I've noticed lately that it is harder to remember things than it used to be. I don't necessarily think it has as much to do with age as it does with the fact that there is just so much to think about right now. Family, friends, work, hobbies, politics, culture, the list could go on and on regarding things that my mind is being saturated by every day. Given how much information we are bombarded with, its no wonder that we try to take control and handle everything on our own. Its only natural that it will be harder and harder to remember Jesus and the good news that was given to us. But, we need to remember and we need to know that no matter how good we think we are at the things we do, Jesus is better. This is where Jeff Vanderstelt begins in part 2 which is simply titled, Jesus. Here is a brief introduction video to part 2 of the book.
I have said the same words before about being Jesus. It sounds correct doesn't it? If we are living in a fallen world we should be Jesus for those around us right? Apparently not. Jeff points out that we can't be Jesus to the world because there is only one Jesus and we are not him. When we try to be him we try to take on the role of savior or counselor or king, but that is not ultimately our job. We certainly play a part in those things, but we are not and will never be Jesus. This is heartening because of how often the burden to love others and care for them can weigh us down. This happens because we are trying to be the game changers, the ones who bring about something amazing in a person's life, but that is Jesus' job. Jeff writes in chapter 3:
Our job is not to be Jesus. Our job is to believe Jesus, depend on Jesus, and submit to Jesus working in and through us to accomplish his work. We are not meant to carry the weight of the world or the mission of Jesus on our shoulders. Jesus came to seek and save. He doesn’t expect us to become the saviors.
I'm so thankful to have read that and I believe that it is true. Instead of trusting in the power of God and power of the gospel message I trust in my own power and my own ability to share the message. When I do that, it's fair to say that things never really quite work out. I need to believe that the gospel is the "power of God for salvation" and think about how that gospel affects my past, present and future. Jeff writes:
God wants to save us from the penalty of sin—salvation from what we’ve done; the power of sin—salvation for what we’re called to do today; and the presence of sin—salvation for our future. It is a past, present, and future salvation. And it’s all available to us by faith. We come to experience the effects of God’s salvation by believing the gospel.
Is this the gospel I am resting in? He goes on to ask the following questions and statement:
If we’re going to be effective in seeing people and places saturated with the good news of Jesus, we first have to know and believe the gospel. We need to be saturated with the truths of the gospel before Jesus saturation can happen through us. Do you know the good news of Jesus? Do you believe it? Do you live as if you believe it? We all need the better Savior. Jesus is that Savior, for he did better than us, he does better than us, and he will make everything better than we ever could.
He then takes the next three chapters to address how we have been saved, how we are being saved, and how we will be saved.
Much could be said about this chapter but the crux of it is that we are all sinners in need of a savior. Our brokenness is profound in our lives and we see it in the lives of others. One problem with sin is that we try to hide it so that others won't know that we are struggling or that we won't be embarrassed by what is going on inside of us. Jeff writes:
Where are you tempted to hide or cover up? Do you still believe you have to perform well for God in order to receive his loving acceptance? Do you believe God loves you more when you obey and less when you disobey? You don’t need to look elsewhere. God the Father, the Creator of the universe, receives and accepts you in Christ Jesus. If you believe this, you can rest. You are loved. You are accepted. You are already significant!
Something that I have noticed to be true for most people is that when they sin, they feel the shame and guilt of that sin for hours, days, months or even years. Taking what Jesus did for us on the cross and applying it to our sin is hard for us. We feel like we have to make amends, that we have to earn back whatever we lost by sinning. And yet, we can't. What we must do above all else is look at that sin and then thank God for the cross of Jesus. In Jesus' death we find forgiveness. We can look at our past sins and move forward as repentant people who are Christ's once and for all time. Jeff writes at the end of chapter 4:
Have you trusted in Jesus’s life and death yourself? Are you still trusting in it? Do you believe that what he did was sufficient for you? Do you believe Jesus perfectly lived in your place, and that he humbly and sufficiently died in your place? Disciples of Jesus do believe this. We have to. We can’t live the life he calls us to apart from it. Are you striving to gain approval or acceptance? Rest in Jesus’s perfect work on your behalf. Are you living with regret or self-hatred for what you’ve done in the past? Accept Jesus’s payment for sin. Are you striving to do enough good now to remove the guilt of the bad you’ve done in the past? You don’t have to. In fact, you can’t do enough. Instead, believe that Jesus has fully removed all the guilt from your life. We have all sinned, but Jesus did better for us. Because of him, we are forgiven and cleansed. We are loved and accepted by God.
