Which Government Do You Serve?

I’m reposting this timely piece I wrote about 7 years ago. Ahhh…simpler political times. Food for thought during this crazy election season.

DAILY ILLUMINATION | Jeremy Berg

I’m reposting this article as we begin our series on the Sermon on the Mount.  Every time I go back to this Kingdom Manifesto, I’m reminded by how easily Christians today boil Christianity down to private piety, overlooking the fact that Jesus calls his followers, the church, to be a new society living his New Way — a way that touches every sphere of our lives — political allegiances included!  Peace, JB

The political climate in America this week is boiling hot on the heals of Sunday night’s signing of the Obamacare proposal.  There is an apocalyptic like mood on the conservative right, with talk show hosts prognosticating on the eventual collapse of America as we know it.

Today, I walked to the gas station for a soda, and a perturbed man on the brink of desperation was waving a copy of the newspaper in the face of the clerk…

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Gospeling in Corinth 4: God-Taught

God’s wisdom is something mysterious that goes deep into the interior of his purposes. You don’t find it lying around on the surface. . . . The Spirit, not content to flit around on the surface, dives into the depths of God, and brings out what God planned all along. Who ever knows what you’re thinking and planning except you yourself? The same with God—except that he not only knows what he’s thinking, but he lets us in on it. God offers a full report on the gifts of life and salvation that he is giving us. We don’t have to rely on the world’s guesses and opinions. We didn’t learn this by reading books or going to school; we learned it from God, who taught us person-to-person through Jesus, and we’re passing it on to you in the same firsthand, personal way.

The unspiritual self, just as it is by nature, can’t receive the gifts of God’s Spirit. There’s no capacity for them. They seem like so much silliness. Spirit can be known only by spirit—God’s Spirit and our spirits in open communion. Spiritually alive, we have access to everything God’s Spirit is doing, and can’t be judged by unspiritual critics. Isaiah’s question, “Is there anyone around who knows God’s Spirit, anyone who knows what he is doing?” has been answered: Christ knows, and we have Christ’s Spirit” (1 Cor 2:6-16).

So far in our reflections on Paul’s ministry in Corinth we have discovered that the message corresponds to God-logic, not human wisdom, and the two are often in opposition to one another.  In other words, if you’re drinking in deeply of the latest, greatest in human pop-wisdom — often the latest theories of the university curriculum — you may be moving further than away from the “foolishness of God” which is far superior. Second, the people of God, believers who respond to Paul’s gospeling, are God-chosen and God-empowered to active faith in the gospel and a life of following Jesus.

Today’s passage goes a step further in showing that believers are largely at the mercy of God’s Spirit awakening to understand the deeper spiritual realities of faith.  The classic term for the Spirit’s work of making spiritual things understandable to largely “unspiritual” people — those Paul might elsewhere call “infants” in the faith — is ILLUMINATION.  I will just call it the reality of becoming “God-taught” believers. Continue reading Gospeling in Corinth 4: God-Taught

Gospeling in Corinth 3: God-Empowered

1-2You’ll remember, friends, that when I first came to you to let you in on God’s master stroke, I didn’t try to impress you with polished speeches and the latest philosophy. I deliberately kept it plain and simple: first Jesus and who he is; then Jesus and what he did—Jesus crucified.

3-5I was unsure of how to go about this, and felt totally inadequate—I was scared to death, if you want the truth of it—and so nothing I said could have impressed you or anyone else. But the Message came through anyway. God’s Spirit and God’s power did it, which made it clear that your life of faith is a response to God’s power, not to some fancy mental or emotional footwork by me or anyone else. (1 Cor 2:1-5)

The Bible is filled with freaked out, tongue-tied messengers commissioned with bringing God’s Word into risky situations.  Moses stammers when he speaks but is told to go to pharaoh. Jeremiah thinks he’s too young and inexperienced but that doesn’t get him off the hook. Paul had a reputation for being impressive in writing but awkward in person. (I can relate!)

