The good news in Abraham’s story

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There’s an old children’s song that goes like this:

Father Abraham had many sons
Had many sons had Father Abraham

I am one of them
And so are you
So let’s just praise the Lord.

I’ve never really liked this song, though, admittedly, I never heard it until I was an adult. 

The problem I have with it at times is the rose-colored glasses view of Abraham himself. He is the man of faith. He is the one who followed the Lord away from all he had known, not knowing where he was to go, and believed God’s promise to bring him to the land he would show him (Hebrews 11:8-10). He is one of the few to be called a friend of God in Scripture (James 2:23).

And yet, when you really consider Abraham… this was one messed up guy. A paragon of virtue, he was not. He grew up a pagan man. And though he believed God, he also had a habit of doing things his own way. On the journey, not once, but twice, he lied and said Sarah was his sister, and she was given to foreign kings as their brides (Genesis 12:10-20; 20:1-18). Why? Because he feared for his life. Could you imagine if the song included some of the other details of his life?

Father Abraham sold his wife
And pretended she was his sister
It’s kind of creepy
Oh, yes it is
So let’s just praise the Lord.

Doesn’t have quite the same ring to it, does it?

But it doesn’t get better. Though he was promised a son by Sarah (Genesis 15), Abraham—at her encouragement—took Hagar as a concubine, and had a son with her, Ishmael, who would be the father of the Arab nations (Genesis 16). So he not only was a liar who prostituted his wife—because he got paid by these kings, too—he was a polygamist, to boot.

How could God use a man like this? How could this man be a part of the family line of Jesus?

Before we get all judgmental and self-righteous on Abraham, it’s helpful to remember: Abraham’s story is, in many ways, ours.

He was not a man of outstanding moral character, it’s true. But neither are any of us. He was not a man who consistently did what was right. Neither are we. He was not a man who, though he believed, even believed consistently. And that can most certainly be said of all of us, too. (Or at a minimum, it can definitely be said of me.)

If his character and actions were the measure of salvation, he would have been damned for all eternity—just like you and me.

And there’s the good news in Abraham’s story. “Abraham believed, and it was counted to him as righteousness” (Romans 4:3; Galatians 3:16; James 2:23a). It was his faith that saved him, that declared him righteous. It was not his character, nor his performance. It was faith alone alone that saved him. And it is faith alone that saves us as well.

What our bestsellers say about our discipleship

What our bestsellers say about our discipleship

Seriously folks, we’ve got to do better than this.

By now, you’ve almost certainly seen the list of the top 25 bestselling Christian titles of 2014. But, of course, there’s one slight problem… Virtually none of these titles are identifiably Christian.

This should greatly concern us, and I truly do mean greatly.

On this list, we have:

  • Multiple editions of a devotional book wherein the highly mystically-influenced author writes as Jesus in the first-person, listening to what he says and writing it down for the rest of us to read. Its sequel is on the list, too;
  • Two editions of a book that flat-out contradicts the Bible’s description of heaven (and whether or not we are to even speak of such things);
  • Two books on personal finance;
  • One book endorsing borderline pagan forms of prayer;
  • Four books from a reality-TV famous family;
  • Two books by prosperity preachers, and therefore not Christians at all;
  • One end-times obsessed bit of crazy, with two more prophecy-focused titles alongside it;
  • Two self-help books and a diet book;
  • One memoir-ish book by a man compelled by love to do unpredictable things;
  • One book on women’s issues; and
  • One book on the importance of being a church member.

So, by my count, at best we’ve got two Christian bestsellers that are actually Christian. A few are written by Christians and published by Christian publishers, but offer little to nothing of substance in terms of interaction with Scripture, and little to no gospel. And then there’s the bigger problem: the ones that should raise major red flags for any editorial team looking at the material biblically.

