“As You Wish,” Husbands Leading With A Purpose

[The following article was published in the June 8, 2014 edition of The Lookout. For more excellent reading, or to subscribe to The Lookout, click here.]

“Aaaas Yooooou Wiiiiiish!”

This was the cry of Westley (a.k.a. the Dread Pirate Roberts) after being pushed down a hill in The Princess Bride, the beloved 1987 film by Rob Reiner. His long unrequited love, Buttercup, had pushed him over the edge; she had yet to discover that this Pirate who had taken her captive was, in fact, her long lost love and stable boy, Westley.

Decades after being introduced to this movie, “as you wish” still strikes me as a pretty good statement of love and commitment. Continue reading

How Do I Become “Saved?”

[This week’s posts will be a continuation of a recent sermon at Adventure Christian Church, based on questions members submitted to our leaders. Some answers were not addressed from the stage and will be covered here as a supplement. Check out the live answers here.]

It happens all over our country, in many different contexts. Pastors who have a genuine heart for reaching the lost tell their audience or congregation to be saved by simply “accepting Christ into their hearts.” Continue reading

Top Seven[ish] Things People Think Are In The Bible (And They Totally Aren’t) [Except some totally are]

A friend shared an article on facebook the other day, and asked for feedback. These are my thoughts; they are probably not complete, but they get the job done. You may want to read the original article before diving into my response. I think two overarching things need to be clear about my response, so keep these in mind as you read:

  1. The author addresses an URGENT problem in our churches. There are so many platitudes floating around in our churches that we rarely stop to examine, many of which we have either spoken ourselves, or heard others speak. Maybe we’ve thought them to ourselves or watched/heard something and thought, “that makes sense.” MANY SUCH STATEMENTS AND CONCEPTS ARE BLATANTLY UNBIBLICAL. We need to be “wise as serpents” and “examine every teaching” to make sure that we are not being led astray by the evil one.
  2. I see this as pretty indicative of where faith in much of America stands. To be clear, I would not call the author a non-Christian, but several of the ideas put forward here are not biblical, as I hope you will see. KEEP YOUR EYES OPEN FOR FALSE TEACHING.

Without further ado, we press onward.

First, the premise:

The opening paragraph and the link in it reveal that this person is probably coming from a relatively liberal position toward Scripture. By that I mean, they probably don’t believe it to be the inerrant word of God, but rather “stories” (a word he uses), with morals, kind of like Aesop’s fables. To correct thisopening paragraph, the Bible IS the only written word of God. To challenge that would be to suggest that other “holy books” should be held with equal weight. No time for that in this discussion. Let’s just say that’s a cliff I’m not willing to dive off.

Onward…

Number 7: The Rapture. Not Biblical!

The Rapture, especially as portrayed by Jenkins and LaHaye in the “Left Behind” series, is not biblical. The article is right that it is a relatively recent view (dispensational pre-millennialism–look it up) of the end times. This view takes a couple of verses and elevates them over the larger body of apocalyptic biblical passages, but even more so, I feel like this view adds so many judgment events that it muddies the waters and fuels the “no one can understand it” fire. Regardless, on this point, many scholars disagree—even professors at the seminary I attend—and it is healthy not to break fellowship over something like this. A more healthy view of the end times is: “be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.” (Matthew 24:44, 25:1-13, 1 Thessalonians 5:2). Christians have been given passages about the judgment not so we can “crack the code” and have some special knowledge, but so that we will prepare ourselves today for the day Jesus comes again.

Number 6: God hates _________. Biblical!

I don’t know if the author is looking for a specific reference to homosexuality (i.e. Westboro Baptist Church) to fill in this blank. If so, that is a much longer discussion for a different day. Allow me to simply address the unpopular notion that God hates things. The Bible is clear that God hates certain things. He hates pagan worship rituals (Deut. 12:31), altars set up to other gods (Deut 16:22), and divorce (in some translations of Malachi 2:16). He hates sin and all who do wrong (psalm 5:5; Psalm 11:5; Lev 20:23), in Proverbs 6:16-19 there is a list of six things “God Hates.”

What’s more bothersome is that the article’s author tries to write off Scripture pretty flippantly by excusing anything that is “judgment, damnation” or Levitical codes…you know, the parts where you might expect to find the things God hates. It is dangerous to pick and choose portions from the Bible we like, because it leads to worshiping our preferences rather than God Himself.

