Friday, April 27, 2012

Don't be hating on "buzz words" without thinking critically

In the blogosphere there will always be new methods and new words to describe ways in which the church can do things better. Some are quite helpful and biblical and some may not be as biblical or helpful. However within the blogosphere, many folks attack such terms or "buzz words" without truly considering the reason for why such "buzz words" sprang into existence.

While I don't think people should necessarily hop on such buzz words or new ways of doing church or missions without critically thinking through the issues like they did for that KONY video, we really need to not blast things simply because they have become popular.

A "celebrity pastor" tweeted against criticizing "celebrity pastors" who are being faithful to the work Jesus has for them. The problem is not the celebrity pastor but those who have elevated them improperly. I think the same thing goes for such "buzz words."

Here are some thoughts that might help us think critically but without become just another "hater"
1.) Terms, buzz words, and new ministry opportunities often develop because of a need. "Community" or "doing life together" are considered "buzz words." But consider their importance. We will always tend toward individualism, and need to always be reminded to seek community and to share our lives with one another. The "one another" passages fill the pages of scripture and its commands. Whether you call it "doing life together" or "community" or some other word, you need to do life together. Buzz words can serve as helpful reminders of our need.

2.) Think critically about the goal of the term more so than the word. Some folks like to throw out the word "missional." But consider what many people really mean by this term. Thinking outwardly on behalf of non-Christians to the point where you sacrifice your personal preference to help reach lost people. I don't see how that's too bad. Sacrificing biblical principles is one thing, but preferences is an entirely different thing. Most people hold on to preferences or traditions a bit too tightly.

3.) Think critically about the implications as well. If the only driving force behind your church is to be "missional" then you can lose other components. Some "missional" churches may cancel their worship service to serve their communities. Missional is a biblical component, but so is "worshipful" too. You can't sacrifice one at the altar of the other, and this can happen if we never think out the implications.

4.) Balance the buzz words with other components of Christian life and ministry. Doing life together doesn't mean that you neglect personally cultivating a healthy devotional life. Missional means I love, live among, and invite folks to worship. In worship I seek to explain terms, regardless if some folks feel "I already know that." But the goal of mission is worship. So missional folks should move non-believers to worship, not entertainment.  As long as one buzz word does not dominate and trump everything else, the buzz word can be quite helpful.

5.) Buzz words can actually help keep lives and ministry in balance.  I find most people naturally turn inward as opposed to real, not shallow, community. And when most people enjoy community, there is still a tendency to guard that community, keeping closed and inward focused. A challenge to live "missionally" as a group reorients your thoughts to those outside your small group, and in turn keeps you from becoming clique-ish, myopic, or selfish. A kingdom focus (another buzzword) can help you remember that what you do in your work and community does indeed matter. But we also need reminders that serving our community cannot replace the proclamation of the gospel. That's becoming almost a buzz word now. And I'm glad. We need that too. In the end, we need to learn from folks who are "gospel driven," "missional," "covenantal" "kingdom oriented." Churches sometimes, and individuals most of the time, need to have regularly their pendulums swung this way.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

How to point people to a church without Arrogance or Ignorance

When talking to unbelieving seekers or Christians without a church home, there are always two extremes to avoid. The first is to assume that all churches are doing the same thing and preaching the same thing. That couldn't be farther from the truth, as many churches and denominations have certainly abandoned the gospel. That's ignorance.

The other extreme is to assume that your church is the only faithful church in the area. Now of course this is possible, but to assume that is the case without any evidence falls on the same side as arrogance. People can pick up on arrogance and most folks aren't big fans of it.

There can be a weirdness when it comes to pointing such a person to a church. You do have to acknowledge that not all churches preach Christ and Him crucified, but you don't want to sound (or be for that matter) arrogant, divisive, and say, "It's my church or one that has gone apostate. Those are your options." Both can be destructive for the seeker. You could end up affirming falsehood or reinforce their suspicion of "You just want me to come to YOUR church."

So what can you do?

Last night a good friend of mine really offered a great idea. Simple but really quite good as it affirms the truth while graciously avoiding error.

1.) Explain the gospel to the seeker. Whether he/she is a believer, seeker, or just thinks he/she a Christian, you have the opportunity to say, "I would recommend you go to a church that really preaches the gospel. Not all churches do these days. Here is what I think the bible says about the gospel." If he/she is asking about churches to go to, you have the open door. Thoroughly explain the gospel message.

2.) Challenge the seeker/believer to really listen to the sermons and see if what is being preached is the gospel. Tell him/her to go to church where the gospel is preached. Explain the difference between moralism and true repentance and faith. Let them know the difference between universalism and the truth that only Jesus can save. Let them know that they should be able to hear the difference between grace and simply "try harder and be nice" or "do this and God will love you more." If they know the gospel, they will be able to smell moralism, universalism, and legalism.

3.) Listen for exegesis more than opinions or good advice. Don't say "exegesis." But you can tell them that a gospel centered church will always be centered around what God's Word really says. If a passage is read but not expounded and applied, then you are left with opinions and advice.

