Thursday, August 18, 2011

Intergenerational Critique

D.A. Carson provides some wise and timely comments on the clash between Christians of differing generations. Carson's thoughts are not only helpful, but they are also a good example of firm yet gracious critique. The truth of his words both chasten and encourage. Here's a sampling.
Always focus most attention on the most important things, what Paul calls the matters of first importance—and that means the gospel, with all its rich intertwinings, its focus on Christ and his death and resurrection, its setting people right with God and its power to transform. So when we take a dislike of another’s ministry primarily because he belongs to that other generation, must we not first of all ask whether the man in question heralds the gospel? If so, the most precious kinship already exists and should be nurtured. This is not to say that every other consideration can be ignored. Some ministers are pretty poor at addressing homosexuals in a faithful and winsome way, at speaking the truth in love, at coping with the rising relativism without sounding angry all the time, at avoiding the unpretty habit of nurturing a smart mouth. But Paul in Phil 1 understands that whatever the shortcomings and confused motives of some ministers, if they preach Christ faithfully, he will cheer them on, and be grateful.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

BLESS Challenge

A few weeks ago, I returned from a church mission trip to Peru. That trip has changed me in many ways. One way is that I realized how much fun it is to live day in and day out for the good of others. When I returned to the States, I didn't want the mission trip to end. Or at least I didn't want the mentality of the trip to end. I decided to start a "mission trip" right here at home. The result is the following challenge I issued to our church. The challenge is hardly original to me. I borrowed thoughts from several different sources to compile by own list.

The list is a composition of "missional disciplines." It is not enough to have the gospel in our heads; it must be exploding out of our life. Christians who take their faith seriously have longed practiced spiritual disciplines, but most of these disciplines focus primarily on the contemplative (i.e. Bible reading, quiet time, fasting, etc.). These are all well and good, but there is more to the Christian life than contemplating the glory of God. We also need active disciplines that push us to glorify God in the way we live. The purpose of disciplines is to sort of force yourself into doing what you know you should do but have a hard time doing. You want to pray but often forget. So you set a up a daily rhythm to pray at every meal. You want to read your Bible more, so you set aside a time every morning, and so on. The same should go for living out Christ’s mission. You want to share Christ’s love, but there are so many distractions everyday that keep us from the mission. So set up some daily/ weekly disciplines to keep you on track. The goal of these practices is to make mission a non-negotiable part of your daily life. I asked the church to keep the list for one month and see what God would do. So without further ado . . .

B LESS - Find a way to bless at least 3 individuals each day. One of those persons has to be a Christian. One has to be a non-Christian, and the third can be anybody. These acts of blessing can range from anything to dropping an encouraging email, to giving a gift, to compassionately listening to someone's troubles. Committing to this will force you to start each day scheming on how to be on mission.

L ISTEN - Spend one hour per week listening for the leading and prompting of the Holy Spirit. The goal is have the Spirit teach you how to better team up with Him. Remember the Spirit is already on mission and going before us. So ask the Spirit to show you what opportunities you are missing, what obstacles are getting in the way, how can you express His love more fully, etc. “Listening” doesn’t mean you have to sit in an empty room with your eyes shut. That’s sleeping. You can go for a prayer walk, prayerfully read through some Scripture or a book pausing to hear the Spirit’s leading, sing some praise songs, etc. But don’t spend this time telling God your problems. Spend it listening to the Spirit for His leading.

E AT - Share 3 meals per week. One meal is with Christians, one meal is with non-Christians, and the third is with whoever. “Meal” here is loosely defined. It could be sharing a cup of coffee, a donut, whatever. Obviously family does not count. The idea is that eating is a great way to get into each other’s lives. It facilitates conversation, opening up, and sharing the gospel.

S TUDY - Commit to reading the Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) regularly and study how Jesus loved people, proclaimed the gospel, etc. Learn from the Master. Also commit to reading at least one other book. That book could be biblical (i.e. the book of Genesis), Christian (The Prodigal God), fiction, or anything else. It doesn’t have to be a Christian book. The only stipulation is that it has to be a good one. Whatever you read, ask the Spirit to teach you as you go through it. There is no time requirement on this one. It is simply a general commitment to be a consistent learner.

