Saturday, January 28, 2012

Who needs the law?

Jared C. Wilson in his book, Your Jesus is Too Safe, makes this statement. "We don't follow the Law to get saved, we follow the Law because we are saved."

So, the answer to the question, "Do I need to hear the Law?" is an absolute "Yes!" But, that answer must be qualified because the law is not a means, it is an end. It is what we do because we are saved. It makes no sense to preach the Law in any shape or form without the cause, which is our salvation as found in Jesus Christ. Paul did not say "I preach the Law"  (although his writings are full of examples of what our new behavior should look like), but he said that "we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles." (1 Cor 1:23) Look at any example of Paul's preaching of any type of behavior, and then look at what precedes it, a Gospel message, a proclamation of Christ. The two are never apart.

Head on over to the Sermon on the Mount for a minute. In it, Jesus tells us plenty of things to do. Or does He? Is He giving us a list of "to do's," or is He telling us what we  should be? Is He introducing a new form of legalism or is He trying to reshape the way people think of religion? I believe it is the latter.

In one of Tim Keller's sermons, he talks about the conclusion to the Sermon on the Mount, the Wise and Foolish builders, and how we normally interpret them. We see the foolish builder as one who does not obey Christ in any sense, a rebel who rejects Him. But does that conclusion make sense in light of a sermon where Jesus has just contrasted two types of people who say they believe? One who follows the law (as in Mt. 5:27-29) and says "I have never commited adultery!" and the other who lives by Jesus's challenge, that "everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart." Or Matthew 5:43-44, where he tells us to love our enemies, because God sends His rain on the just and the unjust, in spite of the fact that they have heard that they should love their neighbors and hate their enemies. There are many other examples of this contrasting found in Matthew chapters 5-7 as well, too many to list. So what he concludes with is two houses, both look the same on the outside. Both follow the Law, but only one house will stand. And that is the house on the rock. Not the one that looks good but is attached to the sand of self and accomplishments. Not that one for it relies on the sand works to save it. No, it is the house on the rock that stands. The one whose foundation reaches deep into the teachings and knowledge of God. The one who, out of a deep understanding of the Gospel and therefore a deep love for Christ, not only follows the letter of the law, but the spirit of it as well.

Who needs the Law? I do, for it reveals my sinfulness and need for Christ.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Yeah, what he said...

Tullian Tchividjian, in his book, Jesus + Nothing = Everything, makes this statement in the acknowledgements: "I'm beginning to realize that the gospel is way more radical, offensive, liberating, shocking, and counter intuitive than any of us realize ...the gospel is good but not safe."

It makes me think about the gospel I used to believe. The one where all I have to do is follow a formula like, "Hear, believe, repent, confess, be baptized" or any of the other formulas that pronounce us "saved," and the gospel I have come to believe. The one where I actually have to love God and be more and more filled with him thereby emptying myself more and more of self.

The more I dig into the life of Jesus and God's word, the more I see the lunacy of my previous beliefs. It was as if I believed that I could hold God accountable for my interpretation of His word. Like I could get to the pearly gates and argue my way in.

ME: I'm here, and here is my baptismal certificate. Open up the gates!
GOD: What else do you have there?
ME: I got my diploma from seminary. Signed, sealed, and Cum Laude.
GOD: Nice. You learn a lot there? What is that paper?
ME: Tax returns. I tithed on all I earned. After taxes. That is right, isn't it? I really gotta plead ignorance there, the Bible was not clear on that one.
GOD: Anything else?
ME: Certified letter, long-time church member, signed by the Pastor and all the Elders. Got all my Sunday School attendance pins stuck on the bottom. All that metal, almost didn't make it past the metal detectors on the way here. (Chuckle) So what do you say?
GOD: Next!

NEXT: (Trembling, face down, face down, drenched in blood)
GOD: Welcome, my child, enter into paradise.

ME: Excuse me, why does he get in? I saw no certificates, tax-stubs, nothing. Just a dirty man covered in blood.
GOD: That blood he was covered in was the blood of my Son. It is the only thing that you need to get in, and without it, you have nothing.
ME: Where can I get that?
GOD: You don't get it, I already gave it for you. But your hands are too full of those other things. I am truly sorry.
ME: (At a loss for words, knowing it is too late. Finally trembling. Face down. Covered in sweat.)

Matthew 7:21-23  “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ 23 Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’"

Sunday, January 22, 2012

The Power of Salvation

Random thoughts on Acts 2:38-41, the basis for today's sermon.
Listen to the sermon here.

When the people asked, "Brothers, what shall we do?" (Acts 2:37) it was in was in response to Peter's presentation of the Gospel, which had cut them "to the heart." (Also Acts 2:37) Peter had used the Old Testament to show them that Jesus was the Messiah, and also showed them what they had done to Him. They were floored, flabbergasted, stunned, hurt by their own actions. This is what drives their question, "Brothers, what shall we do?" In other words, they had seen Jesus as they had never seen Him before, as Lord, and Messiah! They looked at Him and saw His majesty and beauty. They also saw themselves for who they really were, sinful, arrogant men in need of redemption. As Peter concludes his message, he does not offer an invitation to "accept Christ," he does not plead and beg or dangle the "heaven carrot" in front of them. These people were pierced by the Holy Spirit as a result of what they had heard, and their hearts were opened to the gospel.

