Thursday, November 06, 2008
Wednesday, August 27, 2008
Well, he's The One, you know. I say this whole thing is an Obama-nation.
Sunday, August 10, 2008
Wednesday, August 06, 2008
Monday, July 14, 2008
You may say that this isn't representative of your church... but while the examples may be extreme, the philosophy of "worship ministry" just may seem all too familiar.
So, what do you think? Reactions? Comments? I'm especially interested in thoughts from anyone involved in a worship ministry: Where are the White Horse Inn guys wrong - or right?
The No Pearls Comment Section is wide open...
Thursday, May 15, 2008
In Part 2, we discussed briefly the difference in approaches to defining the Gospel and suggested that ME-Centered Christianity defines the Good News of the work of Jesus Christ in terms of our benefit (or INTERNAL to us), but HE-Centered Christianity understands that the Good News is THE WORK OF JESUS itself (EXTERNAL from us). The difference is significant first because your definition of the Gospel determines the message you proclaim – it defines your FOCUS. And the Evangelicalism is divided today in its message to the world.
The “ME-Centered” message is framed in terms of how God can help you, and a “HE-Centered” message proclaims God’s Glory and man’s responsibility. And while it is important to note that the two are not necessarily mutually exclusive, they are not necessarily always compatible either.
I’ll illustrate the distinction with two very pointed examples… two views of the “Gospel” from Evangelicals with very different focuses (emphasis added):
First, in anticipation of Mother’s Day, Moody Radio ran several times the following “evangelistic” 60 second spot (listen here):
“It’s that time of year again when we honor the most influential women in America. That’s right, our mothers! This is a day we pay tribute to the noble job they do in raising the next generation. But to be quite honest, sometimes as moms we don’t feel so glorious. Our love is masked by anger and frustration. We can’t seem to do it all, and we certainly don’t feel like a super mom. The good news is, we are not alone in this job of parenting. We have a wonderful Heavenly Father who is able to strengthen us with His love, wisdom and patience. The Bible says, “God redeems our life from the pit and crowns us with love and compassion. He satisfies our desires with good things so our youth is renewed like the eagles.” God loves you and desires to help you. If you would like to know more about a relationship with this wonderful God through His son Jesus please call 1-888-Need Him. Someone is waiting to talk with you. Call 1-888-Need Him. I’m Karol Ladd wishing you a Happy Mother's Day!” (Emphasis added)Second, consider this from John Piper’s book God Is The Gospel: (available free at the link!):
“Today—as in every generation—it is stunning to watch the shift away from God as the all-satisfying gift of God’s love. It is stunning how seldom God himself is proclaimed as the greatest gift of the gospel. But the Bible teaches that the best and final gift of God’s love is the enjoyment of God’s beauty. “One thing have I asked of the LORD, that will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD and to inquire in his temple” (Ps. 27:4). The best and final gift of the gospel is that we gain Christ. “I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ” (Phil. 3:8). This is the all-encompassing gift of God’s love through the gospel—to see and savor the glory of Christ forever. (Introduction: What The World Needs Most – The Gospel’s Greatest Gift, God, page 8)” (Emphasis added)Ladd's focus in the first quote is on MAN's BENEFIT, while Piper's is on GOD's GLORY in the second. There is no small distinction between the two.
- If your understanding of the heart of the Gospel is that God PRIMARILY wants to do something for your benefit, then your message will be something like this: “YOU can experience God's best... God has a wonderful plan for YOUR life... 'God loves YOU and desires to help YOU.'”
- On the other hand, if you believe that the Good News is PRIMARILY about God bringing glory to Himself and us into line with His will and purpose, your message will be something like this: “GOD’s greatest gift to the world is Jesus Christ … God’s love for us is demonstrated in His amazing sacrifice of His own Son, and gaining Him is greater than anything else – any loss, any suffering, any pain – all are nothing compared to Him. It is worth EVERYTHING to 'see and savor the glory of God in Christ forever!'”
“I would like to try to persuade you that the chief end of God is to glorify God and enjoy Himself forever. Or to put it another way: the chief end of God is to enjoy glorifying himself.Is this hard for you to hear? I winced when first I read that, but the more I think about it in light of Scripture, the more I realize that it is true… and very different from our “default setting” in proclaiming the Gospel – which too often may sound like a sales pitch for how the non-believer’s life will be better than it is now if they will just come to Christ. But faith in Christ certainly does not promise a more comfortable life now, temporal benefit, exemption from sickness or freedom from the pain and suffering of humanity. Christians suffer in all kinds of ways, through their own imperfections, through the common effect of sin in the world... and for God’s Glory consistent with His will and purpose (Romans 8:28).
The reason this may sound strange is that we tend to be more familiar with our duties than with God's designs. We know why we exist - to glorify God and enjoy him forever. But why does God exist? What should he love with all his heart and soul and mind and strength? Whom should he worship? Or will we deny him that highest of pleasures? It matters a lot what God's ultimate allegiance is to!...
God did not leave us to guess in this affair. He answers the question at every point in redemptive history from creation to consummation… From beginning to end, the driving impulse of God's heart is to be praised for his glory. From creation to consummation his ultimate allegiance is to himself. His unwavering purpose in all he does is to exalt the honor of his name and to be marveled at for his grace and power. He is infinitely jealous for his reputation. "For my own sake, for my own sake I act," says the Lord. "My glory I will not give to another!"
