Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Save Me From My Subculture

Are you part of a Christian sub-culture? Know it or not, you probably are.

Darryl Dash prays Save Me From My Subculture

I’ve come to realize that it’s really hard not to become part of some kind of subculture. The problem is that many of the clich├ęs become accurate. I’ve noticed lately that it takes someone else to point out my own tribe, because I sometimes don’t even recognize the quirks of my particular group. I don’t mind being idiosyncratic as much as I mind being oblivious.

It’s why I am appreciating my friends who are not part of my subculture. I need to make a point of having lunch with them and enduring their gentle mocking when they see the quirks of my tribe, just as I’ll gently mock them right back.

To my friends from other tribes – you know who you are – thank you.

It’s also why I need to read widely so I don’t get trapped in just one way of thinking. And it’s why I continue to enjoy being part of a denomination that isn’t comprised of people just like me.

I don’t have to like everything about the other subcultures, but I sure need them to save me from my own.

The first commentator on his post said "Just be prepared for the loneliness." Ouch!

Monday, June 29, 2009

Prayer for Rain

Yesterday afternoon it rained at my house for about 15 minutes, after three weeks of temperatures in the high 90's without a drop of rain. It is amazing what just a little rain can do to a yard; our grass seemed to visibly perk up.

Lord, send your rain on the dry souls where the ground is hard and cracked. I include myself in that request. Let it rain, dear Lord, let it rain.

“Shower, O heavens, from above, and let the clouds rain down righteousness; let the earth open, that salvation and righteousness may bear fruit; let the earth cause them both to sprout; I the Lord have created it." (Is. 45:8 ESV)

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Hindrances That May Not Be Sins

In Hebrews 12:1 we are admonished to "lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely" (ESV). Can that weight refered to there be something that is not sin? Can it also refer to good things that also hinder us from our calling in God? Michael Spencer speculated on this at his IMonk site - The Weight May Not Be A Sin: A Thought On Hebrews 12:1:

The central insight I’m going to be bringing in my Sunday morning sermon tomorrow at the local Baptist church is an optional reading of Hebrews 12:1. Specifically, I want to suggest this: the “weight” that holds us back in the “race” is not always a “sin” as specifically defined by scripture.

Someone could legitimately say that “weight” and “sin” are a parallelism, and I would agree, but the parallelism may be because of the effect of hindering our ongoing life as a follower of Jesus.

There is no doubt that we are called to lay aside, i.e. repent of, sin. I would contend that we are admonished, with just as much authority, to lay aside whatever may hinder us that is not a matter of repenting of sin, but of giving up what is not necessary, what distracts us and what makes it difficult to carry out the calling and mission of the church.
I think he is right. I know that there have been things in my life that, although not necessarily sin, have held me back. I can also see many things in various churches and groups I have known - traditions, structures, prejudices, attitudes - that take us off mission.

Spencer concluded:

What if your WAY of doing church is a weight. Not a sin.

What if your way of living the Christian life is too comfortable, too predictable, too safe and too “in the niche” of a tradition that answers all your questions?

What if your schedule is so full of things that aren’t sinful that you can’t do anything new this week for the Kingdom? What if your life at church is so full you already know everything you are ever going to do for Jesus? What if your life is so full of your current friends you could never make a new one?

What if you are investing so much in what is good that you can’t sacrifice or joyfully give away money for the Kingdom?

What if your good life, good morals, good witness are the reason you don’t have a life of discipleship filled with risk, impact and Kingdom adventures?

What if your problem isn’t the sin that clings so closely, but the weights you are so easily and comfortably carrying around in order to be a “good Christian?”


Friday, June 26, 2009

Lord Save Me

Saw this beautiful icon at the Anchoress. The scene is, of course, Peter sinking into the sea and calling on Jesus to save him.

The picture is a beautiful reminder to cry out to the One who saves - delivers, heals, sets free, redeems, and gives life. "...everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved." (Acts 2:21) All idols are false saviors; only One is real.

Jesus Christ, Son of God, Have mercy on me - a sinner!

God Delights in My Feeble Prayers?

Found this great quote at The Gospel-Driven Church:
“The gospel, God’s free gift of grace in Jesus, only works when we realize we don’t have it all together. The same is true for prayer. The very thing we are allergic to—our helplessness—is what makes prayer work. It works because we are helpless. We can’t do life on our own.

