reFUNCTIONation suggestion # 49 : May we repent of too often being from only ONE tribe, tongue, & nation.

banquet wineRevelation 7 describes the gathered followers of Jesus in heaven as from every tribe and every tongue and every nation.

After this I looked, and there was a vast multitude from every nation, tribe, people, and language, which no one could number, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were robed in white with palm branches in their hands. And they cried out in a loud voice: Salvation belongs to our God, who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb!
(Revelation 7:9-10 HCSB)

Jesus prayed in what is called “The Lord’s Prayer” for “Your Kingdom come, Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”

Therefore, you should pray like this: Our Father in heaven, Your name be honored as holy. Your kingdom come. Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
(Matthew 6:9-10 HCSB)

I would suggest that those who consider themselves “churched” in the present day do not look “on earth as it is in heaven,” at least as described in Revelation 7. We need to repent of too often being from only ONE tribe, tongue, and nation.

What’s insane is that local churches typically represent only ONE tribe, tongue, and nation, and yet local churches typically are not ONE. We tend to be one of the most divided, disunited groups in our culture, which completely ignores the very prayer our Lord and Savior prayed for us in John 17!

I’m praying not only for them But also for those who will believe in me Because of them and their witness about me. The goal is for all of them to become one heart and mind— Just as you, Father, are in me and I in you, So they might be one heart and mind with us. Then the world might believe that you, in fact, sent me. The same glory you gave me, I gave them, So they’ll be as unified and together as we are— I in them and you in me. Then they’ll be mature in this oneness, And give the godless world evidence That you’ve sent me and loved them In the same way you’ve loved me.
(John 17:20-23 MSG)

How can this be?!?

Paul wrote to the church of Corinth that they were ministers of reconciliation.

For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised. From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
(2 Corinthians 5:14-21 ESV)

Again, what’s insane is that those who consider themselves “churched” tend to be models of un-reconciliation rather than ministers of reconciliation. The difficult truth is that those who consider themselves “churched” today are more racist and more segregated than we would ever want to admit to being.

The Gospel of Jesus is the message of undeserved reconciliation between us and God. The church, therefore, ought to embody that Gospel by being one of the most united, singularly-focused, gospel-purposed, reconciled groups of selfish, diverse, opinionated, obstinate people on earth.

That’s how the world will know we are disciples of Jesus.

“I give you a new command: Love one another. Just as I have loved you, you must also love one another. By this all people will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”
(John 13:34-35 HCSB)

What would have to change for that to be the case? I would suggest at least these three reFUNCTIONs:

:: ACTUALLY STUDY & TRY TO UNDERSTAND OTHER TRIBES, TONGUES, & NATIONS.
Get to know their customs and culture and what matters to them and what doesn’t. Get to know how integrated they want to be. Don’t expect them just to adjust to your own ways. Engage in their ways, too. Grow to be one together.

:: ACTUALLY RECOGNIZE THE PREDICAMENT THAT SOME TRIBES, TONGUES, & NATIONS ARE IN.
For example, I heard one teacher articulate that for the black community in America, it is like they joined a Monopoly game where all the white players had all the prime properties and were the prime owners. That is a very wise, appropriate way to describe it, in my opinion. It’s not just a white-black thing, though. This is about Christ-followers of all tribes and tongues and nations uniting around Jesus. We have to recognize the background of each other.

:: ACTUALLY RELATE WITH ONE ANOTHER AS FRIENDS INSTEAD OF JUST AT EVENTS.
We do stuff and call it “unity” events. But it’s not. We hold conferences and emphasize the need for reconciliation. But it may not lead to change. Actual engagement in relationship in which our friendships grow to become families made one in the love of Christ by the power of His resurrection.

Lord Jesus, You have made us one with You and one in You. Please help us to reflect and embody what You have done to reconcile us with God and with one another. Please have mercy on us, for we don’t know what we ‘re doing. Please help us to give that same kind of grace to each other.

