The Crucifixion of Christ

We don’t like to leave Christ on the cross for very long. Our theology often gets in a rush to the resurrection. But the resurrection lacks its own possibility if you exclude the crucifixion of Christ. Anyone who has watched the movie The Passion of the Christ was moved by the brutality of what Jesus experienced on our behalf. The Romans weren’t out to make any crucified criminal look good or keep their dignity intact. On Sunday we get 10 minutes to reflect on Christ’s sacrifice on the cross. I wonder what it would be like to reflect on the crucifixion for a full six hours? Several times I have prayed for a full hour but never for six. Imagine yourself at the foot of the cross, looking up at the dying Lord for a full six hours. Imagine the pain you would see, the blood that would flow, the words that were said, and the testimony from those standing nearby. Five minutes would seem like an eternity much less six long and brutal hours. The breathing becomes quicker, the pain more intense, the words more and more loving. And the seconds, minutes, and hours pass by slowly. To see him dead and lifeless hanging there would be heart wrenching. Could you keep your eyes on a bruised, battered and bloody Christ for six full hours? Could you keep your eyes off him?

There are several things that stand out to me when I spend time reflecting on the crucified Lord:

  1. He is concerned for others. He makes preparations for his mother. He forgives sins. He is concerned for the other crucified men around him.
  2. He experiences the full extent of the pain and agony. D.A. Carson points out the two times Jesus was offered wine in his crucifixion. The first is found in Mark 15:23, “wine mixed with myrrh”. Jesus refused this wine as it was intended to dull the pain. But the second offering of wine Jesus took (Mark 15:36). This wine was to ease Jesus’ thirst and would result in prolonging his life and as a result his agony on the cross (Gospel According to John, 620). Jesus really “bore it all” on the cross.
  3. Jesus is in full control. This isn’t an accident. It wasn’t a slip up. He was in control during his arrest and was in control of his crucifixion. Jesus gave up his spirit (John 19:30). It was his decision, his choice, and his obedience to the Father.
  4. There is glory in the unglorious. The cross was designed to degrade and shame those on it. It was a public spectacle designed to kill as much as to deter others from similar offenses. But through the unglorious experience of the cross Jesus received glory from God (John 17:4-5). What is more Jesus was bringing shame on sin and death itself.
  5. Last and most important is the obvious – love. John 3:16 says God loved the world so much that he gave Jesus. This is true in his birth. It is also true in the crucifixion. God gave Jesus fully. He didn’t let the world borrow Jesus and take him back again at a convenient and comfortable time. God fully gave him in order to fully gain us. John 14:1 tells us that through his foot washing Jesus showed his disciples the full extent of his love. That phrase might be better translated that he loved them to the end. The cross really did show them and us the full extent of his love. The creator laid down his life for the creation so that we could lay our lives down to take them up again just as he did.

From the Harding group The Firemen:

Gospel of John 14:5-14 – Way, Truth, Life and Exclusivity of Jesus Christ

In John 13-14 Jesus is revealing things to his disciples about what is going to happen and where he is going to have to go. These are important considerations if you are a follower, a disciple because where the master goes so go the disciples. In John 14:4 Jesus tells them, “You know the way to the place where I am going.” to which Thomas replies with the question on all of their minds, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?”

Jesus proceeds to tell them that the way is not a direction, a path or points on a map. The way is a person, Jesus Christ, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (14:6). In a world full of many “ways” that people hold equal and not necessarily even mutually exclusive (people hold Buddhist, Christian, and Kabbalah all at the same time for instance) this sounds reckless at best. The very best Christianity has to offer is not summed up in a creedal statement, a set of doctrines, or traditions. It is best summed up by the man Jesus Christ.

Many want eternal life but not all are ready and willing to accept the man, his mission and message.

In what ways does your life embrace the mission and message of Christ and in what ways are you still challenged to live up to the calling of Christ?

What challenges do you/we face today in being Christ-followers?

Why does our culture want to live forever but fail to recognize Jesus Christ as having anything to do with that process?

Attractional or Distractional – Part 1

We hear a lot about attractional models of worship, evangelism, and all the rest “doing church.” I wonder at what point attractional becomes distractional.

