Idolatry is dumb. Jesus is not

Idolatry-dumb

Though the word is more-or-less out of style, unless you’re counting reality TV shows that are also increasingly going out of style, the practice of idolatry is still going strong. In saying this, of course, I don’t simply mean putting little statues of wood and metal up in our homes and praying to them (though I do—and we have a store in our local mall that sells tons of them!). Human has this unique ability to worship… well, pretty much anything. And everything. Because we do.

I’ve had a lot of idols over the years, mostly of your average garden-variety types: TV, food, money, books… those sorts of things. But the thing I’ve consistently been challenged by, no matter how many years pass, is my tendency to idolize myself. I like to rely on myself, to trust that my smarts and grit are going to get me through pretty much anything. But that’s just dumb. Just like every other form of idolatry is dumb.

No idol can help us. No god of our own imagining can save us or direct us. And yet, we keep pursuing them. Why? Because idolatry is dumb, and we become like what we worship. This is something that Isaiah bitingly (and painfully) illustrates:

The ironsmith takes a cutting tool and works it over the coals. He fashions it with hammers and works it with his strong arm. He becomes hungry, and his strength fails; he drinks no water and is faint. The carpenter stretches a line; he marks it out with a pencil. He shapes it with planes and marks it with a compass. He shapes it into the figure of a man, with the beauty of a man, to dwell in a house. He cuts down cedars, or he chooses a cypress tree or an oak and lets it grow strong among the trees of the forest. He plants a cedar and the rain nourishes it. Then it becomes fuel for a man. He takes a part of it and warms himself; he kindles a fire and bakes bread. Also he makes a god and worships it; he makes it an idol and falls down before it. Half of it he burns in the fire. Over the half he eats meat; he roasts it and is satisfied. Also he warms himself and says, “Aha, I am warm, I have seen the fire!” And the rest of it he makes into a god, his idol, and falls down to it and worships it. He prays to it and says, “Deliver me, for you are my god!” (Isaiah 44:12-17)

I’m not sure God could have made the point any more clearly than he did through Isaiah: Idolatry is an intentional act, a conscious decision to take something that we know has no power and ascribe it supreme worth. We would rather cut down a tree, chop up half of it for firewood, and use the rest to fashion for ourselves a god to worship than to worship the one who created us.

 

But it gets worse: We actually go so far to, as the one described above, to actually go ahead and plant the tree, nurture it, wait patiently while it grows, and then make our idol from it. That’s an extreme example, but it shows the depths of our insistence that we will not worship the one we ought. Worse, because we feel so secure in our wickedness, we think no one sees what we do, especially not God—we say in our hearts, “I am, and there is no one besides me” (Isaiah 47:10).

That isn’t just dumb—it’s ludicrous. And yet we keep doing it.

We keep doing it because we don’t want to turn to the one who has made us. We keep doing it because to do so requires us to end our arrogance and stubborn refusal to admit that we are not “I am”—that we are no, in fact, God. That God is God.

This is one of the reasons why I get so frustrated when I hear people speak flippantly about coming to faith or about making “decisions”. When we are as willfully obtuse as the ironsmith of Isaiah 44, when we take things we know are not God and fashion them into little gods we can control, a call to have your best Friday or to live like no one has a case of the Mondays isn’t going to do it. Promising happiness, health, wealth and motorcycles won’t do it either. Those things just feed the beast—they’re another dumb idol.

Our ridiculousness cannot be overcome by a motivational speech. It takes a miracle. And thankfully God has done that in the sending of his son Jesus, who though we cannot see him now, is no dumb idol. He is walking amongst his people, and living in them through his Spirit. He takes our dumb, hearts and turns them away from our pitiful idols and points them toward himself. He gives life to dead things, and makes us see our idols for what they really are.

That’s something no one else can do. That’s something only Jesus can do.

Idolatry is dumb. Jesus is not.

Don’t ever forget it.

A key point we miss in defending the faith

be-weird

One of the classic texts for apologetics is 1 Peter 3:15, where we read that we should always be “prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you”. Certainly this is true, but we’re missing something kind of important. I was reminded of this afresh as we studied this text together at church on Sunday, and our local missions pastor made an important point:

The primary action in this text is not to make a defense, but to honor Christ in our hearts. Remember, the verse in full reads, “In your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you” (emphasis added).

The heart, as many Christians have been told time and again, does not refer to the physical organ, but the seat of the will, or the central being of the person. It’s what makes you, you. When Peter commanded us to honor Christ in our hearts as holy, he was saying this is something we do with the entirety of our being. Our words, our lives, our all is to be committed to honoring Christ are the foundation of apologetics (and arguably our greatest apologetic).1

This is where I see so many “discernment ministries” go awry. They seek to defend the faith, but with their words tear it down. They often lack gentleness and respect,2 and so fail to honor Christ as holy. And in some cases, their “defense” puts them to shame as in their apparent zeal for the truth, they misrepresent those they are supposedly defending against.

