We should not be surprised how the soterian gospel has reshaped USAmerican evangelical preaching in view of that gospel’s long run. Thousands of individuals, saved on the skimpiest of information shaped to elicit a punctiliar decision, filled the church as uninformed converts. The robust kingdom of God gospel announcement (kerygma) has been replaced by Bible-based moralisms backed-up with catchy illustrations to teach Christians “how to” live. New Testament kerygma with its power to captivate human minds and hearts and change lives was replaced by chapter and verse lectures designed to get people to function properly in their families, their churches, and their communities. Preaching became benign, sometimes comedic, corporate counseling.
Hmmmmm… Really good insights. But heady stuff if you’re not steeped in the vocabulary of theological academia, which most normal people aren’t. Suffice it to say that Scot McKnight and many others are trying to help evangelical churches recover a more complete understanding of salvation (“soteriology,” when you want to impress people with your vocabulary).
This is a much needed corrective, in my opinion. It has been the subject of a fair amount of my preaching and teaching over the past five years because it is a very Wesleyan—and I believe more biblical—way to view salvation. Yes, we are “saved from,” but we are also “saved for.” There is a greater purpose to following Jesus Christ than just forgiveness of sins and getting your ticket punched for heaven. Forgiveness is absolutely necessary and a beautiful thing! But salvation doesn’t stop with the sinner’s prayer and one more number to report to the conference office. Salvation is a way of life, a way of living life in the Kingdom of God here and now. It is the Jesus way of life, and it is available to us now in increasing measure as we follow Christ. Jesus told His followers to “go and make disciples of all nations,” not “go and make converts of all nations” (Matthew 28:19). That’s why our mission statement at St. James is to “make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.”
I haven’t read McKnight’s The King Jesus Gospel, but I need to. Dallas Willard wrote much about the reality of living in the Kingdom of God today, as did John Wesley and many other scholars. As I’ve studied Willard, Schnase, Watson, Seamands, Peace, and many others over the years, I have come to appreciate an understanding of salvation centered on discipleship, not just conversion. Here is one attempt I made to summarize my thoughts in writing:
A disciple of Jesus Christ is one who chooses to adopt Christ’s way of living as his or her way of living in this world as demonstrated by loving one another and bearing fruit. It is a person who is committed not only to Jesus’ way of life but having a personal allegiance to Jesus himself. It is orthopraxy (right living) and orthodoxy (right beliefs). It is evidenced in living a life of radical hospitality, passionate worship, intentional discipleship, risk-taking mission and service, and extravagant generosity.
Here is another attempt:
A disciple is a follower, a pupil, and an apprentice of Jesus. He or she is a person who has adopted Jesus’ way of life as evidenced by loving one another—particularly those within the fellowship of believers—and by bearing fruit, not only behaviors but also attitudes and motivations. Moreover, a disciple is committed to Jesus as a person, the second person of the eternal Trinitarian God. For Christians, the mark of discipleship is uncompromising obedience and commitment to the teachings and person of Jesus Christ, God the Son.
Conversion? Yes! Needed and required. But it is one step on the journey of salvation, not the only step or final step.
This started off as a blog posting on preaching and ended up as a posting on salvation and discipleship. Oh, well. I agree with what John Frye wrote in the opening quote. ‘Nuff said for now.
Infamous parental quote:
(Parent) “Because I said so.”
When I was a child, I hated hearing this from one of my parents. Why should I do something just because my mom or dad tells me to do it? Who are they to boss me around like that? What’s in it for me? Why should I do it if there’s nothing in it for me? If there’s no good reason for it, why should I do it?
“Because I said so.” Bah!
Inside of every child is a rebellious creature striving for complete independence, a boy or girl who wants to do what they want to do, when they want to do it, and how they want to do it. I was no different growing up. I didn’t like my parents putting boundaries on my behavior. I didn’t like having to do chores “just because you live here and you’re a member of this family.” There were times—especially as a teenager—I didn’t like living with two people (Dad and Mom) who thought they were authorities over me. I didn’t disobey them often. But that doesn’t mean I was always happily obedient. I mastered the art of being obedient on the outside but rebellious on the inside. Guardrails were for highways, not me. Boundaries were for marking sports fields, not marking my life.