Moving Away from Worship as Penance:
I don’t want you to mishear me here. I am not trying to say the duller and more irrelevant our worship services are the more pleasing they are to God. In my childhood I attended one church that almost made worship seem like a penance. If you could endure all the things that went on any given Sunday and still come back week after week then you paid your penance and God must be pleased with such a selfless endurance. That is clearly not what God wants! God wants spirit and truth AND wants us to be joyful, enthusiastic and energetic. Those two are not mutually exclusive! At the same time we can get so caught up in the form that what we intended to use to attract people becomes a distraction.

I see this happening in several ways although I am sure there are more…

1 – Worship Forms – already mentioned above and elaborated on below

2 – The Misguided “If we only…” way of thinking:
There is a strong tendency to start thinking in “If only’s” and let our dissatisfaction become a distraction from the real goal of our lives and worship – to give God honor and glory right here and now. Often our desire to make things better and improve our worship and worship experience (which is a worthy goal) can rob us of the joy of encountering God through worship in the present. In other words, longing for something new and improved can make our worship in the old way of doing things unsatisfying rather than realizing that God is just as pleased even if it is not our particular way of doing things, song selection, tempo, etc. Imagine if Moses had said, Sinai is cool and all and I know I can meet God there but first let’s put together some real rocking praise down here in order to make the experience something really special. Again, I am not knocking trying to improve what we do but I do fear that the process of improving our worship can become a real distraction if we miss the point and audience of our worship. Does God find this attractive? is more relevant than does average non-Christian Joe on the street find this attractive?.

3 – Winning Converts to Something Other Than Christ
One question we must continually ask ourselves is, “What are we winning people to?” Are we winning them to hype and energy with no substance? Are we winning them with money giveaways? Are we winning people to an attractive and easy gospel, health and wealth, forgiveness without true repentance Gospel? Or are we winning them to the message of Christ that includes tough lessons like self-sacrifice, repentance, and dying to self as well as joyful messages like forgiveness and grace (more on that in a minute).

4 – Emotion as a Coverup for Poor Content:
One of the surest ways to see something is shallow is if it is characterized by a constant barrage of emotion. The quickest way to make up for poor content is one of two extremes. You can either shout a poor sermon to make it sound good or you can cry your way through a poor sermon and hope the heart is pulled by fake tears rather than Gospel. Let’s face it, emotion is appealing to some degree. We want people to be genuine, transparent, real…It attracts. But as with any of these things, in extreme or out of the wrong motives it distracts and detracts from our real purpose. That is the whole point here. Many things are good in and of themselves but when taken to extremes or done out of the wrong motives become a distraction.

More in a bit on what God uses to attract non-believers.

5 – What would you put here?

Ecclesia Outside the Auditorium

The auditorium is so bitter sweet. It is sweet because there is nothing like having that many Christians together (which is what ecclesia means – “assembly”) worshiping God. It is bitter because some equate the worship hour with what church is. How do we get people to drop the old facility mindset and take on the community mindset (John Ellas’ terms)?

Scripture helps us out here:

  1. Jesus and his disciples never had a formal church building to worship in. They worshiped in homes.
  2. Some of the most obvious and profound examples of connection between people in the New Testament happen away from the assembly (Philip and the eunuch on the side of the road, Peter at Cornelius’ house, Paul and the Ephesian elders before Paul boarded the ship to Jerusalem in Acts 20, Jesus and his disciples in the upper room).
  3. We are never commanded to go and build buildings…we were commanded to go and make disciples (Matthew 28:19). That doesn’t make buildings wrong, we just need to keep first things first.
  4. Paul preached in the marketplaces as well as in the synagogues (assemblies). Can you imagine if you heard Paul was coming to preach in your city next week and when you found out the venue it was an open air public venue rather than in the biggest auditorium in town? He went where the people were who needed the message.
  5. Paul met Lydia and others by a river where she and others were baptized. Paul didn’t say, “Wait, let me take you down to the church building at a convenient time on a Sunday or Wednesday.” He met her where she was and helped her understand Jesus right then and there.

It is important people realize that an auditorium is just like a song book, a microphone, electricity, powerpoint, and all the rest…they are just aids to help us do what God put us here to do. We cannot let them become distractions that keep us from getting done our primary mission. For instance, some people wouldn’t have a problem with something if the worship was in a home but the very same thing would bother them if you moved that very same gathering into an auditorium. Would you or anyone you know be upset if services at the building were canceled this coming Sunday and instead people were encouraged to show up at the park for the very same service to take place there? Would anyone complain that wasn’t proper?

