3(Marks) of a Christian

On Sunday we are starting a brand new series. We are looking at what the three marks of a Christ-follower are. For sure we should look like Jesus if we are followers of Jesus. But what does this practically mean? If we could distill it down and make it concrete, practical, and real life – what would a Christ-follower look like?

That’s what we want to explore for the next few weeks. We want to take all the “vagueness” out of following Jesus and make it concerte and real. We want to give each person three goals, or three marks to pursue in their life that will draw them deeper into life and into Jesus’ life.

So join with us as we discover what the three marks of a Christian are.

3 Marks

A Christian is less about avoiding sin, than actively doing God’s will

1224442_75255610I want to think a little bit about a quote from Bonhoeffer. Its really deep – okay most of what he writes is deep. But this one quote gets me every time. He says this:

Being a Christian is less about cautiously avoiding sin than about courageously and actively doing God’s will.

And I think that is so true. The reason that I don’t think that “sheltering” or “Christian Bubble” thinking or practice works is because the focus is off. In those paradigms the focus is to avoid sin, to stay safe, to be cautious, and only to be involved with things that are “approved” (by whomever has the authority). And please hear me clearly, I’m certainly not against avoiding sin or avoiding dangerous or compromising situations. My issue is with the central focus. 

In the “sheltering” or “Christian Bubble” thinking the central focus is actually sin. Sure the focus is avoiding sin, but the focus is still sin. The entire paradigm is driven by fear (don’t fall into sin) negativity (don’t don’t don’t) and staying “safe”. And this is Bonhoeffer’s point. The central activity of being a Christian isn’t what you are again, staying safe, or of fear of the world.

The central mark of being a Christian is courageously following God.

Focusing on following God needs to be the central defining aspect of a Christians life. And yes that entails avoiding sin, and compromising situations but those are secondary to the primary Christian calling: courageously following Christ.

My point is that Bonhoeffer is right. The focus of Christianity isn’t just about avoiding sin, but courageously doing God’s calling. Christianity isn’t best thought of as a retreat, or evacuation from the world, or a refuge from the world; it is best thought of as an adventure in partnering with God to save the world.

Contract Christianity

251732_4297I want to try to briefly discuss something that affects and infects our following of Jesus, especially in North America. It’s something I call “Contract Christianity”. This is where following Jesus is reduced really to a contract: we pray a prayer, and Jesus gets us into heaven.

And I think all of us know that praying a prayer to Jesus, just to go to heaven misses the heart of what following Jesus is about. It’s a truncated gospel. But what we sometimes miss is how this still infects our Christianity. We see following Jesus then in terms of a contract of what we do for him, and then what he does for us. We also then focus on what “breaks” the contract like the fine print in a legal contract. And this leads to all sorts of questions and comments that are in the wrong direction. Ones I get all the time in different ways about sin, church, and faith vs. works. Ones like this:

  • At what point will someone lose their salvation? How much can I sin and God still forgive me? I’ll still get to heaven if I don’t tithe right, or do everything?
  • It doesn’t matter if I go to church or not right? I can follow Jesus on my own, it’s a personal relationship right? Why can’t I just pray to Jesus and let that be that?
  • I prayed the prayer, isn’t that enough? why do I need to love others? Isn’t  it enough that I come to church, why do I need to change these actions?

But following Jesus is not a contract, it’s a covenant. So yes, it is not less than a contract, but a covenant is so much more than a contract. It’s a commitment for a lifetime based in relationship, not contractually binding arguments.

And if we ask the same type of questions above, in terms of a covenant relationship they quickly don’t make any sense. So let’s put those above questions in terms of the only covenant we have left really, marriage. And just see how much they miss the point.

Here are the same questions put in terms of a marriage.

  • How far can I go with another person, before it’s called cheating? Where is the line exactly? What can I do before you divorce me?
  • Why do I have to spend time with my spouse and family? We live together isn’t that enough?
  • I promised to love you and marry you, isn’t that enough? What do my actions have to do with it?

When these questions are put in the context of covenant they don’t make any sense. No one truly commits to a marriage thinking about how much they can get away with, or not wanting to spend time together, or not showing their love. But for some reason we do this with Jesus. We ask questions about what we can get away with while still following Jesus (sin questions). We ask questions about why we need to commit to Jesus’ family and gathering together (church questions). We ask questions about whether our faith really needs to change our actions or whether we are still “saved”.

