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Jesus Christ my Lord and my Savior: What We Believe & Seek To Live

Jesus Christ my Lord and my Savior

Sunday, April 6, 2008

What We Believe & Seek To Live

What We Believe & Seek To Live

Many often ask what our core beliefs as a church look like. What we have expressed below not only describes what we believe, but also tries to give some healthy perspective on those beliefs. God is strong, big and beautiful beyond what we can grasp, and all attempts to reduce the Lord to a few doctrinal beliefs will fail. So consider these statements more like the unmistakable fragrance of our incomparable God than like an exhaustive description of Him or His truth. Those who know the history of the church in this world will also recognize that our core beliefs are in line the historic beliefs of the church throughout the ages. In the early church, beliefs were summarized in simple statements like the Apostles Creed or the Nicene Creed. Our expressions here are merely an elaboration of those beautiful core beliefs of the church.

The Nature of God
God is (as the Jews say) "the King of the universe", the eternal and uncreated author of all that is. He is holy, which means that His wisdom, His goodness, and His perfect love make him very different from us. Some people say that they cannot see God, and yet the earth radiates with His glory in the beauty and majesty of Creation. It seems as though God reveals Himself in so many ways, and yet always leaves room for us to deny He is there, perhaps because He wants us to come to Him for the wonder of who He is, not because His existence is simply undeniable. When God reveals Himself to His people, he reveals Himself as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—what the church has always called The Trinity (Matthew 28:19). In the early days, the Eastern church fathers described the relationships between the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as a perechoresis, a Greek word that means "circle dance", because of the beautiful and self-giving love which characterize their relationships.

The Bible
We receive the Bible as God's Word to us, recognize that its human authors were inspired by the Holy Spirit, and therefore teach it in our classes & worship gatherings, and test our beliefs against what it tells us (Second Timothy 3:16). And yet the Bible is not some kind of textbook with all the answers categorized in the back. It is a living book, filled with stories of God's interactions with His people, and most importantly the story of God coming among His people. We do not read it only to "get the right beliefs", but to encounter the Living God, and to let Him speak to us and shape how we think and live.

The Nature of Man
Human beings are made in God's image (Genesis 1:26-27), which means that we are different from all other creatures—this is seen in our ability to think rationally, in the moral awareness written upon our hearts (what we call "conscience"), in the depth of our emotions, and in the self-awareness that makes us wonder about the larger meaning of life. However, we are also fallen creatures (Romans 3:23). C.S. Lewis' description of us as a "glorious ruin" captures it well. Since the gates of Eden shut fast behind us we have been fearful, self-focused, self-protective creatures, trapped between our longing to be fully alive and our rebellious determination to make life work without entrusting ourselves to the One who made us. The Bible describes our state and the unhealthy behaviors that come from it with the word "sin". The reality of our sinfulness is seen most poignantly in our relationships (marriages, friendships, etc.), where our fears and selfishness trip us up time and time again, and in our addictions (whether materialism, sex, alcohol, etc.), where we attempt to fill the inner emptiness or take the edge off of our pain. These realities of our condition, our sinfulness, make clear how desperately we need to be rescued.

Salvation in Jesus Christ
God has come among us in Jesus Christ. This is the most significant event in the history of our world. He is the Son, both God and man in one person, one being (Hebrews 1:3; Colossians 1:15-20). Our confidence in him stems from the things he taught and from the things he did. Just like those who heard him in the first century, we read His words and say, "We have never heard anyone speak like this man does!" (John 7:46) Simply put, there is no one like Jesus. Read the Gospels and you will know this. We believe that he was born of a virgin, worked real miracles, died for the sins of the world on the Cross, and rose from death on the third day.
Jesus saves us in multiple ways. He saves us from our blindness and foolishness by teaching us the truth. He saves us from our alienation from God by bearing our sins on the Cross, so that we may come home to God, forgiven and welcomed. He saves us from our powerlessness by coming to live within us by his Holy Spirit. And he saves us from our isolation by making us part of his Body, a community of brothers and sisters to love, grow, and serve with.
Jesus declared that the Kingdom of God had come (Matthew 4:17), and that the rule and reign of God in a person's life brings freedom and fullness. Salvation begins for us when we open our hearts to the Lord and surrender our lives to Him. We often speak of this as "accepting Christ". When we accept Christ we are indeed forgiven and given the hope of an eternity with the Lord. And yet most of Jesus' own teaching focused on who we become and what we do with our lives right here and now. He said, "Come and follow me." As we follow him, our wounds are healed, we learn to live his way in his strength, and we join his mission of bringing real life (the Kingdom) to other people in the world. So when we give our hearts to him, we are given eternal life, but that is not the end, it is the beginning as he begins to disciple (apprentice) us in living the eternal kind of life in this world. He introduces us to new ways of thinking and to new practices (we often call these "disciplines") that open us to the Holy Spirit's work in us (these are things like prayer, worship, fasting, reading Scripture, being in community, solitude and silence, giving, etc.). Just like what Christ has done for us, the salvation journey in our lives is described with the picture of death and resurrection—the old us dies and a new us is born, resurrected, created (John 3:3; Second Corinthians 5:17-18). In Baptism we take our stand with Christ and literally declare this wonderful death and resurrection as we are lowered into the water and raised back out of it (Romans 6:3-4).

