Be a Friend of Sinners

When Jesus invited Levi to follow him, everything changed. This tax collector was transformed by the savior’s call. In order to express his gratitude and love for Jesus, Levi threw a party in Jesus’ honor. He’s so thankful for Jesus that he gathers all of his tax collector friends and other sinners to come recline with Jesus and his disciples. This quite the party! Here is Jesus the son of God eating and talking with the social outcasts—the sinners. The shock of this scene is difficult for us to fully understand in our culture. Reclining at someone’s table was a mark of friendship, intimacy, and love. It was the place of community, long conversations, and fellowship. It mattered who you ate with in Jesus day, similarly to how it matters which table you sat at in the high school Cafeteria. By eating with people you were identifying with them. No one wanted to eat with these tax collectors and sinners because it meant socially demeaning yourself to spend time with them. Yet, these are the sorts of people Jesus hung out with. He was a friend of sinners.

Jesus’ Evangelistic Strategy

It is here that we see Jesus’ mission strategy. It’s a complicated, super difficult strategy that takes years to master. It’s a strategy that all the church growth experts out there have yet to figure out yet as they develop new ministry program after new program. You ready to hear what Jesus’ missionary strategy was? He ate with people. That’s it. He ate dinner with people. His work of evangelism and discipleship always took place around the dinner table. As Jesus tells us in Luke 7:34, “The Son of Man has come eating and drinking.” Meals are community creating events. Meals unite us with other people. Even today, food and drink connects people together. Why else to people gather at bars and restaurants? People go for community and fellowship. There is a reason everyone feels awkward eating alone in a restaurant. God has designed our meals to be times of connection and friendship with one another.

Now Christian’s are known for lots of things, but perhaps what we are best known for is our covered dish dinner. But, while most of our meals at church are with other Christians, look at the company Jesus kept at his meals! He eats with sinners and tax collectors! Now it is good for the body of Christ to come together and fellowship and eat together, but we have to ask the question, how have we strayed from Jesus’ own missions strategy? We’ve so secluded ourselves in the Christian bubble, that we only surround ourselves with Christians. In fact, we’ve intentionally designed our lives so that we have as little interaction with non Christians as possible. We do Bible studies where everyone there is a Christian. We swing the golf clubs with other Christians. We have Christian doctors, Christian handymen, Christian dentists, Christian coaches… you get the point. All of our friends are Christians and the only people we eat with our Christians. We only eat with people who are like us—Christian.

The American Church Has Killed Off Evangelism

No wonder the American church fails in the task of evangelism—we aren’t friends with anyone who isn’t a Christian! Indeed, we design so much of our programs in the church to reinforce the Christian bubble. The church becomes the Smörgåsbord of programs and activities that lead to the cul-de-sac of the Christian bubble. We have Christian golf tournaments, Christian Senior Adult activities, Christian choirs, Christian basketball leagues, Christian baking clubs. Again, you get the point, and I’m aware that I’m striking at nerve at Forest Hills, because this is exactly they way we program, and I think it’s well intentioned, but severely misguided. We’ve strayed so far from Jesus’ simple missional strategy of eating with sinners. We’ve swapped it out with hundreds of activity that all keep us busy but ineffective in reaching the world for Christ. So we can have a busy week at the church with activities, outings, and all the while never speaking once to someone who is not a Christian. I believe the American Church has unintentionally structured itself to kill off evangelism. After all you can not evangelize to non-Christians if you don’t know any non-Christians. Instead of mobilizing Christians to mission, the church has only entrapped them in the Christian bubble.

Eat With Sinners

So what would it look like for you and I to adopt Jesus’ mission strategy? What would it look like if our church began to declutter our programming to free you up to live like this? I hesitate to make such specific application lest I stumble across a sacred cow. So rather than critiquing church programming, I’d rather challenge you as an individual to live like Jesus. Do you want to be a more effective evangelist? Do you want to make an impact in the kingdom of God? What if I told you that you don’t need any formal training or certification and that its as easy as eating a cheese burger? Here is the challenge: eat one meal a week with somebody who isn’t a Christian.

