Party: Reckoning (part 2).

My previous “Party” post dealt with the idea of judgment being a good thing for those who trust Jesus. The Messiah was judged on our behalf so we no longer face condemnation; instead, we look forward to a world that has been rid of all evil and of dwelling there with God Himself.

But we shouldn’t think that “not facing condemnation” also means “not facing judgment,” because we clearly will. Jesus clearly taught that people who claim him as lord will be judged; so did his earliest followers.

On that day, some of us are in for a devastating surprise.

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.

On that day, many will say to me, ‘Lord, lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’

And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.'”

Matthew 7:21-23**

This isn’t the only place where Jesus tells us that those who expect to enter the kingdom will miss it. In Matthew 8, he teaches that “the sons of the kingdom” will be thrown into darkness while others, who came from around the world, will be the ones who dine with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. In another place, Jesus says that tax collectors and prostitutes have entered the kingdom, while the religious authorities have not.

We have to pay careful attention here: Many who believe themselves to be Christ’s are not his.

We just celebrated Easter, and it’s easy to feel religious on that day. For some people, it’s one of the two days that they actually go to church during the year.

But the people of God celebrate the resurrection all the time. Jesus’ victory over death demands more than a once-a-year commemoration. The resurrection plays in the background of our lives like a great soundtrack to a movie; it adds flavor to a scene and gives words to what we’re witnessing.

But it goes beyond that. The resurrection demands that everything in our lives find their orbit around Jesus, the Son of God who was destined to rule over the nations and offer forgiveness to his enemies. You can’t witness the resurrection (physically or in a spiritual sense) and go back to the way it was before you caught a glimpse.

When Jesus is revealed to each of us as the risen Christ and Lord, we make a choice to know him or not. This isn’t a one-time choice, either; it happens every day of our lives. Jesus lives, but will we follow him? He rules, but will we worship him? He commands us to go and love and forgive, but will we leave our homes and embrace our enemies and make peace with anyone who’s wronged us?

Examine your own life. What is the Spirit urging you to do, and when that happens, are you listening and obeying? Is he calling you out on your selfishness and pride (two weaknesses of mine)? Or has your heart grown so dull that you can’t even hear His voice?

Jesus revealed what the Father wants of us. If we’re not doing the will of our Father, than maybe He’s not really our Father.

Please don’t rush through this message. Don’t try to dampen it by telling yourself that once you’re saved, you’re always saved. The question here is not if you lost your salvation but if you ever had it.

The Party is real and so is the invitation. And so is the danger that, if we’re not careful, we might miss it completely.


Party: Reckoning (part 1).

I’ve been struggling for the last several days to figure out how exactly I wanted to broach the subject of judgment in the “Party” series, since that concept doesn’t seem to jibe with a celebratory life.

But it does. God’s judgment is a good thing.

In the Old Testament itself, the themes of deliverance and judgment are often connected to one another. For example, Israel is rescued and freed from slavery because God goes to war against the Egyptians and the gods they proclaim. What was one nation’s judgment is another nation’s deliverance.

The New Testament also teaches this idea of judgment-deliverance, and you’ll see what I mean if you keep reading. But first, look at these words from Paul:

“The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent,

because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.” (Acts 17:30-31)

Paul teaches two things here: Repent, because there is a day of reckoning coming for all mankind, and the proof of this is Jesus’ resurrection.

Someday, perhaps sooner rather than later, God will intervene and bring the world to right. Evil will no longer have its day. Jesus himself will act as judge, and no wrong that was committed will go unnoticed. Judgment, in this sense, becomes good news because every kind of evil will be dealt with forever*.

The bad part is, we all find ourselves on the wrong side of that reckoning. Each of us, in our own way, has contributed to the broken state of our world.

Whether through our active participation or willful indifference, we’ve allowed things to continue as they are. Corporate sins such as child-sex trades exist because individuals are lustful. Genocide exists because individuals are hateful and murderous.

