I sit here in the hospital as my daughter continues to get treatment for her "disease." Yeah, that is the term the doctor used today. He was pleased with her response to treatment. After only one day, she has significant strength back. Yay God!
I think about this. In order to get better, my daughter must suffer pain. I don't like it that she has to be stuck by needles, it makes her cry. But if she did not get this IV treatment, she would continue to get worse.
Sometimes, when we try to protect that which we love, we actually do more harm than good. I think of the elders of the church I attend, as they in my opinion, form a protective barrier between the pastor and any who would challenge him. So now, he does not have to defend himself, he is not challenged to grow outside of where he chooses, and the "unity" of the church is preserved. Or is it?
My daughter cried today. She will cry again tomorrow as she takes another IV for another treatment. But I am grateful for her tears, because they reveal a precious gift from God that will ultimately heal her and make her stronger.
This one reminds me of our Wednesday night service a couple of weeks ago, where the preacher was talking about our non-denominational denomination. It seems that God orchestrated several events about a hundred years ago culminating in the Christian Church/Churches of Christ, who now number about a million in the United States alone.
God moved so that 1/3 of 1% of us could get it right. Go God!
I was teaching students about similes, and once one came up with this one...as slow as a turtle with an elephant on its back. God not only moves in mysterious ways, he takes his time too. But if we focus on the word "million" it sounds so much better. So let's do that instead.
Somehow we've managed to preach Christ crucified in such a way that few are offended, a once unmanageable God suddenly seems nice, and the gospel makes good sense-as we are accustomed to making sense.
Michael Horton. Christless Christianity: The Alternative Gospel of the American Church (p. 10). Kindle Edition.
What is it that Christianity demands of us? Church attendance? Good moral behavior? Tithing? Most of this stuff is stuff that I can tolerate. (Okay, that tithing one hurts a little.) What about witnessing? Turning the other cheek? Volunteering to teach Sunday School? (Getting a little more painful now.) How about going the extra mile? Carrying our cross? (Enough already.)
What is it that Christianity demands of us? Everything. To me, it all goes back to the first commandment, to have no idols, nothing more ultimate than God. Are you offended now? Most of the time, when we preach Christ, we preach the salvation part. The good stuff. You get to go to heaven, yay! Who would be offended by that? But what does it mean to be saved? According to the Bible, the message of the cross is a stumbling block and foolishness. (1 Cor. 1:23) I think back to Mel Gibson's movie, The Passion of the Christ. Did that not offend some people? Would you leave a movie like that believing that all Jesus wants is for you is a couple of hours on Sunday morning and a few bucks from your paycheck?
"A once manageable God suddenly seems nice."
What ever happened to that fiery, angry, Old Testament God? I think of the lion of C. S. Lewis's Chronicles of Narnia. You know, the apex predator animal. The one that now we just want to cuddle up to, pet, or even slap on the tail? What about the holy and righteous God who had the earth swallow up people when they crossed him, or rained down fire and brimstone from heaven? Well He has been replaced by the God who sent His Son and is just begging you to accept Him. How nice!
"and the gospel makes good sense-as we are accustomed to making sense."
Now, God finally makes sense. Now He fits into the box. He is no longer that out of control personality. I like this God and I can accept Him. And if I've got this all right, I am safe, secure, guaranteed a spot in the coming kingdom. Awesome!
But what if I'm wrong?
We come to church, it seems, less to be transformed by the Good News than to celebrate our own transformation and to receive fresh marching orders for transforming ourselves and our world.
Michael Horton. Christless Christianity: The Alternative Gospel of the American Church (p. 19). Kindle Edition.
What if it is not about me? What if it is about God? What if?
The last few days have been crazy. Our daughter has had some falling spells lately, so my wife took her to the doctor. He suggested that we see a specialist, and we were able to get in on Thursday. I took her at 8:00 AM, and after looking at her, he says we need to get her to another specialist. At this point, some concern is setting in. The doctor he wants us to see normally has a 6-8 week wait before you can get in, but he says that he will call him, and see if he can expedite things. When he comes back, he tells me that she has an appointment for 3:00 today. More concern sets in.
This doctor, a neurologist, is very friendly. (So was the first specialist.) He chats while he examines her. He tells me that there is a concern about her muscle strength. This could be caused by the muscles themselves or by the nerves. He wants to run a test in the morning to see which is the problem. My wife will take her. After the appointment, she stops by my work to tell me that it is definitely a problem with the nervous system, and she is scheduled for another test at 5:00 PM to determine if this is a hereditary issue or an acquired one. If hereditary, it is not an easy fix, but if acquired, it can be treated with medicine.
