Monday, November 25, 2013

The ‘dangers’ of Christianity

Twenty years ago, The New York Times ran a full-page ad for Columbia University. It advertised seven fields of study in which a person can get a Master of Arts in Liberal Studies: American, Ancient, East Asian, Islamic, Jewish, Medieval and South Asian Studies. Richard John Neuhaus spotted this ad and wrote an editorial about it, asking, “Where is Christian Studies?” He pondered four possible reasons and then settled with this one:

“Nervousness is caused by the awareness that there are an awful lot of people who really believe in Christianity. The university is a cosmopolitan space where ‘religious traditions’ can be subjected to critical examination but are not to be taught as though they might be, well, you know, true. Even in religious studies departments, faculty members who are Hindus, Buddhists, and believers in Mystical Crystals can quite openly profess their faith. Muslims and, usually, Jews can, too. Nobody raises a question about their ‘proselytizing.’ Not so with Christians. The fear is that Christianity might be taken altogether too seriously. The absence of Christian Studies in the Columbia program, it turns out, is not an insult to Christianity. Those of the other faiths, however might have reason to be offended.”

I think Neuhaus was right. We see his theory working itself out in universities everywhere whose religious life groups are being told by administrators that proselytizing at an event cannot be done unless the people who are being proselytized have come to the event knowing that there will be an attempt to convert them. Just wondering ... which religious groups are they concerned about?

At the same time, we see that even atheists are hungering for something deeper, though they would not agree that the “what” they are seeking is actually a Who. Some of you may have seen the article in the Times-News recently about Atheist Mega-Churches on the rise. Here’s an excerpt: “It looked like a typical Sunday morning at any megachurch. Several hundred people, including families with small children, packed in for more than an hour of rousing music, an inspirational sermon, a reading and some quiet reflection. The only thing missing was God.” One of the founders, Sanderson Jones, “got the inkling for the idea while leaving a Christmas carol concert six years ago. “There was so much about it that I loved, but it’s a shame because at the heart of it, it’s something I don’t believe in,” Jones said. “If you think about church, there’s very little that’s bad. It’s singing awesome songs, hearing interesting talks, thinking about improving yourself and helping other people — and doing that in a community with wonderful relationships. What part of that is not to like?’”

A man named Saul in the first century made it his aim to destroy the church, to put an end to the Christians’ proselytizing once and for all. Let me ask you something. Why was Saul persecuting the church? Was it because the church sang awesome songs, heard interesting talks, and got together to think about how to improve themselves and help others? No. Saul knew the church perhaps better than we did. He knew that if they were right, and that Jesus really was the Messiah and that salvation comes not through works of righteousness but by grace through faith, then his whole life was a pile of rubbish. That’s what he wrote later, after his conversion to Christianity: “Indeed I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.”

Be aware of the dangers of Christianity. You might find that it is, well, you know, true!

Monday, November 18, 2013

Don’t be a stalker: Do the Bible

In his book, “Love Does,” Bob Goff writes, “I get paid as a lawyer to collect information and memorize facts, and I’ve gotten really good at it.” What I realized about my faith is that I was doing just that, collecting information and memorizing things about God. I collected pictures and gathered artifacts and bumper stickers about Christianity, and I talked about knowing Jesus like we were best friends, when actually, we hardly knew each other at all. At some point I had to confess that I was stalking Jesus. I was actually creeping myself out a little and I realized I was probably creeping God out, too. So I decided I’d stop. The first thing I did was quit going to what Christians call Bible Study. Sounds wholesome. But at the ones I went to, I (just) learned a bunch of facts and information about Jesus … So, I started getting together with the same guys each weeks for a “Bible doing.” We read what God has to say and then focus all of our attention on what we are going to do about it. Just agreeing isn’t enough. I can’t think of a single time when Jesus asked His friends to just agree with Him.

I believe Philip must have been a part of a group like that in the first century. When the story opened in Acts 8, he was in Samaria. He’d been preaching Jesus to the Samaritans, with great success. Many had been baptized and there was much joy there. Then God told Philip to leave the city, where many were hearing the Gospel and being saved, and go to a desert place. To the middle of nowhere. On the face of it, it just didn’t make sense. But God’s ways are higher than our ways. God, who cared about the many in Samaria, cared also about the one in the desert.

The command that came to Philip was simple: “Rise and go toward the south to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” The road that ran south out of Gaza ran all the way into Egypt, and the continent of Africa. It wasn’t Gaza that God was after that day. It was Africa. Starting with one Ethiopian, whom Philip was about to meet. But the command was simple: Rise and go.

