Jesus is a Friend of Sinners
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I did not need to read George Kinnaman and Gabe Lyon's book with the above title. (Baker Books 2007) The chapter titles were enough to tell me that the Barna Group's latest study would come close to matching my own suspicions. In short, many in the younger generation in America today consider "the church" to be irrelevant, out of date, judgmental, sheltered, antihomosexual, and hypocritical.
The authors do move on to offer helpful suggestions for changing how we do things, so this is a very worthwhile read.
Since I don't intend to give up on Christ's church or the Lord Jesus, I decided I did not want to be numbered among the "irrelevant majority" and I should therefore check and see if I could find ways to fall more into line with what a Christian was supposed to look like from a First Century perspective.
God expressed his sore displeasure at Israel through the prophet Isaiah when He announced that He would save them not because of their meritorious life style or track record, but only to protect His own name and reputation which had been attached to that nation.
I wonder if God is similarly unhappy with the church twenty centuries after it was founded? Could we collectively be in big trouble with God and not even know it?
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"Son of man, when the house of Israel dwelt in their own land, they defiled it by their own ways and deeds; to Me their way was like the uncleanness of a woman in her customary impurity. "Therefore I poured out My fury on them for the blood they had shed on the land, and for their idols with which they had defiled it. "So I scattered them among the nations, and they were dispersed throughout the countries; I judged them according to their ways and their deeds. "When they came to the nations, wherever they went, they profaned My holy name--when they said of them, 'These are the people of the LORD, and yet they have gone out of His land.'
"But I had concern for My holy name, which the house of Israel had profaned among the nations wherever they went. "Therefore say to the house of Israel, 'Thus says the Lord GOD: "I do not do this for your sake, O house of Israel, but for My holy name's sake, which you have profaned among the nations wherever you went. "And I will sanctify My great name, which has been profaned among the nations, which you have profaned in their midst; and the nations shall know that I am the LORD," says the Lord GOD, "when I am hallowed in you before their eyes."
"For I will take you from among the nations, gather you out of all countries, and bring you into your own land. "Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from all your idols. "I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. "I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will keep My judgments and do them. "Then you shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers; you shall be My people, and I will be your God. "I will deliver you from all your uncleannesses. I will call for the grain and multiply it, and bring no famine upon you. "And I will multiply the fruit of your trees and the increase of your fields, so that you need never again bear the reproach of famine among the nations. "Then you will remember your evil ways and your deeds that were not good; and you will loathe yourselves in your own sight, for your iniquities and your abominations.
"Not for your sake do I do this," says the Lord GOD, "let it be known to you. Be ashamed and confounded for your own ways, O house of Israel!" 'Thus says the Lord GOD: "On the day that I cleanse you from all your iniquities, I will also enable you to dwell in the cities, and the ruins shall be rebuilt. "The desolate land shall be tilled instead of lying desolate in the sight of all who pass by. "So they will say, 'This land that was desolate has become like the garden of Eden; and the wasted, desolate, and ruined cities are now fortified and inhabited.' "Then the nations which are left all around you shall know that I, the LORD, have rebuilt the ruined places and planted what was desolate. I, the LORD, have spoken it, and I will do it." (Ezekiel 36:17-36)
Yet here in this example is to be seen the Love that never lets go, saving and redeeming men and women in spite of ourselves--"for His namesake." Here is love that goes further in turning our sins and failures into new works of beauty. In commenting on Psalm 51, regarding David's sin or murder and adultery, Ray Stedman once said,
"God gives us back more than we have lost."
cleanses to a deeper level than the level of the immediate sin."
"God cleanses deeper than the Law allows for."
For nearly two years, since teaching through the book, I have been often reminded of some key truths about our God hidden away in the book of Leviticus. Ray Stedman points out that five different offerings--all pointing to Jesus Christ-show us how God meets us sinners with open arms, so that we can become whole new men and women. Ray writes,
"Five offerings. The first element is a series
of five offerings. I believe that God gave us five fingers on each hand so that
we can remember the five offerings: (1) the burnt offering, (2) the meal
offering, (3) the peace offering, (4) the sin offering, and (5) the trespass
offering. These five offerings are pictures of what Jesus Christ did for us
when He was sacrificed upon the cross. They are also pictures of the great,
fundamental needs of human life.
These five offerings speak of the two essential ingredients of human existence: love and responsibility.
