It was 1965 and Charles Schultz continued to create the timeless comic strip Peanuts.  The producers at CBS took a chance on creating an animated Christmas special.  As the story boards were being created and the concept was being set in motion, there were conversations happening between the creator and the people from CBS.  What kind of music?  We find out that Charles Schultz wasn’t sure about the jazz music.  Which has not only continued to be part of the program but it has become part of many people’s Christmas music library.

Not only was their discussion over the music, there were some who were not sure about the ending.  Do we really think that people will want the Christmas story quoted from the Bible?  Well as it ends up Schultz gave in on the Jazz music and CBS gave in on the passage from the gospel of Luke.

The story line is classic. Charlie Brown, conflicted again, bring his concerns to Lucy who has a Psychiatric “lemonade” stand. He continues to ask Linus and even after taking on the role of director of  the Christmas program filled with dancing children, Snoopy making animal noises and Lucy wanting to be the Christmas queen, he cries out, “Isn’t there anyone who knows what Christmas is all about?”

It seems that the same challenges face us today. “Isn’t There Anyone Who Knows What Christmas is All About?”

What do you find yourself thinking during this Christmas season? Where are you spending most of your time?  Are you just as discouraged as Charlie Brown? Have you found yourself looking at websites for Christmas cruises or short weekends away in the mountains?  Maybe instead you have found yourself bearing all the expectations of your family, parents or church?

It is so hard to dim the lights, drop our blue security blanket on the floor and begin to tell our hearts, “what Christmas is all about.”

Luke 2 The Message (MSG)

About that time Caesar Augustus ordered a census to be taken throughout the Empire. This was the first census when Quirinius was governor of Syria. Everyone had to travel to his own ancestral hometown to be accounted for. So Joseph went from the Galilean town of Nazareth up to Bethlehem in Judah, David’s town, for the census. As a descendant of David, he had to go there. He went with Mary, his fiancée, who was pregnant.

While they were there, the time came for her to give birth. She gave birth to a son, her firstborn. She wrapped him in a blanket and laid him in a manger, because there was no room in the hostel.

There were sheepherders camping in the neighborhood. They had set night watches over their sheep. Suddenly, God’s angel stood among them and God’s glory blazed around them. They were terrified. The angel said, “Don’t be afraid. I’m here to announce a great and joyful event that is meant for everybody, worldwide: A Savior has just been born in David’s town, a Savior who is Messiah and Master. This is what you’re to look for: a baby wrapped in a blanket and lying in a manger.”

At once the angel was joined by a huge angelic choir singing God’s praises:

Glory to God in the heavenly heights,
Peace to all men and women on earth who please him.

As the angel choir withdrew into heaven, the sheepherders talked it over. “Let’s get over to Bethlehem as fast as we can and see for ourselves what God has revealed to us.” They left, running, and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in the manger. Seeing was believing. They told everyone they met what the angels had said about this child. All who heard the sheepherders were impressed.

Mary kept all these things to herself, holding them dear, deep within herself. The sheepherders returned and let loose, glorifying and praising God for everything they had heard and seen. It turned out exactly the way they’d been told!

That’s what Christmas is all about Charlie Brown.  Take this to heart!  Stop.  Listen.  Consider.

Have you been in that auditorium? Have you been at the end of yourself?  The end of the program points to where you might need to begin.

The children who have made fun of Charlie Brown’s little tree, find that all it needed was a little love!  The tree that was once made fun of becomes the object of their attention.

Jesus is that little tree!  He was the object of scorn. He took on human flesh, became a man so that he could take our place on a Cross. Joseph was told, “Call Him Jesus for He will save His people from their sins.”

The children, circle around the tree and begin to sing at the end of the program.

CharlieBrownChristmas

Hark the herald angels sing
“Glory to the newborn King!
Peace on earth and mercy mild
God and sinners reconciled”
Joyful, all ye nations rise
Join the triumph of the skies
With the angelic host proclaim:
“Christ is born in Bethlehem”
Hark! The herald angels sing
“Glory to the newborn King!”

This is what Christmas is all about Charlie Brown.

