2010: Year of the Mission

I met with our Mission One:Eight Team this past Wednesday night and left so encouraged and excited about the coming year at The Gathering.  God has moved in some pretty big ways over the last couple of months, removing the inward focus that largely characterized what this church has been, bringing a fresh wind of excitement over reaching out to the world with the love and redemption communicated in the Gospel.

This church has realized it was never meant to serve as a club for the religious separatist, but must become a center for those actively carrying out the Great Commission through every door that God opens for her.  It is so refreshing to sit with people who are excited with anticipation over what God is going to do through our mission giving and our mission going.  It is a wonderful place to be where people are asking the God-honoring question, “Why not?” regarding missions rather than the spirit-quenching “Why?” that so often characterizes religious people.

I believe that 2010 is going to be the year of the Mission.  There are so many opportunities that are before us and we can’t wait to see what God is going to do with them.

Already, we are engaged in a church-planting effort in Peru, ministering among the Yauyos People located high in the Andes Mountains.  We were overwhelmed to experience God already at work there and had simply invited us to join Him in His work.  At our last Family Ministry Meeting, the people of The Gathering enthusiastically embraced this mission opportunity, understanding that a church without a mission is no church at all.  We have been called and we are being sent!

Locally, we are becoming more aggressively involved in the ministry of HaCoBaCare.  This ministry of the Hamilton County Baptist Association to those in need in the Chattanooga area is reaching more people than any other ministry of its kind in our County.  As our efforts increase, it is our hope that even more people can be affected by this Gospel ministry, both physically and spiritually.

Further, we have a new possibility that we are exploring with another strategic partner in our area to reach out and minister to refugees located in a camp in the Atlanta area.  This mission is unique in that it is an opportunity for many to be engaged in foreign missions only two hours from our home!  Though we have not moved on this particular ministry, we are praying through that as a possible door that God is opening up for us.

The days of sitting and being spiritually fed to obesity without getting out and exercising our faith at The Gathering are over.  With opportunities like God has put before us, there is something for literally everyone in our covenant community to get involved in.  If you are a part of The Gathering, begin praying about how God can use you in our Mission One:Eight in 2010.

There is a new day that has dawned at The Gathering with a new spirit of love, compassion and cooperation being experienced as never before.  Our worship experiences are sweet times of refreshing from the Lord and our focus is clear.  Praise God for cleansing downpours and fresh movements of His Holy Spirit!

Church, 7 Days a Week

Love this video. Don’t know where this church is, but if they’re also preaching the Gospel like they seem to be living it, they’ve got it going on. This needs to become the goal of The Gathering (and every other New Testament church for that matter).

The Depths of the Cross

As we enter into this week before Easter, called Passion Week, I read what I believe is one of, if not the most profound and rich sections of Oswald Chambers’ famous devotional, My Utmost for His Highest.  Living in a world where misguided terrorists regularly commit suicide, killing not only themselves but countless others along with them in a vain attempt to become “martyrs” for Allah, Chambers puts the death of Christ in perspective, standing in stark contrast not only to those mass murderers, but even those who willingly give their lives for others and the cause of Christ:

Never associate the idea of martyrdom with the Cross of Christ. It was the supreme triumph, and it shook the very foundations of hell. There is nothing in time or eternity more absolutely certain and irrefutable than what Jesus Christ accomplished on the Cross— He made it possible for the entire human race to be brought back into a right-standing relationship with God. He made redemption the foundation of human life; that is, He made a way for every person to have fellowship with God.

As you turn your attention towards Easter Sunday, I encourage to read through and think about the depth of meaning in the cross of Christ as is communicated in this Chambers classic, The Collision of God and Sin.

C.S. Lewis on Pride

I was re-acquainted this morning with an excerpt from C.S. Lewis’ classic work, Mere Christianity.  I think it is so profound, I want to share with you the entire section on the subject of Pride:

According to Christian teachers, the essential vice, the utmost evil, is Pride.  Unchastity, anger, greed, drunkenness, and all that, are mere fleabites in comparison: it was through Pride that the devil became the devil: Pride leads to every other vice: it is the complete anti-God state of mind.