But this is not a problem for “those guys.” It’s a problem for all of us. It is a struggle for every one of us to honor Christ as holy in the every day. When we’re at work, we want to be liked by our co-workers, and not seen as the weird Christian guy or gal. We don’t particularly want to ruffle feathers. We just want to live at peace with everyone in Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood.

Sometimes, though, we’re called to step out and be weird. For example, when Abigail was still in public school, we had to have conversations about yoga with two of her three teachers. The first was her junior kindergarten one, to whom I simply explained that because of religious convictions as Christians, we didn’t believe it was appropriate for Abigail to participate. The teacher (who was great) was totally cool and respectful and agreed. Problem solved. A couple years later in grade one, we had the same conversation with a different teacher. This one was less agreeable, instead saying, “Well, I’ll just call it stretching then.” (Never mind the chanting at the beginning of class about being loved and at peace with everyone.) She wasn’t belligerent; she just didn’t get where we were coming from. And so we seemed a bit weird to her, which is par for the course when it comes to the Christian life.

But no one said the Christian life was easy. The Christian life is one where we’re going to constantly be seen as out of step, on the wrong side of history, backwards, archaic or simply weird. But this is what will happen when we choose to honor Christ above all, even as we choose to be gentle and respectful. Defending the faith starts with living holy lives, pleasing and acceptable to God. It means using our words, correctly. It means living in step with the commands of God. And sometimes it means seeming kind of weird. So onward Christian soldier—go forth and be weird to the glory of God.

Links I like

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Kindle deals for Christian readers

Crossway’s got a few books on marriage on sale this week:

Does the Bible say anything about sleep habits?

David Roach:

Americans aren’t getting enough shut-eye. That’s the conclusion of a recent study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which found that nearly nine million Americans take prescription sleeping pills and such prescriptions have tripled for people between 18 and 24. Of course, occasional sleepless nights are normal for nearly everyone and sometimes insomnia is caused by uncontrollable factors like physical pain or nightmares. But can a lack of sleep indicate a spiritual problem? Does the Bible say anything to guide us in our sleep patterns? You might be surprised to learn that the answer is yes to both questions.

How Do You Define Joy?

John Piper starts a new six-part study series on Philippians:

3 Ways to Grow in Faith

Mike Leake:

Just as in any relationship our communion is often in direct proportion to our faith and love. If I sin against you our relationship is going to be harmed. Likewise, if I feel slighted by you then it will impact the way we relate to one another. How much worse does a human relationship get if one person loses trust in the other one? In the same way—our lively experience of the Lord is often in proportion to our faith.

So how do we grow in our faith?

Creating a New Wrong Way when the Right Way seems to be a Wrong Way

JD Payne offers an interesting perspective on Mark 1:44-45.

How We Became Too Busy For Friends

Pam Lau:

Too many of today’s friendships—both inside and outside of the church—suffer from fragmentation and superficiality. That is, we are too scattered to commit knowing and caring for a person deeply. Instead, we settle for friends who are merely familiar faces for extended small talk. Perhaps it’s because we are afraid of the intimacy or have been burned by bad relationships in the past. Or perhaps it’s because this is the kind of relationship we see modeled and expected in our neighborhoods, schools, and small groups. Dr. Daniel J Siegel, a neuropsychiatrist, advises that little bit of empathy goes a long way. He believes in what he calls mindsight—a new approach to relationships that teaches the skills of reflection, relationships, and resilience.

Links I like

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Kindle deals for Christian readers

Today is Prime Day at Amazon, which purports to have mor deals than even Black Friday—but they are only available for Prime members (which you can try for free here). For example, you can get the Kindle Fire HD 7 for $79 (regularly $139), and a Kindle for$49. Check it out.

In Kindle deals today, What Is Reformed Theology? by R.C. Sproul is on sale for the next few days for $2.99. B&H has also put a number of titles related to walking through a season of grief on sale, including:

Though it’s not on sale, one of the best books I’ve read on this subject is Grieving, Hope and Solace: When a Loved One Dies in Christ by Albert N. Martin.

How Should Christians Comment Online?

Jon Bloom:

Reading people’s comments online is an interesting and sometimes troubling study in human nature. And reading comments by professing Christians on Christian sites (as well as other sites) can be a discouraging study in applied theology.