4.) Follow up with him/her. You can always say, "I can't speak for all the churches in the area. I'm sure there are good ones. But here is my experience with mine. If you'd like to come and check out my church, if for no other reason to help you confirm you're in the right place, we'd love to have you." If not, you can still ask him/her to describe his/her experiences so far.

If you live in a churched area, chances are you will have such opportunities to direct people to churches other than yours. But in such opportunities, you may end up with an opportunity to share the gospel, direct people to other good churches, or eventually plug them into your church community. The latter is not a bad goal if you truly believe that it is the best place for them to grow in Christ.

If you center everything around the gospel, and help point them to church that preaches the gospel-regardless if its yours or not-it's a win for the home team.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

When did the canon really develop?

If you haven't ever heard of Bart Ehrman, you probably should have an idea of who he is. You can read about him here. In short he is a professor at UNC-Chappel Hill specializing in textual criticism of the bible. He's written several books at the popular level, which unfortunately have become fairly popular. I've read Misquoting Jesus but haven't read Jesus Interrupted. He is currently an agnostic, though once claimed to be born-again Christian. Now he spends time leading people to abandon any confidence that they may have once had in bible. 

The problem, amidst his pre-supposition that the bible is NOT God's Word-you can read about his tragic journey to disbelief in Misquoting Jesus-are some of his facts. Fortunately there are lads much smarter than I, who have time to spend researching, and who use this study and research to equip the church.

Sometimes Ehrman's tactics aren't simply textual. He and others like to reinforce the idea that the early Church really didn't have any sort of canon (meaning rod or standard) of inspired books. In fact that wasn't decided upon until the 4th and 5th centuries, at least folks argue. The problem as Dr. Micheal Kruger points out, is that this is misleading. We actually have a Muratorian fragment which many scholars believe reference a list of accepted books dating to 170 AD. Most of the books we currently have in our bible are listed. This shows that the early church did know which gospel accounts were inspired (there are a number of others that aren't), as well as Acts and Paul's epistles among others. 

While only the Spirit's internal witness can convict someone that the bible is God's Word, as the Westminster Confession of Faith reminds us CF (I.5), we should be ready to challenge the pre-suppositions, misinterpretations, and "facts" of those who cast doubt on God's Word.

Do yourself and your neighbor a favor by spending 3 minutes watching Dr. Micheal Kruger explain how the early canon of the bible was actually formed. You'll be glad you did.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Reflections on David Platt's sermon to the youth

As I mentioned earlier, this past week was Redeemer's Missions Week. We do these things yearly to really emphasize world missions. Without something yearly to remind us to really hone in our thinking, praying, giving, going, we can easily forget about people that we'll never see (but hope to one day in heaven).

So for our last act of the Missions Week, one of my incredibly helpful youth teachers requested we show the recent David Platt Sermon delivered at Together for the Gospel (T4G) for youth group. More often than not, I try to give folks the freedom to bring options, run them by me, and then let them run with those ideas. So we watched what has been deemed as the best sermon ever preached on missions over a delectable spaghetti dinner.

Here are my reflections

1.) I was wrong. I thought it would be best to break up the video into 2 sessions. An hour long sermon can be difficult for a middle schooler. Last year they listened to a half hour audio of a Piper lecture and it did not go well! The Sr High's did go well on the other hand. Plus, if we broke it up, I figured we'd have more time for discussion. However, I yielded to the desires of the one who wanted to show the video and am glad I did. Leadership sometimes involves yielding. It also involves admitting you were wrong! I even told the kids I didn't think they had it in them, but that someone else did!

2.) Teaching up. I always tend to "teach up." Our Jr High use Sr High material for Sunday School and it has gone well. Our Sr High use an adult study from Tim Keller and have been doing this type of stuff for a while. When we had to break up our Sunday School classes from the normal break-up (PreK-K, 1st-2nd, 3rd-4th, etc...), we sent the 2nd graders up and the Pre-K have been working with the 1st-2nd grade material. I prefer to teach up. I knew that the Sr High's would be OK with the video, but my concern was the middle school kids, particularly the younger middle school kids. But in the end, "teaching up," was the right way to go.

3.) In "teaching up" one must still remember the younger ones instead of assuming everyone "gets it." This sermon is probably the best sermon on missions I've seen, but we need to remember that it was delivered to pastors at a pastor's conference (of course many others go who aren't pastors, but those who go have more knowledge than most others in the church). As a result, David Platt does not define all of his terms (and he shouldn't have to). It is impossible to think like a middle schooler if you are not one. But instead of assuming that all kids knew such terms, I made sure to get up and ask the kids if they did. I'm glad I did, because several didn't know what the word "Sovereignty" meant; and that was a word used in his main point! So I let the Sr High's define "sovereignty" for the others, as well as "people groups." Those were two huge points in the sermon, and several folks didn't know what they meant. When you "teach up," you still have to take pains and ask questions to make sure kids are getting it. But in the end, you end up letting the older kids assist in teaching the younger kids. So cool to see.

