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.

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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

Historic Faith in Timely Forms

I have mused over this concept for a few years now. Ever since I helped out with a church plant wanting to launch a “liturgical” service, this has been a persistent question.

It seems that most of the questions or pushback I have encountered on matters pertaining to worship have to do with what I would call “historical expressions” of worship, not the fundamentals of worship. When we launched the liturgical service, most people assumed this meant that we would be abandoning the projector screens in favor of a printed bulletin.

My question to them was always, “Why?”

What difference would it make if we read a Confession of Sin, or the Nicene Creed, from a stapled collection of papers we hold, or off a screen that’s on the wall in front of us?

Is it the appearance of a video screen and projector that gets in the way of anchoring the “spiritual act of worship” in a corporate setting to our historic Christian faith?

Why should we favor a technology with a born on date of the 15th century (printing press) over one with a 20th century date (video projector)?

The fundamentals of what we do in worship is the same, but it’s the forms that we often get hung up over.

Across continents and centuries, the Christian church gathers to worship a holy and gracious God, who calls us to worship, confronts us with our sin, assures us of His grace and forgiveness in Christ, forms us into a community being fashioned by the preaching and receiving of His word (sermon and sacrament), and then unleashing us back into the world to be His people, in His world, for His glory. These are the fundamentals of any worship service. This is the liturgy.

As I think through my own personal take and philosophy on this, here’s what I’ve come to a conclusion about:

As a church, we want to be anchored to the rich history and tradition of the Christian faith without being overly-fixed to any one instance of it’s historical expression.

In other words, a “hymn” is not preferable to a “praise chorus” simply by the date of origin, but by it’s theological content and artistic expression. Hymnals (songs bound in books) are no better than projection screens by virtue of their antiquity, as both are relatively modern technologies (one being born in the 15th century vs. the 20th).

The question I want us to ask and wrestle with as a church is, “How can we celebrate and join in the historic nature and fundamentals of the Christian faith, without being limited to any particular, historic expression or form, of the Christian faith?”

Desiring to Know the Real Reason

English: Saint paul arrested

English: Saint paul arrested (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I love this simple statement Luke includes when he recounts the trial of Paul in Acts 22.  Paul had been preaching the gospel, sharing his story of encountering Jesus, and it caused a stir.  People were upset.  They couldn’t handle what he was talking about.  And their reaction was to hand Paul over to the authorities.

 

The Romans did what they were trained to do – get the truth out of Paul any way that they could.  Their interrogation methods included flogging.  Nothing like a few lashings to get to the truth.  But before they made it that far down the particular path, Paul explains that what they are about to do us unlawful, for although Paul is a Jew, he was also a Roman citizen by birth, and thus he had some legal protection from being bound and interrogated without cause.
What strikes me about this story though is not Paul’s social and political savvy, or even his practice of what some have labeled “riot evangelism.” (Not arguing against this either.  The demonstration and proclamation of the Gospel should cause a stir!).
No, what I find fascinating is that the Roman tribune came to back to Paul, “desiring to know the real reason why he was being accused by the Jews.” (v. 30).
Do our lives and our words have that kind of effect?
 
Not just the effect of causing a stir or a controversy.
Not just the kind that instigates a riot.
Not just the kind that shakes the comfortable and complacent out of their apathy.

But the kind that draws others closer, “desiring to know the real reason.”  

 
The real reason for the hope that we profess.
The real reason for our experience of God.
The real reason why some would struggle to the point of wanting to condemn, ostracize and even punish  us for what we believe, what we proclaim and what we demonstrate with out lives.
That’s the kind of impact I want to have.  To see men and women and children be so moved with desire to want to know the real reason why I believe the gospel.  This is why I’m excited to see more interest being taken up in the realm of “gospel neighboring” and if you haven’t yet stumbled upon Andy Stager’s  blog and podcast on this subject, you really should go check it out here.
It’s when we live with such radical hospitality, in close proximity to others in our communities, that the distinctiveness of our lives shaped by the Gospel will begin to have the effect of disrupting the perceptions and preconceived notions of Christianity and Christians themselves, and that space for desiring to know the real reason is created – in relationship.
Can you imagine what would happen if our words and lives had this as their aim and intention?
Can you see your family members, neighbors, and coworkers being so drawn to ask you that kind of question – “Tell me the real reason why……
….so-and-so seems out to get you?
….you’re not holding that grudge against that guy who threw you under the bus?
….you’re not falling apart when your husband lost his job?
….you’re neither a fundamentalist, prude, nor are you a anything-goes kind of person?
….you love your kids and yet your world doesn’t simply orbit around them and their schedules?
….you’re life has changed so dramatically?
….you go to that church?
….you are a Christian?
Can you imagine the folks in your particular sphere of influence asking you these kinds of questions? That’s the kind of person I want to be, and the kind of people God wants us to be as we seek to live a distinctively Christian life in the world He has placed us.