The immediate, shoot-from-the-hip nature of comments on websites and social media is what can often make them minimally helpful or even destructive. Comments can easily be careless. That’s why we must heed Jesus’s warning: “on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak” (Matthew 12:36). This caution makes commenting serious business to God.

On Those Missing Verses In Your ESV and NIV Bible

Mike Leake:

While one cannot deny the affiliation between Zondervan and Harper Collins, there is not a “crusade geared towards altering the Bible”. I guess I should say, there is not a crusade towards altering the Bible that Crossway’s ESV and the original NIV are part of. So why the missing verses on your app or in your Bible?

Simple. Every one of these “missing verses” were not part of the original manuscripts.

A Whole New World

R.C. Sproul, Jr:

One of the great temptations that comes with the discovery of new worlds, whether they be the Internet or two massive continents, is to believe that new worlds call for new rules, that new worlds demand new ends. Such a temptation, however, is to be fought rather than succumbed to. What must we do in or about this strange new world? Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness.

Eight things church leaders should never say about leadership development

Someday, I hope Eric Geiger writes a book on this stuff. I will give it to every leader I know.

From Liberal Judaism to Faith in Jesus

Bernard N. Howard:

The long weeks of bar mitzvah preparation didn’t give me answers to life’s biggest questions. The thing on my mind at that time was the inevitability of death. It seemed to make everything I was doing pointless. I thought it was strange people put so much effort into their lives despite knowing they would die and then be forgotten. Living life seemed like writing a book using a special kind of ink that quickly faded into nothingness. Why write the book if the ink will soon disappear? Why put so much exertion into living when death makes all that striving utterly meaningless?

The world needs strange Christians, not relevant ones

rolling-stone

One of the things we Christians tend to make fun of ourselves over is our desire be culturally relevant—to be hip, cool and engaging enough to hold the world’s attention. We know, at least to some degree, that it doesn’t work. We’ve seen what happens when people go too far in their attempts to be like the world (think the former megachurch pastor whose message to the world bears no resemblance to biblical Christianity), and we know that when we do try to be with it and hip, we wind up being neither.

Instead, we get stuff like this:

Russell Moore reminds his readers repeatedly throughout his upcoming book, Onward, that Christians should seem strange to the world—because the gospel itself is strange. Think about it: Christians believe that God became a man, a poor carpenter from Nazareth named Jesus who was crucified, rose from the dead and now rules over the entire universe.

When you actually say it out loud, yeah, it’s kind of strange. But that’s the thing about Christianity: either it’s true or we’re all nuts for believing it.

And this also shouldn’t surprise us. After all, as Martyn Lloyd Jones pointed out in Preaching and Preachers, “Our Lord attracted sinners because He was different. They drew near to Him because they felt that there was something different about Him.”

So for us to go about trying to win the world by being basically like the world is “basically wrong not only theologically but even psychologically,” he wrote. “This idea that you are going to win people to the Christian faith by showing them that after all you are remarkably like them, is theologically and psychologically a profound blunder.” (139, 1972 edition)

What Moore and Lloyd-Jones before him encourage us to do is recognize that trying to be relevant is a lost cause. We can never reconcile Christianity to the culture on its own terms. After all, “culture is a rolling stone, and it waits for no band of Christians seeking to imitate it or exegete it” (Onward, 107 [ARC]). Instead, we need to embrace the strangeness of Christianity—remembering that our “distinctive strangeness,” as Moore puts it, is what the world needs.

 

Links I like (weekend edition)

Links

Kindle deals for Christian readers

B&H has a number of books on preaching on sale through July 14th including:

Reformation Heritage’s Reformed Historical-Theological Studies series is also on sale:

Today’s the last day to get these two books by Joe Thorn for $3.99:

And finally, you can get Basic Christianity by John Stott for $3.74.

What about Those Who Have Never Heard of Jesus?

Justin Taylor shares a classic illustration from Francis Schaeffer.

A Word on Social Media Civility

Chris Martin:

Christians, we need to be kind on social media. We need to not get angry and rage-tweet as often as we do especially around controversial issues. We have the truth of the gospel, and we need to communicate like we care about its implications.

But God made me this way…didn’t He?

Marty Duren:

We cannot believe The Fall was bad enough to threaten eternal destinies without believing it thoroughly corrupted temporal realities. Hell is not the only concern. Life is, too.

Christian Summer Blockbusters

This is really funny  (and probably a bit sad because I can imagine someone thinking some of these are good ideas).

Seeking Transcendence in the Summer Blockbuster

Andrew Barber:

For the last century mass entertainment has been marked by attempts to present children’s fare for adults. Comics have transitioned into graphic novels that are taught in college courses, gaming has gone from Pac-Man and Mario to riffs on high literature and explorations of philosophy, the space drama of Buck Rogers has become the pseudo-religion of Star Wars. So we have extended adolescence, packed out Comic-Cons, and the summer blockbuster.

