Is there any life apart from Christ?

In Philippians 1.18b-26, It is clear that Paul has the expectation that his experience will Imageresult in his deliverance.  But, his definition of deliverance is freedom from prison OR freedom from his life.  Either way, his greatest hope is that he will not be ashamed in life or death.  In fact, Paul sounds torn between what he feels is better.  Not that he really has a choice in the matter, but he has a great desire to stay and work for Christ but an equal (or even greater) desire to be with Jesus.  For Paul, to LIVE IS CHRIST TO DIE IS GAIN. 

I wonder what it really means to “live as Christ?”  To live “as” Christ seems to mean more than just asking “What would Jesus do?” all of time.  Perhaps we aren’t to ask questions at all but, rather, preach to ourselves constantly through our daily life what Jesus HAS ALREADY DONE.  There are many different aspects of our daily lives…can we see that we are devoted to Christ in them? That the gospel is governing our approach to and appreciation for them?  This is not committed to doing life in a culturally “Christian way”, as much as doing it for, by, and through Jesus Christ.  Doing this should encompass all of life–make it all spiritual (not just Sunday mornings)–and result in more statements like:  To work is Christ.  To play is Christ.  To parent is Christ.  To grow is Christ. To spend is Christ.  To eat is Christ.  To drink is Christ. To relate is Christ.  To learn is Christ.  To rejoice is Christ.  To dream is Christ. To serve is Christ. To give is Christ.  To love is Christ.   Is there any life apart from Christ?  No, not if Jesus is actually right when he says, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” Apart from Christ, there is no motivation in life to live.  Apart from Christ, there is no power to live.  Apart from Christ, there is no example to live by. Come quickly Lord Jesus so that I can truly experience the glorified life! 

Colossians 4.1-4  If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.

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Only Pain will Tell

In my pursuit of joy during 2013, I have been spending the better part of January in the book of ImagePhilippians.  Ironically, though Paul is writing from within Roman imprisonment, this letter is full of expressions of joy.  It is a convicting read.

This morning I am reading Philippians 1.12-18.  Throughout these verses, Paul expresses his joy over the fact that Christ is proclaimed.  This is his greatest motivation for his own life and greatest hope for the lives of others. As I sit here, I am forced to consider whether this is truly my greatest motivation. If Paul is any example, it seems as if PAIN, not time, will tell.

Paul is imprisoned, Paul is suffering, and even it is not “hard”, it is probably not what anyone would envision as the path to gospel advancement.  But, surprisingly, Paul tells his recipients that his imprisonment has resulted in just that–it has advanced of the gospel.  Does that mean everyone has become a Christian and he is free now?  No. Does that mean that he is treated well in prison and gets to do a jailhouse bible study?  No.  Does that mean that his situation has gotten better in anyway?  No.  What he does say has happened is that the reason for his imprisonment has not only come to be a subject of conversation among the guard, but the brothers (fellow gospel-workers) have been encouraged and now preach with more confidence and without fear.

So, let me put all of the positive, fruit-filled, glorious visions I have for my life effecting gospel-advancement on the shelf.  And let me ask some hard questions.  Am I prepared for my suffering, failure, or loss to do the same?  What if “fruitfulness” for the LORD means my failure for me?  There have been two responses to Paul’s apparent “failure”.  One is that his allys have become bold, but so have his “rivals”.  In other words, some are beginning to preach Christ more perhaps using Paul’s imprisonment, Paul’s suffering, Paul’s failure as the springboard for their preaching.  Even in that, Paul rejoices.  Am I that committed to the proclamation of Jesus?  I hope so…only pain will tell.

Oh, to be that self-forgetful and unconcerned.

Monday Morning Preacher: Called to be Fools (1Cor. 1.18-31)

Yesterday, I preached 1Corinthians 1.18-31…three times. I’ve noticed every service I preach, the sermon sounds different.  1st service (1st period) is mr-t-mrt-pity-the-fool-pities-mohawkwhere I make all my mistakes.  2nd service, like 2nd period gets a “great education”.  And the 3rd service is different for all kinds of reasons…I feel more relaxed, the group is smaller, its evening, and I know I’m going to Fred’s Ale House for a pint right afterwards. But all three sermons this week focused on the foolishness with the cross in contrast to the “wisdom” of world—which really isn’t wisdom at all in the eyes of God. As always, there were several points I would explain more, statements I would modify, and new ideas I’d interject. Alas, that is why I blog.