S CRIPT - Keep a daily journal to record how you lived out Christ’s mission for the day. It doesn’t have to be long and wordy. It can be a few short sentences on ways you blessed people, perhaps some opportunities you missed, maybe something you feel God is teaching you. Just as the first point drives you to start the day scheming on how to be on mission, this one drives you to end the day reflecting and learning from what you did well and how you can do better.

The response to this challenge in our church has been overwhelming. If you are interested in joining the challenge, please note it in a comment to this post and pass the word along to others.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Functional But Not Beautiful

Trevin Wax wrote a great critique about Francis Chan's new book Erasing Hell, which is a response to Rob Bell's Love Wins. What I like about the article is not so much about what it addresses in Chan's book, but about how it addresses a great gap in current Western Christianity. That gap being the disconnect between Truth and Beauty. In reality, these two are linked like mountains and majesty. In practice, however, we seem to describe the mountains without being swept away by their exhilarating majesty. Wax says this about Chan's book:
What is needed is a response that takes into consideration the beauty of Truth. We’ve got the truth portion down when it comes to propositions. What is needed is a beautiful and compelling portrait of Truth – the Person. God is inherently beautiful, but many times, we don’t do well at drawing out the inherent beauty of Truth with a capital T.

His conclusion:
Erasing Hell is functional, but not beautiful. From a functional point of view, I recommend it. But I think we need to be pushed on the beautiful side of this equation as well. The gospel shouldn’t shut down our imagination, but rather fuel it and direct it toward the beauty that is inherent to the truth. We need more than analysis; we need artistry.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

MacArthur and YRRs

Everybody knew it was coming, and it finally came. John MacArthur decided to pen a series of critiques on the Young, Restless, and Reformed movement. If you aren’t familiar with the YRR label, it comes from Colon Hansen’s book by that title and applies to the “New Calvinists,” whose growth and influence has been recently touted by even the secular media. When I heard of the critique, my initial response was, “I’m shocked! A critique by Johnny Mac? Who would have thought he had it in him?” Then I repented of my sins and read the critique.

I’ve read this first of a three part critique over and over trying to decipher exactly what MacArthur is trying to say, and I have come to several conclusions that I need to get out in words before they burn a whole in my brain.

1) First, I can sort of see where he is coming from. There are some in the YRR camp that act like their ability to chug of few cold ones and appreciate the fine art of pipe smoking ranks them as first class missional missionary guys. Personally, I know a few who can sit down, have a beer with a friend, and effectively share the gospel. But it’s not like beer was the key to unlocking the Spirit’s effectual call to salvation. Although inebriation might both loosen the tongue and open the heart. Just kidding. There is an underlying pragmatism (MacArthur’s favorite word. Seriously, just listen to any one of his sermons on what is wrong with the church today and count how many times he says “pragmatism.” It’s double digits, easy. A close second is “relativism.” I’m personally found of “ridiculous.” Say it several times every sermon. No idea why.”) with such thinking, which is MacArthur’s main point. “If I just unlock the cool code of hipsteranity, I can reach the world. Old people want me to be so uncool and that totally downgrades my missional effectiveness.” I see that element in the YRR movement, and I agree we need to repent and get past it.

2) Secondly, MacArthur is liked because he is a man of conviction in age without a spine. He speaks authoritatively when most, like, don’t, you know. He draws lines when most people are trying to blur them. And much of that is good and appreciated, but there is a negative side. Authority is hard to tone down. It’s really hard to say, “That line you cannot cross. This line over here, well, it’s not that big of a deal. It’s just what I think.” I have heard MacArthur speak on the rightness of classical music over against rock like he was talking about the doctrine of the Trinity. I’m not saying he puts them on the same level. He just sounds like he does. Although it is hard to distinguish one line from another, it is absolutely necessary to do so. Even the apostle Paul did it (e.g. 1 Cor 7:25). If you don’t, then you put yourself and your listeners out on an island of self-proclaimed, super-spirituality. You make your personal grasp of truth the standard for all. When MacArthur says that we should all dress for corporate worship like we would for a wedding, he’s gone past Scripture. He’s standing on his own. But you wouldn’t know it by the way he speaks.

