All posts in Unvarnished Jesus

  • The Crucifixion of Jesus

    The Crucifixion of Jesus
    Brian Zahnd

    On Good Friday we think about one thing: the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. This is the epicenter of Christian faith. At the core of Christianity we don’t find perennial religion, meditation techniques, or a course in ethics, but a crucifixion. This is the enduring scandal of the gospel. The gospel is not motivational talks about happy marriages, being debt free, and achieving your destiny. That all belongs to the broader world of proverbial wisdom, and it’s fine as far as it goes, but it has little or nothing to do with the gospel. The gospel is about the cross and the cross is a scandal. When the Apostle Paul told the Corinthians that he had determined to know nothing among them except Jesus Christ and him crucified, he admitted that the cross was often viewed as a scandal and folly. So be it.
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  • The Sixth Sign and Epidemics

    Shalom from Jerusalem.

    Today’s Lenten reading from The Unvarnished Jesus seems particularly apropos, so I thought I would share it here.

    BZ

    LENT Day 21 (Tuesday)
    John 9:1–41
    Jesus Heals the Man Born Blind

    John constructs his Gospel around seven signs: the water turned to wine at Cana, the healing of the royal official’s son in Capernaum, the healing of the lame man at the pool of Bethesda, the feeding of the five thousand at the Sea of Galilee, Jesus walking on water, the healing of the man born blind, and the raising of Lazarus from the dead. (And then there is the surprise eighth sign of Jesus’ resurrection that marks the beginning of a new creation.) John doesn’t talk about miracles, but signs. These signs are intended to point us to something significant about Jesus and his ministry.

    The sixth sign of the healing of the man born blind takes up an entire chapter and is filled with drama as the man who was healed bests the Pharisees in theological debate and is expelled from the synagogue for it. The story opens with the disciples observing the man born blind and raising a theological question of who is to blame for it. But Jesus dismisses this line of questioning. Jesus is saying that when we observe suffering, the question isn’t who is to blame, but how can we help.

    We’ve all seen Christian leaders assign blame upon the victims of epidemics, earthquakes, and tsunamis. But blame is what the satan does. Followers of Jesus are called to co-suffering love, not theological stone throwing. So Jesus instructs his disciples that when we observe suffering, it’s not an opportunity to assign blame, but an opportunity to do the works of God by helping to heal, restore, and alleviate suffering. Blame is the devil’s game — love is the high calling of the Christian. As Hans Urs von Balthasar said, “Love alone is credible; nothing else can be believed, and nothing else ought to be believed.” And this brings us to the main point of the sixth sign.
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  • Ash Wednesday


    The shadow of a cross on a cemetery wall in Spain.

    THE UNVARNISHED JESUS
    LENT Day 1 (Ash Wednesday)
    Mark 8:31– 38 | Jesus Foretells His Death

    We begin our Lenten journey with Jesus by hearing him tell us that he’s not headed to greatness as the world esteems greatness, but to the cross and to death. Peter and the rest of the disciples understand that Jesus is on his way to the capital city of Jerusalem to lay claim to the throne — to become the King of the Jews. But without any ambiguity Jesus tells his disciples that he will suffer many things, be rejected by the chief priests, and finally be killed. Yes, Jesus also says that his apparent defeat will be turned to victory when he is raised on the third day, but his disciples probably hear this as an idiom referring to the resurrection of the righteous at some point in the future — as when Hosea says, “After two days he will revive us; on the third day he will raise us up.” That Jesus could become King of the Jews through suffering and death is inconceivable to Peter. For Peter, a messiah who is killed is a messiah who fails, and Peter didn’t sign up for failure. Jesus alone seems to understand that a breakthrough into new life is only attained through the experience of loss. Martin Luther was right, Christianity is not a theology of glory, but a theology of the cross. But to choose the way of the cross over the way of glory is a hard lesson to learn.
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  • Unhindered

    Day 61

    Acts 27 & 28

    Acts 27 and 28 read like a script for an adventure movie. The perfect storm…drama on the high seas…shipwrecked and snakebit. (Somebody needs to tell Steven Spielberg to check out my blog.) And I love how Paul always rises to the top. He get’s on board a prisoner, but in the end he’s calling the shots. And not to mention it was his faith alone that saved 276 lives. What a great man!