One idea that I would have liked to explore more was the idea that, according to Ephesians 3.8-10 God intends for the church to be THE display of his wisdom. As God’s wisdom is foolishness in the eyes of the world, then the church cannot help but look foolish if it is centered on the cross. This does not mean we need to try and act foolish. It means that the value system of the cross cannot help but look foolish to the world because it is so radically different. We suffer differently. We forgive differently. We spend our time differently. We spend our money differently. We live life differently and we should be concerned about our “cross-centeredness” if we don’t appear foolish like Jesus. It doesn’t mean that we hope to be crucified, but perhaps we should be concerned if we are “loved” by everyone.

Unfortunately, much like the Corinthian church, it seems that many of today’s churches are in danger of abandoning the cross. Of course, that doesn’t mean they stop talking about Jesus; they’ll be sure to mention the cross at least once a year at Easter. More likely is that they stop talking about some of the more offensive implications of the cross. Namely, they refuse to talk about the ugliness and depth of sin, the incredible wrath of a just God, or the insufficiency of men’s self-righteousness. The necessity of the cross doesn’t sit well with those who only want their “ears tickled”. The cross isn’t a tool for tickling. There are many problems with ceasing to be cross-centered and, instead, centering one’s self, family, or church on the wisdom of the world. The biggest problem is that, even though one (or a church) might experience “success”, growth, and excitement, without the cross there can be NO REAL POWER; no power to change, no power to defeat evil, no power to free from sin, no power to heal, no power to save.

I am not sure what is more frightening, that people think they can find joy, overcome hardship, or otherwise “succeed” without the cross; or that, in the eyes of the world, some Christians and churches actually are. God is not fooled by their foolishness.

Damascus Road Snohomish is born!

Forgive me for my delay in sending this report. I wanted to take a moment to give God glory for all that He accomplished Sunday night in Snohomish. Damascus Road Snohomish LaunchGod is good and I delighted in watching Him work. By grace, he planted a new church in an old town. He filled it with his presence and began to gather what I hope becomes a family of families in Snohomish. By His Spirit, he employed the time and talents of his children to lead worship, clean glasses, set up chairs, hang signs, watch children, greet newcomers, and preach the word. I can recall a hundred ways he blessed us, and I can imagine a hundred more things He protected us from.

Thank you all for being a part of this new work. For me, there are very few things more energizing than being on mission with a group of fellow-gospel workers. Thank you for your sacrifice, your leadership, and your faithfulness to respond to the call of Jesus and follow him into what can feel like craziness.

Without doubt, it was exciting to have a full house to worship with. Thank you Ron and Liz for leading that (Steve and Kevin too). It brought me great peace to have Jason and Erin Johnson leading Kid’s Road, and great joy to see other members of Marysville serving. It was deeply rewarding to arrive at 4pm with a huge team of volunteers ready to set up. The mission is real and the gospel is being proclaimed a little bit more (not necessarily better) than it was on the first day of the year in Snohomish.

For the record, there were nearly 150 people gathered in Snohomish last Sunday night. What an awesome launch! This includes everyone, children and adults, visitors and committed members. Among those in attendance were well-wishers from Damascus Road | Marysville, members of the core team, and probably a few from CTK Snohomish. It is doubtful that those numbers will be the same this week, but we know God is mysterious and can always surprise us! Our prayer is that the unreached and unchurched will find a new home in this new family of families. Invite them.

For me personally, I found that the experience was much like a wedding. Though there is a lot of excitement, there is also a tremendous amount of relief to finally be done and married. For anyone who is married, however, you know that the hard work begins…but so does the tremendous joy.

I love you Damascus Road, and look forward to many years of ministry together in Marysville, Snohomish, and beyond. Grace.