3) Thirdly, there is the whole issue of tone. When MacArthur says, “I sometimes think no group is more fashion-conscious than the current crop of hipster church planters—except perhaps teenage girls,” it’s hilarious. Oh, come on. That’s funny. But that is not exactly the way to get an audience. Can’t somebody tell MacArthur to study up on Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People? Pragmatism! Oh, right. MacArthur has this mantra that you speak the truth and trust God with the consequences. Don’t worry about how the truth is received. Let God take care of that. But Scripture also says, “The Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth”(2 Timothy 2:24-25). If gentleness is for opponents, what about your co-laborers in the gospel? Isn’t there room for faith in God’s sovereignty that speaks truth in a gentle, humble, loving spirit that exudes the truth one is trying to communicate? A faith that doesn’t feel the necessity to bash someone over the head with a hammer, but believes counter-intuitively that the Spirit will use a gentle rebuke with far greater effectiveness like he promises? Sometimes I think the “speak truth and trust God with the consequences” mentality is an excuse to avoid doing the hard work of really getting to know the person we are correcting and tailoring our message to make it both convicting and appealing. That can’t always be done, but many times it can. And if we truly love those we are correcting, we’ll do it.

4) Fourthly, pragmatism, at lease as MacArther defines it, is the big issue. Often I think MacArthur and guys like Driscoll are ships passing in the night. What MacArthur labels as “cultural capitulation” and “pragmatism,” Driscoll labels “contextualizing the gospel.” The problem is not the extent YRRs go to “contextualize.” No, as far as I can tell, and correct me if I am wrong, MacArthur says “contextualization” by definition is a cultural sell-out. Which to me is like saying translating the Bible to English is a cultural capitulation (which unfortunately is not an unheard of claim in the annals of Christian history). Here again MacArthur claims to cast his lot with the sovereignty of God by shunning attempts to be “relevant.” So here is the question I have, “Do we cast doubt on the power of the Spirit and sufficiency of the gospel by working to make ourselves clearly understood? And by making ourselves understood through identifying with our fellow fallen images of God in every non-sinful way that we are capable of? Did Hudson Taylor forsake his faith in the Spirit by dressing and living like a Chinamen for the sake of the gospel?”

I think my answer to those questions are clear enough. MacArthur tells us to dress like we are going to meet the President, preach the gospel, and let God do the rest. Others are saying, “Hey, you know there are a lot of ‘younger brother’ types that look at these nice clothes and think we are a bunch of self-righteous prudes. They don’t like to wear this stuff and feel uncomfortable if I wear it around them. Isn’t it silly that something so small should stand in the way of them coming to corporate worship. I mean the only biblical prohibitions on dress I can find are about the problems of modesty and over-dressing! So I think I can preach in jeans.” So long as this divide exists, I’m afraid never the twain shall meet. At least, not this side of redemption.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Post Rapture Pet Protection

I'm taking a big chance in assuming that someone will be left to read this after today, for as you may know the rapture is scheduled to take place in a few hours. Or at least so says Harold Camping. Now it turns out that an opportunistic group of atheists have turned blasphemy into profit. According to NPR, "Right now Eternal Earth-Bound Pets has contracts with 259 clients — that means roughly $35,000 in contracts — and is set to rescue dogs, cats, a cockatoo and even a horse in Montana in the event of the Rapture." Here is the whole story and here is the EEBP's website.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Stories by Vonnegut

Here's a funny and insightful clip of Kurt Vonnegut teaching on stories.

  1. How all our stories end. They all end with "off-the-scale happiness."
  2. How the character gets to that happiness. They get it through a relationship, changing themselves, etc.
  3. How different our stories are from real life. How many people do you know who end their life with "off-the-scale happiness"? How many boy gets girl stories end with perpetual good fortune?
We all long for the ultimate good fortune depicted in our stories, but the paths to it presented in those stories utterly fail. So notice how different the gospel story is. We receive the "off-the-scale happiness," but we receive not through our own efforts, or through anything any one of us could ever accomplish. We receive it solely through the work of Jesus, who went to inconceivable depths of ill fortune to bring us up with him into the infinite heights of happiness.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Story and Us

Thus far I have argued that story is the real meat and potatoes of truth. Thus, only in story do we truly discover who God is and what He is like. Now I think it is also true that only in story do we discover who we are, what we are like, and what we should be. As I stated before, story connects more deeply with us than propositions. The reason for that is because in general we do not define ourselves by propositions but by stories. When we read or hear a story without fail we identify ourselves with one or more characters. We begin to imagine life in their shoes. We feel what they feel. We enter into them and they into us.