I am sure I am speaking to the choir for 90% of those of you reading this but maybe it is healthy to think about this from time to time and evaluate how we are helping or hurting how people perceive our worship based on its location rather than the fact that God is being worshiped and that is all that matters, regardless of where it is taking place. I applaud Christians who are taking it upon themselves to worship in public places so that the world can see who we are and know us by our love and our desire to please God. How better to be salt and light and like a city on a hill than to get out of the auditorium and in front of the people who need to hear?

Where We Exist vs. Where We Belong as Christians

“In the world but not of the world” is a popular phrase used by Christians to describe how we fit into the world around us. You often hear people say that we are citizens of another kingdom. And yet, here we are right in the middle of the world. There is a distinction in scripture between where we exist and where we belong. Here is a chart I made up to work through the possibilities:

ChristiansInTheWorld

Where do we exist?
It is obvious that we exist in the world. We see it, smell it, touch it, etc. No doubt about it. But we also exist in God’s kingdom. Ephesians 2:6 says we are “seated with Christ in heavenly realms.” Jesus said the kingdom of God was near and that some would not taste death before it came (Mtt 16:28). The New Testament is clear that God’s kingdom exists here and now and that as Christians, we are already a part of it. So we exist in this world and in the kingdom of God, simultaneously. Some have taken either extreme and missed the point of the dual-nature of Christian existence. On the one hand, a unitarian/universalist approach would say all that exists in the world also exists in God’s kingdom. On the other extreme, a monastic approach would be to remove oneself from existing in the world to a great a degree as possible and try to separate the spheres of what is is in the world and what is in God’s kingdom. But the middle option is what we see in scripture. We exist in the overlap of both realms. Not all that is in the world is in the kingdom of God (sin for example). Not all that is in God’s kingdom is a part of this world.

Where do we belong?
Jesus said we can’t serve two masters (Mtt 6:24). He also prayed for his disciples to remain in the world and yet be protected from the evil/evil one of the world (John 17:11-17). In that passage, Jesus says his followers are not “of the world.” That is an important point to consider. “Of” usually denotes possession. Jesus’ followers are not to be possessed by the world or exhibit the qualities the world exhibits. Colossians 1:21 says that before we were Christians we were “alienated” from God. But when we become a Christian, things change. We go from being alien to God to being an alien/stranger to the world. The Hebrew writer tells us that God’s people are “aliens and strangers” on the earth, looking for “a country of their own.” (Heb 11:13-16). Peter addresses his readers as aliens and strangers (1 Peter 1:1, 2:11). The New Testament makes it clear that we don’t belong to this world even though we exist in it. We belong to God and God’s kingdom and so we live as a citizen of the kingdom to which we belong.

Romans 9 – God’s Sovereignty

In light of the certainty of God’s promises as laid out in Romans 8:28-39 it must pain Paul tremendously to realize that some of God’s people are not coming to the result God has desired for them – that the law would lead them to Christ and be the perfect fulfillment of everything they have known up to this point. It must have pained Paul to pen the words that nothing in all creation would be able to separate us from the love of God and yet realize that some of his fellow Jews were exactly that – separated from God on account of their lack of faith in Christ. It would appear to make Paul’s claims about God’s faithfulness and the certainty of his promises in chapter 8 void. Because Paul will not be there in person to explain himself he goes to great lengths to address their concerns in advance in his letter.

The first thing Paul wants them to be sure of is his love for his fellow Jews. He begins chapter 9 stating his desire that he would even be willing to take the spiritual bullet for his countrymen if it would mean all Israel would be saved. Pau wants to be clear on the fact that he has not turned against his people. He does not dislike his people. He writes these things out of a desire for his people to fully experience what God had in store for them from the beginning and it pains him to even consider that any would miss out. As we see in Acts there were many rumors surrounding Paul’s faithfulness to the law and Paul wants them to be certain he is not apostate in regard to the law…he just understands that there is now something more in store. So it is not that Paul is against them that he writes these things.

