According to the Riches of His Grace

"In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us…" -Ephesians 1:7-8

Month: October, 2014

When Theology Becomes Worthless

bible-Sunlight

All the disciples were at the table. Jesus was speaking of how he was going to be betrayed by one of them and that the rest were going to fall away. Peter stood up and said, “Even if they all fall away, I never will!” Jesus told him the horrible news. “Before the rooster crows at dawn, you will deny me three times.”

Peter was taken back. It was even worse when he finally did what Jesus said he would do and flat out denied him three times. Peter was heartbroken and distraught. The Gospels don’t even record that he was at the crucifixion. He was so ashamed. Why? Because he loved Jesus. He really did love him; he had just screwed up.

After Jesus has resurrected, he appears to the disciples while they are fishing. (John 21) They haven’t caught anything the whole night and a stranger on the beach tells them to throw their net on the other side of the boat and they will catch some. They do so and they catch 153 fish. John realizes that it is Jesus on the beach and Peter has a jolt in his stomach. His mind has flashed back to when he began following Jesus (Luke 5) and Jesus did the same thing with catching fish. Surely this means Jesus has forgiven Peter! Like Forrest Gump seeing Lieutenant Dan on the dock, Peter jumps out of the boat and swims the length of a football field all the way to shore.

When he gets there, Jesus has breakfast with the disciples. Following breakfast, Jesus looks at Peter and says, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Jesus asks him this three times. After the third time, Peter breaks down in tears. “Lord, you know everything. You know that I love you.”

Peter loved Jesus. Peter so quickly said that he would never deny Jesus because he loved him.

Notice something here.

It is more than for a theological truth that Peter is willing to die. He is willing to die because he loves Jesus the person.

But how often is it that a Christian is more adamant about theology than Jesus? That might sound weird, but it is absolutely possible to make theology an idol. It is as possible to love knowledge about God more than God himself as it is for a husband to love his wife’s wealth or body more than her. Each is a part of the person instead of the person as a whole.

Some Christians, in a completely honest and good desire to know God more, become puffed up in their knowledge and lose track of gaining the knowledge to love God. Rather, they begin seeking just to become smarter about him. This becomes very apparent when Christians talk more about their identity as a particular theology instead of as a follower of Jesus. I am a lover and follower of Jesus 10 million times before I am any theological identity.

If we are not overflowing with love for our Savior, it doesn’t matter if we are Pre-Trib, Mid-Trib, Post-Trib, or No-Trib. It doesn’t matter if we believe in a creation that took 6 days or 600 billion years. It doesn’t matter if we are an Arminian, a Calvinist, or somewhere in between. It doesn’t matter if we believe in 7 dispensations or 6 covenants. It doesn’t matter if we use the King James Version or the Message. If we lack love, our theology is worthless.

This also becomes apparent when we aren’t overflowing with sacrificial love that goes to any means to serve people everyday. Simply talking about that kind of love doesn’t count. We are supposed to walk in love as Christ loved us. (Ephesians 5:2). Theology must fuel our love, service, and mission, but it is certainly possible to have theology without being filled with love.

Theology is awesome and it is a very good thing. But let us not get so caught up in knowledge that we lose our passion. This has been a major struggle for me in seminary. I haven’t necessarily been obsessed with theology, but I have been studying it so much that I have struggled keeping my awe of Jesus. But if I have perfect theology, if I have memorized every verse of the Bible, if I can preach every topic perfectly, if I have read every book of a 50,000 book library, but I lose my love for the Savior, I am worthless. I am nothing more than a hard drive of information.

Knowledge puffs up and makes one arrogant. Love humbles us under the beauty of Christ and makes us in awe of what he has done.

When Christ meets me on the beach and says, “Aaron, son of Ronnie, do you love me?”, I don’t want to start quoting a theology textbook to answer him. I want to look at him with tears in my eyes and say, “Lord, you know everything. You know that I love you.”

I Come in Simplicity

“I come in simplicity, longing for purity, to worship you in spirit and truth, only you….You’re the reason I sing, the reason I sing, yes, my heart will sing, how I love you. And forever I’ll sing, forever I’ll sing, yes my heart will sing, how I love you.” -Rend Collective “Simplicity

These are the lyrics of my favorite Rend Collective song. The reason I love it so much is that it calls us back to worship the Lord in simplicity.

I am a seminary student, so I am usually around a lot of people who speak at least two languages: English and Theology. Now, don’t get me wrong, I love theology. My bookshelf has finally reached it’s third full shelf. I love to read and study.

But us who study a lot must be careful, because knowledge puffs up. If you aren’t careful, knowledge makes you arrogant and thus, dishonoring to Christ. If we ever reach the point where we are not acquiring knowledge in order to know and love God anymore, but rather to be smart, we are in sin.

At seminary, it has been described as the fact that we are drinking out of a fire hose. And that is the truth. We have to take in a lot of information in a short time span. So there are a lot of extremely smart people at my seminary, which is great! Take your study and do it to the glory of God. Learn as much as you can, but never lose track of the purpose of loving God more in your knowledge.

