Archive for January, 2011

Progress, not perfection…

Posted: January 24, 2011 in Uncategorized

About 3 months ago God saved my Dad and he became a Christian at 57 years old.  The other day we spent about a half hour reading the Bible together.

Both of these events are miracles that frankly, defy words.

Anyway, on the lighter side, today I get this voicemail from my Dad who was a non-practicing Catholic prior to his conversion:

” Joe. It’s Dad. Hey, something’s bothering me that I need to know about. I know that Catholics use a different Bible than the one Protestants use…I’m not sure what’s different…I should…but you could probably tell me. Anyway, this Bible you got me, is this one of those Martin Luther King Jr. Bibles?  I want to make sure I’m using the right one.”

Part of me wanted to talk church history with him. Part of me wanted to skip it and be there to watch him ask for that translation at the Christian bookstore. I think I need to repent…   

On the nightstand

Posted: January 16, 2011 in Uncategorized

The Prodigal God: Recovering the Heart of the Christian Faith by Tim Keller- I had heard of Keller years ago but only started looking at some of his work recently. I quickly understood why he has gained such respect among evangelicals. He’s amazingly rational yet very pastoral. Not to mention, the dude is Yoda smart, and his insights into Jesus’ parable of the two lost sons has completely changed the way that I view a story that I’ve read and heard preached countless times. Overarchingly, he also shows how much of the Church is missing the heart of the Christian faith (as the sub-title implies). In between the irreligious approach and the religious approach lies the Gospel. Keller does a masterful job of detailing what the three approaches look like and the ramifications there of.

Rescuing Ambition by Dave Harvey- Started this awhile back but wasn’t ambitious enough to finish.

There have been times when I’ve tried to read books that were just not meeting me where I was at only to pick them up later and feel as though I was reading an entirely different book. This one would qualify. As God has recently re-kindled dreams that He placed on my heart, I feel like C.J. Mahaney’s words in the Forward will likely prove true: “years from now, you’ll remember where you were when you first read this book…” 

Doctrine: What Christians Should Believe by Mark Driscoll and Gerry Breshears- Put plainly, no one has been more influential to my walk with Jesus from afar than Driscoll has. God has used him in extraordinary ways.

Of the many things I love and appreciate about Mark is his steadfast commitment to sound doctrine. I’m still early in the book and at over 450 pages there will be a lot to take in. The book is a theological heavyweight but seems to be written in a very readable style.

The Bible by God- Going back to the beginning. To Genesis. Left off at Chapter 13.

God’s Word to us. Amazing…     

                            

Good News vs. good advice

Posted: January 9, 2011 in Gospel
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Over the last few months as I’ve been re-introduced to the Gospel, I’ve come to realize that the implications of this message reach far beyond my ability to digest (let alone articulate…) all of them. So I often find myself “nibbling” on certain aspects and end up equally floored.

The morsel I’m nibbling on right now is the portion of the Gospel that has most eluded me throughout my walk with Jesus. And that is that not only did Jesus die the death I should have died, but He also lived the life I should have lived.

I recently watched a lecture given by Tim Keller in which he described the difference between “news” and “advice”. In the Gospel, we claim to have “good news”. News, as Keller points out, is an account of something that has happened. When we read the news, we read of events that have already occurred. And we receive this news from messengers. Advice on the other hand tells of things that can happen. If you do this, xy&z will occur.

The Gospel is good news. Unfortunately, it’s often presented as good advice. The distinction, though subtle, can mean the difference between a life that overflows with joy and gratitude or one that is full of pride and despair. And perhaps, the security of someone’s soul.

I think back to how I’ve heard the Gospel presented at times throughout my walk with Jesus and it’s easy to see why I and others lost sight of what truly makes Christianity different from every other world religion or philosophy. I often hear people say things such as “Jesus changed my life and He can change yours too. I made a mess of myself and He made me a new person. So just say this simple prayer…”. While in some ways that may be true, it’s not the Gospel. And when that becomes the basis for a person’s belief in Jesus, it’s setting them up for disaster.

Say, hypothetically, said person responds to such advice and “gives their life to Christ”, expecting radical life transformation. The foundation then for their relationship to Jesus is what He can do for them. But maybe it doesn’t happen quite as they were hoping. So they’re confused. Frustrated. And are now faced with basically two options: Try harder, or walk away. The person will try harder to live in such a way that somehow “earns” God’s blessing. If they think they get it, they’ll become prideful and arrogant because in their mind, they must have tried harder than others and received God’s favor as a result. If they don’t, they’ll become exhausted from all of their “trying” and feel that there must be something wrong with them. That God must not love them. And they may just walk away entirely. And the real tragedy lies in the fact that since repentence of sin and trust in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus never took place, neither did conversion. So the end result is either an unsaved person within the church who is arrogant and religious or an unsaved person who is frustrated with God and has walked away from the church.