Simultaneously, the Christian world has become increasingly adept at cultural awareness and engagement. There are, of course, incredibly strong and diverse feelings about this trend, but the motivation often seems in the right place: while maintaining orthodoxy, Christians want to create a positive, common space with a culture from which we feel more and more disconnected. And Christians also want to encourage each other to consume beneficial art.

Links I like (weekend edition)

Links

Happy Independence Day, American friends! Hope you enjoy a great day of celebrating, fireworks, delicious food—and get to avoid any weird patriotic services at church this weekend. Speaking of which…

I struggle with patriotic worship services

Marty Duren:

My discomfort with patriotic worship services culminated when visiting a church during vacation. The front of the auditorium was covered by an enormous American flag. Beneath the flag was the opening for the baptistry where the pastor baptized a new believer.

Under the American flag. With no cross in sight, I suppose it was covered by stripes. It was not surreal for me; it was troubling. The imagery was all wrong.

Kindle deals for Christian readers

Just few for you today, starting with A Comedian’s Guide to Theology by Thor Ramsey ($1.99). Thor’s book from Cruciform Press, The Most Encouraging Book on Hell Ever, is well worth considering, too. Also on sale:

And today’s the last day to get these deals from Crossway:

How to Distinguish the Holy Spirit from the Serpent

Sinclair Ferguson:

How do we distinguish the promptings of the Spirit of grace in His guiding and governing of our lives from the delusions of the spirit of the world and of our own sinful heart? This is a hugely important question if we are to be calm and confident that the spirit with whom we are communing really is the Holy Spirit.

Pastor, You Should Share The Pulpit

Steve Rahn:

We are not a large church. We don’t have a staff—just me. It’s not a necessity that they fill in. I’m not out of town or anything. It probably even seems a little strange to some folks that I’m at the service but not preaching.

I love to prepare and preach sermons. Love it. It’s easily my favorite part of pastoral ministry.

And these men are not getting paid to preach (whereas I am) and they have fulltime jobs outside of the church (I don’t). So why have them preach?

The Final Break Between God and Country

Thomas S. Kidd:

So here we are, a week after the gay marriage mandate, and the Fourth of July is upon us. What should we do? One appropriate option—one we have always had—would be to politely ignore the Fourth of July in our families, and our Sunday services. Again, what does 1776 have to do with our worship? Around the world, our Christian brothers and sisters from Nigeria to Nepal will not say anything about the Fourth of July. Why should we?

Evangelism in a Culture of Religions Nones

Jonathan Dodson:

Rehearsing a memorized fact, “Jesus died on the cross for your sins”, isn’t walking in wisdom. Many people don’t know what we mean when we say “Jesus” “sin” or “cross.” While much of America still has cultural memory of these things, they are often misunderstood and confused with “moral teacher” “be good” and “irrelevant suffering.” We have to slow down long enough to explore what they mean, and why they have trouble with these words and concepts. Often they are tied to some kind of pain.

Don’t ask me to do you harm

heart

If I had a nickel for every time I’ve been told, “You can believe whatever you want, as long as you keep it to yourself,” I’d be wealthier than a prosperity preacher after his royalty check arrives.

The notion that your beliefs should only affect you, but the rest of the world should remain unaffected is so common, and yet it’s completely illogical. It’s a contradiction, one where we see the values of one being or group infringe upon the other—all the while telling the group being infringed upon this is what we are not to do.

This is the line that is appearing in an ever increasing number of articles, particularly those dealing with the religious liberty implications of the recent ruling on same-sex marriage in America. Some bring it up as they dissect the words of the majority judiciaries, usually with some handwringing. Others affirm it openly in their commentary, often with arrogant presumption.

Yet, what I consistently fail to see is anyone—particularly from those affirming the statement—acknowledging that what they’re asking for is impossible. And not just for Christians who are commanded by God himself to share their beliefs openly and without apology.

No one can not share their beliefs. Why? Because out of the heart, the mouth speaks. What we care about, what matters most, what is at the root of our affections, is always going to come out in what we say and what we do. Even if we narrow the idea to imposing our beliefs upon another, we run into more or less the same problem. If one were to follow the logic to its conclusion, the result would be anarchy.

Consider parenting: my job as a dad is to do all I can to ensure my kids grow up to be responsible human beings, with a clear understanding of right and wrong, the ability to make decisions and solve problems, and who (Lord willing) worship Jesus as Lord and Savior. But my three year old boy doesn’t have a terribly well defined sense of right and wrong, and he’s very “in the moment”. So he’ll be playing and then decide it’s a great idea to smack one of his sisters. As a dad, my job is to impose my will in order to stop him from continuing in this pattern of behavior.