We all have to eat anyway don’t we? On your lunch break at work, invite a co-worker who doesn’t know the Lord out eat with you. One evening invite your unbelieving neighbors over for dinner. Go grab a cup of coffee with a friend in your aerobics class who doesn’t know Jesus. It really is that simple. Be friends with non Christian people. You have to eat, so why not eat with other people who don’t know Jesus?

I’ve failed at this a lot personally over the course of my life, and I still have a long ways to go, but I’ve done my best to keep my lunches booked during the work week. It often means that we have to budget extra in our family budget for restaurant eating, but so much of my ministry is done over conversations with other men over a meal. It is there in those deep conversations with mouths full that encouragement is lavished, admonishment is given, and evangelism happens. So the challenge this morning is simple—who is one person you can invite to a meal this week who doesn’t know Jesus? In your community groups tonight, share the name of that person with your group for prayer, accountability, and encouragement. Work it into the rhythm of your life that you eat with other people, particularly with those who do not know Jesus.

Reevaluate Your Priorities

This may mean you need to re-evaluate your weekly calendar. Most of us are sinfully too busy. We pack our calendars so full with activity that we don’t have time to be intentional in building relationships with non believers. You may have to say no to some other commitments so that you can encounter new people on a regular basis. Use your hobby as a bridge to relationship. Love golfing? Join a group of guys and go golfing with them on Saturday. Love knitting? Join a sowing group in town and meet new friends and share your testimony with them. Love working out? Meet some people at the gym and invite someone out to coffee after your morning workout. Love basketball? Invite your co-worker over to your house to watch the game on Friday night. You get the picture. Evangelism isn’t always just going door to door. Though there is nothing wrong with doing that, but often the most effective evangelistic opportunities we have come through the trust of personal relationship. Be hospitable, friendly, and welcoming to all people. Build friendships with those who don’t know Jesus and through those friendships live out and share the Gospel. Missions isn’t an event and it isn’t nearly as hard as we make it out to be. It’s simply every day Christians doing every day things with Gospel intentionality.

As you are intentional with the Gospel and build those friendships with non Christians, the Spirit will work in the natural ebb and flow of the conversation to open hearts and provide you plenty of opportunities to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Be like Jesus. Be a friend of sinners.

Praying the Psalms: Psalm 22

“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” For most Christians that haunting question stirs our hearts with sorrow. That desperate question was uttered by none other than Jesus himself on the cross. Jesus references the first line of Psalm 22 as he hangs on the cross. The Gospel writers, particularly Mathew, uses Psalm 22 throughout the crucifixion narrative to emphasize the innocence of Jesus. Psalm 22 is a psalm of lament and like all psalms of lament, the conclusion ends in praise. As we read in this Psalm about the horrific suffering of an innocent man, it so clearly points us to Jesus, the innocent son of God. Jesus’ crucifixion would not be the end of his story, but ends in great victory through his resurrection. Psalm 22 may begin in great sorrow, but concludes in great praise and victory, following the patter of Jesus’ death and resurrection.

Praying the Psalms

Commentary

v. 1-5 - The psalm begins with a desperate and anxious question. Why does God seem so far away? Why does he seem so distant? Does God not hear the cries of the innocent? Can he not hear their groans in the dark of the night? The psalmist cries out day by day, night by night, but the Lord doesn’t answer. There is no rest.

We have all felt this way at some point in our Christian life. Where is God when it hurts? Just when we think we need him the most, he seems peculiarly absent in our lives. We may be in agony and anguish, but God doesn’t respond.

The psalmist has put his trust in the Lord continually. He knows that he is the holy one of God. His suffering casts no doubt on the goodness of God’s character. The psalmist knows that in the past, God answered the cries of the faithful of Israel. They trusted God, and were not point to shame.