Or so I thought. Now that I’m an adult, I thank God for parents who provided guardrails for my life. They kept me from driving off the cliff many times, probably many more times than I knew. The boundaries they set protected me from a lot of pain and misery. They protected me from making foolish decisions that could have had long-term negative implications for my life. They knew what they were doing, even when I thought they didn’t know what they were doing.
Now that I’m the father of four children, I understand that parents often say “because I said so” for very good reasons. Sure, sometimes it’s a cop-out. Sometimes it’s parental laziness or a power trip to say, “Because I said so.” But there are often very good reasons for instructions that aren’t easily explained to or comprehended by a child or teenager. Sometimes children just need to do what their parents tell them to do, even if they don’t understand the reason why. It may be for protection. It may be for character building. It may be to instill a work ethic or moral values. As a child grows older, parents should explain “why” whenever they can, because that’s part of good parenting. But there are times when no explanation makes sense to the child. There are times when children just have to trust their parents and parents have to parent, even when it’s hard.
“Because I said so” often means “because I love you more than anything in this whole world, and I want you to stay alive and well.”
“Because I said so” sometimes means “because I have a responsibility to instill in you a good work ethic and moral values.”
“Because I said so” usually means, “You may not understand this now, but trust me: I want what’s best for you. I want God’s best for you! That’s why you need to do this.”
Why is this on my mind today? Because of the key Scriptures from yesterday’s worship services focused on Honoring Our Elders:
Each of you must show respect for your mother and father, and you must always observe my Sabbath days of rest, for I, the LORD, am your God.
Leviticus 19:3 (NIV)
Rise in the presence of the aged, show respect for the elderly and revere your God. I am the LORD.
Leviticus 19:32 (NIV)
Why should we respect our mother and father? God basically says, “Because I said so.” Why should we show respect for our elders? Because God says so, and He is God. No other explanation is given. God is saying, “Trust me in this. I love you! I want what’s best for you! That’s why you need to do this.” We can come up with all kinds of explanations why these are good instructions from God: family stability, social order, etc. but ultimately we do so because God says so, and He knows what He’s doing. He really does want what’s best for us. He wants to enjoy abundant and eternal life. He created us to live life in relationships with other people, and families (biological, nuclear, extended, tribal, and Christian) are the key relationships we have.
How do we honor our elders? Show them respect, seek their wisdom, and give our time. Why? Because God says so. Are they always worthy of our respect? No, not always. Respect them anyway. Are they sometimes wrong in their wisdom? Sure, they’re fallible. Seek their wisdom anyway. Will it cost me anything? Yep. It will cost time, energy, and effort. Do it anyway.
(God) “Because I said so.”
Good enough for me. I learned a long time ago that God is always trustworthy about such things.
How about you? Have you learned this lesson yet?
Tomorrow we finish our White Picket Fences worship series on the modern family with FAM JAM!
What is Fam Jam, you ask? Great question! Thanks for asking.
Fam Jam means our children’s and youth ministries will be participating in both worship services tomorrow. All individuals and families will be in worship together, singing together, growing together, praying together, and celebrating Jesus together. It will be an enriching and energetic Christ-centered time of worship for young and old and everyone in-between!
If St. James is your church home and you’ve been waiting for a prime opportunity to invite your neighbors and friends to join you, tomorrow is a prime opportunity! Bring some neighbors and friends with you. Go on … Just Walk Across the Room … Invest in a friendship or two … Invite your friend to join you … Include your friend in your life tomorrow morning at St. James!
9:30am or 11:00am—makes no difference tomorrow because the worship services will be similar as children, students, and adults lead us in celebrating Jesus. See you then!
Just one of many profound insights from Dr. Dallas Willard, who died yesterday at the age of 77.