My experience in preaching and teaching is that American evangelicals receive this truth with some skepticism if they receive it at all. None of my sons has ever brought home a Sunday school paper with the lesson title: ""God loves himself more than he loves you." But it is profoundly true, and so generation after generation of evangelicals grow up picturing themselves at the center of God's universe.” (Emphasis added)
Proponents of ME-Centered Christianity frequently argue that they aren’t changing the heart of the Gospel by focusing on the benefit to Man, they are simply trying to make the Gospel more ACCESSIBLE by speaking in terms of Man’s need. HE-Centered Christianity argues that, intentionally or otherwise, attempts to make the message ACCESSIBLE frequently are actually seeking to make the Gospel more ACCEPTABLE – and the world WILL NOT, and therefore CAN NOT accept the truth of the Gospel (Romans 8:7). Our responsibility is to tell the Whole Truth to a world we understand is, by nature, hostile to it. ME-Centered Christianity avoids that hostility altogether and, to paraphrase William Willimon:**
"Unable [or unwilling] to preach Christ and him crucified, we preach humanity, and it improved."The focus of the Gospel is NOT primarily to bring benefit to us - but to bring glory to God. There are today hundreds of thousands of people in misery around the world. Many of those people’s stories are unknown and untold. We read about Typhoons, Earthquakes, Tornadoes (just during the past week!) and the toll of death, destruction and misery is almost unimaginable. What is the Church’s message to those in the real world – including those in such desperate circumstances?
The Evangelical ME-Centered Gospel falsely promises (implicitly and sometimes even explicitly) deliverance from temporal difficulty because it places MAN'S BENEFIT as the focus of the message. But this type of thinking isn’t just “historically aberrational” in Christian theology, it’s silly. Worse yet, it is empty – imagine carrying that message to the people in Myanmar or China this week! The Gospel doesn’t EXEMPT us from the world’s problems, it gives us reason to GLORIFY GOD as we go through them and, as a result, to TRIUMPH over them. This is the focus of HE-Centered Christianity… and it is the message the World desperately needs to hear.
Next Time: Our Focus: What’s “THE Problem?”
*By the way, others much smarter than me have written insightfully about this issue. If you look on the right side of the blog here, you’ll note a series of books which do a great job of articulating our current state – or which provide helpful background material from prior generations. If you’re interested, I’d recommend in particular David J. Wells’ new book The Courage To Be Protestant, which ought to be required reading for every Evangelical leader today.''
**On a related note, you may be interested in this very helpful interview with Willimon called "A New Evaluative Question: "Would Jesus Have to Be Crucified to Make This Sermon Work?" from Modern Reformation Magazine.
Saturday, April 26, 2008
Before we dive in, a word of explanation: I've styled the issues as dichotomies and they are philosophically; in application, practice is more likely a question of priority and focus. I've "cartooned" the issues in summary to point to highlight and clarify the issue. So think through this carefully with me.
Let's start at (arguably) the MOST IMPORTANT POINT: What is the Gospel? What is our primary message - the thing that is "...the power of God unto salvation to everyone who believes" (Romans 1:16)?
The nature of the Gospel is that it is External to Man , as opposed to Internal to Man. It is an external reality which has, of course, internal result. But the Gospel itself is external, not internal. And if we get this message wrong, we miss the point - and the power of the Gospel itself.
What do we share as the Gospel? What do you share when asked? Are you ready to answer the question?
Today, many sadly share, as the Gospel, a message of their own experience - something like this:
"I was once [fill in the blank, usually not good], and now I am [much better, thank you] because I [did something, for example (a) accepted Jesus as my personal savior (b) asked Jesus into my heart (c) trusted Christ for salvation (d) walked an aisle (e) prayed a prayer (f) etc.]"
Others may share a different message, like this:
"God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life..." or "You were created for a purpose..." or "the only way to true [pick as many as apply (a) happiness (b) joy (c) peace (d) security (e) prosperity (f) health (g) freedom from addiction (h) etc.] is through Jesus."
There are many variations on this theme, but the common element is this: They are "internal" messages - their primary focus on "ME" - My problem, My benefit, My action, My result.
The only problem is this: That's not the Gospel. The Gospel is external to us - and while it may result in some of the "internals" its nature and focus is very different. The Gospel of the Bible is this:
God saves sinners by grace, through faith in the substitutionary death of Jesus Christ on their behalf. Men are saved by grace through faith in Christ’s work, which a free gift from God, and are freed from the power of sin to glorify God and enjoy Him forever. There is no other way to be saved, and those who do not have faith in the atoning work of Christ on the cross will be judged accordingly and condemned to eternal punishment in Hell.
If I were allowed a little more precision, I’d say this:
Here's the truth: The Gospel is not your experience. The Gospel is not primarily even about you. The Gospel is not “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life.” The Gospel is not “God wants to be in a relationship with you.” Apart from Christ, God does NOT love you in any way that will result in your eternal benefit! We who are in Christ are the beneficiaries of the Good News,
- Because all men are by nature sinful, they are rightly judged as guilty before God and subject to His wrath, which if unsatisfied will result in their eternal punishment in Hell.
- There is no way for any man to satisfy God’s righteous judgment.
- The Gospel (good news) is that Jesus Christ (God’s only Son and God Himself), died to satisfy the just requirement of His wrath for those whom the Father has given Him, and was raised from the dead to accomplish their justification.
- Accordingly, God saves sinners by giving them the ability, through regeneration (the New Birth) to have faith in the substitutionary death of Jesus Christ on their behalf.
- Having begun this good work in those who are adopted into God’s family through Christ’s death and resurrection, God Himself will bring the good work to completion, ultimately through the sanctification and glorification of His children.
- This process increasingly allows God’s children to love, obey and enjoy God and to glorify Him.
- All those who are not converted in this manner remain under the just wrath of God, and will ultimately be condemned to eternal punishment in Hell.
The Gospel is an event in history, for a specific purpose with a definite result. In that sense, the Gospel is external to us – it is not about us, but from God, of God for God. It is not an “internal” event or experience.
• It is not “I was once [ ] and now I am [ ].”
• It isn’t “asking Jesus into your heart”, or “accepting Jesus”. It is not something that I am called to do or to experience and, it is not a relationship.
The result of the Gospel in our lives is all of these things, but the result is to be distinguished from the Gospel itself – which is that God saves sinners by grace through faith in the atoning work of Christ’s death on the cross.