4.) Power of stories. While David Platt didn't illustrate heavily, he did use several stories and anecdotes that I could tell ALL of the kids got. It is beautiful to see a middle school lad get excited about a story where a pastor realizes that dying is gain; because that pastor realized it, so did his persecutors. They would have been worse off killing him, so they let that joker live! That's priceless. All the kids got a kick out of that. I think these stories will stick, even if some of the main points or terms may not.

After the brief discussion and clarification time, we sent them on their way. It was a great night and encouraging to expose these kids to the radical call of the gospel to lose our lives for Jesus glory. Whether they go overseas or minister here at home, we have to teach our kids to say no to the suburban American comfortable lifestyle and to find the joy in following Jesus wherever we are.

If you haven't seen the video, check it out here or the audio here.

Monday, April 23, 2012

What an NBA elbow can teach us about foreign and local missions

Yesterday, in a fairly meaningless NBA game (most of them have lost meaning to me at least....) the artist-yes he did record a rap album-Ron Artest apparently threw a vicious (he claims it was an accident) elbow to the head of James Harden. It left Harden lying on the floor with a possible concussion. 

The ironic part of this whole thing is that Ron Artest recently changed his name to Metta World Peace. Of course the non-ironic part of this is that Artest was once suspended more than 80 games for charging into the crowd and fighting Detroit Pistons fans a number of years ago. 

But let's just consider it ironic, that a man who desires world peace enough to change his name to it, would then assault an opponent-not a bitter enemy-on the floor. I'm not judging Artest/World Peace for it either, as I wouldn't trust myself on the floor. Still, isn't it a little ironic that someone would advocate world peace enough to change his name to it, and then assault his neighbor? I'm for world peace, but I'm not for peace on the basketball floor. I'm for world peace, but not for local peace.

I don't know anyone who has had such a passion for world peace that he/she has changed his/her name. I also don't know anyone who has had such a passion for world missions that he/she has changed his/her name. And of course they shouldn't.

But I have known people who have a passion for world missions, but don't have much of a care for those folks in their paths now. I've seen churches who are good "senders," but they are cool with their neighbors going to Hell. And that to me is just as ironic as Metta World Peace elbowing an opponent on the floor.

God grants us different gifts, passions, and emphases. For instance, some have a bent toward youth ministry, foreign missions, church planting, local mercy ministry. And that is beautiful. But it is ironic for a church planter to ignore foreign missions. John Piper once said something to the effect of "being missional without a concern for foreign missions is not missional enough." Well said. Local missions can never have as its end local missions. It should play a part in the nations bringing the glory due God's name.

But those same churches and members who have a passion for foreign missions have a mission field that is also local until they leave. Now of course individuals won't have the same passion locally as they do for a destination and a people overseas. They shouldn't. But a pastor once shared some fantastic advice at a time in my life when I felt precarious about my future: "Just ask who does God want me to minister to today?" I've never forgotten that.

Thinking about who we may minister to today will keep us from solely focusing on who we will minister to tomorrow. Whether your bent is youth ministry, mercy ministry, foreign missions, children's ministry, or no ministry, don't ignore who God puts in your path today. After all, you technically never "arrive" at "tomorrow." That's probably why Paul reminds us, "Now is the day of salvation" (2 Cor 6:2). Ignoring those who God puts in our paths today may not put us on ESPN or get us suspended from the NBA, but it still falls short of the joy we can have when we align our purposes, passions, schedules, and even opportunities, with God's Kingdom purposes in His world.

I'm thankful for dear friends who have a passion for foreign missions, but have continued to minister to their fellow employees until God sends them out. Both WV and ________ when they get there, will be better off because of them. And I am too.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

A poor in Spirit church

In my last sermon I preached on the first beattitude, Matt 5:3: "Blessed are the poor in Spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven." As a point of application, I pondered what it might look like for Redeemer as a church to be poor in Spirit. We would not be proud of ourselves because we believe that we preach grace and every other church doesn't. We would not be proud of ourselves because we believe in discipling kids, not entertaining. When our bible studies lead us to compare ourselves with the world, instead of loving the world, or think about sin generally instead of particularly, we're not spiritually broke.

But the question then remains, should someone not take some pride in what his/her church does when their church preaches the gospel and many others in the area don't? Or if not "pride," how should we think of churches who are faithful to what they feel God calling them to do? Is there place a for confidence and critique of other churches?

Of course there is a place for critique, provided critique is not ALL you do. But 99% of your critiques of other churches will accomplish nothing, and sometimes that may be a good thing. Here are some thoughts which can inspire a God-centered confidence and joy without looking down on other churches who do things differently, or even at times, perhaps glaringly unfaithfully.

1.) Boast in the Lord (II Cor 10:17). We don't boast in our philosophy of ministry, our theology, our ______, but only in the Lord. He has saved, delivered, and directed us to where we need to be. The church as a whole boasts in the Lord for what He's done for them, and how He's allowed us to apply biblical principles to our church ministries. Boast of what the Lord has done at your church and have confidence that He is at work.