The point here is that God is a holy God, perfect and blameless in every way and cannot be in the presence of sin. Therefore, we are all deserving of punishment, but out of his love for us, he gave us a way to restore relationship with him, namely, letting Jesus become our sin (2 Corinthians 5:17-21) so that there would be no more penalty for us.

NUMBER 5: Everything happens for a reason. Not Biblical!

I actually agree with this one. This can be a sensitive topic because this very line may have provided you comfort in a very rough time. But this is simply not in the Bible. Some things happen for a reason. When that is the case in the Bible, it says so. Also, when that does happen, there isn’t any “I think” language going on. When God speaks, he speaks clearly. God Speaks (Gen 3), Burns a Bush that doesn’t burn up (Ex 3) and then ten plagues (Ex 7-12), Wets a fleece, then wets the ground around the fleece (Judges 6), Sends unquenchable fire (1 Kings 18), Speaks through prophets (“This is what the Lord, The God of Israel Says”), sent his son, and then his spirit, struck men blind (Acts 9), healed the sick and maimed, etc. You get my drift. When God does something “for a reason,” he doesn’t “whisper.”

A better understanding is that there is an evil one. He wants to deceive and discourage those who live in the Truth, and he is “the prince of this world.” Since sin entered the world, it is broken and “subjected to futility” (Romans 8:20). That is why there are natural disasters, broken relationships and pain all around us. However, God works all things (even the bad things that he didn’t cause), for the good of those who love him, who are called according to his purpose. . . to be conformed to the likeness of his son.” (Romans 8:28-29). Stuff happens, even things God allows to happen, but they are opportunities for us to trust in him for our peace, which brings me to…

NUMBER 4: God Is In Control. Biblical!

I can kind of get on board with this one not “being in the Bible,” except not really. God is never out of control. HOWEVER, he is not a puppet master, pulling strings. God has two major ways of expressing his will: prescriptive and permissive. Prescriptive will are the things he causes to happen (miracles, creation, the incarnation of Jesus, etc). But other things he Permits to happen. He allows us free will to live our lives because without the freedom to choose, a relationship with him would be meaningless. Anyone who has ever loved someone understands this. Love cannot be compulsory. As a result, God lets things happen and has given us as much evidence as he saw appropriate to point every human back to him (Romans 1-3).

The problem I have with this one is the idea that God was “bested” at the cross. Jesus’ prayers in the garden (for starters) and his many predictions to his disciples of what was to come are are evidence that this was the plan. Not to mention Psalm 22, Isaiah 9, Isaiah 53 just to name a few significant places where Jesus’ life, teaching, death by crucifixion and resurrection is prophesied several centuries before any of it happened.

Yes God’s “will” can be changed, if he wills. He did not set us in action and then sit back to watch the pins fall, but he is active in our lives. The author really tips his hand here to call the Bible a “Story,” because the word implies fiction, which the Bible is not. But that’s probably something we could discuss more in a separate post.

NUMBER 3: “Jesus is my personal savior.” Not Biblical [but let me explain].

I have trouble with this one. To be fair to the author, there is no “magic prayer,” as many, many, many pastors and churches have led Christians to believe. I think that is at the heart of the author’s point. “Accept the Lord into your heart” and “Accept him as your personal savior” are not in Scripture. But Jesus doesn’t just say, “follow the leader,” either. The gospel call is to give our undying allegiance to Jesus as not just our savior but Lord and King. That means he gets priority over everything—literally everything (Luke 14:26)—else. That allegiance is not a decision parents can make for their children. Everyone has to personally choose to die to themselves and follow Jesus. The point he makes here is a good one, though. “Come forward, say a prayer, and be saved forever, whether you ever think about this night again or not” is a seriously anemic message that probably causes more problems than it solves.

On a more theological level, I have become increasingly aware of the corporate nature of the Gospel. Not that individuals are not saved, but the fact that Christ died for the Church (his bride), and many of the verses quoted and claimed for personal peace of mind are not, in fact aimed at a person but a population (Jeremiah 29:11, “I know the plans I have for you” is a plural you. Better to read it, “I know the plans I have for y’all.” Or John 3:16, “God so loved the world that he gave his only son, that those who believe…” Not to take away personal salvation, but the individualism that the author hits on here is a legitimate concern. Worship is not “Just me and God,” but Jesus and his Church, of which we are all members. God didn’t send Jesus to die for ME and MY sins, he sent him to die for the CHURCH and the sins of the WHOLE WORLD.

But I digress.

NUMBER 2: Jesus died for my sins. BIBLICAL!

