Tag: God’s Word

Christianity Requires Recreation

“God is not in the business of making good men better, but old men new.” – C.S. Lewis

Jonathan Faulkner

Long before I had ever preached a sermon on Colossians 3:1-17, perhaps before I had even read it (I was not a habitual bible reader, or reader in general in High School) I read Book IV, chapter 10 of C.S Lewis’s Mere Christianity which is titled “Nice People or New Men.” It was there, an in the work as a whole, that I first came upon the idea that God did not send Christ to die so we could live more moral lives than we already did, which is what the Christianity of my youth had taught me, but that Christ died so that we could become completely new creations by the Holy Spirit (Titus 3:5). Lewis’s image of the Horse being completely destroyed so that we no longer called it a horse, but something completely different, a winged creature, has stuck with me all these years and it is the best metaphor for what Paul describes in Colossians 3:1-17. Hence the reason the sermon I preach wherever I go as a guest preacher uses this very analogy to describe taking off the old self and putting on the new self. Lewis calls this transformation, we are not merely better, but we are recreated, reformed, we return to our preformed state. Now we are “Born of Water and Spirit” (John 3:5) as a new creature.

This was a hard teaching for Nicodemus to understand, as Dallas Jenkins so brilliantly displays in his work “The Chosen” (which again I recommend). It is just as hard for us to understand today. It has not made its way into American Christianity because it does not agree with the basis of “Common Sense Realism” that pervaded the halls of Princeton and dictated the theology of Scottish Presbyterianism. Christianity was like any other religion, a way for us to become better humans. Yet, even in the Nineteenth Century it was not totally lost on us. My own theological, historical mentor J.W Nevin commented extensively on the New Creation, even writing an entire Treatise on it called ‘The New Creation.” Nevin writes:

“It goes to the very foundation of Christianity. Is it a doctrine only or a fact? Is it a new creation in Christ, or is it a divinely wrought image of that only out of Christ? The question is worthy of something more than a magisterial wave of the hand, after the summary fashion of the criticism here in view.”[i]

The whole point of the New Covenant is that we are reformed, something new is being created, our fundamental constitution changes (Jeremiah 31:31-34). We are not the same being we were before, now we, through the Holy Spirit, put on the New Self that comes from being born of Water and Spirit. Paul then tells us in the book of Titus to “Insist on these things” (3:7) and to avoid the weeds of foolish controversies and the sin of the old life which we were formerly enslaved to but are now free from and indeed, changed by rebirth so that we have the ability to not do those things we formerly could only do.

Modern Christianity, however, does not act in this manner. Instead, it gives us a list of expected behaviors and if you do not meet the standard criterion then you are lost. The Woe’s to the Pharisees, Jesus instructions to the people, ring in our ears, do as they say, but not as they do. We are very good at cleaning the outside of the pot, but inside the pot we are rotten to the core (Matthew 23:1-36). So much so that our rot and pharisaic tendencies have become normalized and even encouraged. We are not to “Lord it over” others, but that is precisely what we have chosen to do in almost every area of life. We are to build others up because we have been built up, but all we know how to do is infantilize and tear down one another, slander and gossip against one another. If you do not believe me, go look at the Facebook Comments on almost any post that is uncensored, or the YouTube comment section for that matter. We fight hard against becoming the new creation because recreation requires us to give up our long held hostilities and even the pain that becomes a comfort blanket for a people who have never really grown up to maturity (Eph 4:7-11).

This is what Billy Graham was referring to when he said that: “Christianity is a mile wide and an inch deep.” We believe that all that is required of us is to pray a prayer and accept Jesus into our hearts, but that is not what Scripture instructs us to do. We are to “believe in our hearts that Jesus is Lord and confess with our mouths that Christ raised Him from the dead” (Romans 10:13). That is what is required for us to be saved, then we receive the Holy Spirit and the work of recreation or reformation begins. The old self is burned away, and the new self is brought forth. We become a new creation in Christ and we are to put the old vein rivalries and former definitions of Love away, far away, as we embrace the new life.

Now, let me make a point about the Love of God. God does love His creation unconditionally, but when we come in contact with the love of God we should be transformed by it. It should awaken us to the reality of how terribly sinful we are, and if it doesn’t, we need to question whether it was God’s love we encountered or the devil’s false abstraction. Or we need to question why our hearts are so hard towards God that we are not changed by an encounter with Him. God’s love should make us listen to one another, especially when they come to us with a grievance against us, God’s love should make us treat one another with deep respect and dignity, God’s love should make us desire reconciliation above continuing to harm our friends and family members.

Christianity in scripture, in Jesus own words, should be an inch wide and a mile deep. Jesus is clear about the fact that the wide road leads to death, and a truncated and diminished gospel that does not include recreation or reformation by the Holy Spirit, that just makes us more “moral” is wide and thin. We have fed a lot of people sugar coated death which sounds scriptural but is based on human wisdom and definition. God’s love is unconditional, and it accepts us as we are, but scripture is clear that it never leaves us the way it found us. Jesus did not tell Nicodemus that you must become more moral, He told him to be reborn, of Water, the baptism of repentance which signs and seals on us the covenant and spirit, the reconciliation and new life, new creation, in Christ.  It is foolish to think we will be saved because we become better humans without a deep personal relationship with Christ, because we went to Church on Sunday and Tithed 10 Percent every week. Those are good things, but even the Pharisee’s did them while placing unbearable burdens on the people and Jesus tells them they have a place reserved for them in Hell because of their religion devoid of relationship and transformation (Matthew 23:1-36 again).