2.) Being poor in Spirit (Matt 5:3) allows us to re-visit policies and programs when we need to do so. It allows you to say, "We could do this better in the future," or "Maybe this isn't the best use of our gifts and resources at the time." If you are proud of what you do, you will find little room for evaluation. If you boast in the Lord, you are always looking to Him who may want you to tweak or nix some policies, programs, ministries, etc....

3.) If you boast in the Lord, not simply in your church, you will be aware of what others churches are doing. This allows you to learn from them.

4.) Boasting in the Lord lets you recognize we really don't want all churches to look alike. We want them all to preach the gospel, disciple kids, do missions and mercy, etc....,but each church will probably play a niche in its community. Boast in the Lord for churches who may reach drug addicts, others single mothers or homeless, still others folks with disabilities or divorces.

5.) Being poor in Spirit does not eradicate the opportunity to critique others, but it does eradicate even the need to judge others. It is Jesus' church. And yes, we judge those within our own churches. But Jesus may surprise us someday with how he thinks of mega, mini, or multi-site churches. Perhaps we need them all. Regardless, we don't get a vote. So be careful not to overvalue your own critiques or convictions, or you may just be undervaluing Jesus' bride.

You should obviously commit to, plug in, and serve the church you feel most responsibly preaches, teaches, and applies the gospel. But remember to boast in the Shepherd, not the shepherd/s, or the sheep.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Are you as holy as the next person?

Yesterday I saw this post on personal holiness  from Mike Kruger. Though not Kruger, George' boss on Seinfeld. He begins the article shocked by a P.C.A. pastor declaring to his congregation that "no one is more holy than anyone else." 

Our living out the implications of our belief in the gospel is obviously God's design for the Christian. 

When I was a humble youth director (my self given nickname-in jest of course), I took my first seminary class in a church in South Carolina. Then I decided to go to RTS-Orlando full time soon after. That class was taught by this man. The funny thing is that I really didn't think he was all that friendly, so I never really had a great impression of him. God can certainly use people like that, as I really did enjoy his class on the Gospels.

The question that Kruger deals with is a legitimate one: can one person be more "holy" than the next? Practically speaking can a Christian justified by faith alone live differently from another Christian justified by faith alone in such a way as we would say one is living a more holy life?

The answer is yes, provided that you understand that the word holy or righteous can refer to someone justified, as well as someone growing in the process of sanctification. 

So, what exactly is a “righteous” person? Surely we cannot suggest that all these passages are simply referring to the imputed righteousness of Christ (as important as that is). No, it appears the Bible uses this category of the “righteous man” for believers who display a marked consistency and faithfulness in walking with God. Of course, this doesn’t mean these people are perfect, sinless, or able to merit their own salvation. It simply means that the Spirit is at work in such a way that they bear steady fruit in their lives.

 If so, then it is simply untrue to say “no one is more holy than anyone else.” Not everyone is equally sanctified. Some are farther along than others by God’s wonderful grace. Now, I am sure the pastor that I heard would agree with that. Giving him the benefit of the doubt, I am sure he was only trying to say that when it comes to our justification no one is able to stand on their own righteousness: all are desperately in need of grace. No doubt, in his zeal to make this very good biblical point, he stepped too far and declared that “no one is more holy than anyone else.”

Here are some of my takes

1.) Category. I think we do need a category for describing a Christian that is walking closely with the Lord and bearing fruit as well as a Christian not currently walking with the Lord. The yahoos at Corinth were called "saints" and "holy." But holiness is clearly something we grow in and seek (II Peter 3:11; Hebrews 12:14). If we can grow in holiness, we can thus live more holy or less holy lives. We can also live more more holy lives than the person sitting next to us at church.

2.) Comparison. While we need a category to talk about and think through the implications (or lack thereof) of the gospel in our daily lives, we need to be careful not to ACTUALLY compare ourselves with one another. As soon as you agree someone else already justified by faith might be living a holier life, or less holy life, you have the potential to compare. That leads to pride or despair. However, just knowing that not all sins are equal doesn't make me think less of my lust (after all I haven't committed the the thinking could go, but doesn't). We should nevertheless repent from lust as quickly as repenting from the act of adultery. All sins are bad. All people are Christ's works in progress. The fact that some are farther along than others does not necessarily make you compare; but realize you are prone to it and remember Jesus calls us to a brokenness of spirit.

3.) The fact that this man heard something from a pulpit and then blogged about it is a bit sad to me. I think it would have been just as powerful if this part were left out. No pastor can say everything on a Sunday morning; he shouldn't even try. Not just for time purposes, but for communicating truth. You can't say anything if you're trying to say everything. You don't need to caveat every time you make a statement or else you'll be there forever and your flock won't be edified. I would doubt this mystery pastor would disagree with the thrust of his article. It's best to present your opponents' arguments in a way that they themselves would say, "Yes that's what I believe." I think Kruger misses on this one.

4.) Dr. Kruger sees a greater danger in honesty than I do. Perhaps we're in different geographical and spiritual locations. But honesty about sin has never moved me to glorify sin but to feel I'm not alone in the struggle. It has moved me to glorify Christ and follow him more nearly in faith. In our area, we need more honesty: honesty that leads to deep repentance over our gospel replacements.

