Tag Archive: Gospel


Week 5: I’ve Got Questions

unanswered-questions-300x210

I found this little graphic on a teaching website. “Questions are guaranteed in life; Answers aren’t.” I don’t know about you, but I am filled with questions. Questions about life, work, people, God, universe, and the list goes on and on. I’m naturally an inquisitive person and I love to think. But does every question have to have an answer? Even if I know the answer should I spoil the pursuit of knowledge for someone else?

I believe the institutional church has always tried to be the answer people. Think about 20 years ago, if someone had a question even vaguely associated to a spiritual issue they would go to the Pastor or other trained professional to get the question answered. Most of the time the question would be answered easily and then move along with the day. If the question couldn’t be answered, then the Pastor, Priest or whatever would usually say, “We have to take that one by faith.”

I know that God is mysterious and his depths cannot be completely discovered. There are many things that happen in the world today that can’t be explained by simple logic or explanation. But whenever anyone would answer me by saying, “We take that one by faith,” I interpreted that as, “I don’t have the answer and quit asking me questions about it.”

If you ask and ask and ask and every time get turned away with no discussion or thought put into it, you’ll stop asking those people. This is exactly what has happened with the church today. For the most part, no one comes asking questions anymore. Does that mean that questions are all answered? No! It just means that no one is asking those questions within the church context. Some people think the church doesn’t want questions or can’t answer questions or if I ask a question about faith you might think I lost mine. Does any of that sound familiar?

If you have questions know this, YOU ARE NOT ALONE!

We need to create a culture of questions. A place that people feel open and free to ask and enter into discussion. What better place to discuss big issues of life than with the people of God.

When we start talking about questions, it raises the question of doubt. Is doubt sin? Is doubt bad? Tim Keller (The Reason for God) says this about doubt.

“A faith without some doubts is like a human body without any antibodies in it.”

In other words doubt will always be present in the life of believers. The real question is, what do we do with doubt?

Keller continues by saying,

“People who blithely go through life too busy or indifferent to ask hard questions about why they believe as they do will find themselves defenseless against either the experience of tragedy or the probing questions of a smart skeptic.”

When doubt is kept to yourself and allowed to build up within you, it can become very easy for your faith to topple over and even die.

So what can you do about this?

Be a person who questions. When doubt is lurking in your soul, don’t allow it to hide in the dark, shine the light of the Gospel on it. It will not stay in the dark very long. People of the church should be open to questions, not so that they can be answer people, but to explore with others their questions and to really hear and understand them. Don’t feel like you have to jump in all the time and answer, but allow them to come to the place where they can see it for themselves. Most importantly we need to be honest when we don’t know. This shows people we don’t have all the answers but we constantly try to pursue them and that we are real people that don’t have everything figured out. This is completely acceptable!

Let’s be a people of Question and Discussion not just a Question and Answer crowd. Not all questions have answers but they can lead to discussion and discussion can lead to relationship and relationship is the new currency.

How have you dealt with big questions in the past? How have you dealt with doubt?

Pastor Phil Robarge

Philip

An Epistle of Straw

Wheat field against a blue sky

At Gloria Dei we are setting out on a nine week journey through the book of James. Martin Luther in his 1522 Preface to the New Testament calls the book of James, an “Epistle of Straw,” this could be troubling. I believe that in this book God gives us one of the most practical pictures of the Christian faith in the entire Bible. This letter, that is written to a scattered and persecuted church, lifts our lives above the superficial formalities and helps us to set our sights on active and authentic faith that should make a difference in the world around us.

So why does Luther call James an epistle of straw?

To clarify, this quote only appears in Luther’s original 1522 Preface to the New Testament. After 1522, all the editions of Luther’s Bible dropped the “epistle of straw” comment, along with the entire paragraph that placed value judgments on particular biblical books. It was Luther himself who edited these comments out. For anyone to continue to cite Luther’s “epistle of straw” comment against him is to do him an injustice. Instead we should try to understand what his issue might have been with the book so that we do not misrepresent his statement.