Sociologists will tell you that if you want to get to know a society, learn their stories. I hope you can see why. Americans, for example, are by in large a patriotic bunch, and that is especially obvious when compared to, say, Canadians. It is a strange thing since our American heritage covers a very small period. We do not have the cultural roots or deep attachment to our land that other nations have. Nations like those in Europe or Asia, for instance, whose people have populated their land for millennia. So why aren’t Americans a bit more tempered in their patriotic zeal like our friends to the north? The answer is found in our national story. The story of our nation is one of revolution. Our American colonies were forced to “join or die.” Our heroes said things like, “I regret that I have but one life to loose for my country.” We are the first nation in which the people formed a government of their own choosing, and through choosing wisely have become one the most powerful in the world. This is our history, and this story is deeply imprinted consciously or unconsciously upon each individual. This story defines us and what we think about ourselves.

Stories get inside us. And the reason they get inside us is because we can get inside them. If I tell my little Lizzie that she should be kind, it won’t make much of an impact upon her. And it would do no good to pull out a dictionary and read the definition of “kind.” That is the trouble with definitions. They are useful but only in their proper place. You cannot put yourself inside of a definition. Lizzie, and all of us, need stories to tell us what “kind” really means. If I say to Lizzie, “You need to be kind like your brother when he shared his candy with you,” she can put herself into that story and know exactly what her course of action should be. As she hears the story, she puts herself into the story, and by doing that the story gets into her. You cannot get into definitions, and so definitions cannot get into you.

Now as we make choices each day, some mundane, some life-altering, what guides us? When we make a choice, without any effort whatever, without even consciously thinking about it, we are shaped by story. We are a certain character in a certain story. We know how that character should act. When we choose to act in accord with the story we feel right, justified, even proud of our choice. If we choose to act in discord with that story, we feel guilty and ashamed.

Life is most difficult when stories are in conflict. A man struggling in his relationship with his wife meets an attractive associate at work. She’s witty, adventurous, and drawn to him. He feels connected to her. Suddenly, two stories are in conflict. There is the story of marriage, and he knows how it should go. A life of devotion, love, romance, intimacy, and companionship, that is what the story should look like. Now there is another story, a story of lovers. What do you do when the story of marriage and the story of lovers become two separate stories? When choosing to pursue one story puts you at odds with the other story? The most difficult periods of our life occur when the stories in our heads do not mesh with the stories in our lives.

In C.S. Lewis’ autobiography Surprised by Joy, he speaks much of the horrible experiences he had at Wyvern, a boys’ school where he spent his teenage years. Lewis, however, lived through far worse things. Most notably, he was a British solider in the brutal trenches of World War I. And yet he says little of the war, and not because he wishes to avoid the subject as many battle-traumatized men do. At one point, Lewis even says “it was in a way unimportant.” He explains this seeming anomaly:
I am surprised that I did not dislike the army more. It was, of course, detestable. But the words “of course” drew the sting. That is where it differed from Wyvern. One did not expect to like it. Nobody said you ought to like it. Nobody pretended to like it. . . . And that made all the difference. Straight tribulation is easier to bear than tribulation which advertises itself as pleasure.

Stories that are supposed to be hard are easier to endure than stories that are supposed to pleasant but turn out to be hard. Marriage is supposed to be a pleasant story, but far too often it is not. A story of love turns into a story of pain and hurts all the more for it. In many ways, life in the opulent, comfort-laden land we call home is more trying than the struggles of our pioneering forefathers or those in the third world. I’m not throwing an American pity party, nor seeking to diminish the spilt blood and gnawing hunger of our human brothers and sisters in the East and South. But a hard life is easier to endure when you expect a hard life. When you expect green lawns, picket fences, 2.5 children and a relatively easy life, and get instead divorce, disappointment, loneliness, and an aching sense of your own meaninglessness, life becomes unendurable.

So if stories are so important to who we are and how we live, you can see how essential it is that we live by the right stories. I say “live” by the right stories and not “learn” the right stories, because we must learn the wrong stories as well as the right ones. Knowing a wrong story is good so long as you know it is a wrong story. Right stories say, “This is how it is,” and wrong stories say, “This is how it is NOT,” and that is very helpful. The danger then is not in knowing the wrong story, but in believing that a wrong story is a right story or that a right story is a wrong story. A story, for example, that tells you that the marriage story is easily forsaken for the lovers’ story, that the benefits of personal satisfaction, instantaneous pleasure, and freedom from the wearying strain of marriage gained in the lovers’ story far outweighs whatever trifling difficulties that may arise, is a very wrong and dangerous story. Whether you believe in the lovers’ stories presented by Soap Opera’s or HBO, or whether you believe in the lover’s stories of Anna Karenina or David and Bathsheba, will make all the difference in the world.