 Trying to make ourselves feel better about our sin. In recent years I have noticed that there are some very popular catchwords in some reformed circles. We are reminded regularly to be “real” and “vulnerable” and “open” about our sinfulness. And, in many ways, this is a good thing. We certainly want to confess our sins so that we can let the light of the gospel shine on them and allow our brothers and sisters to share our burden (James 5:16). However, this trend also has a danger. Elizabeth Elliot put it well:
The “openness” that is often praised among Christians as a sign of true humility may sometimes be an oblique effort to prove that there is no such thing as a saint after all, and that those who believe that it is possible in the twentieth century to live a holy life are only deceiving themselves. When we enjoy listening to some Christian confess his weaknesses and failures, we may be eager only to convince ourselves that we are not so bad after all. --The Hope of Holiness 
All in all, I'm glad Kruger wrote this. He brings some great points that we need to consider. In your pursuit of holiness, just remember that your sin springs from unbelief. Therefore we need to go back to truly resting in who Jesus is and what he's accomplished on our behalf.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

The joy of putting God's glory in missions before your problems

I just read this morning about Paul's thorn in the flesh from II Corinthians 12. Would love to know what that "thorn" was, but nevertheless realize that information is actually quite immaterial. That's why he boasts in "weaknesses, insults, persecutions, difficulties." A number of things could fall into those categories.

One of my thorns is my house in FL. Can't sell it. Can't refinance it because I'm too far under-water on it. And every so often, I get news that something is broken that is NOT under the home warranty. I've pleaded with God to take it away from me, but its just not happening now.

At the beginning of missions week, I got notification that the garage door which I had already spent a few hundred dollars to get fixed in January is broken again. Not under warranty, again.

On the way to the missions prayer meeting, it was WHAT I was thinking about. As I walked into the church it was WHAT I was thinking about. But I asked God to change my heart, because I wasn't able to change it, and as usual, He did. To Him be the glory!

Here are some things I learned from last night's missions prayer meeting. Ultimately, what I learned was how God's Kingdom advancement can be so incredibly helpful, practical, and personally devotional.

1.) A Concern for missions (God being glorified by people who do not yet know Him in places where they haven't heard or responded) keeps you from focusing on your own problems. God receiving the glory due His name where He's not-as opposed to limiting the focus to the needs of others-is the fuel for missions. But a very helpful side affect is that we end up losing ourselves-and our problems-in that passion. The most self-satisfying thing you can do is to take your focus off yourself and onto God. The idea of "I need to first take care of myself," then I can take care of others might be from Oprah but not Jesus. I still have to find someone to fix my garage door in FL. Again. Yet God's developing a greater passion for missions in us increases our joy in His Kingdom coming down even when my garage door won't go up. There is joy to be claimed and experienced if we look not inside, but outside of ourselves, at God's active work in the world-of which he allows us to play a part-today.

2.) Need for community. I can't develop a passion for missions or a passion for God by myself. I really do need others. When I prayed that God would change my heart, He decided to use His people to play an integral part. A woman at the group was a Voice of the Martyrs representative in our area. She let us know that the Northern part of Nigeria is now one of the persecution "hotspots." She let us know that it appears nearly 5,000 Christians lost their lives over Easter. Wow. I needed to know that. And I needed someone else to tell me that WHEN she told me that. Never forsake your own need for community; and let that need drive you to community even if you don't feel like it or have other things to do.

If you're connected to Redeemer, come on out to the rest of the Missions Week as we have a dinner Wed and Friday night at 6 pm. Bring dessert or salad on Wed and dessert or chips on Friday.

Monday, April 9, 2012

A Masterful Message about the Master's Winner's Master

I have to admit that I watched all of 0 holes of The Masters this weekend. Now knowing what I know about winner Bubba Watson, I kind of wished I would have watched a hole or two. Here's a brief article describing Bubba's faith. It first points out that there is something different about his twitter profile.

Rather, take one look at his Twitter profile and you may figure out what's different about Watson.

@bubbawatson: Christian. Husband. Daddy. Pro Golfer. Owner of General Lee 1.

And pay close attention to the order.

I'm not normally a fan of measuring the spiritual commitment of a Christian by his/her twitter profile or by the number of times he/she posts scriptures on facebook. It's one's life of repentance and faith that truly testifies to one's Savior. And the rest of this lad's life gives credence to the response all Christians should: graciously giving testimony to the One who saved you.

Later in the article, he "tweets" a properly prioritized life

Later that day: Most important things in my life- 1. God 2. Wife 3. Family 4. Helping others 5. Golf  

This is incredibly helpful advice for the suburban Christian who often lives his/her life as  as though God exists to make his/her family better. Going to church should make his/her family better. It should "work."

