By: Ryan Lassiter
As I think about this summer blog tour theme of Faith Unshackled, I have been thinking about what often shackles our faith. And sometimes, I think we have just made it too complicated. It is like we say, "It can’t be that simple!" and then start arguing doctrine, dogma, and Scripture to avoid the obvious.
I have been studying a great deal lately the greatest commandments. There are a few different versions of this in the gospels, but my favorite has become the one recorded in Mark 12. One of the scribes sees that Jesus is a legit teacher, so he asks him the big question. "Which commandment is the first of all?" In other words, what matters the most to God? Most of us know the story. Jesus says something like, "Love God with all you have, and love your neighbor as yourself." But in Mark’s recording, the scribe gives Jesus a robust "Amen!" "You are right he says!" Then he goes onto repeat back essentially what Jesus has already said and the scribe tacks on, "this is much more important than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices." But here is the part I love. After the scribe says this, Jesus says, "You are not far from the kingdom of God."
Wait? Loving God and loving neighbor puts us in a place where Jesus basically says, "You’re getting it now. You’re getting closer. You’re discovering the way ofthe kingdom?!" Can that be?!
Overwhelmingly churches (mine included) give a list of core values and beliefs that are something like, "We believe in God, we believe in the Bible, we believe in salvation, we believe in baptism and on and on. But for some reason, I have never seen a church say, "Our core belief is this: love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength. Then love your neighbor as yourself. Do this and you are near the kingdom of God." That seems a bit too simple doesn’t it? Yet, that is more important than all of the burnt offerings and sacrifices. Or, if I might contextualize and paraphrase it a bit, that is more important than all of our "right beliefs," "sound doctrine," etc.
Then we have Matthew 25. I have heard multiple sermons and lessons on this text and how it teaches the reality of final judgment, which by the way I affirm. However, do we ever ponder the question, "What does Jesus say puts one on the wrong side?" If we do, the answer isn’t burnt offerings, sacrifices, correct doctrine, worship service attendance, reading the Bible, understanding baptism, etc. (though those are all REALLY important to talk about and do). Rather, the answer is those that gave food and drink to the thirsty, clothed the naked, visited the prisoners, visited the sick, and welcomed the strangers. I think it would be fair to put that under the heading of"loving God and loving neighbor."
So when I think about unshackled faith that lives for Jesus with reckless abandon, I think it is best we get back to the basics. The church has been like the football team that has come up with really great offensive and defensive schemes, but forgot to teach the basics of blocking and tackling.
My prayer is that we could continue the important discussions about doctrine, Scripture, and beliefs, but that we would not neglect the seemingly simple and most important. My prayer is that we would get back to the basics. Love the Lord your God with all of your heart, soul, mind and strength. And love your neighbor as yourself. And by the way, I don’t think you can do one without the other. Maybe the best way to love God is to get back to the basics and go love a neighbor. Maybe then the kingdom of God will come near.
Ryan Lassiter is the husband of Sarah, and father of 3 (almost 4!) beautiful children. He is also the preaching minister at the Hunter Hills Church of Christ in Prattville, AL. Prior to that he served as a minster at the Golf Course Road Church of Christ in Midland TX, and he and his wife Sarah have also spent time as missionaries. Ryan graduated with his masters in Missional Leadership from Rochester College and his passion is helping people join God in his mission of redemption and restoration. He blogs at www.ryanlassiter.com.
We must start in the Old Testament, because an important aspect of God’s relationship with his people was God’s presence among them. You might recall that the position of the tabernacle in the midst of the people, representing God’s presence was in the MIDDLE of the camp. Therefore, God’s presence was not marginal or on the fringes, but God was central in his position among the people. (see the picture associated with this post). Now, as we move from tabernacle to the Temple in Jerusalem something very important happens.
Everything is Described in Proximity to God: Including the Son
Jerusalem is proclaimed as the center of the earth among the Israelites, that is, the city itself serves as a representative of God’s heavenly palace and the Temple itself served as a representation of God’s throne, particularly the ark of the covenant in the Holy of Holies. This is established by David as the king, the temple, and the city itself are representatives of God’s authority and reign. And so, along with this centrality argument, comes the notion of traveling (or taking a pilgrimage) to Jerusalem and going to the temple, because it is in this city, and in this Temple, that the presence and power of God can be experienced in a more complete way.
As we move to the New Testament, we must understand that God is at the center and the writers of the New Testament, while proclaiming Jesus as extremely important and in fact divine, always place him in a position at God’s right hand. This is evident in the scripture references below. But more than that, we also must be reminded that Jesus himself claimed that God the Father is the ultimate authority. Listen to Jesus explaining his connection to the Father and how those who acknowledge or reject Jesus must face the Father’s authority:
“Everyone who acknowledges me publicly here on earth, I will also acknowledge before my Father in heaven. But everyone who denies me here on earth, I will also deny before my Father in heaven.