Brothers and Sisters, we are to be transformed, not merely made better, but something completely new, unrecognizable from the old self. The Image of Christ is not a mere outward image only, it is also an inward one, one that requires us to be remade and reformed at the hands of the Potter who is our God.

Solo Dei Gloria, Amen.

 

[i] Nevin, John Williamson. The Incarnate Word: Selected Writings on Christology (Mercersburg Theology Study Series Book 4) (p. 34). Wipf & Stock, an Imprint of Wipf and Stock Publishers. Kindle Edition.

 

12973040_10154269785339245_3845786340930956602_oJonathan David Faulkner is a Graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary holding Masters in Divinity and Church History, a Pastor, Musician and Writer. He holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Christian Education & Administration with a concentration in Urban Ministry. He lives with his wife Rachel and daughter Erin in Buffalo Center Iowa and seeks to be a part of the project of reconciliation in the local and international church. He is currently serving as the Pastor of First Congregational Church of Buffalo Center.

Avoiding Schizophrenia Or Finding the Middle Ground

Avoiding Schizophrenia Or Finding the Middle Ground

 The Things We Do Not Need Banner

            Authors Note: This article covers two extremes, understand biased will be shown.

They are two opposite extremes. One makes people think we are crazy and the other makes people we think we are stiff and judgmental. Yes, I’m talking about what New-agers have dubbed Emotionalism and Intellectualism. Two very different viewpoints, and yes extremes. Emotionalism is just that, an Ideology based entirely on experience through emotions, whether that be of God or of some other thing that may hold our attention. While Intellectualism is based in the intellect, the mind can solve the problems, we must have head knowledge over heart. The idea here is that we gain knowledge about God or our relationship with God is based entirely on biblical knowledge.

Traditionally the Emotional ones look down on the intellectuals for never “having loosening up and being boards.” At the same time the Intellectuals look down on the emotional ones for being “immature” or “Overly charismatic.” Interestingly enough not much work has been done to try to reconcile the two viewpoints, but that is not surprising when you consider how often one viewpoint blasts another in the church today. Is it so surprising we have no sort of reconciliation in the matter. We either Blast Rob Bell for his existential remarks of never understanding God or we go after John MacCarther for his overly intense application of his vast knowledge.

Wherever we fall on this issue most of us have visited one extreme or the other throughout our spiritual walk. Emotionalist rave against scripture and theology, while creating a dangerous personal theology that rejects discipline and sound doctrine. Relying on a “God fix” or “Spiritual High” to allow them to experience God on some “level” that is apparently higher than everyone else. While Intellectuals yell at the flock to “Settle down.” Creating legalism where there was none before, acting as though knowledge of scripture will save them There has been no attempt to reach a middle ground, we go right or we go left and as we attempt to stand divided we crumble under out own

So here we are once again, doing it wrong and ignoring the rifts until they are too unstable and the church resembles an opinionated social club rather than a family. But not anymore, no more, we need a middle ground. But we’ve been given one, one that both emotionalist and intellectuals misinterpret, the Word of God.

You see, we are commanded by Jesus to know and teach in full, the commandments of God (see Matt. 5:13-20). To also be salt and light, a preserver of the world and flavor adders, making the Life that God offers us so much more appealing than a high we chase or a bit of knowledge to grasp. John writes to the saints in his letters “So that our Joy may be complete.” As if to say that knowledge of who God is, when transferred to the heart, becomes an emotion, Joy. Do you see where I’m going? If we claim to know God we “Keep the commandments of God,” and “Anyone who claims to know God and does not keep these commandments is a liar” (2 John 2:3-4).

The point is that scripture presents itself as a focal point for the believers life. If you and I were to study scripture and seek to follow God through scripture then we will find ourselves united. Paul writes to Timothy: “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, as one who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth” (2 Tim 2:15). To keep the commands of God we must first know the commands, for them to transfer to our hearts there first must be a transformation of the mind. “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good, acceptable and perfect” (Rom 12:2, Italics mine).

Am I rejecting emotions? By no means, my first goal is to encourage spiritual growth so that we “are no longer infants, tossed about by every wave of doctrine” (Eph 4:14). It is essential for the believer to have head knowledge but from that head knowledge, when it becomes hidden in our hearts we find that our emotions become truly defined in the way that they were meant to be.