Therefore, we must ask what stories do we believe? Where are our stories coming from? What stories are our children being taught? These are important questions, and ones we must re-ask over and over again.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Story and God

In my last blog entry I championed the significance of story. Following Daniel Taylor, I suggested that propositions are “short hand” for story. Propositions, I said, are like titles on a folder, but stories are what’s inside. Is story then superior to propositions? No, but, and this is key, neither are propositions superior to story. Propositions serve story. They tell stories, explain stories, interpret stories, and give hooks upon which to hang stories. Without them story is impossible to communicate. That is, they are essential to story, and story is essential to propositions. Without story you have folders with titles but no content. You have empty categories. When someone refers to September 11, 2001, we instinctively visualize burning buildings, suicide jumpers, the tears of a widowed woman. We think of tragic, painful stories. September 2, 2005 holds no such meaning. In fact, unless something especially good, like a wedding or birth of a child, or especially bad, like a loss of loved one, occurred on that day, nothing whatsoever registers in your mind at the mention of the date. Such are propositions without stories. They would be nothing more than dates without events, names without the person.

Now let us ask the question, “What is theology?” For too many of us I fear that theology is nothing more than properly stated creeds and confessions. That is, theology is propositions. “God is a spirit, infinite, eternal, and unchangeable, in his being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth,” says the Westminster Catechism. That is theology: accurate statements about the nature of God and His works. If you can utter orthodox responses to prepared questions than your theology is good. If your can’t, your theology is bad. Now I’m all for orthodox creeds and confessions, but is not something seriously missing? Surely theology is something more than precise, formulaic answers.

Humans have long known that propositions have their limits. There is truth deeper than words can express. To make up for the deficiency we (and I shamelessly say “we,” for you and I played no part whatsoever in the development) added poetry to our prose. We use meter, rhyme, metaphors, and even (when we add music) melody, harmony, and rhythm to compensate for all that is lacking in our words. “God is spirit, infinite, eternal, etc.” sinks no where near the depths as a rousing edition of “How Great Thou Art” or a solemn and fervent “Holy, Holy, Holy.” That is because human beings are not like computers who simply need the right data download to operate. A person is more than a rational mind, not less than than that, but certainly much more. And God is much more than that as well. He is not a book of statements or compilation of abstract ideas. He is a person. In fact, He is tri-personal (or super-personal as C.S Lewis said). Persons don’t simply communicate via facts. In communication, emotions and will get blended all up with intellect. I reveal myself and my thoughts to others not only through a steady stream of truthful indicatives, but also by altering the tones and volume of my voice, by gesturing and gesticulating, not to mention by sighing (which I apparently employ too frequently according to my wife).

Therefore, it should not surprise us that when a super-personal being (i.e. God) communicates himself to personal beings (i.e. us) there is more than a steady flow of factual statements. There is not less than that, but certainly much more. There is poetry, hymns, apocalypse, and most of all there is story. And that should not surprise us. The life of a person is all story. Indeed, that is what story is. It is either pieces or the whole of a person’s life. Story, then, is one of the most effective means of self-expression. Story not only reveals who we are, but it also connects deeply with others. For example (and this is a good piece of marital wisdom) when your wife asks, “How was your day?”,she doesn’t want to hear, “It was good.” With a guy that response works, but that is because a guy, unlike your wife, didn’t ask because he cared. He asked because he should, and he is relieved to hear nothing more than “It was good.” Guys are not totally disinterested, but they must ease into answering those kind of questions. And they answer them best when they are not asked. A few insults, a few jokes, and a few years of friendship, and a guy will reveal such things unbeckoned. With your wife, however, “It was good” only works as a segue into stories of the day’s events. That is because, unlike a guy, your wife actually cares. She, the wonderfully communicative creature that she is, wants to know you now. She wants to know you as you are, and so intuitively she seeks for stories.