Do you see how that works? Corporate injustice exists when individuals either pool their collective evil or do nothing at all to stop it.

We all have the fault line of evil running through us**. To borrow Paul’s phrase, we’ve all fallen short of the glory of God, and that doesn’t just mean we ignored a moral code that was woven into our souls, a law that our consciences give voice to whenever we go against it.

It means we’ve all failed to reflect His goodness, love, and justice (or, to use the phrase from Genesis, reflect His image). We’ve all failed to worship and love Him as He deserves to be worshiped and loved.

It’s not just that we’ve been bad. We’ve failed to be good.

Thankfully, Jesus meets us at our failures.

Remember the connection between deliverance and judgment? They both come into play here. Jesus will be a rescuer and save His people from their sins, the angel tells Mary. And on the cross, this happens.

Jesus saves His people by being judged on their behalf. He becomes the criminal so the criminals can go free. He becomes sin for us so we can become the righteousness of God in him (2 Corinthians 5:21). The deliverer becomes the judged so the judged can be delivered.

And then (praise God!) there’s the resurrection: the ultimate Triumph over the ultimate enemy. With death defeated, eternal life is offered to anyone who trusts Jesus.

The resurrection is God’s announcement to the world that Jesus’ death was the very opposite of his defeat; it was part of the plan***. The resurrection assures us that Jesus emerged the victor, and he offers us the chance to be forgiven and live life like he did, to enter into a God-centered celebratory life.

The resurrection is the cause for and the worldwide invitation into the Party. It also assures us that God’s reckoning is coming, which makes this message all the more urgent.

God invites the rebels to lay down their arms now, and His people are to carry that message wherever they go. He isn’t eager to strike us down; He has delayed judgment for that very reason (2 Peter 3:9). God is more interested in raising to life dead men and women than He is in leaving them in their tombs.

And He will do that … if you trust Him.

Redemption, cleansing, peace, and forgiveness will be given to the Jesus chasers. These are the people who will spend a lifetime learning what it means to delight themselves in God, the source of all joy, and how to become a blessing for others instead of wondering how others can be a blessing to them.

There will be hardships, yes, maybe even persecutions and death, but all that pales in comparison to what’s coming: A new heavens and a new earth, radiant with the beauty of the Lord, where God is king and evil isn’t remembered.

He will have judged the world and delivered it once and for all. Those who keep practicing evil, who reject the work of Jesus, will have no place in that world. I’m not sure they would even want it, since it would fully reflect the glory of the God whom they rejected in this life. Heaven for Jesus chasers could also be another hell for Jesus rejectors.

All this is possible and is coming to pass because of Jesus, who swung open the doors of the Party and made it possible for anyone and everyone to enter.

All that’s left is to step into it.

*I don’t mean that we’ll be happy that not everyone will go to heaven or, to be more biblically correct, be resurrected into eternal life and live with God in a redeemed creation. We’ll celebrate because (finally!) His will is being done on earth as it always was in heaven.

**I’m pretty sure I read this in one of N.T. Wright’s books and wanted to give credit where it was due. If you’re looking for a deep read on the resurrection, then I advise you to use both hands when holding and purchasing his 800-page work “The Resurrection of the Son of God.”

***Even on the cross, Jesus boasts of this: “It is finished.” He’d accomplished what he set out to do. In a funny way, it’s like he’s talking smack to his enemies.

Party: Celebrating murder.

Churches like mine are a weird bunch (and not just because, every now and again, I’m allowed to say something on stage.)

We’re weird because we, like other churches for two thousand years, celebrate a murder. And not just any murder: We teach that the only innocent man to ever walk the earth was killed, and it was a marvelous event.

Jesus’ death was marvelous because of what was really going on, behind the scenes.

Acts 2:22-24:

“Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know –

this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men.

God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it.”

It wasn’t the scenario that his enemies were hoping for. The cross was supposed to be the end of this upstart’s three-year ministry. Things were supposed to return to as they were.

