Thursday, September 15, 2011

The Message and the Messengers

I wrote this in April 2010 after Jordan and I were part of a filming documentary on Pearl Buck. I was thinking about this challenge again today while writing The Difference, and decided to share it here…

What is the Good News that we are presenting, and how are we presenting it?

Last weekend Jordan and I had the opportunity to travel to Lu Shan in Jiangxi province to take part in the filming of a TV documentary on Pearl Buck. We learned that Pearl Buck grew up in China after her parents came to share the Good News in the late 1800’s, and that her father preached the gospel in a way that seemed very foreign and was not well received by the Chinese at that time. Pearl Buck later criticized her father for actually having a negative impact on the people he was trying to convert, and for neglecting his family while he absorbed himself completely in “his work.” As an adult, Pearl seems to have turned away from the Christian faith that had been poorly modeled in her life.

Pearl Buck wrote The Good Earth based on her experiences of living among the common Chinese people. Her only reference to Christianity in the book is how the Chinese would have seen it: a strange-looking white man presenting a piece of paper to an illiterate Chinese farmer, whose impression of the half-naked man hanging on the cross was that he must have been a very evil man.

Learning about Pearl Buck’s story and acting as her in this documentary has been an eye-opening and sobering experience for me. It has caused me to think about Christians throughout history all over the world, and wonder how the Good News has been portrayed. What has been their view of God, their view of themselves, and their view of the people they are ministering to? Each one of those views is extremely critical to the end result. The gospel of Christ has the power to cross all cultural lines and to bring new life to people of all nations through complete life transformation. How have Christians hindered the movement of the gospel because of their ignorance and/or pride?

Our friend was one of the directors for this TV documentary, and invited Jordan and me to participate. I asked him how he thought Western Christians were being portrayed in this 12 part documentary on the history of Lu Shan. He said that he thought there was a real difference in the two generations (that of Pearl Buck’s parents and that of Pearl Buck’s). While the Chinese now view her father as a good man who had good intentions, the people did not receive his message as good news at that time. (The documentary shows him preaching while a Chinese peasant leaves the church in anger, and in another scene, a farmer refuses his offer of a Bible). The next generation of Western Christians, however, better understood and respected the Chinese people and were able to present the gospel in a way that was more well-received.

At breakfast one morning during the filming, I asked the woman who was in charge of our hair and makeup, what her impression was of Christianity. She told me that she has some friends who say that they believe in Jesus, but she hasn’t seen any real change in their lives. She thinks it would be better for these friends to raise their children well than to spend so much time going to church meetings (which causes them to neglect their families). That conversation was also humbling to me. Without life transformation, what do Christians have to offer non-believers? Christianity becomes just another religion, and even one that puts people’s focus in the wrong place (on religion instead of on relationship).

As Christ’s ambassadors, may we live lives worthy of the gospel and share the Good News in a way that those in darkness can see the true light and the life of Jesus through us!

The Difference

Last week a friend shared with me why she wasn’t interested in becoming a Christian. One of the reasons she gave was that most of the Christians she knows don’t seem to live any differently (apart from going to church) or have anything that attractive about their lives that would make her want to “be like them.” Its not the first time that I’ve heard that argument, and it is a very sobering thought to me.

How should our lives, as Christians, look different from the rest of the world? How can our lives, with Christ living through us, draw others to him? Why is it that the Christian religion sometimes seems to actually do just the opposite, and turn people away from Christ?

Ghandi recognized the difference in Christ and the Christian religion, and tried to live a Christ-like life, but didn’t want anything to do with the religion that went with it. He said, “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.”

Throughout history, Christianity has been associated with intolerance, religious wars, conquests through colonization, and hurtful divisions within the Church.

But Jesus washed the feet of His disciples and told them to follow His example. “Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.” (John 13:35) How are we, as Christians in this generation, doing in following Jesus’ example?

