Friday, November 29, 2013

Pass the butter?

We do not simply remember Christ or rededicate ourselves to Christ in this meal; rather, Christ gives himself to us as the Bread of Life.

Michael Horton. Christless Christianity: The Alternative Gospel of the American Church (p. 219). Kindle Edition.

I think when it comes to communion, I drift to the idea of works based religion more than any other time. Have I been good enough? Am I worthy to partake. The answer should always be, "No, not outside of the grace of Christ." So perhaps partaking in a worthy manner is not about me, at least in the sense of my behavior. But it is more about me and the question, "Am I willing to accept the gift that Christ is offering?" Am I willing to understand my own sinfulness and partake of the body and blood of Christ, fully understanding that without this sacrifice, I am damned. Those are strong words, but communion is a strong image. One that I believe is intended to evoke a great appreciation in the hearts of Christians.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

How can some be forgiven more?

Those who are forgiven much love much (Luke 7:47).

Michael Horton. Christless Christianity: The Alternative Gospel of the American Church (p. 205). Kindle Edition.

Some might ask, are some forgiven more than others? No, I don't believe so. The context of this quote really goes to the perception of the one who is forgiven. If I think I am an okay guy, if I think I follow all or most of the moral obligations thrown my way, if I compare myself to others and see them as worse than me, then perhaps my level of the perception of my forgiveness is not all that high, and therefore my understanding of the depth of God's grace is not so high either. But if I see myself as a sinner saved by grace, no better or no worse than any other sinner, and I perceive the depth of God's love to me in the giving of His Son, then how can my reciprocation of the love not be great? Not because I want to prove my worth to God, but because I have seen my worth to Him.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

What he said...

In the second scenario, the church is its own subculture, an alternative community not only for weekly dying and rising in Christ but for one's entire circle of friends, electricians, and neighbors. In this scenario, the people assume that they come to church primarily to do something. The emphasis is on their work for God. The preaching concentrates on principles and steps to living a better life, with a constant stream of exhortations: Be more committed. Read your Bible more. Pray more. Witness more. Give more. Get involved in this cause or that movement to save the world. Their calling by God to secular vocations is made secondary to finding their ministry in the church. Often malnourished because of a ministry defined by personal charisma and motivational skills rather than by knowledge and godliness, these same sheep are expected to be shepherds themselves. Always serving, they are rarely served. Ill-informed about the grand narrative of God's work in redemptive history, they do not really know what to say to a non-Christian except to talk about their own experiences and perhaps repeat some slogans or formulas that they might be hard-pressed to explain. Furthermore, because they are expected to be so heavily involved in church-related activities (often considered more important even than the public services on Sunday), they do not have the time, energy, or opportunity to develop significant relationships outside the church. And if they were to bring a friend to church, they could not be sure that he or she would hear the gospel.

Michael Horton. Christless Christianity: The Alternative Gospel of the American Church (pp. 190-191). Kindle Edition.

Okay, I think this is a bit of a blanket statement. Not everyone who goes to a specific church believes this, but I think that there are many who even unknown to themselves have this type of belief system. And I think that many specific churches, perhaps unintentionally, promote this type of belief. The list of items in the quote are not bad things, they are just not the end itself. Christ is the end. And sometimes our programs promote this type of belief. We promote slogans like, "Be the Church." Yet instead of telling us what it means to really be the Bride of Christ, we promote specific behaviors. Perhaps what we really need is marriage counseling! We follow slogans like, "Be Jesus" instead of encouraging belief in Jesus. To be Jesus is a heavy burden I cannot bear, although perhaps I would like to think I could. Believing Jesus, on the other hand, gives me hope.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

What's in your preaching?

Often in popular preaching today it seems that the goal is to get through the interpretation of the passage in order to arrive at the contemporary application, which typically evidences the preacher's own hobbyhorses and recent diet of reading or movies. Usually, application equals law-to-do lists-rather than using the passage to actually absolve sinners of their guilt and rescript them in their new roles as those who have been transferred from the covenantal headship of Adam to Christ.

Michael Horton. Christless Christianity: The Alternative Gospel of the American Church (p. 145). Kindle Edition.

I think back to most of the in-person preaching I have heard in the past 5 to 10 years. While my opinion of some of it was okay (at that time), I now look back and say to myself, "Where was I really challenged to grow?" or "What did I hear that was not something that most in the audience did not already agreed with?" or "Yeah, I remember reading that book too."

I still go back to inviting my heroine addicted brother to come to church with me, and him actually saying yes. Then, after the service, when I had heard what at the time I thought was powerful, I dared to ask what he thought. He replied, "I thought it was lame." It took me a while, but I think so too now. What we had heard was a rah-rah session for believers. No gospel, just a statement of we as Christians are right! Jesus is the answer for white, middle-class America. Sign-up now for your spot in heaven!