Admittedly this is one area where many Christians have been in error. We have somehow made the gospel only about salvation (justification), but not about becoming more like Christ (sanctification) or our final salvation from this world into the eternal presence of God (glorification). This is why we need the gospel as much now as we needed it the day we first believed. We far too easily trust in ourselves rather than in Christ. Jeff writes:
I was not believing the gospel. I was depending upon my strength, my skills, and my ability to inspire, persuade, influence, and lead. Because of that, I was living the old life and not experiencing the new life Jesus can make possible in me.
But we have to understand that we need Jesus now, and we need him to be working in us in order that he may also be working through us. Our striving to save ourselves or save others by our own ability will get us nowhere. We are, at this moment, experiencing the salvation of the Lord in that he will not let us remain who we once were, but that we would truly be the new creations that he has made us to be in Christ.
In chapter 6, Jeff writes quite a bit about fear. Considering how fearful I can be at times I gave this chapter my full attention. Fear is not always a bad thing, for instance, we know that we are called to fear the Lord. But it is the fear we have of what might be, or what might not be that can cause us to fall into spiritual paralysis. When we think about what motivates us, much of it is fear-based. You may work hard at your job because you are fearful about losing it. You may raise your children a certain way because you are terrified that if you don't they will live horrible lives when the leave the house. It's actually amazing to me how much we do, and continue to do in a specific way, because we are motivated by fear. Jeff writes:
Fear does motivate. It just doesn’t always have the desired result. In my case, fear didn’t push me forward with unbridled resolve. It bound me in shackles.
If we live this way, he points our the result:
We won’t see Jesus saturation happen through us if we are captured by fear. I’m convinced from my experience that people will not step out on mission if they don’t have confidence about the future. Their fears control them.
How true this is. I have had a few conversations recently where we have spoken at length about following Jesus with young children. What should it look like, how risky should be for God, what if something happens to our children? In much of those conversations fear can become a dominating factor. Jeff points this out in regards to mission and children in the middle of chapter 6 when he talks about a couple that home-schooled their children because they were scared of what would happen to them other wise. He writes:
I wonder how often we thing of our children or our spouses or our jobs as idols that we are giving too much weight too because of fear. When we think about what Jesus is going to do, and the wonderful future that he has for us, doesn't it make this world a little less intimidating? I read a quote recently that has helped me to battle fear in my own life, especially in regards to following Jesus no matter where he leads. Henry Martyn was quoted as saying:
I am immortal until God’s work for me to do is done.
What an amazing thought! Until God is done with me or my wife or my children, I can move forward in following Jesus in this hostile world. My future is going to be glorious because of God, and I can take that to the bank. I can fight my fear with that.
At the end of chapter 6, Jeff ends with this, and I hope that we all consider it:
The main point of these chapters was that Jesus did it better, he does it better, and that he will make it better. Our past, present and future is glorious because of Jesus, not because of us. As we seek to move forward towards the future God has for us we must saturate ourselves with the person and work of Jesus Christ. We need more of him, and less of us.
For this week we will read chapters 7-10 on the topic of Discipleship. I hope that you are finding the reading helpful and that you are discussing it with others in your life. There is lots of gold to be found in this book and I'm thankful to be reading it with all of you.
Reading books is helpful. Challenging at times, but helpful none the less. Even reading books that just aren't very good can be somewhat helpful. I don't think this book, Saturate, will be unhelpful at all given what I've read in the introduction and first two chapters. Why do I say that?
Over the past two years I have been thinking quite a bit about the Christian life and what it could look like. Am I really pursuing the things that God would take pleasure in me pursuing? Am I enjoying the Lord as much as I could be? What can I do to be on mission for the Lord? Why is it so hard to simply follow Jesus and have that impact my world? I have asked many more questions than that, but these are ones that have stuck with me. I want to do great things for God, and yet I feel very ordinary and feel as though I need to be something more than ordinary. I think of all the Christian biographies I have read or stories I have heard about men and women of the faith who seem to be conduits of the Lord's will and work, and I find myself wanting that. But at the end of the day, there is just me, a normal, ordinary and unimpressive person who isn't quite sure what it means to have Jesus in and informing every part of my life, and especially, how to be on mission with a wife, four kids, bills, health issues, and various other day to day things that I encounter or have to think about.. That is why I am thankful for books that remind me of the truth and what God has to say about it all.
Who This Book is For
This particular book is not written for the upper echelon of Christian men an women who are doing everything right all the time. (In fact I would argue that no such person exists...) In the introduction to this book, Jeff Vanderstelt tells us exactly who this book is for:
This book is for you—the normal, unimpressive, everyday person, young or old, male or female—because Jesus means to carry out his mission of filling the world with his presence through you. You are meant to do this. The mission of Jesus is yours to participate in. It has always been God’s intention to choose normal, everyday people, and to show his amazing power and glory through them. He’s not looking for the most impressive person because he already is that person.