She is at the surgical center at 3:30, and I get there at 3:45. She is a very nervous 10 year old at this point. They give her meds to help her relax. I want some too! By 5:00 she is headed in for the procedure, where they take some fluid from her spine which will determine the cause of the issue. Now the long wait until Monday for the result. But at 7:00 that night the phone rings. It is the doctor, calling to tell us that her problem is acquired, and not hereditary. Praise God! What a wonderful man not to let us wait through the weekend to find this out.
So here is where I want to talk about the missing piece. It is now 7:10, and it dawns on me that aside from immediate family and my wife's Bible Study group, and people at work, no one knew a thing. I had never once thought about calling anyone at church. Why would I when they have expressed so little concern about us up to this point? We already have enough postcards. Yet I find that extremely saddening, that that which should be a tree large enough for us to rest in its branches often feels like a weed that saps our strength. I wonder how many others, in times of need, have felt this way. And if this is how it is, no wonder the church loses people out the back door almost as quickly as they enter through the front.
Idolatry is a problem of man. It is wrong to think that idolatry was only a problem for man "back in the day." I have often heard idolatry defined as "making anything other than God ultimate." that means that even good things can be idols. Idolatry has alwasy been and will always be a problem for man.
Except in church, right? NOT! Tim Keller in Counterfeit Gods writes, "Idolatry is so pervasive that it dominates this area (religion) as well."
As I think back to the past several months and how things have gone with our church leadership, I find a depth of understanding in some of the words Dr. Keller writes. (See chapter 5) Let me share...
The sign that you have slipped into this form of self-justification is that you become what the book of Proverbs calls a “scoffer.” Scoffers always show contempt and disdain for opponents rather than graciousness. When we approached the pastor, we did it in confidence and compassion. Alone, in his office. But I cannot think of a better phrase than "scoffed at" to represent how we feel we have been treated. It is as if there is no way that we can have anything of value to say. No compassion, no open ear to listen or to offer guidance, no discussion, just a cold shoulder inviting us to leave or asking that we stop wasting their time.
Another form of idolatry within religious communities turns spiritual gifts and ministry success into a counterfeit god. Spiritual gifts (talent, ability, performance, growth) are often mistaken for what the Bible calls spiritual “fruit” (love, joy, patience, humility, courage, gentleness). I cannot count how many times we have been told that one of the reasons that they refuse to listen is because the church is growing, as if growth equals pleasing to God. If that were true, no false religion would ever take root. So let's hear it for the Mormons, Muslims, and Joel Osteen. And I thought it was the narrow path that led to heaven.
the default mode of the human heart is to seek to control God and others through our moral performance. Because we have lived virtuous lives we feel that God (and the people we meet) owe us respect and support. Though we may give lip service to Jesus as our example and inspiration, we are still looking to ourselves and our own moral striving for salvation. Maybe that is why the pastor was so upset that we did not mention our profound gratitude because he had sent us a postcard. Postcard, 10 cents, postage, 32 cents, morality points, priceless. Or why we have been told the facts of how the church has grown in the past 10 years, or how this past year's Easter attendance set a new record. But what numbers aren't we sharing? We never hear about how many have left the church. And if last Easter's attendance was so great, what does that say about the rest of the year? I could go on, but you know what they say...85% of all statistics are made up anyway. Or was that 63%?
Making an idol out of doctrinal accuracy, ministry success, or moral rectitude leads to constant internal conflict, arrogance and self-righteousness, and oppression of those whose views differ. Do we feel oppressed? Does a bear... Do birds sing? How are we supposed to feel when we are told that sermon discussion is "out of bounds?" I thought only the Pope was infallible. Guess I was wrong.
I guess I owe someone an apology. If I could just find my postcards and stamps.
We met at the church at 8 PM. My wife had asked to speak to the pastor. He said that he would have to run that idea by the elders first. (?) Then we were given some meeting options, and chose to meet with the pastor and our shepherding elder on that Thursday evening.
