Any grandparents here? You know what it is like for your children to have children. If you are a parent, you remember updating the grandparents about birthing events. The Bible spends most of two chapters establishing that Jesus had grandparents. [GJ dons Biblical head covering--a burgundy towel--to clue people that this is a dramatic presentation.] Let us listen in as Joseph telephones back to Nazareth to report to Mary's folks.
"Hello! It's me, Joe. Congratulations! You are grandparents now!"
"Yes, Mary is fine.... A boy. Yes, he's fine. You might say everyone is in stable condition.”
"No, no, we weren't alone. Shepherds came over. They were watching their flocks by night."
"Laundry? What? ... No, they were watching. Their. Flocks. Not washing their socks. I'm stepping over by the door, maybe get a better signal."
"Right. Uh huh. The shepherds said that angels told them to come here to Bethlehem. Right, angels.... No, I said, ‘right, angels,' not right angles. Like in this song....”
Song: #5 ANGELS WE HAVE HEARD ON HIGH
Song: #8 HARK, THE HERALD ANGELS SING
"Yes. Mary is happy, she's fine. She would be finer if the kid next door would stop playing that drum, RUM-pa-pum-pum, RUM-pa-pum-pum, all night long."
"Now, we talked about this. The baby's name will be 'Jesus', Jehovah Saves. Right, I know, people will think he's Mexican, but what's wrong with that?"
"Uh huh. Um. Well, uh, we had to improvise. He is in a manger.... Yes, that kind of manger.... Not a problem, they are lowing. You know, moooo. Moooo-woo-woo-woo. Jesus likes the manger. Jesus likes the cows. Jesus likes everyone."
Song: #23 AWAY IN A MANGER
"Dad, thanks, but we are in great shape financially. These Magi came by.... No not Jedi, Magi. Yeah, maybe they are related."
"The Magi gave Jesus a box full of gold. They also gave him a box full of frankincense.... Ha, no, not Frankensteen, frankincense."
"Then they gave him myrrh.... No, the myrrh was not in a box. It was in a can. They called it, "A. MYRRH. CAN.”
"No, I didn't get it. Jesus got it.... Yes sir, we have the best-smelling baby in Bethlehem."
"The Magi keep calling me 'Moose.' I tell them, my name is Joseph. But the big one insists, [Arabic accent] 'Tonight, you are Moose!' When they are leaving, the big one turns around and holds up his finger. He points at my wife. Then at the baby. Then at me. He shouts, ‘MARY! CHRIST! MOOSE! Ho ho ho!'"
"Me neither.... Yeah, wise guys for sure."
"After that excitement, we could use a silent night... Right. I hope we'll be home soon, but I just can't tell.... Uh-huh... We love you! Bye."
That’s the news from Bethlehem: Where all the shepherds praise God, all the wise men bring gifts, and Jesus has come to save the world.
CI, part 5 - Being In But Not Of
Today, we wrap up our series looking at the world system with a focus on how we Christians are to be in the world, but not of it. That is, how to deal with the world, have some impact on it, without being tainted by it.
We began looking at Jesus’ prayer out of John, chapter 17:
John 17:11-18 - And I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one. While I was with them, I kept them in your name, which you have given me. I have guarded them, and not one of them has been lost except the son of destruction, that the Scripture might be fulfilled. But now I am coming to you, and these things I speak in the world, that they may have my joy fulfilled in themselves. I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world.
So, Jesus isn’t directing us to go into hiding, but to mingle with, engage with, socialize with people in the world. How in the world does one accomplish that and stay on target? We asked, “Is there, per chance, anyone in the bible who could give us a few pointers?” And we discovered the Apostle Paul, who went all the Roman Empire starting churched where none existed, gives us a hand. We ran through his experience in Greece, at a location called Mars Hill. Read along with me in Acts 17, and we're going to see that Paul did three things that we need to do as we relate to those in the world who are not Jesus’ followers:
— Tactfully Connect
— Intellectually Stimulate
— Lovingly Warn
1. Tactfully Connect. Read Acts. 17:22-23. Notice first that Paul doesn’t just hit town and start preaching. He wanders about town for a bit, checking out what these people are like, what they value, how they think, what they think about spiritual things. He even spent some time reading their literature, as we’ll see later. What’s he doing? Well, he’s looking for a connection point. Something he can use not only to relate to them as a person, but something he can use to help introduce his God to them. He finds altars to various gods all over the place. In fact, there’s even an altar to an unknown god, what one person referred to as the “just in case” god—just in case we overlooked ya, here’s your altar. So, he finds out that they are religious, they believe in some kind of spiritual world. And then in verse 23, he looks to connect by saying that this god they worship as unknown, he’d like to introduce them to him. Pretty clever, eh?
What’s interesting is that Paul didn’t use this same connection point with everyone he met during his travels. It was tailored to this audience. When he met with Jews in the synagogues, he related to them by what they and he had in common—a shared confidence in the Old Testament. When Paul was jailed and God miraculously opened the prison doors, rather than escape and visit a death sentence on the jailor, he stayed in his cell. That act of marvelous love won over the jailor, and before the night was out, the jailer and his whole family became followers of Christ. Connecting takes a little imagination, a little work, a little attention to the other person. And expect the Holy Spirit to give you insights you can use without blasting what the other person believes—because people without Christ buy into all kinds of weird stuff.