One of the things I often hear with this text is the changing of the question, from "What must we do?" to "What must I do to be saved (or rescued)?" (4:05) From the original language, this question can also be interpreted, "What is the next step?" or "What shall we bear forth?" or even "What should this cause? It depends on how you interpret the question as to how you interpret the response. I take note that Peter's response does not begin with the phrase, "Here's what to do..." or "Just follow these steps..." but rather he starts right off with "Repent..." which indicates to me that perhaps rather than presenting a method of what to do, he is showing them what the appropriate response is to being "cut to the heart" by the gospel message through the power of the Holy Spirit.

If we can do nothing to earn salvation, how can we do something to receive it? Does it make sense to say, "Here is a gift for you at no cost to you, but if you accept the gift, you will have to make these payments." Or to look at it another way, if we are dead in our sins and trespasses, how can we make ourselves alive? (Eph 2:1, Col 2:13) Perhaps repentance and baptism are not "God supplying a method" as much as they are the response of a  heart opened by God to begin to comprehend the truth of the gospel message. (This is called sanctification, and it is what follows our justification.)Repentance is change, and if God opens your heart to the truth of the gospel, change should be and will be the result. And baptism, or immersion into Christ, is perhaps both literal and figurative. Literal in the sense of taking the plunge under the water, as Christ Himself did, but figurative in that now our lives are immersed in Him rather than self. Isn't this true conversion? We do well to quote the verse from 1 Peter 3:21, telling us that it is not the water of baptism that saves us. But do we really understand the implications of what a "pledge of a good conscience toward God is?" The word "pledge" can also be translated as "intense craving." So it is not our baptismal act in itself that saves us, but the intense craving we have to please God through our moral behavior that does. Therefore I ask, is repentance and baptism a cause of our salvation, thereby making it something we must do in order to receive that which is free, or is it a response, satisfying our craving to show our love for God, but in no way able to repay our debt? You tell me, which is "good news?"

To whom was Peter speaking in Acts 2:38? Verse 39 tells us that this promise is for "you (the hearing audience) and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself." Is this then, telling us that part of the nothing we can do is nothing? That unless the Holy Spirit convicts us of our sin, and our conscience is turned to God (we are "cut to the heart"), then our repentance and baptism are perhaps premature at best and not a guarantee of salvation at worst. (See Matt 7:21-23) Is not many a response to the call to "repent and be baptized" done more out of a fear of hell than a piercing of the heart toward God? This does well to fill pews and satisfy our need, but in the end may be the cruelest of all possible actions, making people feel that they are safe when they are not. Why do we skip verses such as these in our preaching? Is it because we do not like what they imply, that the nothing we do really is nothing! (See also Acts 16:14)

Friday, January 20, 2012

Turning Over Tables

I wonder what people thought the day that Jesus went into the temple and began turning over tables. Surely some thought he was crazy. This practice (of selling the needed items to fulfill the Jewish laws) had been in place for a while. These people were performing a necessary service. But they were doing it in movie theater style. You know, where you pay $4.50 for some popcorn that they buy in 50 pound bags for $9.00 a bag? (At least that was the going rate when I stopped delivering them in 1998. I checked the web and found 50 lb. bags for about $15 on one site.) But I wonder if there were others who were, at least silently saying, "You go Jesus!" You rock! I have been wanting to do this for years!"

What was Jesus's motivation? What fueled his actions and anger? It was not what they were doing to Him, it was what they were doing to his Father. So what message does Jesus send here? Could he have walked away, just taken a time-out and cooled off? Could he have found another temple or stopped going to temple? Could he have found a place that was welcoming and did things the way he thought they should be done? Could he have called a legion of angels to just destroy the place? After all, He was the Son of God. But He chose to get angry and to vent that righteous anger by a demonstration that shocked probably everyone. And sent a very powerful message.

I am sure that not everyone welcomed His action or message. But Jesus was never about doing what was politically correct or safe. He was more concerned about doing what was right and honoring His Father. Or, as in this case, responding to seeing His Father's house being abused. (see also Matt 10:32-38)

Popcorn anyone?

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Religion verses Gospel

There is a popular video making the rounds by a young man named Jefferson Bethke. In it, he slams religion, saying that it is not what Jesus came to bring us. There are a lot of strong feelings on both sides of the issue.

Tim Keller, in his Gospel in Life study guide has created a chart where he compares religion with the Gospel. The first comparison is this: Religion says, "I obey, therefore I'm accepted." The Gospel says, "I'm accepted, therefore I obey."

Before we jump on the "Okay, I am safe because I fall on the gospel side of this" side of the argument, look more closely. The Gospel is all about what God has accomplished for us in Christ. The Gospel is never about what we bring to God.