I was deeply saddened by this news. Dr. Willard was one of my heroes and mentors. In 2010, I had the privilege of sitting at Dr. Willard’s feet for two weeks in a California monastery, learning about Christian discipleship and spiritual formation from one of the giants. I was finishing up my doctor of ministry coursework, planning to write my final project on discipleship pathways in the local church. I needed a fresh perspective on Christian discipleship, and everyone I knew at Fuller Theological Seminary said Dr. Willard’s doctoral course on Spirituality and Ministry was one of the best. They were right. I filled a notebook with insights from those two weeks. It was the proverbial “drinking from a fire hydrant.” Every thought that came out of Dr. Willard’s mouth was worthy of capture and reflection. He changed my perspective of how we grow in faith and is largely responsible for my understanding of Christian discipleship today. Some examples of his wisdom, straight from my notebook:
If you aim at obeying Christ, you become a legalist. But if you aim at being like Christ, obedience follows.
We want to become the kind of people in whom obedience is a natural way of life. It comes naturally. Becoming obedient people isn’t the goal. Becoming the kind of person who is naturally obedient is the goal.
Too many people are “trying.” Training, on the other hand, is discipleship.
The prevailing view of salvation makes spiritual formation irrelevant.
“I’m not religious, but I am spiritual.” The person who says this doesn’t know much about either.
Does the gospel I preach have a tendency to produce disciples or only consumers of religious goods and services?
The Church is for discipleship. Discipleship is for the world.
Grace is not opposed to effort. It is opposed to earning.
God does not mumble. If you ask and hear nothing, perhaps it’s God’s way of saying, “So what are you going to do?”
Dr. Willard has written some of the best books on spiritual formation. The Church will be reading and using his writings for centuries to come. If you are serious about following Christ, you must read Hearing God, The Divine Conspiracy, and The Spirit of the Disciplines. Trust me. Go to Amazon and order them right now. Make them part of your summer reading list. If you want to live a full Christian life, read these books. You’ll never see Christian discipleship in the same way. You’ll be set free to live the abundant life Christ promises to His followers.
John Ortberg captures the essence of who Dr. Willard was and his impact on modern Christianity. We’ve lost a giant in the faith. May God encourage and strengthen Dr. Willard’s family over the next few days and weeks. Thank you, Dr. Willard, for teaching and mentoring me. I look forward to the day when I can sit at your feet again, where we are both sitting at the feet of our Lord and Savior.
I found this wisdom on human relationships while studying for our current worship series White Picket Fences, but I haven’t found the right opportunity to share it on Sundays. There’s so much wisdom packed in it, however, that I am compelled to pass it on. It comes from Randy Smith:
The German philosopher Schopenhauer compared the human race to a bunch of porcupines huddling together on a cold winter’s night. He said, “The colder it gets outside, the more we huddle together for warmth; but the closer we get to one another, the more we hurt one another with our sharp quills. And in the lonely night of earth’s winter eventually we begin to drift apart and wander out on our own and freeze to death in our loneliness.”
As humans we have been created with the need for companionship. I am always fascinated how Adam, when He enjoyed sinless fellowship with His Creator, still had a desire for one of his own kind (Gen. 2:20). God has created institutions such as marriage and family and church to meet these needs for human intimacy and belonging….
Jesus was well aware of our need for intimate human companionship, and He was also well aware of the challenges and “sharp quills” we face in the process. So in His final prayer to the Father, just hours before He would be suspended on the cross, Jesus prayed for the unity of His church. Second only to the concern for His glory was this longing that His disciples would be united. He knew how much supernatural help we as sinners need in this area. He also knew how an ununified church would fail to bring Him the glory He so much desires.
Isn’t this a brilliant metaphor for the human condition? “Porcupines huddling together on a cold winter’s night.” God wants so much more for us than hurting one another with our sharp quills! We need each other. We need all “families”: biological, nuclear, extended, tribal, and Christian. We crave the security of relationships, yet we too often hurt the ones we love the most. Sometimes we seem so far from the ideal, from God’s design. But that’s never an excuse to give up. So, even though we live in reality, which is often less than ideal, we must continue to strive for the ideal. And through it all, we remember that we do not strive in our own strength. God’s Spirit abides with us as we abide with Him.
Hot dogs and sodas? $1.00 each.
Bag of peanuts and ice cream sandwiches? $1.00 each.
