Wednesday, October 22, 2014

The Joy of Gospel Repentance

When most people (even Christians) hear the word "Repent" they may think of old time revivals or extremely conservative churches that are continually yelling at their people and often using the word "Repent" over and over again to make people feel guilty for all the ways that they have sinned and fallen short.

Is that what you think of when you think of repentance?

Repentance is not about guilt, but about grace. It is actually God's grace to us to restore to us the joy of our salvation and see the Kingdom of God flood through us and flood through our city.

To repent means to "turn", to re-orient your mind, heart, and entire life to a new normal. In spiritual terms it means to turn away from your sin and turn towards the Lord. This is the basic definition of repentance and it is at the heart of the message of Jesus.

Why?

Because all people have turned away from the Lord and gone on our way. We have not turned to God, but away from Him. We have sought to create our own meaning, purpose, and joy outside of God and this has fractured our relationship with God.
Isaiah 53:6a says "We all, like sheep have gone astray, each of us has turned their own way." We all have turned away from the Lord and looked to other things to bring us what only the Lord can bring us. Because of this reality that exists within us we need to turn back to the Lord and return to Him and that happens through repentance.

Their is an initial repentance that exists, a one time act of repentance where God saves us and we become children of the Kingdom. In that moment we pass over from death to life and are welcomed into God's family by trusting in Jesus Christ. But repentance is not simply a one time act and then we move on from it because we continue to sin and turn away from God even after God has rescued us.

Repentance does not save us. Christ alone saves us through his mercy. The Bible does not teach us to practice a life of repentance so that God will keep saving us and keep loving us. The Bible teaches us to practice repentance to restore to us the joy of our salvation, to bring us back to the healing love of God. God initiates repentance towards us, so it is a gift and grace of God to invite us to return to Him and have our hearts and lives re-connected to the joy of Jesus and disconnected from finding joy outside of Jesus.

Repentance is not something to fear, but something to welcome because it is God who is inviting us to repent and turn back to Him. We are already in the family and loved by Him and repentance is a reminder to our hearts of this reality that we can easily forget.

There is great joy in gospel repentance. And that is the type of repentance God longs for us to practice before him and in our churches and communities. There is a great difference between gospel repentance and religious repentance.

Religious Repentance is me-centered.
Gospel Repentance is God-centered.

Religious repentance (RR) is about atoning (making up for) my sins through better behavior.
Gospel repentance (GR) is about trusting in the atoning work of Christ to cover all of my behavior, good and bad.

In RR I am grieved because of the consequences of turning away from God.
In GR I am grieved because I turned away from God at all.

In RR I believe if I am a better man that God will be pleased with me.
In GR I believe that God is pleased with me because Jesus is a better man.

In RR I only repent because of my unrighteousness. (the bad things I have done)
In GR I repent of the unrighteous and righteous things I have done knowing it is only through Jesus that I am justified.

In RR I repent less and less because every time I do it it crushes me because my life is built on my performance. Every time I have to repent I feel like I have failed so I repent less and less.
In GR I repent more and more because every time I do it it restores the joy of my salvation b/c my life is built on the performance of Jesus. Every time I have to repent there is a little bitterness, but there is greater sweetness because of what Jesus has done for me to forgive me.

My hope for you is that you respond to the call of gospel repentance, that you turn from finding meaning and value and purpose outside of God and turn back to Him again and again to be reminded that true meaning, value, and purpose is found only through Him and what He has done for us through His son--Jesus Christ.



Sunday, April 20, 2014

Back from the Future


Mary stood weeping outside the tomb, and as she wept she stooped to look into the tomb. 12 And she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had lain, one at the head and one at the feet. 13 They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” 14 Having said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing, but she did not know that it was Jesus. 15 Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” 16 Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned and said to him in Aramaic,[b] “Rabboni!”
-John 20:11-16

I am writing this early on Easter Sunday, just as the darkness is beginning to break into the dawn of another morning. It was perhaps this time of the morning when Mary and the other women went to the tomb to see their dead friend Jesus. The Sabbath had ended and so now they could go see the grave where Jesus had been placed.