Am I wrong to do so? Most, I hope, would say no.

But what would happen if I were to say, “Sorry girls, I believe it’s wrong for the boy to smack you, but it’s really best that I keep it to myself”? Would that say that I care about my daughters?

This is the dilemma that Christians feel pretty dramatically, although to be honest, people from a number of different faith backgrounds feel it, too. The Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses who show up at my door with their false gospel and deficient Jesuses. The Muslims who believe that all must submit to Allah. The Bahá’ís’ who believe that they will be the ones to bring about a perfect new world order1

And this is also what we’ve, quite honestly, been terrible at expressing in our concern over religious liberty issues. It’s not simply that American Christians want to see the First Amendment upheld and Canadian Christians want to see the first of our fundamental freedoms upheld simply for the sake of them being upheld. We want to see them upheld because we love the people around us. The consistent Christian recognizes that the logic of keeping our beliefs to ourselves is really a call to do those around us harm. For to know the truth of what awaits us all after death and to say nothing is to be a perpetrator of great evil. And that’s something we simply cannot do. So please don’t ask us to do you harm. Because we won’t do it.


Note: After writing this article, I noticed several friends sharing a terrific comic by Adam Ford, which expresses a similar sentiment, however those similarities are purely coincidental.

How helpful is the Christian confessional?

christian-confessional

He walked across the stage toward the microphone, the room was more crowded than he’d expected. All eyes were fixed on him. He smiled awkwardly and wondered, can I really do this? What will people think? Heart racing and palms sweating, he gathered up his courage and began to speak softly.

“Hi, um, I’m a, uh, a Christian,” he said, “and I have a… a confession to make.”

He cleared his throat, tugged at his collar and continued.

“I want to apologize for the Crusades. And I want to apologize for politics being confused with Christian faith. I apologize for hate crimes being perpetrated in the name of Christ and for slavery. I’m sorry for everything that we’ve ever done that has made life difficult for anyone. But I want you to know something… We’re really not all that bad. I hope you’ll forgive us.”

As he exited the stage, several people came up to him, most of them from his small group, and congratulated him on his effort.

“I don’t know if I would have had the courage to say that,” they told him. “That was so humble of you.”

The young man blushed and thanked them for their kind words.

“I just want to be real, y’know? Authenticity is important to me.”

* * * * *

You’ve probably seen, heard or read something similar to this before: the Christian confessional.

This idea was popularized by Donald Miller in his too-young-to-write-a-memoir memoir, Blue Like Jazz. Miller describes setting up a confession booth on a college campus where he and others would confess the sins of Christendom and ask for forgiveness. In the years since the book’s release, many others have gone and done likewise. These days it’s usually seen in the form of videos of random dudes confessing the institutional sins of Christendom on YouTube.

Now, I’m not against publicly confessing sin, obviously. I’m not even entirely against the idea of the Christian confessional under certain circumstances. But whenever I see it, it’s typically only used to say to our post-Christian culture, “See, we’re not so bad.” And I’ve got to be honest, I wonder if it’s actually beneficial? I mean, I know it’s typically done under the guise of being authentic, and I’m sure those doing it have the best of intentions, but is it really authentic to confess sins you have not committed to people who may not have been sinned against?

Now, certainly there are some (many, even) institutional sins we should ask forgiveness for broadly. For example:

  • We should ask forgiveness for our churches or denominations using the Bible to wrongly treat other people as less than human.
  • We should ask forgiveness for failing to remember that the “but you were washed” of the gospel applies as equally to the gossip and slanderer as it does to the homosexual man or woman.
  • We should ask forgiveness for giving cover to peddlers of God’s word who seek to fleece people instead of feeding God’s sheep.

But these things should always be done from a place of genuine heartfelt repentance. We ask forgiveness because we see genuinely believe they were wrong and we are striving to reconcile with those who have been injured by those actions and beliefs.

Sometimes, though, I wonder if the Christian confessional is just another attempt to have the appearance of godliness without actually having to be godly. It’s like confessing generic issues in a small group—”Gosh, y’know, I’m just really wanting to follow God’s will for my life, but it’s a struggle. Pray for me, if you don’t mind.” Now, there are definitely times when you need to be a little more vague than even you might prefer—especially if you’re in a place where you’re not sure what’s actually wrong, but you’ve just got a sense that something’s off—but it’s easy to use this kind of thing to give you a pass from actually repenting of anything at all.

