Being given deeper implications

As a follower of Jesus since September 1977 (I’ll be 36 years old in the faith on Sept. 11) and a pastor with over 20 years of ministry experience plus 7 years of formal biblical education, I have read and studied every part of the Bible, some more than others, but I have been in them all.

What I am finding interesting is how parts of it I am now receiving differently than ever before.  Whether that is due to my being more mature in the faith and ready to receive something different and deeper or maybe God is using my current circumstances and understanding of the world around me, I’m not absolutely sure, but whatever the reason, the implications have been having a profound effect on me.

This Sunday, I am beginning a sermon series through Paul’s letter to the Galatian believers.  In preparation, I have been translating the letter from the original Greek (I currently have 50% of it done).  Maybe it’s because of this process that this is occurring to me.  Again, I’m unsure.

What I do know is this: I’m coming to conclusions about what is often lived as the gospel today in contrast to the gospel Paul was given and preached.   The crux of the conclusion is this: what is being packaged as the gospel today in word and application is dangerously close to a repackaging of what the Judaizers of Paul’s day were demanding of Gentile believers.

The “gospel” that these Judaizers preached was that after becoming a follower of Jesus, it was necessary for non-Jews to follow the Jewish laws with all of its requirements and regulations in a myriad of areas of life.  I don’t know this for a fact, but I can see them saying that doing this would “prove” that these Gentile Christians were really followers of Jesus.

As I considered the differences between the “gospel” of the Judaizers and the true gospel which Paul preached, I have thought about the ways many pastors, teachers and theologians in the church today and throughout the years have communicated the gospel and what happens afterwards.  I’m seriously beginning to wonder about the implications of that packaging.

For example, in attempts to deal with the issue of works in relation to the gospel, I have heard it statements like, “a person does those good works out of gratitude and in response to what God has done for him/her.”  

The reason I’m beginning to have a struggle with statements like that is that what I find beneath it is human effort, my effort.  Paul states in 2:19 that he has died with Christ.  He’s dead.  The life that is now being lived isn’t him, but Christ living in him.  Can a dead person show gratitude?  I don’t think so.

That’s a very important distinction because it is through no power of my own that I do these “works.”  If the faith by which I come to Christ is my own faith, then there is the danger that is also a type of “work” in order to be saved.

These works are done because there is now a new nature (Christ) residing in this physical body, soul and spirit.  What I am finding in many aspects of the teaching of the gospel today is that there is a human-centric element, if not in the core, at least in the applicable results of it. “Because of the gospel, I do…”

As I was translating, I came across something that really got me thinking, something that, at least for me, just slipped by as insignificant, but something that I now find very crucial to all of this and the true gospel which Paul preached.

In his first reference to God as Father (Gal. 1:1), Paul speaks of the connection between God the Father and Jesus Christ, who was raised from the dead by God the Father.  It is after this, (vss. 3 & 4) that Paul now includes the pronoun, “our,” in reference to God the Father.  

It is after the resurrection that we are now able to come into that relationship with God as our Father.  What that means now is that the nature (personality, characteristics, qualities) in us comes directly come from God the Father, just like our physical and human nature emanates from our earthly parents. 

I don’t have to think about doing the things of that physical nature because they come naturally to me.  I don’t do them out of gratitude for my parents; I do them because they are who I am.  It has been way too many times for me to remember all the times I have heard, “You must be a Laupp,” from those who know my family.  I’d be shocked if you have not had similar experiences.

That statement is made because there are familial characteristics of the Laupp family.  I remember what a long-time friend of my oldest brother (Alton is almost 10 years older than me) once commented about me after I preached among the church of which they both belonged at that time.  He said that if he closed his eyes and just listened, he would have thought it was Alton preaching because of the way I spoke phrases and my inflection and tone.  He said that if he plugged his ears and just looked, he would have sworn it was Alton because we look similar and use the same type of gestures.

These characteristics come from a common source – our parents.  And these characteristics come naturally; I don’t find it necessary to think about them in order to do them.  And I definitely don’t do them out of some sense of gratitude to my parents.

In response to the true gospel, I have no response, because I cannot respond because I am dead.  Even the faith through which I come to Christ is not my own, but is given to me by God’s Spirit.  Remember, I’m dead and dead people can’t do anything.

