Friday, October 29, 2010

Are adultery and lust the same thing?

Alright CIC readers, I'm looking for some feedback. Recently I received the following question from one of my Community Group members and sent her a brief 10-minute response. I had considered polishing it up before posting it over here for you guys, but I think I'd rather hear your thoughts. What would you have added/left out/said differently?

Q: Some people believe that there is no difference among sins because of the verse where Jesus talked about lusting after a woman is as bad as adultery and hating someone in your heart is like actually murdering them. What do you think?

A: I don't believe there is no difference or that adultery is "as bad" as lusting. I don't think that's what Jesus was really getting at. I think, as Lee talked about at length in last week's sermon, that there is a heart component to every sin, that every sin really happens at the heart level. So while I believe that adultery and lust are both equally sins in the eyes of God, there's a lot more that must be considered.

First off, every sin is a sin because it is an affront to the nature of God. So when James says "For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it" (2:10), I believe that is because when I lie, I am living in direct conflict with the moral nature of God, just as when I steal or covet or lust. Thus, they are all sins. So on this level, lusting is the same as adultery because our hearts--not just our hands, eyes and feet--are accountable to live by the moral nature of God.

However, while lust is just that, I would suggest that adultery actually involves a number of sins: lust, covetousness, theft (to name a few) and requires a further quenching of the conviction of the Holy Spirit to actually put sinful thoughts and desires into action.

Also, God must see the consequences of the two sins as being unequal at least here on earth, because while I believe capital punishment was something instituted in Genesis and endorsed in the New Testament as well (Rom. 13:4), Jesus didn't say that if you hate a brother in your heart that you should suffer the same earthly consequences as if you had really murdered someone.

So while Jesus did say "you have committed murder in your heart" and "you have committed adultery in your heart", I don't think we can say that there is a 1 to 1 ratio when we consider the scope of the sin, the earthly consequences of the sin, the companion sins that may occur in the actual deed, and the quenching of the Holy Spirit in the process.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

"I won't ever be your cornerstone"

Christian leadership is a curious thing. I have always perceived it to be something of a double-edged sword: powerful when used in the right way, dangerous to those who become enamoured by power and perks. I have tended to avoid leadership, but I have recently had to re-engage with the subject and press into the issues.

How does one be a Christian leader and what does Christian leadership look like? Now I do not hold myself to be a Christian leader - or at least what I perceive to be a leader. Sure, as soon as you take up service roles within the church family (which I have) there is a degree to which you become a 'leader'. The question remains though: how do we 'lead'?

My reluctance in engaging in leadership comes from my atheistic hangover - for 20 years my ideas and drives were formed by the world and what it taught me. I remember learning that leadership was a mechanism by which you exert some level of rule over others and enjoy the privileges of those hallowed circles. Seek leadership because it brings Mammon and all her glories. Now I have no wish to expose myself to those temptations and so I have avoided leadership at all costs.

I marvel in the paradox of the Bible and of God, a concept which needs a brief explanation. It is undeniable that God stands in direct contrast with what the world tells us to be true. In short, many of these lessons are so counter-cultural, are so beautifully paradoxical, that you cannot help but think they must be true. So it is with leadership and how we are taught to lead.

Given God can be nothing other than a leader, we should look to Jesus and see what He makes of leadership - Matt. 20:25-28 makes it clear. We are not to lord it over others but serve. Leadership is defined by service. This paradox continues in 1 Peter: this servant King is then the One who is rejected by the world becomes the cornerstone of the Living Temple of God (1 Peter 2:4-6). Architects forgive me, but the cornerstone is the foundational stone from which measurements for buildings are taken - everything is measured in relation to the cornerstone. So measure yourself by the cornerstone of Christ and His leadership methods - build on His sure foundation.

Why is this emphasis on service important? Consider the purpose of the cross: to reconcile sinful man to God. Why? So that we may enjoy Him forever. How? By being more like Him and His dearly beloved Son. Jesus affords us the mechanism to that change along with the Spirit - in short the cross allows us to become all we can be (to steal the US Army phrase). Jesus led so we could become all we can be - that is righteous via sanctification. So leaders take note - leadership is to allow and equip those you lead to become all that they were supposed to be, that is holy.