Those of us pastors and speakers who have the privilege to share God’s Message with others regularly can gain reassurance from passages like this that remind us that even the great apostle had many moments of uncertainty and doubt. Do you find it encouraging to know that even Paul “felt totally inadequate” and “scared to death” at times?  I do.

Do you speak, preach or teach regularly to groups?  Do you go through deep valleys of uncontrollable self-doubt and feelings of inadequacy in ministry?  This can be a weight that sinks your ministry under the waters of despair, or it can be the thing that drives you to become more dependent on God’s power in your ministry. Paul’s greatest legacy was his utter dependence on God to be his “strength in weakness.”  He believed with every bone in his body that the effectiveness of his ministry — his preaching of the Message — depended on God’s power.

But sharing the message of the gospel is not a task reserved for pastors and preachers.  We are all called to “give a reason for the hope that lies within us” and share this with others “with gentleness and respect.”  So, what pointers can we glean from Paul above as we strive to become God-empowered messengers of the Kingdom?

  • Don’t try to impress your hearers (v. 1). You’re not an entertainer, you’re a messenger entrusted with a life-changing Word to share.
  • Keep it simple (v. 2). Dressing up the truth to make it more appealing, funny or cute can lead people to grab onto the wrong thing. Keep it simple.
  • Keep Jesus at the center (v. 2). Make sure everything comes back to Jesus insofar as possible: “First Jesus and who he is; then Jesus and what he did.”
  • Be real, be vulnerable (v. 3). Paul is not afraid to tell his flock of his personal doubts, fears and struggles. We shouldn’t either. Sincerity earns you credibility with your audience.
  • Depend on God (vv. 4-5). Always. Your message is only effective if the Holy Spirit works through it. “Let go and let God.”

This is hitting home for me right now as I labor to be a faithful and effective messenger of God’s Word. I thank God for choosing people like Paul, and inspiring his writings like this and placing them in the holy Scriptures to encourage ordinary people like me who are also “unsure of how to go about this, and feel totally inadequate.”

It’s a good thing it’s not really about us.  The ministry of the gospel is God-empowered ministry.

Gospeling in Corinth 2: God-Chosen

Take a good look, friends, at who you were when you got called into this life. I don’t see many of “the brightest and the best” among you, not many influential, not many from high-society families. Isn’t it obvious that God deliberately chose men and women that the culture overlooks and exploits and abuses, chose these “nobodies” to expose the hollow pretensions of the “somebodies”? That makes it quite clear that none of you can get by with blowing your own horn before God. Everything that we have—right thinking and right living, a clean slate and a fresh start—comes from God by way of Jesus Christ. That’s why we have the saying, “If you’re going to blow a horn, blow a trumpet for God.” (1 Cor 1:26-31)

This passage reminds me of an after-school special aimed at affirming the geeks and nerds who always get picked last on the playground for flag football teams. In this particular episode the chubby kid is shockingly picked first to play quarterback on the cool team and ends up throwing the game-winning pass as the clock runs out.

In God’s economy, in the formation of the Jesus movement, the upside down (or right-side up?) ways of God’s Kingdom place the “nobodies” front and center in the important kingdom advancing work of God.  We’re not the “brightest and the best” in the world’s eyes, but God deliberately chose us to make a point. What’s the point?  Everything we do rests on God’s power and is done for his glory.  We can’t take credit, get puffed up and boastful.  “Everything that we have…comes from God by way of Jesus Christ.”

This should keep us humble.  This should help keep us from looking down on “those people” — whether they be the people we judge as less spiritual, less generous, less gifted, less religious, less committed, less kind or less whatever. We’re all part of Jesus’ fold of ragamuffins by his amazing grace.  We should in turn be gracious to others as we invite still more fools, geeks, nerds, misfits, jerks, and junkies into this new life we’re living “by way of Jesus Christ.”

It’s simply amazing that the high king of the universe and creator of the world decided to start his Revolution of Reconciliation by calling uneducated fishermen and despised tax collectors — not to mention a significant contingent of faithful women disciples in a day when women were beneath such business.  And he’s still adding to them today.  So, “If you’re going to blow a horn, blow a trumpet for God.”  God has chosen us; we’re on the team — and the victory is already ours.

