Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Acts 9:1-30

Our ministry has been working through the book of Acts this semester. We are looking at how God has been at work in the life of the church. My hope is that this will serve as an encouragement for the students as they look to be "salt and light" on the college campus.
One of the things I have noticed with our ministry is that we have become content. We had a large group of students involved. We did fun things. We had a big weekly meeting. Our bible studies were fun. We, however, we not hitting our vision. We were not about turning lost students into Christ centered laborers. We were more about helping Christians at UK find a place to "plug in." Now, that's not a bad mission. There is certainly a need for that. The problem lies in the our complacency toward the lost of our campus. Fat and happy Christians who don't engage the lost people of the world forget that grace is amazing. We begin to worry about our comfort and affluence more than seeking to make God's glory known. Our problem is that we don't see lost people as really lost. And, I believe, the root of this issue is that I don't see my sin as all the bad.
The Lord has been challenging this notion in my life with the story of the Valley of Dry Bones from Ezekiel 37:
1The hand of the LORD was upon me, and he brought me out in the Spirit of the LORD and set me down in the middle of the valley;it was full of bones. 2And he led me around among them, and behold, there were very many on the surface of the valley, and behold, they were very dry. 3And he said to me, "Son of man, can these bones live?" And I answered, "O Lord GOD, you know." 4Then he said to me, "Prophesy over these bones, and say to them, O dry bones, hear the word of the LORD. 5Thus says the Lord GOD to these bones: Behold, I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. 6And I will lay sinews upon you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live, and you shall know that I am the LORD."

7So I prophesied as I was commanded. And as I prophesied, there was a sound, and behold, a rattling,
and the bones came together, bone to its bone. 8And I looked, and behold, there were sinews on them, and flesh had come upon them, and skin had covered them. But there was no breath in them. 9Then he said to me, "Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, son of man, and say to the breath, Thus says the Lord GOD: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe on these slain, that they may live." 10So I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived and stood on their feet, an exceedingly great army.

11Then he said to me, "Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel. Behold, they say, 'Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are clean cut off.' 12Therefore prophesy, and say to them, Thus says the Lord GOD: Behold, I will open your graves and raise you from your graves, O my people. And I will bring you into the land of Israel. 13And you shall know that I am the LORD, when I open your graves, and raise you from your graves, O my people. 14And I will put my Spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you in your own land. Then you shall know that I am the LORD; I have spoken, and I will do it, declares the LORD

I have begun to see our campus as a Valley of Dry Bones. I need to see lost people as dead. Without the Spirit of God blowing over them and giving them life...they will be dead forever. Then it struck me, I was dead. I was part of this valley. This story was about me!
Then I read Acts 9:1-30, the story of Paul's conversion. As I prepared to teach this to our students I thought of the parallels between Osama bin Ladin and Paul before he came to Christ. Both were trained by the leading religious scholars. Both have an enormous zeal for their cause. They were both murderers. What if Osama bin Ladin became a Christian? Is he beyond the reach of the Gospel? My immediate pre-programmed Christian response was, "No, of course not!" But, do I really believe that God can change a man like that? He did it to Paul.
As I was pondering the spiritual fate of Osama bin Ladin, the Ezekiel passage popped into my head. Osama is spiritually dead. He is lost in his sins. So was Paul before he encountered Christ. So, was I before I encountered Christ. There are not varying degrees of deadness. Osama is not more dead than I was before Christ. The lost students at UK are not less dead than this Islamic terrorist who is bent on the destruction of Western Civilization. The bones in the valley are not looking around saying, "You're deader than me. I don't think there is any hope for you. My bones aren't quite as dry as yours, I'll probably pull through this okay." They are in the same state before a Holy God. The good news is that the same Gospel that saved Paul and me can save a lost student at UK or Osama bin Ladin.
Paul knows this message well. Read Ephesian 2:1-9:
1And you were dead in the trespasses and sins 2in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience-- 3among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. 4But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, 5even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ--by grace you have been saved-- 6and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 8For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9not a result of works, so that no one may boast.

Friday, February 09, 2007

The Atonement

I was recently asked what is so important about the atonement. I found the answer to be encouraging. Here is what I wrote:

The Bible has one story from Genesis to Revelation. It is the story of a God redeeming his creation for his glory. That is the metanarrative for the entire Bible. The atonement is the key to unlocking God’s redemption. The offense of sin against a holy God is incalculable. Therefore, the punishment to be dealt is equal to the crime. No person can pay this price and be redeemed back to God. In order for there to be redemption, someone had to intervene. God’s Son came to pay that price. He who was blameless took on the blame of the world. He suffered the penalty for God’s people so that they could then receive the Son’s reward. The transaction took place on the cross. This is atonement. Without this doctrine, Christianity is simply another list of things to do and not do. A watered down or weakened version of this and you either get men who don’t really need redemption (they can do it on their own) or a God who doesn’t care (let them suffer). Today, the former thought tends to dominate. We have a high view of man and a low view of God. We often think (but never verbalize, it would be unbecoming of us) that God is lucky to have us. He would do well to just forgive anything or ignore sin. Therefore, we don’t really need redemption. We just need to try a little harder and God will honor that. No one really goes to hell because of sin, except Hitler, serial killers, and people who club baby seals. Who really needs their sins to be atoned? This doctrine is crucial to the faith because without it we are lost with a way.