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WWJD Isn’t Rocket Science

July 13, 2016 2 comments

WWJDI find myself shaking my head a lot recently. I don’t think it’s a tic. It tends to happen almost exclusively when I read certain news articles these days.

For example, I found myself shaking my head when I read in an article lately that WWJD (What Would Jesus Do?) – while admittedly a useful question to ask in some circumstances – can’t help the Church with how to respond to LGBTTQ* issues, since Jesus didn’t talk about that kind of behaviour in the four gospels. The writer reasoned further that since Jesus was silent on the subject He must have thought it wasn’t a big deal.

Aside from the abysmal logic built on an argument from silence, I disagree with the idea that we can’t ask the question “What Would Jesus Do?” to help us form a right response to the particular issues about sexual behaviour that we are facing in our society today.

To bring younger readers up to speed, “What Would Jesus Do?” was a popular youth movement in the evangelical Church in North America in the ‘90’s. It began as a reminder to believers to consider Jesus as they made decisions – big or small – in their lives. Soon teen Christians all over the world were sporting “WWJD” wristbands and other merchandise. It became so popular that the world even noticed it long enough to make fun of it. Nonetheless, increasing numbers of Christian youth began referring to this helpful question as they faced complex challenges and choices in their own lives. For many, WWJD was a life-changing movement.

So why wouldn’t the question, “What Would Jesus Do?” be valid in determining how the Church should respond to the shifting social sands these days, especially when it comes to LGBTTQ* issues? Does the fact that the Lord didn’t discuss these things specifically in the books of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John make it impossible to gain helpful insight into how Jesus would weigh in on the debate? I don’t think so.

WWJD isn’t rocket science. You just have to look for a similar circumstance in the Bible to the one you’re facing, observe how Jesus responded, and seek to do the same. With a bit of skill in sincerely searching the Word of God and applying some reasonable principles, we can gain a lot of insight into God’s heart for today’s world.

For example, a Biblical description of Jesus facing something similar to what the Church is challenged with today regarding sexuality and gender issues can be found in the book of John, chapter 8. Here’s how the story goes…

The scribes and Pharisees were upset enough with Jesus to resort to ways to fatally trap Him in His own words, which would discredit Him and leave Him open to prosecution. Knowing that He taught uncompromisingly about both the righteousness of God and the mercy of God, they felt they could easily ensnare Him by getting Him to comment on a sexual sin issue. In those days, they had very stiff penalties for all forms of forbidden sex, including adultery, fornication, incest, bestiality, and same-sex sex. Considering that even in Bible times, they were not unfamiliar with sexual issues (people are people), it was relatively easy to catch someone in the act. The person they found happened to be caught in the act of adultery, but any one of these sexual sins would have served their purposes.

So the trap was set. They would drag this person in front of Jesus, and get the Lord to comment on the case before they stoned her to death. If He said, “Let her go”, they would jump on Him for not upholding God’s law, and if He said, “Go ahead, stone her”, they would shame Him by saying, “What happened to the love you teach about? Maybe she was abused by her husband and ran to understanding arms, or maybe she was just drawn into a forbidden sexual relationship by falling in love with someone else. Was that really her fault?”

It was perfect. Or so they thought. So they dragged her to Jesus and demanded His opinion about what should be done with her.

And What Did Jesus Do? John picks up the story:

“And as they continued to ask him, he stood up and said to them, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.””

That answer wasn’t what they expected. Somehow, Jesus upheld God’s law – He didn’t say not to execute justice – but He turned the spotlight back on their own hearts. And John records that one by one, they dropped their stones and shuffled off. The story continues:

“Jesus stood up and said to her, ” Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, ” Neither do I condemn you…”

Jesus, being sinless, was actually the only one who could cast the first stone. And He chose not to.

So, What Did Jesus Do in this situation, and how we can imitate Him today? Well, it’s clear that He didn’t give us permission to condemn those in sexual sin. And the reason we can’t just write people off is that we’re all in need of God’s forgiveness for our own sins. With this in mind, it’s obvious that we won’t be on the right side of God by becoming anti-homosexual activists, complete with labels to apply and vitriol to spew. So let’s not go there. It’s not what Jesus would do.