At seminary, I have to constantly take a step back and come to the Lord in simplicity. I love really deep worship songs like those by Sovereign Grace Music and Hillsong, but I like more than just those deep worship songs.

Chris Tomlin recently released a song called “Jesus Loves Me”. The chorus simply says, “Jesus, he loves me. He loves me. He is for me. Jesus, how can it be, he loves me.”

I know some people at seminary who scoff at songs like that because it’s not high enough theology. But if you can’t fall in worship singing that Jesus loves you, there is something wrong with you. It may not talk about the propitiation of the cross, the sovereign power of God, the extravagant glory of God, or the overcoming of the saints by the blood of the Lamb, but it is the Gospel in it’s simplest form.

There is real value in laying aside theology textbooks and heavy doctrines for a bit and just remembering what Rend Collective says, that he is the reason we sing, and then singing how we love him.

Why They Keep Making Sequels

Vader_Luke_DSII

Have you noticed that they seem to continue ruining great stories by making unnecessary sequels? Today, JK Rowling (writer of Harry Potter) released a tweet that is a clue to her next project. I read an article from a guy who interprets the clue that she is going to be writing another Harry Potter. Everyone got excited!

As is common in the news, they are currently in production of Star Wars Episode 7, featuring old and wrinkly, 70 year old Luke Skywalker.

I even saw an article on Facebook a few days ago about the possibility of my favorite television series, Lost, being continued on.

Can I just yell a huge “STOP!” Here’s why.

Harry Potter, Star Wars, and Lost are, in my opinion, three of the greatest stories in our pop culture. But the stories are finished.

(Spoiler alert for the next part)

Harry Potter’s story is about the fact that Harry survived an attack from Voldemort when he was young and now Voldemort seeks to kill him and take over the Wizarding World. In the final book, Harry defeats Voldemort and the world lives happily ever after. Story finished.

Star Wars is about Anakin Skywalker turning to the dark side, becoming Darth Vader, and thus helping build the oppressive galatic empire. Luke Skywalker is part of the rebel alliance and learns that Vader is his father, so he begins to work to redeem his Father. In the final movie, Vader turns back to the good side, kills the Emperor, and dies. The empire is defeated and peace is restored to the galaxy. Story finished.

In Lost, Oceanic 815 crashes on an island and about 40 passengers survive. They begin to live on the island and learn that it is special. By the end of the show, only 6 of them remain alive and a monster who has been living on the island for thousands of years is seeking to destroy the island, so Jack, one of the passengers on the island, kills the monster and sacrifices himself to protect the island for good, while the remaining survivors make it off the island. Story finished.

HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS – PART 2

Many think it is sad that these stories are over, but it is a joy that they are finished. The whole point of the story is realized when the end comes. The point of why we cared about the characters for so long is made known.

But some want to continue to know what happens from here. They want to know what Harry does after Voldemort is defeated. They want to know what Luke does now that the empire is gone. What did the remaining survivors of Oceanic 815 do when they got back to the real world?

To which I respond, nothing. It’s not real. There is not a storyline that continues on into the future in a fictitious world. In the real world, yes. When you graduate high school, you have been part of your classmates’ stories for four years. Their story will continue on beyond you. But not in Harry Potter. It’s over. And we should be glad.

It ruins the story to continue it on after the purpose of the story is complete.

If you don’t believe me, let me give you an example. Imagine that we are co-workers and last night, I was trapped in a burning building, on the fifth floor and I was recounting the story to you on our lunch break. I had to fight through burning flames and do my best not to die. I found a child on the fourth floor, unconscious and picked him up, to carry him out of there. I finally made it out alive and alerted all of my family and friends of what had happened and that I was okay. Story finished.

But if I continue on after that in telling you the story and tell you about me going home, what I had for dinner, how I prepared my dinner, what I did before I went to bed, how long I brushed my teeth, what kind of Listerine I used, what time I went to bed, how long I slept, what time I woke up, what I had for breakfast, what color tie I put on to go to work, how long my commute to work was, how many red lights I got stopped at, and what happened at work up to this point, you are going to think it’s pointless.

“Bro, what does this have to do with the story about the burning building?”

Exactly.

It has nothing to do with the story I was telling. And making sequels to a movie that has already finished it’s story just to continue the story of the characters is the same way.

Why do we care so much?

JackDiesWithVincent

The answer to that question is found in Ecclesiastes 4:11. There, Solomon states that God has written eternity on our hearts. We are created by a God who exists in eternity and had no beginning or end. He has always existed and will always exist. We can’t comprehend that because we exist in a finite universe where things have to have a beginning and an end. If a story goes on forever in our universe, it is boring.

But, ultimately, we crave a story that continues on after it is finished because we are part of one. The eternal God has come to the finite earth as Jesus in order to provide redemption for us through his death on a cross. Now, if we follow Jesus, we begin a relationship with Jesus that will carry beyond our death into eternity, where we will go. If we don’t follow him, we will go to eternity, but not with Jesus. We will be separated from him in hell.