So as I said, it is of no surprise that our super-personal God and master of communication should reveal himself through story. And that very fact says much about who God is. The Western world following Greek metaphysics have tended to conceive of God as a sort of motionless mind. Or perhaps even more crudely as an old man sitting on a throne lost in thought. For such a God there is not much else to say beyond propositions. “God is good.” If He’s just sitting there on his throne what else can you say about Him? “He’s good. If He ever got up and did something, I'm sure it would be good. His thoughts at least are good.” But the God of Scripture is not a stationary being. He is an actor in a story, His story. And He reveals who He is by telling that story. So if you want to know God, you need more than the epistles. You need to soak your mind in the stories of Scripture. A theology light on story is a frail and sickly thing, for apart from God's stories God cannot be truly known.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011


A while back I heard a lecture from Daniel Taylor, an evangelical English Lit professor, about the importance of story. You can hear the audio or read the lecture in printed form (though the audio is much better than the article). It was an earthquake moment for me. The rumblings from that lecture are still overturning many things in my mind and life. One of the key statements Taylor made was “propositions are short hand for stories.” It’s an idea that certainly runs against the grain of many evangelicals. I recall hearing one rather well-known pastor describe the OT as primarily illustrative material of the NT, or more precisely of the epistles. Romans, Galatians, Ephesians, etc. those are the real epicenters of truth. The stories in the Bible are merely illustrations. But if Taylor is correct, and I think he is, then that perspective is upside down. Another pastor I once heard instructing fellow preachers stated that stories are the “hooks” upon which people hang ideas. Stories, he said, are thus very important, because people may not remember the idea that God is in control, but if you give them a hook, a story, it will bring that truth to mind. But again, if Taylor is correct, that line of thinking is backwards. Stories aren’t tools to remember truth. Stories are the truth. They are the real theology.

“God is good.” That is a true statement. But what does it mean and how do I learn what that means? Do I look up “good” in a dictionary? Do I do a word study on good in the Bible? Those things may help, but you need more. You need stories, because it is only through stories of God's goodness that you can ever truly know what “God is good” means. Propositions like “God is good” are only the sticky notes of truth. Open up the filing cabinet of your mind, or of reality for that matter, and you will see propositions everywhere. But those propositions are just the titles on the tab and not the contents of the folder. Open the folder and it’s all story. When I think, “My wife is beautiful,” I don’t sit and contemplate the meaning the word “beautiful.” I think of a thousand times I have encountered her and found all thoughts apart from her obliterated. That is, I think of stories.

If it sounds like I’m bashing propositions, rest assured that is not my intention. Propositions are essential. After all, I’m filling this whole article with them. And we must fill stories with them as well in order to communicate those stories. Furthermore, propositions are necessary to synthesize the essentials of story. They explain and interpret story. But we must keep propositions in their places. We must remember that propositions are merely the tabs of the folder and not the content. When we look at the Bible as a whole, it is clear that God certainly has preference for story. Even when the biblical authors aren’t telling stories, they are harkening our minds back to them, drawing conclusions from them. Jesus also seemed to prefer story. How many times was Jesus asked a question, a simple question that demanded a proposition in response. But Jesus didn’t give a proposition. He gave them a story. Why? Because he wanted to evade the point? No, he gave story because story is the point, because a proposition is nothing a part from story. “God loves sinners” means nothing without a story like that of the prodigal.

So is this merely intellectual rambling? I don’t think so. This is a seismic shift, at least it is for me, that shakes up pretty much everything. It certainly alters the way I read my Bible, but it does far more than that. Over the next few weeks, I hope to explore a bit on how the centrality of story transforms the way we think and live. I hope it is as helpful to you as it is to me.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

8 Ways To Ruin Your Accountability Group

From Jonathan Dodson.
  1. Make your accountability partner drop ten bucks in the jar for that grievous sin
  2. Make your accountability a circle of cheap confession by which you obtain cheap peace for your troubled conscience.
  3. Ask one another moralistic questions that reinforce moral performance.
  4. Pilfer through God’s Word for an experiential buzz or life connection.
  5. Go public with your respectable sins while cherishing your secret sins.
  6. Know your partner’s sin better than you know your own.
  7. Passively stand by as your sin slowly puts you to death.
  8. Make accountability, not Jesus, central to your group.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Go and Make Disciples

And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. [19] Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, [20] teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20)
“All authority in heaven and earth has been given to me.” These are Jesus parting comments as he ascends for a time to the Father’s right hand. Modern translation: “The universe is under new management.” The old managers of pride and rebellion, pain and death, sorrow and fear have come to an end. A new day is dawning, and the new managers of repentance, healing, forgiveness, redemption, and joy are moving in by the authority of the new King, Jesus. From here on out there are but two choices for humanity, become a citizen of the new King or remain the citizen of a fallen kingdom that is about to be ruined and judged. All the world needs to get this memo. So how does this message factor into our daily life?