“God is not a prisoner of our faith…”

Quote

“God is not a prisoner of our faith, but of his own perfection. Faith obligates God to act not because it is a magical incantation that can be used to control God but because faith in God’s promises calls attention to God’s own faithfulness. The assurance upon which faith is based is the glory of God’s character, not the power of our believing.”

— Scott J. Hafemann
The God of Promise and the Life of Faith
(Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway Books, 2001), 93

Recently came across this quote I had saved and found it helpful and pertinent to our small group discussion tonight on, “Can someone lose their salvation?”

How do you base your morality? and What is the bible? (Part 1)

I was recently asked a question by a friend that made me stop and take some time to think before I responded.  Essentially, his questions broke down into three main questions, with the third having a list of passages that could prove problematic for anyone who would want to base their morality on the Bible.  Image

1) How do you base your morality?

2)  If it’s based on the Bible, which is supposed to reveal the character of God, how can you (or, do you) pick and choose which parts to follow or not?  

3) Take the examples of God not only allowing, but sanctioning even commanding the murder of whole people groups (ethnic cleansing?), including women, children and non-combatants (Canaanites).  How is this “moral” and what does it reflect about God’s character, as well as the character of those people who seek to reflect His character?

I am going to post my answers to these question in two blog posts.  The first (this one) will address the first two questions, and the next post will address the third question.

Q: How do you base your morality?  

A: I would say that I base my morality on the gospel – the Good News (literal meaning of gospel) that God does for me and the world what the world and me can’t do for ourselves – as revealed in the Bible, not on the Bible itself.  For more, see next question.

Q: If it’s based on the Bible, which is supposed to reveal the character of God, how can you (or, do you) pick and choose which parts to follow or not?  

 A: The Bible does in fact reveal the character of God, but it is not simply a collection of God’s characteristics in the abstract.  It is about His character in action.  What we know of God is first and foremost revealed to us by Him.  It is not merely conjured up or developed from the human mind (whether collective or individual); the direction is not from the human to the divine, but from the divine to the human.   This means that what we know about God is set in the context of recipients who are themselves not-God.  

But more than that, what we know of God is also set in a context of sin, or what one philosopher describes as “vandalism of shalom” – Hebrew for peace, meaning universal human flourishing and a webbing together of all humans and all things in a rich state of affairs where natural gifts are employed and needs are met. In a phrase, the context we live in is a world that is “not the way it’s supposed to be.”  (Cornelius Plantinga, Not the Way It’s Supposed to Be: A Breviary on Sin).  In this context, all humanity is both complicit with and impacted by sin; we are at one and the same time both victims and victimizers (borrowing from Miroslav Volf, Exclusion and Embrace).  And before you dismiss this statement by saying, “I have not harmed anyone or done anything wrong/bad/evil,” ask yourself if you really believe that you are so completely disconnected from others in this world that your actions do not impact – whether directly or indirectly – the lives of others. This is what theologians refer to as “sins of commission” – those things we do that are wrong, unjust, and harm others – or “sins of omission” – those things we leave undone that are right, just and seek the welfare of others.”  Voltaire famously said, “No snowflake feels guilty in an avalanche.”  We are caught up into a system of human relationships where our actions or inaction impact others, and most of us are simply oblivious to this reality.  Just watch The Place Behind the Pines or Crash for modern cinematic examples of this fact.

Now, so far I have described the context of human life and sin in a horizontal dimension – the impact we have on our fellow man.  If you take that as your only dimension, the problems we face are bad enough as it is.  But if we take the world we live in as a product of a Creator’s design, delight and intent, then we have to add a vertical dimension to the horizontal.  How we live then, not only impacts our fellow man or the environment, but also our relationship with One who created us.  If we can turn the world we live in and create an environment that is not the way it’s supposed to be, what would the One who created it in the first place think of our actions and inaction?