I agree to attend, but I wanted my wife to know that I did not want to get in the way of her expressing what was on her heart. How she had been hurt by the pastor's "suggestion" that we would be happier at another church. How in her current state, caring for her dying father at our home, and other struggles, and feeling alone and rejected by the church. How the messages she hears are a drain on her, both because they are nothing but a list of do's and don't, and because the very things spoken of in many a message have not been shown to us in the behavior of the leadership. She spoke of her hurt and frustration, sometimes to the point of tears. It was hard to watch, but I knew that I had to let her say her peace. And I am proud of her, because I know how difficult it was for her, she hates confrontation.
For the most part, the pastor said little. At one point, he defended himself, saying that he had sent a postcard to let us know that he was praying for us. But then he stated that he was hurt, because we had not acknowledged receiving the postcard. Really? I guess we blew that one.
After she was finished, I voiced a few concerns that I had. But I was again reminded that anything that the pastor says from the pulpit is off-limits. Although our shepherd offered to get together with me if I felt the need to discuss things further. But the pastor was just too busy a man to be bothered with such things. I took him up on the offer as we concluded the meeting.
We agree to meet for breakfast on Saturday at church that Sunday. I really felt that I was able to express some of my concerns. I spoke of how the sermons were focused on how to live, and not the why. But the how is supposed to be an effect of the why. If we never hear the cause of our actions, but only hear what we are doing wrong, that only builds frustration. Most people know what kind of behavior is expected of them, what they need to hear is how to change it. We talk about life-change, but then present a message of, "Here are the changes you need to make." What about the gospel? What about the beauty of Christ? I spoke of the past Sunday's message, one in which a crippled beggar had been healed. Did Jesus do this just to teach us a moral lesson? Is it really just about choosing action over apathy? Or choosing to give glory to God? Not that these are not good things, but they are nothing without the heart that goes with it. (1 Cor 13:1-3) What did Peter do after the man was healed? Did he tell the people to go out and be better people, or did he preach a gospel message to draw people to Christ? (If you don't know, the answer is the latter, read that rest of Acts 4)
I was told that he could not see a flaw in my reasoning. But, our pastor was not about to change the way he preaches. I was then told that the pastor feels that I am attacking him, and that for the sake of my wife and children, I need to adjust my attitude. I need to listen to the sermons and see what I can glean from them. I am the problem.
Just to let you know, I went home and thought about his response. Quite frankly, the more I did, the more I could not accept it. I saw him on Sunday. I thanked him for meeting with me for breakfast. I also told him that I thought he was wrong, and I asked him how, in light of the sermon that had just been preached, could he feel that his reaction was appropriate? He said he would pray for me.
I find it very ironic that this lesson was taught in view of recent events (which I haven't had time to blog about, but will if time allows.)
One of the points of the sermon regarded how the visions of the temple guard and religious leaders had been clouded by their perceptions. They had agendas, and refused to hear what Peter was saying, instead focusing on what they wanted.
I had breakfast with one of our elders Saturday. We discussed my concerns as well as theirs. His perception, as well as that of the pastor, is that I am attacking the pastor. They have made it clear that his sermon material or presentation is not a matter for debate. I assured him that I am not attacking the pastor, but merely wish to discuss some concerns that I have. Were I attacking, I would not have sought a private audience with him. But if there are some concerns, should they not be discussed? I was able to discuss some of my concerns over breakfast. The elder stated that although he could not argue with my concerns nor find any fault in my logic, that the bottom line was, I just needed to stop what I am doing and embrace what the pastor says and try and learn from it. He even went so far as to state that my concerns were affecting the spiritual lives of my wife and children. Yet it is because I am concerned for the spiritual lives of my wife and children, as well as those of the congregation as a whole that I have voiced my concerns.
One of the points of the message this past Sunday (from Acts 4) was that Peter and John had done nothing wrong in proclaiming their message. Even in going against the Jewish religious rulers, their authority at that time, they were innocent. It was the rulers who had done wrong. They, in their blindness of wanting to keep Rome happy and not lose their positions, refused to listen to Peter and John. I feel their frustration. Not only did they refuse to listen in the face of incredible evidence (not just their message, but the crippled man who had been healed was still there), they sought to silence them. But I love their response, "Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God’s sight to obey you rather than God. For we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard." (Acts 4:19-20)
Peter and John were ordinary men, not men of great learning. They did not possess PhDs or seminary degrees. But they had been with Jesus, and were filled with the Holy Spirit. I find it frustrating when the pastor says that he has his sermons vetted by PhDs or other ministers and I should just accept that as enough. No need to discuss matters any farther, the religious ruling body has given their approval. But I have to wonder, is this just a flock of birds of the same feather, meeting to agree with one another? I don't know. But if I am wrong, tell me, don't hide behind others. I am not afraid of an honest discussion.