Prayer mirrors the gospel. In the gospel, the Father takes us as we are because of Jesus and gives us his gift of salvation. In prayer, the Father receives us as we are because of Jesus and gives us his gift of help. We look at the inadequacy of our praying and give up, thinking something is wrong with us. God looks as the adequacy of his Son and delights in our sloppy, meandering prayers.”

—Paul Miller, A Praying Life
Thank you God, for hearing my feeble selfish prayers. You hear me because of Jesus.

Baptist's Bugged by Driscoll

Some messengers at this week's Southern Baptist Convention meeting tried to get the convention to condemn Mark Driscoll. Why? - he's not a Baptist last time I checked.

Michale Spencer has some good words for them on Why Mark Driscoll Shouldn’t Bug Ya and on the trends and future direction of the convention.

Trinity Verses

"Here they are: The “trinitarian” verses of the Bible gathered together on one stage, one special time, at one low price, for this special event!" - at Trinity: The Word Itself Isn’t There, But Ya Got a Better Idea? « Thinking Out Loud

Thursday, June 25, 2009

The Shadow of the Gospel

Got to quote this from Jared Wilson on Everything in the Shadow of the Gospel
We have been trained to think of legalism as being stuffy, outwardly religious, judgmental, traditional, etc. But any time the thrust of our message is --

"do better"
"try harder"
"reach your potential"
"do good works"
"help God help you"
"follow these steps"
"improve your life"
"succeed at life"
"achieve victory"

-- or anything of that sort, we've made works the center, which is antithetical to the gospel and therefore is legalistic. Even if it's not judgmental, even if it sounds inspirational, even if it's kicked off with a killer video and capped by a rockin' band. Just because it feels good doesn't mean it's good news.

The gospel must be the center. Always. The star player. The feature piece. The answer and the antidote.

The proclamation of the gospel must take precedence over exhortations to "do good;" otherwise, we will find ourselves beating upon people's wills. The gospel is the power of salvation. The gospel is of first importance.

The gospel of Christ's finished work is the towering pinnacle of God's practical glory shared with us, and all else must take a subservient place in its universe-spanning shadow.

Is Everything Your Enemies Do Evil?

Justin Taylor at Between Two Worlds reminded me this week of C.S. Lewis' words about Seeing Everything Your Enemies Do as Bad

Suppose one reads a story of filthy atrocities in the paper. Then suppose that something turns up suggesting that the story might not be quite true, or not quite so bad as it was made out.

Is one’s first feeling, ‘Thank God, even they aren’t quite so bad as that,’ or is it a feeling of disappointment, and even a determination to cling to the first story for the sheer pleasure of thinking your enemies are as bad as possible?

If it is the second then it is, I am afraid, the first step in a process which, if followed to the end, will make us into devils. You see, one is beginning to wish that black was a little blacker. If we give that wish its head, later on we shall wish to see grey as black, and then to see white itself as black. Finally we shall insist on seeing everything — God and our friends and ourselves included — as bad, and not be able to stop doing it: we shall be fixed for ever in a universe of pure hatred.

- Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis. page 118

The principle applies whether it is liberals demonizing President Bush or conservatives demonizing President Obama. It applies to Calvinists talking down Arminians or vice versa. It applies to emergents talking down traditionalists, or vice versa.

Love "does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things."

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

I Need A Cast on My Soul

Our generation, my generation, those of us who came of age in the 60's and 70's, have consistently cried out against the "oppression" of structures and formats. We shouted to all who would hear us (and to those who did not want to hear) "Don't tie me down, don't bind me with rules, don't control me with tradition, don't limit me with old fashioned morality" We demanded our freedom, and to a great extent, we got what we demanded.

One result of this rebellion against structure has been multiple generations of men and women with broken souls. And from those broken souls have come broken families, busted lives and wasted dreams - and a crippled society.

Now even professed followers of Jesus have a serious problem with structure. "Don't limit my worship with liturgy and creeds - I want to sing as the Spirit leads." "Don't expect me to follow a prescribed pattern of prayer or devotion. I want to read as I feel led, and pray in my own words." "Don't bother me with old theology - I want to just experience God not learn about Him." We have systematically thrown away the accumulated wisdom of the ages for the thin porridge of our own creativity.

Why can't we realize that saying such things is like telling someone with a broken leg "you don't need a cast on your leg - that would restrict your freedom to grow naturally." The result would be a weakened and crooked leg, unable to function properly or bear a full load. "You don't need a cast on your arm - it will bind you and limit you." The result will be an arm that never again can throw a baseball or hold a newborn baby. A cast is there to allow the broken bone to heal; and to heal straight and true according to the Divine pattern. A cast is there to protect the bone while it is healing, so that it will heal faster and be stronger than ever once the process is done.