Now I get that publishing is a business, and editorial teams have to look at what will realistically sell in the market. But my concerns are two-fold:

1. That publishers that should know better than to produce silly nonsense, do anyway. Again, I get that publishers have to make money in order to keep the lights on. I also get that not every publisher will (or should) publish books that only a particular segment of Christians would agree with. But to publish material that, in some cases, flatly contradicts Scripture (and in some cases, stand behind those books even in the face of overwhelming criticism), defies reason. Seriously guys, can we do better here?

2. That we, the consumers, actually buy this garbage. The only reason publishers bring books like this to the market is because we—the consumers—shell out cash to buy this crap. When we look at a list like this, we are right to be concerned, but our criticisms should not primarily be levelled at publishers: we need to look at ourselves.

What is it about these books that appeals to us? How have we let ourselves go so far astray from the true and sure word of God that books by guys who want you to accumulate stuff in this life sell hundreds of thousands of copies? When books that purport to speak for Jesus read more frequently than the book through which we come to know him at all?

In the end, our bestsellers say more about the state of our discipleship than anything else. We read junk because we don’t see how much better God is. We read fluff because it’s easier than being challenged to conform to the image of Christ. We read nonsense because we don’t really believe that what God has for us is better than the temporary pleasures of this life.

And it’s got to stop. We can do better than this. We must do better than this.

How do you get to know unbelievers?

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I’m only day into seminary and I’m already challenged.

My first seminary lecture dealt almost exclusively with outlining the requirements of our term paper: a 10-ish page personal letter to an unbeliever with whom we have a close relationship. Now, the challenge for me is not trying to think of unbelievers to write to. I have no less than eight people in my close family to whom I could address this—my parents, my sister, my niece, my in-laws, my sister-in-law and her husband. And then we have a number of non-Christian and nominally Christian friends on top of that.

But as I listened to Jerram Barrs’ lecture, I realized just how easy it is to find yourself in a position where you have no one in your life who is an unbeliever. And if you’re someone like me, who works with Christians, and serves with Christians and meets with Christians… man, it is difficult to get to know non-Christians.

That’s actually one of the things I miss about working outside of a ministry context. While many of my co-workers love that we can pray at work, and that we have staff meetings where we sing together, there is one thing we miss out on, one of the things I think we probably need more than singing songs: the opportunity to build relationships with non-Christian co-workers and share the faith with them.

And it’s actually something I wish I had taken more opportunities to do when I did work in those environments.

Now, at the time, I don’t know what stopped me from being more intentional about this. Maybe it was because these were the same people who knew me before I was a Christian, and saw me working through the mess of my earliest weeks, months and years as a believer… Maybe it was just that I was chickening out. The truth is, I really have no idea why I didn’t, only that I didn’t.

But for me today, it’s harder than ever to meet and get to know non-Christians, largely because I’m not really the type that does small talk or social engagements well. Work made socializing a little easier. So my daughter’s dance class really helps. Making sure I actually talk to baristas at Starbucks (and frequent the same ones) really helps, too.

These ways don’t work for everyone, obviously. But even still, we are all still responsible for getting to know non-Christians. We are called to share the gospel and make disciples. So, friends, who are the unbelievers in your life? How are you intentionally getting to know non-Christians?

Modesty, #ChristianCleavage and me

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Some of you may have noticed the hashtag #ChristianCleavage bopping around Twitter. It was started after an unfortunate “modest is hottest” genre post by a pastor named Jarrid Wilson.1

(I must disclose I participated in some of the jesting as well.)

Now, I’m not going to spend time vilifying Wilson, whom I don’t know and I’m sure is feeling pretty rough right now. But the excerpts on Twitter of his original article reminded me of my own time in youth groups in the 90s.

Clothes don’t make the woman(‘s heart)

I wasn’t a Christian, but had friends who were. I had a great time pretending to be a Christian with them at church, at youth group, and Kingdom Bound™. I sat through some pretty weird youth sermons so we could get to the part where we could sing along to Jars of Clay songs, mostly because I liked the sound of my own voice and wanted everyone else to hear how awesome it was. And riding in the flatbed of a truck to get back to town and smoke illicit cigarettes at Tim Horton’s (yes, I am that old) was pretty awesome, too.

