Skip to content

Recent Articles

27
May

This is Real Blog: Strangeness to the World

Written by Ryan Lawrence

 

38494_ThisIsReal_SCREEN

“The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. 15 The spiritual person judges all things, but is himself to be judged by no one. 16 “For who has understood the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?” But we have the mind of Christ” (1 Corinthians 2:14-16).

Was there a time in your life when you didn’t understand the things of God—the Bible, prayer, or church? Maybe you came to church with your family or friends and didn’t understand anything that the preacher was saying? After leaving confused, you asked the question: “I don’t get it, what’s the big deal?” Maybe this is you right now. Well, you’re not alone! In fact, many people have experienced this.

Without the Spirit, we try to understand the Christian life only to be puzzled and unaware; it’s hard for us to understand the depth of God’s love for us through his Son Jesus. This is what it means to be “spiritually discerned.” But for those who believe, what seemed to be strange has now effected everything about you. At some point in your life everything changed—the revelation of Jesus came into your life, you repented of your sins, and received the gift of eternal life.

So, how does this change happen?

In today’s world we experience a heavy variety of worldviews, philosophies, human logic, and religious teachings, leaving humanity desensitized to absolute truth and the work of the cross. The foolish man says in his heart there is no God (Psalm 14:1) because he is blinded by his sins. The “natural person” thinks in a way that is against the gospel—the message of the God who came in the form a child, born into poverty, putting the needs of others before himself, servant of all, dying for all, so that those who believe would have eternal life. But this supernatural message can change the natural person, as the Gospel of Christ is revealed to us through the Spirit. This is a work of God.

1 Corinthians 2:10, “these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God.

When we understand that this is not by our own doing, our human efforts are laid aside and we now can receive the grace of God and the power of the Holy Spirit in our lives. Those who have “the spirit of the world” will never understand the things of God because it is “strange” to them. But God has given His Spirit and His living Word so that we would be able to grow in the knowledge of our Savior and have the “mind of Christ.”

As we live in an unbelieving world, let us use wisdom as we share the gospel with others and rely upon the Spirit. The Ethiopian eunuch asked Philip, “how can I [understand], except some man should guide me?” And then Philip, being filled with the Spirit, “began at the same scripture and preached unto him Jesus” (see Acts 8:30-35). Like Philip, we can help people know God and understand His Word.

The gospel may appear foolish and strange to the unbeliever. But for the Christian, we know that God’s Spirit is working through his people, as a confused world finds clarity through Christ.

17
May

This Is Real Blog: Unity and Cliques

Written by Tom O’Brien

38494_ThisIsReal_SCREEN

“I appeal to you brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no division among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment.” 1 Corinthians 1:10.

Many people struggle to fit in while they’re in high school. I was lucky enough to have a group of friends, but I definitely recognized the difficulty others had trying to look for friends that they could relate with and feel accepted by. I always kept my eyes open for people who were alone, and I tried to welcome them into my group of friends. Still to this day I try embracing those who are overlooked as best as I can, but I miss so many opportunities. What makes thing so challenging is all of the different “cliques” people have. We all love to spend time with people who share our same interests and that we get along with, but that’s not the issue! The point where it becomes a problem is when we isolate ourselves from others and limit our relationships to only those certain individuals. We stop reaching out to other people.

While searching for an answer or a solution to this problem, I realized a few problems within myself: my failure to find my identity in Jesus alone, my lack of love for Jesus, and my comfort within my “clique.” Recognizing these weak spots revealed a lot of what I truly value, and it was very convicting. It drove me to try to understand what biblical community is supposed to look like.

“Finally, then, brothers, we ask and urge you in the Lord Jesus, that as you received from us how you ought to walk and to please God, just as you are doing, that you do so more and more.” 1 Thessalonians 4:1

We love to know that we have a good reputation and that people value us. But that shouldn’t be where we find our identity or take refuge in. What people think about us changes constantly, but the thoughts of our Heavenly Father are unfailing about His beloved children. Paul wrote to the Thessalonian people urging them to “walk and to please God” and “that you do so more and more.” We need to consider how to please God alone, for that is the only opinion in this world that really matters. Paul in Galatians 1:10 said this, “If I were still trying to please man, I would NOT be a servant of Christ.” Wow, that’s a big deal. God did not create the universe for us or others to be the center of attention, He created it for Himself to be worshiped and glorified, for He is worthy of all praise. If we are influenced by the thoughts of others, we will be hindered in our relationship with God and also fail to find our identity in him.