All this talk in the message about not worrying about what to say, and how at those time we will be led by the Holy Spirit, does that not apply here? Or do we not want to hear what the Holy Spirit might say? For thousands of years the church has existed, yet in those years it has faced massive corruption and deception. Have we finally reached a point where that is no longer an issue? Is accountability not a good thing? Tell me, Captain, Caiaphas, Annas, why can't we talk?
Just some questions or thoughts about one more statement made during the message.
Around the 13:20 mark, referring to the parable of the talents, he says, "And the moral of that parable is to make the most of what you have and you will be rewarded for it."
Read the parable here. Please read from verse 14 all the way to verse 46 to get the full message. Now, I suppose one way to read this parable is to look for a moral lesson. Some "thing" that I can do to make me a better person. And there are many people who believe that Jesus was a great moral teacher. But I don't believe that Jesus came to give us moral lessons about being better people. He came to transform us, from the sinners we are to lovers of God we should be. He came to reveal God's presence and glory to us. So in this story, we have two men who respected and obeyed their master. One received five talents and the other two. These two men took their talents and honored their master with them. He gave them a task and they performed it to the best of their ability. And they were successful. But the third man, who only received one talent, did not honor his master. All he thought of was himself. He thought about how his master was cruel, how he would not benefit from his own labors, maybe he was even jealous that he had not been given more responsibility, so he took the talent and buried it. It sounds as if he hated his master!
It is in verses 31-46 where I believe we find the application to this parable. Jesus tells us that on judgement day, the sheep will be separated from the goats. The sheep are those who feed Christ, who give Him drink, who go out of their way to care for Him. And all the while, they don't even look at it as serving Him!
Because it is a natural part of who they are! They love and respect their master and their lives have been changed. They are not trying to live up to a moral code, but are responding to Christ without thinking about what they are doing. So when He says "For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me," they respond by saying, when did we do this for you? They were not trying to earn his favor or live better and more moral lives, they were just living a life that reflected the love of their master, a most natural thing for them to do!
But the goats, they hate the master. Not outwardly. Outwardly I believe even they think they love Him. Outwardly they do what they believe is right things for right reasons. Outwardly, they are very clean dishes and whitewashed tombs. Yet they too did not even realize what their actions revealed. But their selfish burying of their resources, their refusal to reach outside themselves, their inward focus blinded them not only to how they should live, but how they should love. Look at the third man's response. "Here is the talent you gave me." Perhaps he is saying, "Look, this is all that you should expect from me, just what you gave me and nothing more. Take this, it is yours. Now give me what is mine." But that is a very sad and inappropriate response.
Look at it this way. Say my wife is going to be gone on a Saturday, laundry day. She asks me if I can help her out. I say yes. So after she leaves I put a load of laundry in the washer and turn it on. There, I have helped her out. And that was tough, because I hate doing laundry. Or, do I wash, dry, fold and put away the laundry, do the dishes, tidy things around the house, get dinner ready, and even get the lawn mowed and the driveway swept. Both choices reveal my heart. Which response do you think is going to get her to say, "Well done?" Sure, I could justify the first response, because I have my "man" things to do. But when love rules, there is a strange joy that is found, even in doing the laundry. (Please note: It is not the deeds that matter, but the heart behind the deeds. Jesus said, "If you love me, you will obey what I command," not "If you obey what I command, you love me." Both may look the same, but the difference is huge.)
So in a sense, yes, this parable reveals a message that says, "Make the most of what you have and you will be rewarded." But that is so simplistic and misses teaching the point. The real message here is one of a deep and abiding trust and love for the Master, living a life that honors Him and lives according to the law without the weight of the law crushing us. And I am afraid that a life that does not honor God is this manner, a life that does not see Him as beautiful and wonderful, is a life that just might be damned.
...you burden your people with heavy loads (Mt 23:4)
...you do everything for men to see (Mt 23:5)
...you love your place of honor (Mt 23:6-7)
Matt 23: 14-22
“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the kingdom of heaven in men’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to. “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as you are. “Woe to you, blind guides! You say, ‘If anyone swears by the temple, it means nothing; but if anyone swears by the gold of the temple, he is bound by his oath.’You blind fools! Which is greater: the gold, or the temple that makes the gold sacred?You also say, ‘If anyone swears by the altar, it means nothing; but if anyone swears by the gift on it, he is bound by his oath.’You blind men! Which is greater: the gift, or the altar that makes the gift sacred?Therefore, he who swears by the altar swears by it and by everything on it.And he who swears by the temple swears by it and by the one who dwells in it.And he who swears by heaven swears by God’s throne and by the one who sits on it.