The Apostle Paul wrote to the Galatians that they were not enslaved to the Law, but that their faith in Christ had set them free (Galatians 5:1) He went on to write:

“For you have been called to live in freedom—not freedom to satisfy your sinful nature, but freedom to serve one another in love. For the whole law can be summed up in this one command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ But if instead of showing love among yourselves, you are always biting and devouring one another, watch out! Beware of destroying one another.

So I advise you to live according to your new life in the Holy Spirit. Then you won’t be doing what your sinful nature craves. The old sinful nature loves to do evil, which is just opposite to what the Holy Spirit wants. And the Spirit gives us desires that are opposite from what the sinful nature desires. These two forces are constantly fighting each other, and your choices are never free from this conflict. But when you are directed by the Holy Spirit, you are no longer subject to the law.

When you follow the desires of your sinful nature, your lives will produce these evil results: sexual immorality, impure thoughts, eagerness for lustful pleasure, idolatry, participation in demonic activities, hostility, quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, divisions, the feeling that everyone is wrong except in your own little group, envy, drunkenness, wild parties, and other kinds of sin. Let me tell you again, as I have before, that anyone living that sort of life will not inherit the Kingdom of God.

But when the Holy Spirit controls our lives, he will produce this kind of fruit in us: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Here there is no conflict with the law.

Those who belong to Jesus Christ have nailed the passions and desires of their sinful nature to his cross and crucified them there. If we are living now by the Holy Spirit, let us follow the Holy Spirit’s leading in every part of our lives.” (Galatians 5:13-25)

Paul wrote in another letter, to the Corinthians, about the new life we experience through believing in Jesus, and the task we’ve been entrusted with: to reconcile people to Him, just as we have been reconciled.

“Whatever we do, it is because Christ’s love controls us (urges us on). Since we believe that Christ died for everyone, we also believe that we have all died to the old life we used to live. He died for everyone so that those who receive his new life will no longer live to please themselves. Instead, they will live to please Christ, who died and was raised for them.

So we have stopped evaluating others by what the world thinks about them. Once I mistakenly thought of Christ that way, as though he were merely a human being. How differently I think about him now!

What this means is that those who become Christians become new persons. They are not the same anymore, for the old life is gone. A new life has begun!

All this newness of life is from God, who brought us back to himself through what Christ did. And God has given us the task of reconciling people to him. For God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself, no longer counting people’s sins against them. This is the wonderful message he has given to us to tell others. We are Christ’s ambassadors and God is using us to speak to you. We urge you, as though Christ himself were here pleading with you, ‘Be reconciled to God!’ For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ.” (2 Corinthians 5:14-21)

Earlier in the same letter, Paul wrote: “But thanks be to God, who made us his captives and leads us along in Christ’s triumphal procession. Now wherever we go he uses us to tell others about the Lord and to spread the Good News like a sweet perfume. Our lives are a fragrance presented by Christ to God. But this fragrance is perceived differently by those being saved and those who are perishing. To those who perishing we are a fearful smell of death and doom. But to those who are being saved we are a life-giving perfume. And who is adequate for such a task as this?”(2 Corinthians 2:14-16)

We have a life-giving message that will offend, because it speaks of sin and the need for repentance. So we can expect the world to hate us for this message, just as it hated Jesus (John 7:7, ). But we can also expect that those who are truly seeking will hear the message and rejoice. This message will find a place in their hearts (John ) and will transform their lives, just as we are being transformed.

As Shaliah of the Lord, let us be faithful both in proclaiming and in living out the message of the gospel. And let us tremble at the thought of our turning people away from Christ because of our living according to our sinful natures, and therefore being messengers who offer nothing that those who are truly seeking would be drawn to. Let our lives show a difference of the transforming work of Christ, as we live according to the Spirit. And may He use us for His glory to make a difference in the world!