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reFUNCTIONation suggestion # 17 : Say “you are saved” instead of “you need to be saved.”

imageThis is another one of those suggestions I would ask you to read fully and thoroughly before you label me or curse me. And I would even go so far as to say this is not a matter of semantics. It is a matter of boasting in the cross as well as delivering the Truth of Jesus in the tone and skin of grace (as we focused on yesterday).

I would suggest to you that those who consider themselves “churched” need to rethink what we declare regarding salvation.

Growing up, I heard many traveling evangelists dogmatically declare, “YOU NEED TO BE SAVED!!!” Theologians argue passionately about those who are saved and whether we have a choice to be saved and how old someone has to be in order to understand salvation. People state, “I walked an aisle and prayed a prayer when I was a kid,” but then they questioned their sincerity and wondered, “Was I actually saved?” Even as recently as yesterday, I heard a Baptist college professor state, “When I was saved 42 years ago…”

What if the declaration of the Gospel of Jesus should NOT be “YOU NEED TO BE SAVED?” What if when the church declares and demonstrates the Gospel of Jesus, it is instead a declaration that “YOU ARE SAVED!!!”

In the context of the reFUNCTIONation of those who consider themselves “churched” clothing their declarations of Truth in the tone and skin of grace, let’s first ask (1) Is “YOU ARE SAVED” true? AND (2) How is that declaration “truth and grace” compared to “YOU NEED TO BE SAVED?”

Is “YOU ARE SAVED” true?

Jesus said in John 3:17, “For God did not send His Son into the world that He might condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through Him.” Scholars of the New Testament affirm that the Scriptures speak of “salvation” in three tenses – have been saved, are being saved, will be saved.

Simply put, we have been saved because of Jesus, and because of His finished work alone (Ephesians 1:3-14 and 2:4-10). We are being saved in the sense that we are living in the security of what Jesus has already done as well as the reality of what He has already done being worked in and out of us (Philippians 2:12-18). We will be saved when Christ returns to usher us into the fullness of His glory (Colossians 3:1-4) (oh yeah, and Revelation).

Jesus asserted:

“I assure you: Anyone who hears My word and believes Him who sent Me has eternal life and will not come under judgment but has passed from death to life.” 
(John 5:24 HCSB)

Jesus declared:

“It is finished!”
(John 19:30 HCSB)

Paul wrote:

So then, as through one trespass there is condemnation for everyone, so also through one righteous act there is life-giving justification for everyone. For just as through one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so also through the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous. The law came along to multiply the trespass. But where sin multiplied, grace multiplied even more so that, just as sin reigned in death, so also grace will reign through righteousness, resulting in eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. 
(Romans 5:18-21 HCSB)

Therefore, no condemnation now exists for those in Christ Jesus, because the Spirit’s law of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death. 
(Romans 8:1-2 HCSB)

But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love that He had for us, made us alive with the Messiah even though we were dead in trespasses. You are saved by grace! Together with Christ Jesus He also raised us up and seated us in the heavens, so that in the coming ages He might display the immeasurable riches of His grace through His kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For you are saved by grace through faith, and this is not from yourselves; it is God’s gift — not from works, so that no one can boast. 
(Ephesians 2:4-9 HCSB)

The words are literally penned by Paul in the Ephesians passage – YOU ARE SAVED!!! The language of the New Testament indicates this declaration as a present reality. So, yes, “YOU ARE SAVED” is true.

But how does shifting our salvation declaration language reFUNCTION us to be the church as Jesus intended?

How is the declaration “YOU ARE SAVED” truth and grace compared to “YOU NEED TO BE SAVED?”

Because YOU ARE SAVED is a “truth and grace” declaration, whereas “YOU NEED TO BE SAVED” is not. If we want to get technical here, the declaration “you need to be saved” is not a Biblically true statement at all. Why? Because it does not even communicate the Truth that Jesus has saved and is saving and will save. In fact, it places the onus on us, which clearly the Scriptures assert is an impossibility. If I need to be saved after what Jesus already accomplished, then I am belittling the work of the cross.