It’s like saying “mistakes were made,” or “I’m sorry you felt that way,” which is really just having the appearance of contrition without a contrite heart. And the thing that is so deadly is that most of us wouldn’t even be able to recognize that’s what’s going on. But that’s how pride deceives us, isn’t it?

In Luke 18:10-14, Jesus tells the following parable:

“Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’

But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”

The Pharisee thanks God for the righteousness that God has given him; that He has made him not like other men who are “extortioners, unjust, adulterers.” He even points directly to the tax collector and thanks God for not making him like him.

Think about that for a second. The Pharisee slams the tax collector—right to his face. All while he’s thanking God and declaring how he fasts and tithes faithfully. Imagine if the Pharisee, rather than saying, “Thank you that I’m not like this tax collector,” said, “God, thank you for not making me like the Crusaders, the slave traders, and the fundamentalists. I live in a monastic community and only buy products that reduce my carbon footprint.”

Imagine if the Christian confessional went a little more like this, “I want to apologize for every time I’ve put my own desires ahead of those of others. For using my words to cut people down instead of building them up. For using the Bible in a hamfisted manner instead of taking the time to explain what it says with patience. For constantly forgetting that grace is freely given to all who ask, and that I am in dire need of it. And I would ask anyone here who has been personally hurt or offended by me to come and speak with me, so I can ask your forgiveness directly for what I’ve done wrong.”

The Christian confessional has its place, just as asking forgiveness for institutional sins has its place. But what’s more authentic, and what’s more God-glorifying, is to put our own need for God’s mercy on display—and to rejoice in the knowledge that while we are great sinners, we have a great savior in Jesus Christ.


An earlier version of this post first appeared in 2010.

 

Links I like

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Kindle deals for Christian readers

The Easiest Way To Self-Publish

David Murray shares about a new tool he’s using for self-publishing called PressBooks. It looks pretty neat.

Why donations of free media are almost always a bad deal

This was interesting:

When someone gives away free media, it’s possible they’re being truly philanthropic and donating something of value. More likely, though, they’re unloading “garbage” on you — media they haven’t been able to sell because it has little or no value in the marketplace. They’re just going for the tax deduction.

How to Prevent a Gospel-Centered Fizzle Out

Erik Raymond:

We are well into this new and widespread recovery of the centrality of the old gospel. I continue to see and hear of lights being turned on for people. Those precious, robust theological truths of yesterday are gripping hearts today. While I rejoice in this there is also something of a rock in my throwback theological shoes: these truths are being recovered because they were once under-emphasized.

What Are Some Concerns You Have With the Homeschooling Movement?

R.C. Sproul Jr shares five things he believes are a current danger for homeschoolers in America. It’s good stuff.

Four Tips for Dealing with Church Antagonists

Rob Hurtgen:

For some reason it seems every ministry will have antagonists. Those who—for a variety of motivations—set themselves against you as the leader, the ministry strategy, and, in extreme instances the church, itself. Most often—at least it has been my experience—antagonists are not evil people. They are men and women who say they love Jesus and are concerned about the church. However, they become antagonistic when the pastor and other ministry staff do not conduct ministry they way they think it should be done. When decisions that are made that are not decisions they would make. Often their preferences and their issues–theological persuasion, political temperament, worship style, etc.–become elevated as dogma and those who are not full agreement with them are quickly dismissed as spiritually immature and intellectually faulty.

Links I like

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Kindle deals for Christian readers

On Preaching and Public Invitations

Jason Allen:

I once sat through a sermon that began, literally, with the invitation. The entirety of the sermon was given to explaining the forthcoming invitation and to encouraging the listeners to come forward during it. There was no preached word; no gospel presentation to which one should respond. I kept thinking, “Come forward in light of what? Come forward for what?” I didn’t have a seminary degree then, but I had a hunch that merely changing one’s geographic location in a room wouldn’t save.

Christians Need to Stop Cussing

Erik Raymond:

But, I’ve noticed that many Christians are still plagued by a foul mouth. They say things that are offensive to God and to others. I suspect that many don’t even realize it either. Like a new convert who remains fluent in the sailor’s tongue the Christian may not realize what they are saying or its theological impact.

So let me give you a couple of 4 letter words that Christians should mortify with quickness: “luck” and “fate”.

4 Ways to Reach a Child’s Heart

Richard Phillips:

I am constantly amazed at the number of people who assure me that their fathers hardly ever praised them, but constantly criticized and berated. I meet people all the time who tell me that their fathers beat into their heads that they were losers who would never succeed. I can scarcely imagine what that is like. There is only so much a pastor can do to remedy such an upbringing, and the best he can do will include pointing such a person to the effective healing love of our heavenly Father, who can do far more than any man. But as fathers we can ensure that our own children are raised with the rich fertilizer of fatherly affection and esteem.

