This morning at church, we looked at the first six verses of Colossians chapter one. Our pastor titled the sermon, “The marks of a genuine Christian”.
He’s a good communicator and preached well. But this morning did expose a weakness in the evangelical desire to chunk the Bible up into ‘bite size chunks’ and preach verse by verse exposition. The Bible was not written in chapters and verses – and there is a danger that we impose an artificial structure onto God’s Word that distorts its meaning.
I don’t want to sound like a whiner about this, but it really does irritate me when evangelical presuppositions result in glaring omissions from Biblical exposition. To put it simply, I think our pastor got it wrong this morning – not in what he did say, but in what he didn’t.
Today’s sermon gave us three marks of a genuine Christian: Faith in Jesus (v4); Love for other Christians (v4); and, Hope of heaven (v5). But what about verse 6 – that the Good News of the Gospel is bearing fruit? The New Living Translation helpfully translates verse 6 as the Good News “is bearing fruit everywhere by changing lives, just as it changed your lives since the day you heard and understood the truth about God’s grace.”
This emphasis on changed lives in the here and now is then reiterated powerfully in verses 10 and 11.
In fact verses 8 through 13 just repeat what was said in the first six verses. The “three marks of a genuine Christian” are repeated again, but it seems to me that there is clearly at least a fourth sign: that our lives are meant to demonstrate that the Gospel has come (I also think there is something there about growing in our depth of understanding of what God has done for us – but I’ll leave that for another day). If everything we believe makes no difference to how we live now, what is it worth? And that does not simply mean some spiritual longing for a better life somewhere else. It means that we strive hard to “make it on earth as it is in heaven” – just as Jesus taught us to pray!
Faith in Jesus, love for others and the saints, and hope in heaven are definitely signs of being a genuine Christian. But they are not enough. The Bible is clear and consistent in its witness that you prove your Christian beliefs by your good works. Colossians 1 itself is clear on this. Why do evangelicals so easily and consistently miss the “good works” theme of the Gospel when it is in such plain sight?
Originally Posted on 23 June 2009
I was sent an email today that contained an excellent manifesto from one of my favourite thinkers and authors, Len Sweet.
It’s titled: “A Magna Carta for Restoring the Supremacy of Jesus Christ, a.k.a. A Jesus Manifesto for the 21st Century Church”
by Leonard Sweet and Frank Viola
You can read the original at their blog: http://ajesusmanifesto.wordpress.com/
It really is worth it. Thought-provoking and powerful. I like it a lot, and think we need to take our Christ-centric nature more seriously.
I preached a sermon in March 2007 on the issue of Fear. I was based in Johannesburg in South Africa at the time – a city and country that lives with low level fear of crime pretty much all the time. This sermon deals with what Christians should be doing to deal with social issues that produce the environment in which crime flourishes.
Fear and crime in South Africa is a personal problem, a national problem, a kingdom problem and a spiritual problem. As Christians, we are called to respond in many ways. And ultimately we are commanded by Jesus to “Do Not Fear”. Yes, it’s a command. The sermon focuses in on Jesus’ command in Matthew 10.
Listen to the sermon by downloading it here (3 Mb, MP3 file).
Regular readers of my blog will know that I am a fan of Brian McLaren. I am not sure I buy into every single thing he says (how could I?), but I do like his writings. And I have been privileged enough to get to know him personally over a number of years, and am even more impressed at his humility, his grace and his desire to learn from others. He is eminently teachable, exceptionally approachable and a remarkable Christ-follower.
Brian’s latest book has just been released. It’s called, “A New Kind of Christianity”, and chatting to him about it, he feels this book is one of his best contributions so far. I have had it on pre-order with Amazon.co.uk, and due to some technical issue between Hodder and Amazon, it has not yet been supplied to Amazon.co.uk. But you can order it through Eden.co.uk, pre-order at Amazon.co.uk or Kalahari.net (in South Africa).
Brian’s goal with this book is to deal with ten key issues that are blocking discussions and engagement both within Christianity, and those looking in at Christianity. He wants to help us to deal with these fundamental issues, so we can build a platform for further discussions on some of the details that threaten to divide our churches today. From what I can tell, he has succeeded in getting the discussions going. I have listed the ten questions below. Whether you agree with Brian’s answers and analysis or not, his questions are really good ones, and need to be dealt with.
I hope that fans and critics alike will engage with the content of his book, and not deal in personal attack and ranting rhetoric. What do you think of his questions? How would you answer them? How does that help you think more deeply about your own Christian faith?
Continue reading A New Kind of Christianity – Brian McLaren’s latest book
Originally posted on 2 October 2007, updated on 2 March 2010
Jesus said, “The poor you will always have with you” (Matt 26:11).
So, should we try and even solve the problem of poverty? Some people have used this verse to say that it is impossible to eradicate poverty. Others have argued that it is not only possible, it is possible within a decade – you can read Jeffrey Sachs in his best selling book, “The End of Poverty” (buy it at Amazon.co.uk or Kalahari.net) or connect with the Global Poverty Project and see their presentation, “1.4 billion reasons”.
Who is right? If Jesus himself said we’d always have the poor then maybe we shouldn’t even try to get rid of poverty. Is this what Jesus meant? I don’t think so.
Well, Jesus was quoting from the Old Testament. And here is the context:
“There will always be poor people in the land. Therefore I command you to be openhanded toward your brothers and toward the poor and needy in your land.” (NIV)
So, at very least, Jesus had in mind that we SHOULD give to the poor. He deliberately used a well known scriptural phrase to ensure that his audience would have this particular command brought to their attention, without him needing to make the additional points explicit. This was certainly a style of teaching used often by Biblical writers. It is one of the reasons that interpreting Scripture can be quite difficult, and why we must be open to new understandings and deeper interpretations.
Continue reading The poor you will always have with you
Originally posted on 9 July 2009
My wife, Jane, and I adopted a Zulu orphan in July 2005. Since then, we have discovered hundreds of families who have done the same – responding to the tremendous crisis in sub Saharan African, brought on by the AIDS epidemic.
Often, as Christians, we read the Bible selectively. We’re so quick to claim certain promises, and get hot under the collar about certain instructions and commands. But, then, we feel happy completely ignoring others. My wife and I became increasingly convicted about James 1:27, where it is very clear that “religion that is pure and acceptable to God is to take care of widows and orphans…”. That doesn’t mean adoption, of course – there are many ways of taking care of others. In fact, adoption means that we have reduced our impact because our focus is now on only one orphan, rather than the possibility of caring for many. But, religion that is acceptable to God must include significant amounts of social action and social justice.
In May 2008, I spoke at TGIF in Hyde Park, Joahnnesburg, and told the story of my family’s adoption of our third daughter, Rebecca. I told her story, our story, and gave details on the process of adoption in South Africa. For those interested in the story, it was recorded and is available for download as an MP3 file, by right clicking here (select SAVE AS).
Originally posted on 11 Nov 2009
Recently, Dr Rowan Williams gave an excellent speech on the issue of our responsibility towards Creation and a Christian response to environmental crises. The Bible has a clear message about caring for the environment – not just for the here and now, but also because at the end of time this planet will be renewed and restored to pre-Fall glory and be the paradise heaven of God’s Kingdom.
I don’t agree with everything Dr Williams says, but his message is well made and worth listening to. You can read it on his own website, listen to it online (42Mb MP3), or see an extract below.
Continue reading The Archbishop of Canterbury on Global Warming