    I’m not going to try to teach the many lessons from Acts 27 and 28 in a simple blog, but I am looking forward to a “Supernatural Spring and Summer” as I preach through the 28 chapters of Acts in 28 messages — The Unvarnished Church. During the centennial anniversary of the Azusa street outpouring and the birth of the modern Pentecostal movement I think it is highly prophetic to preach through the Book of Acts. I am really looking forward to it.

    So let me just comment on the last word of Acts: Unhindered. Not every translation reflects the sentence structure of the Greek, but Luke concludes his account called Acts with the word akolutos. The word means “unstoppable.”

    That’s what the church in Acts was — unstoppable. You could fight those Christians, persecute them, throw them to the lions, burn them at the stake, fill the catacombs with their bones — but you could not stop them! They were determined to turn the world upside down, and they did. They absolutely changed the world. And we are called to follow in their steps. We have believed the same gospel, we preach the same message, we have the same commission and the same Holy Spirit as Peter, Paul, James, John, Barabbas, Silas, Timothy and all the rest. We can do what they did. Hallelujah!

    Some have noted that Acts doesn’t really end, it just stops. But you can’t even say that because the final word is “unstoppable.” The message is very clear: The mission of turning the world upside down with the gospel of Jesus Christ doesn’t end with the first generation, but carries on from generation to generation and is continued by all who will dare to live the adventure of faith.

    You and I are writing Acts 29 with our lives. Let’s make it good!

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    So we’ve reached the end of our two months of discovery — The Unvarnished Jesus.

    But it’s not the end. The end of the Jesus story and the Acts story is the beginning of your story. So now what? Now it’s time to repent. Unfortunately the word repent is often connected with all the wrong things; either negatively with harsh legalists or comically with delusional fanatics. Most people are familiar with the caricature of a sweaty tent evangelist screaming “Repent!” at the top of his lungs to a group of brave souls who have probably done nothing worse that week than drink a Pepsi. Everyone has seen a comic depiction of a bearded and barefoot “prophet” with his sign, Repent! The End is Near! But when you come to understand that the word repent really means to rethink your life, you understand it as a word filled with hope and you can imagine a more appropriate sign might read, Repent! The Beginning is Near! That’s what I want to say to you (say it, not scream it), rethink your life, the beginning is near. If you will allow what you have discovered over the past sixty-one days to change your thinking you will find that you are beginning a new life: A life of discovery that never ends but keeps leading you further down the endless highway of God’s grace. That’s the road I’m on and I want to say it to you one more time…come with me.

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    Well, I’ve written sixty-one blogs in a row on the Unvarnished Jesus. That’s really a bit of challenge — if you don’t think so, try it sometime! I plan to continue to blog two or three, maybe four times a week, but not everyday. And I won’t be blogging at all for the next few days. Right after church today Peri and I are heading for Estes Park, Colorado to spend a few days in our beloved Rocky Mountain National Park. (Yes, it’s our park. We just let other people use it and the federal government is kind enough to pick up the tab.) This time of year we will need our snowshoes. On Wednesday we will celebrate our 26th wedding anniversary. Last year we celebrated our 25th anniversary in Oskaloosa, Iowa — where I was preaching. Don’t get me wrong, Oskaloosa is a wonderful town (and if you’re reading this Pastor Bill, you know I love you and your church) — but it’s not exactly the best place in all the world to celebrate your anniversary. So this week Peri and I are going to celebrate our 25th ANNIVERSARY (plus 1) in one of our favorite places.

    Don’t forget about the “One Church” city-wide prayer meeting on the National Day of Prayer this Thurday evening at 7:00 at Word of Life Church. I’ll see you there.

    Let’s turn the world upside down for Jesus!

    BZ

  • I Think Myself Happy

    Day 60

    Acts 25 & 26

    Put yourself in Paul’s sandals: You’ve been arrested for doing nothing more than praying as a Jew in the Jewish Temple, you’ve been charged with a capital offense of which you are completely innocent, and now you have been unjustly imprisoned for two long years! At last you have a chance to tell your side of the story. Would the first words out of your mouth be, “I think myself happy.”?