I am sitting here, looking at the front cover of UCC's directory (University Christian Church of Muncie, Indiana) as I type. According to the sign on the church building on the front cover of the directory, UCC is "A Place Where Life Change Happens." So is our distinction the fact that life change happens here (Look at me, Look at what I do for God!) or is our distinction "Look at what Christ has done for me!" I believe it was B.J. Thomas who sang, "What a difference He's made in my life," and not "What a difference we make in the lives of others." Or look at UCC's mission statement, "University Christian Church exists for winning souls and nurturing spiritual growth." While that sounds wonderful, what is at the center of it? Is it what we do for God or what God has done for us? Are we going to be the Pharisee who stands and prays about his spiritual accomplishments, or are we going to be the tax-collector who beats his breast and says, "God, forgive me, a sinner." (Luke 18:9-13) Some may see this as splitting hairs, I see it as revealing a possible spiritual illness. If this makes anyone angry, let me share another of Keller's differences between Gospel and religion.

Religion says, "When I am criticized I am furious or devastated because it is critical that I think of myself as a 'good person.' Threats to that self-image must be destroyed at all costs." The Gospel says, "When I am criticized, I can take it. I struggle, but it is not critical for me to think of myself as a 'good person.' My identity is not built on my record or my performance but on God's love for me in Christ. I can take criticism."

It is never about what I do for Christ or what I bring to Him, but always about what He has done for me and what He brings to me. Or to put it another way, consider the words of the hymn, "Rock of Ages"

"Nothing in my hand I bring, simply to the cross I cling;
naked, come to thee for dress; helpless, look to thee for grace;
foul, I to the fountain fly; wash me, Savior, or I die.

The Gospel makes Christ beautiful, not me or my church or anything else for that matter. That is because even on my best day, I am a sinner in need of a Savior. And it is not only my sin that falls short, it is also my goodness since "all our righteous acts are like filthy rags." (Isaiah 64:6)

To quote Jefferson Bethke, the church is "not a museum for good people, it's a hospital for the broken." At least, that is what it is supposed to be.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Thoughts for Today


Tim Keller, in his book, The Prodigal God, writes, "If the preaching of our ministers and the practice of our parishoners do not have the same effect on people that Jesus had, then we must not be declaring the same message that Jesus did."

So, what is the effect that we should be having? What changes need to be made? These are hard questions. Not hard because the answer is difficult. Hard because they challenge what we have done in the past and how we should approach the future.


Click here to read a post by "The Resurgence" in honor of Martin Luther King. In it, they discuss the difference between being an organization or a movement. Which are we? Which should we be?

Sunday, January 15, 2012

What are we teaching our Youth?

I recently read this article. In it, the author talks about how college students have a misunderstanding of what Christianity is. She quotes Kara Powell, who has done extensive research on the issue. "The students involved in our research definitely tended to view the Gospel as a list of dos and do-nots, a list of behaviors. We asked our students when they were college juniors, “How would you define what it really means to be a Christian?” and one out of three—and these were all youth group students—didn’t mention Jesus Christ in their answer; they mentioned behaviors."

I do not believe that this is a misconception that is only reserved for students. I believe it is one that many adults and even pastors struggle with. Early on in our attending UCC, my wife was talking to someone about the church, a member who had been around awhile. Her perception of the church? She said it seemed to be growing slowly, but that for the most part it was a revolving door. She had seen a lot of people come and go during the couple of years that she had been attending.

Is it any wonder? The author of the article quotes Michael Horton from his book, Christless Christianity, a man whom was also quoted a lot in a book I just finished reading. He states, "The law guides, but it does not give. For all who seek to be acceptable to God by their obedience, love, holiness, and service, the call to obedience only condemns. It shows us what we have not done, and the more we hear it properly, the more we actually lose our moral self-confidence and cling to Christ. It stops our inner spin machine that creates a false view of God and ourselves, (pg. 132, emphasis mine)

I've already ordered it for my Kindle. Should make for some good reading. Is it any wonder I want to turn a few tables over?

More good videos

Another from Matt Chandler...

Can you relate? I can.

This one is from Taylor Mali. Not about religion, but can be applied.

For a Friend...

I just finished reading Tullian Tchividjian's book, Jesus + Nothing = Everything. He closes with an illustration that touched me, so I shared it with my wife, who in turn shared it with a friend. I am posting the text here, so that she can see it as he wrote it.

From page 205, he is retelling a story that his friend Steve Brown tells...

She (the head of the English department) looked up and saw me standing there by my daughter and could tell that Robin was about to cry. There were some students standing around and, because the teacher didn't want Robin to be embarrassed, she dismissed the students saying, "I want to talk to these people alone." As soon as the students left and the door was closed, Robin began to cry. I said, "I'm here to get my daughter out of that English class. It's too difficult for her. The problem with my daughter is that she's too conscientious. So, can you put her in a regular English class?" The teacher said, "Mr. Brown, I understand." Then she looked at Robin and said, "Can I talk to Robin for a minute?" I said, "Sure." She said, "Robin, I know how you feel. What if I promised you an A before you even started, would you be willing to take the class?" My daughter is not dumb! She started sniffing again and said, "Well, I think I could do that." The teacher said, "I'm going to give you an A in the class. You already have an A, so you can go to class."