Finally, the Gospel is, of course, the work of God. It is a free gift – and our appropriation of the work done by God is not by any work or human effort or anything of us. And it needs to be said these days that the Gospel is not ANYTHING that starts with the phrase “God longs for…” The Gospel of the Bible is what God accomplished, not what He hopes might possibly happen.
In that sense, then, the Gospel is external – the results are internal. Why does this matter? The Gospel is what must be preached, and it – not the internal result(s) – is “the power of God unto salvation” for those who believe it.
I've heard frequently that, in witnessing, we don't need to "get theological" or cite a lot of Bible verses - we just need to tell our story - share our experience. That's fine, I guess - as long as you get around to telling people The Gospel. Your experience isn't The Good News.
So how does today's Evangelical Message stack up against this? Pretty sadly in my highly unscientific sampling. All too often in sermons, I hear the results - benefits to us, etc. discussed as “the Gospel.” Troll around the web today and look at the sermon series being offered and it's pretty astonishing - especially in the "seeker" and "emergent/emerging" oriented churches. All too often, I hear and see the following:
Power and Experience as the Gospel
Prosperity and Health as the Gospel
Personal Reformation and Life Transformation as the Gospel
Psychological Therapy as the Gospel
Social Action and Justice as the Gospel
Compassion for the Least and the Lost as the Gospel
Some of this is good, some is not. Some is right and some is wrong theologically. That's not my point here, which is this: If the "Message" preached or proclaimed is not Jesus Christ Crucified for Sin - it's not the Gospel. If the message you share is "internal" it's not The Gospel, and it's not the power of God unto salvation. And ultimately, it's like the sign above... it may be true, but it misses the most important thing.
What do we need proclaimed by the Church today? We want to see our children, family, neighbors, friends and community come to salvation - They need the Gospel. We want to grow in obedience to our Lord. We want to be more like Him - We need the Gospel.
The Evangelical Church today is overrun with messages and preaching that focus internally - and miss the mark of the Gospel itself. The Gospel is a factual description about "HE" not a report about "ME". And while this may seem picky, if you think about it, the focus of the Gospel presentation will follow through out its application... if it was all about you in the first place, it will be throughout the rest of your experience as well. But if the focus initially is on what Jesus did, it will continue to focus on Him as well.
So what's your Gospel Message?
Next time: The Primary Focus - God's Glory vs. Man's Benefit
Friday, April 25, 2008
Wednesday, April 16, 2008
I'll be exploring this further in upcoming posts, but I'll start with my working conclusion: There are two competing religions in Evangelicalism these days. They are incompatible and they are at war for the souls of men, women and children in our midst. Pick your metaphor: The two are oil and water, black and white, night and day, right and wrong... one is a reflection of God's will and purpose and the other is a lie as old as the Garden and the deceiver in it.
They use the same language. They cite the same scriptures. They profess the same faith. But they are TOTALLY different in their nature. Contrary to the wishful (and ignorant) thinking of many who name the name of Christ these days, they do not represent "differences within the family" and they are not insignificant - one is orthodox and the other is apostate.
And I am deeply concerned as the wrong one appears to be carrying the day.
I'm going to spend a few posts talking through this, but at their heart, the two competing religions are The Christianity of "He" vs. The Christianity of "Me" (and its close cousin in many circles, the Christianity of "We"). Here is just a brief list of the most significant differences ("He" vs. "Me"). They address the same questions, but present very different answers (I'll let you guess which is the right viewpoint!):
The Primary [fill in the blank] :
Nature of the Gospel -The Evangelical movement is unapologetic in embracing the "Christianity of Me." Increasingly, this is evidenced by (among other things) our
External to Man vs. Internal to Man
God's Glory vs. Man's Benefit
God's Sovereignty vs. Man's Decision
Result of Christ's Death -
God's Completed Work vs. Man's Available Opportunity
Purpose of Sharing the Gospel -
The Glory of God vs. The Benefit of Man
Vehicle for Articulating Faith -
Embracing of Creeds vs. Accomplishment of Deeds
Means of Discipleship -
God's Completed Work vs. Man's Ongoing Responsibility
Measure of Security -
Christ's Work and God's Promise vs. Man's Decision and Consistency
Nature of Worship -
God-Focused and Reverent vs. Man-Focused and "Relevant"
Characteristic of Pastors -
Shepherding vs. Leadership
Identifying Characteristics of Followers -
Fidelity and Obedience vs. Comfort and Power
- Unprecedented rejection of doctrine as unknowable at best and irrelevant at worst, combined with
- Belligerent embracing of Biblical illiteracy and
- Insatiable appetite for entertainment, even at the expense of authenticity
The Church Universal has survived - even flourished - through days of apostasy before, and it will through these dark days. It is, after all, the Bride of Christ - and He who began a good work in the Elect will bring it to completion. But we who are living in this time must take seriously the call of Scripture to be discerning - to watch out for false teachers - to beware of false doctrine - to contend earnestly for the faith once delivered to the saints... The problem is real, and the time for playing and pretending is long over.
So explore this with me if you will... whether you agree with me or not in my conclusions, I trust you'll see that the issue I'm raising is real - and perhaps at least a real discussion can begin. Is it possible that those of us who are "evangelical" are rejecting the very fundamental tenets of the Gospel itself? And if there are really two irreconcilable paths in Evangelicalism these days, which road are you on?
Next Time: "'He" vs. "Me" Christianity - Is the Gospel External or Internal?
Sunday, April 13, 2008
Some are calling this an opportunity, others are blasting it... I see this as just one more blurred line between the secular and sacred. In a Christian culture that has seemingly lost the ability to distinguish between "worship" and "entertainment," this seems perfectly appropriate I guess. Aside from the promo intro, this looks like what most evangelical churches are striving for these days.
