The Intended Impact of Christianity

Within each of us exists the image of God, however disfigured and corrupted by sin it may presently be. God is able to recover this image through grace as we are conformed to Christ. – Alister McGrath

A lot of people declare they don’t like change.

For some, to mix up a routine, rearrange a sock drawer or move some furniture around can bring about feelings of frustration…maybe even anger.

The challenge of change is so real that one person wrote a book about it called Who Moved My Cheese?: An Amazing Way to Deal with Change in Your Work and in Your Life.  How popular was this book? Who Moved My Cheese? remained on the New York Times Bestseller List for almost five years and spent over 200 weeks on Publishers Weekly’s hardcover nonfiction list. It sold more than 26 million copies worldwide in 37 languages.

So here’s the deal: Trying to live the Christian life and avoid change is an exercise in futility. Why? Because Christianity is all about change!

Perhaps the best know verse regarding change is Romans 12:2:

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. (ESV)

As we purposefully engage the Word and our moved by the Spirit, the growing Christian embraces change in the areas of beliefs, thought, attitudes and actions.

As we step into a relationship with God through Jesus, God has three main areas of change he wants us to experience:

A relationship with Jesus is meant to change our perspectives

To know God and follow Jesus means our worldview will change. We will, hopefully, see things from a much more biblical perspective.

For example, the pursuit of power, control and influence is common in our culture. And it was common in the time of Jesus.

One time Jesus’ disciples began arguing about who would have the seats of power and prominence in heaven. After a time of squabbling, Jesus pulled his men together for an impromptu lesson. Here’s how it all went down:

Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant,  and whoever wants to be first must be your slave— just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Matthew 20:25-28 NIV)

In short, Jesus was telling his guys, “You need a new perspective! The people of the world push for power, but the people of my Kingdom are made to serve.”

In his teachings, Jesus offers us the opportunity to change our perspectives on things like money, use of time, prejudice, true spirituality, the afterlife, and so on.

When a person comes to Christ, there are a lot of perspectives that need to be changed. But. even if we’ve known Jesus for a long time, there are always new perspectives for us to attain.

A relationship with Jesus is intended to change our priorities

The reality is most people live for themselves. They rule and reign their lives as if they sat on a throne.

But knowing God means we rearrange our priorities.

In what Jesus boiled down as the essence of what it means to live the Jesus Christ, two priorities emerge: Love God, love others.

In Philippians 2, Paul gave a challenge that goes along with Jesus’ teaching about our priorities:

Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. (Philippians 2:1-4 ESV)

Bottom line, our natural inclination is to elevate ourselves, but the Bible calls on us to prioritize others!

Another way we see the idea of re-prioritizing in scripture is found in the Sermon on the Mount, specifically in Matthew 6:28-34:

“And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them.  But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

If we a intentional in our pursuit of Jesus, we will naturally find that he has several things in mind that could be re-prioritized in our lives.

A relationship with Jesus is designed to change our practices

In Luke 19, Jesus meets a man named Zacchaeus.  Zacchaeus was a tax collector who made a habit of extorting money from people. But after hosting Jesus in his home, Zacchaeus decided he needed to pay the people back.

What a wonderful picture of how Jesus intends to change our behavior!

When it came to Paul’s New Testament letters, he usually followed a typical blueprint. First, Paul would write about theology. He’d talk about God’s character and God’s plans. He’d share about the workings of justification, sanctification, regeneration and so on.

The second part of Paul’s letters were mainly devoted to the Christian’s practice. Paul would be very specific about how we should live practically in response to the Gospel.

For example, consider Epheseans 4:25-32. Note this passage begins with the word “therefore,” which serves as a hinge between Paul’s doctrinal and practical teaching. What Paul means is this: based on all that I’ve told you about theology, now align the practice of your life with the proclamation of the Gospel.

Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another. Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil. Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need. Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. (Ephesians 4:25-32 ESV)

In the short space of eight verses, Paul offers direction in the areas of handling emotions, honest labor, watching our words, and how we treat those around us!

No one comes to Jesus without room for change. We all have areas of our life to bring before the Lord, allowing Him to reveal to us our weaknesses, blind spots and outright sinful behaviors.

Nothing paralyzes our lives like the attitude that things can never change. We need to remind ourselves that God can change things. Outlook determines outcome. If we see only the problems, we will be defeated; but if we see the possibilities in the problems, we can have victory.

 

 

 

How an Honest Self-Assessment Opens the Doors of the Gospel

(This blog post is a condensed summation of a lesson taught at one of our Sunday morning groups at CDA Bible Church. The class is called The Jesus Creed, based on the book of the same name by Scot McKnight)

One of the main reasons some people don’t understand the Gospel (and subsequently fail to receive its benefits) is because they view themselves too highly.

See, the Gospel doesn’t make sense for the self-righteous, but rather speaks volumes to the spiritually desperate.

If we see ourselves as spiritually arrived or spiritually deserving, we miss the point of what God offers us.

Core to understanding and receiving the Gospel is something called repentance. Some phrases that help understand what this word means include:

  • Turning over a new leaf
  • Starting over
  • Changing the direction of our life
  • Leaving certain thing behind

Repentance happens when we get real with God and tell him (and ourselves) the truth.

There are three levels of life we have to speak truth about:

  1. Our public persona
  2. Our family image
  3. Our inner self

Out of these three, coming clean about our inner self can be the most challenging. Why? Because this this the area of our life which we can most easily hide.

Truth be told, we human beings have been expert hiders ever since the fall in the Garden of Eden. We are quite adept at keeping secrets from God and others. Sometimes we are so deluded we keep secrets from ourselves. No wonder the Bible declares:

“The human heart is the most deceitful of all things, and desperately wicked. Who really knows how bad it is? – Jeremiah 17:9 NLT

In the book The Jesus Creed, Scot McKnight makes this observation:

“Because we have learned to hide, we need new beginnings to set us free.”

To experience a fresh start and a new direction, we must embrace truthfulness. Why? Because truthfulness awakens forgiveness. Another way to say it is this: confession begets exoneration. Coming cleans is the means to restoration, redemption and refocus for our lives.

So often, though, our mind tells us that confession, or truthfulness, is dangerous. Our fear is we won’t find redemption, rather we will just get busted.

To such thinking, Henry Nouwen offered this perspective:

“I am beginning to see how radically the character of my spiritual journey will change when I no longer think of God as hiding out and making it difficult as possible for me to find him, but instead, as the one looking for me while I am doing the hiding.”

So, what are some of the areas of life we can come clean about? Here are three to consider:

Our spirituality

Here’s the deal: true spirituality is not something we make up on our own. Nor can we attain it from the efforts of other people. As the saying goes, there won’t be any coat tail Christians in heaven.

No, true spirituality can only be received from God.

In Ephesians 1, Paul assessed the true condition of our spirituality: he wrote that it was dead!

It is only when we recognize our great need that we can receive what God desires to give to us freely: a spiritual awakening and renewal.

Our possessions

Ever notice how the Jesus and the New Testament writers talk a lot about money and possessions? Here’s why: money reveals a lot about our hearts.

A spiritually attuned person will know this about God: He is generous.

And so it follows that a mark of a spiritual person is that they, like their God, are generous as well.

Jesus made it clear: we can’t serve both God and money. Yet, the temptation to do so is ever present.

Our power

What we do with our power says a lot about whether we have practiced repentance.

Apart from Christ, power is seen as something to wield against others to get our way.

Of power, Chuck Colson once opined: “Absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

But Jesus had a different take on power. He once said to his disciples:

“You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave,even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

Here’s the thing: God already knows the absolute truth about us.

Our challenge is to realize this and stop fooling ourselves.

Bottom line: Getting real with God is where our relationship with Him begins.

 

 

 

 

 

Active Christianity on Full Display in a Dallas Courtroom

This week the court case involving the fatal shooting of a man by a off-duty Dallas police officer came to a close. Its a case I had been aware of, but not really followed.

No one but the shooter, Amber Guyger, really knows what  happened that fateful evening. What is known is that Guyger entered the apartment of a man named Botham Jean and shot his as he sat on his couch while eating ice cream and watching TV. As the story goes, Guyger walked into the apartment thinking it was hers and reacted when confronted with the idea that someone was inside her dwelling.

This post is not about the particulars of the case. As I wrote above, the only witness to the shooting was Amber Guyger. But, after all the evidence and testimony were submitted to the court, a jury came back with a conviction of murder. What this post is about is what happened at Amber Guyger’s sentencing, where she was sentenced to 10 years in prison.

Family members were given the opportunity to speak to Guyger through what is known as a “victim impact statement.” Typically, this is when those affected by the crime are able to share the pain and suffering that come about due to the criminal offense. Those making such statements are given to restrictions: no threats and no profanity. It’s not uncommon for people making a victim impact statement to weep, to blame and to vent.

But as revealed in the video clip below, Brandt Jean, Botham Jean’s brother took his impact statement in a markedly different direction:

I stand amazed at the ability of this young man to apply his faith in such a tragic situation. We might be tempted to say that Brandt Jean had every right to direct his anger and hatred toward Amber Guyger. And make no mistake, the loss of his brother was enormous. But, on this day, Brandt Jean put something above his emotions. He brought the Gospel to a Dallas courtroom. 

First, Brandt Jean practiced the Gospel by communicating his forgiveness toward Amber Guygen. And then Brandt shared the Gospel, inviting Amber to give her life to Christ. By this, Brandt was sharing the source of his strength and the wellspring of his perspective. And then, in a surprise to all, Brandt Jean asked the judge if he could give Amber Guygen a hug. For me, this was Brandt Jeans means of communicating the veracity of everything he had just said to Amber.

I’ve sometimes wondered what type of terrible situation might cause me to push my Christian practice aside because of painful, bitter emotions. I hear men like Brandt Jean offer forgiveness to the person who ended his brother’s life and I wonder: would I have the wherewithal to do the same thing?

But, Brandt Jean’s actions in the courtroom were not the only ones worthy of awe and  reflection. After the gavel was struck to signify the closing of the case, Judge Tammy Kemp went to her chambers, only to return a few moments later with a gift for Amber Guyger: a personal copy of the Bible. Here’s the clip:

Here’s how the ABC news affiliate in Dallas described the scene:

After stepping off the bench to comfort the Jean family, the judge walked over to Guyger, still at the defense table. She bent low and spoke in the young woman’s ear. “You understand?” the judge said, barely audible.

The judge appeared to be overcome in the moment, and left the courtroom. She returned a moment later, a small Bible in her hand.

“You can have mine,” the judge said to Guyger. “I have three or four at home.”

She then began to counsel Guyger. The pair were talking low, barely audible, just the two of them. “This is your job,” the judge said, opening the book.

The judge mentioned John 3:16, saying this will strengthen her. Guyger nodded her head.

“You just need a tiny mustard seed of faith,” the judge said. “You start with this.”

Guyger embraced the judge, who hugged her back. Guyger whispered something.

“Ma’am,” the judge said warmly. “It’s not because I’m good. It’s because I believe in Christ.”

“You haven’t done so much that you can’t be forgiven,” the judge told her. “You did something bad in one moment in time. What you do now matters.”

The judge told Guyger that she could take the Bible with her as deputies prepared to escort her to the prisoner holding cell connected to the courtroom.

And, like Brandt did before her, Judge Tammy Kemp gave Amber a hug.

To me, Judge Tammy Kemp revealed a firm grasp of what it means to walk in both truth and grace. As a judge, she had to do her job in upholding justice. But as a human being, she looked upon Amber Guyger as just another person in need of a savior.

Sometimes we need examples of how to put our faith into practice. In a Dallas courtroom, a grieving brother and a compassionate judge provided models of what it means to have the Gospel take captivity of our heart.