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.        

Religion and Rebellion

Posted: December 12, 2010 in Gospel
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Before I became a follower of Jesus I was on the path of rebellion against God. I basically didn’t care what He had to say about my life or this world in general. He was irrelevant. His boundaries seemed stupid. And frankly, the people who claimed to be close to Him really freaked me out. Prior to becoming a Christian I think I was exposed to every real life Ned Flanders this side of Springfield.

Anyway, rebellion, though it seemed attractive at the time, ultimately led to pride and despair. It nearly destroyed me until God led me to the Gospel. The Gospel is where I found forgiveness. The Gospel is where I found life. The Gospel is where I found incredible freedom.

And then at some point I took a detour. And that detour began to lead me to the same result as the path of rebellion…pride and despair. By God’s grace, I currently find myself in spiritual and communal rehab as God leads me in an understanding of what went wrong along the way. And all indications are that might take a while.

That detour, by the way, was religion. In the simplest definition I can provide at this point in my journey, by religion I simply mean trusting in myself to bridge the gap between myself and God. Following Jesus largely became about “trying”…trying to serve more, trying to love more, trying to read more, study more, pray more, etc, etc. My understanding slowly deteriorated to “I know I’m messy, I know I’m “not perfect”, but at least I’m trying.” And somehow, by trying, God was pleased with me. I was doing good things so God would respond with His blessing. Slowly but surely, I was trying to reconcile myself to God again. Rather than trusting in the finished work of Christ’s life, death, and subsequent resurrection, I was trying to bridge that gap on my own. Essentially, I was becoming my own savior…which is exactly where I was prior to knowing Jesus.

It wasn’t always that way and it’s a challenge to discern at what point I started traveling down this path. That’s probably because the progression was slow…had I taken a sharp left away from the good news of Jesus it would have been easier to recognize. Instead I got into the slow lane of my own watered down, works-driven theology and set the cruise control to devastation. Fortunately, by God’s grace, I began to run out of gas before I hit rock bottom. Just as He pulled me out of rebellion, He is now helping me limp out of religion. I’m incredibly grateful that I serve a God that seems unwilling to allow me to suffer needlessly even when by my own foolishness, pride, and a seemingly insatiable gravitation toward that which is “comfortable”, I’m bound and determined to do so. His power, mercy, grace, and patience are mind-boggling.

Rebellion from God always leads to devastation. Perhaps to my eyes that’s easier to recognize…not only because I spent about 23 years on that path, but because I’ve always thought of it as the primary way of rejecting God. Religion, however, can be just as devastating. Maybe more so if sustained long enough. And now that I’ve gotten a taste of both and have had those experiences illuminated by great teaching, I’m beginning to realize more fully just how unique the Gospel truly is. The Gospel is so different. It stands alone. Its better than anything we could have ever imagined on our own. And I feel like it has to be central to everything we do. Or else we’ll forget. We’ll lose our way. And we’ll try to carry a burden we were never meant to try to carry.     

For me, RED sums up religion well in “Death of Me” (even if they didn’t intend to)…    

The Real Deal

Posted: November 21, 2010 in Gospel
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Tropicana, makers of Tropicana “Pure Premium” orange juice, once used the tag line “Nothing added, nothing taken away” to describe the supposed unadulterated state of their product. I guess the intent was to persuade us to believe that we were getting a product that was “100% natural”…the real deal. Nothing needed to be added and nothing needed to be taken away because in its original state, it’s just that good. The problem was it wasn’t true. This particular product was actually highly processed through pasteurization, but since terms such as “100 natural” and “Nothing added, nothing taken away” are unprotected claims (unlike terms such as “USDA Organic” which must meet certain criteria), they were free to claim it as the real deal when it was anything but. The truth is, they had added to it. They had taken away from it. It wasn’t in its original state, yet they were selling it as if it was. And this was not good news for those who placed their trust in what these people were selling.

In November of 2006 I responded to the Gospel, the “Good News” as its translated, that Jesus Christ died for my sins and rose to save me in this life and beyond. Although at the time I didn’t know much about God, I knew what I needed to know at the time: Life (and death) made no sense to me. I had made a mess of my life and my choices had nearly destroyed me. And I knew that up until that point I had basically served as my own god, living by my own guidelines and judging right from wrong based on my own standards. By God’s grace, I knew enough to know that I was separated from Him. And He was passionately pursuing me. Over a short period of time, all of this came together as I heard and read bits and pieces of the Gospel message and it began to take root in my heart. Eventually I responded to the Gospel, was baptized, and my life changed forever.

The “tough guy” that lived to fight, surrendered. The rebel without a cause who hated boundaries, began to see the value in God’s. And the anti-Christian who had previously dismissed Christianity largely because of a few nutjobs, oddballs, and hateful weirdos that claimed to be Christian, was now utterly fascinated with the person and work of Jesus Christ. 

Today, 4 years after becoming a Jesus follower and 2 years after answering God’s call to pastoral ministry, God has led me on a winding road that in some ways has circled back to where it started: The Gospel. The simple yet deeply profound message that changed my life and is, in Tim Keller’s words, the “A-Z of the Christian life”, I now believe should be at the center of our faith and practice as Jesus followers. Sadly, my journey has led me to find that isn’t always the case. What is being “sold” by many as the gospel is either incomplete, watered down, or fraught with unbiblical ideology that is leaving people confused, unloved, unrepentant, prideful, and generally apathetic toward the Christian faith. And for good reason…false gospels leave us without the most foundational truths on which Christianity is based. Without the Biblical Gospel, Christianity is reduced to a vague sense of spirituality and/or an arbitrary list of do’s and dont’s. Christianity is reduced to mere religion…lacking substance, depth, and ultimately leading to either pride or despair. The Gospel on the other hand, nothing added and nothing taken away, changes everything. And there is a broken, hurting, confused world that needs to hear the Good News of what Jesus has done. That there is hope. There is hope for now, and hope eternal.   

Tropicana claimed to be the real deal and it wasn’t. Those who knew better were left thirsting for something more. I believe all of us have a spiritual thirst that can only be quenched by an intimate relationship with God. And foundational to our relationship with God is an understanding of the central message of the Bible…the Gospel.

 “1Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, 2and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain. 3For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, 4that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures.” 1 Cor 15:1-4

To me, that’s a hill worth dying on. And that’s cool with me. Because as Paul points out, to die is gain (Phil 1:21). After all, that’s part of the Good News.