Contrast this to the “news” of the Gospel and the distinction is startling. In sharing the good news of the Gospel, we share the news that although we have all sinned and are separated from God as a result, God lovingly came into human history as Jesus Christ to do for us what we could never do for ourselves. In doing so, God lived the life we should have lived, died the death we should have died, and conquered death in victory over Satan and hell. God substituted Himself for us, and His work was complete. As Jesus said, “It is finished.” (Jn 19:30) The foundation for our faith is not what Jesus can do for us, but what He’s already done.

That news is amazing. That salvation is a free gift from a loving God who has been pursuing a wayward people since the beginning of time. That we don’t have to do anything but repent and respond to the good news by trusting in the person and work of Jesus.

Now, for me, I’ve understood since I became a Christian that Jesus died for my sins and rose for my salvation. But what I never truly grasped until recently was that in His sinless life, He also lived the life I should have lived. The Christian is not only free from the power of sin and death but also free from having to “get it right with God” by living as if we’re undertaking some kind of salvation maintenance project through our good works. The Gospel offers freedom. Freedom in that there’s nothing we can do to save ourselves or commend ourselves to God, but that He did it all for us. God’s work on our behalf lacks nothing. It is perfectly, lovingly, and totally…complete. Jesus took care of everything.

That is good news. And it’s vastly different from good advice.   

  

“A perpetual factory of idols”

Posted: January 2, 2011 in Theology
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…is how John Calvin describes the depraved human mind. In American culture in particular, it’s interesting how unabashadly we fall in line with this (“American Idol”, “So and so was my idol growing up”, etc.) For me though, idols have often come in much more veiled forms (health and fitness, career advancement, relationships, etc.)

Some of the best advice I ever recieved from a pastor was to never place my identity in anything that changes. His encouragement was to place it where we were designed to…the immutable God.

“8Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” – Heb 13:8

Mark Driscoll on idolatry:

Journey home

Posted: January 1, 2011 in Church
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About 6 months ago I left what had been the only church family I’ve ever known. At the time, the only answer I could provide as to why was that I felt as though God was leading me somewhere else. For some folks, such a reason wasn’t reason at all. After 4 years of building relationships, holding various leadership roles, learning and growing under many gifted pastors, and graduating from this particular movement’s version of seminary, “God is leading me somewhere else” didn’t really seem to cut it. And I get that. As a highly analytical, introverted, internal processor, my decisions often seem abrupt and perhaps even inconsiderate to those who are affected by them. It’s definitely something that I need to be more aware of. There were people who deserved to be better informed of what I felt God was putting on my heart so as not to have the proverbial rug pulled out from underneath them. To be fair, part of my thinking was that I wanted to leave quietly. I had begun to question a lot of things and I felt the best thing for the church was that I say little and walk away until I had the answers I needed. Still, there were probably some things that needed to be said or said differently. By God’s grace, I hope to learn from that.

The months that followed have undoubtedly been the most introspective and doctrinally shaping of my life. Many of the questions I had have been answered (which for me, has only led to more questions, but nevertheless…) and the ones that haven’t been answered are beginning to slowly unwind by the grace of God. I believe what was started in my heart and mind 6 months ago has now altered the course for my entire life in ministry. So yeah, needless to say…kind of a big deal.

That would be the good side. The bad side would be that the last 6 months have also been marked by a sense of “loss”,  periods of confusion, repeated bouts of what appeared to be spiritual warfare, and occasional loneliness. I had never truly been a part of a church so I had never known what it was like to leave one. My summation would simply be this: Christian community is not optional in the life of a Jesus follower. It’s essential. If I didn’t fully get that before, I certainly do now.

And by the grace of God I think I may have found my new home. At least I hope I have. And I also hope that God will continue to bless, protect, guide, and provide for my old home. Although there are things we disagree on, they are and always will be my family. I’d do anything for them and I’m grateful for all they’ve done for me. It’s just best that I move on.

And so the journey continues. While I’ll never tell anyone that following Jesus is easy, I can say that it’s never boring. My path has taken turns that I never would have anticipated. But realistically, many have sacrificed and left behind much more than I have to pursue God’s call. I’m just trying as best I can to be available. Where it leads is ultimately up to Him.

But for now, it seems to have led me home. We’ll see.