[hr]

Just in case you missed it here is a clip of the last portion of the program

maturity matters category image

“Most current approaches for helping Christians grow to maturity aren’t working. Many church leaders realize something is wrong but don’t know how to correct the problem. A shift may have started, but old traditions persist. Alister McGrath recognizes that we need a better strategy.

Evangelicals have done a superb job of evangelizing people, bringing them to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord, but they are failing to provide believers with approaches to living that keep them going and growing in spiritual relationship with Him… Many start the life of faith with great enthusiasm, only to discover themselves in difficulty shortly afterward. Their high hopes and good intentions seem to fade away. People need support to keep them going when enthusiasm fades. [14]

I’m convinced that most church leaders are sincere, zealous followers of Christ, committed to helping people grow in Him. They’ve given their lives to Christ and His agenda. The problem doesn’t lie with their passion for God. Instead, it comes from their failure to have a strategic plan that produces maturity and has a practical use in their church.

We need a new approach, a new perspective. Any new approach requires a new way of thinking. And that’s a challenge in itself. It also requires biblical balance because the growth process involves both mystery and method. God’s in charge, but He expects us to do our part.” [From Maturity Matters]

Note:

14. Alister McGrath, Spirituality in An Age of Change: Re-discovering the Spirit of the Reformers (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1994), p.9.

targeting the heart

targeting the heart

 TARGETING THE HEART WITH GRACE AND TRUTH

We need to pay close attention at all times to the motivational dynamics of the Christian life—the primary reasons (from a human perspective) why people do not see Jesus as precious, and therefore do not see the appeal of following Him with their whole hearts, are in fact motivational reasons. Specifically, the “sin beneath the sin” of all sins is idolatry—the elevation of a created thing to a place where it becomes one’s functional “Lord” and “Savior,” the ultimate object of worship and service (Romans 1). Therefore, the key to persuading people to trust and follow Jesus (grace and truth!) rests in persuading hearts that Jesus is more precious and lovely than the idols that we are all prone to worship and serve. Remember, it is the Gospel (the fantastically great news of Jesus) that alone is the power of God for salvation—it is the only power for true, heart-level transformation.

For every one look you take at your sin, take ten looks at Jesus.

– Robert Murray McCheyne

The reason I preach the Gospel to you every single week is precisely because you forget the Gospel every single week!

– Martin Luther

The first and greatest commandment is that you “love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, strength and mind.”

– Jesus

 

We must directly address why the Gospel does not “take” with many—idolatry is that reason.

John Calvin rightly said that the human heart is an idol factory. Our hearts will instinctively erect counterfeit gods or pseudo-saviors to whom we give our allegiance, our ultimate affections, and our obedience.

A working definition of idolatry. An idol is any person or idea, any created thing that captures the loyalties and affections of our hearts more than God Himself. An idol is anything that becomes more essential to us than Him.

An idol is anything which occupies God’s place—it is anything upon which you will base your life. It is what you look to for your sense of meaning, happiness, and validation. When something becomes your idol, you will give it your unquestioned loyalty. You will let it run your life, determine your choices, and govern the use of your money and time. You will give yourself to it effortlessly.           – Timothy Keller

We must assume that everyone is religious by nature. Every human being, whether Christian, religious, agnostic, or atheist, will worship something or someone. One of our primary tasks is to understand what is capturing the ultimate affections of people’s hearts. Ecclesiastes reminds us that God has put eternity into the heart of man (Ecclesiastes 3:11). We were created to be in relationship with God. He designed us to love, honor, adore, and obey Him. If we don’t do this, by necessity we will have to love, honor, adore, and obey something or someone else! Our idols are our “rather-than’s” that capture and sabotage our hearts’ affections that belong first to God.

 

This is part 5 of a series of articles by Scott Sauls. 

Read the rest starting here – A Jesus-like Culture Part 1

Scott Sauls, a graduate of Furman University and Covenant Seminary, is foremost a son of God and the husband of one beautiful wife (Patti), the father of two fabulous daughters (Abby and Ellie), and the primary source of love and affection for a small dog (Lulu). Professionally, Scott serves as the Senior Pastor of Christ Presbyterian Church in Nashville, Tennessee. Prior to Nashville, Scott was a Lead and Preaching Pastor, as well as the writer of small group studies, for Redeemer Presbyterian of New York City. Twitter: @scottsauls

Editor’s Note: Scott was a member of our WDA Campus Ministry (Next Generation Ministry) while at Furman University. We are excited to see our alumni continuing to carry a vision for discipleship!