Perhaps you noticed that the story isn’t finished yet. There’s more. After saying, “Neither do I condemn you”, Jesus said to the woman, “Go, and from now on sin no more.”

So What Did Jesus Do there? He upheld the profound compassion and mercy of God without feeling the need to deny the woman’s sin. In fact, having exercised the immense love of God by withholding judgement, He cautioned the woman to treat her sin as sin going forward, and to battle the temptation to justify it or indulge it. And I personally believe that the woman’s powerful encounter with Jesus Christ was transformative  – that by the grace of God she was able to go on without giving in to the impulses of sexual sin. Encountering Jesus can have that effect on people.

So, WWJD about LGBTTQ*? I believe we would be faithfully imitating our Master by extending God’s compassion and mercy to those in sexual sin, without having to call wrong right.

Whereas determining What Jesus Would Do in this situation isn’t too hard, actually managing to do it does feel closer to rocket science. We need to Fully Rely On God as we ask Him for the wisdom and courage to respond these challenges as Jesus would. Whatever it is, I have a feeling it won’t be popular with the world.

But then again, neither was Jesus.

May the Lord bless you,

Rob    

On the Right Side of God

July 6, 2016 4 comments

BandwagonThese days are challenging ones for Bible-believing Christians in North America. Even needing to use the term “Bible-believing Christian” is evidence of this. It used to be that saying “Christian” assumed the “Bible-believing” part, but that’s not necessarily true these days, when even the Church is laying aside God’s Word to avoid the sting of being labelled – among other things – IRRELEVANT by a world that fancies itself to be heading in the right direction.

And the world – at first smilingly, then imperatively – is beckoning the Church to follow, inviting us onto the New World Bandwagon. In one of the many articles I’ve read on the subject lately, this invitation was accompanied by a dire warning: “You don’t want to be on the wrong side of history, do you?”

It seems that our society, convinced that its ideological and theoretical revelations have given it the higher moral ground, has peered into the future and has seen that it will be right, and that those of us who do not conform will ultimately discover that we were wrong. We will disappear and be forgotten because we didn’t march forward arm in arm with the world into the dawn of a new age of enlightened thinking. If we did, we would share in our society’s glory, receiving glowing mention in children’s history books in the future. In other words, we would avoid being “on the wrong side of history”.

This would be a compelling argument if I cared about being on the wrong side of history. Actually, I am far more concerned about being on the wrong side of God.

I believe that God lovingly created humankind for relationship – with each other, yes, but primarily with Him. I believe that our earliest ancestors traded that relationship for independence from God, with serious consequences. As we cut ourselves off from our primary relationship, we became damaged, and consequently pride and arrogance made their home in the human heart. With no moral compass, we became a broken race, more naturally inclined to sin than to live righteously, and moreover, prone to justify our sin (see Romans 1:18-32). It’s a sad story. We all ended up on the wrong side of God, cutting ourselves off from His love. We all deserved to be cast from His presence forever.

But God is not like us. We are faithless; He is faithful. Even though our independence, arrogance and pride made us a wounded race with a penchant for sin, God so loved us that gave His Son, Jesus, to die for the forgiveness of our sins and reconcile us with our Heavenly Father. I believe in Jesus. I believe He paid for my sin. I believe He brought me back into right relationship with God. I believe that by the power of the Holy Spirit – God’s gift to His people – we can be transformed – less inclined to sin, and more inclined to humbly ask God for forgiveness when sin happens. There is nothing like experiencing salvation in Jesus Christ – being on the right side of God – and I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

Which brings me back to the New World Bandwagon, with our society alternately beckoning me, shaming me and commanding me to join them on it. The truth is, I can’t.

The difficulty is that, although not all of the “new” morality is bad,  some of it contradicts God’s commands in the Bible, including some specific ones about how – and how not – to relate to each other sexually (see Leviticus 18:1-30). I believe the Bible is God’s Word, and an honest reading of these scriptures – and a number of others in the Old and New Testament – prevents me from shrugging my shoulders and jumping on the bandwagon, simply “because it’s 2016.”