    I suspect we might be more prone to say something like…

    I think myself sad.

    I think myself mad!

    I think myself mistreated!

    I think myself a victim of scurrilous liars and cruel misfortunes of fate.

    But not Paul. His confession wasn’t that he was sad, mad, mistreated or a victim of any kind. His confession was, I THINK MYSELF HAPPY!

    I Love that! I want to be like that. Paul knew a secret that few people know. He knew the secret to happiness. Most people think that happiness is what happens to you when good things happen in your life. But the Bible says something else. The Bible teaches that good things come from within and are released by the words we speak (Matthew 12:34-35). Proverbs 15:23 says this…

    A man has joy by the answer of his mouth.

    It’s not what happens to you that determines your happiness, it’s your answer to what happens to you that determines your happiness!

    When King Agrippa said to Paul, “You are permitted to speak for yourself”, the first thing out of Paul’s mouth was, “I think myself happy.” And he was. Paul didn’t allow circumstances to dictate to him whether or not he would have the joy of the Lord — Paul spoke a word of faith and he had what he said!

    So Paul was on trial…again…and as was always the case when Paul was on trial, he turned the tables and before long it was Agrippa who was on trial. Then Agrippa uttered those fateful words, “You almost persuade me to become a Christian.” Almost. Agrippa went to hell for one word. Almost. If you remove the “almost” from Agrippa’s confession it changes everything, but there’s no such thing as an “Almost Christian.” I imagine Agrippa in hell uttering one word over and over throughout eternity, almost…almost…almost.

    But that is not our fate. We have not almost confessed Jesus as our Lord and Savior, we have fully made our confession unto salvation. And not only are we saved…we are happy. It is our confession. I think myself happy! Life and death are in the power of the tongue. We can also say that happiness and sadness are in the power of the tongue. I think myself happy! I belief myself happy! I say myself happy! And my self does what it’s told.

    I think myself happy!

    On our Israel tours we always visit Caesarea on our first full day. Among the places we visit there is the very spot where Paul stood before Agrippa and Festus and made his confession, “I think myself happy.” I always stand there and make the same confession.

    He is a picture of me at the “I think myself happy” spot.

    I hope you’re making plans to go with us to Israel in November. We’re filling up our second bus!

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    I can’t wait for Sunday morning! It’s the Second Coming, you know! Well, I preaching on the Second Coming. It will be a blessing. See you then.

    BZ

  • The Way

    Day 59

    Acts 23-24

    The Jail of Injustice

    When Paul came to town he didn’t check in at the Hampton Inn…he checked in at the jail. Well, anyway, that’s where it seems he always ended up. So Paul’s been arrested and thrown in jail…again. What did he do this time? He was praying at the temple. That’s it. He wasn’t preaching, he wasn’t converting anyone, he wasn’t casting demons out of a fortuneteller or putting idol makers out of business…he was just praying at the temple. But his mere presence was enough to upset hell. So he gets arrested and thrown into jail for doing nothing other than praying. It reminds of some lines from the old song by Larry Norman, Shot Down

    I’ve been shot down, talked about
    Some people scandalize my name,
    But here I am, talkin’ ’bout Jesus just the same.

    I’ve been knocked down, kicked around
    But like a moth drawn to the flame,
    Here I am, talkin’ ’bout Jesus just the same.

    Sometimes you get miraculously delivered from the jail of injustice…and sometimes you don’t. God had sent an angel more than once to get Peter out of jail. In Philippi Paul had been delivered from jail by an earthquake. But this time there would be no angel and no earthquake. As we will see, God had a purpose in Paul’s unjust imprisonment. But God did not forsake His servant either. God was working behind the scenes through Paul’s nephew and a very competent Roman commander by the name of Claudius Lysias. Oh, yeah, and Jesus did appear to Paul in jail. The conversation went something like this…

    Jesus: Cheer up, Paul!

    Paul: You’re going to get me out of jail?

    Jesus: No. But you are going to get to go on an all expense paid trip to Rome.

    Paul Before Felix

    It’s an amazing thing to watch the Apostle Paul give his defense when he’s on trial. It seems he always forgets why he’s there. After a few moments he forgets to defend himself and starts testifying for Jesus. And after a little while longer you forget who’s on trial. It always ends up with the judge seeming like he’s on trial. I can tell you I have no doubt that Governor Felix was much more nervous than the Apostle Paul. In fact, Felix was just plain afraid. The Bible says so.