However, our minds are constantly concerned with what people think about us, so how do we change that? We need to fall more in love with Jesus. We need to see ourselves in the helplessness of our sin and the punishment that we fully deserve. We desperately need our hearts and minds to be transformed by digging deep into the very word of God, to see the heart of the Father, and let Him purge us of our insecurities. In recognizing the wickedness of our own heart, we can see and savor Jesus. In growing in our love for Christ our hearts will be compelled to love others. We always need to remember that our love and our joy in Christ are not complete until they are expressed. So lets let the love of Jesus overflow in our lives onto others and reach out to those that are often overlooked.

“Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly.” Romans 12:6

Lastly, we need to break up our own cliques. Again I want to say that having a good group of friends is not the problem, it’s when we only hang out with those people and disregard others from joining the group. When we only love those who fit into our group, we are missing a huge part of the gospel. If you observe the life of Jesus and see whom he befriended, it was “the lowly.” Jesus loved and made friends with the lepers and others who were outcasts in the world. Most importantly, he spent time with his enemies. I think we can all agree that we find it next to impossible to love our enemies, but we need to realize that at one time we were an enemy of Jesus. Yet He still loved us; He spent time with us and embraced us with nail pierced hands. We always want people to meet us on our level, but, like Jesus, we need to meet them on theirs. “Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly.” I am not saying that you need to ditch your group of friends, but we need to embrace those who are on the outskirts of society, even though it is uncomfortable, and love those who are so often ignored.

9
May

This is Real Introduction

38494_ThisIsReal_SCREEN

 

And the Lord said to Paul in the night by a vision, “Do not be afraid any longer, but go on speaking and do not be silent; for I am with you, and no man will attack you in order to harm you, for I have many people in this city.” — Acts 18:9-10

Have you ever felt like the people who go to church don’t measure up to what the Bible says they should be? After all, Christians should be a reflection of Christ to the world and examples of a life transformed by the expulsive power of the gospel of grace. However, many are still wading in the sin they’ve been freed from and fail to reach spiritual maturity. Sadly, this is an all too common experience. When it comes to life in the church — This is Real!

This is Real is a study through the New Testament epistle of 1 Corinthians, which is a correspondence letter from the Apostle Paul to a church that he planted and ministered to for a year and six months.

The ancient city of Corinth had all the characteristics of a major seaport city. It had cultural, ethnic, and religious diversity. It was highly affluent because of its trading and commercial industry. The city had a reputation of being the place to party – similar to today’s Rio de Janeiro, Cancun, Miami or Amsterdam. There was an expression, Korinthiazein, (to live like a Corinthian), which implied a lifestyle or activity of sinful indulgence.

But certainly the most unique feature of the city was its pagan worship. Dominating the city was the Acrocorinth, a hill of over 1,850ft, on which stood a large temple to Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love. The temple was home to 1,000 priestesses, who were no less than sacred prostitutes, and they would come down into the city at night to offer up their trade.

In addition to this was the temple of Apollo, the god of music, song, and poetry and the ideal of male beauty and masculinity. With nude statues everywhere of Apollo, worshippers would show their devotion through homosexual practices.

Right when you thought that our culture was saturated with sexual promiscuity, the ancient city of Corinth has us beat. Sex wasn’t just an element of their party lifestyle; it was a part of their worship! No wonder that in Acts 18 it says that Paul was fearful of going to Corinth in order to preach the gospel there. The place was the epicenter of sinful living. But he went because God promised him that there were people in the city that would come to believe in Jesus through his preaching of the gospel and he did not need to be afraid.

But what happens when you start a church in a city like Corinth and every one of the believers are coming out of a culture like this? You get a group of messed up people that God graciously and patiently is renewing and liberating. And the same thing goes for you and me!

The title of this series has two perspectives. Both are very true realities and yet they appear to be polar opposite. On one side, the New Testament (especially 1 Corinthians) describes Christians as saints, holy, purified, Christ-like, godly, righteous, sanctified, set free, and special people! In Christ, this is truly who we are. Therefore this is real when describing the believer in Christ.

This first perspective is wonderful but difficult to grasp because it is the perspective from which God sees us. When a person is in Christ they are a new creation (2 Cor. 5). When God sees them, he doesn’t see the sinner that we see so clearly, God sees a person washed and cleansed by the blood of Christ. This is a gospel reality and by faith — This is Real!

However, frustration and discouragement comes when we also experience the other perspective. The reality is, that while we remain in the flesh, these earth-suits that have been tragically affected by sin, we will never fully act in accordance with who we truly are in Christ. Christians will continue to sin until the day they pass from this life into eternity. Which means that churches are filled with spiritually righteous people who, at times, will act completely unrighteous — This is Real!

