Famous Last Words

Guatama Buddha, the founder of Buddhism, is his final teaching to his disciples said this:

“Behold, O monks, this is my last advice to you: Work hard to gain your own salvation.”

Source: Buddahnet

Others have translated this sentence in this way:

“Strive without ceasing to earn your salvation”

Compare that with the final words of Jesus, who, as he hung on the cross, surrounded by his mother and a few of his closest disciples, said with his final breath:

“It is finished.”

The word he used: Tetelesti, is the word that a painter would use when he put the final touch on a work of art. It is the word you would use, when you make the final payment on your loan. It is a word which conveys a sense of satisfaction with an accomplishment.

Jesus was saying: “It is accomplished! What I came here to do: it’s done!” The implication is that there is nothing that needs to be added to it. He did it.

The thing which sets Christianity apart from all other religions and philosophies in the world, is that Christianity is about good news, not good advice.

Good advice says: here are some principles. If you follow them well enough, you will be saved.

Good news says: here is something that has been done for you, on your behalf, and as a result, you will be saved.

In Buddhism or Islam, for example, you are not saved by anything that Buddha or Mohammad did for you, you are saved by your own works; salvation comes by following the teachings or adhering to the pillars of the religion.

In Christianity, however, you are not saved by following the teachings of Jesus; you are saved by what Jesus did for you in His life, death and resurrection. In Christianity, you are not saved by your works, but by the work of God, in Christ, on your behalf.

In Christianity, you are not saved by following the teachings of Jesus; you are saved by what Jesus did for you in His life, death and resurrection.

Christianity is unique in that it says that your salvation is inextricably tied to historical events, which either happened or didn’t. If they didn’t happen, then we are wasting our time, Paul the Apostle argues in 1 Corinthians 15. And yet, all of the historical and anecdotal evidence points to the fact that they did indeed happen.

The gospel is good news, not good advice!

(For the rest of the message I taught on this subject at White Fields Church, click here.)

Good Friday: The Great Exchange

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The good news of Good Friday is that “It is finished!” (John 19:30) Because of that, we can rest from our labors of trying to justify ourselves, and we can revel in hope, because not only were our sins imputed to Jesus, but his righteousness was imputed to us.

This is what it means when it says: “For our sake, He (God) made Him (Jesus), who knew no sin, to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” (2 Corinthians 5:21)

It’s the most astonishing exchange of all time: for those who receive Him (John 1:12), all of your sinfulness was placed on Him, and in return all of His righteousness was accounted to you.

Jürgen Moltmann puts it this way:

“When God becomes man in Jesus of Nazareth, he not only enters into the finitude of man, but in his death on the cross also enters into the situation of man’s godforsakenness. In Jesus he does not die the natural death of a finite being, but the violent death of the criminal on the cross, the death of complete abandonment by God. The suffering in the passion of Jesus is abandonment, rejection by God, his Father. God does not become a religion, so that man participates in him by corresponding religious thoughts and feelings. God does not become a law, so that man participates in him through obedience to a law. God does not become an ideal, so that man achieves community with him through constant striving. He humbles himself and takes upon himself the eternal death of the godless and the godforsaken, so that all the godless and the godforsaken can experience communion with him.” (from The Crucified God)

Moltmann goes on to say:

God weeps with us so that we may one day laugh with him.

May your Good Friday be filled with reflection upon, appreciation for and response to what Jesus did for you on Calvary, the ultimate expression of God’s love for you!

 

The Pursuit of Happiness

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The Declaration of Independence contains this famous phrase:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

Happiness is what all people are ultimately seeking.  Including you. Including me. You want to be happy. So do I.

If you really think about it, everything we do is, in one way or another, a pursuit of happiness.

The pursuit of happiness is what motivates people to get married – or not to get married, to have children or not to have children, to choose certain careers or paths in life and not others. It is the reason people abuse substances – and even, as strange as it may sound at first, to commit suicide.