So what is to be done with me? I suppose I can be labelled, judged and written off, which seems to be the common practice these days. Despite its stated values of tolerance and inclusiveness, our society is ironically adept with labels and boxes. It would be easier to judge us and dismiss us if I and other followers of Jesus were two-dimensional haters or “phobes” worthy of such labels. But we aren’t. We aren’t haters for the same reason that we aren’t jumping on the New World Bandwagon: to do so would put us on the wrong side of God. In Matthew 5:43-45, Jesus said, “You have heard that it was said, you shall love your neighbour and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven…

So we who are followers of Jesus are called to be compassionate and caring to all without having to call wrong right. This is a tall order, especially in a society that doesn’t understand the concept of compassion without agreement, which is true tolerance. But because of what Jesus has done for us, it is nonetheless our call – unwavering truth lived out with unwavering love.

So as the New World Bandwagon hurtles forward into a future that is less certain than we all think, and demands that I join them or end up on the wrong side of history, I will politely but not silently decline. I will offer a compassionate reminder that it is a far worse thing to end up on the wrong side of God than the wrong side of history, and I will happily extend that which God has given to all Christians to share – the good news that because of the reconciling work of Jesus Christ and the transforming work of His Spirit, anyone who humbly places their faith in Him and seeks to honour His Word can find themselves on the right side of God.

May the Lord bless you,

Rob

The Church is Not a Jesus Fan Club

March 6, 2015 1 comment

The BeatlesFan clubs are interesting entities. They issue from one primal drive: devotion. A shared devotion to certain people or things brings fans together to express a corporate love and loyalty to their idols. It’s one thing to be devoted to someone or something. But it’s way cooler to share that devotion with others.

Take a Beatles fan club, for example. Beatles devotees get together on a regular basis to share stories about how they almost met Paul’s gardener or almost got Ringo’s autograph. They pull out and pass around “relics”, like George’s guitar pick or John’s toothbrush. They engage in passionate debates about which Beatles’ album was the deepest or which of the Fab Four had the coolest overbite. In fact, a Beatle’s fan club meeting has pretty well everything a fan needs, except for one thing.

The Beatles.

It is in this sense, that the Church is not a Jesus fan club. Of course, devotion to Jesus draws His people together to express their love and loyalty to Him, and in many ways, we are Jesus’ fans, but when we gather, the fan club analogy ends. This is because, according to the Bible, God’s people not only meet in the name of Jesus, but in His presence! In Matthew 18:20, Jesus Himself says, “For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.” Now, if Jesus just stayed dead after He died on the cross, He wouldn’t be able to pull this off, and we would console ourselves with a sentimental, figurative interpretation of this passage. But He didn’t stay dead. According to scripture, He rose from the dead on the third day and, after reuniting with his amazed disciples, taught them for a few weeks before ascending back to heaven, and resuming His omnipresent nature. So with this in mind, when He says that He is there among us as we meet, He means just that. He is present.

And it doesn’t stop there. The Church would certainly do well to not meet as if Jesus was absent from our midst, but we would also do well not to meet as if the Lord was merely passively present. When Jesus says that He will be with His Church, He doesn’t mean that he will be standing in a corner like some Tiki idol, mutely observing the proceedings and receiving the occasional nod in His direction. In Ephesians 1:22, Paul says, “And he [the Father] put all things under his [Jesus’] feet and gave him as head over all things to the church”.

So Jesus isn’t absent from our Church gatherings, and He doesn’t settle for a passive presence in our midst. His presence among us is a presiding one. He’s in charge!

If we begin to wrap our minds around this fact, our Church services might end up being radically different than we may be used to.

Imagine if the Beatles actually turned up at a Beatles fan club meeting (a scary thought today). No one would care about John’s toothbrush when John is standing there. No one would insist on reading the fan club’s minutes or follow the official agenda when the Fab Four walk in and say, “Hullo, mates”. No one would have a lot to say about Ringo, but they might have a lot to say to him. And the monologues would become dialogues.