It is also not the fact that God’s word had failed (Rom 9:6). What word? Apparently Paul is referencing the promise God made to Abraham in Genesis based on what he writes next, “For not all who are descended from Israel are Israel. Nor because they are his descendants are they all Abraham’s children. On the contrary, “It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned.” In other words, it is not the natural children who are God’s children, but it is the children of the promise who are regarded as Abraham’s offspring. For this was how the promise was stated: “At the appointed time I will return, and Sarah will have a son.” – Romans 9:6b-9

Paul’s point here is that Abraham had another son, Ishmael. Just because Ishmael was a physical and genetic descendant of Abraham did not mean he was guaranteed a share in the promise. The promise came through another son, Isaac. So it has been this way from the beginning…just because you are of the physical lineage of Abraham does not make you a part of Israel. So if those who are natural descendant can be outside the promise (and outside Israel) it would make sense that it could work the other way as well…those who were not natural descendants inside the promise could be allowed and become a part of Israel. Paul already covered this in chapter 4 – that it is not circumcision or lineage that makes you a child of Abraham (and thus an heir of the promise) but it is the one who has faith like Abraham had. Paul is saying that God did, indeed, make good on his promise to Abraham, you just have to understand the promise as God intended it from the beginning and not twist it to mean as long as you are physically descended you are in and those who are not physically descended are out…because Ishmael breaks the mold on that one.

It even goes a second generation. In 9:10-13 Paul uses the example of Jacob and Esau. God had plans for each of them even before they were born. Neither of them had opportunity to deserve good or bad but God made a choice in advance for each of them in order to advance his kingdom and carry out his will on the earth. If God can make these decisions for babies in the womb, before they were even circumcised or had opportunity to have faith…certainly God can allow in Gentiles who come to him through faith in Christ. The point is, God is justified to act freely to do what he sees as best for his creation and to fulfill his covenant promises. Before we take this too far it is important to remember that God was not predetermining their salvation there. God was making plans for them apart from their own choosing (see Cranfield on that). Witherington also weighs in on that issue,

The elder would serve the younger, not because the younger deserved better or had done better deeds, but because God In his unmerited favor decided to do it that way, showing mercy on Jacob more than Esau. But Esau’s historical role, however determined by God, does not mean that God cursed Esau and damned him for eternity. – BWIII, 253

In 9:13 we get to that verse that is hard to get our minds around. “Jacob I loved but Esau I hated.” How could God hate someone who had not been born or who at least took a path that God set in advance for him to take? Paul anticipates this objection in the next verse. The solution is in what Paul is trying to emphasize here. Paul is not trying to emphasize God’s hatred. Paul is emphasizing the fact that God had two different directions in mind for them and that was certain based on this strong language. Is God then unjust? Of course not (9:14). God has compassion on mercy when and where and for whom he desires to have it. It is not up to us and it is not based on our merits. It is based on God’s desire and will.

Let’s remember to not chase too many rabbits here and to try to answer questions Paul was not trying to raise. Paul’s whole point here is that God has always been this way and that it should come as no surprise for God to not allow some unfaithful Jews in and for him to allow faithful Gentiles in because God has always had compassion wherever he wanted to have it. Pharaoh was just one more example of God exerting his sovereignty. In 9:19-21 he uses the example of the potter and the clay to show that the potter is indeed free to purpose for a lump of clay whatever he desires and that the clay does not have the right to object because the potter knows how to make pots better than the clay knows and the potter is better suited to making pots out of clay than the clay is able to make itself a pot. Just the fact that we are in the potter’s hand at all is an act of mercy and compassion.

9:22-24 finally offer us a few solutions to the problems we encounter in this chapter. The fact is, God is patient. God is waiting. God wants all to turn and as we will see in chapter 10, God has made every opportunity for all of those involved, no matter what direction he purposed them for, to turn back to God (I believe this is true of Esau and Pharoah). Someone much smarter than myself, although I am not remembering who, made the point that the very fact that the Gentiles were allowed into the kingdom of God is evidence that God is able to show mercy to those who were once objects of God’s destructive wrath. If that is true, the same would be true of Israel if only they would turn back to God through faith in Christ.

In closing, we see in the final verses (9:30-33) that Christ is the stone that is either built upon through faith or is stumbled over through faithlessness. Chapter 10 will elaborate more on that but the point is, God has opened the doors to all who will believe, whether objects of wrath of of mercy, whether Jew or Gentile if they will respond in faith.