Just Be Hospitable

Mike Leake:

Hospitality is not a means to grow your church. It is fundamental to a churches identity. It is who you are. If we’ve botched hospitality it is because in some way we have botched the gospel.

Is It Possible To Enjoy What God Has Created Without Feeling Guilty?

Stephen Altrogge:

God could have made us tireless, so that we never needed to rest and could always be doing more for God. But instead he created us to work and rest, and to find pleasure in both. To enjoy watching a football game or movie for the glory of God as our body recuperates.

Sometimes I think we can have this weird, dualistic mentality, where spiritual things are good and physical things are second rate at best. In reality, all of life is an opportunity to enjoy God and find out satisfaction in him, not just our devotional times.

God’s plans are good (even when we don’t like them)

god-plan-good

There’s a verse that’s in every Christian household or office space (and not just because it’s in our Bibles). Maybe it’s on a coffee mug or a t-shirt. Perhaps a poster or a greeting card. Or perhaps it’s featured on a decorative throw or a tattoo. It’s the life verse of virtually every women’s ministry leader and children’s ministry director.

Of course, you know I’m referring to Jeremiah 29:11, and it’s assurance that God knows the plans he has for us, “plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.”

It’s a wonderful encouragement, isn’t it? We look at it and say, “Wow—God has a plan for me!” That plan, of course, is one we assume to be free from any sort of difficultly, strife or conflict. But to paraphrase the oft-quoted line—this verse you keep using; I do not think it means what you think it means.

When we read this verse, we typically do so through the lens of the western desire for prosperity, safety and security. That God’s plan obviously includes a full bank account, a big house and kids who remember to wash their hands after using the toilet. But as much fun as those things might be—especially the last one for the germaphobes out there—this isn’t really what’s promised by God to the Israelites. And make no mistake: this verse offers a promise to them, first and foremost.

Although we all (should) know this, we can’t forget that Jeremiah 29:11 comes as part of a larger conversation between God and the newly exiled Jewish people. After years of rejecting God, of consistently rebelling against him and his commands, Jerusalem and the nation of Judah was finally overtaken by  Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonians, and Jeremiah was there to witness the whole thing. As they sat in Babylon, many so-called prophets came to them with messages promising a swift return to Jerusalem and a restoration of their fortunes.

Surely, God wouldn’t leave the people in exile, away from the promised land, for more than a few months. Maybe a couple of years, tops. But any longer than that, come on…

And yet, of these prophets God said, “Do not let your prophets and your diviners who are among you deceive you, and do not listen to the dreams that they dream, for it is a lie that they are prophesying to you in my name; I did not send them, declares the Lord” (8-9). They were liars, deceivers who preyed on the people’s hopes and dreams. But their promises and prophecies were empty babbling. They were fanciful ideas from their own minds, and nothing more.

Instead of a swift return, God had something else in mind for his wayward people:

Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare. (Jer. 29:5-7)

So, rather than telling them not to unpack their belongings, God says get comfortable: Settle in Babylon. Get jobs. Get married. Have children. Be a blessing to this city, because you’re going to be here for a while. For the rest of your lives, in fact.

And it’s in this context that God says to his people, “For I know the plans I have for you.”

Despite this being primarily a promise to the Israelites, there is a principle that is true for us as well. Though, to be honest, I doubt us Christians feel anymore joyful about it than the Israelites of the day. Sometimes we’re in communities and context where we’d rather not be. It’s difficult to imagine trying to be a faithful Christian in an incredibly harsh context—one where you can be killed simply for your beliefs. And yet, for many, that’s the reality they live with. But God is still good, isn’t he?

Even here in North America, there are certainly times when we might prefer to hunker in the bunker or move somewhere far away from all the people who need Jesus because they really don’t like this Jesus we represent. And yet, it’s to them God has sent us. And he has a plan for us here: it is to serve those in need. To proclaim truth of the gospel. To do all we can to encourage all around us to thrive, and to be “a light to those who are in darkness” (Rom. 2:19b). To seek the wellbeing and welfare of our communities because those who are perishing need to see that Christians really do care for them.

In other words, God’s plan for us right now is to be his ambassadors in a foreign land. And God’s plans are always good (even when we don’t like them). We aren’t to sit on our duffs and just wait until Jesus returns. We are to go about the work he has commanded us. Because that is the plan he has for us—and it is the best future any of us could hope for.


Adapted from an earlier post written in October 2009.

