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As Christians, we must decide if we will set a table as though the whole world is invited to feast. While there is no evidence that all will feast (though one can hope), the hopeful Christian must live as though the whole world is at minimum invited.

The parables of Jesus were one such place where large crowds were given a taste of what the Kingdom of God and its feast are like. These stories have a real place in the actual, crowded world. Jesus’ answers (often given in questions) have teeth that penetrate the hearts of mankind. Or, as Mike Erre puts it, “The Gospel Isn’t Just Something that exists somewhere in people’s hearts. It has edges and can actually impact the world.”

Sadly, today’s church can often feel like an exclusive dinner where only a few privileged souls have a place at the table. Often times, we leaders in the church can act more like gatekeepers than bridge-builders. If you are an invited guest (long time attender or member), you may be more interested in reserving your usual seat than making room for a visitor. If you are an outsider (first time visitor), you may be wondering if it is okay that you are even at church. 

Things would look a lot different if we as the church intended for people very different from us to have an invitation to the Table. D.A. Carson writes,

“Ideally the church itself is not made up of natural ‘friends.’ It is made up of natural enemies. What binds us together is not common education, common race, common income levels, common politics, common nationality, common accents, common jobs, or anything of the sort. Christians come together, not because they form a natural collocation, but because they have been saved by Jesus Christ and owe him a common allegiance. In the light of this common allegiance, in light of the fact that they have all been loved by Jesus himself, they commit themselves to doing what he says—and he commands them to love one another. In this light, they are a band of natural enemies who love one another for Jesus’ sake.”

The parable of the foolish rich man puts much of this conversation in extreme focus. The situation is that there is a crowd of people following Jesus and looking to see what He is all about. One of the people in the crowd fires a question at Jesus about how an inheritance should be divided between him and his brother. Jesus answers the question with another question and gives a stern warning about the effects of greed.

“Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.” – Jesus

Then, Jesus launches into a story about the foolish rich man who didn’t quite know what to do with all of his wealth. (Talk about a “first world problem”: I just don’t know what to do with all this money I have!)

And he told them this parable: “The ground of a certain rich man yielded an abundant harvest. He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’ “Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store my surplus grain. And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.”’

A pair of thoughts about this parable in Luke 12:16-19: First, life as God intended it includes abundant harvest. The desire of God is that your labor results in rich harvest. Unfortunately, a fallen world means that this is not always the case. The result is that there are times for celebration and times for sorrow, times where sowing results in harvest and times when sowing does not result in harvest.

Second, in the times where the harvest is plenty, there are foolish solutions and wise solutions. As we see in the parable, the foolish rich man concludes that he should build a bigger place to store his wealth. That we he can take life easy and live off the fat of the land.

At this, Jesus puts God into the parable (this is rare!). God asks, “Who will get what you have prepared for yourself?” In other words, all the stuff in the world will do you no good the eternity that comes after this life. The stuff is only good in this life and can be used properly or not.

I know a man who is in the later years of his life and is trying to give away money as wisely as possible. This is a man who understands that he will not be able to see his stuff used for eternity after he has left this world (though his stuff may, in fact, continue to be used this way!).

When God asks, “Who will get what you have prepared for yourself?” he gets to the heart of the matter. Will we use our stuff for eternal purposes or not? And, who has access? Who is invited?

Jesus indicates that there is a better way, a properly wise solution to the issue of excess. And, there is a God (even a Father) who enters the situation to give direction to the “divided brothers.”

In God’s economy, He is to be remembered in the midst of all the stuff. Proverbs 30:8-9 says,

Keep falsehood and lies far from me;
    give me neither poverty nor riches,
    but give me only my daily bread.
Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you
    and say, ‘Who is the Lord?’
Or I may become poor and steal,
    and so dishonor the name of my God.

In other words, we must remember God whether we have much or have plenty (see Paul in Philippians 4:11-13). And it is actually better to have just what we need for the day (see Exodus 16 and Matthew 6:11). We must remember God in our stuff.

Also, we must be willing to share our stuff with all people. There is a reason that God instructed the people of Israel not to harvest the edges of their fields during the Festival of Weeks. Leviticus 23:22 reads,

“‘When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap to the very edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest. Leave them for the poor and for the foreigner residing among you. I am the Lord your God.’”

In other words, God desired that the outsider would have room at the table. God desired that those who see themselves as gatekeepers would actually become bridge-builders so that insiders would become room-makers and outsiders would belong. We are to share our stuff with people, as though the whole world is invited to the feast.

