A Miracle Not Meant For You: Reaching One More, Part 1

In chairs, the group sat in a circle in a living room. Some were on dining room chairs, some on couches, and some were on recliners. It was the common scene for a church connect group. There were appetizers lingering in the kitchen, waiting to be eaten. But first, the group was in the midst of a discussion. The question was simple, but it was a loaded one: “Who is your one?” Who is the one person whose life choices and circumstances breaks your heart? Who is the person who’s looking for answers in all the wrong places? At Sunday Service, when Pastor talks about “the lost” or those yet following Jesus, who is the first person who comes to mind? THAT is your “one.”

One of the individuals spoke up about his “one.” “There’s a lot of people that come to mind when I think of those who need Jesus. But if there’s a fire, I know who I’m going in to save first.” There might be many people who come to mind, but when push comes to shove, whose salvation is a priority? Whose eternal life is at the forefront of your mind?

Our church just began a small group series called “Reach One More.” It’s seven sessions of guided discussion geared to create conversation and action to evangelize – to reach the lost for Jesus. And while each session may only contain three questions, it stirs up something in people. It’d almost be easier to have more questions that tackle facts that invigorate the mind. But these questions nudge at the stirrings in the heart instead.

That’s why I love what that one group member said, “If there’s a fire.” It’s like saying, “If I knew I only had one opportunity, one chance at a miracle, I’d use up that chance – I’d put in all of my chips – on this one individual.” It’s powerful. And just like a house fire, it forces us to take priority off of ourselves. We have to be all in.

There’s a story in the Bible that this person’s story reminded me of. In Acts 16, Paul and Silas get disrobed and publically humiliated, beaten, and thrown in jail for casting a demonic spirit out of a young woman. As they are sitting naked in this jail cell, they start singing praises to God, which just BLOWS my mind. In the midst of one of the most humbling, humiliating, and horrifying moments of their lives, they take time to THANK GOD for what He’s done for them. And what does God do? He causes an earthquake to open the doors of the jail! They praised God and it led to a miracle! For most of us, it’s the opposite. We praise God after He answers our prayers.

But that’s not the crazy part. Most of us read this story, and we think that’s the miracle. It was Paul and Silas’ miracle and no one else’s. It’d be like being in a burning building and getting out alive. But the miracle of this story happened in the morning. When the guard of the jail wakes up, he sees that ALL the cell doors are opened, and knowing his future demise, is preparing to commit suicide. As he is about to fall on his own sword, Paul and Silas cry out from their cell that ALL of the prisoners are still in the jail.

Paul and Silas could have easily seen the doors open and think that the miracle was only for them. They could have said their thanks to Jesus and been on their way, not even knowing or caring of the future fate of this guard. But instead they stayed. Despite their circumstances, they stayed beaten, tired, hurting, and naked in a jail cell they were wrongly put in… for the sake of one person – that guard. This not only changed the life of the guard, but through this miracle, the guard AND his whole family were baptized.

Paul and Silas took the time to be aware of what God was doing around them. They knew the miracle wasn’t over yet. The doors might have been opened, but God was still at work.

In the midst of turmoil, as we feel like a burning wreckage is falling all around us, it’d be easy to see how getting out alive would be the miracle. Maybe it’s miraculously getting out of debt. Maybe finding out you’ve been mysteriously healed of cancer or set free from drug addiction has been your miracle moment. Maybe it’s that God mended back together a broken marriage that you once thought was irreconcilable. These miracles are good, but they aren’t just meant for us! These aren’t the miracles that have angels rejoicing in heaven!

Getting out of the burning building alive means you have the ability to go in and save one more.

It means that you can speak life into someone facing the very thing you just overcame.

Let us take time this week and remember to capitalize on the moments God has given us. Maybe it’s a window of seriousness for a friend who never gets vulnerable. Maybe you’ll have a random run-in with someone you haven’t seen in years. Maybe you get an opportunity to show love and inclusion in a situation filled with judgment and hate. Let us find those moments of signal fire and smoke and run into those burning buildings with reckless abandonment.