Philosopher and scientist Blaise Pascal said:

All people seek happiness. This is without exception. Whatever different means they employ, they always tend towards this end. The cause of some going to war and of others avoiding it is the same desire in both, attended with different views. The will never takes the least step but to this object (happiness). This is the motive of every action of every man, even of those who hang themselves.
Suicide is the (very misguided!) belief, that one can escape unhappiness here in this life and hopefully find happiness wherever they end up. Still, even this terrible and tragic act is part of the pursuit of happiness.
Sometimes Christians have made a false distinction between happiness and joy. Here is what Joni Eareckson Tada has to say about that:
We are often taught to be careful of the difference between joy and happiness. ‘Happiness,’ it is said, ‘is an emotion which depends on what happens to you (a false etymology).’ Joy, by contrast is supposed to be enduring, stemming from deep within our soul, and which is not affected by circumstances surrounding us. I don’t think God had any such hairsplitting in mind. Scripture uses the terms interchangeably along with words such as “delight” “Gladness” “blessing” – There is no scale of relative spiritual values applied to any of these. Happiness is not relegated to fleshly minded sinners nor joy to heaven-bound saints.

If you ask the average person what they want more than anything else, they will reply:  “I want to be HAPPY!”   “It’s not the only thing I want — but it is at the core of the other things I want.”

If you ask people: “What do you really want for your kids?”  They will say: “I want them to be polite, respectful, successful, responsible” — but why?  Because what they really want is for them to be happy.  The reason they want all those other things for them, is because they believe those things will result in their greater happiness in the long run.
C.H. Spurgeon said this:
My dear brothers, if anyone in the world ought to be happy, we are those people. How boundless our privileges, how brilliant our hopes.
As Christians, in and through Jesus Christ, we have the keys to the happiness we desire and the joy we were made for.
Starting this Sunday at White Fields Church, I will be teaching a series titled: The Pursuit of Happiness, in which we will be studying Paul’s letter to the Philippians with a view of how Paul had the keys to happiness and an indomitable joy even in the midst of dark circumstances.
The graphic art above was done by CryBabyDesign. Check them out for all your graphic design needs.

Spurgeon Quotes

Charles Spurgeon’s hundreds of sermons are a deep well of eloquent and powerful quotes. Here are a few favorites I recently came across:

Calvinists are often criticized for not considering evangelism an urgent priority, since God is sovereign. Spurgeon was a Calvinist, but these were his thoughts on the importance of diligence in evangelism:

If sinners be damned, at least let them leap to Hell over our dead bodies. And if they perish, let them perish with our arms wrapped about their knees, imploring them to stay. If Hell must be filled, let it be filled in the teeth of our exertions, and let not one go unwarned and unprayed for.

Spurgeon on the gospel which is worth living for, dying for and sacrificing for:

there used to be a gospel in the world which consisted of facts which Christians never questioned. There was once in the church a gospel which believers hugged to their hearts as if it were their soul’s life. There used to be a gospel in the world, which provoked enthusiasm and commanded sacrifice. Tens of thousands have met together to hear this gospel at peril of their lives. Men, to the teeth of tyrants, have proclaimed it, and have suffered the loss of all things, and gone to prison and to death for it, singing psalms all the while. Is there not such a gospel remaining?

Do you have any favorite Spurgeon quotes?  Leave me a comment below.

When Life Gives You Lemons…

This past Sunday I taught 1 Samuel 18 at White Fields (the audio of that message can be found here).

This is the story of Saul’s jealousy towards David, which leads him to begin a campaign to hurt David in order to secure his position of power and prominence in Israel. It is a story full of themes which are all too familiar for many of us, because they are so human.

Here are a few quotes from Sunday which are worth revisiting:

One of the main principles in this story is the fact that you can’t control how people treat you, and often-times you can’t control what happens to you, but you do get to choose how you respond to those things.