The Church
Christ has only one church. This is hard to grasp in a day when there are thousands of denominations, and multiple interpretations and expressions of the Christian faith. But Jesus and the apostles speak of one church, composed of all Christ's followers throughout the world and across the ages (Ephesians 3:6, 4:4). In the creeds, the early church used the word "catholic" (which means universal) to describe this truth. By this word, they were not referring to one group (i.e. Roman Catholic, Byzantine Catholic, etc.), but to the one universal family composed of all people who love and follow Jesus. Jesus gave birth to one big community expressed in specific places through local church communities, not to a denomination (though denominations can be great as they connect churches together in relationship, oversight, and mission). We cannot read Jesus' words in the Gospels and imagine him backing one church's claim to be the "official and right church organization". When his own family came to talk him out of his public ministry activities, he responded with "Who are my mother and my brothers? Whoever does God's will is my brother and sister and mother" (Mark 3:31-35).
There is no other community on earth like the church. In the church, we seek to live together in a new way, without the masks, manipulation, or demands that mark fallen human relationships. This "new way" does not come easily, and we often fail. But not always—as Christ transforms the deep things within us, we begin to actually desire goodness and desire to selflessly bless others. And Christ's own presence and grace in the midst of the community cover our shortcomings with forgiveness (which we extend to one another) and diminish our fears. Many people in our culture are treating the church like a commodity these days, demanding that they be entertained and their every need be met. But the church is not a commodity, nor a service provider—it is a community that Christ places us in, and where we learn to live his life and grace with others. In order to grow deeply in Christ, we must "have a long dance" with some brothers and sisters, not keep changing partners.
There is also nothing else like the church because we are a community on a mission: Christ's mission of the Kingdom of God. This mission starts with loving the world like he loves the world (not its sinful ways, but the people!). Love means that we enter and minister to the pain and need of the world, and also that we preach the Good News of the Kingdom—that they, too, may find new life and hope in Jesus Christ. That's why, in our church community, we seek to help the poor (for example) while at the same time inviting them to see and receive Jesus Christ, who gave himself for them and wants to resurrect them into a new life. It is not one or the other, but both. A church which exists only to serve its members is incomplete: just as Christ gave himself for the life of the world, we are called to give ourselves for the life of the world (not in an atoning way, but in a serving and blessing way). God said to Abraham, "I have blessed you that you may be a blessing" (Genesis 12:2). In the same way, we are to be Christ's hands and feet in the world (Matthew 25:31-45).

The word worship really describes all that we offer back to God in our lives (Romans 12:1). We constantly reaffirm the offering of our lives to God when we gather in our churches to worship together. We are always seeking to be aware that Christ himself is in our midst and at the center of our community. We embrace some of the ancient forms of worship handed down to us by previous generations, and we also embrace and create new forms through which the Holy Spirit can move upon our hearts and in our midst. That's why at LifeSpring (Emmaus' mother church) in one service you may see candles and pray The Lord's Prayer, but also experience flowing contemporary kinds of songs that become a beautiful bridge for lifting your heart to God and experiencing the reality of His presence. And each week when we worship, we share that sacred meal that Jesus gave to us (which is known by three names: Communion, the Eucharist, the Lord's Supper). There are many beautiful shades of meaning to the Lord's Supper, and we seek to invite worshippers to savor them and draw near to the Lord as they partake of the bread and cup. We also pay some attention to the seasons of the church year at LifeSpring. Since the earliest days of the church, seasons like Advent and Lent have been special periods of seeking God. They are not required and they were not instituted by Jesus himself, but over the years they have been a powerful means of refocusing our hearts on the Lord and recommitting ourselves to His path of life.

God's Open Invitation
We believe that Christ died for all people, and that God invites all people to come to Him, not merely a select chosen few (First Timothy 2:4).

God's Secure Love
We believe that we are secure in Christ's love. Though we are free to turn away from Him, "nothing can separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus" (Romans 8:39). His love for us is steadfast, even if our love for Him falters (Second Timothy 2:11-13).

We believe that there are two possible destinations for human beings. God desires the salvation of all people (First Timothy 2:4), but he will not force people to come back to Him (love must be chosen and cannot be forced, or it ceases to be love at all). As C.S. Lewis wrote: "In the end there are only two groups of people—those who say to God, 'Thy will be done,' and those to whom God says, 'thy will be done." God does not "send people to hell" (he died to rescue us!), but neither does he force them into heaven—in this way, we might say that God gives his creatures the ultimate respect by respecting their freedom to choose. Every person who truly surrenders their heart to Christ will be with the Lord forever. There will be many, however, who will give lip service to his Name and the Christian faith, but whose hearts never changed course, and hence do not belong to him (Matthew 6:15-23). Those who outright reject Christ (the real Christ, not our plethora of bad caricatures of him) will be lost (John 3:16-21).
We leave to God the question of the salvation of those who have never heard of Christ or the Good News of his Kingdom. Our job is to bring the Good News to as many people as we can, but it is God's job to sort out how people responded (or didn't) to what they knew of Him. In the end, God will establish His Kingdom in all it's fullness and glory, and those who love Him will be with Him forever, living a kind of life presently unimaginable, a life characterized by wholeness, fearlessness, wonder, joy, peace, selfless love, and only-God-knows what else (Revelation 21:1-5).


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