Means to an End

There’s always a means to an end. For instance, our careers (or vocations) serve as a means to an end. But, to what end do they serve? The end varies depending on the person. For some, that end is money or prestige; for others it can be satisfaction, giftedness, or life’s purpose. When it comes to Jesus, his Word, or his church, have we ever thought about what the end goal is? In other words, what is the ultimate end goal of the means of Jesus being our king, us reading his Word, and us being united with his bride, the church? In all honesty there are two types believers that have the same means, but differing end goals.

The First Type. For some believers the above means (Jesus, his Word, and his church) serve towards the end of self-gratification, personal piety, personal satisfaction, and personal fulfillment. In other words, the end goal of the means is self. The above means that serve to this self-centered end can usually manifest it in people that seem to rest once they are “saved.” There is no urgency to see other people saved; in their opinion they are good—and that’s all that matters.

In addition, this type of believer seems to utilize Scripture as the ultimate self-help therapy, soaking up all the information and knowledge only to apply it to themselves while using their newfound knowledge as a judgement stick against everyone else who is not living like them. As a result they go around beating people with their judgement stick. Furthermore, this type of believer seems to make church all about them—their likes and preferences—as if the church should orbit around their wants and desires. Therefore, if the service isn’t what they think it should be, they can become upset; if the music isn’t what they think it should be, they can become upset; if the programs don’t support or line up with what they think they should be, they can become upset. And when they do become disturbed, their disturbance results in others’ disturbance, because they feel the need to communicate it to others.

In the end, this type of believer views church more as a “place,” a religious vending machine, where they go to get their needs met. The actions, attitude, and emotions of this type of believer speak volumes that the most important thing is not whether or not the gospel is being preached, God is being glorified, people are being saved, but that they are satisfied. To borrow a line from Paul, “Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things” (Phil 3:19).

The Second Type. For other believers, Jesus, his word, and his church serve as means to glorify God and partner with him on his mission of redeeming the world as well as a people from every tribe, tongue, and nation. In other words, Jesus, his word, and his church are not means to their end, but means to the end of God’s glory and his mission. While they certainly have personal benefits and satisfaction, the ultimate end of these means has God’s glory and his mission in the cross-hairs. This perception and paradigm shift is contrasted from the first type of believer.

For the second type of believer, their salvation ignites a grace-centered passion that motivates and mobilizes them to want to share Jesus with others. They live with an awareness of lostness and an intentionality of how they can reach and penetrate that lostness. In other words, they are constantly thinking about how they can reach others with the gospel that reached them.

In addition, this type of believer doesn’t view Scripture as a self-help remedy that solely applies to them in an effort to be a “better you,” but understands Scripture as the living Word of Jesus that conforms them into his image with the aim of making them salt and light in the world. In other words, Scriptural intake is not so much about making them (an individual) better, but making them more missional. They understand that God is conforming them into the image of Jesus in the world, in order for them to reflect his glory in a way that displays the gospel and foreshadows his coming kingdom.

Furthermore, those who have this paradigm shift in thinking, view church not as a place they go for spiritual and religious consumption, but view church as a people they belong to for spiritual and missional fueling. Instead of looking at church as a religious vending machine that exists for their preferences, they see church as a people they grow, give, and go with. In other words, they are active and contributive within the life of the people of God (the church).

Jesus, his Word, and his church are a means to an end. If not careful we all, including myself, can drift to viewing Jesus, his Word, and his church as a means to our “personal” end. Having a healthy daily dose of the gospel, reminding ourself of his work in our life and his mission in the world, will help to either move us or keep us as the type of believer that sees Jesus, his Word, and his church as a means for us to glorify God and partner with him in his mission in the world.

In Search of a Great Deal

I like clothes. I know, it sounds weird coming from a guy. But its true nevertheless. However, although I like clothes and like going to clothing stores, I very seldom buy anything at full-price. I am always in search of a great deal. In fact, I am always looking for aesthetically pleasing clothes at a cheap price—something that doesn’t hurt the pocket book, but that still makes me look good (I know…it sounds vain). Applied to Christianity I cannot help but think of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Cost of Discipleship where he addresses the concept of “cheap grace.”

We, as humans, naturally tend to want something for nothing, including our salvation. When it comes to salvation we would love salvation at a discounted cost. However, if the grace of Jesus was a piece of clothing I don’t know if many people would purchase it because it would never be discounted. You would never see a sign that says 25% off, 50% off, or clearance; you would never receive a coupon in the mail. The clothing (grace) Jesus offers would always be full price—the full price being “it will cost you your life” (see Matt 16:24-28; Mark 8:34-38;10:17-31; Luke 9:23-27; 57-62; Acts 9:15). As Bonhoeffer strongly notes, “The only man who has the right to say that he is justified by grace alone is the man who has left all to follow Christ. Such a man knows that the call to discipleship [following Jesus] is a gift of grace, and that the call is inseparable from grace” (Cost of Discipleship, 51).

Today, let us be reminded of two truths. First, let us be reminded of the cost of discipleship, the cost of following Jesus, the cost of our salvation. The cost—the price tag—is our entire life. It is the great exchange, where Jesus paid the full-price of our sin debt so that we can be fully received and in right relationship with God. Thus, we pay the full price of our pardon from sin by giving, submitting, surrendering our entire lives to our great God, King, and Savior—Jesus.