My father recently told me “the presence of God and the word of God is so deeply engrained in us that sometimes we forget it is there. We do not always realize how much God’s presence and the Word of God impacts our day to day lives.” But what is the impact? I find I have Joy, a deep unfailing Joy, Joy is an emotion, but this is not some spiritual high this is ever present. I have love, I have a love for people that is so deep and overflowing that most days I cannot keep it in. I have sadness when one of my brothers or sisters is mourning or suffering. Instead of a fleeting feeling I have found eternal assurance both in who I am as a Christian and who God has revealed Himself to be through His Word and through prayer. So I do not reject emotions, they are a part of me, just as my spiritual gifts of teaching and exhortation are a part of me. Knowledge, wisdoms, emotions all stemming from a deep abiding faith in God, letting His Word guide and renew my heart and mind.

But here’s the kicker, this is not easy, but it also is not hard. Yes, it requires us to study, to put aside a simple feeling and to know. But we do not do this alone. We have the Holy Spirit which we received at Salvation, to guide us to show us scripture. We have the older saints who are wiser and more seasoned than us to Disicple us and most importantly we have the grace of God Himself, and the Word that He has given us so that we might be sanctified and given a place in a vast and varied body of people who love God and love each other, and who do their best to be a witness to everyone.

So that one day we may hear the encouragement and heed the advice of Paul, who tells the Thessalonians: “Now concerning brotherly love you have no need for anyone to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love one another, for that indeed is what you are doing to all the brothers throughout Macedonia. But we urge you, brothers, to do this more and more, and to aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we instructed you, so that you may walk properly before outsiders and be dependent on no one” (1 Thess. 4:11-12). We need a balance, we need reconciliation, we need to find the middle.

Street Psalms

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Street Psalms

 

            Picture if you will a back alley way. Somewhere in between a large bookstore and a Starbucks Coffee, do you see the sidewalks leading in? They are well kept, red brick, full of people and bicycles going where they will. Occasionally a bus flies past on its way to the next intersection. There are no cars because this part of the city is meant only for pedestrians and busses. Traveling at light speed, not stopping to notice them as they stand over a trash can fire or sit on the curb or attempt to stay warm as the cold mile high night air sinks into their bones. One of them has a bottle of Jack, another has a cigarette and still another man is huddled under blankets. This is how they will sleep tonight, this is how they will awake the next morning, without anyone noticing.

That assumes of course that none of the local patrols come through and run them out, telling them to find somewhere else to sleep. Tonight that will happen and one of them will be arrested for trying to fight with the police officers. Which is what he wanted, after all even one night in prison is better than trying to find another place to sleep.

Welcome to Denver Colorado, welcome to the bleeding places. Where people who are forgotten get together to remember what community feels like. The knowledge is evident, the wisdom is coherent, you won’t survive another night without your brothers. Because there is something strangely comforting in knowing you were not the only one to hear “Get a job” or who someone looked down on during the night.

Three years removed from Denver I discovered how easy it is to forget these things. Forget nights spent with the guys flying signs or trying to sell newspapers. The same guys I would serve a meal to at Christ’s Body, the same guys who’s stories broke my heart day in and day out. I want to go back to that place, to see the faces, old and new. You promise to visit but rarely do you get the chance too. Then you hear the stories from your contacts, men such as my supervisor John, knowing that some of the guys have met untimely ends at the hands of drug addictions, police violence, the person in Aurora who is beating up God’s homeless men and women.

Where is the light in the bleeding places, where is the light that the darkness has not understood. Like a tiny watch light in the darkest place gives off so much light could be the gospel in the hands of the believers. End homelessness? Didn’t Jesus promise we’d always have the poor among us? But where is the lament? Who cares for the beggar Lazarus at the rich man’s door? Are we so caught up in going overseas that our own backyard has grown over and become unattended. Why will we pay so much to go overseas to serve meals but refuse to serve meals to the homeless  men down the street. America needs missionaries too, not Christians who are fighting over who is right and wrong or who look down on the charismatics for their charisma or the reformers for their stringent adherence to the word of God. We need to be the church again, we cannot be so camouflaged by the world that we blend in.

Yes, the gospel is essential; we need the gospel if we are function healthily. But we need crazy men and women of God to be out serving and loving and building up the church, and we need pastors who are deeply in love with God to bring the church to a place where the body deeply loves God. No intense spiritual highs that don’t last, just the pure and unadulterated Gospel of Jesus Christ, the gospel of grace and peace and does last, and goes well beyond understanding.

What if we stopped thinking it an inconvenience to serve one another? What if the church built one another up instead of tearing down? How would the world be changed, if men stood up to lead their wives and sisters. If Children grew up saturated by the gospel message, would we not see a change? If we stopped trying to have it out way, our will done, and sought God’s will. How would we make a difference? If we turned from the watered down gospel of the seeker-friendlies and turned to the gospel with its full might and transformative power, allowing and participating in the work of the Holy Spirit. How would the world be transformed?

So tonight they will sleep in a warm bed. Because two Christian families had extra rooms and didn’t find it an inconvenience to serve another brother in Christ, and tomorrow they will go to church, clean shaven and hear the height and depths of the Word of God. And though they may return one day to the streets for whatever reason but for a time, even if brief, they will know the true sacrificing love of Jesus Christ. And that, that love will make all the difference.

 

Denver