The Church doesn’t need to imagine what would happen if Jesus showed up at a Sunday service. It happens all the time. I hope He has a sense of humour about being treated as if He is absent or passively present in His Church. But we would do well to embrace the reality of His presiding presence among us, and adjust our meetings accordingly.

And as Jesus’ fans, we might even find ourselves running to Church.

May the Lord bless you,

Rob

Adam’s Family

Addams Family

They’re creepy and they’re kooky

Mysterious and spooky

They’re altogether ooky

The Addams Family

 Do you remember the bizarre TV family that this song refers to? Gomez and Morticia Addams, heading up a strange collection of relatives, including a dwarf-sized ball of hair with a hat, a disembodied hand, a robed uncle with his own personal electrical current, and two normal-looking children who are actually as weird as everyone else in the family.

The Bible points out that we all belong to another ooky family – Adam’s Family. Romans 5:12 says that “sin entered the world through one man [Adam], and in this way, death came to all men, because all sinned.” It seems that Adam’s sin of disobedience to God had a far-reaching consequence: an inclination towards sin and an inheritance of death for all who would come after him – the whole human family. Yes, that includes you and me. Adam started a family that would be sinners by nature, right from birth. “But”, one may protest, “can a pure, innocent little child have sin in his or her heart?” Every parent knows the answer to this question. Soon after the veneer of helpless babyness cracks, the undesirable character traits of our great, great, great, etc. grandfather become apparent, just as they did in us, and just as they will in generations to come: selfishness, coveteousness, stubborn pride, greed, jealousy… sadly, the list goes on.

So here we are, some of us displaying our sinful nature in bizarre easy-to-see ways, and others seeming outwardly normal, but nonetheless carrying and ultimately displaying the characteristic traits of Adam’s Family. Is there any escape from this hopeless generational nightmare? Paul addresses this in Romans 7:24-25, when he asks and answers this question in the same breath: “What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God – through Jesus Christ our Lord!

Yes, there is rescue from Adam’s Family! It is through a new Adam, so to speak – Jesus Christ, who through the Holy Spirit is establishing a family line of people who are being made free from their inheritance of sin and death in Adam by receiving salvation and eternal life through Jesus Christ. Jesus came to earth to do the Father’s will, which included being crucified for our sins, dying and rising again, and forced open the door to the Adam’s family mansion, allowing all who desire to escape to be rescued and renewed through faith in Jesus Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit. Paul puts it like this in Romans 5:18-19:

“Consequently, just as the result of one trespass [Adam’s sin] was condemnation for all men, so also the result of one act of righteousness [Jesus’ death and resurrection] was justification that brings life for all men. For just as through the disobedience of the one man [Adam] the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man [Jesus Christ] the many will be made righteous.”

Do you suppose that there is no “ookiness” in you, that you don’t really belong to Adam’s family? Allow God to search your heart, pointing out your sin, and it will become as clear to you as it probably is to others. Or perhaps you know all too well that you are from Adam’s family line, and you can’t see any escape. If this is the case, I encourage you to fix your eyes on Jesus Christ, who has already broken down the door to Adam’s house and is willing to give you a place in God’s house, as part of His family. I encourage you to reach out in faith to Him, and truly receive a new inheritance that begins in this life with moral transformation and continues throughout eternity in fellowship with God as His dearly loved adopted sons and daughters.

Sweet.

May the Lord bless you,

Robert Baron

 

What did you get?

November 13, 2009 Leave a comment

I have to admit that when I was in school, I was a mark-comparer. I generally got good marks, but that wasn’t enough. No sir. No matter how good my marks were, they were only actually good if they were better than the marks that my chief rivals (read: friends) got. Of course, they were as much into this as I was, so after we would get a test back, we would have the “what did you get?” conversation.

“What did you get?”

“Well, what did you get?”

“I asked you first”

“I got an A”

“Oh (smiling), I got an A+”

“Did you study?”