But now that I see that I am a sinner, that is not what I want to hear. I want absolution. I want to know that Christ offers that to me. I can go to the movies myself.

Monday, November 25, 2013

If at first you don't succeed...

When my conscience leads me to despair, the exhortation to try harder will only deepen either my self-righteousness or my spiritual depression. In other words, it will draw me away from my location in Christ and gradually bring me back to that place where I am turned in on myself. If the conscience is to find peace with God, there can be no help from the law; in fact, it is the law that arouses my conscience to my utter sinfulness.

Michael Horton. Christless Christianity: The Alternative Gospel of the American Church (p. 130). Kindle Edition.

Another interesting thought, one that has proven itself true in my experience. Now I know there are some who can excel just through their will. At least for a time. My brother is a great example. He kicked a heroine habit just by gutting it out. After being homeless, living on the streets, stealing just to get the next fix, he finally gave up and went home. When mom and dad picked him up at the airport, they barely recognized him. He went through the withdrawl phase and did not pick up a needle again...for about 10 years. They say heroine is the hardest drug to overcome, its addiction is so powerful. So ten years is an amazing feat. But once he picked it up again, he couldn't put it back down, no matter how much he wanted to. He went through the withdrawal phase time and again, but soon after was back for more. Finally, in utter despair, he took his life.

The world says keep trying. Or try harder. Jesus says something completely different. He tells us to come to Him. He says surrender. Those are difficult words for folks in our culture.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Dad started doing the dishes

We are not called to live the gospel but to believe the gospel and to follow the law in view of God's mercies.

Michael Horton. Christless Christianity: The Alternative Gospel of the American Church (p. 124). Kindle Edition.

I find this to be an interesting quote. Doesn't living the gospel sound like a good idea? I hear people say things like "Be Jesus," and "What would Jesus do?" Aren't these things okay?

What does God really want from us? Many people would answer "relationship." But I think that depends on your definition of relationship. The Bible says God wants belief. But even that can be a tricky word to define. And then there are James' words that "even the demons believe - and shudder!"

So the belief that we have is not merely intellectual assent. It is a knowledge that leads to an action.

For some reason, I have been thinking about my Dad a lot lately. Growing up he was the bread winner, and Mom took care of the house. He got home from work at 5:00, and dinner was on the table as he stepped through the door. Afterwards, he did the man things that needed done around the house. Or sometimes took a nap on the couch. But after he retired, Dad was often found in the kitchen, cleaning up the dishes, even though Mom told him he didn't need to do it. (But I could tell that she really liked it.)

Why did he do it? Was it an attempt to get Mom to love him more? I don't think so. Was it guilt over all of the years she had done so much in the kitchen while he seldom set foot in there? Nah. I think it was just a deep expression of his appreciation and love for her. Over the years they had done so much for each other. I can still see Mom in the kitchen, making Dad an extra sandwich with the cheese that smelled worse than my socks after gym class. Same thing. She did it out of love, and not obligation or guilt. He worked hard to provide, and this was a way of expressing her appreciation.

So what does this have to do with the quote from today? I think it is the same idea. We don't try to live the gospel, but because we believe the gospel we respond to it in certain ways. I don't have to live under the burden of being Jesus or trying to figure out what he would do. I am not Jesus. I just have to believe in what He has done and respond in deep appreciation, not in perfection or obligation. The demons shudder because that is the part they lack, the appreciation that works itself out in their lives. They believe the gospel, but that very gospel itself makes them angry and in opposition to God.

So maybe that is why Jesus says that when we feed the hungry or visit those in prison "in his name," we have done a great service to him. It is not the action, but the appreciation because of our faith that he enjoys. Likewise, when the action occurs without the belief, it does not impress him. So what I need in my life is not more effort, but more faith that leads to the kind of response lets God know that even though all of the actions in my life could not repay the debt I owe, I deeply appreciate the fact that I no longer owe that debt.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Huh?








The following graphic is used in the book.



Michael Horton. Christless Christianity: The Alternative Gospel of the American Church (p. 196). Kindle Edition. 

There is a huge difference between the two approaches. So the question for me becomes, is either one okay? Does God care if we land on one side, the other, or somewhere in the middle. Or maybe this is not a fair representation. I know that many who I consider to hold to the "Law Lite" position do not see themselves in that mold, and would argue that they do hold to the gospel.

