reFUNCTIONation suggestion # 50 : May we actually cultivate for “on earth as it is in heaven” thru our relationships for the sake of abundant life in our community.

Breen Kingdom King quoteJesus taught us to pray for “on earth as it is in heaven.”

Take the name of your community and replace the word “earth” in that phrase.

“In ____________ as it is in heaven.”

Then may we beg God for wisdom on how to cultivate for that everyday through our relationships for the sake of seeing abundant life in our community!

What would that look like?

Reconciliation. People reunited with God and with one another.

Compassion. Needs met inside relationships beyond mere benevolence.

Truth. Honest conversations that lead to honest friendships that sharpen us toward loving one another fully like Jesus loved us.

Forgiveness. Taking the initiative to give grace to one another before “I’m sorry” is even spoken. Striving to trust one another again instead of living wounded and isolated.

The key to all of this?

“Your Kingdom come. Your will be done.”

Nobody else trying to be King but King Jesus. No one local church trying to be better than any other. Every local church putting the interests of the other local churches above their own. No one caring who gains or gets credit.

No one going for the win. Everyone going for oneness.

But not any old oneness. Not oneness for oneness sake or because we don’t want to make anyone feel bad. No.

Oneness around Jesus. Oneness for the Gospel’s sake. Oneness for the will of God and the work of God and the Spirit of God coming alive in among the “churched” and among our communities.

Lord Jesus. Your Kingdom come. Your will be done. On earth as it is in heaven.

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reFUNCTIONation suggestion # 29 : Science is not the enemy. Neither is intellectualism.

imageChristine Scheller of the Religion News Service recently wrote:

“There’s the idea that Christians are all young-earth creationists and scientists are all atheists,” said astronomer Deborah Haarsma, who serves as president of the BioLogos Foundation. “It’s so not true. That needs to be communicated in churches, and Christian young people need to hear that there are scientists who are believers and also doing science. It is possible to live in both of those worlds together.”

Those who value science in its purist form and those who follow Jesus actually have a lot in common at the core of their purpose and pursuits.

Science is “the intellectual and practical activity encompassing the systematic study of the structure and behavior of the physical and natural world through observation and experimentation” (according to the dictionary). Science derives from the Latin word “scientia,” which means knowledge. P.T. Barnum is credited as saying, “Science is the pursuit of pure truth and the systematizing of it.”

You could metaphorically say that the “church” has been sent by the Creator of the physical and natural world on a divine science experiment in hopes of all nations observing the church’s embodiment of the Gospel then arriving at a knowledge of the Truth.

Science is not the enemy of Truth. Science is not the enemy of the church.

Are there scientists who want to disavow the religious claims of the church regarding the creation of the natural and physical world? Yes. Is this significant? Yes. But why? Because at the core of the Gospel of Jesus is the undeserved love of the One who created us in spite of knowing beforehand we would choose to know more than Him once created.

But scientists who wish to undermine religious beliefs don’t make science the enemy. Instead, their efforts actually highlight our need to keep pressing on toward discovering Truth rather than making assumptions about it. It could be argued whether those kinds of “scientists” are actually scientists, since the foundation of their assumptions, which they teach as truth, are anything but truth as science would define it, because they have not observed nor conducted experimentation regarding their creation-debunking claims.

The hypothesis regarding those kinds of so-called scientists asserted by some who consider themselves “churched” has merit: It takes as much faith to believe what non-creationists claim as it does to believe what creationists claim.

Those who consider themselves “churched” should celebrate science in its purist form. Why? Because scientific findings like the complex changes of the circulatory and respiratory systems of newborn babies AND the death of and birth of stars AND the precise balance of the earth on its axis AND the power of water to carve through solid rock AND even the nutritious value of a singular grain all move us to awe at the improbability of randomness in the physical and natural world as well as the probability of intentionality in the world of the characters and stories of the Bible.