    And Felix could have got saved. But he didn’t. He made some lame excuse about it not being a “convenient time.” And now Felix has no more time at all…only eternity. He has all of eternity to contemplate what a fool he was in not seizing the opportunity he had to be saved. Regret is one of the worms of hell which dieth not.

    During the first portion of the trial, when the hired orator Tertullus was presenting the chief priests’ case against Paul, he accused Paul of belonging to a “sect” or “cult.” During his defense Paul made reference to “the Way which they call a sect.” From the very beginning, those who are really on fire for Jesus have been accused of belonging to a cult. It was that way in the book of Acts and it’s that way today. It happens here in the United States, it happens in Mexico, it happens in Russia, it happens in India, it happens in France…everywhere I go to minister, the churches that are really full of life are accused of being a sect or a cult. If you get that slanderous label thrown on you, don’t be ashamed of it, wear it as a badge of honor. They did the same to the Apostle Paul. It’s part of being a true follower of The Way.

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    “Satan’s Throne”

    That’s what I’m preaching on tonight. I’m quite sure you’ve never heard anything quite like it and I’m equally sure you’ll find it fascinating. See you tonight!

    BZ

    _____________________________________________________

    I Am A Servant
    Larry Norman

    I am a servant, I am listening for my name,
    I sit here waiting, I’ve been looking at the game
    That I’ve been playing, and I’ve been staying much the same
    When you are lonely, you’re the only one to blame.

    I am a servant, I am waiting for the call,
    I’ve been unfaithful, so I sit here in the hall.
    How can you use me when I’ve never given all,
    How can you choose me when you know I’d quickly fall.

    So you feed my soul and you make me grow,
    And you let me know you love me.
    And I’m worthless now, but I’ve made a vow,
    I will humbly bow before thee.
    O please use me, I am lonely.

    I am a servant getting ready for my part,
    There’s been a change, a rearrangement in my heart.
    At last I’m learning, there’s no returning once I start.
    To live is a privilege, to love is such an art
    But I need your help to start,
    O please purify my heart, I am your servant.

  • Testifying in Jerusalem

    Day 58

    Acts 21 & 22

    Jerusalem has a spiritual draw. I’ve been going to Jerusalem for ten years now and I will continue to return to Jerusalem for the rest of my life. Paul felt the same way. He had to keep returning to Jerusalem. Even though his ministry was primarily to the Gentiles in Europe, Paul regularly returned to Jerusalem…sometimes to be there for one of the feasts and sometimes just to be there. Jerusalem is the holy city, the city of the great King. Jesus said so. (Matthew 5:35) It’s the place where God inaugurates the major purposes of His redemptive agenda. It’s the place of our salvation. It’s the place to which Jesus will return and the place from which He will rule the nations. No wonder we are drawn to the eternal city of Jerusalem.

    In the year A.D. 57 Paul was returning to Jerusalem yet again. As he journeyed to Jerusalem there were prophetic words concerning the trouble he would face in Jerusalem. First in Tyre there are prophetic words warning Paul about what will happen in Jerusalem. Then when Paul came to Caesarea; here we meet some friends we first met twenty years ago — Philip the Evangelist and Agabus the Prophet. Agabus in dramatic fashion prophesied how Paul would be bound in Jerusalem.

    Some have asked was Paul right in going to Jerusalem. I say, who are we to tell the Apostle Paul what he should or shouldn’t do? Paul knew what awaited him, but he wanted to testify in Jerusalem one more time. Personal prophecy is not a means of primary directive. Personally I believe Paul did exactly what he was supposed to do and those who warned him prophetically about what was going to happen did exactly what they were supposed to do.

    The account of Paul’s visit to Pastor James in Jerusalem gives you a feel of just how Jewish the church in Jerusalem was. It reminds me of some of the Messianic synagogues in Israel. It would be strange for Gentile believers to adopt these Jewish customs, but for Jewish believers (especially in Israel) to pattern their worship after a Jewish synagogue service makes perfect sense.

