Archive for the ‘iFaith’ Category

Aug
29
2014

Victoria Osteen and Our Conservative Prosperity Gospel

Last night, Christian Twitter was alive with the ridiculous and sad clip of Victoria Osteen’s blatant prosperity gospel declaration. “We go to church, not for God, but for us.” I especially liked the enterprising blogger who affixed Bill Cosby’s “That’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard” to the end of the clip. Well done.

But before we conservatives get too cocky in our outrage, we’d we wise to admit to our own version of the prosperity gospel, a kind of false message that creeps into our gospel proclamation.

None of us are offering people paradise like the Osteens, especially those of us who have travelled to third-world countries and have seen first-hand the crippling poverty experienced by people with faith much greater than our own. Nor would we dare to tell our persecuted brothers and sisters in the Middle East that with just a bit more faith they might be able to outrun their ISIS persecutors. To do that would not just make us modern-day friends of Job, it would make us false prophets.

What we might be tempted to do, those of us with our airtight theology, is offer a subtler version of the prosperity message in the way we talk about sanctification in this life.

I grew up hearing that what the troubled and broken world really needs is Jesus. I still believe this, even more so now than I did as a child. But what I heard then and what I hear now about our need for Jesus is markedly different.

My ears heard then, “If only the drunkard would walk forward and trust Christ, he’d find relief for his addiction” or “If only the depressed or mentally ill (we didn’t use that word, actually) would know Jesus, they’d find happiness.”

But what I hear now from the gospel is different. I hear now: “Come to Jesus and he’ll begin the process of making who you whole, but the full work of restoration won’t happen until He consummates His kingdom.”

There’s a big difference between the two. One says that upon salvation, all of the Fall’s crush upon your soul will be unraveled. Everything will be made new—now. But is this true? We know this doesn’t happen, even from our own lives. Many years after salvation, we still struggle with sins that “so easily beset us” (Hebrews 12:1). As a pastor, I saw first-hand the pervasive effects of the Fall, how the curse so gnarled up human lives. Some of those knots will be unwound in this life. Most will have to wait until Heaven to see full restoration.

Is this not what Paul was saying when he talks in 2 Corinthians 4 about “treasure in earthen vessels” that is “crushed, perplexed, and persecuted.” The treasure is Jesus, but the vessel—body, mind, soul—is fragile and broken. Christ is doing an ongoing work in us, but it’s a work that is far from finished. Our “outer self is wasting away” but our “inner self is being renewed day by day.” Sanctification—not a one-time event that happens when we walk the aisle—is an ongoing work within. There is, Paul says, “an eternal weight of glory” that awaits us. Our full, final, and complete restoration.

At first glance, recognizing and accepting that we’ll not be perfected in this life might seem cause for despair. Having to get up every single day and “run, with patience, the race set before us” (Hebrews 12:1) might cause us to lose heart.

But instead it should move us to joy, because we look not at the “things that are seen” but the “things that are unseen” (2 Corinthians 4:18). In other words, we don’t despair at the continual struggle with sin, the pervasive physical and mental effects of the fall, or the problems that never seem to unwind in our lives and in the lives of those we love. Instead, we rejoice and look to Jesus, the “author and finisher of our faith” (Hebrews 12:1), who has already secured our full final restoration. This struggle will soon be over and Christ will finish his work in us.

Understanding sanctification guards us, then, against over-selling immediate, tangible gospel effects. Yes, genuine salvation does result in life change, but these fruits may often be small in this life, faint glimmers of the glory we’ll see in the New Jerusalem. Understanding sanctification also gives us a mechanism to help others who struggle with sin, with mental illness, with sickness and pain. Rather than offering hyperbolic promises of “victory” and “spiritual success” we might enter into in their pain and walk with them in their despair, pointing them to comfort in the eschatological hope of a full, final renewal that awaits them in glory. Understanding sanctification allows us to mend the broken without expecting people to be perfectly whole in this life.

Rejecting our subtle prosperity gospels moves us from people-fixing to burden-bearing.

We should still say to the seeking, the hurt, and the lost, “You need Jesus,” because they do. But let’s not give them the false Jesus of quick spiritual fixes, but the real Jesus who guides us through the storms and walks with us through the valley of the shadow of death and leads us ultimately to Himself.