I learned pretty fast that sartorial code-switching was going to be required at some of these kids’ houses. I remember calling a friend to vet my outfit before her mom took us to the mall. My jolly roger shirt was’t going to work for that occasion. No fishnet stockings, either.

But you know what? It didn’t matter what I wore. My heart was still dead. I “got with the program” to chill with the church kids, but it wasn’t because of wanting to glorify God.

Sanctification and ostentatious dress

There are many women who, though they are far from Christ, dress demurely. Meanwhile there are new Christians who are filled to the brim with the Holy Spirit, immensely grateful for the free gift Christ has given them, and excited to share the gospel. But, in some people’s eyes, they might still look like worldly women. Perhaps, then, it would be unwise to use modest or immodest dress as our measure for holiness. It’s not that modesty in dress doesn’t matter (it does), but God works on the things in our hearts he deems most important first. A gunshot wound must be tended to before a sprained ankle, after all.

All Christian ladies are being sanctified at their own pace, as God works in them. And as a new Christian, I had to come to terms with a horrible fact: I am a tremendously vain woman. As I was nearing my wedding, I realized I wasn’t interested in looking good for my fiancé. I was interested in being admired by everyone else! My heart really strained against the idea that I had to let go of trying to impress everyone in a three block radius with my looks. But God, in his mercy, gave me three children and a lifestyle that necessitates wearing sweatpants much of the time. I still love dressing up, and I think that’s normal, but I’m no longer trying to win everyone’s admiration.

It’s helpful to remember that if we see a woman at church whom we think is dressed immodestly, she may be a new Christian. Or she may come from a different culture (there’s a subject to write a whole book on!). Or this may be the form of dress modelled for her. Or she may simply be so well endowed up top that anything lower than a turtleneck shows their #ChristianCleavage.

While ostentatious dress is a concern, we can’t forget that we don’t know what else is going on in a woman’s heart. We don’t know where God is working most profoundly. So before we get tempted to point fingers, we might want to consider where he’s working in ours first.

Take away the foundation and lose everything

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There are certain statements that are trigger warnings for me—at least, when I see them made by a Christian writer, speaker or pastor. References to 1 Corinthians’ famous “everything is permissible” statements (but only because I almost always see them used in the exact opposite way Paul meant them). Nearly any time someone says Jesus doesn’t judge, so we shouldn’t either (again, because, it’s used in almost the opposite way it’s meant in Scripture). And when someone calls the Bible something like a “different kind of center,” or a people group’s collective and growing understanding of God, or some other such thing… oh boy.

When those kinds of statements come up, I usually know where the author or speaker is going, and it’s always to a bad place. Why? Because they’ve lost their footing, having abandoned the foundation of the Bible’s authority: its nature as “God-breathed,” or inspired.

Herman Bavinck understood this all too well, living through the rise of late 19th and early 20th century liberalism. And he knew exactly where it would lead:

There is in fact only one ground on which the authority of Scripture can be based, and that is its inspiration. When that goes, also the authority of Scripture is gone and done with. In that case, it is merely a body of human writings, which as such cannot rightfully assert any claim to be a norm for our faith and conduct. And along with Scripture—for the Protestant—all authority in religion collapses. All subsequent attempts to recover some kind of authority—say, in the person of Christ, in the church, in religious experience, in the intellect or conscience—end in disappointment. They only prove that no religion can exist without authority. Religion is essentially different from science. It has a certainty of its own, not one that is based on insight but one that consists in faith and trust. And this religious faith and trust can rest only in God and in his word. In religion a human witness and human trust is insufficient; here we need a witness from God to which we can abandon ourselves in life and in death. “Our heart is restless until it rests in Thee, O Lord!” (Reformed Dogmatics vol. 1, 463)

This is something we’ve got to get. The arguments we’ve seen re-emerge over the last 20 years or so, the positions put forward by the likes of Brian McLaren, Rob Bell,1 and the like, are little more than the recycling of 19th century (and earlier) arguments by those who’ve attempted to revere the Bible in a sense, while undercutting the foundation of its reverence. We want to treat the Bible as having some sort of limited authority. And yet, unless we take seriously the foundation of its authority—that is, unless we truly embrace its inspired nature in its fullest sense—we’re only going to be disappointed. And worse, if we persist down this road, we’ll be lost in utter darkness.