Lastly, we do this so that we can live in abundance together. It is no accident that Jesus makes mention of great feasts in Luke 14 and 22. And, it is not accident that Revelation 19 tells of the marriage supper of the Lamb. God intends for his people to feast together for all eternity. John 10:10 indicates that the devil sought to steal, kill, and destroy while Jesus came that we might have life in abundance. The abundant life may not necessarily include an abundance of things, but we are foolish to think that God’s abundant life doesn’t impact our things.

Scripture tells of an eternal feast with God. Our things on earth can be used to set a table for the whole world. Let’s remember God in our stuff, share our stuff with all people, and live in abundance together.

(This is a post in which I may stolen lines from or hopefully accurately paraphrased Mike Erre. Thankfully, Mike has publicly given permission for anyone to do this. My hope is that I have not altogether misquoted Mike or acted boorishly like a Wolverines or Spartans football fan.)

 

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It was never “just” a prayer.

I received this question from an attender and wanted to address the important question what it actually means to give your life to Jesus.

I think the heart of your concern rests in the following questions that you asked:

Why did the people who accepted Jesus as their Lord and savior go to hell? If all you have to do is say that Jesus is Lord and repent for your sin once, then why do we need to strive to be more like Jesus? It seems like you should but don’t have to. Why does the Bible tell us to always be aware, to not drift away? Why would it say it if once we say the sinner prayer, we are saved for good?

Let me respond as best I can here by email, understanding that conversation in person will usually be more helpful and thorough. As you have heard me say before, I do not believe that people can lose their salvation.

Ephesians 1:13-14 says

“you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, 14 who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory.”

If you believe in Christ and become a follower of Christ, you are given the Holy Spirit, who is a “deposit guaranteeing our inheritance.” In other words, the Holy Spirit in you is a sign to you that you have saved, you are being saved, and you will be saved.

In John 10:28, Jesus indicates that none that He has been given can be snatched from his hand.

Romans 8:33-39 says

33 Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. 34 Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us.35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? 36 As it is written:

“For your sake we face death all day long;
we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”

37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

This means that we don’t have to be fearful of losing our salvation or of someone taking it from us. If we are chosen by God and have chosen to follow Him, we do not need to live in fear of being taken away from His promise. In this way, I do not believe that anyone who accepts Christ as Savior is sent to hell.

What I would do is say that we need to broaden our understanding of what it means to be a Christian. You asked, “If all we have to do” is say a prayer once and repent, then why do we need to become more like Jesus. I believe the Bible teaches our growth and includes warnings about falling away because the Christian life was never just about one prayer. The prayer is an outpouring of the heart of the believer towards God, it is not a one time transactional contract. We have instead a covenant with God that lasts a lifetime. God didn’t intend for the Christian life to be a one time magic set of words that got us out of hell and into heaven. The Christian life is indeed about a relationship with God and working out our salvation with fear and trembling (says Paul in Philippians 2). This does not mean that we can earn our salvation or save ourselves, it is a gift of God (Romans 6:23). What it does mean is that it is much more than a one time prior. Giving our life to Jesus means just that; that we give our lives to Jesus. Not just our words. Not just our prayers. We become more than believers in Christ. We become followers of Christ that walk in relationship to and with him.

The Holy Spirit is given as a seal to be able to accomplish the work of God in our lives and apply to us the work of Christ on the cross. It is a relationship. Think of the relationships in your life. None of them are just a one time meeting or a one time set of words. They are on going. Gordon Fee says it this way

“For Paul, life in the Spirit begins at conversion; at the same time that experience is both dynamic and renewable.” – Gordon Fee

Fee is saying that while we are given the seal of the Holy Spirit at conversion, the relationship is one that grows, is renewed, and expands. That is what we look for in our relationship with God, and if we indeed have the Holy Spirit in us, we do not need to worry about salvation being taken from us. In the end, the prize that we get is God himself!!

Denominations have many different takes on these issues and I think it is helpful to learn from the denominations and the truth that they present. There is no one denomination that has the corner market on who the Holy Spirit is and what He does in our lives. And so, we learn and discern what the denominations have to say. Much of that is a lifelong process as well. We discern what the traditions say, compare them with the Scripture, discuss them with others, and ask the Spirit to guide us into all truth, as Jesus said he would. I agree with your assessment by the way, that Orthodox churches seem to have a lot of traditions and protestant churches seem to have none. It may be helpful for both sides (and there are many more) to center upon Jesus and submit their rules (or lack thereof) to His Spirit as we work out our salvation together.