This is a repost of A Jesus-Like Church Culture  by Scott Sauls. It appears here with the author’s permission. Website: cpcblogs.blogspot.com.

 

Righteousness

At the heart of the gospel, is a very important word, but also a very misunderstood word. Romans 1:17 says, “For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed–a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: ‘The righteous will live by faith.’”

Righteousness

On the surface, this definitely seems like good news. But the challenge is, for much of the world, this word “Righteousness” doesn’t really compute. It’s not a part of our culture’s everyday vocabulary, and it has more of a negative connotation in today’s world than anything else. You’ll normally find it in a sentence like, “You’re self-righteousness makes me sick.” So even though many Jesus Followers use this word, and potentially talk to their non-believing friends about it, in mostly ends up sounding like “righteous-nonsense.”

But does that mean we should just punt and stop talking about it? I don’t think its possible! This word is literally all over the bible. It’s found all throughout the Old and New Testaments and I would argue that it’s something that every human alive thinks about, and strives after, every single day.

So what is it? What is righteousness?

Well, in its most basic form it simply means “the state of being right, or straight, or conformed to a standard.” In modern English, it means, “adhering to moral principles.” But in the bible, the words justice, right, upright, righteous, just, justified… all revolve around this word for righteousness. And the best way that I know how to describe it is that righteousness is simply the way things are supposed to be.

Think about this with me for a minute. So God, first and foremost, is described as righteous and just, all throughout the bible, but both of those words for humans revolve around our conforming to either a moral or a legal code, something that is higher than us. For example, the word for righteousness in the New Testament was specifically a legal term, and it meant that someone was declared in conformity to the written code of the law. And so a judge could “grant” you, or give you righteousness. But ultimately, the law is higher than the judge, and the judge is just making a judgment.

But when God acts justly, or righteously, He isn’t conforming to a code. There is no one who could sit in judgment of God and say, “That’s not right, you aren’t being fair, you aren’t being just.” You see, because justice isn’t something that exists outside of God, it’s just a word that describes the way that God is.

My son Judah is learning letters right now, and every night at bedtime he says, “Let’s talk some letters daddy.” So we lie down and I’ll say, “Tell me a word that starts with… P” Sometimes he’ll think for a minute and say, “I don’t know daddy.” And then I’ll say, “What abouuuuuuuut Popcorn?” And then he’ll say, “Popcorn, dat’s right!” Or I’ll say, “What aboooooouuuuuut PENGUIN?” And he’ll say, “PENGUIN! Dat’s right!!”
And what I’m coming to understand, is that Righteousness is just God looking at something and saying, “Dat’s right!”

But do you get what I meant when I said that every human does this every day? We spend every waking moment looking around and saying either, “That’s right, or that’s wrong.”

Think of how many times recently you’ve said, or thought what someone else should or shouldn’t do.
“Oh, I wouldn’t do that.”
“He shouldn’t be there….”
“What is she thinking saying that!?!”
“She definitely shouldn’t be wearing that….”
“You’re going to regret that.”

With every one of our judgments we’re saying, that’s not the way things are supposed to be.
If you read the book of Proverbs, which has a LOT to say about righteousness, the author goes on and on to describe both the benefits of living a righteous life, and the consequences of living a wicked life.

But I don’t think the question we all struggle with is, “Should I choose righteousness or wickedness?”; the question that we each look in the mirror every morning and ask our self is “Am I righteous?”

Well, no one actually says that… but we do look in the mirror and ask, “Am I the way I’m supposed to be?” “Am I doing this life right?” “Does God look at my life and say dat’s right!!?”

And these are pretty huge questions, right? These are the questions that drive everything we do, and so I want to try and go about answering them for you in a slightly different manner. But before we go further I have to give you a few points to chew on.

1st thing is this. The bible is pretty clear that the answer to the question of, “Am I righteous?” is, “No, you are not righteous.” Paul in Romans 3:10 says, “There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one.” And Isaiah 64:6 says, “All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away.”