Links I like

Links

Kindle deals for Christian readers

Today is also $5 Friday at Ligonier, where you’ll find a whole bunch of great resources on sale, including:

  • Heroes of the Christian Faith teaching series by R.C. Sproul (audio download)
  • A Survey of Church History, Part 3: A.D. 1500-1620 teaching series by W. Robert Godfrey (DVD)
  • Mark by R.C. Sproul (ePub and MOBI)
  • Feed My Sheep: A Passionate Plea for Preaching by various authors (ePub and MOBI)
  • The Promises of God by R.C. Sproul (Hardcover)

$5 Friday ends at 11:59:59 tonight.

And finally, be sure to check out this great deal on a new curriculum for middle schoolers at the Westminster Bookstore.

Jesus and Scripture

Andrew Wilson:

Post-evangelicals often present the options as (1) an infallible Bible and an infallible Church, or (2) a correctable Bible and a correctable Church. But if we were to present these options to Jesus or Paul or Moses – or Gregory, Augustine, Aquinas, Calvin, Wesley, Spurgeon and the rest – I suspect they would splutter in astonishment and tell us about option (3): an infallible Bible, and a correctable Church. That, surely, is the way to preserve divine authority and human humility; a word from God that never fails, and people that frequently do.

Today I stopped being afraid of the social media mob

Really appreciated this piece by Matthew Paul Turner.

The Worst Ever (Mis)Quotation Of The Bible?

David Murray, continuing his series reading through Joel Osteen’s Your Best Life Now:

The more we read and study the Bible, the more painful it becomes when we hear a verse quoted out of context and even used to advocate for the exact opposite of the verse in its context.

In reading through Joel Osteen’s book, Your Best Life Now, this pain is fairly constant. But the worst context-ripping and heart-rending example is Osteen’s use of Colossians 3:2 in Part 1: Enlarge Your Vision.

7 ways handwriting can save your brain

This is really interesting (HT: Aaron Earls)

All I really want

Red Rubber Studios did a great job on this new music video for Deni Gauthier:

What to Do When We’re Prayerless

Jon Bloom:

If prayer is the native language of faith and we’re struggling with prayerlessness, then the first thing we need to do is look for a faith problem. There’s a faith breakdown somewhere and until we get that fixed, our problem will remain.

How do we fix this?

 

It’s getting real

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Yesterday was kind of a big deal on this education journey I’ve been on. I completed my registration for my first course at Covenant Seminary, and paid my tuition. My books have been purchased, and are sitting on my coffee table (see the list here). So, next week, I begin studying apologetics and outreach with Jerram Barrs.

I’ve gotta say, I’m incredibly nervous in some ways. I have no idea what it’s going to do to my schedule yet. A healthy work/life/ministry balance is not something I’m terribly familiar with. I’ve got a bit of anxiety about whether or not I’ll actually do well in the class. I’ve not been a student (formally) since 2002…

Making my tuition payment is a big part of what brought up all these jitters.

All of a sudden, it got real, y’know?

But beyond the jitters, I’m still excited. Yes, it’s getting real—but it’s also getting real (if you follow).

But one of the greatest stresses has been the financial side. When I went into this, I didn’t have a clue if I would be able to pay for it. I mean, we’ve definitely got our needs covered (and a number of our wants, too), but no one’s making it rain.1

And this is one of the things I’ve been most thankful for, which is to see how God has provided. He’s done it through regular people—both friends and strangers—giving to my YouCaring.com fundraiser, and well as providing some really cool opportunities that have allowed me to earn a little extra income. And because of that, I was able to pay for the tuition for my first course without incurring any debt.