Aug
27
2013

The God (little “g”) in Your Pocket

I was talking to my mother last week about the readily available technology we have in our smart phones. She was telling me, half-joking, “I can always Google something. So if I’m in a conversation and I don’t know what they are talking about, I can quietly Google it and sound smart.” We laughed, because we have all been there. And perhaps with Google glasses we won’t even have to figure out ways to inconspicuously look down and type it in our phones.

It’s sure nice to have Google with us. In the middle of the night when my kid is sick and exhibiting symptoms I’m not familiar with, I can quickly google, “Coughing and fever, plus a rash” and get results. If I’m on a trip to Denver for business, I can google, “weather in Denver tomorrow.” Or if we are wandering about and looking for a McDonald’s with a Playplace, I can Google (not while driving, of course!), “McDonald’s with a Playplace near me.” I can actually speak it into Google and it comes up with info. The same goes for hours for my favorite barber shop, the closest Starbucks, or how to change the headlight in a Chevy Blazer (my brother did that and it saved my parents lots of money on repairs).

But as much as I like all of this technology and as much as I really don’t want to back to the 1950′s where you actually had to know stuff and read maps and be satisfied with looking dumb in conversations, I wonder if we are tempted to replace God with Google. I’m not trying to #JesusJuke you here. I’m speaking honestly about a very real temptation I face, particularly when I’m in trouble.

See, my inclination, when something bad comes up, when I’m uncertain, is not to get on my knees in prayer. It’s to grab my phone and type or speak and expect an answer. Sometimes this is helpful. But sometimes it’s a dangerous crutch, a rabbit trail for answers that Google can’t produce. Worse yet, the little god in my pocket gives me the illusion of being in control. I can solve this. I’m smart. I have tools that can give me answers. 

This is why the words, Be still and know that I am God (Psalm 46:10) should hit our hearts with a thud. Be still means to stop thinking, processing, figuring out, wondering, scheming, and yes, Googling (that’s the Greek translation) for answers. Be still means to stop phoning friends, stop texting, stop panicking and to just be quiet and listen to God. Oh if we could learn this in our generation. I fear that we are so dependent, so given to the illusion of being our own little gods that we have forgotten the art of silence, solitude and worship. I struggle with this mightily.

Why must we be still to know God? Because the act of silence, of prayer, of not creating our own answers is in and of itself an act of humble, subservient, worship. We’re saying, “Yep, I’m really not in charge here. I’m not God. He is.” And in that moment of despair, of weakness, we find God. We know Him. That’s why Paul says that when we are weak, we are strong (2 Corinthians 12:9).

Imagine the folly of God’s own people, redeemed by His grace in Christ, running around with their smart phones acting as if they can run their own lives. From a theological and logical standpoint, it’s pretty silly. And yet that’s the life we subscribe to. That’s the life I often live.

So we must pray, Lord, help me to be still. Help me to resist the idolatry of technology, to stop, listen, and learn. Help me to query you first for answers, not Google. 

Jun
12
2013

5 People We Should Pray For Even Though We Don’t Want To

Let’s be honest. There are certain types of people we are conditioned, by our culture, to not like. These are the people that nobody is going to give us credit for liking, the people we tend to distance ourselves from. For good reason. And yet, these are the sinners Christ most likely would have sought out to save, the people we should, at the very least, pray for. So here is a list of 5 People We Should Pray For Even Though We Don’t Want To:

1) Politicians (and really anyone in a position of power). Have politicians ever held a lower standing the eyes of the American public than they do now? There are whole cottage industries (talk show hosts, pundits, some columnists) who generate millions of dollars essentially mocking and criticizing politicians. Nobody will think you are cool for praying for a politician. Everybody will laugh if you criticize one and/or post some hilarious meme about one on Facebook. And yet there is this sneaky little prayer in the Bible that says this:

First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. (1 Timothy 2:1-2, ESV)

Yeah, that’s a tough verse. Praying for politicians (and not just in the snarky Psalm 19:8 way) is counter-cultural. But here’s a reason we can and should pray for our government leaders, local and national: we believe that authority is granted by God. Psalm 75:6 says that power doesn’t come from east or west, but from God. Romans 13 reminds us that the “powers that be” are ordained of God. So we can pray for our leaders, not only out of obedience to the Scripture, but out of a deep and abiding trust in Christ as the ultimate sovereign authority. And here’s a tip. Let’s pray for these politicians, not always for the policies we’d like to see implemented, but in a personal way. Let’s pray for their families. Let’s pray for their spiritual lives. Let’s pray for their blessing (yes, you heard me right).