Science does not make the Creation story less believable. Science does not diminish the potential of the miraculous. Science does not disprove God in the midst of us. It provides a mechanism with which we can observe “God with us.” The same goes for intellectualism.

Why is this a reFUNCTIONation suggestion? Because I fear that the longer those who consider themselves “churched” think of science as the enemy, the longer those who think scientifically disregard the message of the “churched” as ignorant.

We need to think. We need to learn and discover Truth. We need to be able to engage both those who give little thought to anything more than how they will be fed today AS WELL AS those who give much thought to new methods of sustainable food sources. We need to be able to engage the hourly worker of Ivy League schools as well as their faculty. We need to recognize that science and religion alike give us a window into the supernatural and divine. We need to be a people who think deeply about the pragmatic side of our Creator as well as the philosophical side.

We need to live as observers of and experimenters with Truth.

Let me give you a very practical example.

The Hubble telescope has now seen a star birthed as well as a star die. The cataclysmic origin as well as the slow-fading perishing of objects like the Sun may point us to the Son more than we realize. Whether the Biblical Creation story is an actual seven days of enormous events or seven ages of enormous events, what effect does it have on “The True Story of the Whole World?” What difference does it make now that we find ourselves on a rock that orbits a star whose surroundings are either being forced to expand or being drawn toward implosion? How would the potential for seven ages take away from the power of the Gospel of the God who put on skin and stepped onto this rock to put an expiration date on humanity knowing good AND evil while providing salvation for those who believe in His goodness? Doesn’t the possibility of both seven days or seven ages magnify the epic-ness of why God created in the first place and glorify His grace extended toward His creation?

The point – don’t prejudiciously dismiss the suggestions of scientists, or they will dismiss the message of the “churched.” Don’t prejudiciously disregard the speculations of intellectuals, or they will disregard the message of the Gospel. Think.

The culture of science and intellectualism does not need the “churched” to check their brains at the door and cling to “blind faith.” The culture of science and intellectualism needs thoughtful conversation inside of gracious relationships with those who follow Jesus AND pursue pure Truth.

If we aren’t willing to go close enough to demonstrate the wisdom of and love of God to those too often thought of as “enemy” by those who consider themselves “churched,” then many scientists may never view the church as anything more than silly circus tricks. Let’s pray for Barnum’s Truth pursuits rather than his circus.

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 # 4 : Sin didn’t separate us from God, AND death is a merciful gift (reexamining the Garden of Eden).

imageHere’s the suggestion where you may begin to consider whether I am a heretic. But read it through here and please believe that I want more than anything to know Christ fully and fully make Him known.

I would suggest that the way we have taught the Garden of Eden “Fall” may be part of the reason the church doesn’t function as Jesus intended.

May we be willing to reexamine the Garden of Eden text. Consider these two assertions based solely on my understanding of the Scripture in Genesis 3. These do not necessarily reflect the opinions of those who guest comment. In fact, their being asked to guest comment is so that a healthy and even rebuking dialogue can occur if they believe that I am bordering on half-crazy if not all the way heretical here. So, here are two assertions in an effort to reexamine the Garden of Eden account.

(1) Sin didn’t separate us from God.

Genesis 2. God told Adam not to eat one of the two trees in the middle of the Garden – the Tree of the Knowledge of Good AND Evil (emphasis mine). God didn’t want them to know evil, only His goodness. God said it wasn’t good for man to be alone. God made Eve to be Adam’s “helper.” Adam’s response, “Wo(ah)-Man!!!” (my paraphrase)

Genesis 3. The serpent deceived Eve, playing on her desires, however those might be labeled or described. Eve chose to eat of the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. The serpent actually told Eve what would happen before she ate of it. “God knows that when you eat it your eyes will be opened and you will be like God, knowing good and evil” (Genesis 3:5 HCSB). Adam ate it, also. They didn’t die immediately. In fact, their eyes were opened to evil, first evidenced in their insecure attention upon themselves and their nakedness. Then they heard a sound.