Gospeling in Corinth 1: God-Logic

I’m reposting a short series of reflections on Paul’s ministry in the pagan metropolis of Corinth and how he went about proclaiming the gospel and making disciples in a very unbelieving culture.

The apostle Paul writes (using The Message paraphrase):

“The Message that points to Christ on the Cross seems like sheer silliness to those hellbent on destruction, but for those on the way of salvation it makes perfect sense. This is the way God works, and most powerfully as it turns out. It’s written,

I’ll turn conventional wisdom on its head,
I’ll expose so-called experts as crackpots.

So where can you find someone truly wise, truly educated, truly intelligent in this day and age? Hasn’t God exposed it all as pretentious nonsense? Since the world in all its fancy wisdom never had a clue when it came to knowing God, God in his wisdom took delight in using what the world considered dumb—preaching, of all things!—to bring those who trust him into the way of salvation.

22-25While Jews clamor for miraculous demonstrations and Greeks go in for philosophical wisdom, we go right on proclaiming Christ, the Crucified. Jews treat this like an anti-miracle—and Greeks pass it off as absurd. But to us who are personally called by God himself—both Jews and Greeks—Christ is God’s ultimate miracle and wisdom all wrapped up in one. Human wisdom is so tinny, so impotent, next to the seeming absurdity of God. Human strength can’t begin to compete with God’s “weakness.” (1 Cor 1:18-25)

How many of our current evangelistic and apologetic approaches today have as their main goal to make the Christian faith rational, sensible and culturally respectable?  When Paul settled into the busy, hustle and bustle pagan metropolis of Corinth in ancient Greece to begin sharing the message of Christ he seems to have taken a different approach. Continue reading Gospeling in Corinth 1: God-Logic

1 PETER 1:1-2 – God’s Chosen ‘Elect’?

You can’t even get through one verse in 1 Peter before coming across an enormously controversial theological issue: divine election and foreknowledge.

“Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, To God’s electwho have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father…”

I didn’t even try to wade into these choppy waters in my sermon this past Sunday. Though I did tip my hat that I do not fall in the Reformed/Calvinist camp on this issue. (Though I genuinely respect those who do.)

For the novice, what’s at stake in this debate? What’s been keeping theologians and pastors up at night for 2,000 years? Some of the following questions are at play:

  1. Does God sovereignly choose, or elect, some people to be saved and others to be damned?
  2. If so, do we really have “free will”? If so, then are we really responsible for our choices?
  3. What do we do with texts that say things like “God is not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9) if God indeed has “willed” that some should be saved and others perish?
  4. Does God exhaustively know the future — all things that will come to pass? Or does God merely know all possibilities that might come to pass depending on the free choices of human and angelic beings?
  5. If the future is to some degree “open” because God has given his creatures (human and angelic) real free will to reject God and his purposes, then does this mean God is not all-powerful (omnipotent) and all-knowing (omniscient?
  6. Are we genuinely partnering with God to bring about his purposes, fighting real evil that can at times really (temporarily?) thwart God’s purposes?
  7. Or is all history following some predetermined blueprint, and God has really ordained all things that have and will come to pass?  How then do the atrocities of Auschwitz, or the kidnapping, rape and murder of an innocent child fit into God’s sovereignly predetermined plan for history. Why would he ordain such evil?
  8. If God’s sovereign will cannot be thwarted and God is always all-powerful, then how do we explain Satan’s role in the cosmic drama? Is he just a pawn who God could overpower but chooses to let him win a battle here and there?
  9. Or, has God actually chosen to give up some of his “power” by creating a world populated with genuinely free beings who can actually rebel? If so, how can we be confident that God ultimately wins in the end?
  10. More to the point of our passage above: When the Bible talks about “election”, is it usually referring to chosen/elect individuals or a group?  This is where I believe we need to begin in understanding the Bible’s teaching on the ‘elect.”

Continue reading 1 PETER 1:1-2 – God’s Chosen ‘Elect’?