That’s the bad news.

Here’s the good news. The gospel tells us that we can be righteous, and that righteousness comes from Jesus, and it is something you receive by faith, not something you could ever earn. This IS the gospel. Romans 3:21 says, “But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe.”

So if there’s ever a point along this journey where you feel proud, or righteous, or better than someone else because of what YOU’VE done… realize that you’re missing the gospel, and you’re missing Jesus.

This idea of righteousness is the foundation of what it means to have faith in Jesus Christ, and so it’s a theme that we have spent a lot of time thinking about at WDA. Without a solid understanding of how God sees us, and an assurance of our forgiveness and “rightness” before God, it’s almost impossible to have an active, growing relationship with Him. This is one of the reasons that we have produced the Cornerstone Project, which helps believers build a robust understanding of their salvation and place in God’s Kingdom.

We believe that this strong foundation of biblical truth will set believers up for a life long pursuit of Christ-like maturity and character. For more information on Cornerstone please go here.
(editor note: The Cornerstone features materials from Phase I and II.)
But in order to get a better understand about what our righteousness looks like practically, tune back in a few weeks for Part II, which uses a modern day interpretation of the Parable of the Wedding Banquet to get a picture of how this fleshes out into real life.

What does it mean to have a ministry atmosphere that is “full of grace” (John 1:14)?

imagesOur communities must be sinner-safe.

There was a reason why all the sinners ran to Jesus on a regular basis (Luke 15:1-2). Though they knew He was against their sin—he never watered down the law’s demands—they wanted to be around Him because they knew the reason why He was against their sin—because He was for their flourishing! If we want to be His ambassadors, therefore, several commitments must characterize us, our ministries, and our message:

Respecting and valuing all people. People must sense us relating to them on the basis of their God-given dignity, not on the basis of their shortcomings. If we are not careful, we can easily fall into the trap of diminishing the worth of a human being by thinking first of the ways they need to be fixed versus valuing them as bearers of the divine image, made for glory.

The following quote from CS Lewis offers helpful perspective:

It is maybe possible to think too much of your own potential glory hereafter. But it is impossible to think too often or too deeply about that of your neighbors. The weight of my neighbor’s glory should be laid daily on my back. So heavy a weight it is that only humility can carry it. It’s a serious thing to live in a society of immortals. To remember that millions of years from now, the dullest and most uninteresting person you meet may one day be an incredible creature, who if you saw him now you would be strongly tempted to worship…All day long we are in some degrees helping each other to one or the other of these destinations. It is therefore in light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the proper amount of awe and circumspection that we should conduct all of our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics. There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations, these are mortal, and their life is to our life as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals with whom we joke, work, marry, snub and exploit…your neighbor is the holiest object presented to your senses. (CS Lewis, The Weight of Glory)

A biblical view of sin. Treating people with dignity does not imply a reluctance to challenge sin. If we are going to love people as Jesus does, we will be committed to their flourishing, which means we will deeply desire that they be obedient to God! So, the question is not, “Will we challenge sin?” but rather “How will we challenge sin, and with what motivation will we challenge it?” We must be on God’s agenda here—He is so vehemently opposed to sin both for His own glory and (how easily we can forget) very much for the person. God’s desire is that we live by His design, which is life to us,

A grace-filled posture toward sinners like ourselves. Whenever we challenge sin of any kind, our motivation must be because we care so deeply for those, like ourselves, who sin. Otherwise, we shouldn’t say anything at all about sin. You are no doubt familiar with the group from Topeka, Kansas who picketed the funeral (!) of Mathew Sheppard (the young gay man who was beaten to death by some of his peers) with signs that read “God hates fags” and “Thank God for AIDS,” among other horrible, evil things. This example is certainly extreme. However, there are going to be seeds in our own hearts that are prone to look down on those to whom we feel superior. It is an evil thing to desire or celebrate someone’s harm instead of his/her well-being. As Jesus stood over Jerusalem (who had rejected His love), He wept for them. Do people, especially people who are “not like us,” sense this kind of love from us? Jesus did much more than merely tolerate sinful people in His midst. He cherished them, and pursued their hearts that they might become free indeed. We have no option but to do the same.