    Ever since his conversion on the Damascus road nearly twenty-five years earlier, Paul had been following Jesus. Do you remember what Jesus told Ananias about Paul? “I will show him how many thing he must suffer for My name’s sake.” Now as Paul is seized in the temple, he enters into an eerie repetition of what Jesus suffered in the exact same place. When Jesus stood before Pilate, the crowds shouted, “Away with Him!” (John 19:15) Now in the very same place, an angry mob is shouting at Paul, “Away with him!” (Acts 21:36)

    Then Paul gives his final testimony in Jerusalem. You will notice that it was not the claim that Jesus was the Messiah that was intolerable to the Jewish unbelievers; rather it was the message that Gentiles could now enter into covenant with God. Here we identify one of the prime components of a religious spirit: The desire to keep the Kingdom of God exclusive and elite upon terms other than what God has established. Pray that you would never have that kind of spirit!

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    Today I am spending the entire day preparing Sunday’s message on the Second Coming. There is a real excitement about this Sunday and I am trusting the Lord to help me bring a very powerful message on the Blessed Hope. Pray for me. Tell somebody about this Sunday and invite them to come to church with you. Jesus is coming soon!

    Maranatha!

    BZ

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    Here is one of my all time favorite songs. I’ve asked Eric Stark to sing it for us this Sunday. The words are awesome! Check ’em out…

    When He Returns
    Bob Dylan

    The iron hand it ain’t no match for the iron rod,
    The strongest wall will crumble and fall to a mighty God.
    For all those who have eyes and all those who have ears
    It is only He who can reduce me to tears.
    Don’t you cry and don’t you die and don’t you burn
    For like a thief in the night, He’ll replace wrong with right
    When He returns.

    Truth is an arrow and the gate is narrow that it passes through,
    He unleashed His power at an unknown hour that no one knew.
    How long can I listen to the lies of prejudice?
    How long can I stay drunk on fear out in the wilderness?
    Can I cast it aside, all this loyalty and this pride?
    Will I ever learn that there’ll be no peace, that the war won’t cease
    Until He returns?

    Surrender your crown on this blood-stained ground, take off your mask,
    He sees your deeds, He knows your needs even before you ask.
    How long can you falsify and deny what is real?
    How long can you hate yourself for the weakness you conceal?
    Of every earthly plan that be known to man, He is unconcerned,
    He’s got plans of His own to set up His throne
    When He returns.

    Amen!

  • Revival and Riot

    Day 57

    Acts 19 & 20

    So you say you want a revolution? Well, you know, we all want to change the world. At least I know I do. It’s the one that’s always been true in my life — I’ve always wanted to change the world. As much as anything this is why I got so on fire for Jesus as a teenager…because I somehow knew this is the thing that really can change the world.

    The Jesus Revolution. I’ve always like that term. Sometimes it’s used to describe the spiritual movement among young people that occurred in the early 70’s, but it’s really an apt description for the entire history of authentic Christianity. The Jesus Revolution. Sometimes it produces revival, sometimes it produces riot, sometimes both, but it’s always revolutionary.

    We see the Jesus revolution producing both revival and riot in Acts 19 and 20. These two chapters are a synopsis of what is called Paul’s third missionary journey — a four year stint of ministry primarily in Ephesus and Greece (A.D. 53-57).

    What revival! God was working unusual miracles through Paul. Handkerchiefs from Paul’s body were so saturated with the anointing on his life that they healed the sick and drove out demons! People were being saved, the church was growing, the gospel was spreading. People were so hungry for the Word of God that they would hold meetings at midnight! And if someone happened to fall asleep and fall out of the second story window, Paul just raised them from the dead.

    That reminds me of a story. Seven years ago I was on my third ministry trip to Nigeria. My preaching schedule was absolutely packed. A pastor kept asking me to preach in his church and I told him I didn’t have any availability. He said, “What about Friday night at midnight?” I said, “No one is going to come to church at midnight.” He said, “Yes, they will.” I was somewhat skeptical, but I took him up on his offer. After preaching all day and all evening in another church, I arrived at his church at midnight. Two thousand people were there! After an hour of worship I got up and preached for an hour and then prayed for the people until nearly 3 A.M.! That’s revival!

