22 August 2012

More love, O Christ, to Thee

I think if we are honest as believers we will all admit to times where our love for God seemed lacking.  It is not as if we denounced the faith or denied Christ, but we have all gone through times where it seemed God was distant and our love and worship of Him seemed stale.  Chances are we have all seen this season of life and we probably will see times of it again in the future.  So the question has to be answered, what do we do in this situation.  The answer I am going to give is not a catch all answer, as there may be unrepentant sin, etc. that you need to deal with, but I do think it applies to most, if not all of these situations in some shape or form.

First, let's evaluate how not to increase our love for God.  Often times people get in this stage and they immediately feel guilty about it and they want to try harder to love God.  They will make themselves busy in church and doing other things and think that a love for God will just develop from their business.  Or some look at John 14.15 where Jesus says if you love me you will keep my commandments and think that if they just start following all the rules that they will love God.  But here is the problem with this, they are all based upon you seeking to work for God's love, both in receiving and giving of it.  You can't work your way to loving God more.  So if we can't work our way into a love for God what are we to do?

To me, a large part of the answer to this question is found in Luke 7.36-50.  Here there is a sinful woman who falls at the feet of Jesus, amid much social mockery, and washes his feet with her tears and dries his feet with her hair.  In the midst of this situation Jesus, speaking to the self-righteous pharisees, says that her love flowed from the reality of her great sins being forgiven, whereas those who had been forgiven little loved little.  Jesus is not saying that some are really in need of forgiveness, rather he was pointing out the hardness of the heart in the self righteous.  From this we see the answer to growing in our love for God, this being that we dwell upon His great forgiveness for us in Christ.  We often lose sight of just how sinful and depraved and in need of grace we were when Christ saved us, and how sinful and depraved and in need of grace we are now.  We lose sight of God's great grace and mercy for us and the great work of Christ on our behalf.  May we all fall on our faces and pray that our Father in Heaven would draw us back to our dependency upon him and His great forgiveness for us in Christ.  Would the doctrine of grace and the reality of our salvation not merely be theological statements that we affirm, but may they be life changing truth that draws us deeper into a love of and worship to God the Father, through the Son, by the Spirit.

21 August 2012

Recounting the great works of God

I will give thanks to the LORD with my whole heart; I will recount all of your wonderful deeds.  I will be glad and exult in you; I will sing praise to your name, O Most High. 
Psalm 9.1-2

Give thanks to the LORD for He is good.  How many times have I spoken these words, either in reading Scripture or singing this truth in song?  It seems these words flow from my mouth and I often hear them flowing from the mouth of other church goers as well, as they should.  It is good for us to give thanks to the LORD and acknowledge His goodness.  But over the past few days the Spirit, through circumstances in my life, has been pressing me on this and my truthfulness and meaning in making such a statement.  Do I really trust that He is good?  Do I really, honestly take time to give Him true thanks and praise and to "tell among the people His deeds?" (Psalm 9.11)  

More times than not I find myself giving a generic thanks to God at appointed times and only reclaiming his goodness during certain times, yet we are called to always do this.  It seems more often than recounting all of his wonderful deeds I am more concerned with what I don't have and what I am seeking Him to give me.  Again, please do not misunderstand me, it is not wrong for us to make our request known to God, in fact we are commanded to do so, but as believers, those who have been blessed in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places (Ephesians 1), may we not lose sight of what God has done for us in the shadow of what we are asking Him to do.  May we not forget His goodnes and grace for us.

Maybe this is just me.  Maybe I am the only one who seems to lose sight of this, but for some reason I doubt it.  May we who call upon the LORD take time to truly recount His wonderful deeds, and more than the surface level heatlth and family.  May we truly take time to sit and give thanks to God for what He has done.  May we rest in His faithfulness and goodness.  And above all else, as we recount the great things He has done, may they draw us into a satisfaction and dependency upon the good God who has given them to us, not the things themselves.

18 July 2012

God will not give us more than we can handle....will He?