There’s still a long way to go, obviously—and not just on the finances side—but I am very grateful and encouraged. Being able to start my first course in the black is wonderful gift from the Lord. And however the Lord provides, I’m more confident than ever that it was the right commitment to make. Thanks for helping make this first step possible!


Photo credit: the tartanpodcast via photopin cc

Can we be politically disengaged as Christians?

politics

As a Canadian, I find American politics intriguing. The way Americans engage—regardless of their views—is astonishing, and somewhat refreshing. Every time I see it, I’m reminded of how different not only our governments are1 but also how different we are as people.

By and large, Canadians don’t care about politics the way Americans do, certainly not to the same extent at any rate. So the debate on, say, the most recent State of the Union address, would likely never happen here.

We are, for the most part, a politically apathetic people. And if we’re not careful, for our culturally-induced political apathy can quickly seep into our faith, as well.

But as Christians, this should never be. In fact, we should care deeply about politics.

By this, I don’t mean the old stereotype of marrying the Christian faith and political activism, seeking cultural transformation through legislation, as the Religious Right and Moral Majority have often been accused of. Instead, we need to think about politics Christianly–that is, in light of three realities: the source of government, our identity, and our obligation to society.

1. The source of government: God. God establishes all governments. He is their source, existing only at his good pleasure. They are his instruments, existing for our good, and requiring our prayers (even if their leaders’ values do not align with our own). Their laws are to be obeyed willingly and in good conscience insofar as they are not in conflict with the commands of God (see Romans 13:1-8; Acts 5:29).

2. Our identity: Ambassadors of Christ. In Christ, all Christians are citizens of the kingdom of God. Thus, our primary allegiance does not belong to an earthly nation but to the Lord Jesus. God has also determined the times and places in which we live. As such, we serve as ambassadors for Christ in those nations (2 Corinthians 5:20), with the local church functionally serving as embassies of the kingdom.

3. Our obligation: to point others to Jesus. As Christ’s ambassadors, God has charged us point the lost and perishing to Jesus Christ. We are ministers of reconciliation, through whom God makes his appeal. We are to be salt and light in the world, letting our deeds cause others to give God praise.

Seen in this light, how should we think about political engagement?

I would suggest that it is an extension of our role as Christ’s ambassadors, and of the command to love God and our neighbors (Matthew 22:37-40). Thus, we cannot be “apolitical,” at least not in the way some may wish to be. While we are not all compelled to participate in the political process to the same degree, we all would be wise to participate. But to the degree to which we choose to participate, we have the opportunity to speak truth with conviction and compassion into situations where we might not otherwise.

We can show the lost the values of God’s kingdom in action, provided we stand by our convictions. And even when we “lose” temporally, we can be confident knowing that our loss is only temporary—and in doing so, we get to show that our hope for a better world comes not from politics, but from the promised return of Jesus, when he will usher in his kingdom in its fullness.

So, Christian, what do you think: should we care about politics?

Three ways to avoid futile discussions on Twitter (and create healthy ones)

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It was so tempting to hit the send button.

But I knew if I did, I’d regret it, because it’s nearly impossible to have an intelligent discussion on Twitter.

The other night, I read what I felt was possibly one of the most asinine statements I’ve read on Twitter in at least two or three days.1 I’ll spare you the details because, well, I don’t want to fuel anyone else’s irritation.

When I read the comment, though, I had a lot of things I could have said. And it was really tempting to do so. But I didn’t, because those words would have been wasted.

After all, when you get in a debate on Twitter, no one wins. Opinions are rarely changed. It’s too easy to wind up frustrated.2

But just because you can rarely have a meaningful discussion on Twitter, does it mean that you can’t have one around something said there? On the contrary. There are many profitable discussions to be had when approached in this fashion. So how do you do it?

Here are three ways I recommend:

1. Ask for clarification, publicly or privately. Invite an opportunity to clarify. This isn’t a debate, just saying, “can you explain what you mean by that?” If this is done publicly, and you receive a response, simply say, “thanks,” since meaningful discussion is challenging with 140 characters. Privately sometimes gives you a bit more room for conversation, since, particularly if it is someone you may know from outside the Internet, and can often be far more fruitful.