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Shaliah

“Luke says, ‘He chose twelve whom he also named apostles.’ The title alone was significant. The Greek verb apostello means “to send out.” The noun form, apostolos, means “one who is sent.” The English word apostle is a transliteration, rather than a translation, of the Greek word. The apostles were “sent ones.” But they were not mere messengers. The Greek word for “messenger” was angelos, from which we get our word “angel.” An apostolos was something more significant than a courier or a herald; apostolos conveyed the idea of an ambassador, a delegate, an official representative.

That word has an exact parallel in Aramaic—shaliah. (Remember that the common language in Israel in Jesus’ time—the language Jesus Himself spoke—was not Hebrew, but Aramaic.) In that first-century Jewish culture, the shaliah was an official representative of the Sanhedrin, the ruling council of Israel. A shaliah exercised the full rights of the Sanhedrin. He spoke for them, and when he spoke, he spoke with their authority. He was owed the same respect and deference as the council itself. But he never delivered his own message; his task was to deliver the message of the group whom he represented.

The office of a shaliah was well known. Shaliah were sent out to settle legal or religious disputes, and they acted with the full authority of the whole council. Some prominent rabbis also had their shaliah, “sent ones” who taught their message and represented them with their full authority. Even the Jewish Mishnah (a collection of oral traditions originally conceived as a commentary on the Law) recognized the role of the shaliah. It says, “The one sent by the man is as the man himself.” So the nature of the office was well known to the Jewish people.

Thus when Jesus appointed apostles, He was saying something very familiar to people in that culture. These were His delegates. They were His trusted shaliah. They spoke with His authority, delivered His message, and exercised His authority.” (Twelve Ordinary Men by John MacArthur p.20-21)

Responding to Philip who said, “Show us the Father!”… “Jesus asked him, ‘Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father in Me? The words that I speak to you I do not speak on My own authority; but the Father who dwells in Me does the works. Believe Me that I am in the Father and the Father in Me, or else believe Me for the sake of the works themselves.’ (John 14:10-11) Jesus was saying in essence, ‘I am to the Father what you are to Me. I am the Father’s apostle. I am His shaliah. I act with His full power of attorney. More than that, I am one with the Father. I am in the Father and the Father is in Me. We share the same essence.” (ibid p.132)

Jesus went on to say, “The truth is, anyone who believes in me will do the same works I have done, and even greater works, because I am going to be with the Father.” (John 14:12)

And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor, who will never leave you. He is the Holy Spirit who leads into all truth. The world at large cannot receive him, because it isn’t looking for him and doesn’t recognize him. But you do, because he lives with you now and later will be in you.”(John 14:16-17)

John the Baptist had said of Jesus, “For he is sent by God. He speaks God’s words, for God’s Spirit is upon him without measure or limit. The Father loves his Son, and he has given him authority over everything.”(John 3:34-35)

Jesus gave his disciples the promises of doing the same works that He had done (and even greater works!), of being indwelt by the Holy Spirit, of exercising the same authority that God had given to Him, and of proclaiming the same empowered message of repentance and salvation that He gave.

Jesus used the image of a vine to describe his disciples’ relationship with Him (which was similar to His relationship with His Father.) “Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothingI have loved you even as the Father has loved me. Remain in my love. When you obey me, you remain in my love, just as I obey my Father and remain in his love.” (John 15:5, 9-10)

Jesus also warned His disciples to expect persecution from the world, just as He did, because they would be speaking His words, as His shaliah. “Do you remember what I told you? ‘A servant is not greater than the master.’ Since they persecuted me, naturally they will persecute you. And if they had listened to me, they would listen to you! The people of the world will hate you because you belong to me, for they don’t know God who sent me.” (John 15:20-21)

Jesus told his disciples that after He returned to be with his Father in heaven, they could pray directly to God. “At that time, you won’t need to ask me for anything. The truth is, you can go directly to the Father and ask him and he will grant your request because you use my name. (John 16:23)

Using Jesus’ name in prayer is to place ourselves under His authority, to see ourselves as connected to Him as the vine, to recognize that our restored relationship with Jehovah God is through Jesus’ sacrifice offered for us. As sinners, we are only able to enter the presence of our holy God through the cleansing blood of Jesus.