Great seats behind the home team dugout? $7.00 each.
Father-son date night to discuss the details of baseball? Priceless.
Tonight was dollar night at Bright House Field in Clearwater. A perfect time to cheer on the Clearwater Threshers in one of the best minor league ballparks in the nation.
Tuesdays just don’t get any better than this.
Bruce: How do you make somebody love you without affecting free will?
God: Welcome to my world, son. If you come up with an answer to that one, let me know.
Great quote from a great movie, Bruce Almighty. The Ezra family watched it again tonight. (We watched the edited version on TV. We still have young ears and eyes in our household, and the movie has an adult-oriented scene and some coarse words.) Bruce Almighty has a rare combination of good writing, good acting, good humor, and good theological insights. I wish there were more movies like this, movies that can entertain as well as instruct.
You know the old saying, “The early bird gets the worm?” So true when it comes to garage sale-ing. We decided yesterday morning to go to the Arbor Greene community yard sale just for kicks. We know from experience the best bargains in yard sales are found in the first hour. After that, the professional yard sale-ers and resellers have already plundered the good stuff, and what’s left is junk or over-priced.
Want an example of how the early bird get the worm? At one of the first five sales, somewhere around 8:10am, I picked up a Bose Acoustimass 10 speaker system for … wait for it … FIFTEEN DOLLARS. Yep. $15. Two years ago at the same community yard sale, at the very first house, I picked up an upright Craftsman air compressor, belt sander, variable-speed drill, and jigsaw for around $70 all together.
Don’t hate me. I’m sure I missed a thousand good bargains yesterday. Sometimes you just get lucky. And I got REAL lucky with the speaker system.
I’ve had lots of thoughts about Radical Hospitality recently. That’s one of the five key components of our definition of Christian discipleship at St. James. (We also call it Connecting.) We’ve been working hard to improve our hospitality over the past few months, to make people feel welcomed and included at our church. We really want people to find a spiritual home at St. James so they can discover how much God loves them and can learn along with us how to live the Jesus way of life. The way to abundant and eternal life may be narrow (John 14:6), but the invitation is for EVERYONE, regardless of history or status or orientation or culture or capacity. Jesus invites EVERYONE to life in God’s Kingdom through Him.
I hope people hear that inclusive invitation at our church. I hope they feel genuinely welcomed when they visit. I hope that when we speak God’s truth in love, we really do share it in love, and we do so in compelling, compassionate, and life-giving ways.
“Speaking the truth in love.” Easy to say, but it can be hard to do. It’s easier to speak words of truth without love, without sensitivity and compassion. And it’s easier to be loving while ignoring or resisting the truth. But that isn’t very loving, honestly. Love without truth isn’t really love. And truth without love can be cold and harsh.
What makes the difference? Motivation, I think.
For the record (no pun intended), last week’s reference to Return to Paradise came from a 1989 Randy Stonehill CD I own. Pretty obscure, unless you’re an old Christian rock fan. This is a really, really good acoustic rock CD. Love me some Stonehill!
I’ve been in an old-Christian-rock-kind-of-mood recently. Not only Randy Stonehill, but today I listened through Mylon LeFevre & Broken Heart’s Crack the Sky. Next thing you know, I’ll be pulling out my DeGarmo & Key and Altar Boys CDs.
I’ve got to figure out how to use Amazon links properly. I could be recommending CDs and books and making a few pennies here and there when people click on the links from my blog and buy the product!
During today’s sermon, I said that family members have the potential to hurt us the most because they are the ones we love the most. I wish this weren’t true, but it is. I could tell you story after story of how I’ve seen this in people’s lives.
The 45-year old man who sat across from me in my office, sobbing and heaving, crying out in grief because he had an affair and now his wife was divorcing him. He made a huge mistake, but I felt so sorry for him. This big, successful, prominent businessman reduced to an emotional wreck because of a poor choice he made. He really, really loved his wife. He didn’t mean for this to happen; he just got careless with his boundaries. That’s what made it so painful.
