Mission Impossible?

In church yesterday, our pastor spoke about mission. Not only as in mission trips, local outreach, etc., though the message encompassed those things, but in a much larger sense. The pastor cited Acts 1:1-11; the event of Jesus’ ascension into heaven, to make the point that the restoration of God’s Kingdom was not a political or military event, but a responsibility (mission) that we all must undertake with the help of the Holy Spirit to bring the Gospel to individuals, towns, cities and nations.

The command was to his disciples, but it was really to all of us. This is daunting to many, myself included. We might ask, “What makes me qualified to do this?” or “What gives me the right to impose my religious views on others?”. As pastor pointed out, God (Jesus) constantly and intentionally uses imperfect vehicles to accomplish His purposes, in this case His primary purpose of restoring His Creation (Kingdom). Jesus explicitly gave His authority to the disciples to carry out this mission, despite their well-documented flaws – and He does the same to/for us.

Many of us ask ourselves, our friends, families or counselors, “Why am I here?”, “What is my purpose.” Pastor astutely cited verse 8 in Acts 1 in response to such questions. Jesus told his disciples that, “…you will receive the power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be my witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth.” If you’re a Christian, this is why you’re here; it’s you’re purpose. If you’re not and like most people, you are looking for your purpose, pick up the Bible today (you may want to start with Acts 1).

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Poor Me

The mission of BBNF is to serve the needy and as such, I have written much on the topic before. I recently came across a sermon by Tim Keller that to me is spot on regarding this charge. In this post, I will attempt to summarize Keller’s sermon, but I encourage you to listen to it for yourself (link below).

Keller cites Jonathan Edwards in saying that there is no clearer command in the Bible than to serve the poor – this is not an option; indeed it is talked about in over two hundred passages in the Old Testament. To understand the poor, we must first understand that due to their circumstances, the poor end up with nothing that the world values; no skills, property, influence, etc. As a result, they have no neighbors – they are thrown away by the world. Of the many Bible passages referencing the poor, the overwhelming majority conclude that any irresponsible behavior by the poor is the result of their poverty, not the cause of it. We therefore must respond to their condition with mercy; the Bible commands that we “Give until his need is gone” (Deuteronomy 15:7, 8).

Most impactful for me is the biblical assertion that we must become poor in spirit. This is not about our economic condition, rather, it’s about the condition of our spirit. Keller notes that the Gospel only comes to those who confess they have nothing of value save for the power and grace of Jesus Christ. Religion says “be good”, the Gospel says, “nobody is good – our only hope is in the King who became a poor man for us. We must come to Him with nothing and in a posture of owing Him everything. When we give up our worldly spirit, we realize that we are exactly like the poor.

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Tim Keller Sermon – Blessed Are the Poor

A Stroll on the Lake

In the very well-known Bible narrative of Jesus walking on water, Jesus’ disciples find themselves in a boat, struck by a storm in the middle of the lake. They are badly shaken by their circumstances and as the storm rages, they see a figure walking toward them on the surface of the water. Unable to identify the figure in their fear, he identifies himself as Jesus. Peter, in a moment of faith and bravery, asks Jesus to call him out on the water with him upon which, like Jesus, he walks, but ultimately he panics and sinks – Jesus pulls him up.

There is deep wisdom behind the descriptions of events in the Bible. True, within the events as related are self-evident lessons, but there are also less obvious lessons for application in our lives today. The above narrative is a picture of us in turmoil, of our failure to trust Jesus at times and his of power to save us. Think of the events in your daily lives and how much stress they cause. Now relate that to the men in the boat, wasn’t their stress level pretty high? It’s very easy under these circumstances to not look to Our Savior, and when we do, for our trust in him to fail. When Peter finally recognized Jesus, he took a leap of faith, but was then overwhelmed by his circumstances and took his eyes off of his Savior. Jesus rebuked him for his lack of faith, but saved him from his situation and ultimately calmed the seas.

We can expect to be upheld by Jesus when we are going through difficult times. He will pursue us despite our failure to trust him sometimes – we must however, keep our eyes fixed on him and not on our circumstances.

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Am I A Sinner?

I’m a Christian, I try to do good, to put others’ needs ahead of my own, I don’t kill or steal; I’m pretty sure I’m going to Heaven. OK, all those things are true, but so are these things: I sometimes lie (or tell half-truths), I gossip, I am prideful, lazy and often make decisions based solely on my best interests – and a lot more. I’m not being unnecessarily hard on myself, I really do these things, which doesn’t make me “bad” – however, it does make me a sinner, in other words, it makes me a human being.