Yet, the Psalmist is confused. He has grown up hearing about God’s faithfulness towards his people, but in his situation God seems to be absent? What seems to be the problem? So the psalmists is resolutely confident in God, but at the same time confused. Why is God absent for him, when God has intervened in the lives of so many others?

v. 6-18 - The psalmist then describes his condition. He is decimated and despised. He is rejected and scorned. He is mocked and taunted. To his enemies he is but a worm. His enemies scoff at his faith and taunt the Lord, “He trust sin the Lord; let him deliver him; let him rescue him, for he delights in him!” (v 8) This psalmist is a man who is hated, but for no good reason. He is completely innocent and without faulty, yet he is despised and rejected by men.

Though he is jaded and barbed with the verbal spears of malicious foes, the psalmist trusts the Lord. He reflects on his trust in the Lord from the beginning. He has trusted continually in the Lord, even in his infancy, while he was at his mother’s breast. He has been wholly devoted to the Lord and innocent of these dehumanizing accusations.

Yet, the psalmist continues to be poured out like water. His bones are out of joint. His heart is melting under the duress of the persecution. His strength has dried up as he comes to lay in the dust of death.

The blood thirsty canine scavengers encircle him. They devour the weak as their prey. The count his bones to divide among them as they cast lots to divide his clothing. They pierce his hands and feet. These wicked men seek to take anything of value from this man and leave him in dehumanizing shame. They will not cease until they have turned this righteous and godly man into a worm.

As we read what this innocent man of Psalm 22 is going through, the images bring to our mind the crucifixion of our Lord. From the mocking at the cross—“If you are the son of God come down for there”, or “He saved others, but he cannot save himself!”—to the casting lots of his clothing, and to the piercing of his hands and feet, in all of it we see in Jesus.

Anyone who would have walked by Golgotha’s hill on that good Friday would have come to the conclusion that God has abandon this man. There is no way that God delights in him, because God has not rescued him. This is the way many of us think today. If God lets us incur a terrible fate, than either the problem must be in us or with God. Yet, throughout the Bible we see that God allows suffering to come upon the righteous in order to deliver them for the glory of his name. God uses the malicious intent of wicked men and turns it on its head. God is so sovereign that he is able to use depraved acts of violence to bring about an ultimate good.

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v. 19-21 - The sufferer cries out to God for help. Those his circumstances seem to swallow him up, his trust in the Lord is unfading. He calls out to the Lord, “Do not be far off! O you my help, come quickly to my aid!” This final desperate cry is one of deliverance and salvation.

When we are in similar situations, we too should pray and ask God for help. May our suffering never cause us to lose our confidence in God’s ability to rescue. Though he may seem far, he is near. Though he may seem incompetent, he is more than able. A crises of life should not become a crises of faith. Despite what this psalmist is going through, his trust in the Lord is resolute. So too should it be for all of God’s people.

v. 22-31 - As lament psalms do, this psalm concludes in praise. “For he has not despised or abhorred the affliction of the afflicted, and he has not hidden his face from him, but has heard, when he cried to him” (24). Those who trust in the Lord, place their trust rightly. God is reliable; he hears and responds to the desperate cries of his people. Though it might be delayed, rescue is coming. The result of that rescue leads to praise, satisfaction and joy. This rescue not only leads to the satisfaction and joy of the sufferer, but it leads to world wide praise to God!

All the peoples of the earth will worship before God. The Kingship belongs to the Lord, and he will reign forever. The result of this rescue is the worship of God’s name from generation to generation. Those yet to be born will one day hear of the righteousness that God has done.

As we think about Jesus’ cry on the cross, it is understood much deeper in light of the entire psalm. Yes, Jesus was in great suffering and agony as the innocent man who was pierced on that cross. At that moment of great suffering, God seemed distant and it appeared that God had abandon his son on the cross as Jesus bore the penalty of sin. Yet, God would not abandon his son, even in death. Though Jesus died, on the third day he would rise again to victory. Jesus’ death and resurrection is the center point of history. The entire earth must hear the good news of what Christ has done by dying in our place on the cross. The crucified son of God has been given the kingship that endures for ever. This good news has been told from generation to generation, to a people yet unborn.