This is all contract Christianity, not covenant Christianity. Because as soon as you start thinking about following Jesus in terms of a covenant none of those questions make any sense. If you are committing to follow Jesus for the rest of your life, you’re not interested in what you can get away with (sin). If you are covenanting with Jesus, spending time with him and his family (church) makes absolute sense. If you are being a disciple of his, having faith in him naturally flows out with showing it. (action / works)

So all that to say is that I think we need to regain the sense of following Jesus as a covenant and not just as a contract. We follow Jesus with our whole lives, not just what happens after our lives have ended. The point is that following Jesus is to change how we live now, which will last into eternity. And I think if there is one thing in Christianity we need to regain, it’s a sense of covenant because it matters and it’s beautiful.

What’s The Language of God?

On Sunday we started our series on Hebrews, looking at it through the lens of language. Because Hebrews has some really interesting language to it. It has the language of the Son, sacrifice, priests, and faith. And even though, for many of us, a lot of this language is far from our context, it can be life-changing to learn it.

So we began by looking at how God’s language is Son. That’s actually what the first few verses of Hebrews share. It tells us how Jesus is the perfect and exact representation of God. Jesus reveals who God is perfectly. It says this:

Long ago God spoke many times and in many ways to our ancestors through the prophets. And now in these final days, he has spoken to us through his Son…The Son radiates God’s own glory and expresses the very character of God, and he sustains everything by the mighty power of his command.

That verse where it says that now God has spoken to us through his Son, it literally reads “God has spoken Son”. Jesus doesn’t just share the words of God, but is the Word of God. And this has some huge implications for us.

First, it means that God is actually “Jesusy”. If Jesus is the perfect revelation of God, then Jesus isn’t just like God – God is like Jesus. God is Jesusy. If we want to know who God is, we now look to Jesus. Jesus is the complete, perfect, and full revelation of who God is. So if we want to know what God is like, what God cares about, and how God acts – we look to Jesus. Jesus then becomes the centrepoint of our faith, our interpretation of the Bible, and the lens we look at everything through. God is Jesusy.

The second thing is that we then know a few things about God. God then has to be at least as nice as Jesus. If Jesus reveals God, then we cannot have a divided God with the Father being  mean and Jesus being nice. Jesus reveals God perfectly, so God is at least as nice as Jesus. We also then know that God cares for us because of the actions of Jesus.

The main point is that Jesus is the language of God. Jesus is the way we know God, and the way we learn about who God is. Jesus is the reason we know that God is loving, that he isn’t vindictive or capricious. Jesus is the reason we know God is worth following!

So I ended with a simple but clear challenge. If Jesus is the language of God, we need to get to know Jesus. The only way our view of God stays true is when we focus in on Jesus Christ. So this week I said get to know Jesus deeper. Read the gospels, pray, and worship him. If Jesus is the language of God, then it’s worth learning that language.

 

Sermon Notes:

Big Idea: Jesus is the language of God.

Teaching Points:

  • Language can shape, direct, and expand or limit our thoughts.
  • The language of Hebrews: Son, Sacrifice, Priests, and Faith
  • Has God changed between the Old and the New?
  • Our understanding of who God is has grown with the coming of Jesus.
  • Jesus does not speak God’s words, He is God’s Word.
  • Jesus Christ not only speaks for God, He is God, and reveals God.
  • God is Jesusy.
  • The only way our view of God stays true is when we focus in on Jesus Christ
  • God has to be at least a nice as Jesus.
  • Jesus is the creative language of God.
  • We can be sure that God loves us, and knows us
  • When you get to know Jesus you get to know God

Adult Discussion Questions:

What stuck out to you from the sermon? What was challenging to you? How did God speak to you through it? What was new?

Have you ever had a bad experience with church? Have you ever had a beautiful experience with church? Why or why not do you think being a part of a community of believers matters? How might you more deeply commit, and participate in church? What next steps can you take?

Discussion Question for Families:

Talk to you kids about the importance of community. Ask them who other than you as their parents, are adults that they really respect. Ask them why, and then think about how you might have them invest more in your kids, because raising kids takes a community.

Challenge for the Week: Commit and participate in a church, to transform lives.

Advent Reflection: Worshipping Jesus during Christmas

1371540_95553958On Sunday we looked at one last response to Jesus. We’ve already looked at how we wait for Jesus’ arrival, we are to respond with willingness when he shows up, and yesterday we saw how we are to respond with worship.

We looked at the story of the wisemen or the magi. In it they do something remarkable. They actually fall at Jesus’ feet and worship him when they find him. This is quite amazing because these are professional men, these are wealthy men, these are probably powerful men. And their response to a little boy in a hovel of a town, in the shadow of Herod’s third largest temple, fall on their face in adoration.