Because “our” miracle may be meant to save someone else.

Advertisements

The Bad Good News – Galatians 1:6

“I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting Him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ.” –Galatians 1:6

“I’ve got some good news and some bad news.” This was not what Tom wanted to hear. He was sick, and not just that kind of sick. He was sick of hearing the same bad news every time he went to the oncologist. He wasn’t sure how much longer he could take it. The positive spin and the optimism of the doctors was encouraging the first couple of times, but now Tom was just ready to be better. What was the point of having any good news if it was drowned out by the bad? The doctor noticed Tom’s thoughts were drifting and quickly tried to continue the conversation.

“So do you want the good news first or the bad?”

Some have argued that the thrust of Paul’s argument in Galatians is about his apostleship, which makes some sense as it is how he opens his letter. By looking at the whole letter, however, it becomes quickly evident that Paul’s focus seems to be more on “the gospel.” Paul argues; what the gospel is, who it pertains to, and what it means once one accepts the gospel. His whole reason for writing the Galatians is because there was a group sharing with them another “gospel,” one which Paul claims is no gospel at all.

The gospel means “good news.” Graeme Goldsworthy states that, “The gospel is the proclamation of what God has done in Christ… Obedience to the gospel is first and foremost faith.” To proclaim anything else wouldn’t be the gospel. To understand the thrust of Paul’s argument in Galatians, one must first understand what “the gospel” is. Once one knows the “good news,” the “bad good news” will be easy to spot.

C. H. Dodd points out a pattern which emerges when looking at the preaching of “the gospel” in the New Testament. There is proclamation of the fulfillment of the Old Testament promises. There is a focus on the ministry Jesus did during his life leading to his death. His resurrection from the dead and his exaltation is at the apex of the gospel message. Then there is a shift to the gift of the Holy Spirit given at Pentecost. The preaching of the gospel ends with a call for the audience to repent and accept Christ in faith.

There was a group telling the Galatians that they had to do more than just believe in Christ. They told them that it took more than this. “We have some good news and some bad news,” they said. They were telling the Gentiles that they had to become Jewish first to become Christians. They weren’t preaching a different God or a different Christ. They were speaking of a different means other than “faith” as a cost for membership in God’s family. Paul is writing the Galatians with urgency, because it would completely ruin the work of Christ for the church to accept a different message.

“Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction. For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths. But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry.” -2Timothy 4:2-5

The gospel is the proclamation of God’s coming kingdom. It is the message of the judgment of those who oppose His current and future reign. The gospel is the story of mankind denying God, and God sending his Son to pay the price for their wrongdoing. It isn’t about prosperity. It isn’t about Jesus as an archangel. It isn’t about circumcision.

The gospel needs to be praised, it needs to be protected, and it needs to be preached.

What are you doing to protect the gospel?

The End is Near: A Revelation Revealed.

Recently, I posted a blog where I explained that some clichés are necessitated in learning. This isn’t one of them.

You can almost assume you are watching a B-rated movie when you see a scene featuring a homeless man holding a sign describing how the world is about to end. Whether it is central to the plot or added as a comedic relief, chances are there was something better that the movie could have done… like anything.

I understand that vampires and soon-to-be-zombies aren’t “hip with the youngsters” anymore, but mainstream media has now decided to go down the Post-Apocalyptic route like this is more acceptable and cool. It isn’t. It is like Hollywood forgot how bad the 60’s and 70’s were to the world and wanted to relive it in EVERY way (cue Daft Punk’s new DISCO song, “Get Lucky”).

One thing that I enjoy about being Pentecostal and from the Assemblies of God is its young, but rich, heritage. This year marks 100 years since it’s founding in the early 1900’s. A denomination marked by innovation, gender equality, and once pacifism and environmentalism, the A/G is currently getting recognized as one of the only Christian denominations flourishing in a world now marked by a decline in spirituality.

I think one of the things that I like about Pentecostalism is their grasp of a realized eschatology – and understanding that Jesus is coming soon. It is what drives their hearts. It gives their love for others perseverance as they know that time is short. Jesus is coming… and he will be here any time.