2) People who we think poorly represent the Christian faith. There is a tendency among evangelicals to distance ourselves from Christians we think poorly represent the Christian faith. I do this. I could give you a list of people whose public displays of Christianity make me want to stand and shout, “But most Christians aren’t like that. We’re different. Don’t look at them.” You have a list like this, don’t you? Isn’t this pride? Do we ever consider that perhaps its me–yes me–who might be the poor display of Christian witness?

I’m humbled by Jesus’ words to Peter in Luke 22:32, where he essentially said, “I’m praying for you, that your faith doesn’t fail. Satan wants to sift you as wheat” (my paraphrase). Peter was the Christ-follower who embarrassed everyone by his public displays. He’s the guy who panicked and fell beneath the waves on the Sea of Galilee He’s the guy who blurted out about the tabernacles during the miracle of transfiguration. He’s the guy who cut off the soldier’s ear in the garden. He’s the guy who denied Jesus three times. Yeah, I’m guessing pre-Pentecost Peter is probably the guy who exemplifies, “Christian I don’t want to be like.”

And yet Jesus said to Peter, patiently, “I’m praying for you.” I’m deeply convicted by this. Rather than mocking those Christians who I don’t think “do it right” so I can make myself look better, I ought to . . . pray for them. Here’s what happens when we do this: suddenly we see the humanity in people we’re ashamed of. Suddenly we see our own clumsy attempts to represent Christ. Suddenly we accept them as brothers and sisters rather than enemies. This is a hard discipline, but like Jesus, we should pray for the Peters in our life.

3) People who openly mock the Christian faith. When I think of people who openly mock the faith, I think of the secularists, I think the late-night comedians who make sport of the gospel. I think of the pop culture icons who detest Jesus. Bill Mahr, Jon Stewart, Richard Dawkins. The knee-jerk reaction to mockers is to mock back. To come up with an equally witty response. To create a Facebook page with a bold Christian statement and have 10,000 people like it to make us feel better. But maybe, maybe, we should simply pray for them. I think of Jesus’ attitude on the cross toward the mockers. He said “Forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34). What should we pray for them? For the Holy Spirit to work in their hearts to find salvation in Christ. Think of Saul of Tarsus. He had heard the sermons and mocked them. He held the coats of those stoning Stephen, the first martyr. He actively pursued Christians to put them in jail and even to their deaths. And yet God radically pursued Paul on the road to Damascus and he became the Apostle Paul. Maybe today’s mocker is tomorrow’s evangelist. Have we considered that? So let’s pray for those who mock the Christian faith. By doing so, we not only avoid the sin of bitterness in our own hearts, but we demonstrate that God’s sovereignty and power is not weakened by the open hostility of those who oppose Him.

4) Highly critical bloggers and commentors. If you want to get a glimpse of the depravity of our fallen world, scroll down on a news article and read through the comments. Even many Christian blogs and news sites attract vile responses, some even by professing followers of Jesus. The Internet has opened the floodgates for trolls and for angry, self-justified people. But have you considered that perhaps those who communicate ungracefully may be doing it from a place of insecurity, of brokeness, of a deep hunger for what only God can provide? I don’t know what motivates the hostility all the time, but I do know that these are people God wants to rescue from themselves. If God could cause revival among the ruthless Ninevites, God could do a work among those who use the Internet for vile purposes. We should pray that God enraptures their soul with the good news of the gospel. We should pray that we don’t fall into their trap of bitterness and vulgarity.

5) That person who has deeply wounded you. Jesus said to pray for those who “mistreat you.” I don’t think forgiveness means you have to endure injustice or abuse. I don’t think being a Christian means being a doormat over which evil people can walk all over you. But I do believe that, at the most basic level, we should pray for those who deeply wound us. Reconciliation is not always possible, but forgiveness–the letting go of the bitterness from our hearts–is possible as we immerse ourselves in the forgiveness Christ offers to us in his atoning death and resurrection. We can find peace and joy, we don’t have to nurse our deep grudges. I think we begin this process in prayer, on our knees, in honesty before God. We pour out the hurts and wounds we’ve endured and ask the Lord to help us forgive and to work in the hearts of those who did the wounding. The person who committed the injustice against you was created by God in His image. His soul matters to God as much as your soul. And so we pray for those who hurt us.