I’ll conclude with a story about a man who once came up to the world famous violinist Itzhak Perlman and said, I would give my whole life to play the violin the way that you do. Perlman grinned and said, “I did give my whole life.” What showed that Perlman was a violinist: saying the words that he was a violinist or spending a lifetime playing? (See James’ talk about faith and deeds!) It’s a fantastic reminder to see that we have an opportunity as followers of Christ to give our whole lives (selves) to him, not just a one time prayer. And the good news is that our being save doesn’t rest on us, but on the Savior who will not lose one that the Father has given (John 6:39). You can’t earn your salvation, but you can give him your life. And that is a lot more than a prayer!

 

You are not wrong to sing, “Jesus is the sweetest name I know,” even though Yahweh is. – John Piper

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Our church, Greenwood Community Church is currently going through a series of “I Am” statements from Jesus in the Gospel of John. Jesus claims, “I AM the Bread of Life,” “I AM the Gate,” “I AM the Resurrection and the Life,”I AM the Good Shepherd,” as well as others. As we go through the various claims that Jesus made, I can’t help but notice the common theme here. Jesus is not only claiming to be each of these things. Rather, He is claiming to be one with I AM. Those listening to and interacting with Jesus would be struck by the language that Jesus continued to use as he declared, “I AM.”

Many listening would have instantly thought of the Great I AM, YHWH, the God of Israel. In Exodus 3:14-15, we see an interaction between God and Moses, wherein God reveals his eternal name. The passage reads

14God said to Moses, “I am who I am. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I am has sent me to you.’”

15 God also said to Moses, “Say to the Israelites, ‘The Lord,  the God of your fathers—the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob—has sent me to you.’

“This is my name forever,
    the name you shall call me
    from generation to generation.

This is my name forever, He says! And, as John Piper points out, “No man gave Him this name.” So, in John 8:58, when Jesus Christ says that before Abraham was, “I AM,” Jesus is claiming to be God and one with the Father. He is claiming to be the one who will carry out the covenantal salvation that was promised to Abraham all those years ago.

May we remember today that there is no other name than Jesus under heaven by which we may be saved (Acts 4:12). And may we take his claim to be “I AM” seriously as we praise the sweet name of YHWH (Hallelujah)!

“Since the first three petitions of the Lord’s prayer give us the priority of Christ’s heart, we should learn that God’s top priority is the hallowing of his name in all the earth. If this is God’s top priority, it should be our top priority—that God be believed, feared, obeyed, and glorified by a ransomed people from every tribe and tongue and people and nation.” – John Piper

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I heard somebody say, “His will, His bill!” today. Meaning, if it is God’s will for something to happen, He is going to figure out a way to provide for it. I used to feel really strange about this statement, as if it turned God into some sort of Magic Fairy that grants wishes. Or, we it is as though we pray to Santa Claus God to bring us the presents we want. We know that the Creator of the universe cannot be reduced to that. But, a few points to remember today: (1) It is HIS will that we pray to be done. In other words, we are not praying for our gifts, our will, or our agendas. When we align ourselves to the will of the Father, we are saying that we would prefer that He accomplish His purposes, rather than our purposes be done. (2) He is, after all, the Creator and Sustainer of the universe. This mains that it is well within His power to accomplish His purposes. When we pray, “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven,” we are asking for God to make our reality line up with His. Jesus Himself prayed this and instructed the disciples to do the same. Matthew 6:9-13 (NASB) says,

“Pray, then, in this way:

‘Our Father who is in heaven,
Hallowed be Your name.
‘Your kingdom come.
Your will be done,
On earth as it is in heaven.
‘Give us this day our daily bread.
‘And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.
‘And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.’]

‘Your kingdom come.
Your will be done,
On earth as it is in heaven.'”

“His will, His bill!” is a reminder that God, the Creator of all things, is indeed a Good, Good Father. He gives every perfect gift to his children (James 1:17) and does not withhold any good thing from those who love Him (Psalm 84:11). If we are faithful to align ourselves with His purposes, then we should not be surprised when He provides for His purposes to be accomplished here on earth as it is in heaven. God is working out a global hallowing of his name, and we have the privilege of partaking in the process.

And so we pray with renewed vigor, “Father, may your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”