Apparently, there is some ruckus about this in the blogsphere. I'll confess to being happily ignorant about the whole thing until this morning, when I stumbled across a post over at the ThinkChristian.net blog. I was especially intrigued by this comment from "MCG":
"Philippians 1:15-18: It is true that some preach Christ out of envy and rivalry, but others out of goodwill. The latter do so in love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. The former preach Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely, supposing that they can stir up trouble for me while I am in chains. But what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice. If it's good enough for the Apostle Paul, it's good enough for me :)Really? Is singing Shout to the Lord "preaching Christ"? Do the lyrics of the song proclaim the message that Paul is celebrating in Philippians 1? What is "the Gospel" that we're talking about?
[two comments later...]
"I do think that in terms of what matters---the Gospel spread---it is a net benefit that the song was sung on American Idol... Many people who have never heard that song, or at least who have never considered it seriously, were exposed to a powerful declaration of Jesus Christ... The Gospel was, indeed, spread."
You may think I'm being picky - and maybe that's the case here. But it does raise the question I've been wrestling with for some time now. I've been threatening to take it up, and will do so later today or tomorrow.
For now though, I can say one thing about the American Idol thing: We know they aren't worshiping because no one has raised their hands. :-)
Tuesday, March 11, 2008
Julie, over at "One Hand Clapping" hosted a rousing and enlightening discussion - ostensibly about John Piper's recent comments about the importance of doctrinal consistency in teaching at a church or seminary. He had, apparently, the unmitigated gall to suggest - as a Reformed pastor - the following (and be prepared for a SHOCK):
Hard to believe, isn't it? What an "arrogant" thing to say! Who does he think he is?
"Here’s my rule of thumb: the more responsible a person is to shape the thoughts of others about God, the less Arminianism should be tolerated. Therefore church members should not be excommunicated for this view but elders and pastors and seminary and college teachers should be expected to hold the more fully biblical view of grace.
Do you separate from a denomination that allows pastors and seminary teachers to believe and teach this error? You can. We do. Oh, how we need discernment concerning how helpful you might be to the cause of Christ and his truth."
By John Piper. © Desiring God. Website: desiringGod.org
Can you believe the temerity of a Calvinist having a hard time with Arminian theology being taught? Arminians would NEVER object to Calvinism being taught, would they? (By the way, I HATE the labels... and I don't see "Calvinism" starting with Calvin: It was Augustinianism before Calvin, Pauline before Augustine and Biblical before that. Blame Jesus for having the nerve to put that doctrine in His Bible!) Well, we certainly wouldn't want consistency in thinking or conviction in belief - the most important thing isn't a passionate pursuit of the Truth, because apparently that's not knowable (or not thinking it is isn't "humble").
We need "humility" in our beliefs - I'm right, but you're right too. That's the ticket. Where is Mr. Rogers when we need him? Sing along, kids!
I think you're a special personPa-leeeeeeze.
And I like your ins and outsides.
Your body's fancy and so is mine.
Anyway, check out the enlightening, profitable discussion that ensued with the "emerging church" folks on Julie's blog - I think it's a great commentary on "emerging church" thinking - and priorities. Note that Northern Illinois has its own "cussing pastor" too!
And feel free to let me know what you think. In my view, it's so sad. And I'm wondering when the adults are going to show up and start asking some legitimate questions about what is going on in the name of "church" these days.
This leads very nicely into my next series - If I can ever get time to start it! Stay tuned.
Saturday, March 01, 2008
As we grow to see our lives as instruments in bringing glory to God, as a result of God's working in us, how can we not trust Him more? How can we not see more and more clearly our circumstances in light of God's plan rather than merely from the perspective of our comfort?
If you are truly God's child, do you judge your circumstances as "fair or unfair"? Do you evaluate them by how comfortable you are? Or do you look at life asking how you can, this day, bring glory to God regardless of your circumstance?
If God has you in a place that feels painful now, is He in control - or is He constrained by you and your actions? So many who name the name of Christ seem to think that they are in control of God - that while "He longs" to bless us, He can't do so without our cooperation. But that isn't the God of the Bible! He wills it, and He brings it to pass. And ALL THINGS work together for good for those who love God and are called according to His purpose.
Today, we finish this lesson by looking at our final need: Protection from the evil one. And like the other petitions in this model prayer, it's all about God. Its from Him and for Him. No wonder this prayer ends with the profound truth and declaration that ALL control (the Kingdom), ALL AUTHORITY (the Power) and ALL CREDIT (the Glory) belong to God and Him alone.
Here are my final questions from this little lesson (and be careful how quickly you answer!):
- When you pray, who is your focus - is it you, or is it God?
- What is the desired outcome or goal of your prayer - is it a change in your circumstance or is it God's Glory?
- What is your view of God - is it that He is your Father, and you can not only trust Him but subordinate your will to His... or does God need to be convinced (or even manipulated) into obeying you?
- In the difficult circumstances of life, do you see God as your loving Father - no matter how things go for you - and the Sovereign Lord of the Universe who is trustworthy? Or do you see God as a really nice - but functionally impotent "semi-deity" who is hindered by your will and action?
"‘And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.’
Our daily bread, the pardon of our sins, and then our being kept from all sin and the power of the evil one, in these three petitions all our personal need is comprehended.
The prayer for bread and pardon must be accompanied by the surrender to live in all things in holy obedience to the Father’s will, and the believing prayer in everything to be kept by the power of the indwelling Spirit from the power of the evil one.
Children of God! it is thus Jesus would have us to pray to the Father in heaven. O let His Name, and Kingdom, and Will, have the first place in our love; His providing, and pardoning, and keeping love will be our sure portion. So the prayer will lead us up to the true child-life: the Father all to the child, the Father all for the child.
We shall understand how Father and child, the Thine and the Our, are all one, and how the heart that begins its prayer with the God-devoted THINE, will have the power in faith to speak out the OUR too.