 

Apr
23
2013

The Rhythm of Forgiveness and Repentance

This past Sunday, in our sermon series Teach us to Pray, we looked at this phrase in the Lord’s Prayer: “Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.”

Now this phrase of this prayer would be really wonderful if it stopped at “Forgive us our debts.” That’s how most of us pray, if we’re honest. The Bible tells us we enter life with a debt–a massive gap between us and God (Romans 3:23; Romans 5:12, among others). Christ’s death on the cross and resurrection erased paid that debt and offers reconciliation with God. Anyone who has put their faith in Christ can pray this prayer with hope, knowing his debt has been forgiven.

But the prayer doesn’t stop there. Jesus says that we’re to pray “Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.” This word “as” is not just a fill-in word here. It’s a real Greek word, hos that means , wait for it, . . .  as. So Jesus is saying exactly what we think He is saying, “Forgive us our debts in proportion to the way we forgive our debtors.” And just to be sure we understood what Jesus is saying, Jesus comments on this verse in verse 14—the only additional commentary he offered on any of these requests in the Lord’s Prayer—with this:

For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, Matthew 6:14 (ESV)

Jesus talked like this over and over again. He is communicating some very hard truths here. They are difficult to swallow. He seems to be saying to us this: you are only forgiven as much as you forgive. Augustine called this a “terrible petition” because in this, we are really praying for God to withhold his forgiveness of us in proportion to how we forgive others. Charles Spurgeon said of this passage that to pray this, without practicing forgiveness is to “sign your own death warrant.”

What exactly does this passage mean? I think it can have several implications.

First, it can mean that if you have no ability, no desire to forgive others, perhaps you have not been forgiven yourself. One of the effects of the gospel is that it softens our heart and causes us to forgive, to let go of grudges. Jesus said in the Beatitudes, “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.” The mark of a true believer is his ability to forgive. Not that you’re not struggling with forgiveness. Not that you don’t wrestle with it. I like what Kent Hughes says by way of explanation in his Preaching the Word commentary on Matthew:

I am not referring to those who find that bitterness and hatred recur even though they have forgiven the offender. The fact that you have forgiven and continue to forgive is a sign of grace. We are not talking about people who are struggling with forgiveness. It is those who have no desire to forgive who are in soul danger. There may also be some who have been recently offended and are still in emotional shock and so have not been able to properly respond with forgiveness. The point is: If we are Christians, we can and will forgive!

These are hard words by Jesus, but words needed for those who perhaps may act religious, who have gone through the motions and think they are close to God yet have not been truly regenerated. One way to test your heart is to see if you are willing, able to forgive. This was the case of the Pharisees. They were religious. They kept the moral law. They were the conservatives of their generation. And yet Jesus said their hearts were like open graves. They couldn’t forgive.

And yet we know it can’t be saying that the way to get to Heaven, the way to earn God’s forgiveness of us is by forgiving. It’s not teaching a “works-based” salvation. It’s not saying, to earn favor with God, go forgive people. The point of this passage really is saying that as you are forgiven, so you forgive. A great parallel passage is in Matthew 18 and the parable Jesus shared of a king who forgave a man who owed a tremendous debt and then could not forgive the man who owed him a little one. To quote my friend, Ray Pritchard, “it was the king who first forgave.”

This is how the gospel begins in us. First, we’re forgiven by the king and then we forgive. We can’t ever forget the ordering of these two things. If we are to believe the gospel, we have to say that we can’t truly forgive until we’ve been forgiven. We don’t have the power. Romans reminds us that God “sheds the love of God abroad in our hearts by faith.” The gospel is the wellspring of forgiveness. This is what Paul means when he tells the Ephesians in 4:32: “Even as Christ forgave you, so also do you.” You forgive as you’ve been forgiven.

Secondly, this is a diagnosis of a Christian’s heart. We know Jesus’ primary audience is his disciples, who, by virtue of faith in Christ’s coming death and resurrection, will receive forgiveness. This is why they can call God abba to begin with. The gospel restores us to that intimate relationship with God. So in this phrase He asks us to pray, “Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors,” He is saying that we will feel and understand the full weight of God’s forgiveness of us as we forgive others.