And as His shaliah, we have been entrusted with the task of representing Him to a fallen world.

Knowing that His death was close at hand, Jesus prayed for His disciples and for those of us who would believe later. “I’m not asking you to take them out of the world, but to keep them safe from the evil one. They are not part of this world any more than I am. Make them pure and holy by teaching them your words of truth. As you sent me into the world, I am sending them into the world.” (John 17:15-18)

“For we speak as messengers who have been approved by God to be entrusted with the Good News.” (1 Thessalonians 2:4a)

Lord, help us who call ourselves your messengers to clearly, boldly, and accurately proclaim your message. Help us as your shaliah to represent you as you really are. Help us to say along with John the Baptist, “Jesus must become greater and I must become less.” (John 3:30)

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Following the Lamb

“They follow the Lamb wherever he goes.” (Revelation 14:4b)

“My sheep recognize my voice; I know them, and they follow me.” (John 10:27)

“As Jesus walked by, John looked at him and then declared, “Look! There is the Lamb of God!’ Then John’s two disciples turned and followed Jesus.” (John 1:36-37)

“All of us have strayed away like sheep. We have left God’s paths to follow our own. Yet the Lord laid on him the guilt and sins of us all. He was oppressed and treated harshly, yet he never said a word. He was led as a lamb to the slaughter. And as a sheep is silent before the shearers, he did not open his mouth.” (Isaiah 53:6-7)

“No one can take my life from me. I lay down my life voluntarily.” (John 10:18a)

“Yes, by God’s grace, Jesus tasted death for everyone in all the world. And it was only right that God—
who made everything and for whom everything was made—should bring his many children into glory. Through the suffering of Jesus, God made him a perfect leader, one fit to bring them into their salvation

Because God’s children are human beings—made of flesh and blood—Jesus also became flesh and blood by being born in human form. For only as a human being could he die, and only by dying could he break the power of the Devil, who had the power of death. Only in this way could he deliver those who have lived all their lives as slaves to the fear of dying…

Therefore, it was necessary for Jesus to be in every respect like us, his brothers and sisters, so that he could be our merciful and faithful High Priest before God. He then could offer a sacrifice that would take away the sins of the people.” (Hebrews 2:9b-10, 14-15, 17)

“I looked and saw a Lamb that had been killed but was now standing between the throne and the four living beings and among the twenty-four elders…And they sang a new song with these words: ‘You are worthy to take the scroll and break its seals and open it. For you were killed, and your blood has ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation. And you have caused them to become God’s kingdom and his priests. And they will reign on the earth.” (Revelation 5:6a, 9-10)

“After this I saw a vast crowd, too great to count, from every nation and tribe and people and language, standing in front of the throne and before the Lamb. They were clothed in white and held palm branches in their hands. And they were shouting with a mighty shout, ‘Salvation comes from our God on the throne and from the Lamb!’”…

“These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation. They washed their robes in the blood of the Lamb and made them white. That is why they are standing in front of the throne of God, serving him day and night in his Temple. And he who sits on the throne will live among them and shelter them. They will never again be hungry or thirsty, and they will be fully protected from the scorching noontime heat. For the Lamb who stands in front of the throne will be their Shepherd. He will lead them to the springs of life-giving water. And God will wipe away all their tears.” (Revelation 7:9-10, 14b-17)

“The Lord is my shepherd; I have everything I need. He lets me rest in green meadows; he leads me beside peaceful streams. He renews my strength. He guides me along right paths, bringing honor to his name. Even when I walk through the dark valley of death, I will not be afraid, for you are close beside me. Your rod and your staff protect and comfort me. You prepare a feast for me in the presence of my enemies. You welcome me as a guest, anointing my head with oil. My cup overflows with blessings. Surely your goodness and unfailing love will pursue me all the days of my life, and I will live in the house of the Lord forever.” (Psalm 23)