Later the teacher explained to Steve what she had done. She explained how she took away the threat of a bad grade so that Robin could learn English literature. Robin ended up making straight A's on her own in that class.

That's how God deals with us. Because of Christ's finished work, Christians already have an A. The threat of failure, judgment, and condemnation has been removed. We're in -- forever! Nothing we will do will make our grade worse.

My wife told me, "That is so foreign compared to everything I have heard all of my life." But it is Gospel. It is beautiful. It is freedom. It is not about performing by trying to fulfill a bunch of rules, it is about being set free to do our best and know that God has already accepted us.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Sermon 1/8/2012 "The Power of the Word" (Part 3)

Listen to the sermon here.

Read part 1 here.

Read Part 2 here.


At about the 18:20 mark, this statement is made, "...our obedience is actually evidence that we really do love God."


Of course, he then goes on to focus on our obedience and how we need to concentrate on it. He quotes four verses from the 14th chapter of John, and in every one of them he focuses on the obedience. But there is another element in each of those verses that is neglected. That element is love.

Let's take a look at the word "evidence" for a moment. Webster's defines evidence as "an outward sign, something that furnishes proof." Our obedience is what proves that we love God, not what causes or creates it!

Let me share a personal illustration. In 2002, my mother was killed by an off-duty Lake County sheriff's deputy. He was in his patrol car on his way to work, and was travelling approximately 70 m.p.h. in a 20 m.p.h. school zone, as school was getting ready to dismiss. The normal posted speed limit is 35 m.p.h., but he was running late, no sirens and no lights. Mom made a left hand turn into her neighborhood just as he came over a crest in the road. He panicked and lost control of his vehicle, smashing into the passenger side of her vehicle even though she had already made it through the intersection and should have been out of harms way. He nearly tore her vehicle in half. Later, state police at the scene determined that mom was 100% at fault, and the offending officer was not even issued a speeding ticket. But I am not going to talk about the evidence against him, the smashed car or the 50+ foot long skid marks he left. I want to talk about the evidence against me. Because according to the evidence against me, I should have a deep and abiding love for police officers. Why? Because I know and obey the law. Every time I stop at a stop sign or a red light, or go the speed limit, or don't shoplift or murder, I fall a little bit more in love with the police. Sounds silly, doesn't it? That is because we know that the effect (following the law) does not drive the cause. In fact, every time I see a police cruiser I immediately have two reactions: 1. Am I doing anything wrong, and 2. How unfair it is that they can get away with things that I am held accountable for. That is not love.

Evidence is the result or effect of an action, not the cause of it! If I want to have a better body (evidence), then I must exercise and eat right (cause). If you go to the doctor, he doesn't show you pictures of people in perfect health and say, "Look at this, focus on this, dress better, take more pride in your appearance and you will live longer." No, he focuses on the cause. He tells you to eat better and exercise. So he gives you things you should do, but you do them because you love yourself and want a longer, healthier life. So why is it we focus so much on the effect rather than the cause or cure? Why are we focused on obedience, but not connecting it to the cause of our obedience, love for Jesus. Let's look at the verses quoted:
  • John 14:15  "If you love me (cause), you will keep my commandments (effect)."
  • John 14:21 "Whoever had my commandments and keeps them (effect), he it is who loves me (cause)."
  • John 14:23 Jesus answered him, "If anyone loves me (cause), he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him (effect)."
  • John 14:24 "Whoever does not love me (cause) does not keep my words (effect)."
So later, when the pastor tells us that we must make the "necessary life changes, whatever they may be," (19:25) he is only focusing on the effect, and ignoring the cause. The effect never drives the cause, the cause always drives the effect. Jesus is not saying "obey me" in these verses, He is saying "love me!" We don't unleash God's power through mere obedience, nor do we limit it through disobedience. He does not work his power in us "when we decide to obey." Romans 5:8 "But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us."

That is the Gospel. The work is done, Christ has accomplished it all for us, we no longer have to strive for a certain level of behavior. There is peace, there is freedom. And it is when I truly grasp the Gospel (cause), then I am transformed (effect), then my life can be changed (effect). Then I will keep his commands because I love Him, not because I am striving to impress Him.

Get it right, PLEASE!

Sermon 1/8/2012 "The Power of the Word" (Part 2)

Find sermon here.

Find Part 1 here.

This "me centered" theology continues throughout the message. At about the 15:55 mark the question is posed, "But what would happen if the disciples would have disobeyed Jesus?" He infers that they would not have received the promised Holy Spirit and would not have turned the world up-side-down. He backs this up with several examples from the Bible where God disciplines those who disobey. Let's take a look at just one of those examples, Jonah.