In other words, God has forgiven us in Christ, but we often don’t fully enjoy that grace, we can’t rest in it, because we are committing the sin of unforgiveness.

At the same time, this prayer diagnoses the reason Christians hold grudges and can’t forgive. Why? Because they’ve forgotten the debts they’ve been forgiven of God. It again relates to Jesus’ parable in Matthew 18 about the King who forgave an enormous debt of one man, who then couldn’t forgive a smaller debt. Jesus is speaking to us, saying, “I’ve forgiven you the equivalent of trillions of dollars, say several times the national debt and you can’t forgive your brother five bucks.”

The reason we don’t forgive, the reason we harbor it in our hearts, is simple: We’ve forgotten the gospel. Forgiven people forgive. The problem is that we, like the Pharisees, often think God forgave us because we were already pretty good to start with. This pride keeps from forgiving others. This is especially a problem of longtime Christians. We hear the gospel and get converted and then we think we have to “move past it.” We don’t see ourselves the way God saw us before we came to Christ. We see ourselves as deserving of His mercy and grace. We don’t realize the great huge debt God forgave us.

That’s why I love Paul’s declaration that he was the “chief of sinners.” In other words, Paul looked around and said this, “As bad as others are, I’m worse. I’m the worst. God needed more grace for me than anyone else.” And that attitude kept Paul in the flow of God’s rich grace and able to forgive others.

You will not experience the full weight of God’s forgiveness of you until you learn how to forgive others. And you will not learn how to forgive others until you understand the full weight of Gods’ forgiveness of you.

Our forgiveness of others demonstrates how much we understand how much God has forgiven us. Our ability to forgive others tells God what we think of the gospel. If we think it was cheap, then we’ll forgive others cheaply. But if we see the cost, then we’ll forgive deeply

To pray and to live out this prayer is to be in the rhythm of repentance and forgiveness of the Christian life. We are constantly in need of repentance and constantly called to forgive. You will find this spiritual rhythm over and over in the Scriptures. It is the way of grace. And every relationship we have depends on this: repentance and forgiveness are the oil of human relationships.

This concept can radically change your marriage. If you recognize that you are a sinner in need of your spouses’ forgiveness and that your spouse is a sinner in need of forgiveness. So often Christians forget this principle and they let their relationships sort of harden and calcify. They’ve forgotten the gospel in their marriage and this is why there is bitterness, anger, and detachment. Marital intimacy depends on the gospel, this life cycle of repentance and forgiveness.

This concept also radically can alter your parenting. You as a parent must constantly ask your children for forgiveness and you must constantly forgive them. And on and on it goers throughout all of our relationships. This is why Jesus mentions this in the same context as our need for bread. Because a tranquil heart, right with God and man, is as vital as bread.

Mar
06
2013

Prayer That Starts With God

On Sunday I started a brand-new series on the Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6:9-13) entitled, “Teach Us to Pray.” Let’s remember that this is not a prayer Jesus prays, but that a prayer He offers for his disciples to pray. One of the things that really strikes me about Jesus’ model prayer is just how God-centered this prayer is. The Lord’s Prayer contains six humble requests, the first three are God-directed and the last three involve human needs. This is very similar to the structure of the Ten Commandments, which first begin with our vertical relationship to God and then end with our horizontal relationship with our fellow man. It’s similar to the way Paul constructed his letters to the churches: he often began with who we are in Christ before fleshing out how that affects the way we live.

A.W. Tozer said this (and I paraphrase), “The first thing that comes to your mind when you think about God is the most important thing about you.” I hear a lot of Christian says things like, “I don’t worry about theology.” Well, yes you do. Everybody has a theology, whether flawed or otherwise. Sadly, most of our theology begins with me. We start our prayers with what we think we need and then, if we have time, throw in a few God cliques. But the most healthy theology begins where the Bible begins: with God. You will notice that the first words of the very first book of the Bible begin like this, “In the beginning, God.”

It’s easy to subtly devalue God by our prayers and our life. We say things like, “I don’t imagine God is like this.” Or “The God I worship doesn’t do this.” But if God is truly God–that is to say if God is sovereign, powerful, holy, compassionate, just–then it behooves us not to define God on our terms, but to bow before the God who is already there.

