Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Why Did Jesus Come? Part 2

Seven times in 1 John, we see the word, "manifested." That word means "to lighten, shine, appear,manifest, or to render apparent." It is the word which describes the phenomenon that “what was previously hidden has come to light.” That is, it is now perceivable.

In 1 John 3-4, we are told how Jesus "appeared" for three distinct reasons.

1. He appeared to "take away sins" (1John 3:5a). The word "take away" means to lift up, take away or to remove completely. It is the same word used by John the Baptist when he pointed to Jesus and declared, "behold the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world" (John 1:29).

In 1 John, He takes away "sins," while in John, He takes away "sin." In short, Jesus came to take away both the principle of sin and the practice of sin. He did this by taking upon Himself our sins on the cross. Just as sacrificial lambs represented sinful people and took their punishment  becoming  their "substitute," so Jesus was our substitute to take away our sins and our consequent punishment. We can be both grateful and confident that Jesus can deliver exactly what He promised.

2. He appeared to destroy the works of the devil (1John 3:8b). The word for  "destroy" suggests "destruction by undoing or dissolving that which forms the bond of cohesion.” Verse 10 points out two characteristics of the devil's children. First, they do not practice righteousness. And second, they do not practice loving their brothers.

Sinful behavior and selfishness in relationships are characteristic of the devil's work. And Jesus came to destroy those dispositions instigated by the devil. Jesus wants us to be delivered from being identified with "our father the devil"( John 8:44). Another work of the devil is that "he blinds the minds of the unbelieving"( 2 Cor. 4:4). In every way, Jesus came to destroy the devil's work! That includes what the devil wants to do to us and in us! We need to pray as Jesus instructed us, "deliver us from the evil one" (Matt. 6:13).

3. Jesus also appeared so that we "might live through Him" (1John 4:9). When we receive Jesus Christ in simple child-like faith, the Bible teaches us that we are made alive with Christ. His life comes to live in us! We are made spiritually alive.

That is why Jesus declared in John 10:10, "The thief (the devil) comes only to steal, kill, and destroy; I (Jesus) came that they (all who by faith have entered into a relationship with Jesus Christ) may have life, and have it abundantly. Jesus makes it possible for us to receive His life to live in us! He gives us His quality of life now and the hope of eternal life forever with Him in Heaven!

So here are three more reasons why Jesus came: to take away our sins, destroy the devil 's work, and to give us His quality of life. Got Jesus? Anyone at any time in simple child-like faith can receive Him (John 1:12)!

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Why Did Jesus Come? Part I

In the last 2 years I have have done a slow and methodical study through the New Testament asking the question,"Why did Jesus come to earth?" I came up with over 600 answers to this question from Scripture. The purpose of what is called the "Incarnation" is a lot more complex than most people think. In the short Epistle of 1 John for example, we find ten distinct reasons. Let me share the first three with you.

1. Jesus came to provide a remedy for our addiction to sin. Chapter 1, verse 7 states "but if we walk in the Light as He Himself is in the Light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin."  Whether sin is an active rebellion or a passive indifference toward God is immaterial. It is the central fact of life that all of us have to contend with. And Jesus came and specifically went to the cross (hence the reference to His blood)  with the express intention of providing us a remedy for our sin. Sin is something from which we must be cleansed. It makes us dirty and Jesus can make us clean! Jesus came for the purpose of cleansing us from all our sin!

2. Jesus came to be our "Advocate." Chapter 2 verse 1 reads,  "And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous." The word "Advocate" means that He is our defense attorney, literally, one who comes along side of us. Jesus used this word to describe the work of the Holy Spirit in the Gospel of John.  Jesus is fulfilling that role at this very moment.

We can go to Him (that is prayer), confess our sins (this means admitting them) and He represents us before the Father. In 1:9, we are told, "if we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness." He always wins His case! And He is our Advocate! In His role as Advocate, He deals with the presence, power and penalty of our sins!