"I won't ever be your cornerstone" opines Caleb Followill in Pyro. I cannot help but share the sentiment. When you think of the Living Cornerstone and how everything is measured from Him, why would you want to be? He is our cornerstone, we are living stones chiseled to His measurements. We need Christ to shape us: His example, His grace. We must heed His example in encouraging and equipping others in their sanctification. I pray that those I feebly attempt to serve and lead are becoming Christ-like through my stewardship. If I am ever blessed with a wife I only hope that I can lead her to become all she can be in Christ - that is leadership in marriage, by no means is it bossing her around.

"I won't ever be your cornerstone." Praise be that I no longer want to be and that He is! Lead on Servant King.

Book Review: A Praying Life by Paul Miller

I am not much of a prayer. I mean, I pray, but no one that knows me would put me in the category of "prayer warrior". In fact, I have trouble finding the time to pray and, even when I do find that, finding the words to pray.

This is perhaps why I loved A Praying Life by Paul Miller so much. While it is packed with wisdom and helpful instruction, it is written by and intended for the struggling prayer. If you're like me, a book on prayer sounds about as appealing as a book on having your cavities drilled at the dentist (you and I were both wrong).

Unfortunately, practice is much harder than principle. This is not a book to be rushed through. I would recommend a slow pace that allows you to implement the various disciplines and directives within. Believe me, it will be worth your time.

Not only did the book read much easier than I expected, it really stuck with me. I have found myself quoting him often in my Community Group as the various challenges to prayer are common and widespread. Additionally, this book will be one I will loan and recommend often and it even made it onto my "read again" list (a surprisingly short list, believe it or not).

Rating: 5 of 5 stars

Recommended for: Every Christian (yes, all of you)

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Book Review: The Grace of God by Andy Stanley

The God of the Old Testament can sometimes seem like a starkly different person from the God that Jesus reveals to us in the New Testament (so much so, in fact, that heresies have sprung from the idea that they are two different gods). His dealings with many Old Testament characters can seem harsh and cruel—as the New Atheists love to point out. However, just under the surface is a strong current of grace that flows through the biblical narrative from beginning to end, from Adam and Eve, through Jesus, and all the way to the modern-day believer.

Andy Stanley charts the thread of God's unmerited favor through the Bible in his book, The Grace of God. As he recounts some of the better and lesser known biblical accounts, there is enough history, humor and insight to make even the most familiar stories fresh. Some of the most interesting chapters deal with the shady Old Testament characters and episodes that make it into Jesus' lineage (i.e. Judah, Rahab, "the wife of Uriah").

And yet one would have to be blind to not see, in the retelling of grace in each of these lives, the same grace that is constantly at work in our own lives. Andy Stanley has taken one of the Bible's most dominant themes, retold it in captivating fashion and captured a satisfying portrait of the Gospel of grace in the process.

Rating: 4 of 5 stars

Recommended for: Fans of Beth Moore, Philip Yancey and anyone desiring to get a good big-picture idea of the Bible

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Book Review: Pure Pleasure by Gary Thomas

Ask the average non-Christian on the street and they will probably tell you that the God of Christianity is just out to set a bunch of rules and spoil everybody's fun. They may even suggest that to become a Christian means to devote yourself to a life of monkish asceticism and self-denial. In Pure Pleasure, Gary Thomas sets out to debunk this misconception, and does so in rousing form and in the spirit of the likes of John Piper and C.S. Lewis.

Early last year I was sent a copy of The Glorious Pursuit unsolicited and I read it not knowing what to expect, being unfamiliar with the author and his work. I have been thrilled with everything I have read from Gary Thomas ever since and this book is no exception. Central to Thomas' argument is the idea that pleasure is good, God created pleasure, and we are created and intended to pursue our highest pleasures (ala Piper). In fact, at the core of most sins and temptations is a good pleasure—a good drive—that is being hijacked by our fallen, sinful nature.

The solution, Gary offers in part, is not to deny ourselves these illicit pleasures, but rather to so pursue and satisfy ourselves on holy pleasures that we kill at the root our temptations. As he says, "Using pleasure to point us back to God instead of allowing it to compete with him (or worse, letting it draw us away from him) roots us in the greatest pleasure that will never, ever end".