Romans 8:18-39 – There is More in Store

Have you ever wondered why the world has to be like this? God created this world, knowing it would get so messed up. He knew evil would happen. He knew suffering would happen. He knew rebellion and sin would happen. He even knew death would take place. And yet God still created. Romans 8:18-39 gives us a few hints that help us deal with why this world is the way it is. The fact is that there is more to the story than pain and suffering. The fact is, this world is not as God intended it to be. Just because God created mankind who would turn to sin and suffering instead of life and relationship with God does not mean God intended this world to be such a harsh place.

We see the way God intended the world to be in two places in scripture and the hints of how God intended it to be in between those two places. The first place is the Garden of Eden. Life was perfect. There was no suffering. There was no heartache. There were no earthquakes that killed millions or tornadoes to kill Adam’s offspring. The only one there to kill Adam’s offspring were Adam’s offspring. The perfect creation and intention of God was distorted. The image bearers rebelled against their creator in favor of something sinister and deathly and deceiving. And we know the rest of the story. The second place is in God’s Kingdom at the return of Christ. Revelation depicts a second Eden-like existence where God’s people dwell in perfect harmony with each other and with God. There is a river, the trees of Eden are back on the scene and we will walk and talk with God at the end of time just as they did at the beginning. The third place we catch a hint of how God intended the world to be and this point in time stands between the other two. The coming of Christ gave us glimpses of life as it was intended to be. Christ was on a mission to restore humanity back into proper relationship with God. In doing so we set things right. He gave sight to the blind, cleansed lepers, healed legs that couldn’t walk and even raised the dead. What is more, he forgave sins and offered himself as a ransom for us all. All of these things are restorative work that brought others and now bring us back into proper relationship with God.

In the first half of Romans 8 Paul lays out the work of Christ and the work of the Spirit to make us the children of God. And with that sonship comes an inheritance (8:14-17). But notice what happened with God’s “one and only” Son. He suffered before he received his glory so we, as God’s children, also expect to first share in Christ’s sufferings prior to sharing in his glory and the inheritance that awaits God’s children (8:17). In light of these things Paul writes, “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. The creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed.” From there Paul talks about the creation itself and how not just God’s children, but the creation itself, will be “liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God.” (8:21). Now that is an interesting verse if there ever was one. Creation itself will be liberated from the decay it was facing. That is God’s intention. God’s intention was not the decay itself. God’s intention was not that the world would be manipulated and mutilated and made into something it was never intended to be…just as God’s intention was never that his children would undergo that either…God’s intention was that both his children and the creation itself would full live. Because the creation, through sin and corruption, was mutilated into something else it had to be redeemed. Just as God’s people were made in his image but corrupted and mutilated through sin into something not intended by God also needed redemption. God WILL accomplish his intention in us and in the creation. In order to do so, both had to be redeemed/liberated. So God did not intend sin and death. In fact, God was willing to pay whatever price it took to put those things to rest and make things as He intended from the beginning.

If we can chase a rabbit for a moment we could ask, “How does this jive with what is written in 2 Peter 3:10-13?” which reads,

“But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare. Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming.That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat. But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness.”

This passage seems to indicate that what we see here and now will no longer be and that it will be completely annihilated. It would seem difficult to find a way to keep this consistent with what Paul is telling us in Romans 8, that the creation “will be liberated and brought into the freedom of the glory of the children of God” (Rom 8:21)? The context of 2 Peter 3 is that false teachers will be destroyed but that God’s children have something to look forward to. It may be that 2 Peter 3 is not so much a technical scientific explanation of exactly how the end times will occur but is more making the point to motivate God’s people to continue to live a godly and holy life in light of the acts of judgment to come upon the earth (symbolic of the evil doers and false teachers on the earth). We have typically been more informed by 2 Peter 3 on what will happen to the earth than we have let Romans 8 inform us on what is to happen. Even 2 Peter 3 says there will be a “new earth.”