Such prayer will, indeed, be the fellowship and interchange of love, always bringing us back in trust and worship to Him who is not only the Beginning but the End: ‘FOR THINE IS THE KINGDOM, AND THE POWER, AND THE GLORY, FOR EVER, AMEN.’ Son of the Father, teach us to pray, ‘OUR FATHER.’ ‘LORD, TEACH US TO PRAY.’"
Sunday, February 24, 2008
We've also learned that God is concerned about us as well - He is our Father. We understand a father's love and concern from their children, and the more we realize that God is the Father of those whom He has chosen, the greater our confidence to come into His presence - to take up His concerns, and to bring our concerns to Him as well. And how much He loves and cares for us! How He meets every one of our needs - He knows them before we even ask, and He has resource sufficient for all!
We learn in this portion of the lesson that our needs include not only physical provision, but relational provision as well. We were made to be in community - remember, after all, that God's one "negative" comment PRIOR to the fall was this: "It is not good that the man should be alone..." (Genesis 2:18). We were made for communion with God Himself, and to be in right relationship with those around us. And the barrier to that communion is, of course, our own sinfulness.
How appropriate, then, that we are given a way to address this great need in the Model Prayer - the first provision which requires us to do anything! (By the way, it's the subject for another day's post, but think about Jesus' parable tying our forgiveness with that which we extend to others in Matthew 18: Assume that a day's wages were $10 - the King forgave a debt of $780,000,000 (!) while the servant would not forgive a debt of $1,000! Aren't the things we're asked to forgive our brothers also disproportionately small compared to what we've been forgiven?)
So today's questions: In light of who God is and His provision for you, will you own your fault - your sin - which is the cause of your estrangement from Him? And in receiving His pardon - and considering its generosity, will you forgive those around you?
We are children but sinners too; our right of access to the Father’s presence we owe to the precious blood and the forgiveness it has won for us.
Let us beware of the prayer for forgiveness becoming a formality: only what is really confessed is really forgiven.
Let us in faith accept the forgiveness as promised: as a spiritual reality, an actual transaction between God and us, it is the entrance into all the Father’s love and all the privileges of children.
Such forgiveness, as a living experience, is impossible without a forgiving spirit to others: as forgiven expresses the heavenward, so forgiving the earthward, relation of God’s child. In each prayer to the Father I must be able to say that I know of no one whom I do not heartily love."
Saturday, February 23, 2008
And it is totally consistent that a life focused this way enjoys great confidence in relationship with God. Murray's point here ought not be missed: Do you wonder whether God understands your needs? Whether He knows or cares? If you are His child, you have direct assurance from the Word on this point (Matthew 6:32-33), and our assurance is tied directly to our correct understanding of this Divine priority.
But understanding that, Our Teacher wants us to understand, feel... enjoy confidence in knowing that our Father will provide for our needs. Where ever you are today, God knows your need... and if He is your Father, you can have confidence and assurance that He will provide all that is needed for you. When you think about how little we rely in practice on this truth, it is astonishing!
If you are His child, do you doubt His willingness or ability to take care of you? "...seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you."
When first the child has yielded himself to the Father in the care for His Name, His Kingdom, and His Will, he has full liberty to ask for his daily bread. A master cares for the food of his servant, a general of his soldiers, a father of his child.
And will not the Father in heaven care for the child who has in prayer given himself up to His interests?
We may indeed in full confidence say: Father, I live for Thy honour and Thy work; I know Thou carest for me.
Consecration to God and His will gives wonderful liberty in prayer for temporal things: the whole earthly life is given to the Father’s loving care."
Tuesday, February 19, 2008
For us, prayer can often be self-centered... self-focused. Like little kids coming to dad to right a wrong or fix a problem, so we often come to our Heavenly Father only when there is an injustice, an injury or a problem. And if this only when we think of prayer, how completely it misses the point - the real reason God calls us to pray!We've been called into relationship with the God of the Universe! The One who has created all things, sustains all things, knows all things... who is Perfect in every way, infinitely More than anything we can imagine. While He loves us and knows (and cares!) about even the smallest details of our lives, His will and purpose is FAR more important than ours. When we think about it, even when our difficulties and concerns are overwhelming to us, we understand that God is already aware of them (Matthew 6:31-32), more than able to take care of them (Matthew 7:11) and that He is calling us to care about His concerns. What a privilege! What an honor! What a responsibility!
I need to say, though, that this privilege is reserved for His children - and we are NOT "all God's children" though, no matter how popular the thought remains. We are, by nature, children of the devil (John 8:42-44) - alienated from God, dead to God and objects of His wrath (Ephesians 2:1-3). But by His grace and apart from anything we do, He has chosen some to be His children (Ephesians 1:3)! And God will call them to Himself, make them right before Him, and ultimately, glorify them along with His Son, Jesus (Romans 8:30). If you don't know God this way... seek Him while you have time and opportunity. He may be found! None of us deserve it, but God is rich in mercy. And what could be more important than to be apart of God's plan and purpose?
Today's Question: Do you want God's will to be done - in your life? May it be so for each of us... and if you have not come to know Him, this is a good time to be concerned about it!
As the will is done, the kingdom of heaven comes into the heart.
And wherever faith has accepted the Father’s love, obedience accepts the Father’s will.
The surrender to, and the prayer for a life of heaven-like obedience, is the spirit of childlike prayer."
Monday, February 18, 2008
Perhaps you were listening to the news this last week when the NIU shootings happened. I live in northern Illinois, and we have connections to NIU... and as parents of a college student, I can only begin to start to imagine what happens in the mind of a parent during a tragedy of that magnitude. So when someone, meaning well, says "You're in my thoughts," I appreciate the sentiment but it doesn't really do much to meet the need.