JONAH <--Click to go to Book of Jonah

The word of the Lord came to Jonah to preach to Nineveh. (1:1) Jonah ran in the other direction. (1:3) Then, after a series of events, including being swallowed and then vomited up by a fish, God again tells Jonah to go to Nineveh. (3:1) This time, Jonah obeys. (3:3) Or does he? Perhaps he does on the outside, but his heart is not in it. (4:1-3)

The point is, when God wants something done, it will get done. Do we really think that by our disobedience we can thwart God's plans? Or do we see God as the one who is sovereign and will accomplish His plans regardless of us and our behaviors? (Prov. 16:9  "In their hearts humans plan their course, but the LORD establishes their steps.")

Perhaps one of the more frustrating statements, at least for me, came around the 17:20 mark. He states, "When we pull away from God through disobedience, it is like pulling an electrical plug from an appliance out of the wall outlet. We are disconnected from the power source...It is very important for us to understand that there is a direct link between our obedience to God and our being plugged in to the power of God." Is this what the Bible confirms, that our disobedience disconnects us from God? Or, is it a lack of faith? Jesus never said, "Your obedience has healed you, but he does say "your faith has healed you." (Mt 9:22, 15:28, Mark 5:34, 10:52, Luke 8:48, 18:42. Also, see Acts 3:16 and 14:9) As far as obedience is concerned, there were none more obedient than the Pharisees, yet Jesus called them a "brood of vipers" and "white-washed tombs." What about Peter's disobedience in denying Christ 3 times? Yes, he felt guilt and remorse, but it did not disconnect him from God. Or the Rich Young Ruler, who told Jesus that he had kept all of the commandments, yet would walk away when asked to sell his possessions and follow Him, Scripture says that "Jesus looked at him and loved him." (Mark 10:17-22)

Or consider for a moment the parable of the Prodigal Son. While his disobedience cost him greatly, it never disconnected him from his father. One of the big points of the parable is that even in his disobedience, the father still loved and longed for him, In fact, if we look at the cultural implications of the son's request, we find that the son asking for his share of the inheritance was an extreme slap in the face to his father, one for which his father could have had him stoned! Yet instead, he hands him 1/3 of the estate! (For a more detailed rendering of this parable, read Tim Keller's book, "The Prodigal God.") And at the end, what earns the son a place back in the family? Nothing that the son does, for the father runs to him when he sees him at a distance, long before the son can ask forgiveness and a place as a hired hand. That is beauty. That is the Gospel.

Next post: Something I agree with!

Friday, January 13, 2012

Sermon 1/8/2012 "The Power of the Word" (Part 1)

Listen to the sermon here.

I too believe that there is great power in the Word of God, and I also love the book of Acts. I found the beginning of the message to be well organized and accurate in the different takes on the name Theophilus. I do have a bit of a difference of opinion on the purpose of the book. The pastor states that it is "So we will continue what Jesus began." (Point I.3 of outline) I would look at it more as being "to bear witness to what Jesus completed, and to the work of the Holy Spirit." While this might sound like a minor difference in point of view, it is actually pretty big, and exhibits a very divergent interpretation of the Gospel message, the heart of Christianity.

About the 7:30 mark of the sermon, the statement is made, "You and I are a part of something big, and that makes our service very, very important." I touched a little on this idea in this post. (Scroll down  to the picture of Popeye.) For some reason, we enjoy the thought of being important in God's plans. It makes us feel warm and fuzzy all over. The disciples themselves even asked Jesus, "Who will be the greatest?" (Mt 18:1) Of course, Jesus response was not what they were expecting as he puts a child to in their midst and says, “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me." (Mt 18:3-5) Over and over in the Gospels, we are reminded that the first will be last, and that we should not seek places of honor, mercy triumphs over sacrifice. Religion that puts us at the center is the religion of the Pharisees. But it was the tax-collector who got it right! It was the Pharisee who made much of himself and his ability to pray, and it was the tax-collector who bowed his head, realizing his true standing before God, and just asked for mercy. Mercy is at the heart of the Gospel, not me. For it is God's mercy that should draw us into a relationship with Him, and not our actions or worth. The heart of the Gospel message is that we couldn't, so Christ did. That is the Good News! As Tchividjian states in his book, "God does everything through people who understand they're nothing. And God does nothing through those who think they're everything." And no one understood this better than Paul in Philippians 3:7-11, and 1 Timothy 1:16.

If you haven't yet viewed Matt Chandler's video on the Gospel, take a look at it here. He does an excellent job of illustrating how we twist the Bible and make more of ourselves that we ought, using the story of David and Goliath. Enjoy!

Random Stuff

Good article from "The Resurgence" on Moralistic, Theraputic Deism.

From "Out of Ur" -- Study says "God-Connections at church are Rare" Interesting.

Article: God's hand in Tebow's success? 43 percent in poll say yes

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

The Gospel

This one is from Matt Chandler.

This is from Jefferson Bethke, and has created quite a stir.

This rings very true with me.

Last piece of background info?