For example, I had someone contact me in this fashion last week about something I wrote, not in a tweet, but in an article. I wound up writing something that came across extremely negative. The private discussion gave me the opportunity to work through with those who contacted me what I intended by my comments, and re-phrase them in a more helpful fashion. But if this person hadn’t taken the step of contacting me, I’d have been worse off for it.

2. Open up discussion on a more meaningful platform. Maybe write a blog post about it. Invite discussion with the person whose message got your back up. The goal here is to be charitable, so you may want to avoid titles like “37 reasons why so-and-so is a ninny.”

3. Stop following people who say ridiculous things. Make sure you’re using common sense when choosing who to follow. If you’re following people who are consistently making you angry (and not in a convicted way), use the magical unfollow button. It will breathe new life into your Twitter experience, and you’ll be a better person for it.

What about you: how would you recommend avoiding futile discussions on Twitter and creating healthy ones instead?

Never make peace with death

This is among the saddest things I’ve seen in my life:

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Full size version available here: reproductiverights.org

Sixty-one nations—including Australia, Canada, and the United States—have few to no restrictions on abortion.

Sixty-one.

Meaning, simply, nearly 40 percent of the world’s population can have an abortion at any time, for virtually any reason. And it’s most likely paid for by your tax dollars. In fact, Canada, where I live, has no standing abortion law whatsoever, despite several failed attempts to place limits over the last 30 years (here’s a timeline of abortion laws in Canada for those interested).

All but one of the major political parties in this country are staunchly pro-abortion. One of these parties requires all of its members of parliament to vote in line with this stance on any bill being considered, regardless of personal conviction. But its not as though the remaining major party is pro-life; they simply allow party members to vote according to conscience.

Which means, generally speaking, no one is going to rock the boat when it comes to abortion in Canada.

And this is a shame, because ultimately, it means that people are willing to make peace with death for the sake of convenience. And so, tens of thousands of children die every year, conveniently forgotten by all but those who carry the emotional scars.

This should never be said of the church in Canada (or in any nation for that matter). We should never be so willing to capitulate to society that we would treat abortion as a mere political issue, something that is a hindrance to the preaching of the gospel.

This is nothing but damnable cowardice. It is a willingness to make peace with death—and it is this, as John Ensor reminds us, that is actually crippling the effectiveness of our gospel witness.

Abortion’s role in the consciences of [millions] is a boil that festers just under the surface of all Christian endeavors, and it needs lancing. It needs to be called out by name, confessed by name, and brought under a gospel that declares that there is no forgiveness for the shedding of innocent blood except by the shedding of innocent blood, that is, by the blood of Christ. (Innocent Blood, 68)

Three things I’d like to see in the Christian blogosphere in 2015

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Over the last few years, I’ve developed a bit of a tradition: thinking about a few things I’d like to see in this strange corner of the Internet known as the Christian blogosphere each year (here’s a look at the 20122013 and 2014 editions). For me, this is somewhat therapeutic—and not in the “venting about all the things that grind my gears” sense. For me, it’s a chance to look back and consider where bloggers–particularly me—can grow and change as we represent Jesus on the Interwebs.

Here are three things I’d like to see (and am hoping to do) this year:

1. Fewer blind eyes turned to serious issues. This is a strange one for me to include, since I’m not a fan of chasing controversy. But one of the reasons controversies happen in the first place—at least to some degree—is because people are silent. As the curious ethical decisions and/or compromises of many Christian-famous types continue to come to light (see, for example, Christianity Today’s recent piece on buying your way onto bestsellers’ lists), my encouragement would be that we not shut down discussion, ignore or turn a blind eye. Instead, we should actually wrestle with the issues being raised—and talk about them.

 

2. More admonishing with tears. However, even as we do speak up about problems, we must avoid seeming prideful and arrogant in how we address them. Ad hominems should not be known among us. Instead, we should model ourselves after Paul, who wept for those he warned. Where I feel compelled to offer correction or speak up on an issue, I want to do so in a way that makes it clear that I’m doing so out of great concern for those involved.

3. Write like you like writing. If you’re a blogger, I’d hope it’s because you do it for a really good reason… like because you enjoy writing. It’s easy to get overly concerned with figuring out how to drive traffic to your website; but the problem with getting overly concerned about numbers is it’s easy to start caring more about traffic than writing content you care about. (I’m especially talking to myself here.) Don’t worry about finding the perfect formula, or the right combination of times when to tweet a link or update Facebook, or whether or not you’re SEO-ing hard enough. Write something you like. Something that matters to you. Play. Have fun. Write like you like writing, and let the Lord sort out the rest.

That’s what I’m hoping to see in the months ahead—and what I’m going to be trying to do. What about you?

Should you separate the message from its messenger?

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Maybe I’m too cynical for my own good.

I’ve been wrestling with an article written by one of America’s more abrasive mega-church leaders on how the best pastors, like the best athletes, are the ones who aren’t afraid to take a hit. Taken on its own, it’s certainly a fair enough encouragement. But at the same time, whenever I see the name of this person show up on a blog or on Twitter or…  well, anywhere for that matter, it’s rarely in connection with anything godly or virtuous (though perhaps that simply means I’m following the wrong people).

And this brings me to my struggle: should we separate a half-decent encouragement from its author’s ministry? More pointedly, is this even possible—can our content stand alone, or do we need to pay more careful attention to the context from which the message stems?

When I think about pastors embroiled in controversy, I can think of no better example than the apostle Paul. Wherever he went, he was dogged by groups of false teachers determined to subvert his teaching and turn people away from his message. In Corinth, so-called super apostles questioned his ministry and turned the people away from Paul. And being maligned, Paul—though he called himself a fool for doing so—defended himself (2 Corinthians 10-11).

But what was strong about his defence was what he ultimately pointed to. He didn’t simply encourage the Corinthians to look at the fruit of his ministry, though he could have. He didn’t tell them to consider his teaching. He told them to look at how he conducted himself in ministry—his humble disposition and his refraining from taking financial support from them so that it would not be a stumbling block.

You could look at Paul himself—not the results of his work, but the man—and discern whether or not the criticism he faced was valid.

I’ll be honest: I don’t see that with a lot of modern church leaders. There doesn’t seem to be a willingness to open their lives, and to ask people to verify for themselves. To test the messenger, as well as the message. Instead, when controversy comes, it seems most often to be met with claims of unjust criticism.

And this is where the struggle comes in for me. Even when the message is fine taken on its own, how much should the author’s own baggage factor into how we interpret it? I tend to struggle to be able to easily separate the two. When I read warnings of unjust criticism from those whose names only ever come up in the context of controversy, to me, it seems a bit disingenuous.

But should it? Is it fair to wonder what prompted an author’s words, or to potentially second-guess them—or is it a sign that I, as a reader, am simply too cynical?

When a harsh pastor is really a false teacher

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My latest article at Christianity.com:

It’s easy to think of all false teachers as being cut from the same cloth. Rob Bell and Oprah, Joel Osteen and TD Jakes… They’re all the same, right? They all preach a “gospel” of personal fulfillment. Of creating or receiving our best life now. It’s the gospel of us: we are the solution to the problems the world, and it’s up to us to make this world what we want it to be.

While these are all false teachers, certainly, it’s wrong to think that all false teachers are created equal. Not all false teachers are wrong in their doctrine. Some can check all the right boxes, and get all the right answers on the quiz, but they’re just as hopelessly unhelpful as any prosperity teacher:

  • They are harsh with God’s people
  • They put themselves first.
  • They preach a gospel they do not practice.

And they may be the most dangerous of all.

When I look at Paul’s charge to Timothy in 2 Timothy 4, I am floored by the contrast I see between this sort of teacher (and myself a few years ago), and the standard we are called to. We are to preach the Word in all times and all places, no question, but consider what Paul says about how to do this inverse two: “…Reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.”

