Is your preacher, preaching?

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Spent some time in church on this Lord’s Day? Maybe you heard preaching. Maybe not.

Preaching is important.

The Bible teaches that “it pleased God through the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe.” (I Corinthians 1:21)

So what exactly is “preaching”?

  • Is it just “God talk” by somebody standing in front of a congregation?
  • Is it “hooping” in the black church tradition?
  • Is it an academic lecture steeped in the Hebrew and Greek?

Biblical preaching is more the message than the method. This is what Jesus had to say about the message:

He told them, “This is what is written: The Messiah will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance for the forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. (Luke 24:46-48)

A lot of what passes for preaching these days is motivational, inspiring, even entertaining. It makes people feel good, but it’s not preaching. It doesn’t bring people closer to God. It requires nothing. It doesn’t share the Good News: our sins can be forgiven because we have a Savior in Jesus Christ. He died so that we might live. Real, biblical preaching introduces us to that truth.

I seldom hear preaching that mentions sin or the need for repentance. My question: if there’s no sin, what was the point of Jesus’ death and resurrection? Why do we bother with church? God is not some adornment to our lives so that we can be the “best version of ourselves” (I actually heard some preacher use this phrase!) In Christ, we are a new creation, crucified so that it’s “no longer I who live but Christ lives in me.” (Galatians 2:20)

The Apostle Paul instructed his protégé Timothy to “Preach the word” (2 Tim 4:2) What “word”? Paul’s answer: “The word of faith, which we preach.” (Romans 10:8) What did Paul preach?

Now brothers and sisters, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and in which you have taken your stand. By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain.

For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures (I Corinthians 15: 1-4)

Paul declared preaching to be both gospel-centered and Holy Spirit-empowered. “And my speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man’s wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power.” (I Corinthians 2:4)

God uses preaching to save people who believe and to grow them up in the faith. It is a supernatural thing. If that’s not happening where you worship, consider the source and find a place where it is.

“How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can anyone preach unless they are sent? As it is written: ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!’” (Romans 10:14-15)

 

Transforming Love

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Before everyone in my home state completely loses their heads over HB2, North Carolina’s birth gender bathroom legislation, may I say a word to my fellow Christians?

Transgender people are people, too.

I get that we may not understand how or why people are transgender.

I get that we may disagree with their notion of “gender identity.”

I get that we may not even like that there is such a thing as “transgender.”

I don’t fully “get” what it is to be transgender. I grew up in a time when gender was static.

What I do “get” is that people are created in God’s image. God loves people. He so loved people that He sent His only son to die to save us. (John 3:16) Save us from what? Whatever would distort the image of God in us. And He didn’t wait until we “got it.”

“God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8 my emphasis)

Gender wasn’t always a general topic of conversation. Need I say that times have changed? At my house, we do talk about gender and sometimes late into the night. Frankly, we don’t always agree.

Convinced that being transgender is not new, my spouse doesn’t know why we suddenly need a bathroom law. My 20-something former gender studies student offered a primer, adding that this is not  an abstract notion. My 20-something actually knows transgender people who have been rejected by family, especially their church-going relatives.

What is missing from most Christian discourse about being transgender is any mention of the love of God, the mercy of God, the patience of God. Have we forgotten our condition when Christ found us? Overcome by deception, drunkenness, greed, lying, sexual dysfunction and perversion etc. “Such were some of you, but you are washed.”  (I Cor 6:11)

There are Scriptural reasons to disagree with a host of recent societal shifts, but no Bible passage promotes being hateful in the name of the Lord. God is not eager to condemn people. God is for people, and He keeps the conversation going.

In Genesis 4, to my surprise, God is still talking to Cain, who committed the first murder recorded in Scripture. This guy had whacked his brother Abel after inviting him out for a stroll. Premeditated, unprovoked killing. When God inquired about Abel’s whereabouts, Cain gave a smart-mouthed reply: “Am I my brother’s keeper?”

Yet, God didn’t punish Cain with immediate death. He didn’t allow anyone else to kill Cain either. Cain lived to marry, father children, build cities. God’s grace, mercy, love.

Let’s not allow HB2, or whatever else may come along, to pull us off message. The gospel is Good News, a message of love shared by loving people. Christ is not glorified by angry talking heads or screaming picketers carrying banners bearing hateful slogans. The fruit of His spirit is love; and love never fails.

“Whoever does not love, does not know God, because God is love.” (1 John 4:8)

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What if the worst does happen… then what?