The mission of Jesus is a glorious mission, and I want to view it that way. I don't need to be impressive and neither do you. What a relief! What I can do though, is follow Jesus and trust him to do the amazing stuff. Then I can just stand back and be in awe of him, rather than think about myself and what I'm trying to do or be.
Participants vs Spectators
Earlier this week I went on a fishing trip with my Dad. It was a great time for me to stand in the middle of a river, in the quiet of Eleven Mile Canyon and reflect on the things I just wrote about. I find it amusing that in the first chapter of this book, Jeff writes that it was during a fishing trip with his father that he came to a realization that maybe he had been thinking about things wrong. He had been leading the youth in his church for years, and saw them go from being heavily involved to being somewhat apathetic as they moved on into "adult church". He realized that they were becoming spectators rather than participants. He explains what he means briefly in this video:
He says it well, all of life has a purpose. Church isn't an event that we go to, it is us. You don't need to be the pastor or a leader to be a participant in the greatest mission every given. I was greatly impressed with the example of Jeff's parents as I read the first chapter. They didn't allow themselves to simply grow older and fall into a pattern of doing what they had always done. On the contrary, they pursued being and making disciples, even to the point of inviting people to stay with them in their home at the cost of Jeff giving up his room so that person would have place to stay so they could be cared for. That is amazing hospitality, and it is challenging to read about. How willing would I be to do that? They were participants, not spectators. And they did it in the everyday life that they had.
A Celebratory Community
Speaking of everyday life, we all eat, and we enjoy eating multiple times a day. It is an important part of our daily lives. I greatly appreciated Jeff's take on feasts and parties in chapter 2, because it takes something seemingly normal and insignificant meals and shows how they can be a time of worship to the Lord. He writes:
At one of these dinners, about three courses into an amazing five-course meal, it dawned on us: “This is a great picture of the kingdom of God!” While immersed in the feast of food and life together, we recalled Jesus comparing the kingdom of God to a feast where everyone is invited in (Luke 14:12–24). Together we started to imagine what the church would be like if we all believed we were a picture of God’s kingdom breaking into the world in ways that felt like a party. One of us said: “If the church believed this, it would radically change what we do and how we live! We would be known as the most celebratory people around. Word would spread. People who wouldn’t normally want to come to a church event would come to our homes. Who wouldn’t want to be a part of that?”
What would it be like for us if this was our life? What would it say about us as believers? Are we so thankful for the gospel and the provision of God that we would be called "celebratory"? I hope we could be! He mentions that Israel had a lot of parties, but they were never supposed to be the center of attention for that party, God was. When we come together celebrate God on Sunday mornings or during weekly Community Group meetings, are we actually celebrating him or are we just following our weekly ritual? Jeff writes:
God doesn’t just want us to feast or celebrate as his people. He wants us to remember him, keeping him central to the party by showing kindness, love, and mercy to all those who lack a reason to celebrate. We are to be the “good-news people” to the world, who show the good news in our lives and invite others to receive it into theirs. The celebration is to be for God. The party is to be about God. After all, it is meant to tell the world what he is like. The Israelites forgot who they were and why they had been called to be God’s people. Their feasts became empty, heartless, ritualistic events. They were partying without the life of the party, celebrating without a reason to celebrate. That led to self-absorbed consumption and heartless activities without love. The same can happen to us if we forget to keep God central. Church becomes an empty, heartless religious event.
Jesus is the center of our events, parties and gatherings. But if we forget him, we have left out the life of the party.
Church is More than a Building
As Jeff points out, church can often seem disconnected from everyday life. We have our "church hat" that we put on and then we have our "everyday life hat" that we put on. But this ins't how it is supposed to be. When we invite people to church, we aren't inviting them to a building, but rather, we are inviting them to meet people. Specifically we are inviting them to meet people who can help them to meet and know Jesus. If the church is people and not a place, than there is no opportunity to wear two or three or four different hats. Jeff explains:
“Some think it’s a building you go to,” I would say as I drew a picture of a building. “Others think it’s the programs and events that happen there [here I would draw circles inside the building, representing activities], while others think it’s mainly the leaders who run those events [at this point, I would add some stick figures inside the building]. They think the job of those leaders is to get people to invite their friends to the building [here I would draw stick figures and arrows pointing toward the building]. They also encourage people to give their time [I would draw a clock], their money [a dollar sign], and their skills and gifts [a gift-wrapped present] to support what happens primarily in the building.” Next, I would draw arrows going out of the building. “Though we might gather together in a building,” I would say, “the church of Jesus is the people of God saved through the person and work of Jesus Christ for his purposes in the world. God’s intent was never to have us define church merely as an event on Sunday. We don’t go to church. We are the church sent out into the world.” Then I would draw stick figures, a clock, a dollar sign, and a present beside the arrows coming out of the building. Then I would say: “Jesus wants us to live all of life fully for his glory in the world—every part and every person. Jesus didn’t live, serve, suffer, and die so we could just attend a Christian event. He lived and died so we could become his people who are sent into every part of the world on his behalf. He wants all people everywhere to see and know about him, and he wants everyone to know that everything is to be done for his glory. We now see our time, our money, and our unique abilities as means to serve both the people who are the church and those in our cities who don’t know the great news of God’s love for them in Jesus Christ. All of life counts and everyone matters.