This is the response that we are to have towards Jesus Christ when we enter into his presence. We are to adore him. The magi do not fall at the feet of Jesus because of what he has done for them. They do not fall at his feet out of gratitude, because Jesus hasn’t done anything for them at all. They fall at his feet because of who he is. And this is a central part of worship. We need to worship Jesus not just for the good things he does for us, but we need to worship him for who he is.

Because he is King.

Because he is Good.

Because he is the Messiah.

Because he is God.

So we landed on one question from this story. When was the last time you worshipped Jesus like the wisemen did? When was the last time you entered into Jesus’ presence, fell at his feet and really worshipped him?

I think this is an important question because Christmas is to be about Jesus. And if we want to put Jesus at the centre it means to focus on him and worship him. I know when I asked that question, that for me, it’s been too long since I’ve just worshipped Jesus.

So we left with this challenge for this week: Christmas will soon be here, so find time to worship Jesus fully this week. Carve out time to worship him. For you that might be painting, walking, praying, singing, dancing, sitting silently, writing or whatever else. The point isn’t how you worship Jesus, but an invitation to actually do it. So Christmas is here in a few days so why not take up that challenge. If we truly want to bring Christ back into Christmas I think it begins with bringing him back in our lives with a focus on worshipping and adoring him. Because he does deserve it.

Sermon Notes:

Big Idea: We need to worship Jesus fully

Take Aways…

  • Advent should be a season of worship
  • They “Fell down before him and worshipped him”
  • To be prostrate is to be in a position of submission
  • The magi fall at Jesus’ feet out of adoration
  • Adoration differs from other forms of worship such as supplication (asking for things), confession of sins, and offering thanks, inasmuch as it consists in devout recognition of God’s transcendent excellence – Catholic Encylcopedia
  • We need to worship Jesus fully
  • Our response to Jesus in this season, needs to be to worship him fully.
  • When was the last time you came into Jesus’ presence and fell at his feet like the Wisemen?

Adult / Group Discussion Questions: What stuck out to you from the sermon? What was challenging to you? How did God speak to you through it? What was new?

Think through this advent season and simply reflect on where your focus has been. Has it been on Jesus or other things? How can you shift your focus to Jesus this week? When was the last time you worshipped Jesus like the wisemen? How might you worship Jesus fully this week? What activities or practices draw you closer to him? Set aside some time this week to spend with Jesus.

Discussion Questions for Young Families: Talk to your kids about the real reason about Christmas – how it’s about Jesus. Talk to them that its about worshipping him. Ask them how they might want to do that. Maybe they want to dance, maybe they want to give some of their toys to others, maybe they want to draw a picture and talk with Jesus. Whatever it may be why not actually do it with them.

Challenge for this Week Worship: Jesus fully this week

Power, Parades, and Position

On Sunday we talked about Jesus’ triumphant entry. We talked about how he enters into Jerusalem riding a donkey, symbolizing that his power works differently than the world’s power of might, greed, position, and conquering. Jesus didn’t ride a warhorse emphasizing his superiority, but a donkey emphasizing his humility.

But even as he was riding into Jerusalem in humility, he was still riding into it to rescue the people. The people shout “Hosanna”, save us now. And Jesus was bringing rescue to them although in a way they never would have expected. That’s because while Jesus does rescue and save, he does it in his way and not in the way of the world.

Jesus rescues and saves through submission, sacrifice, and surrender, not through military might, wealth, or positional power. Jesus’ power operates in a way that is distinctly different than the way of the world.

Around the same time that Jesus rode into Jerusalem, so did Pilate. Pilate rode in on a horse with all of his position, power, and strength on display for all to believe in. Jesus rode in on a donkey where his power and strength required trust to believe in.

The challenge for us is to not simply believe in what we can see with our eyes, but what we can trust with our hearts. The challenge is to not simply search for Jesus in spectacles and the sensational, like Pilate and his parade of power, but also in the simple and significant ways of life. Jesus rides a donkey. He’s not riding something flashy and showy, but humble and true.

So my challenge for you this week is this: look for Jesus, watch for him, and find him. But don’t just look for him in the sensational stuff around you. Look for him in the simple and humble ways that he is riding into your life.

And today if you need rescue from something: a work, health, financial, or a relationship situation, then shout “Hosanna” and ask for Jesus to save you.

Just remember he saves in his way, and not the world’s. But that through saving and rescuing us in his way – he rescues the whole world.