The woman who was completely at a loss about how she could protect her brother’s life. Her brother was a Christian struggling with sexual issues, and he just couldn’t reconcile his sexual behavior with his faith. So he attempted suicide three times in two years. He failed each time, but his sister was afraid he might succeed the next time. This woman’s fear was simply indescribable. Her brother was in a men’s Bible study I led. He was a friend of mine. I loved him. I’ll never forget visiting him in the hospital after his third suicide attempt, trying to convince him that God loves him and his family loves him and his friends love him. His emotional pain was simply indescribable, too.
The 29-year old wife who came to my office just hours after finding out her husband had been unfaithful to her with a woman he worked with. One minute uncontrollable rage, another minute disbelief of the betrayal from someone she loved and trusted. When she left my office, I cried for her and her husband because I knew them both and loved them both. I remember very clearly going straight home and giving my wife Karen a huge hug after that one.
There is a type of soul-wrenching grief and pain unique to marriages wrecked by infidelity. Trust me: you don’t want to see it, let alone experience it. It will break your heart, even if it has nothing to do with you or your family.
God can forgive anything and everything; His grace and mercy and love are infinite. The greatest difficulties seem to be in forgiving ourselves when we hurt others and in forgiving those who’ve hurt us.
For Christ-followers, there is always hope. Christ can bring light to the darkest situations. He can bring healing even when we think the wound is fatal. He specializes in making the impossible possible. There is nothing He won’t forgive, nothing He can’t redeem. There is no soul He can’t save, no relationship He can’t restore, no brokenness He can’t fix. That’s just the kind of Savior and Lord He is.
Had a great time at tonight’s auction benefiting our West Virginia missions, even if I had to attempt line dancing! (I hope Gary got his twenty dollars’ worth. I don’t think I’ve danced since high school. For good reason …)
Each year, around 40-60 people travel from our church to areas of West Virginia mired in deep poverty. We go to help improve the lives of people in practical ways, because that’s what Christ calls us to do when we follow Him: love and serve persons in need. Whether it’s renovating a house trailer or a women’s shelter, we want to make a positive difference in Jesus’ name and for His sake. More than the carpentry and painting, the relationship-building is what makes it all worth while. As with any risk-taking mission endeavor, our team always receives many more blessings than they offer, and most of those blessings are the friendships formed through conversations about faith and life with people in the communities we visit.
Whenever someone asks me about the strengths of St. James United Methodist Church, our commitment to missions and service is always near the top of the list. Risk-taking Missions and Service is a key component of our definition of Christian discipleship (Connecting—Worshiping—Growing—SERVING—Giving). We believe that the Jesus way of life includes taking risks to minister to people in need, moving outside our church walls and our comfort zones to serve the least and the lost in the name of Jesus Christ. Our church is strongly committed to missions locally, nationally, and internationally, from working to help women escape the sex trade in Tampa to helping the poor in West Virginia to building a church structure in a forgotten valley in Honduras. We believe it’s more than committing just money and resources, though it includes that. It includes committing ourselves—our time, our skills and labor, our prayers, our very lives. That’s why we go to West Virginia every year to serve under-resourced persons: because we can, and we should.
Where are you serving in Jesus’ name? Who are you serving in Jesus’ name? How are you using the resources of time and money God has entrusted to you? Are you hoarding selfishly, or sharing selflessly? You will grow only so far in your faith through prayer and Bible study and worship. These are necessary habits, no doubt. But if you don’t exercise your faith by serving in Jesus’ name, your spiritual growth will be stunted. And you’ll miss the blessing of seeing where God is working in the world around you.
Don’t miss out! Don’t suffer from spiritual malnourishment! Serve someone, somewhere, in Jesus’ name and for His sake. West Virginia this July 12-20 might be a good place for you to start.
Life’s little annoyances. We all have them. I’m not talking about major crises, just little annoyances. They’re inevitable in life. How do we deal with them?
How I deal with them depends on my center for the day.