For those of you who prefer videos, here is one with Jeff explaining the same thing:
All of Life Submitted to Jesus Christ
Something one of our pastors, Mike Bonnell, often says is the words "all in". We have even joked about making him a t-shirt with those words written along the front of it, and maybe the back too! Is your everyday life filled with the purposes of God, or are you wearing many different hats? I can tell you that if it is the latter you will soon find yourself to be exhausted. However, if you go "all in", seeking to follow and worship Jesus in the everyday stuff of life, your life will be full and you will have more meaning and purpose than you ever thought possible.
What to Read Next
This coming week we will read part 2, which contains chapters 3-6. We'll do our summary towards the end of the week. I hope you have found the book helpful so far, and if you haven't started reading it, please pick up a copy on Amazon either on Kindle or in print. I think I remember reading that the average reading time for the entire book is just under 5 hours, so don't be overwhelmed. Also, feel free to comment below on what you have been taking away from this book or strike up conversations about it with others in our community. Talking through it together can be a helpful way to process what we read.
And as a final reminder, as great as books can be, please make sure you are spending time in THE BOOK (ie, the Bible) first and foremost. You could read all of the best Christian books in the world and still starve yourself as a Christian if you never feast on the word of God itself. Take the time, it will be worth it.
Is there ever any ground to be cast down? There are two reasons, but only two. If we are as yet unconverted, we have ground to be cast down; or if we have been converted and live in sin, then we are rightly cast down.
But except for these two things there is no ground to be cast down, for all else may be brought before God in prayer with supplication and thanksgiving. And regarding all our necessities, all our difficulties, all our trials, we may exercise faith in the power of God, and in the love of God.
"Hope thou in God." Oh, remember this: There is never a time when we may not hope in God. Whatever our necessities, however great our difficulties, and though to all appearance help is impossible, yet our business is to hope in God, and it will be found that it is not in vain. In the Lord's own time help will come.
Oh, the hundreds, yea, the thousands of times that I have found it thus within the past seventy years and four months! When it seemed impossible that help could come, help did come; for God has His own resources. He is not confined. In ten thousand different ways, and at ten thousand different times God may help us.
Our business is to spread our cases before the Lord, in childlike simplicity to pour out all our heart before God, saying, "I do not deserve that Thou shouldst hear me and answer my requests, but for the sake of my precious Lord Jesus; for His sake answer my prayer, and give me grace quietly to wait till it please Thee to answer my prayer. For I believe Thou wilt do it in Thine own time and way."
"For I shall yet praise him." More prayer, more exercise of faith, more patient waiting, and the result will be blessing, abundant blessing. Thus I have found it many hundreds of times, and therefore I continually say to myself, "Hope thou in God."
Well, I promised that this final video would be up tonight so here it is. I wanted to finish the message before posting this so that you can see my manuscript compared to what we did in the video. A lot changed. Typically things don't change as much as they did here, but that may become more common as we go through Romans. It is a challenging letter, and I'm not the smartest guy in the world so I will probably be wrong more often than I am right. Regardless, I hope that this is helpful and I will try to focus on different parts of study as I work through more videos.
Here is my manuscript (which may change between now and tomorrow morning). Sometimes I write an outline, sometimes a full manuscript. It changes week to week. This will be what I use tomorrow though. http://ow.ly/WQPJT
And here is the final video. If you look at the manuscript you will see how much changed over the last few days of study.
What you don't see in these videos is that I am constantly thinking about whether or not what I have written down is true and accurate or not. This is why I utilize commentaries by sources that I trust. Sometimes something can sound right during study, and then after thinking about it some more and doing some research you realize that you were wrong. Personally, I appreciate when I find that I misunderstood something because I would rather be wrong at first and then right than stick to my guns and be stubbornly wrong.
Now, there are times when I will disagree with a commentary, but it is usually on slightly. If I find that I totally disagree that just means that I really need to study it out more to make sure that I really have a firm foundation for why I disagree.
These are just a few thoughts since I know that some of the things I said in these videos would not be things I would take to the pulpit. Don't take them as such. They are just me thinking out loud. The prayer and struggle of wrestling with the text and then putting it into a final outline is not something worth putting on video.
This is the second part of this series on the first seven verses of Romans 1. The third part will be posted this evening.
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