So, what is the reality of what occurs through what was me after faith comes?  It is not gratitude but it is the natural outpouring of the new nature.  It is the fruit of the Holy Spirit Who is within me.  

Does an apple tree have to think about what type of fruit to produce?  Does an apple tree have to think about how to grow apples?  Does an apple tree produce apples in gratitude for being made an apple tree?  No, to all three questions.  An apple tree produces apples because it is in its nature to do so.

And just like there are different varieties of apple trees, there are different varieties of followers of Jesus, all with that new nature.  Just as all different varieties of apples are different in some way from other apples, all of them are still apples. 

Notice that the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22-23) are character qualities, not specific actions.  From this, what I mean by different varieties of followers of Jesus is that these qualities will be demonstrated in a variety of ways, but the qualities are the same.  There are no requirements on how and when they must be exhibited.

And therein lies freedom for the Spirit to move as He sees fit.

So, the next time you hear someone, even a pastor or Christian leader or teacher, say you must do so and so, ask, “Why must I do that specific action or in that specific way?”  The Judaizer Christians of Paul’s day made statements like that in regard as to what constituted a proper response and/or proof of the gospel.

We must not. 

I’m dead; are you? If so, let’s not be grave robbers!

Ever had something that you just could not get out of your head?  I think most, if not all, of us have had that type of experience at one time or another, even if it was just a song that kept running through your mind, even one that you don’t like!  (I hate when that happens, but I digress.)

I have been dwelling on something for the last couple of weeks, something that will just not leave my head.  It started slowly, but over the last few days, it has really picked up its intensity.

As a spiritual person, it is my belief that it is often when this occurs that God is trying to share with me or teach me or a bit of both.  Through His Spirit, He keeps whatever it is in my mind because for that time, it is what is necessary for me to contemplate and understand in order for me to move ahead in the process He is orchestrating through which He is shaping me into the identity by which He already knows me through His Son, Jesus.

What’s this current thing in my head?  Death.

I know, kind of morbid, right?  But that’s what it is, though, not in the physical sense, but in the spiritual realm.  It is actually a key component of the theology of the Apostle Paul.  (Read passages like Romans 8, Galatians 2, Ephesians 2 and Colossians 2)

Paul makes it very clear in these passages that, before being drawn into Christ, I was dead.  After being drawn into Christ, what is the life that is now being lived through me?  Is it my own?  Nope.  It is Christ continuing to live His resurrected life in me.

But I am coming to grips with some implications of American theological thought through what God has been sharing with me.  There is an underlying current of individualism, pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps type of mentality.

The reason I say that is that while the proper theological thought is commonly taught, what comes out in practical reality is that the life lived doesn’t look much different than that before dying to one’s self.  I’m not talking about types of change that say a person isn’t suppose to wear that, eat or drink that or do that but had better do this, that and the other thing.  What I am talking about is what comes from the heart being changed. 

Paul in Colossians 3 and Galatians 5 speaks of the things of the previous life that is suppose to be dead and buried: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires, greed, wrath, rage, malice, slander, filthy and useless language, lying, discord, jealousy, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions, envy, and drunkenness.

But how often do I (and others in their own case) go to the cemetery with a shovel and dig up my old self?  How many who claim the name of Jesus are better known by the characteristics of the previous paragraph than the fruit of the Spirit?  The next time I’m thinking of grabbing my “shovel” from the shed, I need to ask God’s Spirit to go to where my old dead self is buried and move me to an unmarked grave so I cannot find my old self!

I’m dead!  And I hear God’s Spirit saying to me, “STAY DEAD!”

When I mentioned American influences on theological thought, what I meant was that it is quite often that it is the person who is the one attempting to live the life in Christ and not Christ Himself.  When that happens, the life lived in my strength and power becomes nothing more than a moral philosophy or code.  And, I find myself violating that code often, depending upon the circumstances or situation and then justifying it somehow or having the attitude that it’s not really that big of a deal because that’s just the way I am.