In 8:22 Paul compares what the whole creation (I think that would include mankind as evidenced by 8:23) is going through is a lot like childbirth. It is painful but temporary and the result is new life. Childbirth is not intended to end with a death of the one who is going in labor and based on what Paul is telling us here, neither is that the case of the earth. We often skip over 8:23 – that God is going to redeem our bodies. We could spend a lot of time on that verse but I will just say it appears to me that in the kingdom, with our redeemed bodies, we will be hugable, touchable, and physical but obviously different and better – free from corruption and death and sin and the desires of the flesh (Rom 7). In 8:24-25 Paul tells his readers that these are important things to consider because in doing so we put our hope in the right place and it allows us to patiently endure the sufferings and trials that we presently must endure.

I am pretty certain that Romans 8:26-27 ties in with 8:18-23…we are suffering and that suffering produces an inward groaning that God hears and the Spirit takes up our groaning and wordless prayers (8:26) of suffering and lays them before God’s throne in a way that will benefit us and in line with God’s will. So we have Christ doing everything in his power to see us through, the Spirit interceding for us, God searching our hearts, and no condemnation…God is working in all these things for our good (8:28). Because of that we, again, can endure our present trials and suffering. Notice God is not waiting until the parousia to work for our good…God is doing it here and now. Some of the things God has done for our good are listed in 8:29-30 (predestined, called, justified, and glorified).

Beginning in verse 28 and continuing through the end of the chapter, Paul enters into what is probably one of the top 3 most encouraging chapters of scripture. The point is, If God has gone to such great lengths on our behalf…”who can be against us?” (8:31). If God has already been at work for our good…if God has already reconciled…if God has already justified…if God has already predestined, called, justified, and is now at work glorifying us…can anything stand in His way? There is no power big enough in all creation to undo what God is at work doing because God created everything and he is using everything under his power to leverage us into our proper, glorified and gracefully attained position as his children.

Only God can pull the plug on the plan and He certainly has no intention of doing so.

Them Bones, Them Bones, Them Dry Bones – A Plea for Christian Unity from Ezekiel 37

I love that song. How better to learn A&P than the Dry Bones song? That was the text of Gulfcoast Getaway 2009. Randy Harris and Paul Evans did an excellent job preaching that text and making it understandable and applicable for young people today. Harris preached the importance of a home and a place to belong (37:14). Evans spent a lot of time talking about what kinds of dry bones we might have in our own lives and what it takes for God to breath His Spirit back in to make our bones live again. Both were powerful and used by God to touch the lives of the students at Gulfcoast Getaway this year.

There is more to Ezekiel 37 than a cool story about bones coming to life. Ezekiel 37 is about a great restoration that God wants for His people. God wants to restore His people to life and He wants them to be unified. God says He is going to figuratively resurrect His people (from among the nations) and re-settle them back in the land of Israel. He will give them His Spirit and they will live. We often see a re-enactment of the exodus story in scripture – that God is the great liberator. But that is only half the story. God liberates His people from death and bondage (Exodus) so that he can settle them in the land that was promised to them (Joshua). Ezekiel 37 is a re-enactment of the Joshua conquest story – that there is a home for God’s people and it can only happen because of God’s power. It is also going to take God’s people fully relying on Him for them to inhabit the land. In that land they will live in relationship with God just as God intended from the beginning. The people will experience an exodus from their exile. They will be liberated from their captors and God will re-settle them in Israel.

Most people don’t get beyond 37:14 when teaching or preaching these verses but what follows is crucial. Ezekiel 37:15-28 is about the same thing – gathering His people and restoring them in the land (37:21). But it is about even more than that. It is about unity. When the valley of dry bones is raised into an army God said to Ezekiel, “Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel.” God says He will make his scattered and divided people one again (37:15-22). He will bring them back to live in the land of their heritage and worship God. God will dwell with them and He will be our God. When God raised the bones in the valley, He didn’t raise them up and divide them into different groups. He raised them as the whole house of Israel. They were a single army with a single identity and purpose. Then God tells Ezekiel to take two sticks and write the names of God’s divided people on them and make them one stick. God says they will all be one in His hand (37:19).

I think this passage has some tremendous implications for the Church in the United States. We are so divided and broken it isn’t even funny. The church in America needs some renewal. I am thankful that it is already happening and I think these verses have much to tell us about how God goes about renewing his people and resuscitating his church. Wouldn’t it be weird if the bones were raised, the flesh was put on them, and the Spirit breathed into the bones and they came alive…then they started dividing themselves into little groups where they could argue and disagree about certain pet issues and about how things were supposed to be done? Wouldn’t it be strange to take the stick God made one and break it in two again? We have fought and bickered and argued about so much minutia while people were literally dying lost around us. It behooves us to ask the question of what can make these dry bones live again? What will it take for us to be unified as Christians? It will take the Spirit of God coming in and among us to raise us up so that we can make our dwelling with God once again. But first He wants us to recognize that our situation is as grim as a valley of dry bones.