But the reality is that following Jesus before our families means that we'll do stuff that won't necessarily make our families "better." Saying no to sports that interfere with regular church involvement might will probably not make your kids better at that sport. Saying no to expected cultural events or gatherings because there are better things to do will not make your family "better" or more popular. Sometimes saying yes to Jesus will not make our families happier because when we follow Jesus we lead our families into the uncomfortable unknown. We give up things good things to follow Jesus and do better things. I know for some it has meant giving up a vacation one year to go on mission trip (not saying one should do this as I think we need vacations too). Can you see that following Jesus looks like something? Cherishing Jesus looks like something as you gladly sacrifice (Phil 3:8-9). 

Consequently prioritizing your family above Jesus also looks like something. That's not hard to see among many suburban Christians, whose priorities don't look too different than their neighbor's families. I find myself following into the latter category when I forget the gospel. Regularly coming back to the gospel each day will motivate and empower you to prioritize Jesus above your family.

If God is number one, then quickly the family slips into the two slot. But Bubba is on to something here. The sacrificial husband commanded in Ephesians 5 cannot stop being sacrificial when he has kids. Kids don't get bumped up on the priority list. It takes much intentionality to fight, protect, and even cherish your spouse, but it is paramount that you do so. Remember that your marriage is one of the best gifts you can give to your children.

The more I write this, the more bummed I get about missing Bubba's Masters performance. But I get the sense that he'd probably be OK with me being more impacted by his message than his performance.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

A gracious response to medication

I've benefited greatly from some of the books and articles by the lads at CCEF. However I've often had one major bone to pick with them: I felt they were a bit too simplistic at times. For instance, I had thought (and perhaps I was right) they were completely anti-medicine. Yet a recent post on the CCEF blog helped clear some stuff up for me and I want to pass it on to you.

Ed Welch lists two scenarios where medication can be seen as positive. The first scenario deals with   schizofrenia and bi-polar disorders. You can read about it here. Sometimes medications can help. The next is a decent segment of the church that may have at times been turned off by biblical counseling. This gracious response is encouraging to people like myself.

Group 2: Those who feel unsure, guilty or ashamed because either they are taking medication or their children are taking medication. I would like to think that we have not compounded your pain, but I suspect that this group has overheard some comments from biblical counseling that have made them feel worse. If medication is helping, even a little, here is what we would say.
“That’s great.”

If you feel like a spiritual failure because you are taking medication, we would say, “No way. Why do you even think that?” (Most of my colleagues would say something less abrupt.) Then we would try to reason how Scripture itself is not giving you a reason to feel like a failure.
If you feel like a failure because your child is taking psychiatric medication, our guess is that you have worked harder at your parenting than ten other parents combined. We hope you are not judging your parenting success against the parent whose child sits quietly, gets all A’s, does homework without supervision, rarely gets frustrated, and is compliant and obedient. Parenting probably had little to do with any of that!

Some kids are just hard. The strategies that worked for some parents will not necessarily work for you. To make matters worse, you will receive an endless stream of advice, which will leave you angry, because you feel like you should do everything you can for your child and the advice is often contradictory. We hope you will not add guilt over medication to that list. Rather, success is marked by “help me and my child, Lord Jesus.” It isn’t measured by having a medication-free zone in your home.

All this is to say that wisdom about these kinds of decisions can take different forms in different situations. A divine directive would be nice: “do this or take this and everything will be fine.” But our Father has a better way. We confess our neediness, consider relevant biblical teaching, seek the counsel of others, make the hard decisions, learn from what helps, avoid those things that hurt, and know God-with-us. For some of us, a positive decision for medication will be a wise consequence of this process.

I've benefited from some of Welch and the other CCEF lads. I'm glad that they've cleared this up, because it allows me to listen to them more clearly and hear the grace I need. Shame and guilt over medication have permeated Christian circles. But they shouldn't since there is now no condemnation for those in Christ (Romans 8:1). So if you've felt like a failure because of needing to go on medication, let this be a good reminder to you. There can be a place for medication in the church as long as we recognize it is not a replacement for a steady diet of the gospel.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

The tension of spiritual gifts

The local church functions as a church only when its members are exercising their spiritual gifts. And below is a passage to remind us ALL gifts are vital for the health, mission, and multiplication of more churches.

1Cor. 12:14   For the body does not consist of one member but of many.  15 If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body.  16 And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body.  17 If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell?  18 But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose.  19 If all were a single member, where would the body be?  20 As it is, there are many parts, yet one body.

We need constant reminders that the public positions like teaching and preaching are not to be viewed as more important than more behind the scenes gifts like encouragement, mercy, hospitality, discernment, etc....But I'm realizing that even when gifts are believed to be equally important, there is still an issue. Knowing that alone doesn't help people get along. For instance, we can recognize the need for the diversity of gifts, but getting along within that diversity of gifts can become quite labor intensive. Someone gifted in teaching may not get along as well with someone gifted in evangelism; both can recognize the importance of the other, but they still don't live harmoniously.

We know that the Spirit doesn't give ALL gifts to each individual person. You wouldn't need community if that were the case. Instead he chooses to gift particular people with particular gifts. So not everyone is gifted at everything. Nothing new there. But what I'm beginning to think is that what makes someone gifted at one thing, makes them not so gifted at another, and in turn makes them more annoying to another. 