Even when a person is brought into the kingdom, s/he doesn’t do that him/herself.  Even the faith needed to believe is given to us by God.  Remember, that person is dead.  What can a dead (spiritually) person do?  Nothing because dead people aren’t able to do anything! That person is a natural person who, as Paul says, is unable to understand things of a spiritual nature because those things are considered foolishness by him/her. (I Corinthians 2)

But what is a common aspect of that individualistic undercurrent is that it is my faith that brought me to Christ.  It is faith that I generated; it was not given to me.  If that is true, then that faith is a work.  It is something that I needed to produce in order to be saved.  But how can I produce anything if I’m dead!?

How often is the death/being dead part of the salvation message mentioned?  Maybe when someone is given the faith to respond to God’s call into the kingdom, we should hold a wake and a funeral and then throw a baby shower celebrating a new life being born into the kingdom through whom Christ continues to live His resurrected life.

I don’t know, but I do believe that if done this way, the symbolism would be quite powerful and dramatic.

Oh, the things that run through my head when God doesn’t allow something to leave my head.

A Monday Morning Examination

In reading an article written by Dennis Bickers (found at http://www.ethicsdaily.com/7-reasons-smaller-churches-struggle-and-close-cms-21028), one of the reasons he states that smaller churches end their ministry and cease to exist is due to this: many smaller churches have forgotten why they exist. Some are so focused on survival they have forgotten they exist for mission. 

When I read articles like this, I begin to examine and analyze my current state and that of the church I lead.  And here is the conclusion to which I am being drawn.

While there is much evidence that this community of believers is very good at reaching out to others, sharing in practical ways the love and hope of Christ, there doesn’t seem to be, at least to my knowledge, much evidence of people being drawn into the kingdom through sharing, in word, the actual message of the Gospel.  I say this because I don’t remember the last time someone in this building, for the very first time, gave his/her life to Christ or a story of how someone clearly communicated the gospel to someone the previous week.

I find it interesting that I read this article this morning.  The text for my sermon yesterday was Colossians 4:2-6.  In that passage, Paul says the following: “Continue steadfastly in prayer, being alert in it in thanksgiving, praying at the same time also for us, that God may open to us a door for the word, to speak the mystery of Christ, for which I am also in chains, that I make it clear as I ought to speak.”

I wonder, how well do we do that, clearly speaking the mystery of Christ as we ought?  Is it important to share the implications of the Gospel in practical ways?  Absolutely and crucial to be done.  But, it is also of crucial importance that the connection between our actions of reaching out and the mystery (gospel) of Christ be explicitly made, not just assumed.

If we do not speak the connection, people are left to come to their own conclusions.  And, in a mid-west culture that emphasizes being a good neighbor, it has been my experience that rarely do people connect our good deeds with the gospel of Jesus.  Therefore, it is of crucial importance that we explicitly and directly make that connection.

While I believe that it is far too common that churches have mistakenly measured their success in wrong ways (butts, buildings and bucks, the 3 “B’s”), I also believe there is one number about which I believe God is very concerned: the number of people being drawn into the kingdom as they come face-to-face with the explicit message of the gospel and the natural expressions of it.  I say this because of Peter’s words in 2 Peter 3:9: “God is patient…(because He is not) wanting anyone to perish but everyone to come to repentance.” This is the beginning of the disciple-making process to which we, the church are called.

In my years of ministry and interaction with many other churches, I have discovered that many churches grade themselves quite high in the area of discipleship.  But I wonder, how many of those disciples are “reproducing disciples?”  If a disciple is a person who is obedient to the direction of the Lord and the Holy Spirit, then a disciple is one who reproduces, meaning that s/he is drawing others into the kingdom by sharing the gospel in clear, unambiguous ways.

Maybe how disciple-making is assessed should be directly tied to the number of new people being drawn into the kingdom, or, at the very least, the consistency and frequency of which the gospel is being clearly communicated to different people.

So, I guess the question I must answer is this: to and with whom have I recently clearly shared the gospel, the mystery of Christ?  I ask the same question of you as well.

As a practical application with “small” churches, many are worried because they are not growing.  The problem is that many of them are just sitting around hoping that the growth will just happen.  Sometimes God goes outside of His normal way of doing things and draws people to specific communities of believers, but it has been my experience that His normal way of doing this is through His people sharing clearly.

Just like when everybody thinks that somebody will do it, nobody does it, if every follower of Jesus doesn’t him/herself commit to being the one to share clearly, how can we every rightfully expect to grow?