Instead, people like Simon Peter began declaring that this Nazarene who was killed is not only risen but is now seated the right hand of God, and anyone who trusts in him will be saved. And suddenly, 120 Jesus followers multiplied into more than 3,000. The rest is history.

For the earliest Christians, the cross was not a tragedy; it was a triumph. The cross was an instrument of death that had been used by God to bring life through Jesus. The resurrection was proof of this: The enemies of God had succeeded only to fail.

Suffering is yet another instrument in the hands of the Almighty in His quest to save the world.

Evil deeds are evil, but God has this incredible habit of using them to bring about good.

Joseph is sold to Egypt by his brothers, the same siblings who will later journey to Egypt to buy food from their brother, who had been used to prepare the country for a famine and save lives. What you meant for evil, Joseph tells his brothers, God intended for good.

The apostle Paul is imprisoned, and yet his jail time results in members of Caesar’s household getting saved. Jesus himself encounters a man born blind and tells his disciples that this happened so the glory of God would be made known; when the young man is healed, he goes around talking about Jesus.

Don’t think that I’m writing this as someone who’s never suffered. To give one example: One of my best friends committed suicide a few years ago; two months after that tragic event, just as I thought I was moving past it emotionally, another friend died.

When those things happened, the right response wasn’t to suck it up, recite “God is sovereign,” and pretend that I wasn’t hurting. Even Jesus didn’t fake his cries when he was hanging on the cross.

But we can take comfort in knowing that our tears, signs of sorrow in themselves, can also be used to give water to dry places.

Party: Lowly hearts, open hands.

In Luke 14, we find that even Jesus had awkward dinners every now and then. In this case, it was with the Pharisees.

Yes, Jesus loves even the religious, even if some Christians today don’t (which is ironic, since it makes them adopt the same type of venom as the people they despise, guaranteeing that we pass on resentment to the next generation. But that is a post for another time).

Jesus challenges the Pharisees and lawyers with the question of whether its lawful to heal someone on the Sabbath. They don’t answer, despite twice being asked the question, and Jesus proceeds to do it. What happens next challenges their (and our) beliefs on the type of lifestyle that is pleasing to God.

Jesus warns them against seeking high positions of honor, such as at a feast, lest the host remove them from their position and the guests witness this humiliation. Instead, they are to have parties and invite people who could never pay back the host. And, Jesus tells them, the people who will be in God’s party won’t be those who are originally invited but rather, the people living on the margins and the highways.

Here, Jesus brings to light their darkness: Their religion isn’t about worshiping God but gaining honor and respect for themselves. The Law now served to build a kingdom of self righteousness that stood opposed to the kingdom of God (because in that kingdom, there’s room for only one ruler).

The worshipers of God aren’t anything like that. The people of the Party are the ones who don’t seek honor for themselves but use what they have to bless those who have nothing at all.

Luke 14:12-14:

“When you give a dinner or a banquet, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, lest they also invite you in return and you be repaid.

But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind,

and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the just.

True, God-centered religion seeks to help those who live in the margins (James 1:27). And elsewhere, Jesus himself teaches that people will be judged on how they helped those in need (Matthew 25:31-46).**

Notice something else here from the Luke passage: Jesus doesn’t regulate hospitality to occasional volunteer work. We’re to take these people into our homes and treat them as we would our regular friends.

(We stress this in our Home Groups,which are required to perform local community service acts at least [and here I stress the “at least”] once a quarter. I also want to thank Hope of Glory Ministries for providing free clothes to the needy at our forthcoming Block Party.)

The resurrection doesn’t just provide new, eternal life through Jesus; it also creates people who are no longer afraid to sacrifice what they have for the sake of others, and the Lord promises their sacrifice, whatever form it takes, will be worth it. It seems that our view of the heavenly future is to be complemented by present action.

That’s also good news for people who are on the receiving end of that hospitality, because God has not forgotten them, and neither will His followers.

