Slow Motion Football in West (by God) Virginia

When I was in college, I participated in Campus Crusade for Christ with a couple hundred other students. We used to do odd and silly things to gather a crowd and then talk to people about Jesus. We would do everything from crazy skits on the Sunnyside bar strip to air bands on the student union plaza. 

Above is a picture of our group playing slow motion football one day in front of Woodburn Hall on the main campus. I’m the guy in the white shirt on the right, across from Steve, one of the leaders of CCC. We decided to growl at each other every down. The well-padded guy in the back is Fred, one of my roommates. We had a glorious time that day, and a few people gave their hearts to Christ. As Henry Blackaby reminds us, “The harvest is not the crowd. The harvest is in the crowd.”

Back in those days, we survived on the music of Amy Grant, Michael W. Smith, Steven Curtis Chapman, Russ Taff, Twila Paris, Michael Card, Rich Mullins, Stryper, Petra, and many others. They were good times, and we had many adventures with our faithful God.

Even if we don’t act as silly and odd as we used to, we still love talking to people about Jesus. Feel free to contact me if you need prayer or would like to chat about the claims of Christ and why he is “out of this world” for everyone still in it.

Turning the Tables, Part 1: The Son of Man Came Eating & Drinking (Luke 7:28-35)

Fill in the blank: “The Son of Man came __________.” How would you respond? Teaching and preaching? Healing and forgiving? Loving and restoring? Dying and rising? All good answers, but Luke 7:34 says, “The Son of Man came eating and drinking.” In fact, a major feature of Luke’s Gospel is that Jesus is usually going to a meal, at a meal, or coming from a meal. If you love to eat, Luke is your Gospel.

But wait a minute. Does that sound like the lifestyle of a holy man to you? Does that sound like the behavior of a prophet? More feasting than fasting? More parties than protests? What kind of rabbi is this? The rap on Jesus was that he was “a drunkard and a glutton” (Luke 7:34). Now, Jesus was neither of those things—the Bible says he never sinned—but he did give his enemies enough ammunition to make the charge stick.

And they made the charge stick, not because he was eating and drinking per se, but because of the kinds of people he had at his table—those who were awfully low on the religious food chain. And there’s no indication such folks even had to “repent” before they could come and eat at Jesus’ table! The fact that they came at all—and ate and enjoyed his welcome—was apparently repentance enough for Jesus.

What’s going on here? It’s called grace. And grace is often a threat to the religious mind. Tim Chester has said, “In Luke’s Gospel Jesus got himself killed because of the way he ate.” That’s hardly an overstatement. Before Jesus ever picked up the cross, he picked up the fork. And when he did, he turned the tables—and everything changed!

In this series, we look at the major meals portrayed in Luke’s Gospel. We’re doing so because meals were central to the mission of Jesus; they embodied the very grace of God that he came to give. Significantly, the one person Jesus pictured tormented in Hades was a man who kept others from dining at his table (cf. Luke 16:19-31). 

Moreover, Paul’s great exposition of the doctrine of justification by faith in the letter to the Galatians is sparked by a meal—by Peter’s refusal to eat with Gentiles. For Paul, broken table fellowship was a denial of the gospel itself. Why? Because meals are such a central and powerful expression of the reconciling work Jesus came to do. 

In this first message of the series, we look at the meaning of meals and the potential of meals. Here’s what we discover:

  • Meals remind us that the God who feeds us is hospitable, generous, wise, and good. 
  • Meals remind us that we are not self-sufficient creatures but finite beings dependent upon the Creator.
  • Meals reveal to us the status of our own hearts—who are we willing or unwilling to have at our tables?
  • Meals enable us to be conduits of God’s grace to others—to listen, affirm, encourage, inspire, value, and support others.
  • Meals remind us of the ultimate meal to come—the Marriage Supper of the Lamb at the restoration of all things.

Until that eschatological meal, Jesus feeds his people with the bread and cup of Holy Communion—his body and blood. Consequently, at the center of the Christian life is a meal—with Jesus himself as the main course. To quote Tim Chester again: 

“Jesus didn’t run projects, establish ministries, create programs, or put on events. He ate meals. If you routinely share meals and you have a passion for Jesus, then you’ll be doing mission. It’s not that meals save people. People are saved through the gospel message. But meals will create natural opportunities to share that message in a context that resonates powerfully with what you’re saying.” 

So let’s ask the question: Who is at our table and why? Who might God want us to invite to our table to share and celebrate grace? Are there any biblical restrictions on who should be at our table? (Yes, but only a few. The holiest man from eternity ate with the unholiest people in history.) First John 2:6 says, “Whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did.” Let’s update that statement in light of our theme: “Whoever claims to live in him must eat as Jesus ate.” Are you up for the challenge?

Contact This New Life directly for the sermon audio file.