Some other reasons Satan might want your church to grow. If...
...your church thinks that numerical growth equals being pleasing God
...you say that growth comes from God, but then act as if it comes from you
...your church is asleep in the light
...you talk grace, but preach works
...you only accept those who agree with you
...you give generously, but only to yourselves and your needs, garnering a beautiful place of worship and preacher who tickles your ears, while the needs of others go unfilled. (Mt 23:23)
“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence.Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean. “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men’s bones and everything unclean.In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness. “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You build tombs for the prophets and decorate the graves of the righteous.And you say, ‘If we had lived in the days of our forefathers, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.’So you testify against yourselves that you are the descendants of those who murdered the prophets.Fill up, then, the measure of the sin of your forefathers! “You snakes! You brood of vipers! How will you escape being condemned to hell?Therefore I am sending you prophets and wise men and teachers. Some of them you will kill and crucify; others you will flog in your synagogues and pursue from town to town.And so upon you will come all the righteous blood that has been shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah son of Berekiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar.I tell you the truth, all this will come upon this generation.
I want to spend the second part of this critique talking about the missing part of the message, the good news of Christ. Without this element, all we have is a moral lesson or behavior modification. Christianity is so much more than that! Christianity, as I understand it, is about freedom and Christ, not about law-keeping and me. Even telling people to give glory to God, without sharing His beauty, is a guilt trip that could lead people to (in the words of C.S. Lewis) thinking that God was like an old woman begging for compliments.
Here is the text from Acts 3:11-26 (the missing pieces)
11While he clung to Peter and John, all the people, utterly astounded, ran together to them in the portico called Solomon's. 12 And when Peter saw it he addressed the people: “Men of Israel, why do you wonder at this, or why do you stare at us, as though by our own power or piety we have made him walk? 13The God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, the God of our fathers, glorified his servant Jesus, whom you delivered over and denied in the presence of Pilate, when he had decided to release him. 14 But you denied the Holy and Righteous One, and asked for a murderer to be granted to you, 15 and you killed the Author of life, whom God raised from the dead. To this we are witnesses. 16 And his name—by faith in his name—has made this man strong whom you see and know, and the faith that is through Jesus has given the man this perfect health in the presence of you all. 17 “And now, brothers, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did also your rulers. 18 But what God foretold by the mouth of all the prophets, that his Christ would suffer, he thus fulfilled. 19Repent therefore, and turn back, that your sins may be blotted out, 20 that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that he may send the Christ appointed for you, Jesus, 21whom heaven must receive until the time for restoring all the things about which God spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets long ago. 22 Moses said, ‘The Lord God will raise up for you a prophet like me from your brothers. You shall listen to him in whatever he tells you. 23 And it shall be that every soul who does not listen to that prophet shall be destroyed from the people.’ 24 And all the prophets who have spoken, from Samuel and those who came after him, also proclaimed these days. 25You are the sons of the prophets and of the covenant that God made with your fathers, saying to Abraham, ‘And in your offspring shall all the families of the earth be blessed.’ 26God, having raised up his servant, sent him to you first, to bless you by turning every one of you from your wickedness.”
Here are some important elements from those verses:
Vs. 11: The people were "utterly astounded." This opened the door for Peter. In education, we refer to this as a "teachable moment." Peter recognized that the people were hungry for an explanation about what had happened. And Peter was ready!
Vs. 12: Peter made it clear that he was not the power behind the healing. He gave the glory to Jesus. I find it interesting that he says here did not do it "by our own power or piety." This miracle was not a result of Peter's strength or ability to be obedient. And although it is not stated, I believe that we can infer that this miracle was also not due to any strength or piety on the part of the crippled man.
Vs. 13: God did this to glorify Jesus. You remember Him, don't you? He is the one you rejected and crucified.
Vs. 16: This man's healing came through faith. But I find myself asking, whose faith and where did that faith come from? Was it Peter and John's faith, or was it the beggars? If it was the beggar's faith, how did this beggar get faith in Jesus without Peter first preaching Christ? Or was this just an act of the Holy Spirit imparting faith to a man as a gift from God?