The struggle to reconcile these two realities is what the book of 1 Corinthians is all about – transforming a group of people set free by the gospel but is still living like pagans. Paul’s pastoral ministry to this church is to challenge them to act in accordance with who they truly are in Christ. He does not ignore nor minimize the sin that has been reported to him. Instead, he acknowledges their ignorance and desires to help build up their faith.

That is the goal of this series. To acknowledge that we are sinful and broken people that live in a corrupt and fallen society who are desperately in need of God’s sanctifying and transforming grace – This is Real!

29
Apr

This is Real

38494_ThisIsReal_SCREEN

 

Have you ever felt like the people at church don’t measure up to what the Bible says they should be? Sadly, this is a common experience. The Bible says the church should be a generous and loving community, but many in it are selfish and hypocritical. This is not something new. We all have an ideal—but this is real.

Come hear what the apostle Paul wrote to a messed up church in the ancient city of Corinth, challenging them to live out who they really are in Christ.

13
Apr

The Hero’s Journey: The Return

 

Hero'sJourney-10Who doesn’t love a happy ending? We like to see the hero save the world, settle into a peaceful life or become king. This storyline is repeated throughout countless fairytales and movies, but it is the story of the Bible too. The world is a broken place with sin, death and despair reigning in the lives of every person, but Jesus stepped into this pain to ultimately deliver us from it.

We long for a world where we don’t have to deal with cancer, broken relationships, fears about the future or the death of loved ones. All of these things seem to haunt our lives even if we spend all of our energy avoiding them. Medicine can cure some sicknesses, but death will always win in the end. Money might solve some problems, but there are a million more that come because of it. Politics might change some things, but our leaders never actually deliver on their promises, and imperfect people can only do so much.

But what if our leader were perfect? What if we didn’t need medicine because we didn’t get sick? What if death were a distant memory, and it would never happen to us?

This is what Jesus promises at His return. When He comes, He will make all things new. New government, new world, new bodies, new life. Everything that is broken will be fixed and all pain will be cured. Most importantly, we will be united with Jesus, the one for whom we were made.

When He comes back, the first thing that Jesus will do is gather the church to be with Him (1Thessalonians 4:17). There will be a generation of Christians who will not die. People from all across the globe will be “caught up” with the Lord and gathered together with those who have already died in Christ. This moment is the very beginning of His renewal of the whole world—a first step toward reigning as King.

The first time that Jesus came, it was as a small baby in a dirty manger. The second time he comes, it will be as a victorious king. At His first coming, only shepherds and a few scholars in the east knew of His birth. At His second coming, the entire earth will see, hear and recognize Jesus in all of His majesty. He will take his place as the rightful ruler over the earth, establishing a perfect kingdom that will never end. Those who call Jesus King will live forever with Him and experience his perfect love, joy and peace, which is the ultimate happy ending.

The King is coming. The Old Testament promised the coming of Jesus, and it also prophesied that He would return to establish His kingdom on earth. Jesus Himself promised his return when he said to his disciples, “ If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also” (John 14:3 ESV).

One day this world will no longer be subject to corrupt politicians, disease, death, and every other thing that is a result of sin. One day, those who are in Christ will be caught up in the air to spend eternity with Him. Let us live with that in mind!

6
Apr

The Hero’s Journey: The Throne

Hero'sJourney-09

“And when [Jesus] had said these things, as [the disciples] were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight.” —Acts 1:9 ESV

“The LORD says to my Lord: ‘Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool.’” —Psalm 110:1 ESV

“[God] worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.” —Ephesians 1:20–23 ESV

We all know that familiar scene in sports. Tears streaming down a player’s face after enduring all opponents and coming out victorious in the end. Words don’t do justice to the emotions of joy and happiness that flow from complete success. The trophy is handed to the victor and in that very moment, everything that they had worked for was completed.

From a spectator perspective, we can see the joy and satisfaction on their face, but we can’t experience or know fully what they feel. This is because we weren’t there for all the hard work, sacrifice, time, energy, and single-minded devotion it took to get that victory. We don’t know the journey that person endured.

At this point in the Hero’s journey, Jesus’ work is finally completed. He descended from heaven to earth and the Son of God took on flesh. He has endured all the testing, hardship, and persecution prophesied in the Old Testament at the hands of sinners in order to save fallen humanity. Jesus has been raised from the dead and the time has now come for Him to ascend back to His Father in heaven. That is what we are looking at this week: the Ascension and Session of Christ.

These two topics in the redemptive work of Christ are often neglected in many Christian churches. This means that many individual Christians are not aware of the practical implications of Jesus’ return to heaven and His sitting down at the right hand of the Father in heaven (Session). But as we will see, these two topics are significant to the work of Christ and our current interaction with Him as Christians.