But Jesus was not there. Mary Magdalene later returned to the tomb to see again for herself that Jesus was truly not there. And she began to weep. Not only had this man been tortured and crucified, but now someone had apparently stolen his body so they could not even properly take care of his dead body with their spices.

Then she spots a man whom she presumes to be the gardener and she asks where they have taken the body of Jesus.
Then the gardener says her name, "Mary", and immediately she realizes it is Jesus.

I have always imagined the great tenderness and love by which Jesus uttered Mary's name, the way you might say the name of a child who has been hurt or is crying. This is way Jesus says Mary's name and reveals himself as the risen Christ.
And here we have the true beginning of all things. In a sense, Jesus Christ is the ultimate gardner. It was through Jesus that all creation came into existence, that the Garden of Eden was planted and grown. And now we see Jesus in another Garden, taking care of this garden as one of his first acts in his resurrected body.

GK Chesterton writes "On the third day the friends of Christ coming at daybreak to the place found the grave empty and the stone rolled away. In varying ways they realized the new wonder; but even they hardly realized that the world had died in the night. What they were looking at was the first day of a new creation, with a new heaven and a new earth; and in a semblance of the gardener God walked again in the garden, in the cool not of the evening but the dawn.

This is the first day of the new creation, the glorious future that has now invaded the present.
Jesus has come back, if you will, from the future, to inaugurate God's kingdom right here and right now. Now death is seen as foreign, not simply a natural part of the circle of life. Eternal life is what we are made for, what we are designed for, and through the resurrection of Jesus death has been defeated. The true circle of life begins with life and ends with life!

We are a resurrection people. Paul desires to know the power of the resurrection, to live life with a different kind of power, one based in the future world God is making through us right here and now.
NT Wright writes “Jesus's resurrection is the beginning of God's new project not to snatch people away from earth to heaven but to colonize earth with the life of heaven. That, after all, is what the Lord's Prayer is about.”

On earth as it is in heaven. Now the mission of the church begins, bringing about the glorious shalom of heaven into the broken places of this earth, bringing the future right here into the present. Seeing death swallowed up by the beauty of resurrection. We are now to join God in attending to the garden of new creation, to use our marriages, our jobs (no matter what they are!), our money, our hobbies, our everything and anything to see the garden of new creation bloom in radiant splendor.

Jesus says "Now it has begun!" And so we must get to work, get our hands down into the dirt of the soil of this world with the certain hope that the new world is already here, though we still only see it dimly. The resurrection is no mere metaphor, it is the great reality of the world, the truest thing which has ever happened in history, and to it we must continue to come back again and again.

So into the new world we march, not knowing all that we will experience or encounter, but sure of whom we will meet there, the one whose hands still bear the wounds of the cross, but whose voice calls out to us by our very names and invites us to proclaim that Christ has died, Christ is risen, and Christ will come again.

NT Wright sums up what it means to follow the resurrected Jesus this way, "Made for spirituality, we wallow in introspection. Made for joy, we settle for pleasure. Made for justice, we clamor for vengeance. Made for relationship, we insist on our own way. Made for beauty, we are satisfied with sentiment. But new creation has already begun. The sun has begun to rise. Christians are called to leave behind, in the tomb of Jesus Christ, all that belongs to the brokenness and incompleteness of the present world ... That, quite simply, is what it means to be Christian: to follow Jesus Christ into the new world, God's new world, which he has thrown open before us.”

The new world awaits! Let us go and discover it together and marvel eternally at all that our God has done for us.

Friday, April 18, 2014

He Emptied Himself


"He was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant,[a] being born in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross."
-Philippians 2:6-8 (ESV)

Another Friday in Jerusalem.
Another crucifixion.

Thousands had been crucified before and thousands would be crucified after this date in history. This morning three men were on the docket for their supposed threat to the dominance of the Roman Empire. They would be executed. A continual reminder to the people of who was in charge.