We have to understand that some components of the way we have always done things has made many people very, very dry. The youth of today have seen it and they are responding against that type of mentality. The church of tomorrow is going to be a very different place. I think there is going to be a HUGE push for unity. When you realize you are dying you start to worry less about who to fellowship and how others are worshipping and more about if the world is hearing that Jesus is Lord and that God is being glorified by our actions and attitudes. We are going to have to understand what our core beliefs are and which things are negotiable. Fellowship lines are going to be drawn up much looser in the coming years. Some will fear it and put up walls. Others will embrace it. I am honestly a little worried that there are some large rifts coming in the next 10-15 years in Christianity which is ironic because those rifts will be over unity movements.

A Couple of Blog Series to Enjoy

Michael Spenser (imonk) has been doing a series on the Gospel of Mark that is worth following. After 7 posts he is only through verse 15.

  1. Why Study Mark?
  2. The Beginning
  3. The Forerunner
  4. The Baptism
  5. The Temptation
  6. The Message (Part 1)
  7. The Message (Part 2)

Also Jay Guin has been reviewing Scot McKnight’s new book Blue Parakeet: Rethinking How You Read the Bible about how we read the Bible and how we apply what we find. I was going to spend more time reviewing the book myself but since he has done such a fine job why reinvent the wheel for now?

  1. Introduction
  2. What is a Blue Parakeet?
  3. Reading with Tradition
  4. The Bible as Story
  5. Wiki-stories
  6. The Story’s Plot
  7. Relational Reading
  8. Missional Listening
  9. Discerning
  10. End Notes
  11. Restoration Movement Parakeets
  12. The Story and Our Salvation
  13. How Things Could Have Been Different – Race
  14. How Things Could Have Been Different – Division
  15. The Sermon on the Mount
  16. How to Teach Hermeneutics

The Government and Personal Responsibility

Rex and Mark had some very insightful words to say in discussing the post on being a good citizen of the world. I first wanted to say thanks to everyone in that discussion including Philip and Tammie for discussing it in such a loving and kind manner.

Here is what Rex had to say:
“Everybody wants to govern themselves while wishing the government to govern everyone else. One person want the goverment to legislate green laws and gun laws but make no laws regarding family/marriage issues, while the other side wants the goverment to legislate the whole marriage question but stay out of the economic issues and so forth. In the end it looks like everyone want the government when the government suits their cause but would like to kick the lawmakers to the curb when the legislative process interferes with their wants.

It makes no difference what laws the government does or does not make, laws will not change hearts and until hearts change there will be no meaningful and productive change. The only way for hearts to change is for those who preach change to live out that change and show the rest why the said change is right.

Grace and peace,

Rex”

Mark had this to say in response:
“Yeah. We’ll find shortcomings with absolutely anyone–politician or not–if we put them under a bright enough spotlight or a strong enough microscope. I genuinely hope Obama does well as president, but I’m unconvinced that he’s the immaculate shining beacon of hope like he’s allowed people to claim about himself. I expect him not to fulfill the vast majority of his promises; in some cases I hope he doesn’t, but in other cases I hope I’m pleasantly surprised. I don’t wish bad on either him or his family.

I think Rex’s words are wise: my job is to watch my own actions and inconsistencies. If I have time to watch mine and several other people’s simultaneously, then I’m probably not watching my own well enough.

As a minister, I know what it is to be nitpicked, and if you’re going to claim an important leadership role in society, it’s part of the job description. There’s a lot for which to be accountable, and a person who makes such abundant promises is inviting people to expect him to make good on them. We shall see. Hopefully we don’t cross any lines in expecting him to be a person of his word.

Randy Harris had some good things to say about this topic a few weeks ago. He said, very simply, “There are some things of which you can be confident: 1. The world is going to be messed up. 2. No matter who the President is, he won’t be able to fix all of it. 3. God will continue to work and to bless us in surprising ways.””

Wise words that I certainly need to take into consideration in my own life.