For Christ, the Hero of humanity, His ascension back to heaven is proof of His glorification. Paul wrote, “For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name…” (Philippians 2:9–11 NASB). When Jesus came to earth and became a man, His eternal glory, the glory He had with the Father for all eternity, was veiled under human flesh. He momentarily revealed it on the Mount of Transfiguration. But in His ascension, Jesus was returning to the glorious state that He was in before—only now as the victorious Savior King and Hero of humanity. His ascension proves that He is superior to any other Old Testament hero, that He is superior to angels, authorities, and powers. The Ascension further proves that Jesus is humanity’s Hero.

For the Christian, for you and me, this biblical reality has massive implications for us. I will only mention two of them. First, the Ascension proves that Christ’s redemptive work on earth is finished and accepted by God. The author of Hebrews argues this in great detail in his letter. He teaches that Jesus has brought a single, once-for-all sacrifice to God (Hebrews 9:12) when He died on the cross. Therefore, Christ has now sat down (Hebrews 1:3; 10:12; 12:2) in heaven, showing that no repetition of His sacrifice is necessary. No further salvific work is required. It is finished!

Secondly, the Ascension means that we have a Mediator in heaven who sympathizes with us and intercedes on our behalf (1 John 2:1). Jesus has experienced everything humans experience—birth, growth, temptation, suffering, and death—and therefore He can serve effectively as a Mediator before God in heaven (Hebrews 2:17; 5:7–10). Christ’s ascension assures the church that God understands the human situation and that Christians can therefore approach Him boldly in their prayers (Hebrews 4:14–16).

All of this and more proves that Christ’s ascension is an indispensable aspect of Christian teaching. It is the basis for recognition of Christ’s exalted status and for the Christian’s confidence and hope.

 

30
Mar

The Hero’s Journey: The Tomb

Hero'sJourney-08

John Stott wrote these words in Christ the Controversialist: “Authentic Christianity – the Christianity of Christ and the apostles – is supernatural Christianity. It is not a tame and harmless ethic, consisting of a few moral platitudes, spiced with a dash of religion. It is a resurrection religion, a life lived by the power of God.”

It sounds arrogant to say, but the one major difference between Christianity and other religions is that it is based upon truth. Sure there are some positive moral teachings in other religions; however, none are able to lead a person to saving faith leading to eternal life in heaven. That is only possible through the Christian gospel – which is summed up in Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians in chapter 15:3-4, “that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures…”

As Christians, we believe that Christ fulfilled Old Testament prophecy when he died on the cross for our sins and when he rose again from the dead. We don’t just believe this because it is a happy ending to an almost tragic story – We believe it because it is historical fact.

In our postmodern culture, people tend to doubt the authenticity and reliability of the facts that surround the resurrection. Scholars and skeptics have tried to explain away the historicity of the resurrection in all kinds of ways and for all kinds of reasons (they reject the miraculous; doubt the existence of God; question the gospel writer’s intent, etc…).

In many ways this is the experience many Christians have in American and Westernized society, when we share Christ with non-believers. At first, they are amazed that we actually believe in the Christian gospel. They think we are naïve, gullible, or at the very worst, senseless to reality. But we know the reality is exactly what we have found – we have found the truth in the resurrection of Christ.

Christianity is a religion based upon faith. But despite what some skeptics think, faith is based upon truth. When John saw that the tomb was empty, and that the burial cloths were all that remained, it says “he saw and believed.” In a court of law, there is not any more credible source for the truth than an eyewitness account – especially when there are multiple witnesses. And in fact there were more than just one, two, or even three witnesses to the resurrection.

Paul would go on to write in 1 Corinthians 15:5-8, “And that he appeared to Cephas [Peter], then to the twelve. 6 Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. 7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. 8 Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me.”

When John wrote his gospel, and when Paul wrote his letter, there were still people living who saw the risen Jesus. All this eyewitness evidence is simply to show that this resurrection was not some power-plot by the disciples. It was not that someone had stolen the body under the Roman soldiers’ noses who stood guard. It was not the wrong tomb, either. This was in fact the risen Lord – once dead, but now, alive.

The Cross is the central event in the history of the church. But the Resurrection is what started the church. It wasn’t until after the resurrection that the disciples finally began to understand what Jesus had been telling them. The resurrection became the launching pad for global mission. During the infancy of the church, believers suffered greatly for the cause of the gospel. But they didn’t suffer through a vain and empty hope. Instead, they endured through a living hope and in the truth of a resurrected Lord.