But I can imagine that there was something different about this Friday in April 33 A.D. A few more onlookers watching Jesus of Nazareth carry his cross through the streets of the city up to the place of the Skull just outside of Jerusalem. This was the man who had been performing miracles, feeding the people, teaching about Yahweh, and proclaiming himself as God's Son. He had caused a stir throughout the country. An oppressed, subjugated, and enslaved people had reason to possibly hope again--in this man.

Would God finally be taking down the Roman Empire establishing his own Royal Kingdom with Jesus as the King? Would there finally be freedom for the chosen people of God?

The eyes of thousands followed his blood-stained journey through the streets, and with each painful step wondering if this suffering man could truly be God in the flesh. Memories of him telling stories at a sunrise or holding out his hand to touch a condemned woman or sitting with the little children filling their minds as they watched him stagger up the street. Let's remember the good times, perhaps they thought. Not this moment, not this time.

And as He was hoisted up on the cross, nails driven through his body, many began to walk back down the hill to their homes, hopes crushed and hearts broken over a man, just a man apparently, who was near death.

He truly did empty himself. He spent his entire life emptying himself. He was simply about the will of his Father. And it was the will of the Father to crush him, to offer him up as a sacrificial lamb for the sins of many. And it was the will of Son to obey, even to death on a cross.

He was humiliated for us. He became nothing for us. He was mocked, whipped, beaten, shamed, abused, executed...for us.
He was emptied for us. So that our empty lives, empty from sin, from brokenness, from living for ourselves could be filled with his presence. If he did not empty himself fully then our lives would have been eternally empty of the only relationship we truly need.

Jesus did not grasp for equality with God so that He could grant eternity with God for us.

He could have called his legion of angels. He could have said no--I can't drink this cup of wrath. He could have abandoned us to the eternity we deserve without him. But he didn't. The angels stayed in heaven. He drank the cup of wrath. He felt the abandonment of the Father so we wouldn't ever FEEL that. Ever.
He endured in his death what we had earned with our lives--a blood-soaked cross from sin-soaked lives.

As the sun set over Jerusalem on Friday night I am sure that the mood was one that the people of Israel had felt many times before--bitter disappointment. God's chosen people went to sleep full of tears, anger, and hopelessness.

What they couldn't know then (and what many still don't know even now) is that God himself had truly walked before them that day, and that he had lived among them, laughed among them, cried among them, and finally at the end--suffered among them. And when they saw Jesus as his weakest, that is when the glory of God was truly at its greatest.

Another Friday in Jerusalem.
But a crucifixion unlike any other.

The great Anglican pastor John Stott writes in his book The Cross of Christ

"I could never myself believe in God, if it were not for the cross. The only God I believe in is the One Nietzsche ridiculed as “God on the cross.” In the real world of pain, how could one worship a God who was immune to it? I have entered many Buddhist temples in different Asian countries and stood respectfully before the statue of the Buddha, his legs crossed, arms folded, eyes closed, the ghost of a smile playing round his mouth, a remote look on his face, detached from the agonies of the world. But each time after a while I have had to turn away. And in imagination I have turned instead to that lonely, twisted, tortured figure on the cross, nails through hands and feet, back lacerated, limbs wrenched, brow bleeding from thorn-pricks, mouth dry and intolerably thirsty, plunged in Godforsaken darkness. That is the God for me! He laid aside his immunity to pain. He entered our world of flesh and blood, tears and death. He suffered for us. Our sufferings become more manageable in the light of his. There is still a question mark against human suffering, but over it we boldly stamp another mark, the cross that symbolizes divine suffering. “The cross of Christ . . . is God’s only self-justification in such a world” as ours. . . . “The other gods were strong; but thou wast weak; they rode, but thou didst stumble to a throne; But to our wounds only God’s wounds can speak, And not a god has wounds, but thou alone.”


But God demonstrates His own love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
Romans 5:8