Martin Luther took a strong stance during the reformation in the foundational Sola’s; Faith Alone, Grace Alone, Scripture Alone, and Christ Alone! When someone attempted to add anything to these Sola’s, Luther became very unpleasant and wasn’t afraid to write about it. There was a tendency in that day for works (good deeds) to play a higher role in salvation. It was perceived to be a Jesus + Works approach to faith and life. Jesus was good and did an amazing job, but his work only went so far, we (sinful humans) had to go the rest of the way with our good works to complete the job of salvation. For Luther this was simply an incorrect way of viewing the work that God does all on his own.

Luther’s opponents started to use portions of James to justify their perversion of God’s Word.

“What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them?” 2:14

“You see that a person is considered righteous by what they do and not by faith alone.” 2:24

These can be some very troubling passages for Christians that have never read James or believe these are contradictory towards other parts of scripture. Luther didn’t want to cause people to stumble back into a works based theology of salvation. He himself was freed from that slavery and didn’t want to return to it. If someone were to encounter James as their first time in the Word, it could cause them to stumble and lose sight of the Gospel message. Luther was fighting a battle that he viewed as essential to the Christian faith.

There have been critics of Luther that have called him anti-law because of his stance on James. He was not at all anti-law (quite the opposite, he believed it was good and holy) but believed the Gospel should be untouched and untainted. It kind of reminds me of Paul in Galatians:

“But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let them be under God’s curse! As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let them be under God’s curse!” Galatians 1:8-9

The Gospel is all about what God has done for us. When we attempt to add anything to it we are attempting to put ourselves into the mix, like God can’t really do it alone, he needs me. God does not need us and our “good deeds.” The Prophet Isaiah says that our good deeds are like filthy rags. The purpose of our good works is to serve our neighbors, not to put us into a better position with God.

So…

Righteousness (God’s work of making you right) and Sanctification (Good Works done with the power of the Holy Spirit) should always be kept together but never blended. Luther believed that the book of James was full of good sayings and could be used to edify the believer. Because a life lived in faith will always produce works. Or better said, because God saves us apart from our good works and gives to us something we don’t deserve, from our lives flow the good works that God has created for us, right where we stand.

So let us not be afraid of James or of Luther’s criticism of the book. Instead, we should embrace the epistle and let God use it to speak to our hearts as we put our Faith into Action.

Where do you struggle the most, “Jesus saved me, now I don’t have to do anything” or “I am a good person, so Jesus will save me?” How can you overcome falling to the extremes of this issue?

“And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds…” Hebrews 10:24

Cornerstone of Christianity

He is Risen

Of all the world religions, only one claims that its founder returned from the grave. The resurrection of Jesus Christ is the very cornerstone of the Christian faith. Read what the Apostle Paul said concerning the resurrection of Jesus:

“Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.” 1 Corinthians 15:12-19

Really!?! We still believe this today? A dead man who has come back to life? In our sophisticated age, when myth has given way to science, we can’t really take those claims seriously, right? Some argue that Jesus never died, some say he was completely made up. With so many conflicting stories the empty tomb seems suspect.

Doesn’t that all sound familiar? If you have watched any shows on History, Discovery, or wherever during Holy Week before you have heard people posing these same questions. It is really tough to know the truth when so many different types of stories are reported by “credible” people. Jesus Christ risen from the dead is a life changing reality. The evidence is there all we have to do is see with for ourselves.

The resurrection was a public act that hundreds of people bore witness to. The scriptures testify to this fact as it often names a source and then says if you don’t believe me go and ask them, they are still alive. As they told the story of the resurrection they were not trying to hide any of the facts. The biggest testimony to this is the part of the women being the first to witness his resurrection. Women in the first century were not credible witnesses, their testimony was not valid in court. Yet the gospels show women to be the first to the tomb. If they were crafting a good story that they wanted everyone to believe they would have left out the part about the women. Instead, the story is told as it unfolded before their very eyes.

The disciple and Gospel writer, John, was strategic in his writing and intentionally did not say everything about Jesus. But all four gospels agree that on the events leading up to the passion, they agree on the events of the cross and they all fully believe in his bodily resurrection. The evidence is real but the cross will always seem like foolishness to those who are perishing. John wrote his gospel that some might believe that Jesus is who he said he was.