If, on the other hand, though, someone says "I'm praying for you," consider the audacity of that statement: They are saying that they have access to the God of the Universe, that they are daring to enter His presence and are speaking to Him (the author of time, space and the keeper of all eternity, the judge of the entire world, the one with whom ALL must ultimately deal) about this very circumstance! WOW! If it really is that (and I understand that it is EXACTLY that), prayer is a HUGE deal and an INCREDIBLE privilege.
In this "Model Prayer" Murray has pointed out - so far - that it isn't just that all powerful deity that invites us into conversation... He is our Father, and we are loved as dearly loved children if we've been adopted into His family. Oh, and just in case the "familial relationship" leads one of His children to an inappropriate familiarity, we are reminded that Our Father is Holy and that His Glory is to be our Primary priority.
He is Our Father, so we can approach Him. Who could have more access to someone than their child? We are family, so we can draw near.
He is Holy - it is His Name and Character - so we understand Him as He really is. This One we pray to isn't a god of our imagination... we must come to Him as He is. And He is Awesome! But when we pray, do we share our Father's agenda, or are we just all about what we want from Him?
Here's the question for today: Does God's agenda grip you? When was the last time you prayed from God's perspective? That's the subject of today's portion of the lesson. (By the way, this is the shortest of the sections, but if you think about it, perhaps the most challenging. Consider what life would be like when God answers this request - Hey, that's a great place for a comment, so weigh in!)
"‘Thy kingdom come.’ The Father is a King and has a kingdom. The son and heir of a king has no higher ambition than the glory of his father’s kingdom.
In time of war or danger this becomes his passion; he can think of nothing else. The children of the Father are here in the enemy’s territory, where the kingdom, which is in heaven, is not yet fully manifested. What more natural than that, when they learn to hallow the Father-name, they should long and cry with deep enthusiasm: ‘Thy kingdom come.’
The coming of the kingdom is the one great event on which
depends. On our prayers too the coming of the kingdom waits. Shall we not join in the deep longing cry of the redeemed: ‘Thy kingdom come’? Let us learn it in the school of Jesus."
- the revelation of the Father’s glory,
- the blessedness of His children, and
- the salvation of the world
Sunday, February 17, 2008
Murray's fourth lesson in the book With Christ in the School of Prayer is discussing "The Model Prayer" given by Jesus in Matthew 6. (By the way, before this one he's discussed Jesus (Luke 11:1) as "The Only Teacher" for prayer , those who worship in Spirit and Truth (John 4:23-24) as "The True Worshippers" and the only people of prayer and being "Alone with God" (Matthew 6:6) as the beginning place - the school - of prayer. Great stuff, and all worth a place in your devotional thinking.
So here's the question for today: When we pray, what is primarily on our mind? The answer to that question reveals a lot about our heart. Are you willing to learn from Jesus about what is important in prayer? The truth here is not new, but if you've ever attended a public prayer meeting, you'll likely realize how sadly lacking this truth is in application. How often our concerns are the first (and sadly, even often the only) things that are mentioned in prayer!
May that not be true with us. Our Heavenly Father is waiting for those who put His priorities first, and our churches need the example of a few who will learn to pray in accordance with the Father's priorities... will you be one who prays this way?
"‘Hallowed be Thy name.’ There is something here that strikes us at once. While we ordinarily first bring our own needs to God in prayer, and then think of what belongs to God and His interests, the Master reverses the order.
First, Thy name, Thy kingdom, Thy will; then, give us, forgive us, lead us, deliver us. The lesson is of more importance than we think. In true worship the Father must be first, must be all. The sooner I learn to forget myself in the desire that HE may be glorified, the richer will the blessing be that prayer will bring to myself. No one ever loses by what he sacrifices for the Father. This must influence all our prayer. There are two sorts of prayer: personal and intercessory. The latter ordinarily occupies the lesser part of our time and energy. This may not be.
O let us live for this, and let, on each act of adoration, Our Father! there follow in the same breath Thy Name, Thy Kingdom, Thy Will;—for this we look up and long."
- Christ has opened the school of prayer specially to train intercessors for the great work of bringing down, by their faith and prayer, the blessings of His work and love on the world around. There can be no deep growth in prayer unless this be made our aim.
- The little child may ask of the father only what it needs for itself; and yet it soon learns to say, Give some for sister too. But the grown-up son, who only lives for the father’s interest and takes charge of the father’s business, asks more largely, and gets all that is asked.
- And Jesus would train us to the blessed life of consecration and service, in which our interests are all subordinate to the Name, and the Kingdom, and the Will of the Father.
‘Hallowed be Thy name.’ What name? This new name of Father. The word Holy is the central word of the Old Testament; the name Father of the New. In this name of Love all the holiness and glory of God are now to be revealed. And how is the name to be hallowed? By God Himself:‘I will hallow My great name which ye have profaned.’Our prayer must be that in ourselves, in all God’s children, in presence of the world, God Himself would reveal the holiness, the Divine power, the hidden glory of the name of Father. The Spirit of the Father is the Holy Spirit: it is only when we yield ourselves to be led of Him, that the name will be hallowed in our prayers and our lives. Let us learn the prayer: ‘Our Father, hallowed be Thy name.’"
Saturday, February 16, 2008
One of the great tragedies of today's evangelical movement is the sad lack of personal and corporate prayer. You know the old saying:
"Much prayer, much power... little prayer, little power... no prayer, no power."
This is a great summary of a core problem with a self-sufficient culture (even an evangelical sub-culture), and a reason for the selfish focus of many who name the name of Christ in these days. And what a tragedy it is to claim to follow Christ, but at such a distance that we miss His will and purpose by failing in this fundamental privilege of actual communion and fellowship with the Father. I want to share over the next few days just this one lesson... by the way, have you considered recently what an unbelievable privilege it is to have the direct, specific teaching from Jesus on this subject? How incredibly important it must be for us to understand - and to follow in practice.