As time went on, my wife and I had many opportunities to talk about church. There were definitely some questions we had about what we were seeing and hearing. Not questions of doctrine as much as questions raised by the Holy Spirit in our hearts. We mentioned to our pastor that we in November we were interested in placing our membership, but that we had some questions and concerns. He said that the holidays were a busy time, but he would get back to us. That meeting finally took place in February.

When we showed up this time, the pastor seemed to have a somewhat defensive posture as we entered the room. We started with some small talk again, but it was awkward. I asked if I could pray, and we did. So then we got down to business. I had prepared a paper listing several of my concerns, many of them being over statements made in sermons, hoping that it would be a springboard for discussion. He was surprised, and said that no one had ever questioned his preaching before. He also stated that he went over his messages with his preaching group, and they did not have a concern with anything he had to say either. He pointed out that one of them held a Ph.D.

When we left the meeting, the pastor assured us that he would take our concerns seriously, and that he would discuss this with others and we would meet again. That meeting did not happen. What did happen is this: As time went on, my wife and I continued to discuss what we needed to do in regard to membership. We decided that even though things were not perfect or resolved, we needed to stop dragging our feet and put our membership in. I stopped our pastor after a Wednesday night Bible study and told him our intentions. He asked if we had received a letter from him yet. We had not, I told him. He said we might want to make our decision after reading that letter.


On Thursday we received that letter. In it, Steve stated his appreciation for our courage in confronting him, and the manner in which we did it. However, he also quoted 2 Timothy 2:14, "Warn them before God against quarreling about words; it is of no value, and only ruins those who listen." He also went on to state that if we could not have confidence in his preaching, that perhaps we would be more comfortable at another church.

Really? We had bared our souls and made ourselves vunerable again, and this was the response of a church where "Christ is the Master and People Matter."

On Saturday of that same week, I sent him a strongly worded response, and offered to meet with him and anyone he felt appropriate. He responded quickly, asking me to meet with him and 2 elders that Monday following Journeymen, a group I was a part of at that time. On Sunday, we transferred our membership because we did not believe that our issue should keep us from where we felt we needed to be.

The meeting, in my opinion, was a formality at best and an intimidation at worst. None of the issues addressed in my letter were mentioned, only that the letter was too long and therefore inappropriate. I am not even sure if the elders present read the letter. The bottom line message of the meeting in my opinion was "we just need to get along."

I went home and tried to digest the meeting. I tried to honestly look at myself and my wife. Were we causing trouble by having questions? Were we a problem? Is this what church should be like? Is this a place we can comfortably worship God?

It was shortly after this development that we decided to take a "vacation" from UCC. Once again we felt we needed a break to pray, check out some other places again, and sort things out. We ended up coming back mainly because we had forged some friendships, and were not ready to give up on them. Maybe the pastor and some of the leaders don't want to deal with things, but we can still worship there because that is about God and not people. Perhaps you have seen me during services now, putting in my headphones during the message. In all honesty, I find it difficult to listen to someone who refuses to dialogue with me. I know that some have seen me. To this point no one has said a word. Perhaps you will choose to dialogue with me. Or maybe this will help create a dialogue with the pastor or leaders. Or maybe I will be asked to leave. All I know is that I feel a responsibility to say what is on my heart. Anyone care to listen? Does anyone care?

Monday, January 9, 2012

Still More Background Info

So after leaving our church of 8 years we visited some churches in our city. We tried not to be too picky, realizing that there is no such thing as a perfect church. We also did not want to be unaware in our approach either. We tried churches within our current denomination and without. There are certain doctrinal issues that play an important role for me. I believe that the Bible reveals that baptism is important to God. All of the conversions that I read of in Scripture are followed soon after by baptism. Also, communion is another thing I feel strongly about. While I am not sure that the Bible teaches that it MUST be done every Sunday, I feel there is great value in practicing sincere communion on a regular and frequent basis.

After a few frustrating visits at various nearby churches, we were invited to attend a church in Muncie, about a 20 minute drive for us. Location is important, as the farther the church the harder it is to get connected. And while we did not feel that this church was perfect, as my wife and I talked about it, we both felt that God was tugging at our hearts to put some roots down here for a while. One of the issues that concerned me was I felt that the sermons were weak. They relied much more on presentation than on content. The pastor later confirmed this, in my opinion, when he taught a class on communicating. Although I was not present for the class, I received the outline and handouts. A lot of emphasis was placed on dress, use of humor, etc., and very little on content. I have heard a lot of speakers in my days, and for me the ones that have the greatest impact are those who have a passion for their topic, and not those who might otherwise be considered the most effective communicators. (1 Cor 1:17 "For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.")

One of the bright spots in this congregation was the people. They seemed friendly and sincere. Another positive was our Sunday School class. Our first Sunday there, we were greeted by the preacher. Somehow in that first week, I cannot recall for sure if it was via letter or direct communication, we were told that the pastor would like to follow up and visit with us soon. Four weeks later I mentioned to my friend my disappointment that this had never occurred. The following Sunday pastor told me he wanted to meet with us, and could we schedule a time to come to his office. Coincidence? I don't know. But he asked us to schedule an appointment to meet with him in his office, and we did.