In a word, displeasure.  But that sounds too shallow, or calm.  Afterall, you and I experience more passion when someone disses a band we like or a movie we loved.  Could you imagine someone actually threatening, abusing and destroying another human being you deeply cared about? Or a work of art that was a labor of love and you spent countless hours developing? If He created the world, and us to live in it because He delighted to do it, then we can and should assume that our attempts to live life in ways that thwart or disrupt that creational intent for peace and human flourishing would invoke God’s anger.  Now if He were angry at what had become of His creation, He has a couple of choices: a) scrap it all and start over, or b) put in place a plan to “redeem” (buy back, purchase, reclaim ownership) and “restore” (fix, repair, make new again) His creation.  

This is exactly what the pages of the Bible in the book of Genesis tell us.  Genesis 1-3 is the historical account of God’s creating all things, declaring them good, commanding His crowning jewel of creation, man, to live in a state of love and trust with Him and carry out his task of doing in creation what God had done for creation – manage and cultivate it with benevolent care and peace-full intention.  When man instead breaks that state of love and trust (yes, I have the Pearl Jam song playing in my head as I write that), God inserts himself into the situation and interjects His solution – a promised redeemer and rescuer for all creation (cf. Genesis 3:15).  In the meantime though, all of creation lives under a curse – the inevitable outcome of choosing to love and trust in self instead of living in dependence on God and carrying out our original intention as humans made in His image.  

Ultimately, this promised redeemer comes and is God’s very own Son, Jesus Christ in the pages of the New Testament.  But up until the coming of the Jesus, we have foretastes, or appetizers, of the redemption that God would bring about. This occurred through select individuals (Noah, Abraham, Moses, David) but also through the establishment of a whole people group, the nation of Israel.  Their charge and responsibility was to be a blessing to all the nations.  Their method or way of doing this was by living as a distinct and unique (meaning of holy, set apart) nation among all the nations. Genesis 12, what could be labeled as the Israelites Charter for Existence, tells us such:

“Now the LORD said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”

– Genesis 12:1–3 (ESV)

 This is why I say that I get my morality from the gospel as revealed in the Bible, instead of the Bible itself.  The Bible is a collection of recorded works that describe who God is but also what He has done and is doing, in this world to fix the problems, right every wrong, and ultimately wipe every tear from every eye.  I can derive my morality, or ethical lifestyle choices from the Bible to be sure, but only in the context of the gospel, because that is ultimately what the Bible seeks to communicate.  It is not a moral play book, or a divine guide for a good and happy life, sent down from on high to educate and provide the steps needed to live a certain way.  It includes that, but it is not merely that.  It is first and foremost a revelation from God to us, highlighting who He is, who we are, what’s wrong with the world, and how He intends to put it back right.  This allows one to see the connectedness of all scripture and how each individual part (verse, passage, book, genre, collection, testament) fits together to make a composite picture, or mosaic, of the character in action (God) and the implications for His creatures (man, included).  

So, I don’t pick and choose which parts of the Bible to follow; I follow them all, in the context of the overall picture of Bible, which could be summarized as: 

Creation (Gen. 1-2) – Fall (Gen. 3:1-14) – Redemption (Gen. 3:15-Rev.19) – Consummation/New Creation (Rev.20-22).

 

Are there any Non-Biblical witnesses to the events claiming to be historical found within the Bible? Recommended Resources

The Gutenberg Bible displayed by the United St...

The Gutenberg Bible displayed by the United States Library of Congress, demonstrating printed pages as a storage medium. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I have the joy and honor of leading a weekly bible study with a great group of men.  Often there are other questions that don’t quite fit into the scope of our topic/passage for the day.  I received such a question today:

“Are there any other non-Biblical sources that help support the historical claims found in the Bible?”

Below is my response with several links to websites and books dealing with this question! Enjoy!

======

Hey guys,

Here are some resources I either use, or found and might use in the future, dealing with your question: “Are there any other non-Biblical sources that help support the historical claims found in the Bible?”
Click on the links and check them out for yourself.  And tell me what you think of these if you end up getting your hands on them and start reading through them!
Always a pleasure guys!
Chris Gensheer