The great saints have always known that God designed certain practices to be followed for the formation of our souls. They are known as the spiritual disciplines: regular prayer, Scripture reading and meditation, fasting, confession, solitude, fellowship and witness. We hate the word "discipline," like we hate the word medicine. How foolish we can be!

The practice of spiritual disciplines is like putting a cast on our broken places; for the healing of bruised and wounded souls and the formation of spiritual bones that are straight and strong. The more we buck against these loving restraints, the more unhealthy we become. The more we can submit, the sooner our disjointed bones can heal.

I need my soul in a cast, so that one day it will be formed to be and look like Jesus.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Boored with Reading the Bible?

Okay, we all know that we should read the Bible regularly in order to be "good Christians." But have you ever asked yourself Why Doesn't Anything Happen When I Read My Bible?

This is what Andrew Farris said on the subject:
"There are probably a number of reasons for this, but one that I have consistently come back to is that most times I don't feel anything when I read my Bible. Nothing seems to change. I still fight my same old battles with lust, pride, selfishness, a foul mouth, and so on. "This is the Word of God," I tell myself, "so why don't I notice it doing its work in my life?" Why doesn't anything really happen when I read my Bible?

I was lamenting this to a close friend a couple weeks ago and he quickly responded with something that has been rolling around my mind ever since. He told me that expecting that kind of instant gratification comes more from our culture than from true Christian spirituality."
That is a good insight.

When the Reformers, the Puritans, and strong believers of past generations read the Bible, they did not expect to always directly "experience God" as they read it. They knew that sometimes reading and study can just be drudgery, not a spiritual high. But they did it anyway.

Why? Because they saw the goal as getting the Word into their minds and hearts for future use by the Holy Spirit. They knew the truth expressed by Psalm 119:11: "I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you." They knew what athletes know- training and exercise away from the field, as painful and boring as they can be, pay off in the game. They knew what soldiers and Marines know: that drill and practice with weapons and tactics pays off in quick response in the stress of battle.

Reading the Word of God will not always be exciting and meaningful - at the moment. However, the long-term benefits of hiding the Word in our hearts have been consistently testified to across all the generations of Christian history. Maybe if we (if I) practiced more discipline in this area now, we would be better prepared for times of pressure and stress down the road.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Father's Day Thought

A Great Father
A great father is a lot like shaving.
No matter how well you did today,
tomorrow you have to do it all over again.

- Author unknown.

Awesome Advance Video

Justin Taylor at Between Two Worlds posted links to videos of the main sessions at the recent Advance conference.

The message by Mark Driscoll on "Ministry Idolatry" is awesome!

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Never Assume

When I got to preach two weeks ago, I did not assume the congregations had read my blog - but I did post the content of the message here also!

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Gospel Remedies for Mistakes

Most of us know how the Gospel of Christ deals with our sins, but what about mistakes? I don't mean sinful "mistakes" - like "I mistakingly cheated on my income tax." I'm referring to mistakes, like forgetting something important at work.

Saw this great post at Forward Progress applying the Gospel to our human mistakes.

Everybody makes mistakes. Everybody fails. But I spent alot of time thinking today about how you respond to mistakes from a perspective of faith. Here are a few reflections on how the gospel can influence your perspective the next time you find yourself trying to recover from a mistake.

1. When you make a mistake, you make an error in judgment or a moment of forgetfulness. The gospel reminds you that your self-worth is not tied to your ability to perform perfectly.

2. When you make a mistake, you are tempted to hide, blame, or ignore. The gospel gives you the confidence you need to own up to it and accept responsibility.

3. When you make a mistake, you start to focus on yourself, thinking that the whole world is looking at you. The gospel reminds you that you are not the center of the universe – Jesus Christ is.

4. When you make a mistake, you find yourself wanting to do anything you can to void the potential of failure. The gospel encourages you to take risks instead of burying your talents in the dirt.

5. When you are around someone who has made a mistake, you can easily slip into judgment in order to make yourself feel better. The gospel reminds you that you have the responsibility to fulfill the law of Christ by bearing another’s burden.

6. When you make a mistake, you look for ways to redeem yourself in the eyes of your bosses and peers. The gospel reminds you that you have nothing to prove to anyone since Christ has proven Himself on your behalf.

7. When you make a mistake, you become afraid. Afraid of what people think, afraid of doing something wrong, afraid of the consequences. The gospel drives out fear with perfect love.