We showed up for our first meeting. It felt a bit awkward for some reason. We sat down and had some small talk. Talk turned to church membership. We were very upfront, as we explained with some detail what our previous experience had been like, and how we were a bit gun shy about jumping right in without having a real knowledge of the church yet. We were assured that University Christian Church was not that kind of place. I had my doubts, but I wanted to keep an open mind.

The pastor shared a little bit about his history with the church, and the church's history as well. I still don't know all of the facts, but the church had just been through a split prior to his coming, and had had some difficulties in the past. I think that explains a lot about their current demeanor. Anything that hints of being a problem seems to be swept away, and all is handshakes and smiles. A facade is put up that paints such a pretty picture. (Mt 23:27 comes to mind).  Is there an elephant in the room? I don't see no stinkin' elephant!

My wife and I left that meeting and we talked with one another about how we felt. We agreed that we were not ready to become members yet, but that we still felt that this was a place God wanted us to be for at least the present time, although we were not sure why. I jokingly said that maybe it was because God was punishing us for something. Bad theology, good joke.

More Background Info

As I stated in the previous post, my prior understanding of what it meant to be a Christian left a lot of my questions unanswered. Whenever I got into a situation where I struggled with what was happening in my life, I just kept telling myself to hang in and have faith. It's not that that is not good advice, but I think it caused me a lot of pain and suffering not having a better understanding of why things were going like they were.

One of the prevalent thoughts in most Christians today is that when things are going badly, I just need to try harder and when things are going well, God is pleased with me. But that is not what the Bible teaches. Take a look at many of the Bible greats, and you will see that they suffered, even when they were trying hard. John the Baptist took a Nazarite vow, and lived a life of unparalleled devotion to God. Jesus called him great (Matt 11:11), and what did it get him? He was imprisoned and beheaded. Ouch! Peter, according to tradition, was crucified up-side-down. Stephen was stoned. Paul was beaten, ship-wrecked, snake bitten and more. Are we really going to say that they just needed to try harder?

I had it backwards. I thought that my behavior was wrong and that if I could correct it, I would merit more grace. The reality was, I needed more grace so I could grow from my circumstances. As Tullian Tchividjian says in his book, Jesus + Nothing = Everything, "Christian growth, in other words, doesn't happen by first behaving better, but by believing better-believing in bigger, deeper, brighter ways what Christ has already secured for sinners." Wow! That is so different from what I have been taught, and have heard preached, and continue to hear being preached.

Today, many call themselves Christ-Followers because the label Christian has a negative connotation to many. But the problem is not in what we call ourselves as much as it is in what we really are. For many of us it is not about following Christ as much as it is about gaining heaven. So we do the things we think Christians should do. We go to church, tithe, abstain from certain behaviors. While these can all be good things, they are nothing in themselves! (1 Cor. 13:1-3) The real question must be, Do we see God as revealed in Jesus Christ as beautiful? Do we see Him as the
Pearl of Great Price or as a Great Treasure? Is our teaching and preaching about the beauty of Christ, seeking to draw us into a relationship that will change us, or is it about the changes that we must make so He will find us acceptable? If it is about the latter, then does not the Gospel lose its beauty? I am not saying that our behavior does not matter, I am saying that real change comes from an internal love for God rather than my desire to please Him and somehow gain His favor.

As much as I hate to admit it, this is a fairly new way of thinking for me, but the more I live in it, the more I see the freedom that is promised in the Bible.  Our Youth Pastor touched on this idea in his sermon the first Sunday in January, when he talked about how he struggled to keep up with a reading plan. He would begin one, only to look back later and see that many of the dates had no entries. I am not trying to slam him here or slam Bible Reading plans for that matter. But there is no one size fits all for Christian growth. Reading plans are great for some, and a struggle for others. No one gets into heaven because of the number of Bible chapters read in a lifetime. We should promote reading the Bible, but not out of guilt or necessity, but out of the passion that burns within us to know more about the God we love. Look at the picture that David paints in Psalm 42:1, "As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God." This is not a pretty picture of a doe taking a drink from a pond, but rather a deer that is panting because of a lack of water, and so the only thing on its mind is to find water and satisfy its thirst. And until it finds that water, it has no other thought but to obtain that water. Are we thirsty for God's word, or are we more like the shopper who is walking down the grocery aisle after a full meal, when the stock-piled shelves have little appeal?

Background Info

We began attending UCC around August of 2010. Prior to attending UCC, we attended another Christian Church near our home in Anderson. We had been there about 8 years. It was in our last 3 years there that things began to change for us. So many things were going on, but I just will share some highlights.