What to expect when we preach the gospel

friends-gospel

In modern times, we tend to look at the world around us and say, if only we were X—whether X is hip, trendy, socially active, or whatever—then we’d win the culture to Christ. We act as though there’s some magic formula to this. That somehow we can make everything go exactly our way if we could just unlock the secret.

Now, imagine having these sorts of aspirations—of winning your people with your powerful and prophetic preaching—and rather than turning to God in repentance, they turn on you with murder in their eyes. That those plotting your demise are not strangers, but your childhood friends.

And not your friends only, but your family: your parents, siblings, cousins, aunts and uncles…

They all want you dead.

What would you do?

Jeremiah, often described as the weeping prophet, didn’t need to imagine this, for it was his experience. He wrote in chapter 11 of his book of their scheming. For he heard them say,”Let us destroy the tree with its fruit, let us cut him off from the land of the living, that his name be remembered no more,” not knowing that “it was against me they devised schemes” (Jeremiah 11:19).

How would you respond to opposition of this degree? Would you flee? Would you be tempted to retract your message? Or would you turn to the Lord to defend your cause as he did, pleading, “But, O LORD of hosts, who judges righteously, who tests the heart and the mind, let me see your vengeance upon them, for to you have I committed my cause”? (Jeremiah 11:20)

While many around the world don’t have to wonder, for it is their daily reality, I hope none of us here in North America will ever have to experience exactly what Jeremiah did. None of us should ever desire persecution of this nature, or actively pursue it. Nevertheless, it’s important to remember as we consider the experiences of Jeremiah, the Apostles, the Reformers, and so many others right up to our own day is that the gospel is offensive. If we preach the truth—if we preach that Jesus Christ, God’s only Son, died for our sins on the cross and rose again on the third day—we are preaching “a stone of stumbling and a rock of offense” (1 Peter 2:8).

The gospel shows us as we truly are—lost, depraved, unable to save ourselves no matter how good and moral we attempt to be. Thus, it confronts us with uncomfortable realities. We know we can never be good enough (even by our own standards, to say nothing of God’s). We know the deeds and thoughts done in private. The gospel shatters our self-image, and so we are left with two options: repent or retaliate.

And that’s the hard thing for so many to get, I fear: generally speaking, we’re not going to win any popularity contests when we’re preaching the gospel in a culture that runs contrary to it. The hard-hearted Israelites to whom Jeremiah preached would not hear him, and in their rebellion sought his death. Today, we’re called bigots for upholding biblical truths and not being able to bless actions that run contrary to them. We’re called intolerant for our exclusive claims. Even when people think we, individually, are very nice, collectively, Christians are personae non gratae.

This is what we should expect when we represent Christ, no matter how well we represent him. Some will be drawn closer, but others—many others, perhaps—will be repelled. That’s what we should expect, because it is what we’re told will happen. So do not lose heart if social action doesn’t win the affections of the lost, or being culturally relevant still results in us being left out in the cold. Give thanks to God and carry on.

They will argue your experience, but share it anyway

share-your-story

A few years ago, a couple friends and I were hanging out with colleagues of ours from the Netherlands. As we enjoyed some chicken wings and soda, one of them asked me, “So how did you get saved?”

I hesitated for a moment, and then told him the short(ish) version: that both my wife and I were attacked by demons, I asked Jesus to save me (which he did), and it all stopped. After what seemed like several minutes of stunned silence, one of my friends said, “And if I didn’t know him, I’d think he was crazy, too.”

This wasn’t the first time that’d happened, either. A couple of years prior to that, back when I used to frequent the message boards of a couple of big name comic book writers, an artist named Alex wanted to hear from people who’d had a conversion experience (he was and is not a believer, to the best of my knowledge). I offered to share what happened, which he was glad to hear about… but then suggested it probably wasn’t actually something supernatural that happened, but sleep paralysis. And then there was the time when… You get the idea, right?

As you can imagine, I have a hard time telling people about how I came to faith. Now, it’s not that I’m ashamed or embarrassed, but because there’s some freaky deaky stuff in there, I’ve come to expect people to back away slowly. And to be honest, it gets a little disheartening when people look at me as though I’ve got two heads and one has spinach in its teeth. And it frustrates me to no end when I see the cavalier attitude with which some charismaniac nitwits brag about such thing because I’ve had experiences that would make them tremble in their biker boots.

Some well-meaning people will tell you that the best tool in your evangelistic arsenal is your testimony—no one can argue it. They can’t tell you that isn’t really what happened… y’know, except for when they do. And make no mistake: they will. But you know what? I still try to tell it, awkwardness and all. Why? Because it’s how God saved me.

The same is true for you. Whether it was a seemingly mundane experience or a terrifying one, how God saved you is how he saved you. You might feel awkward, but you know what? Share it anyway.