May I suggest to you that God’s greatest works start with a simple command? Abraham, rise up and go, leave this place and go to the place that I will show you. Moses, rise up and go, tell Pharaoh to let My people go. Peter, rise up and go, feed My sheep. I believe the foundation of the church is Jesus Christ, who is the cornerstone, and the men and women who have responded to God’s simple commands. Where would the church be if Peter had not obeyed? Or if Paul had refused to take the Gospel to the Gentiles? Which brings up an all-important question, especially for the fathers. God has given you a simple command as well. Fathers, rise up and go, disciple your children. To do that properly, you have to make sure that you are a disciple yourself, and that you are not just a stalker, always looking at the church or the Bible or even Jesus himself from a distance, not daring to get too close.

I love the way the story ends. God gave a simple command. Philip chose a simple response: “… he rose and went.” Philip wasn’t just interested in Bible Study. He was also into Bible doing.

How about you?

Monday, November 11, 2013

Expectation is premeditated resentment

He’s had a tough day at work, with deadlines to meet, the boss on his case, clients unhappy about anything and everything. On top of all that, he’s not sleeping well because of stress, and he’s gained 15 pounds in three months because, well, he just owes it to himself to eat what he likes. And lots of it. He is driving home, fuming about his day and cannot wait to put his feet up and watch the big game, while ignoring everything else that seems to be spinning out of control.

Meanwhile, she has had it with the kids. The toddler has been throwing up, the 5-year-old won’t clean his room and keeps sneaking into the den and playing Xbox, no matter how many times she tells him no. The baby has not slept all day, and the neighbor called, again, to yell about how “you people just can’t seem to keep your stupid dog in your own yard!” She can’t wait until her husband gets home so he can:

1. Clean up the mess in the bathroom (“Hey, I cleaned up the first four projectile vomits!”) 2. Spank the toddler and put the Xbox in the attic, or better, on eBay. 3. Call the neighbor about the dog and then tell her, his wife, how he is going to make sure it does not happen again. 4. Take care of the baby so she can go for a walk or get a cup of coffee and have some “me time.”

You don’t need me to draw a picture for you of what it’s going to look like when those two meet at the front door, right? But unless one or both yield, lay down expectations, put aside their own needs to serve the other, there’s a mountain of resentment about to move into each heart.

It’s a well-known saying: “Expectation is premeditated resentment.” One of the biggest changes in my marriage happened years ago when Cindy and I both learned to lay down our expectations for each other. Another way of putting it? To give each other the same grace that God has given us. In other words, to put Phil. 4:8 into practice: “If there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” So, I decide I will not think about the fact that Cindy may have been critical and complaining toward me recently, but will think about what is good and true about her. And she will decide that she will not think about the fact that I am harsh and impatient at times, but will choose to think about what is good and true about me. We will choose to respect one another rather than try to change one another, because we know respect builds trust and honor.

In his book, “Sacred Marriage,” Gary Thomas writes about a tree in the Cascade Mountains that is 700 years old. This tree was 200 years old when Martin Luther was born. One of the reasons the trees on the western slope of the Cascades survive so long is simple, Thomas says: the forests there are so wet that lightning strikes cause relatively few fires. Marriages that are based on the Gospel and mutual respect will still be struck by lightning: sexual temptations, communication problems, frustrations, unrealized expectations — but if those same marriages are heavily watered with the grace of the Gospel, with an unwavering commitment in each spouse to please God and forgive one another just as Christ forgave us, then fires that normally destroy a marriage will not have a chance with ours.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Why Being Self-Glorifying Doesn't Make God Selfish.

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One question that has been on my mind of late is: How can God do everything entirely for his glory and not be selfish? Why is he allowed to glorify himself when we can't - isn't that pride?

Well in short, the answers to both of those is a big No. No, God isn't being selfish, and No he isn't being proud - not in the way that we understand those two words.

Before I try to explain that, we need to establish that God does everything for his glory. Here are a couple of verses - there are plenty of others, look around!
Romans 11:36
For from him and through him and for him are all things.
To him be the glory forever! Amen.
God created everything and sustains everything and works everything for his glory (See also Psalm 19 and Romans 8:28).
1 Corinthians 10:31
So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.
We are called to glorify God in everything we do because he deserves all the glory. (For some more verses check out this link).

The reason that God must glorify himself is because he is God. It is because he is perfect. To maintain his perfection he cannot commit idolatry - therefore he cannot worship anything other than himself or glorify anything besides himself.

God created everything in existence, he reigns over it all.
Only he deserves glory, and that's why he is not being proud in having it. For example. If I play piano for someone and they tell me that I'm a good piano player, then (assuming it is true) they aren't glorifying me or making me proud, they're simply telling the truth - it's what I do with that compliment that turns it into praise for God or pride in myself.

God created the universe and he deserves all glory. Therefore when we give him the glory we are just doing what should be done. God isn't being proud or selfish in demanding it of us, he's maintaining his holiness and his goodness.

"The righteousness of God is the infinite zeal and joy and pleasure that he has in what is supremely valuable, namely, his own perfection and worth. And if he were ever to act contrary to this eternal passion for his own perfections he would be unrighteous, he would be an idolater." - John Piper (Solid Joys App).