The person gifted in evangelism may not be as gifted in discipleship. He/she may be great at meeting, and making new contacts, have a boldness in sharing his/her faith, and see great fruit in his/her evangelism (new disciples are made). However that boldness might make them less tactful within the body of Christ or less patient with others to grow in their faith. The adventure of sharing the gospel, could make the laborious work of teaching or teaching prep seem like busy work. When you put these two people together on a team, what makes them so uniquely gifted, can be the very thing that causes friction between them. One is more bent toward reaching those outside the church and the other toward building up the body (although all believers are called to play some role in both). 

The person administratively gifted paired up with someone who is more creative and merciful, can obviously bring some tension. The creative merciful person might get his/her feelings hurt simply because he/she is more empathetic. What makes him/her merciful, is the very thing that might make him/her not good as a leader/administrator And what makes him/her creative, is what will drive the administrative person nuts. 
This is obviously true with personalities, but I'm beginning to think its also true with spiritual gifts.

The solution is to recognize not just that we are different and need each other, but that the very gift that makes us effective in one area, makes us ineffective in another. The very thing that makes us good in one area can (it doesn't always) then make relationships with those of differing gifts quite difficult.

But then we really do have to celebrate the gifts of others and recognize that if they were the way we wanted them to be, they wouldn't have the same gifting and personality and wouldn't bring to the body of Christ what we need them to bring (via the Spirit of course). And we need their gifts, even when their gifts will can bring tension.  We have to celebrate all the gifts, recognizing that differing gifts will bring both blessing and tension.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Reflections on Tortured for Christ

I just finished reading the book Tortured for Christ by Voice of the Martyrs founder Richard Wurmbrand. You can get it for free here. Like the title suggests, this book is not a feel good book. In fact, I'm not sure I felt good one minute while reading it. However, I'm glad that I read it, and there are a few reasons why I would commend it to you.

How to do it through Christ vs How I did it through Christ.

I've read books called Crazy Love and Radical. They are designed to challenge and convict the American Dream mentality that has crept into American Christianity. I think both writers have a voice that we need to hear-though in the end both fell short in my opinion of providing the necessary gospel motivation. Sometimes the best way to inspire folks (or at least it works best for me) is not to say, "Here's why you should do _____," but to see someone live out "Here's why the gospel of Jesus motivated ME or OTHERS to do _______." That's the book in a nutshell. This joker lived through two different multi-year prison sentences under the communists, enduring constant torture and yet still loving his enemies. Instead of someone telling me this is how to do x, I could see how Jesus did it through His people. There are great books on reconciliation, but the most powerful book I've read on the subject is As We Forgive, which shows how the most bitter of enemies HAVE BEEN reconciled. The same thing goes with Tortured for Christ. It's good to read books on how the gospel can help me follow Jesus as well as how the gospel tangibly empowers folks to follow Jesus despite awful tortures. Both have a place on our book shelves. But I have to admit that being more pragmatic myself I really like to see examples. These books help me apply my theology (Head), and be motivated (Heart) to my actual life (Hands). Jesus can really empower people to persevere through such torture. He does it all the time.

What would I do?

I felt something while reading this book. I don't even know how to describe it. Perhaps a mix of fear, anger, heaviness, sadness, conviction for my complacency....But part of me had to ask the honest question, what would I do if threatened with torture, and the reality of leaving behind a wife and kids that often wouldn't be taken care of (it was illegal to help them)? I've had kidney stones and I can imagine doing anything that would stop such pain. How would I hold up? How would you? None of us can with pride say what we would do in such a situation. But we can say with hope that God will never leave us nor forsake us, nor will he allow us to be tempted beyond what we can bear (I Cor 10:13). He will give us the power on that day to do what we need to do to follow Him regardless of how much of a wuss we are. We can say, "Well its me, I can't imagine enduring that..." But God has had martyrs in every century since the gospel burst onto the scene. I would imagine that folks might have had similar fears. With books like this one, we know that there are many who have been empowered to endure torture and death. Young and old. We can see them. It's not just theoretical, but historical. I need that.


We are complacent in the West. We need to repent. Our problems are minor compared to what our brothers and sisters face every day in certain areas. We don't need to feel guilty for where we were born or live because God has determined the places where we were born or live so that we would hear the gospel (Acts 17). However, when our suburban Christianity begins to look not much more different that our suburban non-believing neighbors, we ought to think that something is wrong. We do need to repent over the energy we spend trying to make ourselves more comfortable (demanding bigger houses, better spouses, etc..) and fix our hope on Jesus. Instead of demanding the comforts of heaven NOW, we can be spending our energy praying and longing for God's will in heaven be done on Earth. Ironically, we'll find more comfort and joy that way.