Second, let us be reminded that cheap grace is like buying cheap clothing or cheap shoes. The reason why it is cheap is that it doesn’t last long. For instance, we have bought three pairs of athletic shoes, at $9.99 a piece, for our son Caleb in the last five months. Every single pair has worn out, faded, and started coming apart in some way. In a similar way, cheap grace doesn’t last very long outwardly. While cheap grace may be an inward thought that Jesus died for me, outwardly it is manifested by a lifestyle contrary to the new nature Jesus instills in us at the moment of our salvation.

On the other hand, extravagant, lavish, costly grace is an inward realization that manifests itself in the outerwear of our lives. Every thought, every action, every decision is filtered through the lens of the gospel, the grace of Jesus in our lives. And at moments they are not, which we will have because we are not fully perfect, we will sense conviction—we will sense a relapse in behavior. With this conviction we will respond through confession and repentance, turning back to our great King and Savior who has shown us and continues to show us great costly grace.

And here’s what we will come to realize when we pay full price for grace, for salvation…we have found the deal of a lifetime! [God may our lives not be marked by cheap grace that costs us nothing, which does not speak of the magnitude and weight of the glory and sacrifice of Jesus, but may they be marked by the extravagant, lavish, costly grace of Jesus and the price that he has required from us, our entire lives.]

Passionate Worship

This past Sunday we pulled a Peyton Manning and called an “Omaha,” or an audible for our corporate worship gathering. Given the conditions that morning, we sensed the Spirit leading us to push back what we had planned and to spend the morning worshipping through song with a couple of devotionals mixed in throughout the morning. While I love having a plan and being fully prepared, I think there are times where we need to be ready and available for the Spirit to move us and change what we had or have planned.

Towards the end of the service I shared a hypothetical situation of an alien coming from outer-space and spending a few months with a “believing” couple from Springfield. [I adopted this hypothetical example from David Platt, which you can see his example here: http://youtu.be/Ve9jPfJeT2k%5D.

In this example I shared how this alien traveled with this couple to watch the St. Louis Cardinals and how they got dressed for the game, arrived there early, found their seat, got their food and drink, and cheered the whole way through a few hour game celebrating the victory with other fans. A couple of months later this same alien traveled with the couple to a Fighting Illini game. Again, this couple gets dressed for the game, arrives there early to tailgate and spend time with other fans; in addition, they enter the stadium, find their seat, and cheer throughout the few hour game—screaming and yelling, chanting and singing.

And finally, this alien joins this couple as they go to church. During that morning they are hustling to get ready and get out of the house so that they can be on-time. They get to church, take their children to children’s ministry, they enter into the sanctuary right-on time or as the music is beginning, they mouth (or lip-sync) the words, and then begin to fidget during the sermon, and after the service is dismissed they leave quickly to rush home or to a restaurant.

Closing out the hypothetical, I asked what do you think the alien would say is more important to this couple? What would he say the couple is more passionate about simply by observing their behaviors in these environments? [Keep in mind that illustrations or hypotheticals would breakdown if you really picked them apart and overanalyzed them.] When it comes to a hypothetical example like this, I believe the main lesson to remember is that sometimes the weight, passion, and intensity with which we worship or should worship Jesus is drowned out by the weight, passion, and intensity we celebrate other things in our life. And if we were honest with ourselves, it is easy for all of us to drown out the weight, passion, and intensity we should be ascribing Jesus with something else in our life. [And if this happens in our daily life it naturally comes out in corporate worship.]

Honestly, this example is extremely challenging. It was challenging to me as a pastor when I heard it. Nevertheless, there were a couple reasons why I felt led to adopt Platt’s example and apply it to our context. First, I believed that what took place Sunday felt as though we were zoned in, jazzed up, and worshipping Jesus with great intensity and passion. I believe that if the “alien from outer-space” would have been there he would have experienced a church giving weight to Jesus as they worshipped him through song, prayer, and the word. My prayer is that we would come with that same intensity and passion every week. Therefore, the example was for us to have something to remember the weight, intensity, and passion we should come with every week to corporate worship.

Second, I do believe that we live in a Christian culture where nominalism tends to reign. While I believe those who would claim to be Christians are sincere and love Jesus, it seems that many are nominal in their commitment to him, to his church, and to his mission. Yet, many of these are the same people that get jazzed up over a baseball, football, or hockey game. [And do not misunderstand me here, I do not think that it is wrong to get all worked up over a baseball, football, or hockey game.] My prayer for believers would be that we would get just as, if not more, jazzed up, excited, and passionate about corporate worship. My heart is to challenge all of us, including myself, to not treat Sunday corporate worship as if it is a tack-on to our week, but that we come with great anticipation and excitement, ready for God to speak to us, to encourage others, and to worship him with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. Therefore, I wanted this example to challenge those who would fit in that category.

This example this past Sunday was both an affirmation and a challenge. While I believe we had intense, passionate, heart-felt worship, I don’t want these kind of Sundays to be sporadic, but commonplace. In addition, I want to challenge all of us to make sure that our lives, including our corporate worship, has Jesus—his weight, glory, lordship, and supremacy—at the center. When he is at the center of our lives and our church we cannot help but ascribe the weight, glory, and honor due his great name with great intensity and passion.