How does this affect our prayer life? Why did Jesus say to start our supplications with God? Because the way we view God affects the way we live. How much we reverence God informs the respect we have for our fellow man. And beginning with God in our prayers filters out the frivolous. It considers prayer as an act of worship, an acknowledgment that we are, in deed, not God. That God is God.

It means our prayers are in God’s will. It keeps us from destructive theology. It prevents us from saying foolish things like, “God told me to (fill in the blank)” when really it was our own fleshly desires that spoke. I once had a person tell me, with a straight and somber face, that God was telling her to divorce her husband of 15 years and go marry a convicted felon. Um, God won’t tell you to do something against His sovereign will.

Praying God-centered prayers takes some discipline and practice. I’ll admit that this is a struggle for me. I often want to begin what I think are my own needs rather than letting my Father in Heaven shape my them. But there is something refreshing about beginning with God. It reminds us of the awesome miracle of access to the throne room of Heaven, purchased at great price by Christ on the cross. It reminds me that God takes great delight in hearing my prayers and meeting my needs, needs he knows well before I know them. It comforts me to realize that I do, indeed, have a Father in Heaven with a hallowed name.

Nov
05
2012

The Sin About Which No One Will Speak

Envy is like a fly that passes all the body’s sounder parts, and dwells upon the sores. – Arthur Chapman 

There is a sin that nobody in our world really wants to discuss. It’s the fashionable sin, that fuels our great social movements and has become an engine of our politics.

It’s the sin of envy. We love to talk about greed. I mean if you google the word, “greed” you’ll get a thousands sermons, news articles, political speeches, blog posts, etc. We assume that anyone who is wealthy is greedy, simply because we attach greed to success as if the poor can’t have bad attitudes about money.

Now, to be sure, greed is a horrific problem. And there are some in positions of power and wealth who have money as their god. But greed’s cousin, envy, is just as powerful a master, only it is disguised in more noble clothing. Envy masquerades as populism. Just listen to some of the ways we talk today. If a certain CEO makes a lot of money, we call it injustice because WE can’t have it. If a politician is in a position of power, we hate him because he is where he is and I am where I’m at. If a popular pastor gets more popular, we have to go digging for doctrinal sins to discredit him and thereby bring him to our level. We can’t abide someone else having something we don’t have.

Envy is an insidious sin. And yet we don’t preach about it. We don’t warn of it’s dangers. Instead, we let it have its reign in our culture, because it drives our economy. Watch the commercials on prime-time TV. What is at the heart of every single one? Is it not envy? Is it not the lie that “You deserve this new thing. You’ve worked hard. Why shouldn’t you have what others have?”

As followers of Jesus, we should rightly eschew greed. And we should promote justice, we should get our hands dirty and serve the poor. We should work hard to alleviate human suffering. But we must make sure envy doesn’t fuel our activism. We must ensure that we are not preaching a false gospel to the downtrodden that says: “God has been unfair to you. Others have what you don’t have. Jesus will even the score.”

The real gospel offers something richer than envy. It offers new and abundant life in Christ. It offers a hope that transcends the cheap, plastic euphoria that earthly possessions promise. It offers God Himself, in the Person of Jesus. It offers an “eternal weight of glory” (2 Corinthians 4:7). When we get to Heaven, no blood-bought, ransomed sinner will every say, “Wasn’t it a shame I didn’t have as much money as Bill Gates?” No, likely, we’ll say, “Can you believe we longed for such fleeting idols?”

Let’s not stop preaching against greed. But let’s also not forget to preach against envy. Let’s be glad for the wealth God has granted to others. Let’s be thankful for what we have, whether great or small. Let’s welcome the rich into our churches without assuming they are criminals. Let’s give our money to the poor without attaching the soul-destroying bacteria of envy. Let’s find our pleasure in Jesus only. Let’s point people to that pleasure and not temporary pleasures in other’s possessions.

Yes, let’s ask the Spirit to eradicate this sin, the one about which no one will speak.

Jun
04
2012

Parents and Facebook

I recently posted a guest-blog for Covenant Eyes on the role of parents in establishing Facebook parameters for their kids:

According to a recent survey, 75% of teens have a Facebook profile, 54% check their status once a day, and 65% of them access Facebook through their mobile devices.