Website/blog: 
http://michaeljkruger.com/ – this guys is a NT Textual Critical Scholar and I value his perspective on all questions pertaining to “canon” (what books should be considered Scripture) and how it was formed (compiled, agreed upon) and various historical resurfacing of apologetic questions.  Good go-to site for specific questions.
http://str.typepad.com/weblog/2011/02/extra-canonical-sources.html – overall, a great apologetic website.  This link in particular will take you to a good answer to your question to me earlier today!
Books:
Backgrounds of Early Christianity by Everett Ferguson – this is my #1 go-to source for general, broad-stroke background information about things referenced in the Bible.  Great as an encyclopedia for helping to reconstruct what the original audience of the books in the Bible/NT might have thought or realized.
The Case for Christ by Lee Strobel – I read this early on in my Christian walk.  Great resource for apologetics in general, but more along the lines of the historical validity of Christ, not just the philosophical justification for belief. Great book.
Understanding Scripture ed. by Wayne Grudem, C. John Collins, and Thomas Schreiner.  I used this book in preparation for my Ordination exams and found it very useful and helpful.  It is an edited volume of multiple contributors, tackling various aspects of the Canon/Bible.  Great to actually read through, while also a good reference work.
Can I Trust the Bible? by Darell Bock – I used this in preparation for my Ordination exams and found it (and the R.C. Sproul book below) very helpful.  Disseminates a lot of information in compact form.  I liked it.
Canon Revistited by Michael Kruger – a more recent, very popular book.  He has a way of explaining really complex things simply on his blog, and while I haven’t read this particular work, I would expect that same trend to continue here.
The Evidence for Jesus by R.T. France – a book I have not read, but saw the Stand to Reason blog reference it as a good source.  Also, it seems to deal with your principle question of, “Are there any other non-Biblical sources that help support the historical claims found in the Bible?”  May be worth checking out.
Jesus Outside the New Testament by Robert E. Van Voorst – another book I have not read, but saw the Stand to Reason blog reference it as a good source.  Also, it seems to deal with your principle question of, “Are there any other non-Biblical sources that help support the historical claims found in the Bible?”  May be worth checking out.

Book Deal on Prayer – A Praying Life: Connecting with God in a Distracting World with Bonus Content: Paul Miller, David Powlison: Amazon.com: Kindle Store

A great book on prayer is on sale for Kindle today at a ridiculously cheap price.  Well worth the $1.99 to get and devour.  Enjoy!

A Praying Life: Connecting with God in a Distracting World with Bonus Content: Paul Miller, David Powlison: Amazon.com: Kindle Store

A Praying Life: Connecting with God in a Distracting World with Bonus Content: Paul Miller, David Powlison: Amazon.com: Kindle Store.

Everything Which is His, We May Call Our Own – Christ’s Presence and Our Union with Him

ImageYesterday I was finishing up some work and studies on the Lord’s Supper, and could not shake this thought from John Calvin on the “great exchange” that is offered up to us by being united in Christ by the power of His Holy Spirit. Definitely more robust than even I am naturally accustomed to thinking.

“Pious souls can derive great confidence and delight from this sacrament, as being a testimony that they form one body with Christ, so that everything which is his they may call their own. Hence it follows, that we can confidently assure ourselves, that eternal life, of which he himself is the heir, is ours, and that the kingdom of heaven, into which he has entered, can no more be taken from us than from him; on the other hand, that we cannot be condemned for our sins, from the guilt of which he absolves us, seeing he has been pleased that these should be imputed to himself as if they were his own. This is the wondrous exchange made by his boundless goodness…

“Having become with us the Son of Man, he has made us with himself sons of God. By his own descent to the earth he has prepared our ascent to heaven. Having received our mortality, he has bestowed on us his immortality. Having undertaken our weakness, he has made us strong in his strength. Having submitted to our poverty, he has transferred to us his riches. Having taken upon himself the burden of unrighteousness with which we were oppressed, he has clothed us with his righteousness.”

John Calvin, The Institutes of the Christian Religion,

4.17.2  (pp. 896-897). OSNOVA. Kindle Edition.

God’s New Thing

Came across this quote while doing some research work this week and thought it

Courtesy of Jonathan Grassmick

worthwhile to share.

The God who remained apparently silent on Good Friday is having the last word. He is answering the unspoken questions of Jesus’ followers, and the spoken question of Jesus himself on the cross. And what God is doing is not just an extraordinary miracle, a display of supernatural power for its own sake, or a special favour to Jesus. What God is doing is starting something new, beginning the new world promised long ago, sending the disciples to Galilee in the first place but then, as we shall see, on to the ends of the earth and the close of the age with the news of what has happened. A whole new world was opening up in front of them.”

N.T. Wright, Matthew for Everyone, Vol 2, (198-199), on the Great Commission in Matthew 28.