The Gospel of Jesus has continued to be passed down from generation to generation. For two thousand years Christian moms and dads tell their children about the righteousness of God found in Jesus Christ. As Christians we must continue to proclaim to the next generation that the suffering son of God is the resurrected king and the savior of the world.

Prayer Guide

  • Have you ever felt abandon by God? Share your heartache honestly to the Lord.
  • Pray that God would give you the faith to trust him even when things go badly in your life.
  • Ask the Lord for deliverance from your enemies, particularly when you are suffering for righteousness sake.
  • Praise the Lord that God did not abandon Jesus, but raised him again on the third day.
  • Ask the Lord for opportunities to share the good news of Jesus with others.

Praying the Psalms: Psalm 21

Psalm 21 is another royal psalm, closely connected to the preceding psalm, psalm 20. Psalm 21 serves as a prayer of thanksgiving to God for his blessings on the King. The themes of kingship and kingdom run throughout the Bible. As we look at the joy the people of Israel found in their righteous and godly king, we too find our joy in the eternal king Jesus Christ. As we look at this Psalm today we will find that the Lord blessed his anointed King and exalts him to glory. Praying the Psalms

Commentary

v 1-7 - The Psalm begins as a prayer to God in thanksgiving for their King and the way God has honored the king. The king is a godly and righteous king who rejoices in the Lord, delighting in the salvation of God. As a result, God is faithful to bless the king. He gives the king his hearts desire and sets a crown  of fine gold upon his head. God blesses the king with a long life and the king is made glorious through the salvific work of God. God gives to him splendor an majesty. The King is the most blessed, because “the king trusts in the Lord” (7).

God loves to bless his anointed king. Though this psalm was originally addressed to a godly king in Israel, this psalm points so clearly to the true king and the true son of David. Jesus is the Christ. Christ means the anointed one. Jesus is the faithful and obedient servant king who finds his strength in God. He rejoices in the presence of his Father and delights to obey him.

Since Jesus is the righteous king, God crowns him with honor and praise. Jesus is the forever king of God’s people, because he is the only perfectly righteous king. The Father gives to his son life, and resurrected life at that. The length of his days stretch thought the unfathomable time of eternity.

The psalmist tells us that “His glory is great through your salvation; splendor and majesty you bestow on him” (5). Truer words have never been spoken about Jesus. Jesus the king is made glorious through the salvation of God. Through the salvation God purchased through the death of the righteous king, the king then receives the glory for it. The ascribing of splendor and majesty is ascribed to Jesus so clearly in the Christ Hymn of Philippians 2:5-11. Jesus who became the obedient servant, even unto death is know highly exalted by God. God gives to him the name that is above every name.

v 8-12 - The psalm continues in its celebration of the king by praising the Lord for his protection of the king. Enemies may very well rise up to challenge the King. They may be filled with violent hate, but the Lord will deliver the King from his enemies. “The Lord will swallow them up in his wrath, and fire will consume them”. The King’s enemies do not stand a chance. They will be wiped away by the very power of God.  Though the enemies may plan evil against the king, they will not succeed.

Certainly the powers of darkness cannot stand agains the anointed king Jesus. Despite all their cunning and hatred towards Jesus, their plans were foiled. Though they sought to kill Jesus, God used his death to bring about salvation and resurrected glory. Those who stand as enemies of God’s anointed king should be fearful, whether demonic or human. Jesus the true King will come again and establish his kingdom on the earth. Those who align themselves with the powers of darkness will face swift destruction and the eternal wrath of God.

v 13 - The Psalm concludes with a crescendo of praise. May the Lord be exalted in his strength, because the Lord provides strength to his anointed and blessed the righteous King. As we think about the kingship of Jesus, it is mean to bring us before our knees in worship. God is glorifies through his King and as we serve King Jesus with our lives, it is done  in worship and in love to God.

Prayer Guide

  • Thank God for King Jesus and for the way God has exalted him.
  • Thank God for the salvation given to you through Jesus.
  • Praise God for the confidence we have knowing that Jesus’ enemies will one day be defeated once and for all.
  • Praise the Lord for his strength and he glorifies himself through his King.