Modern-day, western Christianity says if we really love God, if we have enough faith, we’re protected by a force field that nothing truly bad can penetrate. Should something terrible manage to get through, this fiction continues, we can pray it right out of our lives.

My real life experience has proven otherwise. Bad things happen. And sometimes the only way out is to walk through.

No matter how many crosses or garlic cloves actors use to ward off movie vampires and murderous mummies, in life there is no Christian talisman. The cross, after all, is synonymous with a torturous death that had to be endured before it could be overcome.

Jesus is frank:

In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.(John 16:33b)

Should we encounter a nightmare scenario, it won’t mean that evil has won. Those who trust God may have to walk through the valley of the shadow of death, but Christ walks with us to the other side.

Our relationship with God doesn’t have to crack under the strain of hard things. It can survive and deepen. Job is the Old Testament example.

By God’s own testimony, Job was blameless. (Job 1:8) Yet, God allowed this guy’s life to fall apart without warning and without cause. (Job 2:3) In a single day, he lost his wealth, his children. On some other day, his health was attacked. There had been a “hedge” of protection around his life. (Job 1:10)  Clearly, for reasons that are inexplicable beyond His Sovereignty, God sometimes allows the enemy to get at us.

We know that Job kept faith, though he had so many questions. God brought him to a deeper understanding of Himself and restored Job without ever explaining why things happened as they did.

God still causes His people to triumph through tragedy.

  • A friend’s only child, a son, was murdered. She endured the court trial, saw his killer convicted and jailed. Despite profound loss and grief, she somehow kept believing and trusting God. Decades later, she still says with conviction that “God is good.”
  • A family’s home caught fire while they slept and burned to the ground, a complete loss. Everyone escaped alive, including a visiting missionary couple later said to be accidentally responsible for the blaze. Think this family struggled with having missionaries set their house on fire? Still, their faith and their marriage survived a life in ashes.
  • A man who had been diagnosed with stage 4 cancer stood in church to proclaim that a year later he is cancer-free. A miracle to be sure. Yet he had not escaped suffering. He had endured cancer treatment and had, by God’s grace, prevailed.

In this Holy Week, when we Christians remember how Jesus Christ became our Savior, it’s worth noting that the captain of our salvation was made perfect through suffering, the very thing most of us spend a lifetime trying to avoid.

Christ “tasted death for every man” (Hebrews 2:9), a torturous, humiliating, excruciating death. Nobody dragged him to the cross. He went willingly, drinking to the last drop the worst the world had to offer. Three days later, He got up fully alive, overcoming the very thing that sought to overcome Him.

No matter what happens from now on, Jesus Christ has fully prepared those who trust in Him for what happens next. “No, in all these things, we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.” (Romans 8:37)

 

 

Are You Dead or Alive?

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Sin doesn’t make me bad.

It doesn’t make me unacceptable.

It doesn’t even make me unfit or unworthy.

Sin makes me dead.

I don’t know one person who is able to make themselves un-dead; which is what makes Jesus and His Resurrection relevant.

Every other person who ever has lived and died is still in a cemetery, crypt or some other final resting place. They cannot help themselves. And they cannot help me. They are dead.

Then there’s Jesus, whose bodily resurrection we’re soon to celebrate as the highest holy day in the Christian calendar: Easter. Jesus died to save sinners, got up from the grave on the third day and ever lives to intercede for us.

“Dead” was the human condition when Jesus came riding into Jerusalem on a donkey to accompanying shouts of “Hosanna!” These people were breathing, talking and walking around, but they were spiritually disconnected from God, dead in trespasses and sins. Know anybody like that?

Jesus provided the cure for this zombie-like existence through His subsequent crucifixion, burial and resurrection.

Christianity teaches that every human being past, present and future is DOA, dead on arrival, because of sin. Think Book of Genesis: Adam and Eve disobey God and everyone thereafter has sin stamped into our DNA. (Romans 5:12) Sin isn’t just about what we do, it’s about who we are: born sinners.

Nobody needs to be told they sin. We know it intuitively even though we may argue the point. Even if we won’t admit our sin, we know when we’ve been sinned against. The Bible clearly says “all have sinned” (Romans 3:23). Sin pays, but nothing we want to collect. The wages of sin is death, but God’s gift is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Jesus, Son of God and Son of Man, came as a sinless sacrifice to endure the death penalty imposed on sinners. With sin’s price paid, we are offered a free pardon and the opportunity to enjoy life to the full.

Who doesn’t want to cheat death? Jesus offers life to the dead. This Easter, instead of just gathering with other dead men to go through another religious ceremony, why not accept the offer?

Jesus said unto her, I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live:   (John 11:25)