Today, I'm going to let Murray speak for himself without any further distraction from me. Perhaps you will renewed encouragement, and may God grant to each of us the reality of His presence in prayer.
"‘Our Father which art in heaven!’ To appreciate this word of adoration aright, I must remember that none of the saints had in Scripture ever ventured to address God as their Father. The invocation places us at once in the centre of the wonderful revelation the Son came to make of His Father as our Father too.
The words are the key to the whole prayer, to all prayer. It takes time, it takes life to study them; it will take eternity to understand them fully. The knowledge of God’s Father-love is the first and simplest, but also the last and highest lesson in the school of prayer.
- It comprehends the mystery of redemption—Christ delivering us from the curse that we might become the children of God.
- The mystery of regeneration—the Spirit in the new birth giving us the new life.
- And the mystery of faith—ere yet the redemption is accomplished or understood, the word is given on the lips of the disciples to prepare them for the blessed experience still to come.
O let us take time, until the Spirit has made these words to us spirit and truth, filling heart and life: ‘Our Father which art in heaven.’ Then we are indeed within the veil, in the secret place of power where prayer always prevails. "
- It is in the personal relation to the living God, and the personal conscious fellowship of love with Himself, that prayer begins.
- It is in the knowledge of God’s Fatherliness, revealed by the Holy Spirit, that the power of prayer will be found to root and grow.
- In the infinite tenderness and pity and patience of the infinite Father, in His loving readiness to hear and to help, the life of prayer has its joy.
Monday, January 21, 2008
I've been reading Brian McLaren's most recent book Everything Must Change: Jesus, Global Crises, and a Revolution of Hope (2007). Mr. McLaren's audacity struck me even more in this book than usual and, while I can hardly do justice to the whole of the book (even in this unusually long post!), one aspect COMPELS me to respond.
McLaren argues that the Church has missed the point of the Gospel – not just American evangelicals, but all of Orthodox Christianity over the centuries. (I guess if you're going to take something on, you may as well go for broke!) His proposition, at least in part, is that our focus on individual salvation is wrong - or at least misguided. In seeking to demonstrate this, he contrasts historic orthodox Christianity (what he calls the “conventional” view) with the “emerging” view (which he clearly holds), and contrasts those views' answers to four questions foundational to the Gospel message. The following excerpts are his words, and I believe speak for themselves in terms of fairness, tone of “charity” and his feelings about our historic message. His questions - his responses. Let's take a Fox News look at this ("We report, you decide"):
“The Human Situation: What is the story we find ourselves in?A little later in the book, McLaren goes further along this line, discussing the songs of Mary and Zechariah. In seeking to make the point that, at the time of the birth of Christ, these key announcements echoed the themes of the "emerging" rather than the "conventional" view of Christianity. To make the point, McLaren rewrites Mary's "Magnificat" (as he thinks it should have read if the "conventional" view was right) in the following manner:
Conventional View: God created the world as perfect, but because our primal ancestors, Adam and Eve, did not maintain the absolute perfection demanded by God, God has irrevocably determined that the entire universe and all it contains will be destroyed, and the souls of all human beings – except for those specifically exempted – will be forever punished for their imperfection in hell.*
* Of course, there are many modern Western nonreligious ontologies and framing stories too, plus Eastern ontologies and framing stories - both religious and irreligious.
Emerging View: God created the world as good, but human beings – as individuals, and as groups – have rebelled against God and filled the world with evil and injustice. God wants to save humanity and heal it from its sickness, but humanity is hopelessly lost and confused, like sheep without a shepherd, wandering further and further into lostness and danger. Left to themselves, human beings will spiral downward in sickness and evil.
Basic Questions: What questions did Jesus come to answer?
Conventional View: Since everyone is doomed to hell, Jesus seeks to answer one or both of these questions: How can individuals be saved from eternal punishment in hell and instead go to heaven after they die? How can God help individuals be happy and successful until then?
Emerging View: Since the human race is in such desperate trouble, Jesus seeks to answer this question: What must be done about the mess we’re in? The mess refers both to the general human condition and to its specific outworking among his contemporaries living under the domination by the Roman Empire and who were confused and conflicted as to what they should do to be liberated.
Jesus’ Message: How did Jesus respond to the crisis?
Conventional View: Jesus says, in essence, “If you want to be among those specifically qualified to escape being forever punished for your sins in hell, you must repent of your individual sins and believe that my Father punished me on the cross so he won’t have to punish you in hell. Only if you believe this will you go to heaven when the earth is destroyed and everyone else is banished to hell.”* This is the good news.
*This reflects a Calvinistic, evangelical, Protestant version of the message. The popular Roman Catholic version might say, “You must believe in the teachings of the church and follow its instructions, especially those regarding mortal sins and sacraments.” The popular mainline or liberal Protestant version is sometimes vague and difficult to pin down, but one version of it might be summarized in its most dilute form as, “God is nice and wants you to be nice too.”
Emerging View: Jesus says, in essence, “I have been sent by God with this good news – that God loves humanity, even in its lostness and sin. God graciously invites everyone and anyone to turn from his or her path and follow a new way. Trust me and become my disciple, and you will be transformed, and you will participate in the transformation of the world, which is possible, beginning right now.”* This is the good news.
* This experience of transformation is, in my view, related to what Jesus means by “the kingdom of God.”
Purpose of Jesus: Why is Jesus important?
Conventional View: Jesus came to solve the problem of “original sin,” meaning that he helps qualified individuals not to be sent to hell for their sin or imperfection. In a sense, Jesus saves these people from God, or more specifically, from the righteous wrath of God, which sinful human beings deserve because they have not perfectly fulfilled God’s just expectations, expressed in God’s moral laws. This escape from punishment is not something they earn or achieve, but rather a free gift they receive as an expression of God’s grace and love. Those who receive it enjoy a personal relationship with God and seek to serve and obey God, which produces a happier life on Earth and more rewards in heaven.