Your Presidential Candidate Isn't the Messiah

Did you know it was election season? I jest, after all, how could you not? Every time you flip on the news you hear some talking head babbling about some presidential candidate. You scroll through Facebook and find one "friend" after another spewing their adoration for their favorite candidate. The buzz of election year creates hope within the heart of every American; the glamorous pageant of democracy sparkles with messianic colors. 21-2016ers1

Every presidential election cycle dominates the cultural conversation, particularly our current cycle. After all, so much of our nations future depends on the man or woman who sits in the oval office. The president of the United States wields incredible authority and influence. In many ways, politics has become the new American religion. David Gelertner recently wrote in an article entitled What Explains the Vicious Left? that "For most conservatives, politics is just politics. For most liberals, politics is their faith, in default of any other; it is the basis of their moral life." He describes how for many on the left, committed to secularism, politics has replaced the basis of their faith. Therefore, they defend their political position with religious zeal. I think he is on to something, but I would suggest that politics has become a religion not only for liberals, but for conservatives as well—including evangelicals.

As you listen to political commentators on both sides and as you watch the cut-throat political commentary on social media, people tend to think of their candidate with Messianic implications. Whether its Cruz or Trump, Bernie or Hillary, the fiery zeal of their supporters promote these politicians with Messianic expectations. Each side hopes that their candidate will usher in a new era of our country, accomplishing their idealistic vision for the country. As secularism increases, politics has filled the spiritual vacuum. If we are not careful, Christians can get swept away with the political enthusiasm and find ourselves inadvertently looking to the wrong Messiah.

No matter where you land on the political spectrum, every presidential candidate will disappoint, whether you are a Regan conservative or a democratic socialist. Both the conservative and liberal ideologue will find themselves disappointed, even if there candidate wins. There is only one messiah and his name is Jesus. Only the preminant creator, the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation can reconcile all things, making peace by the blood of the cross (See Col 1:15-19). Our hope rests on the arrival of the coming of the kingdom of God, not in the prosperity of the kingdom of America. Let us not confuse the two.

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So should Christians just avoid politics, stick our heads in the sand, and ignore the incredible issues that plague our nation? No, not at all. As sojourners in Babylon we should "seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile" (Jer 29:7). We should work in the realm of politics, debate in civility concerning the future of our great nation, and cast our votes for presidential candidates. Yet, as we do, we must make very clear to the lost and dying work that our messiah is not a presidential candidate, but a Jewish man from Nazareth—the Lord Jesus Christ.

The Real Mystery of Christianity: The Incarnation

41KdLW3GkCL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Merry Christmas! I wish you and your family a wonderful day as you celebrate the birth of our savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. Here is a great quote taken from J. I. Packer's Knowing God to warm your heart this Christmas.

But in fact the real difficulty, the supreme mystery with which the gospel confronts us, does not lie here at all. It lies not in the Good Friday message of atonement, nor in the Easter message of resurrection, but in the Christmas message of Incarnation. The really staggering Christian claim is that Jesus of Nazareth was God made man—that the second person of the Godhead became the "second man" (1 Cor 15:47), determining human destiny, the second representative head of the race, and that he took humanity without loss of deity, so that Jesus of Nazareth was as truly and  fully divine as he was human.

Here are two mysteries for the price of one—the plurality of persons within the unity of God, and the union of Godhead and manhood in the person of Jesus. It is here, in the thing that happened at the first Christmas, that the profoundest and most unfathomable depths of Christian revelation lie. "The Word became flesh" (Jn 1:14); God became man; the divine Son became a Jew; the Almighty appeared on earth as a helpless human baby, unable to do more than lie and stare and wriggle and make noises, needing to be fed and changed and taught to talk like any other child. And there was no illusion or deception in this: the babyhood of the Son of God was a reality. The more you think about it, the more staggering it gets. Nothing in fiction is so fantastic as is this truth of the Incarnation. (53)