No, No, No. This is heresy, and I don’t throw that term around lightly. If there is one item on this list that is “a hill I will die on,” this is it. To say this questions the very bedrock upon which Christianity is founded, and it will lead those who believe it away from Christ.  If he wanted to emphasize “MY,” see the discussion on number 3 about the corporate nature of Jesus’ redemption. But it doesn’t seem this is his point. His argument seems to be that the very idea of Jesus dying to take the penalty for sins is not in the Bible.

Here he goes again, taking the verses that say specifically what he says IS NOT in the Bible, and says we can’t use them to say that it IS in the Bible. This is absurd. Jesus is our atonement (Romans 3:25; 1 Cor 15:1-4), but I don’t need those verses to say that. Look at Hebrews 2:17, 1 John 2:2, or 1 John 4:10. What’s really fascinating is to read the account of the passover (Exodus 12, Leviticus 16) and then consider the ways that Christ is called the “Passover Lamb” (1 Corinthians 5:7), the “Lamb of God” (John 1:29), and is portrayed as a lamb through much of Revelation. Also reading Hebrews will help to understand why Christ is the only sacrifice that could cancel the debt in our sins.

Questioning the atonement, which he puts off to another post but makes clear he disagrees with it, is in vogue right now. One author called it “Cosmic Child Abuse.” The more I study the more convinced I am that the Penal (punitive in nature), substitutionary (he died in our place) atonement is the only view that makes sense of the cross. Arguments that Jesus died to set an example are weak, and fail to recognize that he could have more effectively accomplished that purpose without dying and living on instead. This is a complex issue that deserves more space than I can give it in this post, but the crucifixion (specifically) makes no sense without the context of penalty for sin. The cross had to happen so that the wrath of God, his perfect holiness, could be satisfied, while providing a way for his perfect love for his creation to be satisfied as well.

And finally:

NUMBER 1: God only helps those who help themselves. Not Biblical!

This one is spot on. He hits the nail on the head. The gospel is about coming to God in humility and brokenness. Not—as one of the elders at one church where I have served proposed—about us living our lives without “bothering” God and turning to him when we get stuck. That would make God some kind of Genie, or lucky rabbit’s foot or something.

In summary, he’s a little better than 50% right, with four of his 7 (1, 3, 5 and 7) are not in the Bible, at least not explicitly, and the author should be credited on this account.

But 2, 4 and 6 are in the Bible—explicitly—and at least 2 and 4 are central to the Gospel. Take those away and your idea of Christianity become paper-thin, relativistic moralism.

I hope this helps. My point in posting this is to challenge you: when you hear Christian teaching, do you accept it as spoken, if it “hits you right,” or “seems to make sense?” OR do you saturate your life in the Word of God so that you are able to refute those who oppose true teaching (Titus 1:9). To close, I will leave the following thought from Paul to Timothy:

“If anyone teaches false doctrines and does not agree to the sound instruction of our Lord Jesus Christ and to Godly Teaching, he is conceited and understands nothing

My prayer is that we won’t be seduced.

God Bless.

Demolition is the best part!

My wife and I love home remodel shows. Good thing, too, because our new house was a renovation zone for about two weeks before we moved in!

In all home remodel shows, there is the “concept stage” where the designers set out to show the homeowner what their space could look like, and there is the working stage, but nestled right in between is the part everyone loves — the demolition stage!

There is very little more rewarding than finally getting the keys to your new place (at least if you bought a place that needed a little work) and starting to tear things up. It marks progress. It marks what could be. It is the start of a finished product that you are really going to love!

Here’s the problem:

Demo is only fun for about 5 minutes. As long as you are tearing up BIG strips of carpet and pad, prying up nasty floors, knocking down walls or tearing out cabinets, demolition is a smash (yep, it fits. Pun intended). But tons of tedious work follows. Pulling up staples from carpet pad and tack strips. Sanding, patching and prepping walls before you can paint them. Every little problem you run into adds time, a run out to the hardware store, and possibly frustration.

However frustrating these hold-ups might be, they are critical to the success of the final product. It is the difference of doing it right and doing it fast. For us, the big project was laying new floors, so these steps were the difference between a quiet floor and a squeaky one. A tack nail or staple missed in the prep stages could mean a floor that won’t sit flush, or could mean buckling floor boards later on.

Tedious as the work is, it is critical to get rid of all the old issues before installing the new.

What happens when you don’t

Before my wife and I got married, her family flipped a house and I got to be a part of the process. In one of the rooms, there were probably 4-5 layers of flooring — laid one over the other — to cover up the rot and mess caused by the previous tenets’ pets.