As someone who makes more than my share of errors, (and more than my share of sins), I needed to hear this!

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Waiting On A Good Book

Have I mentioned lately how much I am looking forward to this new book (coming out in October 2009).
This is going to be a good one - a real keeper!

...Till It Hurts

“I do not believe one can settle on how much we ought to give. I am afraid the only safe rule is to give more than we can spare. In other words, if our expenditure on comforts, luxuries, amusements, etc., is up to the standard common among those with the same income as our own, we are probably giving away too little. If our charities do not at all pinch or hamper us, I should say they are too small. There ought to be things we should like to do and cannot do because our charitable expenditure excludes them.”
– C.S. Lewis

Hat Tip: The Blazing Center

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Winning Through Losing

“Christ wins our salvation through losing, achieves power through weakness and service, comes to wealth via giving all away. And those who receive his salvation are not the strong and accomplished but those who admit they are weak and lost.”

- Timothy Keller, Gospel Christianity (Redeemer Presbyterian Church, 2003), 2.

Hat Tip: The Great Reversal « Of First Importance

Monday, June 15, 2009

The Ongoing Need For The Gospel

I so thoroughly and enthusiastically agree with the first paragraph of Tullian Tchividjian's post today at On Earth as it is in Heaven that I had to immediately copy it here with a hearty AMEN!
One of the most important discoveries of my life has been that the Gospel is not just for non-Christians; it’s for Christians too. I used to think the Gospel was simply what non-Christians must believe in to be saved, while afterward we advance to deeper theological waters. But what I’ve come to understand is that the Gospel is every bit as important for growing as a Christian as it is for becoming a Christian in the first place. The Gospel, in other words, is the fuel that makes Christians go.
Amen and Amen!

Sermon Audio Available

The Sermon Audio of the message I preached on June 7th is now available. It was entitled "Gospel Spirituality" and covered the teaching from Philippians 3 that I blogged on earlier this month.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

CCM Legends Reunite on the "Mystery Highway"

Randy Stonehill and Phil Keaggy are making an album together-
CCM Legends Reunite | Christian Music Today

Oh, I want this album ("Mystery Highway").

Kids, Father's Day is coming??!! Hint, Hint!

Friday, June 12, 2009

Good Depression

“I was scrubbing the kitchen floor depressed about the lack of progress in the lives of people I was discipling. As I continued to scrub, I realized I had the same problems, which made me even more depressed. Then it dawned on me that my inability, my minidepression, was my door to God. In fact, God wanted me depressed about myself and encouraged about his Son.”

—Paul Miller, A Praying Life (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress 2009), 57

Hat Tip: Of First Importance

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Jesus, Jesus, Who's Got the Right Jesus

This is a very good article - Who Do You Say That I Am? - and I say AMEN to the conclusion!
....But how many people know the real Jesus?

There’s the Republican Jesus who is against tax increases and activists judges, for family values and owning firearms.

There’s Democrat Jesus who is against Wall Street and Wal-Mart, for reducing our carbon footprint and printing money.

There’s Therapist Jesus who helps us cope with life’s problems, heals our past, tells us how valuable we are and not to be so hard on ourselves.

There’s Starbucks Jesus who drinks fair trade coffee, loves spiritual conversations, drives a hybrid and goes to film festivals.

There’s Open-minded Jesus who loves everyone all the time no matter what, except for people who are not as open-minded as you.

There’s Touchdown Jesus who helps athletes fun faster and jump higher than non-Christians and determines the outcomes of Super Bowls.

This is but an excerpt - Read the whole thing for the full flavor and impact.

Imagery and the Gospel: Edwards’ “Sinners In The Hands Of An Angry God”

Michael Spencer wrote the following in a article on teaching Jonathan Edward's sermon “Sinners In The Hands Of An Angry God” to a high school American literature class:

While teaching my students about spiders hanging over flame, flood waters about to crash over them and arrows aimed right at their heart- all images for the wrath of God in that famous sermon- I wondered if it ever occurred to Edwards to take those intense and disturbing images and turn them into descriptions of what Christ did for us on the cross? The hell, the flood, the arrow- they all were his, for my sake. When Edwards says that God “abhors” sinners, I wonder why he didn’t make the cross the measurement of that abhorrence, so that the love of God for sinners could shine through?