Ted Engstrom illustrates this principle well:

“Cripple him, and you have a Sir Walter Scott.
Lock him in a prison cell, and you have a John Bunyan.
Bury him in the snows of Valley Forge, and you have a George Washington.
Raise him in abject poverty and you have an Abraham Lincoln.
Strike him down with infantile paralysis, and he becomes a Franklin Roosevelt.
Burn him so severely that the doctors say he’ll never walk again, and you have a Glenn Cunningham who set the world’s one-mile record in 1934.
Deafen him and you’ll have a Ludwig van Beethoven.
Have him or her born black in a society filled with racial discrimination, and you’ll have a Booker T. Washington, and a George Washington Carver
Call him a slow learner, and write him off as uneducable, and you have an Albert Einstein.”

All of these people had terrible circumstances that they didn’t get to choose, that nobody would have ever chosen! But they didn’t crumble under these circumstances; instead, they responded well – and their circumstances ended up becoming an important part of who they would become and why they would be great.

The same is true of David. Men after God’s heart aren’t made in palaces, they are made in fields on cold nights, tending the sheep alone under the stars; they are made in caves, where the Lord is your only rock and fortress.

Gene Edwards, in his classic book ‘A Tale of Three Kings: A Study in Brokenness’, writes this about David’s difficult circumstances:

David the sheepherder would have grown up to become King Saul II, except that God cut away the Saul inside David’s heart. That operation, took years and was a brutalizing experience that almost killed the patient. And what were the scalpel and tongs God used to remove that inner Saul from David’s heart?  God used the outer Saul.
King Saul sought to destroy David, but his only success was that he became the instrument of God to put to death the Saul who roamed about in the caverns of David’s own soul.

Edwards goes on to say:

God is looking at the King Saul in you.
“In me?!”
Yes, Saul is in your bloodstream, in the marrow of your bones. He makes up the very flesh and muscle of your heart. He is mixed into your soul. He inhabits the nuclei of your atoms. King Saul is one with you. You are King Saul! He breathes in the lungs and beats in the breast of all of us. There is only one way to get rid of him: he must be annihilated.

You don’t get to choose your circumstances, but you do get to choose how you respond.  When life gives you lemons… may God help us to respond well!

What is the Scope of Salvation?

One of the things I’m intrigued by in the Bible is the meaning of salvation. I have noticed in myself and others a tendency to settle for a narrower understanding of the scope of the salvation that is promised to us in Jesus than the fullness of what is found in the scriptures.

Of course this is not to distract from or undermine the central concern for our relationship with God and our need to be put right with him (justification). But when you see the scope of salvation in the Bible, beyond saving us from damnation, it is exciting!

For example, in chapter 19 of the Gospel of Luke, Zacchaeus, having spent years ripping people off, turns to Jesus and repents of his greed and sin, and also shows signs of true repentance when he gives back the money he ripped off to the people he took it from, even though it may have happened years prior – and Jesus declares: “salvation has come to this house today” (Luke 19:9). Salvation for Zacchaeus was salvation for his soul, AND deliverance from bondage to vain things AND salvation unto a new course in life as a disciple of Jesus – which inherently means taking an active role in God’s mission to bring salvation to the world.

The very name Jesus means “Savior”!  Here are some quotes on the meaning and scope of the salvation that’s found in Jesus:

Salvation itself, the salvation Christ gives to his people, is freedom from sin in all its ugly manifestations, and liberation into a new life of service, until finally we attain ‘the glorious liberty of the children of God. (J. Stott, Christian Mission in the Modern World)

 

In the Old Testament the word ‘salvation’ speaks of ‘shalom’, or complete wholeness of being, in every dimension of life. (A. Motyer, The Prophecy of Isaiah)

 

The three tenses of salvation – past, present and future – are united into an organic whole; they may be distinguished but must not be separated. The salvation that the gospel proclaims is not limited to man’s reconciliation to God. It involves the remaking of man in all the dimensions of his existence. It has to do with the recovery of the whole man according to God’s original purpose for his creation. (R. Padilla, Mission Between the Times)

 

The full gospel brought by Jesus Christ is both salvation from sin and salvation into the capacity to be fully human and truly free. (D. Webster)

Exciting? I think so.

Rest in Peace Nelson Mandela

Here are some quotes from Nelson Mandela, who died today at age 95.

It is better to lead from behind and to put others in front, especially when you celebrate victory, when nice things occur. You take the front line when there is danger. Then people will appreciate your leadership.