It’s bad news, though, for people who want to appease the Holy in some other way, because there is none except for the one walked by Jesus. The people who travel there are known by their humility and compassion.

Derek Webb wrote some haunting lyrics that are applicable here:

I’m trading comfort for human life,

And that’s not just murder, it’s suicide.

This message is the most convicting post I’ve written in the “Party” series, because I don’t do nearly enough. It makes me doubt whether I really know Jesus, the same Lord who insisted that when I feed the hungry or clothe the naked, I’m also doing those things to him.

Dwell on that for a moment. Somewhere in our city, Jesus is hungry.

Hopefully, this conviction is also the beginning of a change in me. Hopefully, you’re feeling it, too. I hope we won’t ignore it, because the Party also creates the disciples who find hope in it.

**This doesn’t contradict the need to have faith in Christ for salvation. Our good works are the result of this salvation. When the Ultimate Love takes hold of someone, it doesn’t leave that person satisfied until other people get to enjoy it, too. Who in their right mind throws a party without inviting other people to join it?

Block Party: the Facebook page.

If you’re looking for more details on the Block Party, the official, visit the one-of-a-kind Facebook event page. Everyone’s invited, so check it out and sign up!

Party: For would-be messiahs.

The resurrection is good news for would-be messiahs.

There are those of us who feel like we can, no, we have to do it all. We have to be our own saviors for whatever problem we’re facing, whether it be spiritual or otherwise. We have to keep our strength up, because servants of God don’t stagger and they don’t fall.

In my case recently, it’s been that I’ve felt the need to be “on” at church and especially with my home group. That is, I need to be the guy who has all the answers to every question and doesn’t appear weak. Because I’m a leader, darn it, and leaders can’t be weak, right?

But here’s the good news for people like me: Everything that can be done on my behalf has been done by Jesus.

I can’t break sin’s power over me, but Christ can and has. I could never escape death’s clutches, but Christ pried open that iron grip through his resurrection. I can live in constant celebration of Jesus’ victory and let that transform me into a genuine new creation.

My life, because of Jesus, isn’t about doing anymore; it’s about being.

Religion and spiritual pretense seem silly in light of the resurrection. Jesus conquered death and is the source of eternal life, both now and in the age to come, for anyone who trusts him. What do you think you can offer God in light of that? The resurrection makes puny our attempts to impress the Holy.

The resurrection proves who the real Messiah is, and it’s not any of us. Everything that can be done, has been done. You can’t do anything to add to your salvation, but you do have to accept it, and that means laying down the mask and coming to Jesus as you are, not what you imagine yourself to be.

That’s the way into the Party. That’s the rhythm of its music.

“Blessed are the poor in spirit,” Jesus says of his buddies, “for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” This teaching kicks off the Sermon on the Mount. Maybe the reason Jesus teaches this first is he knows you won’t be able to do the rest if you’re not honest about your own weakness and depravity.

Maybe it’s time I (and we) started listening to that teaching.

Because when we turn out the volume of our self-righteousness, that’s when we can hear the music from the Party.

On the ‘Party’ posts.

Dear reader (if you exist),

As we gear up for Easter, I want to write a series of posts on the resurrection titled “Party.” (Because how could we not?)

So far, the posts have focused on our future hope in Christ, such as the restored heavens and earth and our resurrected bodies. You may have noticed that I haven’t posted anything yet on the resurrection of those who don’t have Christ or how our future hope should shape our present lifestyle. Don’t fret. I’m not leaving anything out. Those posts are coming, too, and I hope you’ll keep coming back so we can learn and be moved to worship together.

Whether you’re in Greenville, NC (if you are, go to Harmony Church‘s Web site for details on our forthcoming Block Party), or beyond, I hope you’ll pray for these posts, because I don’t want to write anything that’s not in line with our Lord’s will. Together, let’s learn and experience the way of Christ and his Party.