as a philosopher, I have a huge problem with circular reasoning. If you don't know what that is, it's an argument that “proves” itself by beginning with it's own ending point. One of the big ones we are faced with as Christians is the idea that the bible is true because it says it's true. This is an argument many Christians accept, and site verses like 2 Timothy 3:16 as a justification:
There is a weird dichotomy in being a human in that we can be both evil and holy at the same time. Our nature is a sin nature, and so many of our wants, ambitions, and motivations are rooted in evil, and yet, we have been forgiven by the death and resurrection of Jesus and set apart from the rest of the world (that's what the word “holy” means; to be set apart). And so we find ourselves in this state of flux, where we act in wickedness, and God takes our disobedience and uses it against evil turning our weakness into strength
The great thing about the Kingdom of God is that God doesn't like to work through people who have it all together. When we have it all together (if there is such a thing) we tend to attribute the greatness of our deeds to ourselves, whereas those of us in the other column (the ones who definitely don't have anything together) know that we could not accomplish much without the help of God.
The Kingdom of God or the Kingdom of Heaven (it's called both, but it's the same thing) is an upside down kingdom where the last are first and the first are last, where leaders lead not for glory and accolades but to serve those they lead; in the same way that Jesus washed his disciples feet (a task usually reserved for the lowliest of servants or slaves) we are to humble ourselves and serve those around us.
The promise of the cross is pretty overwhelming. That nothing you have done or will do or could do can separate you from God's love (Romans 8:38-39) can be hard to grasp. But it's true. God loves us so much that, while we were still sinners, He sent His son to become the perfect sacrifice for us to atone for our sins.
Sometimes we look at the Bible and the way the Israelites acted and how they would worship false gods and we think something along the lines of, “silly, Israelites. Why do you keep making this mistake?” It's easy to sit in condemnation of others from a standpoint in history when we know better. However, this problem is still around.
a parent longs to see their kids meet their potential and find satisfaction, whatever that looks like. God wants us to grow. He's created so many experiences for us that it's tragic when we don't get to experience them. As we grow we know God more completely and we become known more completely ourselves.
This would have been shocking to anyone hearing it who might have thought Jesus was the Messiah. The Messiah was expected to overthrow the Romans and return right worship to the temple in Jerusalem, but Jesus preached the coming of an upside down kingdom where the first were last, the last were first, and where leaders led by serving.
Challenge False Idealism: In the wake of the tragic and frightening violence in Virginia this week, I saw a church sign that had my respect and attention. It read: “White Supremacy is a Sin. Say It.” My legit reaction was “I want to go to there!” Let's not beat around the bush, the gospel is a revolutionary document. It dictates a way of living that requires us to call out injustice and sin as we see it, keeping ourselves to the same standards. If we aren't willing to engage with the gospel on this level, we can't expect our congregations to engage with our content either.
I imagine this was a hard thing for Jesus to say, in part prophesying his own death, the words right true: to seek after the world is to deny Christ, and to seek after Christ is to deny the world. What matters in life is not how much money you make, or how secure you are, or the car you drive, or how smart your kids are or anything like that. What matters is Christ. And we need to be willing to give all that other stuff up if we want to truly follow him.
Truly, not every church is meant to Willow Creek or Mars Hill. And by the same token, not every church is meant to be a cozy little home church either. I do think, though, that all churches are meant to grow. That doesn't always mean people in pews, that can also mean in generosity, in influence, in social accountability, and many more ways.
This to me is a call to remember that God is good, that my soul doesn't need to be restless all the time because, when it comes down to it, God is good to me. This verse is saying, “Remember to take a brake! Be at peace! Calm your soul! The world will not stop turning! Take care of yourself, because God has been good to you.”
Being in the world and not of it can be challenging. It's hard to gauge which social pulls are acceptable and which aren't. As our culture has evolved, both in the church and outside of it, many of our ideas and interpretations of scripture have changed; and while we've faced (and will continue to face) issues around specific interpretations over the years (female church leadership, divorce, theology of hell, homosexuality) several ideals remain constant: Love over hate, forgiveness over vengeance, peace over violence, justice over injustice, honesty over falsehood, and God over all. So while today's verse can be challenging in specific circumstances it must be that way so that we can truly hold fast to the ways of God.
During part of the meal you are supposed to eat bitter herbs and spices as a reminder of when you were slaves in Egypt, which I struggled with as I have never been a slave, nor have my ancestors ever been slaves (I've never even been to Egypt!). The guy leading the meal looked at me and said “You have been a slave. You were once a slave to sin.” While I know this is not like actual physical slavery it hit me hard and really made me consider the victory over sin I had in Jesus and the cross.
Being a Christian should change you. It should challenge your former way of life so much that there are noticeable differences between who you were and who you are. Jesus seeks to flip our lives on our heads and he's good at it, so if you are truly following him you should notice a change, and so should others. We like to talk in terms of light and darkness, and we tend to say we were in darkness before, and now that we found Jesus we are in the light, but this analogy doesn't go far enough. Ultimately if you were in darkness and then transitioned to light nothing really changed about you except your location. But the bible actually talks about us being the darkness and then being the light after our transformation.
“For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light” -Ephesians 5:8
It's not enough to have been in darkness, being in or out of darkness can be relative; but what the bible is saying is that we participated in the darkness, we generated darkness, we were darkness. And since Jesus has come and flipped us on our heads we are able to participate in the light! We can generate light, because of Christ we are light!
So, how do we become transformed? There is a permission we have to give ourselves to be changed, and a permission we have to give Christ to change us (he of course could transform us without permission but he tends to want us to reciprocate his love on our own). Mostly though you need a community of transformation to support you. Find a church that is just as crazy for Jesus as you want to be. Become involved in communities that challenge you, that make you question yourself. Be open to the leading of the spirit and be open to the change that openness allows.
Read the red letters. Let them effect you, let them change you. Allow yourself to see the areas of your life that are not reflecting Christ. Come out of darkness, stop participating in it. Come into light, both in physicality and in being. Be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Be transformed by the mercy of Christ! And be changed from who you were into who you were made to be.
Whenever someone comes up to me with a complaint against someone else in the church I say “Did you speak to them about it?” and if they say no then I ask them to follow Matthew 18 and to speak to them privately before involving me. Not that I'm not willing to listen to concerns, but that this is an important part of being the church, and when we skip steps we create gossip and it poisons the church.
God does this really scary thing where he takes all of your hurts and your brokenness and even your sin and he turns them into something beautiful and then he makes that the focus of your ministry. He knows just how to work in you and heal you and forgive you so that he can take your darkest moments and turn them into someone else's light. He uses our weakness to show his immense strength and it is terrifying and beautiful. It's terrifying because it means making yourself vulnerable, and sharing what you thought you would never share; and it is beautiful because you can actually see other heart break and turn to the light and accept healing and forgiveness and grace.