Vs. 18: What God promised to do, He did. He sent a Messiah, Jesus Christ!
Vs. 19: "Repent, therefore..." What is the basis of the repentance? It is not said in response to a question, as in Acts 2, but it is a response to what God has done for us in Christ! (Which is the same reason I believe he gave the response he did in Acts 2.) The therefore here refers back to Peter's sermon. We repent because of the faith granted us, we repent because we see Christ as we have never seen Him before. That, in my opinion, is an act of the Holy Spirit.
That is the gospel, my response to what God has done for me. Not me trying to show God how deserving I am of His grace, but me humbly understanding that I desperately need His grace. And if I see myself as the beggar, lame, crippled, no real friends, etc. and then truly see how wonderful and gracious God is in healing me, there is no other response other than to repent of my sins and turn to God in love and sacrifice.
The healing of this man without the gospel is like Kool-Aid made of only water.
It might quench your thirst, but it lacks the flavor to keep you coming back for more.
This Sunday's message began with a talk about "perspective" and how that affects how we interpret things. AMEN! I think that the major issue I have with our pastor's sermons is exactly that, a matter of perspective, our perspective on the importance, meaning, and place of the gospel. Not the facts of the gospel, but the living out of the gospel in the life of a believer. I say this in part, because the living out of the gospel perspective is very obviously missing in this week's message.
The text this week is Acts 3:1-10. So let's begin there. A miracle takes place in this text. A man that is crippled from birth is healed. That is an amazing event. I find it hard to believe that such an event took place only to teach some kind of a moral lesson or to encourage some type of behavior modification, that is so not Jesus. I believe that this event occurred to facilitate a gospel message.
In this event, we have a man who was crippled from birth, a man who probably had no family, a man whose existence was reduced to being left to beg all day. I dread to think of what his existence at night must have been. He also was a man who the Jewish community would have supposed to have been steeped in sin, either his own or that of his parents. And this from birth! So what change was given to him was probably done in a very condescending manner. He was an outcast, crippled, alone, and rejected.
So up walk Peter and John. Peter says, "Look at me." Most people would probably avert their eyes not just because they did not want to give because of who this man was and what he represented to them. I wonder if part of what he expected them to give him was a little "what for." I wonder how many times someone threw him a bit of change but also gave him another two cents worth as well. You know, that Pharisaical "I sure am glad that God didn't make me like you."
But Peter was not your typical Jew. He was a Jew who had been with Jesus. And although he had no silver or gold, he possessed something much greater, a love for and understanding of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Peter is about to create a spectacle, but not a spectacle to draw attention to himself, but one that ultimately draws attention to Christ. Peter is about to, through Christ, free this man from such a great bondage that it is hard for me to fathom. Peter does not just say "stand up and walk, but he tells him to do it "in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth." He wanted to make sure that this man and everyone else within hearing knew that what was about to happen was the result of what Jesus was doing, and not himself. It was Jesus who would set this man free from his bondage, and not Peter, John, or even the crippled beggar himself. That is good news, that is the gospel.
It is not about the man's action over apathy. It is not about his choosing faith over fear. It is not even about a choice to give glory to God. Not that those are not all good things, but without a connection to the gospel and a sincere love for God, they are nothing. (I Cor. 13:1-3) It is about Christ, through Peter, choosing to bring glory to His name through the changed life of a man who had been crippled since birth. Anything more than the total sufficiency of Christ robs the gospel of its power. Anything that depends on me only weighs me down and will ultimately hinder my faith.
Peter understood this. Perhaps my greatest disappointment is that this is where the sermon ends for the preacher. Next week we move on to Chapter 4 of Acts. But what about the rest of chapter 3? Peter uses this event as a springboard to present a gospel message in verses 11-26. Not a message about how to handle your money, or how to behave better, but a message of what God has done for us in Christ!
My dear friends, most churches make the mistake of selecting as leaders the confident, the competent, and the successful. But what you most need in a leader is someone who has been broken by the knowledge of his or her sin, and even greater knowledge of Jesus’ costly grace. The number one leaders in every church ought to be the people who repent the most fully without excuses, because you don’t need any now; the most easily without bitterness; the most publicly and the most joyfully. They know their standing isn’t based on their performance.
Doesn't that seem to be how God chose His leaders?