We crave a story that last forever because there is one that last forever. It is the only one that makes sense to carry on forever. It is the story of Jesus. He has existed since before the creation of the world, he came into the world to bring us to himself, his story is continuing as people from all the nations of the world choose to follow him, and after the world has ended, those who followed him will continue to be with him and know him forever.

The cross of Jesus Christ stands as the image of the only story that needs a sequel after it is over.

1jesus_on_cross

Many Have Already Been “Left Behind”

7645d926b1acff61607dae2f7949136c8aeb7cc1

Today, the new Left Behind film released to theaters. You should check out Christianity Today’s review of the film before you go see it.

Let me tell you my story with Left Behind. I used to be obsessed with the series. I read the 12 books in high school for several book projects and made corny little short films for the projects set in the Left Behind world featuring me and some of my classmates (in which I played the main guy left behind, Jesus, and the Antichrist all in the same film).

In fact, had it not been for the Left Behind series, I wouldn’t be a Christian. The first films connected me to Kirk Cameron’s evangelism ministry in which I watched and became a Christian from his presentation of the Gospel. So I am thankful for the series.

Theologically, I don’t really agree with the sort of eschatology that the series presents anymore, but that’s not what this post is about. Frankly, very little, if any, of the ministry I do on a daily basis has anything to do with the rapture, a 7 year tribulation, the antichrist, or the number 666.

My worry is that many Christians have already been left behind whether Jesus has returned or not. The reason I say this is because of a major misunderstanding of all of this.

The message of the New Testament is constantly this: Jesus could return at any time, so make sure you are faithfully working for him while you wait.

Think of it this way. A manager has been gone for lunch from a business and the employees decide that they will slack off while he is gone and just pretend to be working hard when they see him coming back into the building. But he doesn’t come in the front door that day; he comes in the back. They didn’t see him. He comes up to the front and sees all the employees slacking off.

Those employees who were slacking off are going to be in trouble. They might get fired.

This is why I worry that many Christians have already been left behind. Because American Christianity has reduced being ready for the return of Jesus to watching the news and connecting the news stories with what the Bible says.

But let’s take a look at those signs:

Later, Jesus sat on the Mount of Olives. His disciples came to him privately and said, “Tell us, when will all this happen? What sign will signal your return and the end of the world?” Jesus told them, “Don’t let anyone mislead you,  for many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am the Messiah.’ They will deceive many. And you will hear of wars and threats of wars, but don’t panic. Yes, these things must take place, but the end won’t follow immediately. Nation will go to war against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in many parts of the world.  But all this is only the first of the birth pains, with more to come. “Then you will be arrested, persecuted, and killed. You will be hated all over the world because you are my followers. And many will turn away from me and betray and hate each other. And many false prophets will appear and will deceive many people. Sin will be rampant everywhere, and the love of many will grow cold.  But the one who endures to the end will be saved. And the Good News about the Kingdom will be preached throughout the whole world, so that all nations will hear it; and then the end will come. (Matthew 24:3-14)

What do you see there? It’s not wars and persecution in Syria that signals the end of the world. It’s not the outbreak of Ebola or earthquakes in Myanmar.

It’s actually not until the end of this passage that Jesus says that the end will come. And what is the sign of that? When the Gospel has reached all the nations.

Later in Matthew, Jesus gives the Great Commission where he says, “Go and make disciples of all the nations…” (Matthew 28:19).

Nations is used the same way in both of these passages. In the Greek, it is rendered “ethnos” which means people groups. A people group is any group of people living in an area. They can be based on language, culture, religion, or many other things. Multiple nations (people groups) exist in every country of the world.

Statistically, there are over 16,000 known people groups in the world. Of those, over 7,000 are classified as “unreached”, meaning there aren’t enough Christians, if any, in the area to evangelize the people group.

What does all of this mean? It means that there are still over 7,000 nations that have not heard the good news of the Kingdom as Jesus said would happen before the end. I have no idea when Jesus will return. But I think there is still a lot of work to be done.

So, Christians, don’t get left behind. Jesus said reach all nations with the Gospel, so go do it. Maybe you should go to another country for it (as people often think when talking about missions) but maybe you should go to your next door neighbors.

Our primary job is not to connect the news stories on CNN to verses in the Bible. Our job is to share the Gospel with people, that we are all really bad sinners and Christ has bore all the sins of the world on himself and taken the punishment for them. Now, all who receive him will receive forgiveness and eternal life. We are to call people to believe that and then walk beside them as they follow Jesus. That’s what making disciples is.

So don’t be the employee that is slacking off when the manager returns. Be the one who is joyfully doing his job in faithfulness. Don’t get left behind.

The King is coming. When the clouds roll back and he descends, we will see his face and all will be right in the world. Until then, it’s not and there is a job to do. Go and make disciples of all the nations.