As we pulled up layer after layer we wondered, “why, why, why would anyone do it this way?” This covering definitely didn’t eradicate the smell from the house, and it didn’t remove any of the rot and decay caused by <snarling at the thought> cats.

By laying new floor on top of the old, it didn’t remove any of the problems, it was just a new façade to cover up what was really underneath.

New building cannot happen without removing the old

My fear is that too often, people become Christians and expect a new, shiny veneer over a life that has years of hurt, bad habits, scars and baggage at its core. Those that have been Christians for a while are guilty, too. We cling to the parts of the Bible that make us feel better about who we already are, and explain away or — worse — completely ignore the parts that cause us any discomfort.

Paul says in Ephesians that we are God’s “workmanship” (Eph 2:10), 2 Corinthians 4 portrays us as vessels crafted by God. He is shaping us and molding us.

Unfortunately, many of us come to him after years of not following him, and we have some old, nasty, cat-pee carpet hidden in our hearts. To expect him to just put a new layer on top is completely inconsistent with the very perfect and thorough builder that he is.

God wants to GUT our hearts when we come to him. He wants to start FRESH with a CLEAN slate. 2 Corinthians 5:17 says that “if anyone is in Christ, he is a NEW creation. The old is GONE, and THE NEW HAS COME.”

But he cannot do that without our consent. He cannot strip us of the old if we will not let him.

And that is our call. To allow him in and take out even the parts that we might be fond of. For a while it might seem tedious, painful and repetitive. Things might look a whole lot worse before they look any better.

But our job is to trust that his vision for what we could be will be an infinitely greater version of us that we brought to his feet.

Trust the process.

Allow the tedious demolition work.

Allow God to build something new and do it the right way.

When Faith Doesn’t Work

Have you been through a time when you felt like your faith was "broken?"

Have you been through a time when you felt like your faith was “broken?”

Life is tough.

It gives you lemons.

It throws you curve balls.

<Insert your own unpleasant life metaphor here>

Sometimes even the strongest Christian can look around at his or her life and wonder, “How in the world did I get here?” or “This is not what I had planned.” In some cases, there may be a pretty valid answer. In others, it would seem like simply bad luck. Regardless, when bad things happen to good people, the question is always raised, “Why do bad things keep happening to good people?”

The world seems to be broken. On first appearance faith (especially what we experience in American Christianity) doesn’t seem to be working to fix it.

This is the first post in a series where I hope to answer this question in a biblical and understandable way. Disappointment can be a stumbling block, a hurdle to faith and a reason to justify unbelief, which makes it just the kind of question that the ChurchlessPastor wants to take on!

Here are the topics we’ll discuss (These will become links as the series continues):

  1. What do you mean, “doesn’t work?”
  2. When Prayer doesn’t work
  3. When Playing by the Rules doesn’t work
  4. When Going to Church doesn’t work. 
  5. When Baptism seems to be broken.
  6. Buried Alive (Baptism #2)
  7. Why it doesn’t “work”
  8. Fixing what’s broken

Did I leave something out? What question would you like answered? Leave your suggestions in the comments below.

You’re too worried about YOU! (And I’m too worried about me!)

WorldRevolvesAroundMe

One of the exciting things about being in seminary is that I have access to lots of books and ideas that I would not have otherwise ever pursued. As much as possible, I would like to share these thoughts with you. Today’s post us just such an occasion. Rediscovering Community by Daniel Overdorf is a great commentary on what the Bible says about the Church — what it was meant to be, what it stands for and what it represents in God’s plan. Check out what he says:

 We risk disregarding our place in God’s grand story and inviting Him only into our smaller stories. While God’s story certainly manifests itself in the smaller stories of each congregation, these are but pieces of something much more grand.
Overdorf is talking about our tendency to want our churches or denominations to be autonomous of one another. But that is not the way God intended fellowship to be.

Jesus didn’t die for YOU, so much as he died for Y’ALL

This is a touchy statement. But I believe it is true. He didn’t die for Stephen, or Melanie or eve, (gulp) Nick. When the Bible says he died for your sins, this your is almost universally plural. Jesus’ bride is his church. The body of Christ. He died to make his bride — the church — holy (Ephesians 5:25-7).

One of the most dangerous evolutions in the Church in recent decades/centuries is the rise of individualism. God’s purpose is not to make YOUR life make sense, but to make Y’ALL’s life a witness. The Bible tells a story of community. It tells a story of a nation, a people set apart for God. God’s heart is for his people, not his persons.