“Naw” (not true)

“Me neither” (also not true)

 In the book of Revelation, chapters two and three, Jesus has John send a letter to each of seven Churches in Asia. Each letter was basically the Lord’s evaluation of how each Church was doing, and some did well while others didn’t do so hot. These seven letters circulated together to all the Churches along with the rest of the book of Revelation, placing each fellowship in the unique position of being able to look at the test scores of the other Churches, and compare marks.

As a long time mark-comparer, I can sympathize with the leaders of the Church at Laodicea. As far as they were concerned, they had done really well for themselves. Their fellowship was rich and popular – a really “happening” Church, as we would call it today – and as they received the book of Revelation and began to read it, they must have been looking forward to getting their A+ from the Lord. I can imagine their sympathy for that little Church at Smyrna, whose test scores were posted second after Ephesus. Ephesus got a real dressing down and a stern warning to repent. But poor Smyrna! It didn’t seem like the Lord had the heart to criticize them for the weakness they probably brought on themselves. Jesus even condescended to say, “I know your afflictions and your poverty – yet you are rich.” Rich. That was nice of the Lord to give them pity marks, even if the word “rich” did seem a little too much, even for Jesus. And I can almost feel the pride swell in the leaders of the Church at Laodicea as they read through the report cards of the other Churches, just knowing that they were the last ones on the list because they would get the highest marks from the Lord.

All of which made the blow, when it came, feel all the more devastating.

“I know your deeds (Nice! He must have seen our website!), that you are neither cold nor hot. (Is He talking about the air conditioning in the sanctuary?) I wish you were either one or the other! (What’s He talking about? Do we need a new thermostat?) So, because you are lukewarm – neither hot nor cold – I am about to spit you out of my mouth. (I’m not sure that’s positive…)  You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ (Ah, back on track. Self sufficiency. That’s a good thing. Here comes our A+) But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked.”(Did we get the wrong letter?)

The Lord continues to humble them by stating, in effect, that the Laodicean Church had locked Him out of their building, and that it would be a good idea for them to let Him in, so that they could begin to recover from their desperate state of poverty and affliction.

Poverty and affliction? Wasn’t that Smyrna? Actually, that was the rich Church. Laodicea – the ones who were rich and needed nothing – that was the poor Church. From this apparent paradox, it seems clear that Jesus uses a different set of tools than we do to measure our success as the Church. Our measure looks at the outward appearance. His involves the heart. Our measure records the height of fame. His plumbs the depths of character. Our measure gauges ease. His notes perseverance. Our measure is short-sighted. His is far-reaching. In other words, Jesus tends to look at the important things, and we don’t. And it’s not like the Lord has hidden from us what He values. The Bible is an illuminating resource in that regard. I think the problem isn’t that we don’t know what’s truly important or what’s best for us, but that we don’t like it. It’s kind of like carrots versus candy.

One of the most frightening things about that poor Church – Laodicea – is that they sincerely thought they were doing great. By the world’s standards, they were extremely successful and popular – a credit to their religion. And yet, the opposite was true. They were failing. It took the Lord’s stern, yet loving, rebuke to wake them up and prevent them from building a Church that, although it looked really good, really amounted to nothing. And all this was because they simply mistook what they thought was important for what Jesus thought was important.

As the Church, and as individual followers of Jesus, it is crucial that we don’t make that mistake. It’s the difference between a rich Church and a poor Church, a rich life and a poor life. And since we only have the one life, I’ll take the carrots.

May the Lord bless you,

Rob (www.weccwinnipeg.ca)

Sweet Revenge

October 23, 2009 Leave a comment

They knew it was coming. Nothing could stop us. A couple of months ago, George and his cronies at LivingStones Christian Fellowship had blessed us big time out of the blue with a huge barbeque supper in the park and a LivingStones worship team for our service, so soon it would be payback time, and they knew it.group shot

Sunday, October 18th. That was the date set for Operation Bless Back. Me and my people at FireLight were motivated for this. Oh, how we were motivated. We planned it for months – a full-service buffet breakfast complete with coffee pourers, an elite worship team to give their musicians a rest, AND USHERS. Ushers. That was Joel’s idea. Nice touch.