    But Paul had riot too. You cannot invade new territory long held by demon powers without there being some kind of resistance. But I would rather have riot and revival than no revival at all. Because I want to change the world!

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    I Found What I Was Looking For

    You broke the bonds
    And you loosed the chains
    Carried the cross
    Of my shame
    Of my shame
    You know I believe it
    But I still haven’t found what I’m looking for.

    -Bono (U2)

    The Kingdom of Heaven is like a merchant seeking beautiful pearls, who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had and bought it.

    -Jesus (Matthew 13:45–46)

    I can tell you exactly why I became a Christian. I didn’t what to go to hell. As a fifteen year old by I became convinced of the absolute reality of heaven and hell and I understood that the only way to escape hell in eternity was to receive Jesus in this life. So I did. A desire not to go to hell is a perfectly good reason to become a Christian. But it doesn’t answer everything and it won’t satisfy every deep longing. The truth is that you are looking for something more than the insurance policy of not-going-to-hell-when-you-die. You are looking for some things that pertain to this life.

    Whereas it is true that I became a Christian because I didn’t want to spend eternity in hell, that doesn’t explain why since that time my life has been consumed with a burning passion for the Kingdom of Jesus Christ. When I received Jesus as my Savior that Saturday night in November of 1974 I knew I was saved; I knew I was going to heaven and not hell. From that point on I could have done what a lot of Christians apparently do: I could have just cruised through life as a casual Christian with the calm assurance that I had a home in heaven waiting for me at the end of this life. But that’s not what I did. From the very first days of my conversion my life has been centered around and focused upon King Jesus and His Kingdom.

    Why is this? Is it because I have such a deep sense of gratitude to my Lord and Savior Jesus that I want to spend my life serving Him? Well, I do have a deep gratitude toward Jesus and I hope I am growing more and more in this attitude, but I can honestly say that this doesn’t fully explain the intense passion I have had for the Kingdom of God since the earliest days of my Christian experience. I think I can simply put it this way: When I found the Kingdom, I found what I was looking for. Let me say it again: When I found the pearl of great price that is the Kingdom of Heaven, I FOUND WHAT I WAS LOOKING FOR!

    Like the merchant in Jesus’ parable who was seeking beautiful pearls and found one of such exquisite beauty and that he gladly sold all he had to obtain this one pearl, so I found what I was looking for in the Kingdom of God. How I knew as a teenager that everything I was looking for was to be found in this heavenly Kingdom, can only be explained as a revelation from the Holy Spirit. At that point in my life I doubt that I could have put into words what I was looking for, but I knew I was looking for something. I couldn’t verbalize it, but I felt it. And I knew when I found the Kingdom that I had found what I was looking for…I KNEW IT!

    Now these many years later I think I can put into words what I was looking for and what I have found in the Kingdom of God. It would say it is three things: A Revolution, an Adventure, and a Community. This is what I was looking for and this is what I have found in the Kingdom.

    John Lennon sang, You say you want a revolution, well you know we all want to change the world. I know what it’s like to feel that way. I can remember as a teenager having a brief infatuation with Marxism, not because I really knew anyhing about Marxism or really thought it was a good idea, but simply because it was revolutionary! It’s hard to imagine a thinking person that doesn’t acknowledge that the world needs changing; a few minutes with a newspaper or CNN ought to convince a person of that. But history is littered with revolutionaries whose radical ideas of been tried and found wanting — because the real problem with the world is not social or political or economical, but spiritual! And that reality makes Jesus the greatest revolutionary of all time. His life and gospel have changed the world — one radical salvation experience at a time. In Thessalonica they said the Christians had turned the world upside down! (Acts 17:6) There is no denying that the gospel of Jesus Christ is revolutionary and the greatest force for positive change in the world. When I came into the Kingdom, my desire to be a part of a revolutionary movement that could change the world was satisfied. Today I know I am part of a sacred revolution, spiritual awakening that is effecting global change.