Nonbelievers need to hear the gospel to believe it and be saved. Believers need to be reminded of the gospel so they can grow deeper in Christ. There is really no distinction, you see, between what believers need to hear and what unbelievers need to hear. Both believers and unbelievers need to get a glimpse of God’s majestic glory, a taste of His surpassing beauty, and a sense of how much grace God has shown toward them in Christ. Both believers and unbelievers need to be rebuked for their pride and self-sufficiency, to be reminded of the all-surpassing beauty of God. They both need to be stirred up to faith. The gospel is the center of the message no matter who you are talking to. It is everything. Christ is all.
If you choose to read or have read any of my postings, I hope you notice a difference in what I believe being a follower of Christ is, as opposed to what we often hear preached and taught, not only at UCC, but at many so called "evangelical" churches. It is the 21st century Americanized gospel of "me, and my value to God" that bothers me, when it should be the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Treven Wax says this in his book, Counterfeit Gospels, "Even those of us who have walked with the Lord for many years may be inclined to accept cheap imitations of the truth. Why? Because they are easy. They cost us less. And they make us popular with people whose opinions matter to us. ...Counterfeits leave our hearts and affections for God depleted at just the time we should be overflowing with passion to share the good news with others." (page 13) Do we really think that all there is to salvation is joining a church or saying a prayer or participating in a ritual and it ends there? Or that it does not end there, but continues based on my actions or merit? It is not about what I bring to God, it is about what God has done for me in Christ. It is not about my efforts to live up to a moral code, but rather my response to his grace that should determine my steps. And if I truly see Him as beautiful, then my response will far surpass any moral code that would be set before me. Isn't this what Jesus meant when he said, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’28 But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart." (Matt 5:27-28) In this and many other instances, Jesus takes the law and enlarges it rather than minimalizing it. He makes it a matter of heart, not a matter of mere obedience. He makes it something that we can only accomplish through grace. Perhaps that is one of the reasons Paul says, "For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast." (Ephesians 2:8-9) The good news is not that I couldn't do it before, and now I have to do it, the good news is that I couldn't do it before, can't do it now, won't do it in the future, but Christ has done it for me so I can now live in the freedom to love Him and respond to Him out of love, not obligation.
So let's look at the 8 reasons to listen to God daily, as listed in UCC's Daily Bible Reading plan. As we read, ask yourself, are these things God centered or me centered? Are the Scriptures indicative of what the Bible teaches as a whole or are they pulled out of context to support a thought that is not one that is intended to be taught?
1. So that my prayers will be answered. (John 15:7)
GOD: My grace is freely given, but answered prayers, now that's gonna cost ya. (Sarcasm intended)
A popular Prosperity Theology text and use of text. This type of thinking can lead to the thought that if one does not get their prayers answered, it is because they aren't doing enough. So I ask myself, was Paul not doing enough when he asked to have his thorn in the flesh removed? Was David not doing enough when he prayed for his infant son's life to be spared? How about John the Baptist? Did he ever pray to get out of prison or to not be beheaded? Did he suffer his fate because he was not committed enough? Does this idea glorify God as sovereign or does it make Him my puppet? Does this verse even remotely apply to the idea of a daily Bible reading plan? Perhaps remotely, as those who remain in Jesus will have a thirst for his word. But will a Bible reading plan get my prayers answered? Should this be a motivation that we promote for reading the word? But then why not talk about that, how as a Christian I should hunger and thirst to know more about the God who sent His one and only Son to die for me? Now, I know that the Bible says that the prayers of a righteous man are powerful and effective (James 5:16). But the Bible also says that there are none righteous, no not one. (Romans 3:10) Any righteousness we have is what is granted through Christ, and not through works! It is not about me.
While I agree that there is much wisdom to be found in the Bible, reading it is not enough to grant us true wisdom, that requires a surgical procedure by the Holy Spirit. No one knew the Scriptures and studied them more than the Pharisees. Yet they, in their wisdom, crucified Jesus. It is not about me.
This is not a text about a man merely reading God's word, but a part of a passage about a man who passionately and dearly loves the God who is behind those words. It is a man who meditates on those words and delights in them. It is a man who sees the beauty of God and desires to get as close to Him as humanly possible. It is not a man who is merely seeking to be a better, more sinless person. It is not about me.
Yes, comfort in the midst of suffering, not a padded pew and AC, or a better retirement income. Read verse 53! "Indignation grips me because of the wicked, who have forsaken your law."Who are the wicked? Those who do not honor and glorify God. So again, more than promoting a reading plan, we need to promote the God who is the author of that plan. We will be comforted when we see Him as beautiful and caring for us. We will be comforted by His love for us in the midst of our trials. We will be comforted as we see He has a plan for everything and knows us intimately. It is not about me.