We were created by God in His image and were perfect. God gave us the gift of free will, but it did not take long for us to misuse this gift, which put us in opposition to God. This is the legacy that we are all left with; it’s now part of our nature. True, it was necessary for God to intervene, to sacrifice His only Son so that we can be reconciled to Him, but that does not mean that we no longer sin, it only means that the penalty for our sins has been paid.

So yes, I am a sinner. But I am also a child of God. I have the gift of His grace. I have the help of the Holy Spirit to guide me and to mold me. As I inevitably continue to grow spiritually, some sins will subside, but surely I will become aware of other sins. Though in this life I will never be sinless, I have the assurance that God will always love me anyway.

Wine All Around!

It is a well-established directive in the Bible that we are to give to and to serve others, particularly those in need. Not only are we thus commanded, but we are to do so cheerfully and generously. A great illustration of this is in the narrative of the Wedding Feast at Cana from the Gospel of John (John 2:1-11). In it, Jesus attends a large wedding feast with his mother Mary and his disciples. Such celebrations in the days of Jesus’ earthly ministry typically lasted several days and well into the event, it’s host (the groom) ran out of wine for his guests, which was a major faux pas in Ancient Near East culture. When Mary became aware of the situation, she asked Jesus to help. Jesus, knowing what Mary expected of him, was reluctant to reveal himself as divine by performing what would be his first a miracle. Yet, he relented; choosing to use the groom’s dilemma as an opportunity to foreshadow God’s gift of gracious abundance by turning the water in six large jars into wine. But this was not only wine, it is described in the passage as the very best wine. In addition, by many estimates, the jars would have held one hundred and eighty gallons of liquid – that’s a lot of wine.

The takeaway here is that God cheerfully and abundantly, gives to, provides for and serves His children. In this narrative, Jesus teaches us that we are to do the same, to not hold back or to think of the needy as unworthy of our service or abundant gifts. We must remember what has been given to us.

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Well, Well (…or, “Oh Well” Part 2)

I my last blog post, I discussed the Bible narrative of The Woman at the Well from the Gospel of John. As I noted then, this narrative is rife with wisdom; I chose to focus on the fact that God’s grace is available to all of us regardless of our sin, gender, ethnicity, etc. In discussing this story in a bible study late last week, a very wise friend and mentor of mine reminded me of something else that goes hand in hand with God’s free gift of grace and that is the awareness of our sin and our repentance.

Certainly, the woman in the story was aware that what she was doing was socially taboo and was therefore ostracized, but she was not fully aware of the severity of her sins and their eternal consequences. She continued to look for meaning and satisfaction in the same places where she failed so many times before. What happened to the woman in her encounter with Jesus is that she was confronted with the hopelessness of her prior choices and in recognizing Jesus as the Messiah, she was humbled and she repented (literally meaning turned away from) of her sins; she saw them for what they were – offenses against God, she accepted Jesus as Lord, repented and was granted God’s grace (forgiveness of her sins) and the gift of eternal life. True, the Holy Spirit was at work here, so human effort is not really the point I’m focusing on, it’s more the fact that for salvation to happen, a change of heart must take place.

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Oh Well!

There are so many lessons that can be gleaned from the Bible narrative of The Woman at the Well, (John 4:1-42); in the interest of space, I will focus on one of them in this post. If you’re not familiar, the story goes that Jesus rested at a well while traveling through Samaria which at the time was hostile territory for Jews. When a Samaritan woman came to the well shortly after to draw water, Jesus asked her for a drink. Such was the relationship between Jews and Samaritans that the woman was taken aback that Jesus, a Jew, would even speak to her, let alone ask her for water. Over the next several minutes, Jesus would reveal himself as the Messiah, the Christ to the woman, who as it turned out, was a person who was ostracized by her own community for her habitual sin. Nevertheless, Jesus made it clear that he came to save her and people like her. The woman was saved that day and in fact, was instrumental in leading many of the Samaritans in her village to Christ through her testimony.

A big lesson here is that your past, indeed your present, doesn’t determine your eternal future. Jesus intentionally spoke to that woman that day, knowing her sins, in order to show his apostles, the Samaritans and all of us that God’s grace is available to everyone if they seek Him. He pursues liars, adulterers, thieves, and murderers – sinners – in other words, all of us. We only need to be willing to get caught by Him – to surrender to His will.  

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