    Though I initially became a Christian to avoid hell, I quickly realized that I had found much more than a ticket to heaven. Almost immediately I discovered that life in the Kingdom of God is the greatest adventure of all — and I was looking for adventure. I knew I didn’t want to be just another participating rat in the rat race of mundane living. I wanted something thrilling, something exciting, something adventurous — and I found it in the Kingdom. Shortly after I became a Christian I took down the rock star posters that adorned my bedroom and I replaced them with a giant poster that said, JESUS CONQUERS BOREDOM! I am totally convinced that God is the only perpetual novelty in the universe — everything else will eventually become tiresome and boring, but the pursuit of the knowledge of God is the eternal wonder, the everlasting adventure. The 19th Century British preacher Charles Kingsley said, “We act as though comfort and luxury were the chief requirements of life, when all we really need is something to be enthusiastic about.” I believe that is true, and I am endlessly enthusiastic about the adventure found in the cause of Christ.

    I initially came to Jesus Christ out of a concern for my personal welfare, but in doing so I was saved into the body of Christ. When we are saved, we are saved out of something — out of sin, out of the world, out of the power of the devil. But we are also saved into something; we are saved into the Church, the body of Christ. During the first year of my Christian walk I gained a whole new set of friends. The old Brian Zahnd was gone and the new Brian Zahnd had new values, new priorities, new interests and needed new friends. I found these friends in the koinonia fellowship of the body of Christ. Modern society suffers much from human disconnectedness. Vast segments of our population are terribly lonely. We were not created to live like this — everybody has a deep need to belong to some kind of community.

    I remember the first time I want to the Black Hills motorcycle rally in Sturgis, South Dakota where over 300,000 bikers had gathered. The American biker is a symbol of nonconformist individuality, an icon of personal freedom and rugged independence. But there we were, hundreds of thousands of us…all looking alike on our Harleys, wearing blue jeans and black leather jackets. That’s when it hit me, despite the iconic stereotype, we weren’t trying to express our individuality, we were trying to belong to something. Because everybody — from bikers to bankers — wants to belong to a community. I found the fellowship of community in the Kingdom of God.

    I became a Christian out of a legitimate concern for my eternal destiny; but I have passionately pursued life in the Kingdom of Jesus Christ for many years now because in this Kingdom I found what I was looking for. And you can too.

    BZ

  • The Gospel to the Greeks

    Day 56

    Acts 17 & 18

    Acts 17 and 18 cover four years (A.D. 49-52). Keep this in mind when you are reading Acts. Something that you can easily read in fifteen minutes took four years to live. No doubt Paul and Silas lived exciting lives, but don’t get the idea that every single day they had visions and angels and miracles. They did not. There were lots of days of simple monotony or just plain hard work. Keep that in mind when you’re reading Acts and keep that in mind when you’re living your life.

    What we have just read is the brief summary of Paul’s second missionary journey which was predominately centered in the Greek cities of Philippi, Thessalonica, Bera, Athens and Corinth. We see Paul’s pattern of preaching the gospel first to the Jews and then to the Greeks (Romans 1:16). When preaching the gospel to the Jews, Paul had a common authority to base his preaching on: The Old Testament Scriptures. When preaching to the Greeks, Paul didn’t have this advantage. But Paul was a remarkable man; a scholar of the Hebrew Scriptures and well acquainted with Greek philosophy and poetry. When preaching in Athens Paul quoted from the Phaenomena by the third century B.C. Greek poet Aratus.

    The Apostle Peter could open the door to the Gentiles by preaching to the Jewish influenced Cornelius, but it took the depth of learning and breadth of culture of the Apostle Paul to effectively preach the gospel to the Greeks. Four times in Acts 17 and 18 we see Paul preaching the gospel by “reasoning.” Miracle power and intellectual prowess can go together, and when they do it is a marvelous thing.

    During the persecution of the Christian movement in Thessalonica, the opponents of the gospel used the same tactic that the chief priests used when they accused Jesus before Pontius Pilate: They asserted that the Jesus movement was a subversive political movement. We must continually remember the Christianity is not a political movement. It will influence politics as it influences people through the new birth, but Christianity itself is not a political agenda. Christianity can and has flourished in all kinds of political environments. The Kingdom of God will not be political until the King returns to rule the nations. Until then we must remember that our mission is to lead people into the new birth by a real encounter with Jesus Christ and not allow Christianity to be reduced to a mere human political agenda. This is a very important principle for American evangelicals to remember right now.

    Maranatha!

    BZ