Does this seem exaggerated? If so, think it over. I pointed out a moment ago that the more pride one had, the more one disliked pride in others.  In fact, if you want to find out how proud you are, the easiest way is to ask yourself, ‘How much do I dislike it when other people snub me, or refuse to take any notice of me, or shove their oar in, or patronize me, or show off?’  The point is that each person’s pride is in competition with everyone else’s pride.  It is because I wanted to be the big noise at the party that I am so annoyed at someone else being the big noise.  Two of a trade never agree.  Now what you want to get clear is that Pride is essentially competitive–is competitive by its very nature–while the other vices are competitive only, so to speak, by accident.  Pride gets no pleasure out of having something, only out of having more of it than the next man.  We say that people are proud of being rich, or clever, or good-looking, but they are not.  They are proud of  being richer, or cleverer, or good-looking than others.  If everyone else became equally rich, or clever, or good-looking, there would be nothing to be proud about.  It is the comparison that makes you proud: the pleasure of being above the rest.  Once the element of competition has gone, pride has gone.  That is why I say that Pride is essentially competitive in a way the other vices are not.  The sexual impulse may drive two men into competition if they both want the same girl.  But that is only by accident; they might just as likely have wanted two different girls.  But a proud man will take your girl from you, not because he wants her, but just to provide to himself that he is a better man than you.  Greed may drive men into competition if there is not enough to go round; but the proud man, even when he has got more than he can possibly want, will try to get still more just to assert his power.  Nearly all those evils in the world which people put down to greed or selfishness are really far more the result of Pride.

The Circle of Love – 1 John 5:1-5

If you can get past John’s mental gymnastics, you’ll find a pretty simple concept in 1 John 5:1-5:  The love of God and the love of others is so entwined that you cannot have one without the other.  To get a little more complex in my explanation (as does John to a further degree), as the Believers, we love God.  If we love God, we must keep His commandments.  His commandment is to love Him and love others.  To love others is necessarily to demonstrate love for God, which necessarily demonstrates we’re Believers.  See the circle?  I think God intended for that kind of circular reasoning so that we could not let ourselves out through a loophole (no pun intended) of loving others.

He tells us that this is not a burdensome task for those who are His because, through faith, He does the loving through us.  In spite of the fact that this is still difficult, at times, to love those who are tougher to love, we can be over-comers because He has overcome.

Even this morning, I have been dwelling (more than necessary) on an individual who is challenging to me.  I get annoyed rather quickly and find the word “obnoxious” pop to mind when I think about them.  What do I do with that?  I suppose there are many ways of handling it, some better than others, but for me I have to consciously put that aside.  I have to remember how obnoxious I can be, how imperfect I am, and try to have the same grace I want to be shown by others who may have similar feelings towards me. How do you handle similar situations?  What is the way that brings the most honor to Christ?

On another quick note, John makes an important doctrinal statement in verse 1 that we don’t need to miss:

Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God, and everyone who loves the Father loves whoever has been born of him.

Look at how he phrases that: Everyone who believes (present tense)…has been born (past tense).  We sometimes think that our believing brings on the regeneration of our spirit.  What John says here is that our believing is evidence of our having been regenerated, which demonstrates how salvation is a work of God alone doing in us (who are dead in our trespasses) what we cannot do ourselves (Ephesians 2:8-9, John 15:16, John 6:60-66, 1 John 2:29, 3:9, 4:7, 19).  This is great news since He took the initiative to rescue us from our path of destruction (having been born in sin) and made us new, giving us the ability (faith, again see Eph 2:8-9) to trust Him, and the obedience to place that faith in Him (what we refer to as asking Him to be Lord of our lives) and live according to the commandment He has given us.

Fear, Itself. – 1 John 4:18-21

I’ve really had to chew on this passage and, to some degree, am continuing to chew as I write to see if what I’m thinking makes sense.  John says in 1 John 4:18 that, “there is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear.”  Honestly, I think that verse is often used divorced from the rest of the section and without context.  I often hear that used in reference to taking risks to love other people.  In the narrow context, I think that misses the point, though in the broader context, it is still applicable.  However, if we don’t look at the context, we can miss the central meaning.