When we all stop worrying about ME

What is God’s will for ME?

What does God have in store for ME?

What is God doing in MY life?

As the quote above suggests, We are to see ourselves as part of God’s bigger narrative and part of Jesus’ larger body. Our passion should be for the rest of the body. It should concern us when we start to view every single thing that happens as some part of God’s plan for us (individually).This kind of thinking leads us to thinking that everything is “part of God’s plan for me, that God has a reason for everything that happens to me.” It leads to self-centered revolutions focusing on the Prayer of Jabez, Jeremiah 29:11, Romans 8:28, Philippians 4:13, and on the list goes. It leads to athletes that preach an “If you’re a Christian, God will make your team WIN!” (A sentiment that more and more people believe). It leads to us making God out to be a mystical “lucky rabbit’s foot” of sorts, carrying him around in our back pocket to bring us luck.

God’s plan is BIGGER than YOU or ME. His purposes span all of history, not just this little slice of time that we call the present (James 4:14).

When Joseph was beaten by his brothers, sold into slavery, treated poorly and thrown in prison, it would have been only natural for him to say, “God has forgotten me.” Or to say, “What is God’s will for my life?”

While God’s promises to Abraham did not come to full fruition through the Joseph narrative, God sovereignly and significantly advanced toward the fulfillment of these promises through Joseph and his family. (Overdorf, 126)

God worked out his plan for Israel through Joseph’s little part of the story. Joseph never wavered in faith. He never claimed “God is testing me.” He never said, “God has a purpose for me.”

He just said God had a purpose.

Stop worrying

God has a plan.

It could mean misery for some of us. It could mean riches for others. Suffering or riches might be the works of  his hand. They might simply  be allowed by him (if not caused). It might mean times of suffering or times of celebrating. But God has a purpose for his church, his people that is bigger than his purpose for any individual.

It’s time we let go of our own interests and trust him. He sees a bigger picture than we do.

Do you think the church is too individualistic?

God’s Will For You Today!

“Be Joyful Always; Pray Continually; Give thanks in all circumstances. This is God’s will for you in Jesus Christ.” -1 Thessalonians 5:17

I’ve been thinking a lot about God’s will lately. Everyone wants to know God’s will, and wants to wait for him to show it to them. There is a crucial lesson for Christians to learn. Jesus taught it, Paul reiterated it. I’ve condensed it here. It comes from Luke 19:11-26. It’s the Parable of the Ten Minas. Click the link and read the parable before you go on.

I’ve been thinking about how practical God is in the way that he guides us. The principle in this parable is that those who can be entrusted with a little will also be trusted with a lot. How sensible! This should ring true with any parent, project leader, administrator, business owner, or anyone else who is in a position of authority over others. When you have a task that needs to get done but the person to whom it is assigned falls through, you would never turn around and give them a BIGGER task! At the very least you would give them another task of similar size and start training them up in responsibility, follow through, diligence, etc. Someone that cannot fulfill the most menial task would be destined to fail if they were assigned something much bigger.

God works the same way. Sometimes it’s financially, as on the surface of this parable. As you are a faithful steward of your resources, you will find your money going farther and, in some cases, strange blessings will come your way because you are wise, disciplined and faithful. God says that if you are wise with a little, the same principles will lead you to wise choices when you have a lot. If you are foolish with a little, you would likely be foolish if you suddenly had plenty.

This parable goes deeper, though, and God treats our spirit the same way. We often want to know God’s specific plan, or his will in the particulars of life. We want to know what he has in store for us — where to go next, what to do next, etc. Maybe you are not in a time of spiritual plenty. Maybe you want more from God. You want him to reveal himself, or for a spiritual relationship with him to just “happen.” This parable teaches us that you have to be faithful with what you’ve got. Are you busy? You will always be. Make time for God now. Make him a priority now. Are you financially strapped? That will likely not change too much unless you start changing your money principles now. Do you not feel like God is close? Do things to close the gap and build that relationship now. Don’t wait for him to talk to you out of the clouds. Be a faithful steward of the position you are in today.

1 Thessalonians tells us, plain as day, “Be joyful always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will in Jesus Christ” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18). God may have remarkably specific plans for you, but his will for all of us is that we find contentment and trust in him. Be joyful. Pray continually. Be thankful for your present circumstance. When you prove that you can be trusted with a little, God will often begin to entrust much more to you.

What is it about this simple teaching that seems so difficult?