Because these positions are so divergent, I don't think both can be acceptable. However, I do believe that God has some in each party, just as Satan has his minions on either side. That's just my opinion. I am not saying the theology is unimportant. I just happen to believe that a heart for God trumps bad theology. Jesus said the first and greatest commandment was to love God with all your heart, soul, and mind. I believe that if that is done with all sincerity, God will honor that love and provide a way. 

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Not everything is Gospel.

Not everything in God's Word is gospel; there are a lot of exhortations, commands, and imperatives. They are to be followed. However, they are not the gospel. Not everything that we need is gospel. We also need to be directed. We need to know God's commands so we will come clean, acknowledge our sins, and flee to Christ and also so they can direct us in grateful obedience.

Michael Horton. Christless Christianity: The Alternative Gospel of the American Church (p. 109). Kindle Edition.

We need to be directed. I agree. But direction without destination is futile. Some focus on the direction, but lack the destination. Or some confuse the destination. I read a quote today, and it sounds so good. It was on a preacher's Facebook page.

"There is nothing God loves more than keeping promises, answering prayers, performing miracles, and fulfilling dreams. All he is waiting on...for us to ask. Dream big, PRAY big."*

I want to believe this. Trouble is, the Bible doesn't bear this out. David's son died. John the Baptist was beheaded. Jonah's shade was withered. Stephen was stoned. Paul was imprisoned. Jesus asked that the cup be taken from Him. I could go on. If God is all about fulfilling our dreams, didn't some of these men have a place at the front of the line?

There is nothing God loves more than His Son. Yet God allowed Him to suffer to keep His promise to Abram and to us. He has answered the prayers of the suffering, by giving them a vision that their suffering will not be eternal as they call out to Him. His greatest joy is to see that His Son's sacrifice was not in vain. That is the miracle of miracles. That is the fulfillment of the greatest dream ever, not to avoid the certainty of Hell, but to spend eternity in the presence of God.

I m not saying don't pray. Yes, pray your guts out. Like David, lay everything on the floor before God and leave nothing out. Share your pain and struggles, your frustrations and your joys. Expect miracles. Trust in Him completely. But remember the destination. The destination is eternity with God. It means that we love Him above all else and whatever we have to endure down here, we do faithfully.

*Upon doing some checking, I found that this quote is from a book by Mark Batterson.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Go down two blocks, then take a left.

"What I need first of all is not exhortation, but a gospel, not directions for saving myself but knowledge of how God has saved me. Have you any good news? That is the question that I ask of you. I know your exhortations will not help me. But if anything has been done to save me, will you not tell me the facts?"'

Michael Horton. Christless Christianity: The Alternative Gospel of the American Church (p. 104). Kindle Edition.

I once asked a preacher why he was always telling people what to do or how to live. He replied that the Bible is full of such admonitions. And while that point is true, those admonitions are usually or maybe even always preceded by a gospel declaration, something that was not present in his preaching.

Michael hits pretty hard on Joel Osteen in his book in a few places, but rightfully so in my opinion. I guess it boils down to whether you believe the gospel is about your best life now or the best God of the universe. While I believe that God wants what is best for us, I don't believe it looks like what Mr. Osteen often promises.


Monday, November 18, 2013

Hurry up, company is coming!

"Ever since his temptation by Satan, Jesus had been offered glory without a cross, but it was a false promise. That's why Jesus rebuked Peter's attempt to dissuade him from the cross by saying, "Get behind me, Satan. You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man" (Matt. 16:23)."

"Paul regularly picks up on this theme. Familiar to suffering himself, Paul was always joyful not because of his circumstances but because of the gospel's promise that after we suffer for a little while we will share in Christ's resurrection glory."

Michael Horton. Christless Christianity: The Alternative Gospel of the American Church (pp. 95-96). Kindle Edition.

This whole Christianity thing would be so much better if it weren't for that bloody cross. At least that is what many think. It's like when you know company is coming over and you don't have much time to clean, so things start getting stuffed in places that they don't belong so we give the appearance of being neater than we really are.

We shouldn't have to clean up Christ to make him look better. If the God of the universe was willing to be naked on a cross, battered and bruised, then I think he can handle it if people know about that today.

Jesus said our burden is light. That is because he did all the hard stuff. He went to Calvary and endured God's wrath so that we wouldn't have to. If you take away the cross, then all that is left is us trying to be better so that we can earn God's favor. Are we really ready to take on the wrath of God ourselves? I'll take the cross instead.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Not a damn thing.

There are half-truths in all of these pleas, but they never really bring hearers face-to-face with their real problem: that they stand naked and ashamed before a holy God and can only be acceptably clothed in his presence by being clothed, head to toe, in Christ's righteousness.