This verse (and the entire section that we’re looking at today) must be taken together with the verses that we read yesterday.  John talked in 13-17 about the witness of the Holy Spirit in our lives, giving us internal assurance of our place within the family of God.  In essence, he says that because of the love God has shown them (the apostles) through Christ, they have come to believe in the love of God which leads us (by extension through their testimony) to a confidence that we will not face judgment.  That is the verse leading into the section for today, so the context is that we need not fear judgment because of the love of God.  That is the central idea: Because of the perfect love of Christ, if we are abiding in Him (finding our hope, contentment, purpose, etc.), we will have no fear of the future because perfect(ed) love casts it out.

So, really, John is giving us yet another test of how we can be certain of our standing with God through the absence of fear for the future, knowing in our souls (because of that indwelling testimony of the Holy Spirit) that we have been made right with God.  It doesn’t stop there, though.  John goes back to the idea of loving others as being partnered with this indwelling testimony.  There must be an outward expression of the inward testimony of the Holy Spirit.  Namely, loving others.

Sure, it’s great to feel the confidence of our eternal security by a lack of fear of death.  Yet, if that is not coupled with unconditional love for others (which is commanded–see verse 21), we are still dealing with emotionalism or religiosity (which can often mimic a real relationship with Christ).  THAT is the marker of a life having been transformed into the likeness of Christ, not that we simply love those who love us or who are easily lovable, but especially those whom we find it difficult to love: the least of these, the poor, the outcast, the obnoxious!  With these tests, we can certainly get a pretty accurate read on our standing with Christ.  This is John’s continued goal and mission from his Gospel:  “…these things are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.”

Can I Get A Witness? – 1 John 4:13-17

I had the opportunity to talk with a young lady after worship yesterday who is dealing with a lot of spiritual issues.  In tears, she said to me that she felt lost.  I asked in what sense she meant that and she told me that it seemed she was adrift at sea without any direction.  Remembering that on another occasion she had told me she had trusted Christ, I asked her about her relationship with Him.  She said, “I thought I had trusted in Jesus, but there has been nothing in my life to give evidence of that.”

I remembered back to John’s teaching in chapter 3, verse 6 [see commentary here]: “No one who abides in Him keeps on sinning; no one who keeps on sinning has either seen him or known Him.”  As we talked, she was right — there had been absolutely no transformation in her life since she “prayed a prayer.”  She still was unable and/or unwilling to give up the lifestyle choices she had made that were leading to destruction.

I suppose the good thing about this is that she continues to feel drawn at this point.  She still feels the tug of conviction, but she doesn’t have that ever-important element that John describes in the reading for today: the inner testifying of the Spirit of God that we are children of God.  The transforming work of love is carried out in our lives and we, then, “have confidence for the day of judgment…”.

I have great hope that she will truly come to trust in Christ because of the evidence that He is drawing her in to Himself, but when there is no transformation and no inner testimony of the Spirit that we are saved, there can be no justification.

When Love Isn’t Love – 1 John 4:7-12

You know what I get tired of?  Religious people who go to church and do all the stuff they’re supposed to, but give them half a chance and they rail on somebody.  I get tired of people who talk about the love of God, but never seem to show it; never seem to demonstrate grace and unconditional acceptance.

On the one hand, I think it could have something to do with that last statement I made.  We sometimes fall victim to thinking that unconditional acceptance means of all a person does: their actions, choices, ideologies, etc.  Instead, I’m talking about unconditional acceptance of the person.  Then, of course, it’s easy to say that we love people unconditionally, but fail to realize that if our actions don’t back that up, we’re just offering religious platitudes.

On the other hand, it is too often that people are simply being religious, and not transformed. In verse 8, John says, “Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.”  The translation is simple, isn’t it?  If your life is not characterized by the kind of unconditional, active love that God is, then we are not saved because we do not know Him.  That is a very serious indictment that we had better not dismiss.  Eternity rests on it.