We can never be complete persons if we lack this first ingredient, love. We can never be all that God created us to be if we are not loved and if we do not love others. Love is an essential ingredient of life. We were made to love and be loved. Nothing hurts and distorts a human soul like the denial of love.
The second essential ingredient is a sense of responsibility. As human beings, we have duties and responsibilities to other human beings and to God. When we live responsibly, meeting our responsibilities to God and others, we gain a sense of self-worth and self-respect that comes from God.
In order to be whole people with healthy relationships, we need to experience both love and responsibility. The offerings that are presented in Leviticus show us the role that love and responsibility play in our lives..." (http://www.raystedman.org/leviticus/leviticus.html#anchor21135207).
In effect, our sin before God and our sins against one another are not dealt with personally until we come to the last two sacrificial offerings described in Leviticus. The first three offerings emphasize God's unconditional love for us--and our need to respond to the offered love of Jesus. It is after we have responded to Jesus that God begins to deal with our sins and failures.
"God is Love" is a rock-solid Biblical statement about the nature of God. But the meaning of the Biblical word "love" needs a lot of unpacking. Agape love gives of itself freely for the good of the beloved and can not act selfishly. "In this is love, it is not that we loved God but that He loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins." (1 John 4:10)
God is a living Person--a relationship with God must be Person-to-person. It is not enough for God to offer his personal love to us, if we fail to respond, that offered-love does not benefit us. We all know that one person can offer love to another, but without the consent of both parties, no relationship will result. The lover may even suffer from a broken heart if the object of his or her love says "no," and love can not be forced nor manipulated. Rejection of Christ as man's Lover happens most of the time; only a tiny handful of us who are of Adam's race--a remnant--consents to receive God's love and to respond.
The gods of Greece and Rome, the pagan deities, as well as Allah, are not like the God of the Bible. Yahweh is a living, eternal Being who enters into personal relationships (covenants) with individuals, and with groups of individuals. The root of the covenant name of God, Yahweh, is the Hebrew verb "to be" as seen in the expression "I am who I am."
The core message of Christianity is called "the gospel," (the word means "good news"--Paul goes into detail on this in 1 Cor. 15). The message is about God's love for us up-front. God as personal, incarnated Love offers us all hope, freedom and a new life. Specifically "the gospel" is about God's love for us through the entry into human history of God's Son Jesus. Jesus died as a substitutionary sacrifice for our sins. He was buried, but returned from the dead on the third day. "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved." (John 3:16-17)
Today Jesus is in active control of the universe ruling from the spiritual realm--and He will soon be returning to claim His inheritance here on earth. Since all sin has been taken care of by God, the only remaining barrier between us and God is our will. It is quite true that our response to God's love will mean we must learn how sinful we were and are. But Jesus takes each us by the hand all the way as we each "work out of own salvation..." -- after we come to know Him.
God has chosen that the usual way people will come to know Him is in response to the proclamation of the gospel. We do the announcing and God does the saving. Paul discusses this in Romans 10:
"...But the righteousness of faith speaks in this way, 'Do not say in your heart, "Who will ascend into heaven?"' (that is, to bring Christ down from above) or, '"Who will descend into the abyss?'" (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead). But what does it say? 'The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart' (that is, the word of faith which we preach): that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. For the Scripture says, 'Whoever believes on Him will not be put to shame.' For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek, for the same Lord over all is rich to all who call upon Him. For 'whoever calls on the name of the LORD shall be saved.' How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach unless they are sent? As it is written: 'How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the gospel of peace, Who bring glad tidings of good things!' But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, 'Lord, who has believed our report?' So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God...." (Romans 10:6-17)
Basically our job as Christians is to convey the love of Jesus in word and in deed--with simplicity but with content--to our friends and neighbors, and to as many others as we can.
When God is speaking to those who are already supposed to be His people, it is appropriate to suggest up-front that such people need to repent--that is, they need to come back to the God they have drifted away from or have been ignoring--the God about whom they have already been informed. Hence the approach of John the Baptist when Messiah arrived on the scene. Jesus was coming to God's own people as promised, and they were not ready for His arrival.
However it is surely incorrect to demand repentance as a condition of salvation when bringing the gospel to the lost and the previously uninformed. Repentance (a changed heart and a new life-style) ordinarily follows true conversion. After making the love of God known as clearly as possible to people, questions will inevitably come up as to the actual human condition. People do need to have some idea that God is worthy of our love and response. They also need to know early on that our natural condition is that we start out as enemies of God, totally lost, without hope, and completely unable to please God in any way.
Sadly polls show that the majority of Americans today think they are already good enough to get into heaven (if such a place exists). Nothing could be further from the truth.
"Late in 2007, a courageous Christian dropped a handful of one of our tracts ("The Atheist Test") at a gathering of atheists, who meet once a month at the local IHOP at the John Wayne Airport in Orange County, California. The atheists then invited me to join them for dinner on January 8th, 2008. They requested that I get there an hour early to 'set a baseline,' because some of their members 'do get a bit hot headed when discussing religion.' I accepted their invitation and decided to take my manager with me (Mark Spence is the Dean of the "School of Biblical Evangelism"). Before we went I got permission to also take a handheld HD camera. I was determined not to go there to win an argument, but to simply show that I deeply cared for them as people, as most atheists seem to have the impression that Christians don't like them. We arrived about five minutes early, shook hands and sat down. After the orders were taken, I quietly approached the waiter and told him to give me the bill for the entire party. When he brought it to me I was almost shaking with excitement. If someone had tried to take it off me I would have physically fought them. I felt like I used to feel with my kids early on Christmas morning. When they found out that I had personally paid the tab they were very grateful, polite, pleasant, kind, and extremely thankful (see 1 Peter 2:15). The experience was a highlight of my life. Then about ten of us huddled around a table and talked about the things of God for about an hour. It was up close and personal. Mark answered every question and objection they had, calmly and eloquently. It's all on film and we hope to be able to make it available through the ministry (to them and you) in a month or so. I took copies of my new book, How to Know God Exists, and all the folks at our table wanted one (it's a strange feeling signing books for atheists). Then we posed for pictures and left, almost bursting with joy after such a wonderful opportunity to meet and talk with these dear people. Maybe the next time they meet for dinner (at the International House of Prayer) hundreds will show up saying 'We heard that this is the atheist group where you get a free meal.' Seriously though, please pray for the 'Orange County Atheists.'" (from http://www.livingwaters.com/)
The Internet itself is home for thousands of "Christian" web sites set up by individuals, but personal web sites are not always trustworthy or useful. The web has neither police nor elders-anything goes. Anyone who wants to be effective on Internet for our Lord should realize that good taste, content, integity and credibility are important.
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MySpace (Beverly Hills, 300 million accounts), Facebook (Palo Alto, 60 million users) and Xanga (NYC, 27 million bloggers) are examples of a new generation of web sites which provide users with their own personal pages complete with photos, video clips, a personal profile, and a list of "friends." YouTube.com (San Bruno, 64 million videos) allows users to upload their favorite video clips. All of these groups are great places for posting Christian testimonies, articles, and discussions.
As one example of the very effective use of a Facebook site see Mark Driscoll's page on Facebook, http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=504171597&ref=mf.
[Speaking of Mark Driscoll, teaching pastor of Mars Hill Church, Seattle, don't miss his current sermon series, accessible in video or audio on their web site, http://marshillchurch.org].
I have maintained my own pages on MySpace, Facebook and Xanga for a couple of years now. Last month I decided to do some "fishing" on a marginal x-rated web site. I posted my real name, photo and age along with the following profile statement,
Freewheeling follower of Jesus Christ
I am eager to let people know how deeply, unconditionally we are ALL loved by the one true God.
I became a Christian at the age of 30 after a very long search. Now I know clearly the difference in "before" becoming a follower of Jesus as opposed to my past 45 years of life "in Christ."
Since I have been there, done that--I'm ready to pray for you, to encourage you, to be a friend, or mentor or older brother--no strings attached. All questions welcome, any subject. BTW, I am single, never married, currently celibate.
I am opposed to religion (as is Jesus)--my life is all about the man Christ Jesus, and my day to day relationship with Him. Jesus said, "I came that you might have real life and have it more abundantly."
Jesus is very much alive today--you can get in touch with Him in person. I assure you He will welcome you gladly. Obviously if Jesus offers us His personal love we can't benefit unless we respond to him. Real love requires the consent of two parties, not just one. His goal for us is wholeness and fulfillment in this life and the next.
A couple of favorite quotes:
"You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God's wrath through him! For if, when we were God's enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life! Not only is this so, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation." (Romans 5:6-12 NIV)
"For Christ's love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again. So from now on we regard no-one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men's sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ's ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ's behalf: Be reconciled to God. God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God." (2 Corinthians 5:14-21)
"The teaching of the New Testament is that now, at this very moment, there is a Man in heaven appearing in the presence of God for us. He is as certainly a man as was Adam or Moses or Paul; he is a man glorified, but his glorification did not de-humanize him. Today he is a real man, of the race of mankind, bearing our lineaments and dimensions, a visible and audible man, whom any other man would recognize instantly as one of us. But more than this, he is the heir of all things, Lord of all lords, head of the church, firstborn of the new creation. He is the way to God, the life of the believer, the hope of Israel, and the high priest of every true worshiper. He holds the keys of death and hell, and stands as advocate and surety for everyone who believes on him in truth. Salvation comes not by accepting the finished work, or deciding for Christ; it comes by believing on the Lord Jesus Christ, the whole, living, victorious Lord who, as God and man, fought our fight and won it, accepted our debt as his own and paid it, took our sins and died under them, and rose again to set us free. This is the true Christ; nothing less will do." ( A. W. Tozer)
Lambert, firstname.lastname@example.org, Web site: http://ldolphin.org/asstbib.shtml
date I have 121 "friends" on this particular web site. They have each
responded to my invitation email--which reads as follows:
In case you would like to have an old follower of Jesus Christ as your friend, I am your man. However, I am NOT into religion.
Jesus said, "I came that you might have life and have it more abundantly." I did not become a Christian until the age of 30, and I am 75 now so I know all about the "before" and the "after" of knowing Jesus.
I care about people very deeply and am happy to be a sounding board for any friend. I'm glad to pray for anyone. Thanks for listening, Lambert
I consider this an experimental seed-planting endeavor and I very much need prayer for my 121 lost "friends"-they are mostly 18-25 years old. I have had three or four unpleasant rejection emails so far (to be expected), but half a dozen very positive responses all in the past month. If any well-grounded Christians want to join me in this front-line foxhole ministry, let me know. You might want to sign up on this site as I have done and post your own profile and message? In this venture I think of Paul's words, "I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the increase. So then neither he who plants is anything, nor he who waters, but God who gives the increase." (1 Cor. 3:6-7)
In the last chapter of his book The Problem of Pain, C.S. Lewis brings up the question of what God is like and why He bothered to create a universe in the first place. Lewis points out that our very existence, the existence of the entire universe was not necessary. The sum total of all we are adds nothing to the completeness and fullness of the Godhead. We are superfluous--since the Persons of the Godhead are always fulfilled in their eternal round of self-giving love. The Father, the Son, and the Spirit are eternally in harmony and always pouring themselves out in self-giving love.
But in creating us humans and making us very much like Himself, God desired to share His self-giving love with us, knowing that such an experiment would involve the Persons of the Godhead in enormous pain, grief and sorrow. Only a few of us would respond apparently, but enough to make the entire "experiment" worthwhile from the Divine point of view.
Even more difficult than persuading us sinners to respond to His freely-offered love, God desires that we should each move on to learn how to give ourselves away to others in love as God gives away Himself freely. The radical nature of the Christian call is that the goal is to change totally self-centered, self-seeking persons (us) into the very likeness of God's Son. We change by learning to give ourselves away, and to die to self, one day at a time. In this we are only channels for the limitless love of Jesus. Our "natural love" rooted as its is in the flesh, is of no value.
God's kind of love gives itself away, seeking the best interests of the beloved. God's love does not seek to be repaid and hopes only for the free, uncoerced responding love of its object. The classic nature of God's kind of love is seen in 1 Corinthians 13.
What this means for us Christians who are seeking to engage the world is that we must get personally involved with real people--no matter how lost we may think they are--and we need to take risks in faith to be channels of the love of Jesus to all manner of people around us. Some today teach that we must first get our own acts together before we can be servants of Jesus. But the reverse is true--flawed though we may be, we will only be healed through "in service training." The message we spread is all about reality and real love. Jesus, the Messenger working in us, wants to love all sorts of lost persons through us if we will but grant Him permission to do so.
Now it happened, as Jesus sat at the table in the house, that behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and sat down with Him and His disciples. And when the Pharisees saw it, they said to His disciples, "Why does your Teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?" When Jesus heard that, He said to them, "Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. "But go and learn what this means: 'I desire mercy and not sacrifice.' For I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance." (Matthew 9:10-13)
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January 14, 2008