Michael Horton. Christless Christianity: The Alternative Gospel of the American Church (pp. 73-74). Kindle Edition.

Our best efforts cannot satisfy God's Justice. Yet the good news is that God has satisfied his own justice and reconciled us to himself through the life, death, and resurrection of his Son. God's holy law can no longer condemn us because we are in Christ.

Michael Horton. Christless Christianity: The Alternative Gospel of the American Church (p. 91). Kindle Edition.

What do I hope to get by serving God? Not a damn thing that I don't already have. My righteous acts are but filthy rags before Him. I don't do it because of what I will get, I do it because of what I already got. (My apologies to those who are offended by my grammar.)

What if?

Friday, November 15, 2013

I did it all by myself!

By contrast, if we adopt Pelagian or semi-Pelagian assumptions, we will carry the burden of trying to produce conversions, relying on our own cleverness and communicative power rather than on God's Word and Spirit.

Michael Horton. Christless Christianity: The Alternative Gospel of the American Church (pp. 62-63). Kindle Edition.

I use tools to make things. The tools can not assume any of the credit, for without me they are useless. God uses people to accomplish his plans, but the problems begin when we think we deserve some of the credit.

Churches boast about how they are growing as if they were doing something better than the church down the street, or as if their god were better than the others. Yet according to Scripture, it is God who causes growth, not man or even a well intentioned group of men. (My mind wanders to the Tower of Babel.)

It's not that growth is bad, but if growth were the true indicator, then we might as well sign up for Joel Osteen's church now.

So if God is in charge, why are we so distracted by all of these other things? Why are we promoting anything else? And perhaps most importantly, what are we trying to win people to?

Monday, November 11, 2013

Grab your bootstraps!

I think that the church in America today is so obsessed with being practical, relevant, helpful, successful, and perhaps even well-liked that it nearly mirrors the world itself. Aside from the packaging, there is nothing that cannot be found in most churches today that could not be satisfied by any number of secular programs and self-help groups.

Michael Horton. Christless Christianity: The Alternative Gospel of the American Church (pp. 16-17). Kindle Edition.

So what do we do to combat this? I seriously struggle with this. It is difficult to listen to a speaker and rarely or never hear the name of Jesus. Does this bother anyone else?

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Who wouldn't want that?

I used to attend University Christian Church in Muncie, Indiana. I stopped attending there a while back, about the time I started this blog. Many of my initial postings were the spiritual issues that were happening in my life, and in our dealings with the church there and its leadership. For some reason today, I was drawn to listen to one of the speaker's sermons, to see if there was anything different.



As I listened to the message, I realized that he was preaching through "The Story" by Max Lucado. He was in Exodus 1:6-10 for his text. As I listened, I heard a factual story, I thought for a few moments, was I wrong in choosing to leave? Would time have made a difference? Could I have been fed there? Yet even as I listened to this message, there was that nagging feeling (some would call it the prompting of the Spirit) that something was wrong or missing, there was something about this message that didn't ring true.

As I listened to the message at any single moment, it was difficult to disagree with what was being said. God is mighty and powerful and can deliver us out of any circumstance. But it wasn't until I looked at the message as a whole that I realized what it was that bothered me (again). He spoke of God's power, he spoke of God's deliverance, he spoke of God's plan, he spoke of the trust that we need to put in God. He even spoke of how we can be sure of God's deliverance. But it reminded me of the used car salesman who would tell you how wonderful the car you were looking at was, but didn't want you to get the car fax. Or as Paul Harvey would say, he wasn't telling "the rest of the story."

What does it mean for God to deliver us? What does it mean for God to provide? He gave an illustration of how God provided the right house for him and he even got a generous gift to help him renovate it. Is that what it means to give your life to God? He will provide your needs and wants? Who wouldn't want that? God can get rid of my issues? Who wouldn't want that? God will heal my marriage? Who wouldn't want that? He can fix my finances? Who wouldn't want that? But doesn't this turn my whole relationship with God into what He will do for me? Is that what Christianity is all about?

Or is it about what Christ has done for us (past tense). Nowhere in this message did I hear this. (Well, there was the obligatory invitation at the end that touched on this, connecting it to the message somehow. It reminded me of the closing arguments of the salesman, telling one that this car had been once owned by a little old lady from Pasadena who only used it to drive to church on Sunday.) It was not that God would deliver us from our sinful state, only that He would deliver us from our problems. Surrender meant healing and that all would go well. How did that work out for John the Baptist? Or Jonah? Did Job persevere only because of what would come later? It was not about God's power to defeat the evil that binds us, but His power to give us good things in this world. It was preaching to the choir, it was telling itching ears what they longed to hear.