Spiritual Anarchy – 1 John 3:1-10

If you’ve been following this running commentary on 1 John, I’m sorry I was unable to post on Friday or Saturday.  Friday I was out of town and could not get on a computer and Saturday we had a break-in at the church and my day was tied from early til late (and I choose not to post on Sunday).  I thought, then, I would cover passages over the last few days since they all cover the same idea.

As I alluded to in the last post, freedom from habitual sin is possible through the Holy Spirit.  What John goes on to say is that it is not only possible, it is imperative.  In very strong terms, John equates habitual sin with spiritual anarchy…lawlessness.  He points out that in Christ there is no sin and someone who continues in sin is not of Christ, but of the devil.  Strong stuff.

It is important to differentiate unintentional sinning with habitual sinning because of our sin nature.  We are prone towards sinning in our carnal or natural self (before Christ).  Since we have been redeemed from our sin nature, there is freedom from the eternal consequences of sin, but our sin nature still exists as long as we are in this world.  Thus, sinning is something we will always struggle with this side of Heaven.  That is why Paul talks of a war within in Romans as we battle to overcome that sin nature through the power of the Holy Spirit.

If, however, there is no battle and I continue in the same sin over and over again (especially to the point where there is no conviction from it, which eventually happens), John argues that as evidence for a massive spiritual problem:  the marks of a counterfeit disciple.

Little children, let no one deceive you. Whoever practices righteousness is righteous, as he is righteous. 8 Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil, for the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil. 9 No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him, and he cannot keep on sinning because he has been born of God. 10 By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother.

We need to go back to 2 Corinthians 5:21 which states, “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”  Amazingly, in Christ, we actually become the righteousness of God.  This means that righteousness is not just something that we do, it is who we are.  If we are not living a righteous life (not talking about perfect, but Christ-centered; not merely adhering to a moral set of rules but heart-motivated lifestyle bent towards right and Truth), we are in serious need of submitting ourselves before the Father and asking Him to bring a spiritual over-haul and to rescue us from the penalty of spiritual anarchy.

The Deception of Righteousness – 1 John 2:26-29

“I’m basically a good person.”

Number 1 answer given for the question, “Why do you think you should be allowed in heaven?”  The belief that doing good things is enough for salvation is probably one of Satan’s biggest attempts to keep us from Christ.  Strange, isn’t it?  Satan doesn’t want you to be bad…he wants you to be good, so long as that is what you rely on for salvation.  Then he has you.

In reading part of today’s section, it could almost be argued that doing good indicates you have been saved and have gotten your proverbial ticket punched.  Take a look at it:

If you know that he is righteous, you may be sure that everyone who practices righteousness has been born of him.

Sounds to me like he’s saying that those who practice righteousness are born of God.  Cool.  That’s easy enough, right?  Not so fast.  Remember that John has said that he is “writing these things to you about those who are trying to deceive you.” [v.26] There are plenty of people (including entire religions and denominations) that will tell you that being good is enough.  But looking at the entire context, we understand that when the Holy Spirit indwells us, we need not listen to the musings of various theologies and philosophies because He, Himself, will reveal Truth to us, which is why John emphasizes the need to abide in Him; stay close; stay in the Word of Truth.

Let’s briefly look, though, at this idea of “righteousness” talked about in John 2.  What does he really mean by connecting righteousness with being born of Jesus?

First, it seems that verse 29 must be talking about those who practice righteousness IN HIS NAME.  It can’t be that just by doing good deeds one is considered justified.  Of course, secondly, it’s also important to identify what is intended by the use of the word “RIGHTEOUSNESS.”  I think of 2 Corinthians 5:21 that says since Christ became sin on our behalf, we became that righteousness of God.  In other words, since we became the righteousness of God, the righteousness that we act out on is not our own, but Christ living and moving through us.  So there is something tied very closely into placing total faith in Christ which results in righteousness (and salvation!), not based on our own merit, to this passage.

Today, it is my desire to live a righteous life.  But I must understand the source from which the righteousness is derived and if I am having to work to manufacture “good works” rather than it over-flowing naturally from what Christ is doing within me, then it’s time I do a heart-check because “righteousness” can be very deceptive.

%d bloggers like this: