Friday, August 26, 2016

The Three Big Ones

What are the biggest idols are plaguing the church today? Check out  Tim Keller on The Three Biggest Idols in Western Churches Today by David Qaoud 
Tim Keller sat down with Jefferson Bethke way back when to discuss the idols that are most prominent in western churches. You can watch the full video here, or you can just read below to gather Tim’s thoughts.
In Keller’s eyes, here are the three biggest idols in western churches today, followed up with secondary points that Keller includes:
1) Experience
Instead of looking to the Word of God to be their norm and their guide, people tend to look to their own experience, feelings, intuitions, and impressions to be their guide.7
This is part of American individualism.
Emotion and expression are very good, but when you make it more important than the Word of God, or put it higher than the Word of God, it becomes an idol.
2) Doctrine.
This might surprise some people that I say this.
But I do think some people make an idol out of doctrine.
There are some sectors of the church that say if you have your doctrine straight, and if you have your doctrine right, then you’re pleasing to God.
If you have your doctrine right, they say, then you are part of the solution, not the problem: you’re not heretical like everyone else.
There is a pride and a smugness about having good doctrine that, to me, almost puts it into the place of the saving grace of Jesus Christ.
3) Consumerism. 
Instead of looking to the church to give themselves into community, people look to the church to get the services they want.9
They have emotional, vocational, and relational needs and they go to a church because it is a good place to network.2
People see the church as a mall, rather than a family that they give themselves to.3
Consumerism becomes the idol — that is, my felt needs become an idol; they are more important than being apart of a community.
From Keller’s point of view, these idols are the ones that are most prominent. But this is not the consensus — not every church struggles with the same idol in the same way. Keller adds, “These idols don’t exist equally across the whole church. Certain sectors of the church struggle more than others, but these idols are all there, and they hurt us quite a bit.”
Idols can’t just be removed; they must be replaced. As Keller points out so well in his outstanding book, Counterfeit Gods, if we don’t replace an idol with the gospel, another idol will grow. And by God’s grace, if we’d all just recognize, remove, and replace these idols, our churches would be much better off.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

A Matter of Timing

It's almost alwasy a matter of timing, isn't it. The Lord does not operate on our clock, and wants us to learn trust in wating for His time. When God's Timing Is Not Our Own by Sam Storms
The God of the Unlikely Time
Often our schedule and God's seem out of sync. He acts earlier than we had expected, or later than we had hoped, or when it seems most awkward and inconvenient. The result is that sometimes we are impatient with God or choose to act impetuously, while on other occasions we are lazy and inactive.
I suspect that's how the Israelites must have felt as they stood on the banks of the Jordan River, prepared to enter the Promised Land of Canaan. They learned a lesson there that all of us must learn sooner or later. The lesson is simply that the God we love and serve is often the God of the unlikely time.
When the two spies returned from Jericho, Joshua received the news he had been waiting for: "And they said to Joshua, 'Truly the LORD has given all the land into our hands. And also, all the inhabitants of the land melt away because of us'" (Josh. 2:24). But God then forced them to stand and watch the raging waters of the Jordan River for three days! The torrent was unabated. They could only look across the rising waters into Canaan, on the other side. The river seemed utterly impassable. Their long journey to the Promised Land appeared to have ended just short of their goal. Why did God bring them to the edge of the river and compel them to look with longing and frustration at the land he had promised to their forefathers? His reason seems clear: to drive home to their hearts the seeming impossibility of tomorrow!
God compelled them to wait three days to allow their feelings of helplessness and hopelessness and inadequacy to reach the highest level possible. He forced them to wait until the waters of that river had risen to such a height that virtually all hope had been washed away.
A Lesson in Faithfulness
We often find ourselves asking, What does God expect of me? What does he want? The answer is that he wants a people who will faithfully respond to his call to act in the pursuit of his promises, even at the most unlikely time.
Perhaps you are only moments away from seeing the fruition of a dream that you've nurtured for years. Perhaps there is some massive problem that is on the verge of being solved, or a fractured relationship that is close to being healed, or a lifelong prayer that may finally be answered. God may be speaking to you in much the same way that he was speaking to the Israelites, saying, "Stand up! Be firm in your faith! The day of inheritance is here. The moment for fulfillment has arrived. As difficult as it may be for you to understand, I've actually chosen this challenging and demanding moment precisely because it affords the greatest opportunity for my power and love to be seen when I finally step into the situation and bring it all to pass!"

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Your Attention Please

If you listen closely, you might realize that someone is trying to get your attention. How To Know God's Trying To Get Your Attention by Kristina Long at Relevant
It took me a while to understand the application of the Bible's story about Jonah and the whale. Maybe it came quick for you, but not me.
In case you're not familiar, the story of Jonah goes something like this:
A man named Jonah was asked by God to go Nineveh and talk to people who lived there. Jonah did not want to go to Nineveh or talk to the people who lived there.
Jonah hid from God by getting on a boat headed away from Nineveh. A storm came. The people on the ship knew someone on the ship caused God to be angry. Jonah told them to throw him overboard so the storm would stop. Jonah was thrown overboard and the storm stopped.
Jonah’s death did not fit with God’s plan. God wanted Jonah to go to Nineveh. God sent a large fish to swallow Jonah, where he stayed for three days. Jonah turned back to God and prayed. The fish swam to Nineveh only to spit Jonah out on the shore. Jonah inevitably did what God asked.
Now, a lot of trouble, turmoil, and stress could have been easily avoided had Jonah just done what God had asked him to do in the first place. Jonah did not listen to God. He feared God’s plan and chose a different route.
I live in a little town in Idaho town that I love. I love my job, the people, the recreation and God’s beautiful creation all around me.
A year ago, I felt God’s call for me to step up, which made me fear I'd have to leave my little Idaho town. I applied to a graduate program nearby so I could keep living my way.
I even did it under the guise of, “This program will help me to serve God better.” I did well in the program: good grades, learning everything I could etc.
I felt transformed to do more. My pride grew and I became satisfied with my work for God.
That’s the issue, isn’t it? It is not me who needs to be satisfied with my work for God. God is the one who works in me and through me. God is the one who transforms me. My intentions and love for my town were great, yet my lack of trust in God made me fearful of the future.
My fear made me lose sight of God and his plan. Instead I focused on my plan for him.

Monday, August 22, 2016

How the Kingdom Comes

How does the Kingdom of God come? Not by programs, not by techniques, not by being relevant, not by moral crusades, and certainly not by political power. It only comes by heading Jesus' message: "The Kingdom is at hand; Repent and believe the good news!" The text below is from The Kingdom Comes Not Through Maneuvers, But By Repentance by Jared C. Wilson
In Jesus’ day, the Jewish world was fractured into factions, each of which sought to usher in or live out the kingdom of God in its own way. The promised land was owned and ruled by Rome, and everybody had a take on how God might overthrow the oppressive occupation and establish the kingdom of heaven.
The Sadducees sold out theologically and collaborated with the pagan rulers for political and financial benefit. The Pharisees sought to live peaceably within the cities, in Rome but not of Rome as it were, obeying the laws of the land but seeking as diligently and rigorously as possible to apply the Mosaic law to every minute detail of life in the hopes their works might merit them deliverance. The Essenes hightailed it out to the wilderness, became hermits, embraced gnosticism, withdrew and battened down the hatches. The Zealots kept taking up arms, wanting to usher in the kingdom of God through the power of the sword.
When Jesus’ cousin grew up into this tumultuous landscape and answered YHWH’s call upon his life, he went out to the Jordan River, the historic borderline of deliverance for Israel, the line Joshua had led them across from desert wandering into the Promised Land. And when he got to the Jordan, John didn’t begin conspiring. He didn’t amass arms, begin a grassroots political campaign, urge rigorous law-keeping, or preach any of the other myriad ways his countrymen were seeking to establish the kingdom. He simply said the kingdom was at hand and if anybody wanted in he would be more than happy to dunk them in the river.
“Repent!” he called. And “Repent!” his cousin, our Lord Jesus, called after taking the reigns of John’s burgeoning kingdom community.
The way into the kingdom life is the same way out of worldly life—death. As baptism illustrates, the way into the kingdom is the way of death, burial, and resurrection.
Go to a new place, this action commands us. Leave the old one. Abandon it and its ways, its self-idolatry in the guise of spirituality.
Today’s Essenes are the gnosis-exalting hip churches and the law-exalting fundy churches, each preaching legalism of a different sort and rendering different sorts of people untouchable. They advocate withdrawal from either “church people” or “the world,” as if true kingdom enlightenment exists in an ecclesiological utopia hermetically sealed off and protected by either their cultural savvy or their cultural avoidance.
Today’s Pharisees are people like me, desperately trying to please God through our stuff, our merit, our actions, sincerely wanting to apply God’s Word to our life but always slipping down the slope of applying our life to God’s work. We trust our behavior, our church programs, our well-turned phrases. Today’s Pharisees are the promoters of the entertainment-driven, self-help preaching, program-trusting whitewashed tombs we arrogantly call churches.
Today’s Sadducees are the politicians who use churches, Christians, and the language of Scripture to achieve power. And they are the ones who help them, believing if the right man were in the right role, God would “heal our land.” They believe the kingdom of God can be spread through politics, networking, the right policies, the right strategies, the right legislation. They are the churches who sell out to celebrities and powerful personalities.
Today’s Zealots are anybody and everybody who thinks the kingdom comes with signs to be observed: elections, placards, T-shirts, debates, attendance, programs. Or worse: bombings, shootings.
All of it, idolatry. All of us, idolaters.
And Jesus says to us every day, all day, as he said all day every day then, “Repent!”
Then Jesus said to his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” — Matthew 16:24

Friday, August 19, 2016

Can Bible Study Be Too Spiritual?

Why yes it can.  Why Your Bible Study Is Too Spiritual by Eric Parker at Radical
We've all been in that Bible study where we seem to be having a good discussion, people are engaged, the comments are insightful, and then Bob speaks up. Now we all love Bob (bless his soul), but Bob somehow always manages to provide some off-the-wall interpretation about the passage that everyone immediately knows is not quite right. But the question is, how do you know that Bob's comments are not quite right?
What I want to do in a series of posts is address some of the approaches to Bible study that David Platt identifies as dangerous in this podcast. This is vitally important, because one of the defining characteristics of everybody's "Bob" is that he doesn't know that he is the proverbial "Bob." Which means, you could be Bob!
THE SPIRITUAL APPROACH
One reason Bob may be consistently coming up with strange interpretations to the passages you are studying could be because he unknowingly employs the "spiritual approach" to Bible study. This approach usually involves looking for some deep and hidden spiritual meaning. Some will think, or even say things that make it sound like they’re going to find something new that Christians, for 2,000 years, have totally missed.
This view tends to be more informed by elements of mysticism that implicitly, and for many, unknowingly stress bringing earth to heaven. This view of life is such that God is just waiting to interact with people at the spiritual/emotional level (maybe in unintelligible ways), which then makes our goal to be somehow finding a way to tap into his spiritual plain of being. By way of analogy, then, the Bible and the world become like a house with innumerable rooms, closets, cabinets, and chests just waiting to be opened in order to find some profound hidden treasure that someone has yet to find.
Now, this isn’t completely wrong. Scripture repeatedly uses the language of “seeking”, “finding”, “hidden”, or “revealed” in reference to our relation to God. It is not as though we just read one verse, or even all of Scripture, and suddenly obtain clear and unmediated access to all there is to know or experience of God. We could read the Bible our whole lives, and never exhaust the significance of its truths.
TWO FUNDAMENTAL DIFFERENCES
However, there are two fundamental differences between the spiritual approach, on the one hand, and the approach to Bible study that ought to flow from a right theology of God's revelation. The first is subtle, but it is this: Scripture says that rather than us bringing earth to heaven, God has brought heaven down to earth. Which is to say that he has revealed himself, not fully, but truly and sufficiently in Holy Scripture for salvation. Now God has revealed himself in creation, but only enough to condemn us when we reject him due to our sinful condition (Rom. 1:19-20; 3:23).
This means that I don’t have to listen to the wind, read the stars, or make out the shape of the tea leaves in my cup in order to know God’s will for my life, or to encounter him experientially. God’s Word, working in tandem with his Spirit, is sufficient to make known to me what God desires for me to know and feel about him.
Another implication of the sufficiency of the Word and Spirit is that God is not playing a spiritual game with us in which he is waiting on us to make the next move. Rather, he very much desires for us to know him intimately, so much so that he sent the full and final revelation of himself in the person of Jesus Christ to take on flesh and live among men, so that through his substitutionary atonement on the cross, people from all nations could one day know and experience God without mediation.
His desire for us to know him intimately leads to the second fundamental difference: instead of revealing himself in strange and unintelligible ways, he revealed himself to and through real people with real personalities, real lives, real culture, and real experiences. What this means is that God took the world of experience that the biblical authors had, the things that they would have known, and revealed himself to them so that who he is and what he desires would be abundantly clear!
The difficulty we encounter in the twenty-first century is that we are in the twenty-first century! There exists between us and the biblical writers a gap consisting of culture, language, customs, religion, and on top of all of that, a minimum of 2,000 years. Given this reality, it can be hard to sit down with your Bible and get all that you could get from any given passage in just one sitting. Thankfully scholars who have translated the Bible for us have significantly closed the gap just by virtue of putting the Bible into English, Spanish, German, etc. And don't forget that God is more than capable of communicating to us across the centuries, even in our limited understanding and our cultural distance. Yet there still remains a good bit of work to do in order to understand what has clearly been revealed, because there are still layers of history and culture between us and them.
One implication of this is that while we as individuals may come to the Bible and "uncover" or "discover" something new every time, it is not very often that what we have seen for the very first time has actually been seen for the very first time in the wider context of historic orthodox Christian theology. At the same time, however, this does not mean that all of the Bible's significance, or its implications for faith, life, and practice have been explored or exhausted.
Another implication of this time/cultural gap is that everything we see in Scripture doesn't have to have some "deeper" meaning. Sometimes, certain elements are recorded in Scripture simply because they really happened, or because they are laden with cultural significance that sheds light on the spiritual significance of the passage, without being in itself the spiritual hidden gem.
TO BE, OR NOT TO BE ... SPIRITUAL
Ultimately, we are not trying to be less spiritual when we approach the Bible. Reading and praying through the Bible is pointless if it is not a spiritual act. However, we want to approach the Scriptures understanding how they were inspired, what they are as texts written for God's people, and what they define for us as spiritual. If we do this, then we will find that Scripture will come alive to us, not with random little details that we mistake for the point of the passage, but with what God intended for us to see all along, namely, the glory of Christ.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

The Benefits of Closed Ears

What are you listening to? You (and I) may need to close our ears.  5 Things You Should Never Listen To by J. Lee Grady
My favorite Christian author, British preacher Charles Spurgeon, always told his Bible college students that a minister must never allow people's opinions or attitudes to distract him from God's holy assignment. Spurgeon urged his disciples to adopt what he called "one blind eye and one deaf ear" so they would not allow people to hinder them from fulfilling their mission.
Spurgeon wrote: "We cannot shut our ears as we do our eyes, for we have no ear lids, ... yet it is possible to seal the portal of the ear so that nothing contraband will enter."
I have learned over the years that there are certain conversations I must shut out. Words have the power to inspire, but the wrong kind of words can also derail us. And in this era of Facebook outrage—where everyone feels they must inject themselves into every argument—we must learn to switch our ears off so we don't get pulled into a fight that's not ours.
Today, streaming TV, unlimited texts and tweets, polarizing political debate and endless communication is shaping a generation of overreactors. But not everything requires my response. Here are five things I'm learning to tune out:
1. Other people's offenses. Some people who were offended 25 years ago will never rest until they see justice served—and they will ask you to take sides in the trial. Stay a mile away from any such dispute, or you will get pulled into it like quicksand. Proverbs 26:17 says: "He who passes by and meddles with strife not belonging to him is like one who takes a dog by the ears." You are not the jury, and you do not have to make a ruling on this.
2. Idle gossip. I am amazed when Christians who have experienced the forgiveness and love of Jesus rudely dissect other people with their words. When the Bible refers to "malicious gossips" (1 Tim. 3:11), the Greek word is diabolos, which is actually a name used for Satan because he accuses man to God. Gossip is the work of the devil, but the knives he uses to cut people into pieces look very religious!
Churches can be torn apart when people make up lies about each other, misread motives or harbor suspicions they share as "prayer requests." Gossips are always ready to drop a hint—about where they saw the youth pastor last weekend, about Mrs. Jones' divorce, about Mr. Smith's reputation or about why the pastor's wife didn't smile at them last Sunday. Don't even taste the juicy morsel that a slanderer tries to serve you; tell him or her that gossip is not on your diet.
3. Secondhand criticism. I've tried to stay open to criticism, and my door is always open if someone needs to point out my flaws. But if I hear through the church grapevine that Mrs. Rogers didn't like my sermon, or that Mr. Williams thinks I am too harsh, I don't give it another thought. For one thing, the report is probably not true, and secondly, if these people want to criticize me they can do it to my face. Otherwise I don't need to worry about every comment someone makes about me.
Years ago, revivalist Steve Hill prayed for me to have what he called "alligator skin," because he knew I would be criticized for the things I write. Ever since then I have tried to let people's opinions and comments roll off me, as if I had waterproof reptilian scales. You can do the same. Don't spend a drop of emotional energy worrying about what people think about you; instead be more concerned about pleasing God.
4. False accusations. If you are in ministry, chances are you will be skewered sooner or later by someone who feels it is their spiritual duty to destroy your reputation. I have many pastor friends who have had to endure character assassination—either by Sauls (insecure leaders), Absaloms (unfaithful subordinates) or Shebas (rebellious critics). Still, I don't feel it is my responsibility to track down every person who has a low opinion of me.
In the case of David, he trusted God to deal with those who opposed him. He did not prosecute his enemies. Don't have such a fragile ego that you have to hunt down those who don't like you. Take the high road and let God use even your enemies to build your character.
5. Exotic but fruitless teachings. Finally, I have learned that I must turn a deaf ear to a great deal of popular Christian chatter that is disguised as truth. People often ask me, "What do you think of So-and-So's prophecy about Donald Trump?" or "Did you hear the new revelation about Russia's plans to invade Israel?" or "How do you feel about the return of the Nephilim from Genesis 6?" I always change the subject.
I'm not interested in getting on anyone's spiritual bandwagon, and I don't waste my breath talking about speculations, conjectures, unfounded revelations or spooky visions that have no biblical basis. Let's keep the main thing the main thing. If it's not about taking the gospel of Jesus to lost people, I'm shutting my ears. If we would focus on what really matters, and tune out the distractions, we'd reach the world for Christ so much faster. 