"God will not put more on you than you can handle." This is a saying that we have all heard more times than we can possibly count. I was even in a conversation the other day when the person conversing with me made this statement. This is a statement that has always rubbed me the wrong way, if for no other reason because it is a cheap cliche that people seem to say just to try to make themselves feel better in the moment. However, lately it has been rubbing me the wrong way theologically. It gets me thinking, is this true? Is there biblical text that teaches such a statement, or does the Bible proclaim a truth that actually teaches the exact opposite? II Corinthians 12.1-10 is a key text in seeing a biblical view of this statement, but it is not the only one. In this text Paul is referring to a "thorn" that is in his flesh. Paul is not referring to a literal thorn that is irritating his skin, but rather some affliction that is upon him that he cannot overcome or bear. The identity of this thorn is highly debated, and for the sake of time and relevance I will not go into hasing out my interpretation of the thorn. Rather I want us to focus on what takes place between God and Paul regarding the thorn. Three times Paul pleaded with God to take this "thorn" from him. The ability to overcome or "handle" this thorn was beyond Paul's ability, so he was pleading with God to take it away from Him. So how does God respond? Does he tell Paul, "Don't worry, I will not give you more than you can handle?" No. He says, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is make perfect in weakness." (emphasis mine) Christ Jesus, not Paul, is the one with the strength to handle the situation. If you look at the context, God gave Paul the thorn to keep him from getting boastful in the first place. God placed the thorn in the side of Paul to show him that he couldn't do it on his own strength and to draw him into a deeper realization of his need of Christ Jesus. God's power, grace, and goodness are displayed, not in keeping us from more than we can handle, but rather showing us we can't handle it and bringing us to Him through Christ Jesus. Think about the mindset that truly lies behind the statement that God will not give us more than we can handle. On the surface it seems that we are putting trust in God that he wouldn't do something harsh to us. But the main heart behind this statement is one of pride. Ultimately, we are saying that we don't need God's help, because after all we can handle it. So let us be sure of this, God will give us more than we can handle, but he will not leave us in the midst of it. May we embrace our inability to be God and therefore our inability to have the power, wisdom and strength to overcome all things. May we rest in the truth of the Psalmist when he writes, "God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble at its swelling." May we stop resting in our strength and may we rejoice in our weakness. May we cling to the power of God whose weakness is stronger than our strength (I Cor.1.25). May we trust in Christ as our strength and righteousness.

13 January 2012

My response to the Jesus>Religion debate.

It seems that the video of the guy performing a poetry piece about how Jesus is greater than religion has spread like wildfire, and has caused some to promote it and some to stand against it.  I think both sides (at least the ones I have seen and talked to, can't speak for all) are coming from the same heart, it is just a matter of what they mean by religion.

First, let me clarify something.  Are there guidelines that God has clearly laid out for life and worship? Absolutely.  Do performing these have anything to do with our righteous standing before God?  Nope.  These are performed out of who we already are in Christ, not in hopes of earning salvation.  So if what you mean by religion is that God is holy and has laid out guidelines for worshiping Him and that as those who are in Him through Christ, we are to seek to live out through the Holy Spirit, then yes I will agree with you that this "religion" is not different from the gospel.

However, this definition of religion is not what the majority of society, nor from what I can tell, the guy in the video have in mind.  The guy never says in the video that it's just you and Jesus so who needs the church.  He never said if you've got Jesus it doesn't matter how you live so don't put any guidelines on your life.  What he does speak against is doing things laid out in Scripture or things we make up for ourselves in order to cover up the truth of who we really are, which is a dead, rotting corpse in our depravity.  We have people enslaved to the mindset that God loves them because they show up and sit in a pew every week, or because they wear a suite and tie (or because they don't), or because they sing songs a certain way, whether that be hymns or contemporary.  This needs to die, and Jesus is greater than this. We often fear that if we promote the doctrine of grace to much that people will live an immoral life with no regard to holiness before God.  Grace does not lead to rebellion, moralism does.

The gospel, nor the poem mentioned above, promotes a life without restraint, accountability, or fellowship with a local body of believers.  What the gospel does it put to death any hope we have in our own ability to please God and atone for our sins by any act or duty, and point us to the righteousness that is found in Christ Jesus.  I pray that many will become convicted of their striving to earn their salvation and reconciliation with God through their own merits, but instead will be overcome by what Christ has already accomplished on their behalf. 

08 December 2011

What is your authority?

Authority seems to have become taboo in our culture. No one wants to sit under it and everyone wants to have it. Regardless of whether or not we want to acknowledge it, we all sit under some form of authority. Now I am not talking here of the reality that we all sit under the authority of God, though this is true and one day this will be made known. No, rather I am speaking of the authority on which we all base our views, our beliefs and convictions, our actions, our likes and dislikes. As we grow and form these areas of our life, we are all forming theme based around the authority of our life in that area. So the question is, what is our authority. This authority can take on many different forms.

For some, their authority comes from their emotions. They base their beliefs, their interest, their worldview around the emotions that these things invoke. If something stirs up inside of us a feeling of joy and happiness, well then it must be right. Life decisions, world-views even thoughts of God are based around their emotions and feelings and how they want things to be. Emotions are not bad, in fact they are good as they are given us from God. However, emotions are not meant to be our guiding force in life or our authority. The problem with this authority is it deceives you. Your emotions change from situation to situation. What may seem like certain truth and lead you to a strong conviction in one situation will lead you into changing your mind when the variables of a situation change. You base moral decisions and convictions based on the situation rather than truth.

Others find their authority based on experience. Often this view of authority is based largely around pragmatism. If I have experienced something in the past and it produced positive results, then it must be right. Views of right and wrong, good and bad, and even most beliefs and convictions are based around has it produced results. The problem is, everything that produces results is not by default right. This method also is deceiving and shifting. What happens when this "truth" no longer produces results, is it no longer a truth to which we are to hold? What if something that is counter opposite to this result producing truth or worldview also produces results or shows evidence that it "works?" Are they both true and worthy though they are opposed to one another?

For others, their authority comes from their logic or intellect. They analyze every situation and evaluate it to see if it logically adds up, and if it makes sense, then it is true and they will hold to it, but if it doesn't it must be rejected. If I am honest, I struggle with falling into this category. This sounds good on the surface, but this only works if the persons intellect and mindset is based around a logical set of truths and values by which to judge. If the persons intellect is based on faulty information, or worse, no information just their own wisdom, then what they conclude will also be skewed. Also, there are many very intelligent, educated people who diametrically disagree on any number of issues, so still this gives us no set standard of authority, but rather a shifting changing authority that is based on each persons thoughts.

The main problem with all of these authorities is that they make the individual the ultimate authority. It's the person's emotions, or experience or intellect that becomes the basis by which all things are judged. People cling to these authorities because it gives us a sense of control. If emotions, or experience or intellect are the authority, then ultimately I can shape right and wrong, my worldview, even my views of God to be exactly like I want them to be. This is dangerous and does not lead to truth that is absolute, but rather a truth that is weak and relative.

Rather, truth and authority must be set around something that is absolute and unchanging. Something that comes from the ultimate standard of truth, this being God. God is the source of all truth. He is to be the ultimate molder of our worldview. And He has not left who He is up to our imagination. He has revealed all these things through the Holy Scriptures. It is the scripture that is "breathed out by God and profitable" (2 Timothy 3:16). It is through His word, the Bible, that God has revealed the truth of morality, the truth of who He is and how one is reconciled to Him through Christ alone. It is through Scripture that God has laid out the truth of His bride the church and how she is to function and be lead. It is through His word that He has made known to us the ultimate authority on all these things. So the questions now becomes, will we submit these lesser authorities (our emotions, experience/pragmatism, and intellect) to the ultimate authority of Scripture? Will we allow the truths of Scripture to guide our emotions, not our emotions the truths of Scripture? Will we seek out of what the Bible teaches about our experiences and whether this thing or world view that "works" actually lines up with who God is and what He has revealed? Will we allow our intellects and worldviews to be shaped by the truth of God's word, not the things of this world? Will the Bible be the ultimate authority in our lives as believers, as it is intended to be, or will it simply become a slave to these other authorities that we have established?