The resurrection is real and not a metaphor. There are some who deny the resurrection ever happened, but there are also some who believe that the story of the resurrection was simply a metaphor that we can rise from whatever held us captive or we need to resurrect some good behaviors or whatever. If the resurrection is only a metaphor then we (Christians) should be pitied (felt sorry for). Without the resurrection there is no Christianity. If this is just a metaphor on how to live life, Christianity is just another made up myth that can be thrown to the side with all the rest.

Jesus came out of the grave because death could not hold him. I pray that if you don’t know the risen Christ that you investigate the evidence for yourself and place your hands in his side, hands and feet to see if it is real.

Have a blessed Easter! He is Risen!

What’s your perspective of the cross?

Trojan Horse of the Heart

“For from within, out of men’s hearts, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. All of these evils come from inside and make a man unclean.” Mark 7:21-23

This is part two to the previous post from the Gospel of Mark, in which I talked about, how “Matters of the heart” can be difficult. We do the hard work of understanding our motives and intent in all acts of our lives; especially when it come to the worship of God.

For this post I wanted to spend some more time on the above verse which talks about the origin of evil; the hearts of people. In Scripture there are many places that talk about guarding your heart. When you guard your heart you don’t allow anything to penetrate it. So you build up the walls around your heart and let nothing in. The evil, the world and our sinful desires is often the things we are guarding our hearts from allowing to get in. But is that the source of the real problem?

Jesus says that from within the hearts of man come evil thoughts, desires, etc. We build up the walls around our hearts so that nothing can get in. But, is it all in vain if the problem really is our heart in the first place?

It reminds me of the Trojan War when the Greeks were trying bring down Troy. Major cities in that day and age were identified by their use of walls to secure their people. The bigger the city, the bigger the walls. The walls kept the enemy out and all the good in. The Greeks approached Troy and knew that it was going to be near impossible to bring the city down by attacking the outside. After unsuccessfully trying to attack from the outside, they devised a plan to get inside. They built a huge wooden horse (like the one in the picture above) and gave it to Troy as a present. The city of Troy took that wooden horse into their city where it sat for the night. Unsuspectingly, the Greeks had hidden inside the horse and got out late at night and started the war from within the walls. The Greeks won the battle and it was not fought from outside but inside the city. “Trojan Horse” has come to mean any trick that causes a target to invite an enemy into a securely protected space, where it will be defeated.

Our hearts should be on guard from all evil that attempts to attack from the outside. But it is much more commonplace that evil is birthed right from the place that we have built the walls. Listen to what James has to say in this matter:

“But each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.” James 1:14-15

The heart contains all kinds of evil. The evil desires start in the heart, once they ‘give birth’ it becomes sin, sin then snowballs to an all-consuming death. Where does that all start? From the heart! We can build the walls up around our hearts believing they will protect out hearts. But listen to Jesus again “All of these evils come from inside and make a man unclean.” Destruction often comes by our own hand. We rely on our heart to make decisions…we trust our heart to find love. Our hearts justify our sin, instead of dirt and filth we see roses and cleanliness. All because of our heart.

So what can we do to make sure that our hearts are clean and pure, so that nothing evil comes from it? Absolutely Nothing! Which leads to the story of the Gospel. Every human heart is far from God because sin has separated us. Left to our own devices we choose sin and evil because that is the way our hearts are inclined. This is the Great News…God loved us even when we were sinners. He made a way when it looked as if there was none. Jesus came with his mission always before him. His life, death and resurrection made a way for us to stand perfectly in the presence of God, free from evil.

What can we do a part from God to cleanse an evil heart? Nothing. But with God our hearts are cleansed and the decisions we make are not our own but guided by the Holy Spirit who dwells in us. We don’t have to fight our own battles but with God on our side, no enemy stands a chance, outside the walls or inside our hearts.

What are some helpful ways that you have fended off the evil in your heart? What weapon has God equipped you with to defend from evil within and without?

Leave your comments below or on our Facebook page so that we can stand together and not fight alone!

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