We must keep first things first.

This essentially means two things:

Jesus, and nothing else, must be our “main thing” at all times. Our main emphasis must always be on the Person and work of Christ. Even Paul the Apostle decided to know nothing except Jesus Christ and Him crucified (1 Corinthians 2:2). Therefore…

Everything else takes a back seat to Jesus. Often we will equate “outreach” to converting others to the norms of our particular tribe (our political views, our theological tradition, our dress code, our ethics, our parenting philosophy, etc.) instead of converting them to a love and adoration of Jesus. But the norms of our tribe must always be secondary to, and in many cases discarded because of, a greater vision for people to see Jesus and know Him for who He really is. Additionally, in all things we must lead with the grace of God versus with the law of God. When we require people to “get their act together” before we give them access to Jesus and His grace, we fail to follow the methods of the Lord, who welcomed and “graced” people before He called them to change (Luke 7:36-50, Luke 15:1-2, John 8:1-11, etc.). A cosmetic, outside-in, second-things-first approach to change contradicts the inside-out, first-things-first approach of the Bible.

Consider the following quote from Rev. Timothy Keller:

We (need to) be careful with the order in which we communicate the parts of the faith. Pushing moral behaviors before we lift up Christ is religion. The church today is calling people to God with a tone of voice that seems to confirm their worst fears. Religion has always been outside-in—”if I behave out here in all these ways, then I will have God’s blessing and love inside.” But the Gospel is inside-out—”If I know the blessing and grace of God inside, then I can behave out here in all these ways.” A woman who had been attending our church for several months came to see me. “Do you think abortion is wrong?” she asked. I said that I did. “I’m coming now to see that maybe there is something wrong with it,” she replied, “now that I have become a Christian here and have started studying the faith in the classes.” As we spoke, I discovered that she was an Ivy League graduate, a lawyer, a long-time Manhattan resident, and an active member of the ACLU. She volunteered that she had experienced three abortions. “I want you to know,” she said, “that if I had seen any literature or reference to the ‘pro-life’ movement, I would not have stayed through the first service. But I did stay, and I found faith in Christ. If abortion is wrong, you should certainly speak out against it, but I’m glad about the order in which you do it.” This woman had had her faith incubated into birth in our Sunday services. In worship, we center on the question “what is truth?” and the one who had the audacity to say, “I am the truth.” That is the big issue for postmodern people, and it’s hard to swallow. Nothing is more subversive and prophetic than to say Truth has become a real person…We, of all people, ought to understand and agree with fears about religion, for Jesus Himself warned us to be wary of it, and not to mistake a call for moral virtue for the good news of God’s salvation provided in Christ. (Timothy Keller, Religion-less Spirituality)

In summary…

In cultivating a “full of grace” ministry atmosphere, we must carefully consider how we are presenting Christ to people who are either not Christian or somewhere along the journey of overcoming sin (that’s all of us, isn’t it?). The following chart is given as an aid for preparing our community to be in line with the Gospel of grace. Obviously, we want to lean against both the religious grid and the secular grid, and saturate everything we think, say, and do from the perspective of the Gospel grid.

Different models of ministry and the “hurdles” people feel they must overcome in order to become “insiders:”

hurdles_Scott_Sauls

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This is part 2 of a series of articles by Scott Sauls.

Part 1 is here 

Continue Read  Part 3 Here

Scott Sauls, a graduate of Furman University and Covenant Seminary, is foremost a son of God and the husband of one beautiful wife (Patti), the father of two fabulous daughters (Abby and Ellie), and the primary source of love and affection for a small dog (Lulu). Professionally, Scott serves as the Senior Pastor of Christ Presbyterian Church in Nashville, Tennessee. Prior to Nashville, Scott was a Lead and Preaching Pastor, as well as the writer of small group studies, for Redeemer Presbyterian of New York City. Twitter: @scottsauls

Editor’s Note: Scott was a member of our WDA Campus Ministry (Next Generation Ministry) while at Furman University. We are excited to see our alumni continuing to carry a vision for discipleship!

This is a repost of A Jesus-Like Church Culture  by Scott Sauls. It appears here with the author’s permission. Website: cpcblogs.blogspot.com.