There is no passion to be found playing small – in settling for a life that is less than the one you are capable of living.

 

The Cost of Community

“If you love deeply you're going to get hurt badly. But it's still worth it.” – CS Lewis

One of the things that my wife and I liked about Longmont when we were first moving here last year was that it wasn't a suburb of Denver or Boulder, but a stand-alone community. Whenever possible we choose to spend our money at local businesses and restaurants rather than at chains. Last year we had some friends visiting from California, and we took them out to eat on a Saturday night in downtown Longmont, where we walked around for a while trying to find a place to eat where we wouldn't have to wait an hour for to be seated. At one point this friend of ours asked us, “Don't you guys have any chain restaurants around here? I haven't seen any!” I think people in this area pride themselves on supporting the local community. That's why people here love Oscar Blues and Left Hand Brewing, because they are local businesses that love this community and pour back out into it. 'Community' is an increasingly popular concept all over America – just as it is here in Longmont. Its a good thing to be a local and to be a part of your community – which means knowing and being known, it means relationships and mutual support.

And community is at the heart of Christianity. The whole of the Bible centers not around isolated individuals who know God, but around families and nations – people living out a relationship with God in community. What we learn from the Bible is that community is essential to growing in the knowledge of God and living out your faith. The radically individualistic American culture has tried to take Christianity and make it into a private, personal thing that you can do on your own without any ties to anyone but God – but that's not what it was ever meant to be.

There has been an increasing resurgence of value for community in Christian circles in recent decades – with lots of books being written on the topic and books like Bonhoeffer's “Life Together” becoming popular. But the thing is: when you actually do it, you realize that there's a cost to community. And the reason there's a cost is because real life is messy and people are imperfect. So if you get close to people and you really, actually “do life” with them, and enter into their lives and allow them to enter in to the reality of your life, sooner or later you are going to see their mess and they will see yours. It's a lot easier and cleaner to keep people at arm's-length, and keep relationships superficial. That's what social media is great at: we are able to always put our best face forward and only show people what we want them to see about us. But that's not reality and that's not real community. In fact, neither is simply knowing your neighbors and shopping at the local store and gardening at the community garden.

The word the Bible uses is the über-Christianese word “fellowship”, but the original Greek word for it is super rich: Koinonea, which means 'sharing' or 'having in common' – the root word of 'community'. It says in Acts 2 that the early Christians had all things in common. They were dedicated to fellowship and they met in the temple daily and then met in each other's homes and ate together. This is the life of a community. Knowing and being known. Sharing and partaking. Life together.

And life together can be a rich and fulfilling experience – but the flip-side of that is that there is risk involved. Any time you choose to share your life with someone and get close to them and love them, you make yourself vulnerable – vulnerable to the pain of losing that relationship, vulnerable to the hurt of being betrayed by that person, which, the closer they are to you, the more it hurts. You make yourself vulnerable to their junk affecting your life and messing it up.

If true community has a cost and risk involved, then the question is: is it worth it? Why not just isolate yourself, keep your relationships superficial and your life private? You can still know your neighbors and shop local, but you don't have to get involved in other peoples lives nor will they get close enough to hurt you or cause you grief. The reason is, because the more you love, the greater your capacity for joy. It also increases your vulnerability to be hurt, but you can't get great returns without taking great risk. It's like having a child; there is a great amount of risk involved: your kids could turn out to be terrible people who hate your guts and ruin the world. But if you never take that chance, you'll never experience the depths of joy that kids can bring. Or like marriage: that one's a huge risk statistically! If you get married, there's a huge chance you could go through a painful and expensive divorce. But if you don't get married out of fear of those things, you will miss out on the depths of intimacy and fulfillment and joy that marriage can bring.

So, here's my 2 cents: let's not just like the idea of community – let's actually live life together. You'll be richer for it. Because those other people have something to give to you and to receive from you. There is a cost to community, and it can be substantial! When someone is close, their junk can affect you. But the risk is worth it, because it raises the ceiling on how much joy and growth you can experience.