“YOU ARE SAVED” is the news of Truth and Grace. “YOU NEED TO BE SAVED” is not.

If you are stuck on the tradition of declaring “you need to be saved,” maybe at least consider rewording it to something like “please believe that Jesus saves.” The declaration might be “Will you believe that you are saved by grace?” But let’s not belittle the before-time-began plan to both create and re-create humanity through the already-finished work of the rugged cross and the empty tomb.

In conclusion, if I declare to someone, “YOU ARE SAVED,” how should they respond? Is licentiousness okay? “Great, then I can now do whatever I want!” Paul rebuked that kind of taking grace for granted with a “may it never be!!!”

What should we say then? Should we continue in sin so that grace may multiply? Absolutely not! How can we who died to sin still live in it? Or are you unaware that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? Therefore we were buried with Him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too may walk in a new way of life. For if we have been joined with Him in the likeness of His death, we will certainly also be in the likeness of His resurrection. For we know that our old self was crucified with Him in order that sin’s dominion over the body may be abolished, so that we may no longer be enslaved to sin, since a person who has died is freed from sin’s claims. Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with Him, because we know that Christ, having been raised from the dead, will not die again. Death no longer rules over Him. For in light of the fact that He died, He died to sin once for all; but in light of the fact that He lives, He lives to God. 
(Romans 6:1-10 HCSB)

Faith is our response. Belief that Christ saved. Continuing to remember what He did and trust it was enough, even as we battle with recurring sin, believing Christ is saving us. Enduring belief, when we come to the end of a life of good AND evil still believing that Christ saved us demonstrating the goodness and grace of God.

We are saved by grace through faith (Ephesians 2:8-10). Jesus told numerous people, “Your faith has made you well.” Jesus even declared that unbelief condemns (John 3:18). Therefore, our declaration of Grace and Truth, our communication of the Gospel, our introducing people to the Messiah Jesus might go something like this:

“You are saved! Jesus has saved us! His life and death and resurrection saved us from the death-sentence of knowing good AND evil. Saved us from a life of slavery to self and sin. Saved us into the goodness of the family of God. Saved us to now go and tell this good news that Jesus saves to any and all who will listen. YOU ARE SAVED!!! Do you BELIEVE?”

For while we were still helpless, at the appointed moment, Christ died for the ungodly. For rarely will someone die for a just person — though for a good person perhaps someone might even dare to die. But God proves His own love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us! Much more then, since we have now been declared righteous by His blood, we will be saved through Him from wrath. For if, while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, then how much more, having been reconciled, will we be saved by His life! And not only that, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ. We have now received this reconciliation through Him. 
(Romans 5:6-11 HCSB)

As Judah Smith preached:

Your greatest challenge is not your discipline, your devotion, your focus. Your greatest challenge is believing the Gospel. Could it be that there’s a God with a love so scandalous, so wide, so deep, so vast, so high, so expansive, so welcoming, so inclusive, [Who says], “Let Me have your sin.”

That theology professor was not “saved” 42 years ago any more than I was “saved” when I was six years old. We may have begun “believing” then. And we are still believing now. But the “good news,” the Grace and Truth, is that we were historically saved in April of 27 A.D., give or take a few years. The sincerity of our willing Savior to walk the Via Delarosa and pray “It is finished” trumps whether we were sincere when we walked an aisle and prayed “the sinners prayer.”

YOU ARE SAVED!!!

Will you believe? 

reFUNCTIONation suggestion # 16 : May the Truth be declared & demonstrated in the tone & skin of grace.

image

I heard it again today from a preacher friend. “Our country is far from God, and the church needs to rise up and declare the truth!” There was a chorus of “AMENs!!!” – except from me. I actually cringe when I hear this admonition, especially in the context of a bunch of baptist preachers (which I am also, by the way).

What do we really mean when we say statements like that one? What will “rising up” accomplish? What does “rising up” really look like? And how are we defining “truth?”