Our boldness should increase

In Philippians chapter 1, Paul recognizes that his prison time is currently making his fellow Christians bolder than ever. God used the persecution of one to make another bold. I hope that I become more bold, not fearing the "Gosh, you're weird or intolerant" remark. In the end, if I continue to drink deeply of the gospel and rest in God's assurance and protection over me, I'll get bolder. But because the bible says persecution does indeed have an emboldening effect, I hope that as we read about and pray for our persecuted brothers and sisters in the faith we grow bolder by the day.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Ryan Leaf, good guy/bad guy and getting duped

I heard an inspiring interview about 5 months ago with Ryan Leaf and Jim Rome. If you don't know  Ryan Leaf, he was the former number 2 draft pick (right behind Peyton Manning) for the San Diego Chargers. His career spiraled out of hand as soon as it started and he became addicted to pain killers. It became so bad that he was getting them from his players while a quarterback coach for some small college. 

Once regarded by many as simply a jerk, he seemed very repentant, broken, and well, likeable in the interview. I would have enjoyed meeting the guy. And then now, he's been arrested twice in 4 days for burglary, theft, criminal possession of drugs.

That led to a dichotomizing discussion on the Jim Rome show today: was Ryan Leaf duping us all along, or had he simply succumbed to his addiction and fallen off the wagon?

Here are some of my "takes" from Jim Rome's and his callers "takes."

1.) Need for another category: Good guy with addiction or Bad Guy?

Those were the only two categories offered. Some called in and said he's simply a bad buy, and lied to "us"when interviewed. He was only trying to sell books. By breaking into homes, we know for sure that he's a bad guy. We all have demons, and don't give in to them. That was one sentiment.

The other "take" was that he wasn't a bad guy, but simply had an addiction, as though an addiction is something external and draws its victims in like a magnet. He was a good guy when interviewed, and legitimately meant what he said when he talked of turning over a new Leaf (actually he didn't say that-but he could have....) and trying to be a better person. He still is a good guy, but just has a problem.

So which one was it? Everyone had to classify him as either good or bad. 

Instead of the good and bad distinction where we judge (as though we are better) or blame the addiction and not the person, here is a more robust anthropology.
  • All men/women are made in the image of God (Gen 1:27). Even sin does not erase that image (Gen 6; James 3)
  •  Sin does tarnish the image of God in man/women so we don't reflect that image as clearly any longer.
  • Because we are made in God's image, we will do and say things that are right and culturally good. Not all folks are drug addicts, murderers, thieves; many are in fact the opposite. They are nice, welcoming, will bake you cookies and help old ladies cross the street. We're not as bad as we could be.
  • Regardless, deeds not done in faith are always considered sin (Romans 14). And that sin is like menstrual garments (Romans 3) and the natural state of man is that we are God's enemies and  enslaved (Ephesians 2). Ryan Leaf is not a good guy in this sense; though neither are you and I. No one makes the cut. 
  • If you wanted to really categorize people into camps, it's more biblically accurate to put them into three camps: Those who seek righteousness and standing before God and others by the good things they do (Leaf is bad and I'm good; or Leaf isn't bad, he just has an addiction, so we're both good), OR the bad things they do (Leaf in his drug habit robbing people to get a fix) OR those who rest in Christ's righteousness by faith.
Without this third category, people either judge sinners or excuse sin. Without resting in a righteousness that comes from God, our natural instinct is to seek some form of it (Romans 10:3) and then judge/excuse others according to our own righteousness. The gospel is the difference maker.

2.) The need for a Judge.

While I think the question is illegitimate in some ways with some of its presuppositions, it does reveal to all of us a legitimate need: we need a good judge. It really doesn't matter to me if Ryan Leaf duped me with the interview. He could easily have relapsed after having been drug-free the way that our fellow Christian Josh Hamilton has. Or has he been duping us all along and simply selling books? Was he legitimately broken before, or just faking it? What about now? Ultimately we'll never know. Most people don't care. But this kind of thing is important because many people do bad things, and sometimes bad things to us (and vice versa of course). Are they truly sorry and repentant? We can make an educated guess, but we don't render their judgment. God does, and He's a good judge. We can say this or that behavior is wrong. Yet we cannot know the heart with 100% certainty and often times shouldn't attempt to arrive there. The discussion was in some way irrelevant, but clearly revealed a deep need illegitimately met.

3.) It's OK to be duped
Paul argues in his first letter to the Corinthians for Christians to not take other Christians to court (I Cor 6). He tells them it's better to just be wronged if they can't settle it themselves. I would assume its probably better to just be duped than to adopt The Who's attitude, "We won't get fooled again." I'm sure there are truly legitimate struggling drug addict believers in local churches. They may struggle till the day they die. Others may appear to struggle by faith, but truly just want their fix and use the church as a "cover." But Jesus reminds his followers not to pull up the weeds with the wheat because by doing so, they would actually hurt struggling believers. I think its OK to be duped. We welcome drug addicts in the local churches, and we may get duped into thinking they really love Jesus (or that Jesus really loves them). We don't excuse the sin or judge the sinner. Some may be believers. Some may not be. But we can't assume every addict is the same. The gospel that saves them is no more miraculous than the gospel that saves anybody. And God's grace is sufficient even when lives don't change as much as would hope to see. No one is saved by his/her good deeds but by the good deeds of Jesus.