This means we are to communicate all that Scripture does: we are to instruct in doctrine, to correct error and to encourage God’s people. We need to constantly be bringing people back to the truth of God’s Word, to confront sin and encouraging Christians to follow the Lord faithfully.

Read the whole piece at Christianity.com – When a harsh pastor is really a false teacher

What did you think would happen?

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A year ago, a Seventh Day Adventist pastor, Ryan Bell, announced he would spend 2014 living as an atheist to explore “the limits of theism and the atheism landscape in the United States.” His experiment ended on December 31st, 2014. So what happened?

Well, after a year of living as an atheist, Bell no longer believes that God exists.

“I think the best way I can explain the conclusion I’ve come to — and conclusion is too strong a word for the provisional place I now stand and work from — is that the intellectual and emotional energy it takes to figure out how God fits into everything is far greater than dealing with reality as it presents itself to us,” he told the Huffington Post.

Bell is not the angry disillusioned stereotype you usually see presented in stories of this sort. He comes across as a very sincere, likeable man. He simply believes “the existence of God seems like an extra layer of complexity that isn’t necessary.”

Which, of course, is not surprising in the least.

No doubt many saw the result of this experiment coming the moment it was announced. When I first read of it, this was certainly my reaction (though, not snidely, I hope).

The problem, is, of course, us. And more specifically, it’s our sin nature. Of course living as though God does not exist is going to be easier for us. When we acknowledge God as God, it means acknowledging his authority—which, yes, does make life more complex in some ways.

But so, too, does denying his existence.

An example of the greater complexity of denying God

For example, although, as Bell points out, atheists in general are not amoral people, we should recognize that there is a fluidity to their morality simply by virtue of there being no recognized objective, outside standard from which those morals emerge. We can more easily justify our wrongdoing as mistakes or errors, or point to the end result for our justification (see: “little white lies”). You do what’s right, you do your best to go to bed with a clear conscience, and you do it again the next day.

But here’s the rub: this is actually a far more complicated way to live. Not because going to bed with a clear conscience isn’t a good thing. Not because we shouldn’t be morally praiseworthy people. But, as Paul says, it’s our right deeds that present a problem for us. For when those “who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves” (Romans 2:14, emphasis mine). This is the same law, the same objective standard, he later says condemns us—not because the law is bad, but because it does not save us. Just because it’s easier to not recognize the source of morality doesn’t mean he’s not there, and it doesn’t mean we will escape the consequences of our falling short of it.

The greater concern with denying God

But there’s a greater concern that I have with this whole situation—and it, again, is one that comes as no surprise. As a Christian, as someone has been saved by Jesus, had my sins forgiven through his death on the cross, I cannot fathom the idea of living as though God did not exist. And I understand backsliding, straying, letting your love for the Lord grow cold, all that. It happens to all of us. But this is different. here’s something terrifying about the idea of being to so easily say, “Yep, I’m going to live this way now,” for it means something else entirely. That the Lord you professed to know, you did not know at all.

That, to me, is tragic. Not because I’m naïve enough to think this doesn’t happen all the time—I know far too many people who have either fallen astray for significant periods of time, continue to walk in rebellion, or have outright denied Christ who once claimed to be believers for my liking—but because the conceit of the project seemed to be self-deceptive. One doesn’t simply decide one day to be an atheist; it’s the result of moving along a trajectory toward unbelief. And one doesn’t engage in such a project if he or she is intending to come out the other side a more committed believer. Instead, the results show the experiment for what it was: one man getting comfortable with being able to say, “I don’t believe God exists.”

And it’s tragic because someday he’s going to meet the God he’s just denied.

So what should we do? We should not make callous comments. We should instead pray for God to reveal himself to Bell and people like him. That genuine believers would come into their lives. That they would meet the real Jesus—the one they never knew—so that, when they stand before him someday, it will not be in judgement, but as being welcomed home.


photo credit: Pliketi Plok via photopin cc