So when the day arrived, we were prepared. Alarm clocks were ringing at 7 am in lots of FireLight households that morning. The sun hadn’t yet found its way over the eastern horizon when we packed the car in silence, mentally rehearsing our roles in the operation. The streets were deserted as we rolled toward the Church building. Perfect.fancy fruit

When we arrived at the building, we rendezvoused with our other FireLight operatives and sprung into action. Sausages sizzled, hash browns browned, musicians tuned, ushers…um, ushed.

When the LivingStones arrived, the many-faceted genius of Operation Bless Back converged into one glorious triumph of blessing. Shock. Smiles. Second helpings. Yes, more coffee, please. Worshiping the Lord together. Ushering. It was beautiful. Mission accomplished. LivingStones was blessed back big time!buffet 2

Many thanks to all who risked their comfort to be part of this operation. It was a great success due to your valiant efforts.

This kind of revenge is sweet. So sweet.

“And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds.” – Heb. 10:24

May the Lord bless you,

Rob

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What on earth are we doing?

October 21, 2009 Leave a comment
"What on earth are you doing?"

"What on earth are you doing?"

Sometimes we can have a strange idea of what it means to be “saved”. In the minds of some, the idea of salvation in Jesus Christ is reduced to a simple business transaction – much like purchasing a holiday travel package – that books us passage to an eternal holiday destination that isn’t unseasonably hot. Of course, with this way of thinking about salvation, the only thing to do after getting your ticket to heaven is to wait.

This boiling down of salvation in Jesus Christ to a prayer and a congratulatory slap on the back misses the mark badly, giving the mistaken impression that, once saved, the believer simply needs to find a comfortable seat and wait for the celestial flight, or at least the Captain’s return. Of course, doing puzzles, wandering around and napping are encouraged to help pass the time until Sweet By and By Airlines calls your name.

Napping. Sadly, it’s what many of us as believers in Jesus are doing with our spiritual lives here on earth. This is especially tragic because being sanctified couch potatoes is so much less than our God has in mind for us who are rescued from the Dominion of Darkness and brought into the Kingdom of the Son He loves. Paul says it best in Ephesians 2:10: “For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” While Paul makes it clear that good works don’t save you, he makes is equally clear that saved people do good works. And not just any good works – good works which God prepared in advance for us to do. Divine purpose on this earth!

This begs the question, “What on earth are we doing?” The Lord’s divine purposes for us here are varied – staged on a heart level, a community level, a city level, a national level, or even a global level. They may seem small, like conquering a bad habit, or big, like evangelizing a nation. Whatever they are, they are there, and the Lord wants us to know about His plans for us, and He wants to help us fulfill them, if we dare to say yes to the rest of what it means to be saved.

Here at West End Christian Community, that is, FireLight Christian Fellowship and LivingStones Christian Fellowship, what on earth are we doing? What divine purpose are we fulfilling together, which God prepared in advance for us to do? The answer: we are each building a Church, a local congregation that is one of many connected parts of the Body of Christ . Of course, it’s Jesus’ Church and He is ultimately doing the building, but we can’t get away from the fact that He has us working for Him. We need to read His blueprints, we need to build with His materials, and we need to work together, as He commanded us. No cutting corners. No spiritual chipboard. No selfishness. But even though it can be hard work, building the Lord’s Church is one of the greatest privileges that we can be given, and one of the most important divine purposes that we can fulfill here on earth, for two reasons: first, the Church is a visible manifestation of the advance of God’s Kingdom here on earth, and second, because the Church – God’s people in meaningful fellowship – will not pass away, but will last into eternity.

So if you’re wondering what on earth you’re doing (or to translate from Yoda-ese, what you’re doing on earth), first take heart that you weren’t saved to merely wait to go to heaven. God has set divine purpose in you – a new life of adventure in Him on this earth, at the heart level and beyond. And even if some of those purposes are a bit fuzzy right now, there’s at least one that is crystal clear, and that we share – we have been called to build His Church together.

So I hope to see you on Sunday. Overalls are fine.

May the Lord bless you,

Rob (www.weccwinnipeg.ca)

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