“Go therefore.” Answer #1: Deliver the memo. The NT calls it the “gospel,” which means simply “good news.” Did you get that? It’s “news.” Something not previously known and must be heard. Jesus commissions his disciples, his church, to be the tellers, the witnesses, the heralds, the postmen, the bloggers of this news. Thus, the command to “go.” Not wait for a co-worker to ask just the right question, or for a neighbor to meander coincidentally into a church service, or a friend to tune into K-LOVE or flip the channel to a Billy Graham Crusade. That’s a passivity that finds no place in Jesus’ instructions. Jesus commands us to act, take the initiative, be the aggressor.

“Make Disciples.” Jesus doesn’t command us to go and tell the nations, “Repeat after me, ‘Dear Jesus, I’m sorry for my sins. Please forgive me. Thank you for dying on the cross. Amen,’” or any version of that. We don’t “go” simply to seek one-time decisions, or even to disseminate correct theology, but to “make disciples.” And we do this by “baptizing them” and “teaching them” all Jesus commanded. We baptize to initiate them into a new citizenship: one that dies to self and lives for the King. And we teach them how to live out that citizenship in the whole of their life. Thus our mission is to recruit citizens for the kingdom of God: men and women loyal only to Jesus, who conform their lives to the new order of repentance, healing, forgiveness, redemption, and joy and shun the old order of rebellion, pride, and self rule. To be Jesus’ witness, then, means to proclaim the gospel to those who have never heard, or who have heard and rejected. But to be Jesus’ witnesses also means going to the man who call himself a Christian, who prayed a prayer 10 years ago, who is a decent person, who maybe even goes to church regularly, but who lives under the old order with more loyalty to his goddess Prosperity than he has for Jesus.

A World Without Jobs

An intriguing article by Andy Crouch on the gospel alternative offered by Steve Jobs. Here's a sample:
As remarkable as Steve Jobs is in countless ways—as a designer, an innovator, a (ruthless and demanding) leader—his most singular quality has been his ability to articulate a perfectly secular form of hope. Nothing exemplifies that ability more than Apple’s early logo, which slapped a rainbow on the very archetype of human fallenness and failure—the bitten fruit—and made it a sign of promise and progress.

Modding Red Green Style

Most comedy is hit and miss and that's certainly the case with the Red Green show, but the do it yourself skits are almost always hit.

Friday, January 14, 2011

A Burden of Rest

Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. [29] Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. [30] For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)

The logic of Jesus’ words is startling: throw off your burdens to gain his rest and gain that rest by taking on a burden. Are we going in circles here? Jesus explains, “For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” Huh?

The Rest of God. What exactly does it mean to rest? Refrain from work, take a nap, veg on the sofa? “Rest” of course is a very common theme in the Bible. On the seventh day of creation God rested and he requires his people Israel to follow his example by resting on the seventh day of the week, the Sabbath. So what does it look like for God to rest, and why does he do it? God of course doesn’t rest because he needs a recharge. No, God rests because he is done, because his work is so complete that nothing else needs added, because his work of sustaining and ordering the life and energy in billions of galaxies comes easier and more natural to him than napping does to us. Not that God is bored. He is no more bored than an artist who has poured his whole being onto a canvass and stands back amazing even himself at how exquisite it all turned out. God’s rest is all energy and life and joy. It’s not lying still on a soft bed. It’s a dance.

The Rest of God’s People. God calls us to imitate his rest in the OT but not fully. Our rest, in a sense, is the opposite of his. God’s people rest by refraining from work and limiting their energy. A failure to cease is to reject the reality of God’s rest. More needs to be done. God does not quite have the cosmos under control. Throughout history the common conception of the gods is that they are great kings lounging on thrones sending peasant humanity out to do the dirty work. The true God, however, creates, delivers, fights, works for his people, so that they can lay down their weary bones and know the world won’t fall apart when they do. God is infinite and good. We are finite and needy. It’s a perfect union. That is until we muck it up by trying to be infinite and failing to trust God’s goodness.