The Gospel of John may help clarify this for those who consider themselves “churched,” if we will have ears to hear.

John seemed to connect the word “truth” with the word “law.” Whether he thought of them as synonymous is unclear, but what is clear is that he saw them in relationship to one another. Why am I so sure of this? Because of John’s introduction.

In John 1:14-18, John seems to contrast the way “law” was delivered by Moses with the way “truth” was delivered by Jesus. Check it out:

The Word became flesh and took up residence among us. We observed His glory, the glory as the One and Only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John testified concerning Him and exclaimed, “This was the One of whom I said, ‘The One coming after me has surpassed me, because He existed before me.’ ”) Indeed, we have all received grace after grace from His fullness, for the law was given through Moses, grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God. The One and Only Son — the One who is at the Father’s side — He has revealed Him. 
(John 1:14-18 HCSB)

John wrote that they had observed the glory of the Father in the grace AND truth of the Son. He went on to declare that we have all received an abundance of grace – “grace after grace,” pointing to the way Moses delivered law in comparison to the way Jesus delivered truth. Verse 18 helps us understand what John is doing here. John asserted that “no one has ever seen God.” But Jesus “has revealed Him.”

Whereas Moses delivered rules that commanded lovely and gracious living, Jesus delivered the Truth that revealed the love and grace of the Life-Giver. The Law more than anything else exposed our unlovely, greedy living. In contrast, “grace and truth” exposed how loving and gracious God is.

John would go on later in his Gospel to quote Jesus as teaching, “I am the…Truth” (John 14:6). What the Law could not declare and demonstrate, Jesus did. He brought light into the world (John 1:1-13) that exposed our selfishness and insecurity along with our propensity to hide in the darkness of our shame. However, at the same time, He shed light on the Truth, Himself being the Truth, that God was forgiveness us from our selfishness, securing us with His grace, and inviting us out of the darkness of our shame into the freedom of His name. “Jesus.” “Yeshua.” “Yahweh saves.”

Grace after grace.

Whereas the Law highlighted our condemnation, Truth AND Grace brought the life-giving light of our salvation up close and personal. Jesus revealed what God had been communicating all along by declaring and demonstrating Truth in the tone and skin of grace.

Do we as His followers do the same?

Maybe we need to heed the command of Jesus from John 13 when He washed His followers feet. He told them to go and do what He had done. To declare that He is truth while going close enough to serve. To demonstrate that He is Truth while relating graciously.

Maybe instead of “rising up and declaring the truth,” we need to get on our knees and declare it.

Or do you despise the riches of His kindness, restraint, and patience, not recognizing that God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance? 
(Romans 2:4 HCSB)

May we never forget how God extended His kindness to all of us, even those of us who consider ourselves “churched.”

GRATEFUL, may we go and do the same. 

reFUNCTIONation suggestion # 9 : ask “what does God think of you” (NOT “what do you think of God?”)

imageWe were sitting at a booth next to the bar at Chili’s. He liked their chips and guac. I admit I did, too. I had known Trey (fictitious name) for nearly three years at this point. Our church family had helped him come through rehab for addiction to prescription pain killers. We had walked with him while he got a new job. We had encouraged him through severe marital and parenting issues. All the while, he struggled to conclude what he really thought of God. Then, that night at Chili’s, something clicked.

I had asked the question to others before, but not yet to Trey. And that night, I sensed a heaviness to ask him the question. It was a heaviness I thought to be from the Holy Spirit since I had not eaten Mexican that day for lunch. So I posed it this way:

“Trey, you have told me many times you struggle to come to a conclusion regarding what you really think of God. But can I ask you a related but much more significant question? What do you think God thinks of you?”

He sat back in the booth, and tears began to stream down his face.

“No one has ever asked me that before. And I have never considered how much more important the answer to that question is than the question I have been considering.”