Emerging View: Jesus came to become the Savior of the world, meaning he came to save the earth and all it contains from its ongoing destruction because of human evil. Through his life and teaching, through his suffering, death, and resurrection, he inserted into human history a seed of grace, truth, and hope that can never be defeated. This seed will, against all opposition and odds, prevail over the evil and injustice of humanity and lead to the world’s ongoing transformation into the world God dreams of. All who find in Jesus God’s hope and truth discover the privilege of participating in his ongoing work of personal and global transformation and liberation from evil and injustice. As part of his transforming community, they experience liberation from the fear of death and condemnation. This is not something they earn or achieve, but rather a free gift they receive as an expression of God’s grace and love.”
“My soul glorifies the Lord and my Spirit rejoices in God my personal Savior, for he has been mindful of the correct saving faith of his servant. My spirit will go to heaven when my body dies, for the Might One has provided forgiveness, assurance, and eternal security for me—holy is his name. His mercy extends to those who have correct saving faith and orthodox articulations of belief, from generation to generation. He will overcome the damning effects of original sin with his mighty arm; he will damn to hell those who believe they can be saved through their own efforts or through any religion other than the new one he is about to form. He will condemn followers of other religions to hell but bring to heaven those will correct belief. He has filled correct believers with spiritual blessings but will send those who are not elect to hell forever. He has helped those with correct doctrinal understanding, remembering to be merciful to those who believe in the correct theories of the atonement, just as our preferred theologians throughout history have articulated.” (emphasis added to increase nausea).McLaren’s characterization of the orthodox view certainly bear comment and rebuttal. It is, at best, a caricature - and an unfair one at that. His rhetoric here is consistent with his frequently utilized tendency in his writings to make his point seem more reasonable by setting up an unreasonable “straw man” argument for comparison. But in this case, his caricatures and their comparisons lead one to a very different view of the Gospel itself!
Just as one example, he appears to say that God would obviously be unfair to judge men and send them to hell for their “imperfections” while ignoring the clear doctrine of original sin. What is one to make, for example, of his characterizations of the doctrine of original sin and the lost condition of man? What is he implying when he characterizes this view as punishment in hell forever for our “imperfections” and that “because our primal ancestors” (a long time ago) weren’t perfect? What emotion is he trying to stir by saying that because of this ancient “imperfection,” “God has irrevocably determined that the entire universe and all it contains [and the souls of all human beings] will be destroyed”?
McLaren defines the historic, orthodox view of original sin and divine justice as self-evidently untrue, written in a manner that demands “NO – THAT’S NOT TRUE” as the only decent response. But while McLaren states it in an inflammatory fashion, the fact remains that the sin of Adam and Eve is imputed to all men (Romans 5:12 and following), and all of humanity faces an eternity in hell apart from the atoning work of Jesus received by faith. In his book The Story We Find Ourselves In, McLaren characterizes substitutionary atonement (what we have always affirmed as the cornerstone of the Gospel message) as “something sounding like “divine child abuse!”* And while his "emerging view" seems so much more reasonable - especially by comparison - it avoids the foundational question of the spiritual state of man and his need for the substitutionary atonement of Christ. Apart from this, men aren't "spiral[ing] downward in ...evil" - they are DEAD in it.
* To be fair (or at least complete), McLaren makes this statement in a dialogue between characters, and so he might seek to distance himself from the sentiment expressed. He does, however, go on to explain that substitutionary atonement is “a theory” which, along with others, may be “windows” into understanding a broader truth – but, like a window, they are inadequate in conveying the whole of what’s to be viewed outside. “The theories are like windows, and having a theory is better than staring at a blank wall or even a picture on the wall, but theories can’t give you the whole sky… I’d rather use the word ‘Mystery’…” All of which is part of McLaren’s ongoing effort to undermine the certainty of historic truth and propel a sense of mystery which rejects any efforts at propositional truth – at least to the extent it has been viewed as foundational in historic, Orthodox Christianity as understood by traditional Evangelicals.
The type of rhetoric used by McLaren is more than merely "provocative," and it does not represent something over which “reasonable people can disagree.” At best, it is confusing and misleading; at worst, it is “another Gospel” within the meaning of Galatians 1:8, and heretical.
There are certainly many people who have done a fair, scholarly review and assessment of Brian McLaren’s writings (see for example, D.A. Carson’s book Becoming Conversant With The Emerging Church, which predates McLaren’s most provocative writing), but my concern is not with scholarly review – we don’t need an analysis of his ideas as much as we need protection from them. This is why church leaders are told to guard the doctrine of the Church – that is, not only to give instruction in sound doctrine, but “also to rebuke those who contradict it” (Titus 1:9). It is also why we, as “the rank and file” are commanded to test everything against the Word (e.g., Acts 17:11, 1 John 4:1) and flee from false teaching (Romans 16:17).
Evangelicals (by and large) have thankfully dismissed things like the Joel Olsteen lunacy, but seem to tolerate Brian McLaren – and for the life of me, I can’t understand why. McLaren’s socteriology appears (at least in practical application) to be Palagian, with not-so-subtle hints towards universalism thrown in as well. He is increasingly widely read, invited to prominent speaking events, featured in Christianity Today, and continues to move further and further away from historic Christianity. People need to be warned about him, and the silence of the main stream evangelical church leadership in tolerating – and even promoting his message – is astonishing.
If we have reached the point where someone can redefine the Gospel without reaction from Evangelical leadership, and where aberrant, historically biased, cartoon-like broadsides on historic Christianity (like what’s being offered by Mr. McLaren) are tolerated and even entertained, we’ve sunk farther as a movement than one would have feared. I’m praying that leaders and thinking disciples of Jesus repudiate Mr. McLaren and false teaching for the sake of the name of our Lord – and the eternal benefit of those who are less discriminating.