“Anyone who receives you receives me, and anyone who receives me receives the Father who sent me
Now, turning to the “right hand of God” passages in the New Testament, the writers pickup a line from Psalm 110:1 - “the Lord said to my lord, sit at my right hand…” and this becomes a theme repeated in the writings of the New Testament. It is used heavily in Acts, and is also referenced in the Synoptic Gospels and the book of Hebrews…among others.
So then the Lord Jesus, after he had spoken to them, was taken up into heaven and sat down at the right hand of God.
For David himself says in the Book of Psalms, “‘The Lord said to my Lord, “Sit at my right hand,
But from now on the Son of Man shall be seated at the right hand of the power of God.”
Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you yourselves are seeing and hearing.
God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins.
But he, full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God.
And he said, “Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.”
Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us.
Ephesians 1:19 and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might 20 that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, 21 far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come.
If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.
He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, (1:13; 8:1; 10:12; 12:2)
My point in showing these passages, extremely vague and out of context, is not to proof text some argument but to understand the language being used and what the language itself expresses to us in regards to Jesus’ authority and position with the Father. The Father is on the throne, and the Son is at his right hand. To understand the image of the right hand, you might want to read through the Psalms as the right hand of God is mighty, powerful, and active to save. However, we must also see that Jesus is positioned in reference to God the Father, making God the Father, not Jesus the Son, the central aspect of not just the Old Testament, but the New Testament as well. In theological terms, we refer to this understanding as “theocentric” and we acknowledge that Jesus’ position and power is given by the Father.
As I wrap things up for this part of our discussion, I want to send you to read the vision of the heavenly throne room Revelation 4 and 5 in which God’s throne is described in chapter 4 and then the “Lamb of God” we know as Jesus shows up in the throne room in chapter 5. Take a look at how the language describes the majesty and power and authority and the relationship between Father and Son.
What I have come to conclude in that the Father must be viewed as central, and all creation and even Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is to be described in relationship to the One who sits at the center of our existence and experience. In part 3 of our discussion about Father and Son, I want to go to a very familiar hymn in Philippians and unpack this tightly focused passage.
by Scott Elliot
Words do not stay the same. The definition or influence of a word can change over time. Sometimes they are overused and lose their power. Words that were once quite meaningful can become meaningless. Christianity is a religion that relies on certain words. The Bible is a story, and you cannot tell a story without words. Some of these words are essential to Christianity, and yet Christianity is a religion that has been around for many, many years. Christians have clung to important words while also dealing with an ever-changing world where the meaning of words can change.
Faith is one of the most significant words belonging to Christianity, but what does it mean? Over the years, many have equated it with belief. For these individuals, faith is the same as mental assent, but I believe a careful reading of the Bible will prove this definition tobe inadequate. Certainly, belief is an element of faith, but it goes deeper than what a person may hold to be true. Several times in the Gospel of Mark, faith is contrasted with fear (Mark 5:36). One of the most famous stories where this occurs is when Jesus calms a storm (Mark 4:35-41). You can imagine how frightening it would be to be on a small boat in the middle of a lake during a storm. Your boat could be capsized by the wind and waves. You would be susceptible to lightning strikes. You would essentially be helpless until you could reach shore. This is the situation that the disciples found themselves in. They were scared, and through it all Jesus slept. Finally, they decide to wake him. He calms the storm, and then says, "Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?" (Mark 4:40).
If faith were merely belief, then fear would have no power over it. It's possible to believe and at the same time be afraid. Faith is more closely related to trust. When we trust, fear goes away. This is what Jesus was looking for in the boat. The disciples were believers, but they did not have trusting faith. If they would have had faith in Jesus, then they would not have been afraid.
The contrast between faith and fear that Mark provides is helpful in evaluating our level of faith. It might be difficult for some to gauge their commitment to God adequately. We are great at critiquing others and not so great at self-criticism. However, if we think of fear as the opposite of faith, then it is much easier to identify areas where we are afraid. Wherever we find fear, we will likely also find a lack of faith. If we fear the political future of America, then we need to trust that God is sovereign over all. If we fear our neighbors who do not look like us, then we need to seek to love them all the more while trusting that God has created all people in his image. If we fear what will happen to the economy or where our next check will come from, then we need to trust that God will provide.
Radical faith is when we put our trust in God even when the future seems uncertain. We see this in story after story in the Bible beginning with Abraham. What we discover from Scripture is that God is always faithful. It would be difficult to trust in a chair that looks weak and fragile, and that has never been set in by you or someone you know. There would be no reason to trust the chair. However, if you saw a big sturdy chair that always provided a safe and secure seat for anyone who rested in it, then you would have no problem trusting the chair. God gives us every reason to trust him. We can always depend on God.
Scott Elliott is a graduate of Oklahoma State University and Austin Graduate School of Theology. He lives in La Grange, TX and is the minister for the La Grange Church of Christ. He is married and has two sons. He enjoys writing about the Christian faith and posting the occasional film review. His articles and reviews have appeared in RELEVANT magazine, Englewood Review of Books, and other publications.