2. Intellectually Stimulate. Take a look at Paul’s approach to this in Acts. 17:24-28. He doesn’t tell those in the Areopagus how dumb they are for what they believe. And he doesn’t start off quoting the bible. Why? Because none of these people accept the bible as God’s word. He begins by saying that he knows this god they have been worshipping under the banner of “unknown.” Paul does uses truth from the bible to describe this God of his, and in doing so portrays this God as something spectacular. By comparison, this God he’s describing is far more powerful than any of the other gods they had altars to. He tells them that this God made everything they see, including all the people and the various nations. He did it starting with one man, then grew a nation out of that, and then grew other races out of that, and that nations and races have come and gone. Again, this is a truth that Paul’s listeners would know to be true. Paul even inserts a quote from one of their own poets—a quote that actually stumbled onto God’s truth.
What’s Paul doing? He’s looking to get them to think a little bit about what they believe and to ponder the possibilities of the God he’s talking about. He needs them to get it that, as a Christian, he hasn’t put his brain into a wastebasket, but that there are logical and cranial activities involved in what he believes. Now, there are all kinds of ways to stimulate people to thinking. I love to use science, since the bible tells us that the entire creation screams out the God is and that he is the Creator. I used the miracle of rain and all the activity in operation in a single human cell as things that made me marvel at God’s creation. But that’s just me. Each of you Christians out there need to figure out who God is calling you to share the gospel with and to find a way to connect and to intellectually stimulate folks to ponder this God of ours. God’s definitely going to use the way he wired you and gifted you in ways I and you could not even imagine, because each person without Christ is unique.
3. Lovingly Warn. Remember, the whole reason to engage in parts 1 and 2 above is to be able to share Jesus Christ. And this could take more than one chat. It’s possible that Paul, in roaming around the city for some time, had already had some earlier conversations with some of the people in the Areopagus that day. It may take you and me and bit of time before we’re at a point where the people we’re talking to are ready and willing to hear the good news of Jesus. Regardless, Paul gets to this point in Acts 17:29-31. And I suspect he kind of knew some folks were going to chafe at Jesus and this whole resurrection thing, but at least he had them willing to listen. Now, notice there three types of reactions Paul got when he mentions Jesus, Jesus’ resurrection, and the judgment that is coming. These are found in Acts 17:32-34. First group - the mockers. They were incredulous, considering the whole thing utter rubbish. Second group - the interested. They wanted to think this thing through, maybe talk amongst themselves about it all, or check with the wife at home, or whatever. But they wanted to get together with Paul again and chat more. Third group - those won over. Some actually came from that one discussion to be followers of Christ, and one of them, Dionysius, was apparently a leading official in Mars Hill.
Here’s the bottom line. We have to see people without Christ, no matter what kind of lifestyle choices they are making, or how distressed we might be by some of that, as those who are victims of the world system and its leader, Satan. That they are people who are without hope and in desperate need of rescuing. They are in the kingdom of the world, and we want them to change sides, to be people in Jesus’ kingdom. And for us to be involved in seeing that come to pass, we have to be the people willing to do anything to be their lifelines. We will not succeed if all we do is act disgusted by the things those people are involved in, or the things those people believe, or even if we’re just angry at them because they disagree with us or are seeking to do us harm in some way. We’ve got to find a way to love them through the three steps mentioned before, whatever it takes.
We closed out with a vignette from my time at CIA about an opportunity I had to share Jesus with co-worker in a staff I was leading. I probably didn’t emphasize this enough during the message, but I really did determine that my job as a manager was to serve the people who worked for me and serve the people I worked for, trusting that whatever was going to happen to my career God would take care of. People hear that kind of stuff all the time; it’s just rare that they actually see it in action. And when they do, it marks you as something different from the world, different from what they are used to. And that led me to a great opportunity lay Christ on the table for this person. And it also allowed me to know what was motivating this person to engage in self-destructive behaviors.
The final thought is this. Our job is to share Christ, not to make Christians. God is the one who makes Christians. We can be blessed to be a part, but in the end, it’s all a God thing. Our job is to love God enough that we love the people God loves enough, that we find a way to connect enough that Jesus Christ gets explained enough. If we do that, anything is possible, because God can do anything.
The term, “world” in the New Testament is used in different ways, the most often used way is through the Greek word “kosmos”—which means a very ordered and organized system—of religion, education, philosophy. The entire world system is very organized, and, according to the bible, that system is headed up by Satan Himself. The bible talks about the prince and the power of the world system is Satan Himself.
So, we’re doing this study because we live within this world system. Dwaine defined it and spent some time talking about what it is. Politics. Culture. Next week, we’ll talk about being in the world system, but not being of the world system. But today, we want to look at religion, and revelation regarding the whole subject of the world system.
Religion is basically any set of beliefs that deal with a person’s spiritual understanding or philosophy of life.
Revelation is God’s word. It is what God wants man to know that otherwise man could not, would not, know.