Jesus’ Restful Burden. Jesus, however, brought in a new age. The Sabbath was just a road sign to God’s eternal rest: “God’s Rest - Few Thousand Years Ahead.” But now through Christ we can begin to taste that rest for ourselves. Through Christ our rest, like God’s, is not merely a cessation of activity; our rest is a dance. Thus, to find rest in Christ is not to find a burden-less, workless life. But his burden is easy and light. It is restful to carry. So a nap is rest, but not full rest. Not God’s complete rest. To experience that you have to be quivering with life.

The Way To Rest. How can we experience such a peculiar, thrilling rest? It is by taking up his burden. The next section (Matthew 12:1-14) shows us what that burden is. It is the burden of mercy and love for the hungry, the disabled, the needy. It is the burden that works with all its might to set this world to rights, to gather the broken to its Healer. Jesus states why this is possible in Matthew 11:27, “All things have been handed over to me by my Father.” This burden, though demanding, becomes a dance because Christ has all things in his hand. All that is broken, the world, the needy, me and my work, are all made well again by him and his work. I can rest today because Christ didn’t. I can rest because he carried the joyless, crushing burden of our brokenness, and because after it crushed him to death he rose, mission accomplished. The burden to bring healing to this world is now no longer a burden. To mingle with beggars, to converse with the hurting, to get our hands dirty with the filth of human lives becomes a joy-filled dance. Rest comes not by works but by faith, and yet it is a faith that works. Jesus said, “It is more blessed to give that to receive (Acts 20:35). It’s also more restful.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

A Call and a Step

And Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” [29] He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus. [30] But when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, “Lord, save me.” [31] Jesus immediately reached out his hand and took hold of him, saying to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” [32] And when they got into the boat, the wind ceased. [33] And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.” (Matthew 14:28-33)
How do you know that Jesus is the Son of God? Perhaps you’ve been taught that. Perhaps you’ve even taught others that. But how do you know? Every night you flop on your bed you don’t lie awake nervously perspiring, anxious whether your bed will collapse into a heap of ruin, or fearful that this will be the night you’ll wake up in your crawl space. Why such bold assurance? Of course, it is because of experience. You’ve laid on that bed and many others time and again without any disturbance. Your whole life is lived out in dependence upon foundations and subfloors without even considering their stability. Each step you take is an act of faith in the floor. And each time that floor rewards your step of faith with firm support. The question for Peter in this passage, and the question for us is, do you know that Jesus is the Son of God like you know that floors and beds will support you?

The only way for Peter to arrive at such knowledge is the same we arrive at faith in floors: he had to take a step. Without that step there is no faith. There may be an aspiration to faith but not real faith. Thus, for faith to become reality two things must happen. First, there must be a call. Jesus called to Peter, “Come.” Were there no call, there would be no need of faith. Secondly, as I have just stated, there must be a step of obedience. Without obedience, there is no faith. The apostles James and Paul are both right. Paul says we must live in the “obedience of faith.” That is, there is no obedience apart from faith in Christ. There must be faith in his sacrifice, his forgiveness, and in his empowering Spirit. But James is equally correct: “Faith without works is dead.” To hear the call of Christ and claim faith when your feet remain firmly planted on the boat is self-delusion. You must step off the boat.

The Call. The call of Christ by definition is a call into peril, uncertainty, and out of the realm of the ordinary. It is not a call to walk on floors but to walk on water. It is a call to trod where mere mortals could never trod. The call may be to give more than you have, to invest more time than is reasonable, to forsake your routine for the needy. In each person you encounter this day, in each decision you make, you may hear the call of Christ. It may not make sense. It may not be reasonable. In fact, it is best to assume that it won’t be, but that is the nature of the call. “Come, walk on water,” Jesus says. Or just stay in the boat with everybody else.

The Step. Do you know that Jesus is the Son of God? You can’t know that until you step off the boat. Please get this. Staying in the boat is not an act of little faith; it is an act of zero faith. That may sound harsh, but it is really freeing. The realm of water walking is a pretty amazing place to live. Most mortals are confined by common sense, laws of physics, and such nuisances, shackled to the world of the reasonable. But how I long to be unreasonable, to take up the adventure of faith. Today, we have choice. We can linger in the safety of the boat. No one will blame us for staying there. There is plenty of justification for staying put. Or we can walk on water. We can answer the call of Christ with action and take a step into the extraordinary.