What if I told you that God loves you enough to:

  • want to create you to know His goodness even knowing you will want more than His goodness.
  • plan to forgive you even before we had a reason to say we were sorry.
  • come close to you even though your tendency is to hide from Him.
  • be a Sacrificial Lamb for you, even though He is a Kingly Lion, in order to kill off the deadly life humanity chose knowing good AND evil so that they could be “born new” into a resurrected life knowing His goodness.
  • remove what you owe for all the sin you’ve committed and credit you with His rightness just because He loves you and is gracious.
  • become your sin, taking upon Himself the judgment and justice that sin deserves, offering you His righteousness.
  • disregard your name, Condemned Sinner, and adopt you into His family giving you a new name, In Christ.
  • be jealous for you because He doesn’t want to leave you ashamed and alone after man-made indulgences and man-made religions leave you empty.
  • prepare a wedding feast for you even still while we are tempted with and struggle with spiritual adultery as His beloved.

Consider this: Judas never saw the eyes of Jesus after his betrayal. Peter saw the eyes of Jesus after his denial. Judas hung himself in shame and desperation. Peter fell desperately into the gracious restoration of Jesus and became the leader of the early Church. Why? Because Peter saw in the eyes of Jesus a look that said, “Peter, you are worth dying for to Me.”

Peter saw what Jesus thought of him, in spite of having known he would deny Jesus and in the midst of being denied.

Brennan Manning concluded late in his life that IF a question is asked when people get to the gates of heaven (not that one will be, but if one is), then that question would NOT be, “Why should I let you in?” The question would be, “What do you think of God? Do you believe He loves you?”

Lord we believe. Help our unbelief.

reFUNCTIONation suggestion # 6 : be cautious of teaching self-esteem rather than God-esteem. | @reFUNCTIONation

imageart by Chris Koelle | “The Prodigal” | ChrisKoelle.com |  @ChrisKoelle

When I was a kid attending W. C. C. Claiborne Elementary, a New Orleans public school, we would have assembly once a week. This is no joke. We sang two songs almost every single week. They were entitled “Ebony and Ivory” by Stevie Wonder and Paul McCartney along with “I Believe Our Children Are Our Future” by Whitney Houston. I think it was cassette tapes that would be played over the sound system, and we would all sing along. With gusto! I liked “Ebony and Ivory” the best, because my friend Gentry, who had more ebony skin than I, would sing it loud with me, his ivory-colored friend. It was special. For real.

I had no idea at the time, but looking back, singing these two songs was one of the ways that the school administration encouraged us to have good self-esteem. One of the lines from Whitney Houston’s ballad provides the example:

“I decided long ago never to walk in anyone’s shadow.
If I fail, if I succeed, at least I know what I believe!
No matter what they take from me,
They can’t take away my dignity!
Because the greatest love of all…is inside of me.”

In some ways, that song helped shape my own view of my worth, in both healthy and unhealthy ways. When I would think of “the greatest love of all inside of me,” I would think of Christ in me. I would suggest that was healthy. But when I would think of “they can’t take away my dignity,” I would think of being self-assured and determined that, as the saying goes, “if I believe it then I can achieve it.”

Which is a lie.

Now grant it, it is true that if someone works hard at a task with a goal in mind, that person is much more likely to achieve that goal than someone who does not determine to work hard toward that accomplishment. Furthermore, Jesus did teach that if we have even the smallest amount of faith, we can move mountains. However, what Jesus WAS NOT saying was, “If you believe in yourself, then you can make anything happen!” What Jesus WAS saying was, “If you ask for God’s help, trusting Him to do it and believing according to His will, then you will see Him work, even move stuff as huge as mountains!”

The focus is not on self-esteem. It is on God-esteem.

And that’s why it is dangerous to teach self-esteem in our children’s ministries as well as from our pulpits as well as within our parenting. The dictionary defines “self-esteem” as “confidence in one’s own worth and abilities.” Self-esteem may be a worthwhile thought when it comes to self-determination, but it is a detrimental thought when it comes to denying self (Luke 9:23-24).