I pray for this speaker. I pray for those who hear his message and think that is all there is to it. I pray that God would open their eyes. I pray for myself too. I pray that God would continue to convict me of truth. I pray to continue to trust in Him, even when things don't go the way I think they ought. I pray that my contentment would be found in Him, and not what He brings to me. That may not be what a lot of people want, but it is what I want.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Contentment

Chapter 12. The final chapter of the book.  It begins with Paul's idea of contentment. So what does that idea sound like? It sounds like this...

"All his needs have been met in Jesus, so all he has left are wants."

I don't know about you, but I am not there yet. But I want to be.

We live in an instant world. Instant coffee, microwaves, the internet (which just keeps getting faster), etc. So much has changed in my life. But since I spend so much time in the present, it is hard to see it sometimes.

So where is contentment? Is it with the next big thing? I haven't downloaded IOS7 yet, but even when I do, can 8 be far behind? Paul had his share of highs and lows. And he talks about learning contentment through them all. Learning content. That is a tough concept. I want contentment now. Joel Osteen knows this. It helps him sell books like, "Your Best Life Now." Matt takes a different approach. One that might now help sell as many books, but one that has a better ring of truth in my opinion.

"contentment means being satisfied not with the gifts but with the Giver."

If I want to find contentment, it cannot be in the things my God brings to me, but rather in my God himself. I am still working on that.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Philippians 4:13 (Bazinga!)

You know the verse, everyone quotes it. "I can do all things through him (Christ) who strengthens me."

But as a teacher, I know that context is king. How about reading the entire paragraph that text comes from?

10 I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at length you have revived your concern for me. You were indeed concerned for me, but you had no opportunity. 11 Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. 12 I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. 13 I can do all things through him who strengthens me.

After reading it, are you convinced that we use this text correctly? Here is how Matt puts it in Chapter 11:

Do you see now how Philippians 4: 13 is not about chasing your dreams, following your passion, pulling yourself up by your bootstraps, accomplishing anything you want with God’s help? It is instead the testimony of those who have Christ and have found Him supremely valuable, joyous, and satisfying. In a life constantly marked by these extreme highs and lows, Paul has found the great constant security, the great centering hope: Jesus Christ Himself.

That is not how I want it to read. I want it to be about power, healing, dominion over anything that stands in my way. I want it to be like Luke Skywalker's light sabre, crushing my enemies, putting fear in my foes. I want to stand on the mountain when it is all said and done, the wind blowing in hair.

And yet it is about power. Power to take the healing and the power to endure when the healing does not happen. Power in dominion and power when I have to submit. The power to crush my enemies and the power to let my enemies crush me. Mostly, it is about the power of living in the hands of a God whom I trust. I can do all things when all means all, and not just the good stuff that I want.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Adam's Road

Ran across this. I am not familiar with Adam's Road. I recall a similar experience with a couple of Jehovah's Witnesses I had many years ago. I have often wondered if our conversation planted any seeds. Only God knows. My responsibility is just to sow.

This really speaks to me about the Sovereignty of God.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

What, Me Worry?

Chapter 10 deals with the idea of worry. Just a few quotes to give you a taste.

"God does not promise to rid your life of affliction and difficulty. He does, however, offer to give you the grace needed to suffer well, and through grace to discover the riches and beauty of the gospel."

"When we live with a lack of anxiety about the future, even in those tightrope kind of times, we communicate the truth that our God is indeed worthy of our trust."

Do we trust God? If something happens that is not according to "our" plan, are we willing to give up our plan and surrender to Him? Here is a thought that bears some consideration: The person who has nothing to worry about will have a hard time knowing God." Couple of clarifications: 1) We all have something to worry about, the key is how we handle that issue, and 2) It is through my dependence on God, and in my weaknesses where I find His strength. So in a sense, the more weakness I feel, the greater my trust can become. 

Friday, November 1, 2013

When it is not easy (Rejoice)

In chapter 9 Matt deals with Paul's statement, "Rejoice in the Lord always, again I say rejoice." That can be a lofty goal, but how does it work itself out in reality. Matt shares a time in his own life when something tragic is happening. When your son is in an ambulance, your wife is with him, and you are following in your car, but you don't have lights and a siren. And when you lose them, you realize you don't even know which hospital they are taking him to. How do you rejoice in that moment?

You rejoice because your joy is not based on your circumstances, but it is based on your belief that God is in control, that He sees everything, and that He is in charge. Not a sparrow falls to the ground and he is not aware.

This is not a sappy, I will be happy no matter what. That does not glorify God. It is the fact that we can have assurance even in the midst of tragedy. That even though things don't go the way we desire, we still trust in God. Completely. Rejoice.