Here are three ways that this might apply to life and our walk with God
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  • The gospel isn't primarily about you. In our consumerist culture we are constantly told: "it's all about you" (I mean, it is all about me, right?). We're even told that in so many churches nowadays: "Jesus loves you", "Jesus came to save you", "Jesus wants to be your best friend". You know what? While those things do hold truth, they can get in the way of us understanding the deeper and fuller truths of the gospel. Satan can and does use them to make us focus on ourselves instead of Jesus and to get us to settle for less in our understanding of the gospel.

    The truth is that it isn’t a one or the other scenario – it isn’t that either God saved me because he loves me or he saved me to glorify himself. In reality both are true: Yes Jesus did die to save us. Yes he does love us. But he loves us for his own glory, to make his goodness, mercy and love known to us so we can glorify and love him eternally. He is glorified in loving us. The gospel isn't first and foremost about us. It's about God glorifying himself by providing a way for us to be saved. Don't hear me wrong: God does love us (John 3:16), he does care for us (1 Peter 5:7), he did truly want to save us. But he didn't save us because we are amazing. He saved us because he is amazing and we are completely wretched. That should be encouraging, because it means that it doesn’t depend on how good we are or what we can do for God. It depends entirely on what Jesus has done: we couldn’t do it ourselves. 
    • Glorify God, not yourself. God calls for us to glorify him in all we do. Are you and I going to obey that command? We need to seriously think about this. We aren't saved simply for our own benefit, we're also saved for God's glory and we are commanded to glorify him. How can we do that? Praise him for all he has created, spend time in his word and in prayer, share the gospel, tell people of his mercies and his goodness. But in doing all those things be joyful and content in him.
    • Be joyful at the privilege of being able to glorify God. We were created to glorify God and it is a privilege to do so. Be joyful in it and spend time doing it! This is something that I fall short on so easily - I get caught up doing stuff, being "godly" (bordering on legalistic sometimes), and I forget to just glorify and praise God. I forget to spend time enjoying his word and his creation. Rejoice in the Lord always, I will say it again, Rejoice! (Philippians 4:4). We need to spend time rejoicing in who God is.
    I hope this has given you something to consider and think about, and I hope it's been helpful.

    Soli Deo Gloria!

    Monday, November 4, 2013

    Don’t park your life under a sign

    Every parent has seen this with his 1-year-old child. You are sitting at the kitchen table with your son in your lap and you see something in the backyard, like a squirrel. And you point out the window and say, “Look at the squirrel!” Your son looks at your hand. “No, buddy, look outside,” you say. “See the squirrel?” He looks at your face, and then your hand, which is still pointing. It takes a while to get the child to understand that your hand is not what you want him to see. Or remember when your child first learned to wave goodbye? How did she do it? With her fingers curling back towards herself, because that’s what she’d seen when you waved goodbye to her. A child has a hard time making the transfer from the sign to the referent. The sad thing is, some children never learn it. They end up as adults who continue to be fascinated by the “sign,” disinterested in the significance to which it points. What would you think of a person who sees the “Rest Area” sign beside the exit ramp and pulls off and parks under the sign? The sign is pointing to the reality. But instead of a nice warm building with bathrooms and vending machines, they’re parked under a blue sign on the side of the road while everybody else rushes past them, waving (backwards?)

    There’s a great example in Acts 8, where we meet Simon the Sorcerer. He was famous in Samaria, almost worshiped as a god because of his ability to use the supernatural power of the demonic world. Then the real power came to town, as Philip entered preaching the truth about Jesus and performing signs and wonders with the power of God. Simon was amazed, not at Jesus or the power of God. He was mesmerized by the signs and just wanted to be able to do what Philip was doing. You find as you read his story that Simon, just like everyone reading this column today, had faith. Just in the wrong thing. Everybody has faith in something. Or in someone. But the old saying is just as true today as ever: Faith is only as valid as the object in which it is placed. Simon’s faith was in the supernatural. Signs. Wonders. Philip is pointing to Jesus, but all Simon can see is the hand. “I want hands that can do that,” Simon says.

    Signs and wonders are simply hands, pointing to Jesus. They are signs, not to be exalted or to even fixate on like a child. They are the means to an end, but they are not the end. What are some signs we can hold up that point people to Jesus? How about music? That’s a sign, isn’t it? When Jesse and I went to hear Phil Keaggy in concert at The Cove a few weeks ago, we saw 90 minutes of signs and wonders performed. Every song he sang, every word Phil spoke pointed us to Jesus and His grace. You like to act? It can be a sign that points to Jesus. You like to do liturgical dance? Preach? Write? Cook? Play a sport? They are all signs that can point to Jesus. John Piper wrote, “Whether we preach or sing or act or write or heal, we are utterly and desperately dependent on the work of the Holy Spirit to straighten crooked hearts and cause people to look away from us to Jesus who alone can save.”

    Don’t park your life under a sign.