I have been working on the lessons for Vacation Bible School this week and when it came to writing a blog, I searched for something new or creative to write, but came up with nothing that really struck me outside of my prep for the adult class I will be hosting all week next week. The Theme Verse for our Mighty Fortress VBS is 1 Corinthians 15:57 “But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
So, it is interesting to me how the stories are selected for these studies, because when I first looked at it, I thought that some of the selections were…well…interesting! We start off with the tale of a fortress and God’s people coming up against there enemies at Jericho. A classic VBS story for sure! Here, we can see the connection between the theme “Mighty Fortress” and the notion that this Jericho fortress was not one that the Lord God built and so it had no position or power over God’s ability to bring victory. The next two stories baffled me, the stories of Hezekiah and Josiah. I must admit that in my years going to VBS, I never remember covering these stories. The second day will cover the siege that the Assyrians placed on Jerusalem. Hezekiah was king in Jerusalem and God saved this fortress, His city, from total destruction. The lesson here is that God is our refuge and strength, a help in times of trouble. Ok - I see the connection with the theme and the Bible story really focuses more on King Hezekiah’s faith in God and prayer when Isaiah reassured the King that God was present. Now on to day three and Josiah…and here we see a different notion of “mighty fortress” in that it doesn’t have to be big walls and cities, but God’s Word and teaching! God’s story is important and obeying His word is essential if we are to experience the victory of Jesus. Josiah’s reforms, tearing down idols and restoring the Temple, showed that God was most important and this was all prompted by reading the Word of God to the people. These three lessons set up the last two days of VBS, Jesus enters into Jerusalem and Jesus dies and rises from the tomb. This is the ultimate story of God’s victory and thus our victory. Jesus is our champion, and our enemies of sin, death, and Satan are defeated and we can live the victorious life in Christ.
I look forward to a great week of VBS, and if you want to join us, bring your kids, it will be from 6-8 PM Monday through Friday of next week. I think one of the things I like most about a Vacation Bible School program is the combination between having fun and learning God’s story! Thank You to all volunteers who make these weeks possible for children, I can tell you that it makes a difference!
In Luke 20, some teachers of the religious law try to entrap Jesus by asking him a tax question. Now, I don’t know about you but I usually don’t go around trying to field everybody’s tax questions and I often will quickly laugh and change the subject whenever a tax-philosophy is shared. Yet, these leaders wanted to put Jesus in a lose-lose scenario. You see, if Jesus told the people not to pay taxes, then he would be in trouble with the Roman authorities who had successfully squashed any notion of not contributing to the government from other Zealots. This would be the leaders best case scenario. However, if Jesus tells the people to pay their taxes and be good citizens, then in the view of the religious leaders, this stance would forfeit the Messianic fervor surrounding Jesus. He would be seen not as a rebel leader assumed in the notion of Messiah, but as a pawn of the Roman government that would be a far cry from the expectations of those following him. So, here is the story from Scripture, Luke 20:20-26.
20 Watching for their opportunity, the leaders sent spies pretending to be honest men. They tried to get Jesus to say something that could be reported to the Roman governor so he would arrest Jesus. 21 “Teacher,” they said, “we know that you speak and teach what is right and are not influenced by what others think. You teach the way of God truthfully. 22 Now tell us—is it right for us to pay taxes to Caesar or not?”
23 He saw through their trickery and said, 24 “Show me a Roman coin. Whose picture and title are stamped on it?”
“Caesar’s,” they replied.
25 “Well then,” he said, “give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, and give to God what belongs to God.”
26 So they failed to trap him by what he said in front of the people. Instead, they were amazed by his answer, and they became silent.
So, which side did Jesus take? If you’re confused then it’s okay, the teachers of religious law were too and it says they became silent! Jesus doesn’t pick a side, which might help us navigate other either/or false dichotomies that we face, but instead he presents a notion that there things reserved for Government and there are things reserved for God. The reservation is made by the word “belongs.” Therefore, we might notice that the trust of God is on our money, but the pictures are of our civc leaders and so Jesus is kind of saying that we must give to the government the stuff that bears the government’s image. Meanwhile, we are to give to God the stuff that belongs to God because it bears the Father’s image. And what we don’t want to do is give to the government that which belongs to God and think that God overly cares about our gifts of stuff that has the government’s pictures all over it.
They failed to trap him…and often that is what Christians face is entrapment when we are met with a political philosophy or a dichotomy that asks us to choose between supporting A or B. I pray that we seek the wisdom to be people of high standing in the Kingdom of God and be people who discern the proper images on our stuff. Jesus asked, “Whose picture and title are stamped on it?” May this not simply guide our tax payments, but may we think about this in all our life’s arenas.
I want to share thoughts, insights, and scriptures that lead us in the direction of Christ.