So, how much do I believe in the power of the mystery of Christ, the gospel?  How much do I believe that God will open doors for me to clearly speak it?  My seeing of and response to these open doors will demonstrate exactly how much.

May I, and you, be found faithful and deep in my and your belief.

 

Dead, Stay Dead

36 years ago, next month, I died.  No, I didn’t die a physical death, but it was a death nonetheless.  It was 36 years ago, next month, that I participated with Jesus Christ in His crucifixion and died.  Some call it accepting Jesus or inviting Jesus into one’s heart, but maybe it should be termed in the way Paul said it.

“I have been crucified with Christ; and I live, yet no longer I, but Christ living in me; and now the life I live in the flesh, I live by faith, the faith of the Son of God who loved me and gave Himself for me.” – Galatians 2:19b-20

I’m wondering if the phrase, “Christ died for me,” should be eliminated and in its place be put, “Christ who died AS me.”  Because Paul said, “crucified with Christ,” that means that I am right alongside Him, maybe joined at the hip, when the crucifixion happened. Unfortunately, it is all to common that followers of Jesus act like people of the world with all the ways of the world: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desire, covetousness, wrath, rage, malice, slander, abusive and filthy language and lying to one another.

When the attitude that Jesus died FOR me and not AS me is the prevailing one, my original life is intact.  Jesus’ death is just put on as an overcoat over my original life and I can shed that any time I decide.

Paul’s imagery is that a believer’s original life, the “original me” has died; that original version of me needs to stay dead!  All to often, though, believers go to that grave site and start digging.  The old is dead!  Stop being a grave robber!

When the prevailing attitude is that Christ died for me and not as me, the idea is that Jesus death is a fix of my original life.  It’s like an update or patch to some software on a computer; the original programming stays but is improved by fixing the errors or flaws present.

The problem with this is this: there is no fix available for the problem of the sin nature!  The original must be killed and buried, never again to see the light of the sun.  Jesus’ death is not a patch fix; it is totally something new.  The old person must die and that is only accomplished if that old self participates with Christ in His crucifixion.

The great thing about being crucified with Christ is this – when I die with Him, I also get to be raised in Him through His resurrection into a new life that is lived by Him in me by faith, but not by my, or just any, faith, but the faith of Jesus Himself.  

So, let me ask a question to my fellow followers of Christ: how often are you visiting the cemetery with a shovel to dig up that dead original you?  If you find yourself in the cemetery, shovel in hand, ready to dig, remember these words: YOU’RE DEAD!  STAY DEAD!

And I might add, why are you visiting the “cemetery” where the old you is buried anyway?  People go to someone’s grave site to remember or grieve; why would we want to remember or grieve the “original us?”  Rather, we should say, “Good riddance!” and forget where that original is buried.

Words

Words are powerful, whether spoken or written.  They communicate much.  They also reveal a lot.

Jesus said in Matthew 15:11 this: “It is not what enters into the mouth that defiles the man, but what proceeds out of the mouth, this defiles the man.”

What comes out of the mouth?  Yep, words.  

Words spoken have a way of potentially revealing attitudes and perspectives that we may not know we have, maybe even those we say we don’t.

Think about some of the phrases we, followers of Jesus, commonly say.  They have the potential to show that we, at some level, either don’t understand or have a potential misconception about something.

“I’m going to church.”  “Our church is located at…”  “He’s at the church.”  I know that I have spent other blogs on this one, but what does it say about how we view the identity of the church?  The use of this statement, I believe, shows that the world’s misconception of the church has been adopted by the people of God.  It is my position that we, the church, should use the proper wording to demonstrate the true identity of the church in contrast to what the world says.

Another one is “God is good.”  In my experience, this statement is said when a test for cancer comes back negative for cancer or the way we hope a situation will turn out is what happens.  What I have very rarely, if ever, heard is someone saying, “God is good,” after that test for cancer comes back positive or the undesired outcome of a situation being what occurs.  

Why is this the case?  Is it because we are revealing that at some level we have bought into the theology that it is our desires that are the standard by which God’s goodness is measured?  

Words reveal a lot about attitudes and perspectives.  I encourage each of you as I do this myself that you examine the statements you make in light of Scripture and see what they might reveal about your’s and my true perspective.

What other statements do the followers of Christ make that might reveal what our true perspective may be?  Could be a pretty interesting study.

Shalom