“God walking in the garden at the time of the evening breeze” (Genesis 3:8 HCSB). They hid. He located them with his God-can-see-anything vision, pulled out his XJ Laser 5000 weapon with target scope, and annihilated them.

Sorry. I got carried away. That’s not what happened is it?

God asked a question. It was a strange question for a God who knows everything. Therefore, it must be a purposeful question, intended to highlight the gracious, loving, good, want-my-beloved-near-me heart of God.

“Where are you?”
(Genesis 3:9 HCSB)

They cried out from their hiding. Truth exposed and confronted them, expressed in grace, the same way Truth would show up thousands of years later (John 1:14).

Adam blames Eve. Eve blames the serpent. God tells them of their consequence. It wasn’t separation from Him. It was toil and hardship and pain, the consequence of knowing good AND evil. Then, God does something quite peculiar yet beautifully merciful.

God became a tailor. He made clothes for a naked, insecure couple whom He had intended always to exist in naked, secure oneness together.

Then, God did what, in my opinion, many people have missed. He does not separate Adam and Eve from Himself. He separates them from the chance to eat of the Tree of Life, which would have allowed a life lived for self, knowing good AND evil, to live forever.

The Lord God said, “Since man has become like one of Us, knowing good and evil, he must not reach out, take from the tree of life, eat, and live forever.” So the Lord God sent him away from the garden of Eden to work the ground from which he was taken. He drove man out and stationed the cherubim and the flaming, whirling sword east of the garden of Eden to guard the way to the tree of life.
(Genesis 3:22-24 HCSB)

Sin didn’t separate us from God. God separated sinfulness from its chance to live forever.

Why does that matter when it comes to the function of the church?

Because news that begins with a God who banishes His beloved is very different than news that begins with a God who didn’t want His beloved to be plagued with evil forever.

That is “good news.”

Which leads to the second assertion.

(2) Death is a merciful gift.

The serpent was wrong on one account with Eve. He told her she would not die. She would. But it would be because of God’s mercy, not because of her sin. Please, please, please don’t discount this as semantics. It is not just another way to say the same old thing.

Death is not the consequence for sin. Death is the merciful gift given by God declaring the expiration of sin.

The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Here is the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! 
(John 1:29 HCSB)

The verb in the original language for “takes away” in the way that John used it in verse 29 indicates a removal of. Jesus didn’t just take it upon Himself. He took it away from, took it out of, did away with it.

It is the word picture of “propitiation,” the location where mercy absorbs sin, like the “Mercy Seat” on the top of the Ark of the Covenant.

The point is that death was not just a banishment consequence from God. Death was God’s merciful way not to allow a sinful existence to last forever. Death was a merciful gift.

Why does that matter when it comes to the function of the church?

Because news that the consequence of sin is my own eternal death is very different than news that the living God killed off sin with His own death so that we might have resurrection life with Him. My own eternal death or my own condemnation is certain, IF I don’t believe that God so loved the world that He gave His only Son to not condemn the world but to save the world from (John 3:16-18). That is “good news.”

What if the Garden of Eden story, the Fall, is not a story about sin separating us from God, but rather the story of God separating sin from its chance to exist forever?

God initiated His rescue plan before there was even humanity to rescue (Ephesians 1), but inside the context of time, the Fall story is the launch of that rescue. God decided that Adam and Eve needed to be away from the Tree of Life. And He was willing to do this because He had already planned for another Tree of Life upon which sin would meet its death.

This matters with regard to the function of the church because it sets the stage for God’s “good news” for humanity, which He sends the church to proclaim and declare and embody.

May we be willing to reexamine the Garden of Eden as we have known it. May Jesus reFUNCTION His church to be compelled by the story of a God who did not want His beloved to know good AND evil, to know a sinful existence, forever.

That’s good news!!!

Definitely value your thoughts on this one. And value your affirmation AND rebuke. We grow together as we converse about Truth together, graciously and respectfully as well as truthfully and boldly.