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Favor

Need God's favor? Check out How to Pray for God’s Favor by Denny Burk:
This morning, I’ve been pondering and praying the words of Moses in Exodus 33:13:
“If I have found favor in Your sight, let me know Your ways that I may know You, so that I may find favor in Your sight.” -Exodus 33:13
Notice three crucial things about this prayer, each of which illuminate how we ought to pray as well.
1. The Basis: Even though the sentence begins with “If I have found favor,” God’s favor toward Moses is not in question. We know that because God has already told Moses that his favor rests on him (v. 12), and God will tell him again “you have found favor in my sight” (v. 17). God’s gracious disposition toward Moses is not in question, and so the basis for Moses’ request is God’s free grace.
2. The Request: Moses asks to know God’s “ways.” God’s “ways” refer to God’s behavior and manner of conduct. It is God’s behavior and action revealed in history. Moses has been witness to God’s “ways” in this sense, and now he’s asking to know more of God’s ways. Why? Because knowing God’s ways equals knowing God. “Let me know Your ways that I may know You.” God’s works do not deceive us. They speak truthfully about who God really is. Moses wants to know more of God’s ways because Moses wants to know God.
3. The Purpose: Moses says the purpose of the prayer is to “find favor” with God. This is profound. Moses has already cited God’s gracious favor as the basis for his prayer. Now he’s citing it as the goal of his prayer as well. The logic goes like this. Grace leads to knowing God’s ways. Knowing God’s ways leads to knowing God. Knowing God leads to more grace. The entire enterprise is framed by grace.
What does all of this mean? What would it mean for us to pray a similar prayer? It means that we approach God on the basis of his gracious favor toward us. His drawing near to us precedes and grounds our drawing near to him (John 6:65; 1 John 4:19).  
Also, it means that when we seek to know God’s “ways,” we are seeking to know howGod has revealed himself in history. That revelation is contained for us in scripture. To know God’s ways in scripture is to know God as he truly is. Scripture never lies to us on this account. On the contrary, it gives us everything we need for life and godlines (2 Peter 1:3). 
Finally, it means that God’s revelation is a means of grace for us. The purpose of seeing God is to experience his favor. His favor is both the basis and the goal of such prayer. And knowing God is the essence of experiencing God’s favor. 
Jesus said it this way, “And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent” (John 17:3). We pray from God’s favor  for God’s favor, and we can do this because of Christ’s death and resurrection for sinners. “For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace” (John 1:16).