Teens are living, increasingly, in a social world. So how do parents handle this? Some have tried to ban their children from Facebook outright. This may work, for a time, but ultimately, I think, it only serves to isolate the child from life in the 21st century and ill prepares him or her to making discerning life choices

You can read the rest here: A Parent’s Role in Preventing Facebook Addiction: | Covenant Eyes.

May
03
2012

God’s Favor Versus God’s Love

I think the current “gospel-centered” movement is one of the best things to happen to the church in a long time. The push for more expository preaching that grounds every imperative in the indicatives of the gospel–this is important. For too long the Church has preached a gospel of moralism, of legalism, of do-it-yourself lite Christianity.

However, if there is one concern I have with the movement, I might say that there is a danger of a pendulum swing. As a reactive measure against the idea that you must work really hard to earn God’s love (a frustrating and often false gospel), it seems we are saying that obedience has no connection to your day-to-day walk with God. I’m not sure this is either helpful for biblical. Let me explain.

I was recently listening to a message by J.D. Greear, lead pastor of Summit Church and author of several books including, Gospel. I love J.D.’s preaching, his clarity and his love for God and the gospel and missions. I’ve listened to several of his sermons that have really challenged and convicted me.

I was listening to a sermon he gave to the Southern Seminary Chapel entitled, “How Real Spiritual Growth Happens.” It’s a terrific message that I highly commend. But I left with a few questions. Particularly I wondered if we are not being clear enough about the distinction between God’s love and God’s favor.

J.D. was right in saying that humans are oriented toward works righteousness, that our default thinking is, “I’m messed up my life. God hates me now.” Or “I’ve had a really good week with the Lord. He loves me this week.” And so we guilt ourselves into what we are supposed to do for God rather than grounding our obedience in what God is, the radiance of His glory, and the radical nature of his sacrifice on our behalf. I agree with this.

What puzzled me a bit was J.D. talking about worship experience in church. There are Sundays, he says, when you walk into church and you’ve had a great week–you were faithful in your Bible reading, you were fervent in prayer, you shared Christ with others–and so you feel God’s love and glory wash over you. Then there are Sundays when you walk into church and you’ve had a rough week, you’ve had an argument with your spouse, you’re boss yelled at you for messing up the reports, you kicked the dog, etc. And you, while worshipping, start making promises to God, “I’ll get this right. I’ll do better.” You feel a bit of a disconnect from God. I’ve had these experiences all of my Christian life. J.D. says that this is the result of a faulty view of God’s love. We think he loves us more when we’ve had a great week and He’s mad at us when we’ve had a bad week.

This is often true, but I wonder if we’ve skipped over another reason for a bit of distance in our connection with God. Could it be that we enter worship with unconfessed sin? And the dissonance we experience is the result of a break in our relationship? Psalm 68:18 says, “If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me.” The Apostle John urges us in 1 John 1:8-10 to not ignore unconfessed sin, to rush to the Lord, prevail upon His grace, and find renewal in our relationship.

Sin breaks the relationship we have with God. It doesn’t negate God’s love. It doesn’t lessen God’s love. But it does cloud our view of God’s love and make us feel as if God loves us less even though He doesn’t. I think this is the difference between the love of God and the favor of God.

There is nothing you can do to earn the love of God. Obeying God faithfully for your whole life doesn’t earn you one more ounce of His love. He loves you and accepts you because of Christ. He has accepted the perfection and sacrifice of Christ for you and so you have nothing left to prove.

However, God does extend favor, I believe, to those who obey Him. All through the Scriptures you see the reward of God toward those who follow his precepts (Psalm 5:12; Psalm 90:17; Genesis 6:8; Proverbs 18:22). That doesn’t mean obedience helps you avoid trials and suffering–those too are often good gifts of God to shape our character. But you can safely and biblically say that those who obey the Lord will experience more blessing and favor than those who don’t.

I’m guessing J.D. Greear would agree with this and perhaps it was just his emphasis on law in that particular message. But I do think the gospel-centered movement would do well to further explain the purpose of the law, the need for obedience, and the importance of holiness. It doesn’t affect the way God loves us, but it does affect the way we view God’s love. Another way of stating this might be to say that when we sin, we have lost sight of the gospel and God’s glory and have chosen other idols to worship. Therefore we get the sense that God loves us less and we feel disconnected from Him because our view is clouded by the sin of idolatry.