1 PETER 1:1-2: Strangers in a Foreign Land

This letter is from Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ. I am writing to God’s chosen people who are living as foreigners in the provinces of Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia. God the Father knew you and chose you long ago, and his Spirit has made you holy. As a result, you have obeyed him and have been cleansed by the blood of Jesus Christ. May God give you more and more grace and peace. (1 Peter 1:1-2)

We begin a new journey this fall through an ancient letter penned by one of Jesus’ closest friends and followers — Peter. It’s written with the urgency and tenderness of a concerned pastor to believers scattered about in a world where it is unpopular and even dangerous to be an outspoken Christian.

Right out of the gate he reassures them that even though they may feel like a minority living against the grain of the culture around them — that is, feeling like “foreigners” in this world, they are in fact known and were chosen by Godlong ago.

This letter will inspire confidence as we remember God has breathed his powerful Spirit into us, and that same Holy Spirit has set us apart (“made holy”) for a higher calling to become entirely new kinds of people in the power and protection of God.

As we begin this journey, do you ever feel like a foreigner in this land? Do you watch the highly news and just shake your head with disbelief at the brokenness and evil around us? Do you have a deep ache to leave a better world for your children and grandchildren? Are you feeling like we’ve lost the “culture war” and the world is only growing worse? Do you fear that people of faith are losing cultural respectability and freedoms?

As you try to practice your faith at work, at school, among your neighbors, or even in your own home, do you feel like an alien?  If so, Pastor Peter has written a letter just for you! And he wants you to know right off the bat that as you continue to live in faithful obedience to Jesus (and it will cost you!), and as you remember daily that your old life of sinhas been cleansedby the blood Jesus’ shed on the cross for you, you can begin to experience (here and now) “more and more peace and grace” that comes from God.

Now, who doesn’t desire larger daily doses of both peace and grace?

Join us this fall at MainStreet Covenant Church on Sunday mornings for this sermon series. I hope to share some blog posts each week as I dig into the text. 

Grace and peace!

Pastor Jeremy

Going Green 5: Thorns and Thistles

Keri and I were out in the yard doing some spring raking a while back. Keri had made some piles of leaves and weeds, and I was coming around behind her to bag them up. I was in for a painful surprise when I grabbed a pile of leaves with my bare hands only to discover she had pruned a rose bush and left the thorny briers buried beneath.

“Ouch!” I exclaimed. Well, I’m afraid my language was a bit more coarse than that. I literally cursed the ground, and found myself suddenly transported back to the very beginning of history in the story of the Fall in Genesis 3. I was experiencing the result of a creation under the curse. Because of Sin, God told Adam and Eve:

“Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat food from it all the days of your life. It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food” (Gen. 3:17-18).

Ever since that moment most good things come only through painful toil and sweat. Thorns and thistles are everywhere! The ugly fact of the matter is this: The natural environment is cursed.

This profound truth about nature is lost on our world today. We live in an age that is ignorant of or denying the fact that the natural order of things is fundamentally flawed. Things as they currently exist are often not as God had originally intended. Tsunamis, earthquakes, disease, famine, drought, and the disturbing violence we see in the animal kingdom — these are all evidence of the curse. And human beings are certainly not exempt. Human beings are fundamentally fallen and prone to all kinds of perverse inclinations.

Yet, this is not what we’re taught at university. In fact, we are bombarded with the opposite worldview — the conviction that for the most part people are basically good and we must never question or condemn an individual for acting in a way that comes most natural for them.

“Be true to yourself.”

“I was born this way.”

“I didn’t choose to be this way.”

“Every person needs to do what feels right to them.”

“If God didn’t want me to have these urges, then he wouldn’t have made me this way.”

This way of thinking assumes that the natural order of things is still good and that our natural inclinations are automatically in line with God’s design and will. But nothing could be further from the truth according to the Scriptures. Let’s look closer at the garden to see how dangerous and misguided “going natural” can be. Continue reading Going Green 5: Thorns and Thistles

Reports from the intersection of faith & everyday life .

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