3.  Jesus is the "propitiation for our sins." The Apostle John adds, "and not for ours only, but for those of the whole world." The word "propitiation" is translated the  "atoning sacrifice" in one translation (NIV). It is the word used to describe the Mercy Seat in the Ark of the Covenant in the ancient Temple. God said when He saw the blood of the sacrifice sprinkled on the Mercy Seat, He would pass over and not bring judgment. God's Mercy Seat for our sins was the cross of Christ. Hence, He is the reason God forgives. Our sins were judged in Jesus on the cross. He is our "Propitiation!"

 Jesus was, to use a popular term, purpose-driven. In this passage, we discover that He came to cleanse from sin, be our Advocate when we sin, and be our substitute taking our punishment for the sins we have committed. What a great Savior! Next Tuesday we’ll dive into 3 more reasons Jesus came. 

Monday, June 3, 2013

The Church and Best Practices in Business: Ask the Right Questions

It is no secret that my favorite business gurus are John Kotter and Peter Drucker. Both have shared a wealth of insight on how organizations function effectively. The Five Most Important Questions You Will Ever Ask About Your Organization by Peter Drucker is one of the most insightful books on the subject of leadership. These five questions are important if someone desires to succeed in business. They are equally important for anyone who desires to succeed in ministry. Grasping issues related to change, leadership, and management are critical for leaders of any kind of organization. Every pastor and every minister, no matter what their area of responsibility, should ask these questions on a regular basis. Identifying the correct answers is critical if the church or ministry is to flourish. Consider these:

1. What is our mission? In other words, why do we exist? What are we trying to accomplish? After all the prayer and the  effort, what is it we want to see occur in our midst? The key, here, is that these need to be driven by Biblical imperatives. What does God want done here in this time and place? Another way to phrase the question is "what business are we in?" If the congregation's collective answer does not match the Biblical imperatives, and if the ministers' answers do not match the Biblical imperatives, the church or ministry has serious work to do, or it will necessarily face serious consequences.

2. Who is our customer? Drucker restates the question thusly: "who must be satisfied for the organization to achieve results?" In church life, this can be a touchy subject. I customarily would tell our church members that "we are the only organization in the world that exists for the sake of those who are not yet members." All the while, pulling against this was the mindset of many, "meet our needs!" Trying to balance these two sets of demands (polarities) is certainly not an easy task! By acquiescing to either one at the expense of the other can have detrimental effects in the church or ministry.

3. What do the customers value? This can only be answered by identifying who the customers are and by asking them questions that need to be answered. I tell my preaching students repeatedly, "don't preach sermons answering questions no one is asking." We need to ask both the church and the unchurched, insiders and outsiders, what matters to them. In the words of some, we are asking how can we create and add value to our customers? In the church, we should be asking, "what needs can we as a congregation meet?" "Where are people hurting?" That is the key.

4. What are our results? Drucker once said: "Success in any organization is simple. Find out how they keep score, and score." So, when all of our efforts are added up, what results can we show? It always astounds me when people who talk (or write) but have no results to speak of  in their labors are given additional responsibility. Did not Jesus himself say, "he who is faithful in that which is least, I will make ruler over much"( Luke 16:10)? When I read the book of Acts, I see a lot of emphasis on what occurred, on the results. In the ministries with which we have been entrusted, can we show any results? Another word for results in Scripture is "fruit."

5. What is our plan? In short, the plan is "a concise summation of the organization's purpose and future direction. The plan encompasses mission, vision, goals, objectives, action steps, a budget, and appraisals" (see Drucker p.65.) An old adage states, "for a plan to work, you must work the plan." It is of incredible importance in any organization and especially the church and Christian ministries to know and agree on the "plan." Of critical value is getting everyone in the organization to embrace the plan and then to execute the plan.

These five questions must be answered well if the church or Christian ministry is to flourish.