Always the Christian life should be one of biblical balance. A time to indulge, a time to abstain. A time to exercise self-control, a time to get lost in something purely good. This book is not an argument against a Puritan life, it shares the key to finding and nurturing godly pleasure in life, even if yours is a Puritan one.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Recommended for: Those interested in spiritual growth; those dealing with sin, temptation, legalism

This book was a free review copy provided by Zondervan books.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Exclusive Q&A with the authors of Is God Just a Human Invention?

We didn't want to jinx anything by letting the cat out of the bag too soon, but Sean McDowell and Jonathan Morrow have graced us here at Christians In Context with an exclusive Q&A to follow up our review of their book Is God Just a Human Invention? Enjoy and stay tuned for more exclusive content on the Christians In Context blog!

Many Christian (and even non-Christian) authors have addressed the challenges from the New Atheists. How do you feel your book contributes to the conversation?

One of the things we have noticed in our experience with students and people within the church today (Sean as a Teacher and myself as a Pastor) is that the New Atheists’ books, articles and debates, have been wreaking havoc on their faith. And so we wanted to write a book for this generation that would be understandable and engaging but that would also contain substantive responses to the eighteen biggest objections raised by the New Atheists. Another unique feature is that we cover a wide spectrum of topics from scientific and philosophical issues to moral and biblical ones—all in one place. Finally, we wanted to have a productive conversation so we tried to maintain a civil tone while at the same time making a rigorous case for God and responding to their specific objections.

What one argument from the New Atheists was the most challenging to answer or took the most work/research hours to address?

What’s new about the New Atheists is not so much the content of their arguments as much as it is the rhetorical, emotional, and evangelistic nature of their writings. So in that regard, there wasn’t one argument or issue that particularly stands out as the most challenging because, as we show in the book, the evidence for God is really good. Also, we did continually try to walk the tightrope of explaining the powerful evidence for God that is available in an understanding and readable way to someone who has never encountered these questions before. So, for example, our chapter Has Science Shown There Is No Soul? was more challenging to write because of how technical that discussion can become.

You mention Stephen Hawking in Chapter 5, "How Did the Universe Begin?". He has even more recently released the book The Grand Design and the New Atheists seem to have been bolstered by the ideas therein. Have either of you had a chance to address the arguments he has offered?

Hawking’s book has certainly made quite the splash. While neither of us have responded to that specifically yet, it has been soundly critiqued already (for links to leading scientists as well as philosophers see my (Jonathan) blog post here - ). It should also be noted that The Grand Design still affirms an absolute beginning of the universe and so the argument for God’s Existence from the beginning of the universe that we present in Chapter 5 remains unaffected.

What was it like to co-write this book and how did that process work?

This book was a lot of fun for us to write together because of our shared passion for helping people explore what they believe, why they believe it and why it matters. After all, these are the biggest and most important questions in all of life. Also, we have a common educational background and training that really allowed us to speak with a unified voice in this book to the issues and questions the New Atheists raise. Moreover, being able to interact together about the content and arguments along the way helped strengthen the book as a whole and sharpen our own thinking.

We also view the challenges of the New Atheism as an opportunity because when Christian students come out on the other side of wrestling with these fundamental questions and the challenges of the New Atheists, they will have formed more solid convictions. And passion flows from conviction. So in writing Is God Just a Human Invention?, we wanted to make sure there would be a resource to help guide young adults in their faith journey and ensure that they have the opportunity to seriously consider an uncaricatured, thoughtful understanding of the evidence for God and Christianity.

There are many well-known authors who have contributed to this book in the "Why It Matters" portions of the book. How did you get so many renowned contributors for this book?

We wanted this book to have a unique angle that speaks to this generation. And so we invited eighteen leading scholars to share a little bit of their own stories and how these truths were meaningful to their lives in a “why it matters” section that follows each of the chapters that we wrote. We were blown away and humbled by the generous response of these scholars to give of their time to help encourage the next generation in their search for truth. Their willingness to participate really speaks to how important these questions really are for all of us.