle reasons for Israel’s freedom from bondage and captivity in Egypt was to experience freedom to worship God alone. This included the Sabbath, a single day of rest from their heavy burdens and labors under Pharaoh’s rule. Let’s not make our Sabbath day then about more rules, restrictions and regulations. Use it as one day among many that we learn to live out our freedom as sons and daughters of God. This is not just freedom from paid work and income producing activities. Perhaps, you need to practice liberty and freedom from your tendency toward busyness, or laziness? Maybe you need to practice liberty in terms of saying Yes because you always say No; or vice versa. Maybe you need to practice liberty from your smart phone, computer, or even your good books or favorite eateries and restaurants (or maybe you need to go out to eat!).

What would freedom look like for you? Given your situation and station in life? Given your temperament and personality?

2. Active Trust

To take one day out of seven to not do any work, any income producing activity, can be daunting, especially given our current cultural climate. There will always be pressure to keep pushing, striving, and improving your self, let alone get ahead in your job. To take a period of time and declare that you will not actively trust in your self and what you can produce, you are at the exact same time actively trusting in God to meet and perhaps even exceed your needs and expectations.

This is no small thing. By failing to take time off, you are declaring that you got this; but by doing so, you entrust yourself to One who has your best interests at stake and is far more interested in your life and situation that you probably are. Trust Him.

3. Respond in Grace

We all have certain levels or threshold for giving grace to others, or even ourselves for that matter. Our default inclination is to relate to other people based on merit – how well did they (or I) perform? Did I measure up? Etc. But Sabbath rest is about receiving and resting in grace – what someone else has produced, procured and secured on my behalf. We should then have a tendency to make grace our knee-jerk, first movement and reaction. And if we can’t or we’re not quite there yet, make it the second movement, if not the first.

One example. When you go out to eat (whether it’s lunch on Sunday or some other time and place), try leaving the tip out of grace, and not merit. Don’t start at 10% and make the serve earn extra; decide in your mind that you will give at least 20%, and perhaps a little more if the service is extra good! Be counter-intuitive to not only the way the world works, but the way your temperament or track record might lead you to be. You have received grace; extend it to others.

Outer Disciplines

4. Take more time for Sabbath

This is simple, but not easy. If we are going to practice Sabbath rest, we actually have to make time for it. Put it in your calendar. When will you block out time to practice Sabbath rest? When will you purposefully make time to practice liberty from producing, actively trust in God to provide, and respond in grace?

If you are in a profession that mandates you work on certain days of the week – whether Saturday or Sunday – when can you carve out time to engage in the discipline of resting in Christ?  Maybe it can’t be a full day for you given your station and circumstances in life, but there’s some time in your week I’m sure. Block it off and make it happen. It will do your body and your soul good.

5. Inject Sabbath time into regular time

I am thankful for the increasing body of research that gets at this one. Where and when can you inject some of this Sabbath time into your normal time, or a regular day? I’m talking about the new trend of looking favorably upon the afternoon “power nap” (not the 2 hour kind, but the 15-20 minute kind).  Or, if you are stuck at a desk for most of your day, but you get a few minutes of break here and there, maybe you can take a walk around your building. Maybe you can schedule a lunch with someone else to help you refuel and energize you (one key component of Sabbath rest is that it is not merely private, but communal as well – more on that below).

Our days have a rhythm just like our weeks. Where can we inject time to rest, reflect and re-engage with what God has done for us in the gospel both personally and with others throughout our day?

6. Balance Sabbath time

Tim Keller in his sermon on Sabbath from Luke 6 helpfully lists out three areas, or buckets, of Sabbath time that are helpful and necessary. He divides it up as avocational, leisure and contemplative spheres.

Avocational – what you enjoy doing, that’s not work related (Example: Professional fishermen might not actually find fishing restful). What can you make time for that your regular job and hours during the week don’t make time for? You might enjoy writing, but if that’s what you spend 90% of your time doing during your job, are there other areas of interest that you might miss out on, and now, you finally have the time to explore or experience? What are some of those avocational areas of life that could be restful and energizing, but the tyranny of the urgent or the important during the week, make no time for?

Leisure – Sabbath is a time for joy. What are those things you love doing, that refuel you, and that are just fun? Incorporate this aspect into your times of Sabbath rest.

Contemplative – There is a time and a place for reading, thinking and even journaling. Take some time to read your Bible, or some good book of doctrine and christian living. Journal your thoughts out too, and engage in prayer. With the constant onslaught of distractions and drivenness during our week, carve out some time to do the hard, heart work that pays so much more than it costs. But it’s important to take the time to do so.

7. Be Engaged in Community and Accountability for Sabbath time

This is by far, I think, the most significant lever we can pull personally to get the most out of true Sabbath rest.  We are created by community, for community, and we will not experience true rest outside of it. Here’s what I mean. God created you to image Him, and He is One God in Three Persons (or Trinity). He is Father, Son and Holy Spirit, each unique and differentiated persons, but still one God. To image Him then, we must not only be unique and differentiated persons, but we must find and situate ourselves within a community.

This is where being involved in a local church is so important. It is our opportunity to find ourselves by being committed to others. And it is as we are part of a community that we can in turn remind each other not only who we are, but Whose we are, and so continually rest in His love for us.

Who are you engaged with in terms of community? Who is holding you accountable for not only believing, but living, out of the rest the gospel provides? Who can you reach out to with that same rest?