5. So I can get the most out of life. (Joshua 1:8)
This verse is about more than a daily study time. It is about a life-style. Joshua had taken over for Moses, who in a moment of weakness had dishonored God. Moses's punishment was he was not able to enter into the promised land, he would only see it from a distance. Moses not only read Scripture, he wrote Scripture! So how does one interpret "getting the most out of life?" If it is living in the joy of knowing God, then yes, this is true. If we interpret "getting the most out of life" as being prosperous and successful by this world's standards or having less stress or trials, then a long line of men like Moses, David, and even John the Baptist would have some legitimate complaining to do. To make an ambiguous statement such as this is dangerous. It is not about me.
Yes, truth is important. But sometimes by truth we mean "our truth." Are we really reading the Bible to get truth, or are we merely seeking to defend a position we already hold? The Bereans were considered "more noble," not just because they searched the Scriptures to find the truth, but also because the "received the message with great eagerness." It's not just about reading, it is also about how we read. Are we zealously searching for the truths that God wants us to receive? Again, the Pharisees read and memorized the Scriptures more than any others, but Jesus still called them "blind guides" because they did not read to perceive, they read to validate their own ways. It is not about me.
Yes! This should be reason #1 out of 1. Psalm 63:1 "You, God, are my God, earnestly I seek you; thirst for you, my whole being longs for you, in a dry and parched land where there is no water." or Deut. 6:4-5 "Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength" I could go on. It is not about me.
After reading many of these reasons, I find myself asking, "Hope in what?" I think part of my frustration is the ambiguity of these statements. Hope that I will get my prayers answered better? Hope for wisdom? Hope for avoiding sin? Hope for comfort? Hope for a better life now? Hope for knowing the truth? Read Romans 15:1-4! Or the entire chapter for that matter. It is not even talking about a hope of salvation, but a hope to know God and one that drives our desire to serve God sacrificially, just as Christ served us! It is a hope drives us passionately toward a deeper commitment to walk in Him based on the gospel of Jesus Christ. Are we afraid of turning someone off because of the truth that we need to speak? Because it is not about me.
Agree or disagree, all I am trying to do is be zealous for God and search for the truth. What I see in these reasons and their attached proof-texts is a quick and careless treatment of the God I love. We can justify many behaviors with a quick statement and a Bible text. I hear it almost every Sunday. But remember, when Jesus quoted a text, He was speaking to an audience where many intimately knew those words and the context they were found in. Today, many people have no deep theological basis and are eager to be spoon fed what to do, how to act, and how to believe; so a grain of Scripture often is all the authority they need. If the truth of the Scriptures is all about God, then I need to stop looking at bits and pieces and dig into it to know the truth. I need to approach it looking for what it reveals about Him. It is not about me.
Proverbs 1:7 (Msg) "Start with God—the first step in learning is bowing down to God; only fools thumb their noses at such wisdom and learning."
I love our couch. Being 6'3", it is sometimes hard to find a couch that is comfortable to sit in and one that you can lay out for a nap on. This couch does both. It has fluffy arms that start low and get higher as you move out, almost like a pillow when you lay, but great for your arms when you sit. And, they are wide enough to hold a plate. Nirvana! No wonder I hold on to the couch even though one arm has a "slight" hole where the dog chewed it, and it is starting to show wear in other places as well.
David Platt, in his book Radical, says, "...somewhere along the way we had missed what is radical about our faith and replaced it with what is comfortable. We were settling for a Christianity that revolves around catering to ourselves when the central message of Christianity is actually about abandoning ourselves." (page 7)
We read this book in Journeymen last year. I thought that the presenters had done an admirable job of presenting a message that many really don't want to hear. At the end of their time they shared and discussed Platt's challenges at the end of the book. They are as follows:
Pray for the entire world
Read through the entire Word
Sacrifice your money for a specific purpose
Spend your time in another context
Commit your life to a multiplying community (page 185)
Challenging and uncomfortable stuff. Jesus said a lot of challenging and uncomfortable stuff too. But this is stuff that I need to face up to. Maybe not these specific ones, as David Platt is not Jesus, nor would he claim to be. But I need to take a closer look at this.
Oh, the commercial is over. There, that is much better. Now I can get back to my couch.