Just as life is a pendulum swing, I think that is true with the greater church’s view of the end. Where the church at large tries to hide behind the phrase that, “no one knows the hour,” Pentecostals equally cry wolf on many occasions. And people who are outside the church looking through its stained-glass windows see the Church as a some beatnik-crazed transient in a B-rated film with a sign reading, “The End is Near.”

The problem is the end IS near. It has been near for the past two thousand years. The church of the first-century realized that, the people of the early Pentecostal Movement realized that, and we need to healthily embrace it. I’m not saying that we need to preach that Jesus is coming every chance we get. But we need to be aware that he IS coming to set the world to rights.

Paul wrote about it all throughout the epistles in the New Testament. Many scholars talk about it as “now/not yet” theology – truths that hold merit now but will not reach their full fulfillment until the eschaton. We are reconciled along with the world, but it won’t be fully understood until Jesus returns. We are saved from the wrath of God, but it won’t be fully seen or understood until we reach the final judgment at the end of days. We are sanctified, but we won’t be like-Christ until we are with Christ.

Don’t run to the end times like a loon-radio-evangelist or a distraught homeless man, but don’t run away from the fact that Jesus is coming back. He is coming to close the inclusio that was introduced in Creation – the bracket of Old Creation and New Creation, when the world will be as it was before the Fall. We will be with God and He will be with us.

The end is near, and we are here now to help usher in the new world of tomorrow.

More Than A Four-Letter Word.

Something that has become predominantly popular in movies as of recent is using the Lord’s name to replace a 4-letter word. Jesus Christ, can we stop?!

This supposed breaking of the Third Commandment (Exod 20) is something that Christians have been trying to counteract for years. Instead of “OMG,” Christians replaced it with “OMGosh” – an act almost as highly offensive as making certain “Christian bands” comparisons to “secular bands.”

But how did the Hebrew people hearing the Ten Commandments for the first time receive this instruction that they shouldn’t use the Lord’s name in vain? First of all, in the Hebrew I feel like almost every word is a four letter word. So, if you are replacing a four letter word with God’s name, I feel as though the ancient language would cease to exist entirely. I think Christians are really hindering the meaning of the text if they think that this Commandment only refers to substituting God’s name for a synonym of poop. I think of the popular YouTube video from sketch comedy group “Harvard Sailing Team” where one of the actor’s cats, named “Poops”, dies: “Poops is with God now… and I am sure God takes Poops EVERYWHERE!”

So what does this Commandment mean then? What does it mean to use the Lord’s name in vain?

In simplest terms, it means not to misrepresent God.

There have been times in my life where people have “prophesied” over me or my family or a situation “in the name of the Lord.” If some one is speaking as though their words are the words of God, they are “using the name of the Lord.” And if they are speaking as though they are the Ultimate Power of Authority in the universe, they better get right what that Being is trying to say. If someone speaks wrongly as though they have the authority of God, then they are using the Lord’s name in vain.

I know what you’re thinking: “This makes me a lot more scared than when I just thought it was telling me not to replace a crass word for fornication with the name of God.” If it was that easy, then all we would have to do is say, “Geez” instead of “Jesus” and “Gosh” instead of “God.” But it isn’t that easy. We need to be careful whenever we translate or apply a biblical passage, because we might be using the Lord’s name in vain. We need to be careful when we give people counsel, because we as Christians are speaking for the Heart of God.

When we wrongly judge others, we are using the Lord’s name in vain. When we say that certain actions that aren’t acceptable really are, we are using the Lord’s name in vain. When we condescendingly rebuke another Christian’s theology when it is truly ours that needs checked, we are using the Lord’s name in vain.

Strive to be a good representation of God. Don’t speak with authority that hasn’t been given to you. Use discernment. Seek more to learn the truth, so that you can take in everything through the filter of God’s Word. And lastly, remember that if I am wrong, then I have just used the Lord’s name in vain.

What else can you do to help you not use the Lord’s name in vain?