Self-esteem is not a gospel-centered thought at all. In the story of the Two Prodigals, the compassionate Father welcomed the Prodigal who went away in spite of what he had done, just like the compassionate Father would have welcomed the Prodigal who stayed regardless of all he had done. Wandering off to sin made the younger brother no less worthy than the older brother, because of the love of their father. Staying near working hard made the older brother no worthier than the younger brother, because of the love of their father. The Father wanted them both to be with Him!

Why would I include this as one of the 95 suggestions? Because, in my opinion, many preachers preach gospel and grace for conversion, while they teach self-assurance and self-improvement for sanctification. I know this because I have also been guilty of it in the past, and I beg Jesus to help keep me from it in the present. The problem with preaching conversion and sanctification in this contrasting way is:

  • people, without meaning to, fail to realize it as a contrast, i.e. they don’t realize how in opposition to grace and gospel that kind of sanctification teaching actually is.
  • people then go on trying to deal with sin in their lives as well as establish spiritual disciplines in their lives as though these must be accomplished on their own effort, which imprisons people to the same weariness that Jesus rebukes in Matthew 11:28-30.
  • people who have not yet believed Jesus and His glorious Gospel get confused by this contrast in teaching, and therefore don’t grasp their need for a Messiah and their desperation for “good news” since getting good at some “how-to’s” and some “how-not-to’s” will fix them up just fine.
  • people who have believed Christ but buy into this kind of teaching about sanctification miss out on the freedom that comes from trusting that God not only “saved” us but “keeps on saving us” until He one day will “ultimately save us.”
  • people who have believed Christ but buy into this kind of teaching about sanctification miss out on the gratefulness that comes for a Savior who did enough both to forgive us for our sins AND sustain us as sinners as we continue to grow to discover Whose we are in Christ day after day.

Consider this. If we don’t rebuke “self-esteem” as a lie of our culture, then we can’t affirm the “God-esteem” of the Gospel of Jesus to our culture.

Put another way, if we keep on teaching self-esteem like it is a worthwhile, helpful notion – that notion that we are worth something and we can make something of ourselves, then people will struggle to see their God-declared worth and Gospel-compelled purpose – that God loves them because He is love not because we are lovable, AND that God is making our brokenness beautiful because only He can make all things new (we cannot make something new of ourselves).

My dad used to have a barber who would ask him, “Son, can you stand on that board over there and pick yourself up?” The answer is obvious. And to think that someone could do that is irrational.

Kind of like teaching “self-esteem” in the same context as the Gospel of Jesus is irrational.

We can’t pick ourselves up, so Jesus came and picked us up. AND, as we follow Him, He keeps picking us up, over and over, growing us with His love toward a cross-grateful, Spirit-powered, abundant-life of faithfulness with Him.

John Lynch and Bruce McNicol and Bill Thrall hinted at this in The Cure, which I will highlight with the following three excerpts:

Repentance isn’t doing something about my sin. It is admitting I can’t do anything about my sin. It is trusting that only God can cleanse me, and only he can convince me I’m truly cleansed. We’ve been told repentance is a promise to God that I’m going to stop this sin and I’m sorry and I won’t do it again and This time I mean it. We’re mistaking repentance for remorse. The intention not to sin is not the same as the power not to sin. Paul calls repentance a gift. It’s not something you drum up, but the gifted ability to find yourself saying, “God, I can’t. You can. I trust you!

Grace is a gift only the non-religious can accept. They’re the only ones who can understand it, and put it to use. “Religious” folk see grace as soft and weak, so they keep trying to manage their junk with willpower and tenacity. Nothing defines religion quite as well as attempting impossible tasks with limited power, all while pretending that it’s working.

What if I [God] tell them it isn’t about their self-effort, but about allowing me to live my life through them?

Lord, give us wisdom to see the damage that “self-esteem” teaching does to our efforts at proclaiming and demonstrating and believing and growing in the Gospel. Please reFUNCTION us around God-esteem.
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