Falling for Fall: Just a Brief Update amidst the Flurry of This Week

1.  It’s a rich and full week here in our neck of the woods. Students from all over the country are coming to campus for the Doctor of Theology residency week. It will be exciting to meet many of these folks in person for the first time, as we’ve been doing our residencies online for the past year and a half because of the virus. People are better than pixels, even for us introverts! In addition to the residency this week, there’s my regular course load to teach, a new ICL class starting tomorrow, and a wedding to conduct this Saturday. All good stuff.

2.  It was gratifying to help my first student across the dissertation finish line last month to complete his Th.D. degree requirements. His research project focused on the semiotics of Genesis 1, and it was filled with marvelous insights. If he can expand his work through Genesis 3, it would make for an excellent book that may well get a sizeable audience. We will do his hooding ceremony next May, Lord willing. I have another ThD student in the pipeline right now who is focusing on contextual evangelism.

3.  Years ago we had a parishioner from Missouri whose dilapidated pickup truck was nicknamed “Old Blue.” We stole that name and applied it to our 2000 Chrysler Town & Country minivan, which we now use like a truck (e.g., hauling green waste, helping people move, transferring cardboard to the recycling center, etc.). Well, Old Blue is getting older—like the rest of us. I’m not sure if most of the brake fluid drained out, or if the brake pads need to be replaced, but it’s no longer safe to drive. Still, I’d like to get a few more years out of it, so I need to troubleshoot this puppy.

4.  Speaking of repairs, the wind blew my shed door closed last week right as I was pulling the lawn tractor into it. The resulting collision bent the axle and tie rod, so that’s another equipment repair bill. The tractor is about 24 years old, and an upgrade is probably in order soon, but I’d like to get a few more years out of it if I can. On a happier note, our two main vehicles are running great. Ha!

5.  My Zinnia’s revived and flourished throughout the summer, and they’re a definite go for next year. They made a great follow-up to my stunning red and yellow tulips, which really exploded in the spring. The petunias were just kind of meh, so we may go back to impatiens next time around. Alas, the dogwood tree had to be removed because of disease, but the holly tree is still soaring into the sky. I may need to get it trimmed again next year. My cherry tree is doing o.k., but it needs some TLC. We had too many aphids munching on it this summer, and I didn’t know how to handle them. After a little bit of research, I now have a plan. (Hopefully it will work!)

6.  It’s now time to switch gears and get our mums into the hanging baskets. Fall has a magic to it like no other season. Bring it on!

The Christ Community, Part 13: The Church as a Golden Lampstand (Revelation 1:9-3:22)

If you were looking for a new church home, what would you be looking for? What would be the criteria by which you make your selection? Size? Location? Style of Worship? Average age of the parishioners? How about facilities? Or the ministry programs? Or the preaching?

There are probably as many answers to that question as there are believers. Different people look for different things when it comes to finding a church. And trying to satisfy everyone is an absolute impossibility. But have you ever wondered, “What does Jesus look for in a church?” After all, it’s his church, right? What are the criteria by which he makes an evaluation?

Revelation 2-3 tell us. In these chapters we catch a glimpse of seven report cards for seven first-century churches in Asia Minor. The criteria Jesus uses to evaluate them may be different from our own. Now, Jesus is not looking for a new church home, but he is looking for a home in his church. What is it that makes him feel like he belongs in a group of believers? This message takes a summary look at that question in the context of John’s experience of the risen, glorified Christ. 

John meets an awe-inspiring Jesus, functioning like a great high priest, actively tending to his lamps—filling his people with the oil of his Holy Spirit and trimming their wicks with his corrective word. He does these things so they can shine upon the nations with the hope of the gospel. The image tells us that the church is a company of believers vitally joined to Christ, giving light to the world. That’s a creative, apocalyptic way of saying much the same as we saw in the image of the church as the ambassadors of Christ.

Are we connected to the center stem of this lampstand—Jesus—by faith? Are we burning brightly for him? Are we allowing ourselves to be “trimmed” (i.e., sanctified) by the Lord? He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.

Contact This New Life directly for the sermon audio file.

He Laid Aside His Immunity to Pain

“I could never myself believe in God, if it were not for the cross. The only God I believe in is the One Nietzsche ridiculed as “God on the cross.” In the real world of pain, how could one worship a God who was immune to it? I have entered many Buddhist temples in different Asian countries and stood respectfully before the statue of Buddha, his legs crossed, arms folded, eyes closed, the ghost of a smile playing round his mouth, a remote look on his face, detached from the agonies of the world. But each time after a while I have had to turn away. And in imagination I have turned instead to that lonely, twisted, tortured figure on the cross, nails through hands and feet, back lacerated, limbs wrenched, brow bleeding from thorn-pricks, mouth dry and intolerably thirsty, plunged in God-forsaken darkness. That is the God for me! He laid aside his immunity to pain. He entered our world of flesh and blood, tears and death. He suffered for us. Our sufferings become more manageable in the light of his.”

– John R. W. Stott