04 October 2011

Should we even try?

This morning I was reading an article from cnn.com entitled "Why young Christians aren't waiting anymore."  The article was written to show the vast similarity between Christians and non-Christians in the area of pre-marital sex.  The numbers were shocking to read.  There seems to be no difference in practicing sex outside of marriage for professing Christians as there non-Christian peers.  But what was even more staggering to me was the paragraph that closed out the article.  Here the writer posed the questions:

"So what should a Christian parent or youth pastor do? How do they convince more young Christians to wait until marriage, or should they stop even trying?

I fear the answer to this question for most parents and pastors, both student pastors and lead pastors alike, is that we should just accept the facts and not try anymore.  I fear we have just accepted the immorality of church goers as a whole (because this issue goes far beyond those rebellious teenagers) and adopted the mentality that there is nothing we can do.  So, what should we do?  How are we as parents and pastors to raise up a generation of disciples of Christ who are marked by holiness not conformity?  

Before I address how we should do this, I want to address how we should not do this.  First, we should not use the "because Christians don't do that sort of thing" argument.  This gives no reason for life change and breeds either religion or rebellion.  Either the person will obey this order out of duty and compulsion rather than love or they will reject the teaching all together because they see no legitimate reason to adhere to it.  

Also, we must not reduce ourselves to using the fear technique (Have sex and you will die!) to manipulate sexual purity and holiness.  Anyone who has ever been involved in a youth group or sat under any teaching on abstinence has encountered this.  The person teaching gives all these statistics on teen pregnancy and tells you how bad STD's are and then proceeds to tell you that this is why you shouldn't have sex until you are married. 

There are two main problems with this approach.  One, nobody ever really believes this will happen to them.  This type of teaching may have an effect for a short while, but then they will realize that their peers are engaging in sexual activity and the majority of them are not pregnant nor disease ridden.  The fear that leads to purity slowly dwindles and the commitment to abstinence dwindles with it.  Second, one's personal health and safety should not be the reason we follow Christ commands as believers.  Our motivation for obedience and holiness on any level should flow from the love of Christ for us and His work on our behalf, not from a fear of sickness or pregnancy.  

So what should are response be as parents and the church to this reality that more and more professing Christians are being conformed to the way of the world?  To put it simply, preach Christ and Him crucified.  Teach as Paul did in 1 Corinthians 6:20 "for you were bought with a price.  So glorify God in your body."  If we are going to see the church follow Christ in holiness, specifically dealing with the issue of sexual purity, it has to be in light of the completed work of Christ and who we are in Him, no through fear.  Raise believers up in the gracious gospel of Christ and teach them who they are in Him.  People who are consumed with the glorious work and person of Christ Jesus will follow Him and seek purity for they know that He is good and His commands are from love not oppression.

So to answer the question posed in the title of this post, "Should we even try?", absolutely we should.  As parents and the church, we should not sit by why those who profess to be believers in Christ sit in the filth of their sins, rather we should proclaim the work of Christ and the reality of who they are in Him and loving lead them through the power of the Spirit from conformity to the world to a holiness in Christ Jesus.  So the question to be ask now is not should we try, rather will we?

27 September 2011

An article every Christian parent must read

I came across this post from Joshua Harris on parenting and wanted to pass it along.  It is written to homeschoolers, but is not limited to them.  This is an article that speaks to every Christian parent who desires to see their child follow after Christ.  It was very convicting to me as I begin the venture known as parenting and I think back on the teaching and counseling I have done to parents in the past.  May we seek to capture the hearts of our children, not their behavior.

Read the article here.