Gen4:1-8 Now Adam knew Eve his wife, and she conceived and bore Cain, saying, “I have gotten a man with the help of the Lord.” 2 And again, she bore his brother Abel. Now Abel was a keeper of sheep, and Cain a worker of the ground. 3 In the course of time Cain brought to the Lord an offering of the fruit of the ground, 4 and Abel also brought of the firstborn of his flock and of their fat portions. And the Lord had regard for Abel and his offering, 5 but for Cain and his offering he had no regard. So Cain was very angry, and his face fell.6 The Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry, and why has your face fallen? 7 If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is for you, but you must rule over it.”8 Cain spoke to Abel his brother. And when they were in the field, Cain rose up against his brother Abel and killed him.
Genesis chapter 4 is the very first mention of religion as produced by the world system that Satan is in charge of. And there is a huge difference in Cain’s offering and Abel’s offering, notice three things here:
1 - Abel’s sacrifice was a blood sacrifice. Remember that Adam and Eve, when they sinned, right after they sinned, God killed animals, and he clothed Adam and Eve with the skins, painting a picture right out of the gate that there had to be the shedding of blood for the forgiveness of sins. This was continued in the OT law and was fulfilled in Christ.
2 – Hebrews tells us that Abel’s sacrifice was made in faith… faith that God would bring restoration because of His love for us. Because of that, he wasn’t trying to buy God’s favor, but rather he was responding to a God who loved him.
3 – Abel brought the firstborn… he brought his very best… and it says something about his heart – his sacrifice to God reflected that God was in the primary position.
In the NT, it says that Abel offered up a more excellent sacrifice than Cain. And in this chat between God and Cain it seems clear that Cain knew what he was supposed to do and didn’t do it. So, we find that Abel’s offering was by faith, believing that somehow blood would atone for sin. Cain comes along and says, “I’ll have none of that. I’ll do it my own way.” Then he gets really angry when it doesn’t work. It’s a simple point. When we take our relationship to God in our own hands, and we do it our own way in spite of what He tells us, it doesn’t work and it ends badly for us and the people around us.
All religions of the world system, all of them, present something from the works of man to the particular god they believe in to appease that god. In every religion in the world system, people are taught that if you will do these things, god will accept you. Every one of them.
Christianity is totally unique in the exact opposite approach. Christianity doesn’t say, “Do this and don’t do that.” Christianity says, “It’s done. Everything that you couldn’t do has already been done for you through Christ.” It is God coming to us. Even here in this story when Cain is angry and depressed, God comes to Cain, not the other way around. He doesn’t smite Cain. He doesn’t punish Cain. He doesn’t give him a verbal warning, followed by a written warning, putting a noted in his file to be read later. He asks him questions and gently but directly tells him that he is in danger. God tells Cain that there is a path forward, and that anger and murder aren’t the only option.
The repeated and direct refusal of God’s grace and His path puts us on a dangerous arc.
But God has given us a gift to connect with Him in real ways, through His gift of revelation. We see this in
1 Cor 2:6-9 Yet among the mature we do impart wisdom, although it is not a wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are doomed to pass away. 7 But we impart a secret and hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed before the ages for our glory. 8 None of the rulers of this age understood this, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. 9 But, as it is written, “What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him.”
In other words, we cannot get this through our human senses. The truth of God is something eye hasn’t seen, ear hasn’t heard, and it’s not even possible to conjure it up in our imaginations.
1 Cor 2:10-11 these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. 11 For who knows a person's thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God.
So, God has given us revelation. How? Through His Spirit. To understand what? The deep things of God.
1 Cor 2:12-13 Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. 13 And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual.
He is saying that when a person is born into the family of God, he or she receives the Spirit of God to be able to understand the revelation of God. We’ve gone from revelation—that which man could not know about God except that God reveals it—down to saying that the words of God are inspired. And then we read this.
1 Cor 2:14 The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.
But the natural person—those outside of Christ, the Cains of this world, the people in the bondage of religion—can’t grasp spiritual things of God because they are only understood through the Spirit of God.
One of the key things I think God wants us to understand is how important the person of Jesus is to redemption. Suppose there was a way to prove empirically that Buddha never existed? Would that wipe out Buddhism? No. Historical Buddha isn’t one of the key teachings there. Suppose you could prove that the founder of Islam, Muhammad, never existed. Would that wipe out Islam? Nope. The five pillars or Islam are still going strong. Suppose you could prove that Jesus never existed? Would that wipe out Christianity? Yes, it would.
Christianity is not based on the teachings of Jesus. It’s based on the person of Jesus, who He is and what He did. He is God who took on human flesh, and paid the penalty of death for us. That’s what makes Christianity so exclusive and beautifully unique. It’s God coming to us, once again.
At The Surge we love doing things together... that includes writing a blog! Here are a few of our main contributing authors:
Our fearless leader, Dwaine is the lead pastor at The Surge. His experience in counter terrorism with the CIA prepared him for ministry and he likes dogs and babies even more than E does.
E (short for Eric Reiss) is the Wingman at The Surge and likes dogs, music, Mexican food, his wife Karen and his little girl Evangeline... not necessarily in that order.