  • God was doing something in my heart. I had been asked to be a deacon at the church. I went to the meeting with the pastor, and got some information about the office. I later went to him in person to ask a question. I asked him, "What was the difference between me as a deacon and me as a member, besides that deacons serve communion on Sunday?" He answered, "Basically, nothing." Since I was already being asked to serve communion due to a shortage of servers, I decided to respectfully decline the offer. I didn't feel I needed a title that had no other meaning.
  • A year later, I was asked to serve as an elder. This time, I accepted, believing that this was something I should do.
  • I was also helping to teach one of the adult Sunday School classes during this time.

It was during this time that God had placed some things in my path that would begin to alter the way that I thought about religion. I had started a blog and was reading other blogs as well. I was introduced to a whole new way of thinking about church and what the Gospel truly is. Perhaps this would be a good time to point out that I have a 4 year seminary degree in Bible and Christian Education, and had served in full-time Youth Ministry and had been an interim preacher on a few occasions.

I was introduced to Reformed theology. I was introduced to theology for that matter. I had read the Bible, taken the Bible courses in college, attended seminars, heard countless sermons, but never had I gone much below the surface, and had never really been challenged to do so. As a result, my first marriage failed and I lost my position as a Youth Minister. I ended up working in the transportation industry for about 6 or 7 years, and am currently in education as an elementary teacher. I never let go of my faith in God, but I had some serious questions that my prior level of understanding never did answer. More on that later.

One of the issues that came to the surface at our past church during this time period was our theology and teaching. The church was working through one of the 40 days of purpose books. It was the S.H.A.P.E. manual by Eric Rees. I began to question a lot of the statements in this book. One example: on page 34, he has a fill in the blank that goes like this...

Remember: our strengths and abilities are there to show off his greatness and magnitude. 

Doesn't that sound great? It's like God really needs me to pull this thing off, isn't it? And I want to feel needed. But then another way of filling in those blanks occurred to me. It goes like this...

Remember: our weaknesses and in inabilities are there to show off his greatness and magnitude.

Isn't that more in line with what the Bible says? (2 Cor. 12:9,10 comes to mind) and so I started asking questions. The responses I got were varied. Some at the church agreed, and wanted to give it some more thought. Others said I was misinterpreting the S.H.A.P.E. book. Some said they felt uncomfortable at times with the teaching in the, but were not sure why. Our pastor said that while he saw no problem with the book, he did not feel it was something that he would use again. The chairman of the elders said his group had some questions about some of the things in the S.H.A.P.E. book, but they did not resolve them. One of the associate pastors told me that he did not have the time to debate theology with me.

Time went on and the issue went away, although it was never really resolved. The 40 days was over. It was also during this time that I had been asked to do an evaluation on the Youth Minister. Having been in a management position while working in the transportation industry, and having been in Youth Ministry, I agreed. My approach was simple. I came up with a questionnaire and had several people in various capacities respond. I then compiled the results and gave them to the eldership. Problem was, not all of the responses were complimentary, and a couple of elders felt that I had not handled the matter appropriately. Even though I had shared the responses with no one outside of the eldership, I was taken to task at our elder's retreat for the job I had done by one elder in particular. Later, at least two elders spoke to me independently sharing their support and even that they had similar concerns about the youth ministry. However,  the fact that they were unwilling to speak up in the meeting was very disappointing to me.

It was at this retreat where the largest struggle of all came to surface. Prior to the retreat, our bookkeeper had resigned. One of our elders had suggested that instead of just hiring a new bookkeeper, we add the responsibilities of an Executive Administrator to the job to create a full time position. He also stated that he would be interested in such a position. (This soon came to fruition.) The bulk of the retreat was spent discussing this idea, and how it would make our job as elders much easier. No goal setting, no vision casting, and little prayer. But we did use the pool and had some good food. As we were preparing to leave, and having our monthly elder's, the pastor made note of the fact that we had not spent much time in prayer during the retreat, but then qualified that by saying it was okay, because we were doing God's work.

I went home stunned and disappointed. I decided to tender my resignation. I was deeply hurt and wondered how I could be an effective elder under such circumstances. We also stopped attending there and began a search for a new place to worship. We did get a couple of e-mails (one from the pastor and one from the new Executive Administrator), and a phone call or two from some friends, but that was it. Is this what church was supposed to be? There was much to be thought through, and I believed that we needed some time and space to do that.

When we came to UCC, we shared our story with the pastor and one of the elders. We stated that we were wounded, and would probably be slow about making any commitments to the church. We shared how we had been challenged in our thinking of what church should be. We were assured that we would be welcomed and cared for at this church. I want to share how we were welcomed and cared for in future posts

Welcome to this site!

Let me begin by saying that it is not my intention to stir up controversy. Had that been my intention, I would have taken a much different route. My true desire here is to have a dialogue regarding what I believe and what others believe. This is something that has been denied to me up to this point.

My true desire here is to show my love and devotion to Jesus Christ, my Lord, Savior, and God. I hope to challenge those who would read here, and be challenged by interaction and discussion.

Proverbs 27:17  "Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another."

 I don't mind those who disagree with me, and I hope others don't mind if I disgree with them. The one thing I hope that we can all agree upon is that we ultimately desire to uplift the name of Jesus, and bring glory to God the Father.