The New You

Former Notre Dame football coach, Lou Holtz, once said:

We’re not what we want to be, and we aren’t what we ought to be, but praise God we aren’t what we used to be!

For the follower of Jesus, there is much truth to that statement. We’re not what we want to be—we’re not sufficiently Christ-like yet, but this is our present aim and our future reward.

Salvation is sometimes framed in terms of what we’re saved from, but the apostle Paul is quick to remind us that we are also saved for certain things. To put it another way, the goal of salvation includes a total transformation of who we are.

In his letter to the Colossians, Paul exhorts followers of Jesus to “put off” certain things relating to sexual sin, anger, and inappropriate speech (Colossians 3:5-8). Paul then goes on to name particular traits that we should “put on” (Colossians 3:12). The language employed by Paul is the language of taking off, and putting on, an article of clothing. I appreciate Paul’s language here because it tells me that becoming more Christ-like is not automatic.

I did not wake up this morning in the clothes I’m presently wearing—I had to put them on. There was a thought process, there was a conscious decision, there was effort involved in putting on these clothes. Similarly, we shouldn’t think that naming Christ as our Saviour will automatically keep us from lust, greed, anger, and so on. There is a garment which must be consciously taken off, and a garment which must be consciously put on.

And while ‘d like to believe that in difficult situations the love of Christ will wash over me like a wave, I don’t suspect it will happen without me intentionally “putting on” the love of Christ.

On Sunday February 21, at St. Giles Kingsway and The Well, I spoke on the need to grow in Christ-likeness by learning to “put off” what we used to be and learning to “put on” what we ought to be.

I know of many Christian gatherings who excel at the “putting off” part—I know many Christian gatherings that are marked by what they don’t do, what they’re against, and what they abstain from.

While it is indeed good and important to “put off” what we used to be, my dream is for us to become known by what we’re for. My dream is that Christians, and the communities in which they gather, will become known for their excellence in”putting on” Jesus Christ and His love.

And since this process is not automatic, I’d like to challenge you to think about consciously “putting on” Jesus Christ and His traits each and every day. I’m confident that if you do this you will make great progress in becoming the person you long to be and the kind of person this world desperately needs.

Have a listen to the audio below. As always, your feedback is welcome and appreciated.

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

How Do I Know God Exists?

Engaging in a debate over the question, “Does God exist?”, will not likely result in one of the debating persons changing their conclusion. I have a number of friends who profess atheism, and most of them are entrenched in their position—just as I am entrenched in my conviction that God exists.

If I engage an atheist friend in dialogue, I harbour no expectation of “winning them over” to my position. What I would want to communicate is “the math”, which led to my conclusion. It is a common charge of atheists that “faith is not evidence based” and therefore references to faith should not be included in the discussion. This, in my opinion, is an unfair categorization of faith. In a debate between Oxford scholars, John Lennox (Christian) and Richard Dawkins (Atheist), Lennox asked Dawkins if he had any faith that his wife loved him. Dawkins immediately responded in the affirmative, to which Lennox countered, “Do you have any evidence to support your belief that your wife loves you?” Dawkins again responded in the affirmative.

Lennox: “So your faith is evidence based then?”

Dawkins: “Leave my wife out of this!”

I gather that Lennox and Dawkins regularly debate on this issue, and yet there is no indication that either has adjusted their conclusions even slightly.

I regard there to be some value in sharing with others the influences upon our worldview and our theology, but I agree with D.A. Carson who suggests in the video below that we typically approach the topic of God’s existence in an unhelpful and presumptuous way.

Carson certainly doesn’t settle the matter for us, but he does provide (in my opinion) a  much more helpful trajectory to deal with the subject of how we discover God’s existence.


What do you think?

Joyful Labour

I realize the phrase, “Joyful Labour”, sounds like an oxymoron. And yet, as I read the apostle Paul’s description of his ministry in Colossians 1, I can’t think of a better description.

Ministry can be hard. Proclaiming the Gospel within a pluralistic society can get you into trouble. Paul knew this first hand. Paul was well acquainted with suffering for the Gospel (see 2 Corinthians 11:22ff), but instead of complaining he tells the Christians in Colossae,

 

I now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up in my flesh what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ, for the sake of the body, which is the church.” (Colossians 1:24)

I don’t know about you, but I read that and I ask, ‘How did Paul do it?’ What enabled Paul’s joy? What was the basis for it? Because if we can answer these questions, we can begin to position ourselves on a similar track.

In my message from Colossians 1 (audio below), delivered at St. Giles Kingsway and The Well on Sunday, February 7, I proposed 4 reasons/explanations for Paul’s joy amid suffering for the Gospel:

1. Suffering for the Gospel connects Paul to Jesus Christ and His suffering (see also Philippians 3:10)

2. Suffering for the Gospel will help the church to progress and mature

3. Suffering for the Gospel will help to advance the Gospel

4. Suffering for the Gospel connects Paul to Jesus Christ and His power

This 4th prong is described by Paul in 1:29, “To this end” (i.e. helping the church mature, and the Gospel to advance), “I labour, struggling (literally, ‘agonizing’) with all His energy, which so powerfully works in me.”

This 4th prong might be the most immediately relevant for us. We want the church to grow, we want the Gospel to advance, but we think that now is not a good time for us to be leading the charge. We see all that Paul has endured, and all that Paul is doing, and many of us imagine that this is beyond us. We imagine our plate to be too full. We’re feeling as though our energy is spent.

But then along comes Paul who tells us that our energy is not the critical variable in this equation. When we labour for Christ and His church, we’re to do so with His energy.

As we think about serving the local church and engaging in Christ’s mission in this world, be encouraged to know that you are not simply giving, but you are also receiving.

We need not be worn out by ministering to others. It is God’s design for our kingdom labour to be accompanied by  abundant resources and by great joy. I pray that will be your experience—today, and always!

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Two Great Posts

As I procrastinated posting on my own blog today I am came across two outstanding posts from my colleagues. The first is by Carey Nieuwhof, Lead Pastor of Connexus in Barrie and Orillia, Ontario. In his post, Shift Responsibility, Fuel Your Growth, Carey asks the question, “Who is responsible for your spiritual growth?” and gives a straightforward answer: You are.

Many act as if it is up to the church to ensure that we are growing spiritually. This isn’t quite right. The church can certainly help a person to grow in their relationship with Christ but, at the end of the day, it’s not up to the church to make sure that we’ve grown in our faith.

The second great post I came across is from a neighbouring colleague, Darryl Dash, pastor of Richview Baptist in Toronto, Ontario. Pastor Dash writes an insightful review of Brian McLaren’s book, A New Kind of Christianity.

I haven’t read the book, and I’m not certain that I’m going to, but Dash’s review is nonetheless helpful for those seeking to remain informed regarding the shifts in the theological landscape around us. I hugely appreciate Dash’s efforts in reading McLaren’s book and sharing with us his keen and discerning observations.