Let me explain via two Top Five Wednesdays lists of little annoyances in my life today:
- The handle on our microwave oven broke. I decided to fix it myself, because service calls are more expensive than just buying a new microwave. I spent $45.19 on a new plastic handle for a $300 microwave. Took me over a half hour to fix it, because I had to go back and forth to my toolbox five times as the task got more and more complicated. By the time I was finished, I had broke most of the tabs off the inner seal. Grrrr …
- While I was in the garage on one of my trips to get tools for fixing the microwave, I noticed the hood was up on the car. I asked Daniel why, and he said, “Mommy said something about squishy brakes that don’t work right.” Oh joy. Another task for me. Add it to my ever-expanding list of tasks and responsibilities.
- In the process of trying to add a computer to our wireless homegroup, I somehow messed it up so the existing homegroup doesn’t work, and I can’t get the computer to give me a new password to recreate the homegroup, and I can’t figure out how to delete the old homegroup so I can create a new one. One step forward, two steps back. I hate computers sometimes.
- Didn’t sleep well last night. I had a lot of church-related issues on my mind, and I just couldn’t let them go. No crises, just normal work-related stuff. I woke up around 5:00am and was immediately obsessing over a couple of issues, so I couldn’t go back to sleep. I hate waking up earlier than I need to and not being able to go back to sleep!
- Decided to take a game break after dinner tonight, so Daniel and I played Wii golf while the other kids were participating in student ministries at church. The Wii remote was being finicky tonight. Wouldn’t read my movements well. A three-foot putt became an accidental thirty-foot putt. A lay-up became an out-of-bounds overshot. Nine straight holes of this. Can I again say, “Grrrr”?
Like I said, life’s little annoyances.
The above top-five list is written from a Steve-centered perspective.
Here’s the same list of life’s little annoyances, but this time written from a Christ-centered perspective:
- The handle on our microwave broke. Oh, well. It’s probably thirteen years old. It’s gotten a lot of use over the years. At least the microwave still works. I can fix a broken handle, no problem. I like tearing into stuff, anyway! Besides, I’m just thankful that I have plenty of food in the pantry to put in the microwave when I want it. For some reason, working on this fix-it project reminds me of my visit to South Africa last fall, watching our young students at the Manaleni ministry center eagerly eating their plates of pap provided by our ministry. They were so grateful for whatever food they got. I should pray for them while I’m thinking about them.
- When I was in the garage to get tools for fixing the microwave, I noticed the hood was up on the car. I asked Daniel why, and he said “Mommy said something about squishy brakes that don’t work right.” Probably just need to bleed the brake system. It’s been two years since the brakes were repaired, and it’s an old car. Can you believe my father-in-law gave us an old car so the kids would have something to drive? What a blessing! Repairing an old car is a whole lot cheaper than buying a newer car, anyway.
- In the process of trying to add a computer to our wireless homegroup, I somehow messed it up so the existing homegroup doesn’t work. Since I seem to be just making the problem worse, I’d better let it go for now and come back to it in a few days. It’s not like I use the homegroup much, anyway. I should just be grateful we have more than one computer in our house. My friend Yoel in Cuba, pastor of our sister church there, was so deeply grateful for the new laptop we brought to him a couple of years ago. The look on his face was like he hit the lottery! Normal Cubans just don’t have access to much new technology. I should pray for him right now.
- Didn’t sleep well last night. I had a lot of church-related issues on my mind, and I just couldn’t let them go. No crises, just normal work-related stuff. God woke me up early so I would have plenty of time to talk with Him about it. When I pray, God reminds me that it’s His Church, so I shouldn’t worry. When I don’t pray, I starting thinking success depends all on me. That’s laughable! God, thank you for prompting me to talk with you about ministry. Thank you for the privilege I have of serving in ministry as a vocation. What an incredible blessing!
- Decided to take a game break after dinner tonight, so Daniel and I played Wii golf while the other kids were participating in student ministries at church. The Wii remote was being finicky tonight. Wouldn’t read my movements well. Doesn’t matter, though. I’m having some dad and son time. How cool is that! I love playing Wii golf with Daniel. I love HIM. My kids make me happier than anything in the world. I need to be doing this more.
Two Top-Five Wednesdays lists, both recounting life’s little annoyances. One Steve-centered, one Christ-centered.
I wonder who my life will be centered on tomorrow?