“Once more he asked him, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me?’ Peter was grieved that Jesus asked the question a third time. He said, ‘Lord, you know everything. You know I love you.’ Jesus said, ‘Then feed my sheep. The truth is, when you were young, you were able to do as you liked and go wherever you wanted to. But when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and others will direct you and take you where you don’t want to go.’ Jesus said this to let him know what kind of death he would die to glorify God. Then Jesus told him, ‘Follow me.’” (John 21:17-19)

God, we pray that you would help us to follow the Lamb wherever He goes. Help our ears to be tuned in to your voice and help our wills to respond to your directions with faithful obedience. Keep us from straying and following our own path, which is so easy for us to do. We know you that are always with us—in the green meadows and in the dark valley of death—and that your blessings are all that we need. You have created us and sustained us, and you carry us close to your heart. We truly have nothing to fear, for no one can snatch us out of your hand (John ). You have enabled us to wholeheartedly follow the Lamb, who sacrificed His very life for us, the One who is worthy and through whom our salvation has come.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Why Did They Reject Jesus?

Yesterday I read a great book called Twelve Ordinary Men by John MacArthur. He gives insightful comments and background information on Jesus’ twelve disciples, as well as helpful commentary on the religious leaders of Jesus’ day. As I have been spending time in the gospel of John this past week, reflecting on Jesus’ identity and how He was received by different people, I especially appreciated MacArthur’s thoughts about why the religious leaders rejected Jesus.

“Their rejection of Him was complete. They were hostile to the gospel He preached. They despised the doctrine of grace He stood for, spurned the repentance He demanded, looked with disdain upon the forgiveness He offered, and repudiated the faith He epitomized. In spite of the many miracles that proved His messianic credentials—despite actually seeing Him cast out demons, heal every conceivable sickness, and raise dead people to life—they would not accept the fact that He was God in human flesh. They hated Him. They hated His message. He was a threat to their power. And they desperately wanted to see Him dead.” (p. 8)

“The Judaism of Jesus’ time represented a corruption of the faith of the Old Testament. Israel had abandoned divine grace in favor of works-religion. Their religion was legalistic. It was shot through with hypocrisy, self-righteous works, man-made regulations, and meaningless ceremonies. It was heretical. It was based on physical descent from Abraham rather than the faith of Abraham.” (p. 19)

“The religious leaders of Jesus’ day (like the vast majority of religious celebrities even today) were blind leaders of the blind. Most members of the Jewish establishment in Jesus’ day were so spiritually blind that when the Messiah came and did miracles before their eyes, they still did not see Him as the Messiah. They saw Him rather as an interloper and an intruder. They regarded Him as an enemy. And from the very outset, from the first time He preached in public, they sought a way to have Him murdered (Luke -29)…

It wasn’t that the self-righteous leaders did not believe in Jesus’ miracles. Nowhere on the pages of the Gospel record did anyone ever deny the reality of Jesus’ miracles. Who could deny them? They had been done too publicly to be dismissed even by the most skeptical gainsayers. Of course, some desperately tried to attribute Jesus’ miracles to the power of Satan (Matthew ). No one, however, ever denied that the miracles were real. Anyone could see that He had the power to cast out demons and do miracles at will. No one could honestly question whether He truly had power over the supernatural world.

But what irritated the religious leaders was not the miracles. They could have lived with the fact that He could walk on water or that He could make food to feed thousands of people. What they could not tolerate was being called sinners. They would not acknowledge themselves as poor, prisoners, blind, and oppressed (Luke ). They were too smugly self-righteous. So when Jesus came (as John the Baptist had come before Him) preaching repentance and saying they were sinners, wretched, poor, blind, lost people under the bondage of their own iniquity, needing forgiveness and cleansing—they could not and would not tolerate that. Therefore it was ultimately because of His message that they hated Him, vilified Him, and finally executed him (p. 150-151)

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