The balance of the Reformation Gospel is this: we see God best in Jesus. Not in speculations, relentless logic or metaphorical bombshells. God revealed himself in Jesus. It is the kindness of God that appears and saves us when we cannot save ourselves. It is the kindness of God that leads us to repentance. It was the Gospel story of the crucifixion, not of sinners in the hands of an angry God, that caused 3,000 to be “cut to the heart.”

I remember reading that sermon in 10th grade lit class. I was at a Christian school at the time, but our teacher did not bring out the gospel either, but only focused on Edward's imagery.

We must never forget the Gospel. Everything goes back to the Gospel.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Holy Spirit Baptism Better Than Sex?!

Our congregation has a communion and baptism service on the first Sunday night of each month. Prior to the service, there is always a prayer time with those to be baptized for them to be filled with the Holy Spirit,

Last Sunday we baptized a resident of the drug and alcohol home of which I am a board member. Monday he went to see the director of the ministry and told her what his experience was like. She said:

"_______ came to my office yesterday to share his back room experience with the Holy Spirit. He said it was amazing and awesome and couldn't describe it. Then he went on to say it was better than any “high” he ever got from drugs of any kind (same thing many of our guys have said before). But the kicker was this. He said it was even better than “SEX”!!!!"

Never heard the filling with the Holy Spirit described like that before!

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Old Man Eloquent

The Anchoress just posted a mini-biography of one of my favorite American presidents, John Quincy Adams. What a fascinating character!

JQA was the only president to have a political career after his presidency, Yes, Taft went on the be Chief Justice, but Adams went to Congress! He fought the battle against slavery in Congress for 17 years, earning the nickname "Old Man Eloquent." Adams would not like today's politics - he did not suffer fools gladly. Can you imagine someone like him being interviewed by Chris Matthews or Bill O'Reilly?!

Adams was a prime example of a man who put character and principles ahead of popularity. His father was the same kind of person.

We could use leaders like them now.

Potential Danger

Interesting comment by Jared Wilson at The Gospel-Driven Church: Not About Potential
It is not a pastor's job to help people reach their full potential. Our full potential is terrifying. If we all reached our full potential, we'd be out in the streets murdering each other.

The only reasons we're not all out in the streets murdering each other is because of the grace of God and because we prefer more convenient and more comfortable sins.

It is a pastor's job to remind people that their full potential is utter depravity but that the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus the risen Lord.

The minister's job is not aiding self-actualization, but self-denial and Christ-exaltation.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Tim Keller Profile

Christianity Today profiles Tim Keller of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Manhattan, NYC at How Tim Keller Found Manhattan

Good article about my current favorite writer and speaker.

Who is Spiritual (Part 5)

(This is the fifth and concluding post of a blog series begun last Thursday. I preached this material at Vineyard of Jackson during yesterday's services)

Paul saw that good works come from secure relationship and knowledge of acceptance, not as acts to gain acceptance. This leads to inner transformation and progress in righteousness out of gratitude, not need for control. All control is His.

He learned from grace to press on toward the upward call: as he said “because Christ has made me his own.” (Vs. 12). To worship God in the Spirit is to act out Paul’s own prescription form Romans 12:1- "I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship."

An understanding of grace leads to efforts to live right in gratitude for grace, which leads to struggle and failure because of the deceitfulness of sin, which sens us back to the cross, once again. There we again give up confidence in our own ability and rejoice in the work of the Jesus on the Cross. And the growth cycle begins again.

Here's a quote from Tim Keller in The Prodigal God (page 121):
"All change comes from deepening your understanding of the salvation of Christ and living out of the changes that understanding creates in your heart. Faith in the gospel re-structures our motivations, our self-understanding, our identity, and our view of the world. Behavioral compliance to rules without heart-change will be superficial and fleeting.”
And as Keller said in another place:
“In every other religion the indicative flows from the imperative. Which means, ‘because I do, therefore I am… because I do this, therefore I’m a child of God.’ But only in Christianity does the imperative flow from the indicative. ‘Because I am in Christ all these things, therefore I obey.’ Exactly the opposite.”
So in summation, the two spiritual alternatives normally considered in our culture (religion and spirituality) are really the same thing, two sides of one coin, two forms of IF I THEN GOD . True spirituality, the real alternative, is the Gospel response of GOD HAS THEREFORE I. The three steps to applying the Gospel to your spiritual life are (1) Put no confidence in the flesh, (2) glory in Christ Jesus, (3) worship God in the Spirit. Then, as they say in the shampoo commercials “RINSE AND REPEAT.”

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Who is Spiritual (Part 4)

(Continuing the discussion based on Philippians 3:2-14. Here are links to Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3.)

In verses 8-11 Paul expands on step two to being spiritual: learning to “glory in Christ Jesus.” Paul learned, as he described in Romans 7, that no matter how hard he tried he could not keep the inner spirit of the law of God. Even if his outward actions were correct, his own heart betrayed him. He then got the revelation of the Gospel, the same thing Luther learned from Paul. As Paul said in Romans 1:16-17, God’s righteousness is not His righteous judgement of us, but instead it is His making us righteous in and through Christ

Martin Luther saw that the proper evangelical use of the Law is to drive us to desperation (Romans 3:19-20) so as to drive us to the Cross. At the cross we can get the revelation that God's righteousness is not our condemnation, but our justification. This is true because by His grace He is both "Just and our Justifier" (Romans 3:26): i.e. He makes us righteous by taking our punishment (penal substitution) and giving us His righteousness.

If you get this revelation and understanding of what Jesus has done for you, then you truly will glory in Him - He will be the center of your life forever.

If the basic principle of all man based religion and forms of spirituality is “If I, then God, as we said yesterday, then the basic principle of Gospel spirituality is “God has, therefore I.” The Gospel is about response to grace apart from human initiative. This is an exact opposite to all human spiritualities and religions that focus on men taking the initiative to reach out to and influence the supernatural.

The Gospel is always about response, not initiation. The initiative is always with God; He stays in control. We respond to His gracious initiative. We do not control Him, we respond to his love. How humbling! God the Divine Spirit is neither male not female. But in a sense, as C. S. Lewis said, He is so masculine that we are all female in response.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Chesterton on Miracles

"Somehow or other an extraordinary idea has arisen that the disbelievers in miracles consider them coldly and fairly, while believers in miracles accept them only in connection with some dogma. The fact is quite the other way. The believers in miracles accept them (rightly or wrongly) because they have evidence for them. The disbelievers in miracles deny them (rightly or wrongly) because they have a doctrine against them." -G.K. Chesterton
Hat Tip: bob.blog: Chesterton on Miracles

Who is Spiritual (Part 3)

(This is part three. Click these links for part one and part two. I'm discussing Philippians 3:2-14)

Paul begins in verse 3 by saying that “we” (i.e. Christians) are the “true circumcision.” Jewish people in the first century were know as the Circumcision, in reference to the physical act that set them apart from everyone else. True “circumcision” here means those who have found a true and right form of spirituality, i.e. relationship with God. He defines these people in reverse order (C-B-A) from where he (they) are now back to how they got there. He then shares his own experience in historical order (A-B-C) as illustration and amplification.

The first step to becoming a spiritual person is to have no confidence in the flesh, i.e. in your own ability to control God, please God or merit His favor.

The default state of the human heart is idolatry: the search for false saviors whom we can control for our own selfish benefits. The essence of religion is "if I, then God." We want to be able to control nature, situations, destinies and fates by knowing the formulas, saying the magic mantras, making the right sacrifices or keeping the right rules. prosper. If I (we) make the right sacrifices, perform the right ceremonies, do the right rituals, say the right words, know the right stuff - then God (the gods) will bless me, grow my crops, give me children, etc. But most of all, we want God to owe us due to our actions so we stay in control.

The basic belief and “truth” of current spirituality is “if I say the right mantra, know the right truths and principles, am in the right groups, then I will have power over the spiritual world and will be happy and fulfilled.”

The Jewish people in Paul’s day knew that God had chosen Israel out of pure grace. However, they believed they had to staying the grace by keeping within the boundary markers: circumcision, kosher, Sabbath. Christian churches are filled with people who claim to believe in grace but believe they say blessed by God by keeping rules and avoiding sins. We are no very different. There's plenty of idolatry in churches under the Christian label. All the "ten steps to a wonderful life" and "how to be a successful __________" books and sermons at least get close to the edge, if not over the precipice.

Notice that they are both the same: IF I THEN GOD. The spiritual is religious, and vice versa. They are two forms of the same idolatry. Both keep control and initiative with us, not God. Human pride refuses to turn over initiative and control.

Paul learned that no matter how hard he tried, it was not enough to please God.

(Continued tomorrow)

Friday, June 5, 2009

World Tour

Who is Spiritual (Part 2)

Yesterday I asked the question: What does it mean to be spiritual?

I believe that the two options of traditional religion and experiential spirituality, which are held by most people to be contradictory opposites, are actually two versions of the same approach to spirituality, each to be contrasted with the true alternative which is radically different from both.

My Scriptural text from which I will demonstrate this is Philippians 3:1-16 (ESV). The passage begins like this:
2 Look out for the dogs, look out for the evildoers, look out for those who mutilate the flesh. 3 For we are the circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh
I have long and often thought that Paul is here defining what true spirituality is in three points: (A) Put no confidence in the flesh, (B) glory in Christ Jesus, and (C) worship God in the Spirit. I still believe that is true. However, I have found a key to better understand the passage by noting a structure to the flow of Paul’s argument that is not easily apparent to the casual or untrained observer.

The key to interpreting the passage is its Chiastic structure. The term comes from the Greek letter Chi, which looks like our English letter “X”. The Chiastic pattern or structure is used in a lot of ancient documents - everything from Beowulf to the Torah - as a way of emphasizing points and making an argument memorable. It is a form of parallelism. Chiastic structure is very common in Psalms and Proverbs, in many of the OT prophetic oracles, and in the epistles of Paul (trained as a Rabbi to use the technique).

Think of the letter X with two lines crossing. A Chiastic structure crosses itself. It repeats its main points in parallel form, but in reversing order. If an argument has three points (A, B,C) then a Chiastic structure would have parallel thought as either A-B-C-C-B-A or C-B-A-A-B-C.

The chiastic structure of Philippians 3 looks like this:

C. Worship by the Spirit of God (Vs 3a)
B. Glory in Christ Jesus (Vs 3b)
A. Put no confidence in the flesh (Vs 3c)

A. Put no confidence in the flesh (Vs 4-7)
B. Glory in Christ Jesus (Vs 8-11)
C. Worship by the Spirit of God (Vs 12-16)

Paul is explaining in verses 4-16 what he meant by the three terms so briefly presented in verse 3. Seeing this structure sheds a brighter light on the meaning of the passage, and what Paul is saying about the nature of true spirituality.

(continued tomorrow)

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Twenty Years Ago today

Twenty years ago today. Never forget that there are bad people, and evil governments, in this world, and that freedom is not free.

Prayers today for the people of China.

Update: Surivors of the slaughter in Tiananmen Square are praying in Washington DC.

Who is Spiritual?

Many Americans claim to be spiritual, but not religious. Have you ever heard someone say (or said yourself) “I’m not involved in organized religion, but I am a very spiritual person.”? So what does it meant to be spiritual?

Over at Wikipedia they define the difference between religion and spirituality as follows:
While the words religion and spirituality are often incorrectly used interchangeably, an important distinction exists between spirituality in religion and spirituality as opposed to religion....

Those who speak of spirituality as opposed to religion generally believe in the existence of many "spiritual paths" and deny any objective truth about the best path to follow. Rather, adherents of this definition of the term emphasize the importance of finding one's own path to whatever-god-there-is, rather than following what others say works. In summary: the path which makes the most coherent sense becomes the correct one (for oneself).
(Yes, I know that Wikipedia is not always reliable when it comes to facts. However, it is a good source for information on cultural trends like this.)

In the common thought of our culture, religious people are those who are involved in organized religion (esp. Christianity), who have laws and rules, who try to obtain and keep God’s favor by obeying those rules, and who judge everyone else and look down their noses at everyone else not in their group. Spiritual people, on the other hand, may or may not have a specific creed or belong to any organized group. They are interested in experience of the numinous, contact with the supernatural, and if possible power over the forces of nature. “Spiritual” people usually consider themselves to be less judgmental and more accepting than the religious, and then prove to be just as judgmental in the their attitude toward religious people.

I’ve been thinking a lot on this subject, inspired in part some by messages by Tim Keller which I have been listening too on the subject of idolatry and religion. I’m actually planning on preaching on this subject next Sunday at my home church. My proposition for the message is that these two options (the common connotations of religion and spirituality), which are held by most people to be contradictory opposites, are actually two versions of the same approach to religion, each to be contrasted to the one true alternative which is radically different from both.

(Continued tomorrow).

The Gift of Teaching: Do I Have It?

Mars Hill Church and Mark Driscoll have been posting a series at The Resurgence website on spiritual gifts. Here is what they said about the spiritual gift of teaching, and how to tell if you have the gift. - Spiritual Gifts: Teaching:

Do You Have This Gift?

  • Do you enjoy studying and researching?
  • Do you enjoy imparting biblical truth to others?
  • Do others come to you for insight into Scripture?
  • When you teach, do people "get it"?
  • When you see someone confused in their understanding of the Bible do you feel a responsibility to speak to them about it?
  • Do you enjoy speaking to various sizes of groups about biblical issues you have strong convictions about?
So, a question to all my friends out there in blogger and facebook cyberspace: What do you think? Do I have it?

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Excuses for Book Addicts

David Wayne, aka the JOLLYBLOGGER, posted this great quote from part one of The Black Swan by Nassim Nicholas Taleb:

The writer Umberto Eco belongs to that small class of scholars who are encyclopedic, insightful, and nondull. He is the owner of a large personal library (containing thirty thousand books), and separates visitors into two categories: those who react with "Wow! Signore professore dottore Eco, what a library you have! How many of these books have you read?" and the others -- a very small minority -- who get the point that a private library is not an ego-boosting appendage but a research tool. Read books are far less valuable than unread ones. The library should contain as much of what you do not know as your financial means, mortgage rates, and the currently tight real-estate market allow you to put there. You will accumulate more knowledge and more books as you grow older, and the growing number of unread books on the shelves will look at you menacingly. Indeed, the more you know, the larger the rows of unread books. Let us call this collection of unread books an antilibrary.
You mean I can have an excuse to buy more books than I can possibly read or keep up with, and feel spiritual while doing so! Hallelujah! Where's my check book! This addict has just found a new lease on life. I love buying books.


BTW David, so glad to hear that your heath situation is better. PTL.

License to Criticize

I went to vote Tuesday in a essentially meaningless local election. Three offices were on the ballot, and for each there was only one unopposed candidate. Everything was basically decided in the primary election a month ago.

It seemed like a wast of time to vote. However, I do feel that I have renewed my license to complain and criticize for another four years!

Of course, my civic duty has not been entirely fulfilled. As a Christian citizen, I now have to pray for these men and women. That duty never ends.

Ironic Presidential Positions

Over at Prison Fellowship's blog, The Pointpointed out The Irony of President Obamas Positions on abortion and torture.
Has anyone else noticed the blatant incongruity in President Obama’s positions when it comes to abortion and torture?

He believes it is fine for a woman to abort her unborn child for any reason and at anytime during the pregnancy. Even if the child initially survives an abortion attempt there should be no attempt to save that child and the doctors will not be held accountable. YET, he finds it totally unacceptable to use waterboarding on a terrorist who may know something about a possible attack on Americans, even if the information obtained could prevent that attack from happening and save many lives.

More details can be had by following the link.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Hidden Secrets of Online Quizzes

An old friend of mine posted a link to this article -The Hidden Secrets of Online Quizzes - on his Facebook page. It's something everyone who enjoys on-line quizzes on Facebook and other sites should probably read.

If the Devil Ran My Town

Saw this post today by Tullian Tchividjian (D. James Kennedy's successor and Billy Graham's grandson) at On Earth as it is in Heaven

In preparation for my sermon this past Sunday, I re-read the opening lines of Michael Horton’s excellent book Christless Christianity (an absolute must-read for anyone bold enough to handle some right-on-the-money constructive criticism). He writes:

"What would things look like if Satan really took control of a city? Over half a century ago, Presbyterian minister Donald Grey Barnhouse offered his own scenario in his weekly sermon that was also broadcast nationwide on CBS radio. Barnhouse speculated that if Satan took over Philadelphia (the city where Barnhouse pastored), all of the bars would be closed, pornography banished, and pristine streets would be filled with tidy pedestrians who smiled at eachother. There would be no swearing. The children would say, “Yes, sir” and “No ma’am,” and the churches would be full every Sunday…where Christ is not preached."

Barnhouse was probably right. Nobody likes religious people like the Devil does.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Not Ready to Preach Until....

I have a rare opportunity to preach next Sunday. In my preparations I am meditating on the following advice for preachers:

“I have a conviction that no sermon is ready for preaching, not ready for writing out, until we can express its theme in a short, pregnant sentence as clear as a crystal. I find the getting of that sentence is the hardest, the most exacting, and the most fruitful labour in my study. To compel oneself to fashion that sentence, to dismiss every word that is vague, ragged, ambiguous, to think oneself through to a form of words which defines the theme with scrupulous exactness—this is surely one of the most vital and essential factors in the making of a sermon: and I do not think any sermon ought to be preached or even written, until that sentence has emerged, clear and lucid as a cloudless moon.”

—J. H. Jowett, The Preacher: His Life and Work (Harper & Bros, 1912), p. 133.

From: On Preaching Preparation « Miscellanies