Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Waldo Canyon Fire 

We're praying for everyone in Colorado Springs right now, especially evacuees and firefighters.  I see there's a 20% chance of thunderstorms tomorrow- God, be merciful to us poor sinners.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

The Church Must Proclaim the Gospel 

The church of Jesus Christ is tasked with the job of proclaiming the gospel to the world.  Seeker-sensitive churches fundamentally fail this job.  We cannot present an easy, comfortable self-help kind of message to people with the intention of teaching the gospel later in small groups or Bible studies.  The gospel must be preached to the world at the point where the church comes into contact with the world.  The Sunday morning service is the public face of the church, and at that Sunday morning service the church must proclaim the gospel, or it is failing to be the church.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

On Compassion and Amnesty for Illegal Immigrants 

An analogy:

A man has been stealing from his employer for many years.  He has done so successfully and undetected.  He is so successful that his family enjoys a better lifestyle than they otherwise would- they eat better food and go to a better school and have nice cars and vacations.  The man could never afford these things on his normal salary.

One day the man is caught in his embezzling.  The boss says he's going to fire the man.  The man's response is that yes, he's guilty, but it is not compassionate for the boss to fire him or even to prevent him from continuing to embezzle since if he does, his children will suffer.  They will no longer be able to go to a good school or have nice food to eat.  The children will suffer, and they haven't done anything wrong.  Therefore, the only compassionate thing to do is to continue to allow the man to embezzle from his employer, or to give him a raise so that he doesn't need to embezzle any more.

This is the argument which is made in favor of Obama's amnesty for young illegal immigrants.  They came here as children, they didn't choose to do so, and therefore they can't be punished.  The only compassionate thing to do is to give them legal status.

But if we deport these children and minors (up to age 30!), we aren't punishing them.  We aren't taking anything from them that they had a right to in the first place.  When they go back to Mexico, they will have the benefit of a good education in America; they will have fluency in English (probably) that will be a great asset to them.  They have not been harmed.  They're not even being asked to pay back the cost of the benefits they and their families have stolen from the American taxpayer for all these years.  The idea that it is not compassionate to stop someone from stealing from us is just another example of the content-free, emotional thinking that has given us a disintegrating society, a contempt for law and a 16 trillion dollar debt in our country.


The Prosperity Gospel and the Economic Crisis 

In Bad Religion Ross Douthat discusses the effects of the prosperity gospel on American Christianity, and makes some really interesting points.  He says that we have the stereotype of the prosperity gospel being the wealthy pastor with his Lexus and mansions duping poor underclass Christians into believing they can become wealthy if they give him money.  But he says the truth, when you look at their churches, is more the wealthy pastor with his Lexus and mansions salving the guilty consciences of greedy, upwardly mobile upper middle class Christians, telling them that their lives of acquisitiveness is a legitimate pursuit of the Christian.  He also names Larry Burkett as well- not that he is a "prosperity gospel" preacher by any means, but that he makes the pursuit of wealth a legitimate goal for the Christian, while the traditional Christian view has always been that while God may bless us with wealth, which is to be used for His purposes, living a life with the pursuit of wealth as the goal is not a legitimate life for the believer.

Douthat also makes a connection between the prosperity gospel and the economic meltdown.  He says it is a huge oversimplification to say the one caused the other, but that it is interesting how the demographic sectors of our country that suffered the most from the mortgage crisis (black, Hispanic, sunbelt, exurbs) are those areas most likely to believe the prosperity gospel.  He notes how when you read Joel Osteen's book, God's blessings very often come in the form of real estate.  Many of Osteen's anecdotes are about God blessing people with big houses.  He cited a Wall Street Journal article about banks' outreach efforts to churches, telling pastors they would pay referral fees to the church for every new mortgage sold.  Certainly I could see how a belief in the prosperity gospel would make one less likely to look skeptically at a "too good to be true" loan on a house- you would believe that it seems so good because God has worked a miracle in your life, rather than thinking that it seems to good to be true because it is too good to be true.

Labels: , , , ,

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Falling Short of the Glory of God 

"All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God."

What is the glory mentioned here?  Isn't it our natural state to fall short of the glory of God?  Was Adam equal in glory to God?  Are the angels themselves?  Nothing is as glorious as God.

But God made Adam to be like Him, to reflect His glory.  Adam and Eve were indeed glorious, a shining example of God's greatness.  He said, when He made them, that it was "very good."  But of course Adam and Eve sinned against God and fell from that glory.

The glory of God referred to here in Romans 3:23 is not then the glory which God Himself possesses (for everything created falls short of that) but the reflected glory which God gave us.  To sin then is to fall short of that glorious state in which God made us, which God intended for us.  To sin is to fail to be what God has made us.

And so we see sin is extremely pervasive.  Sin defines our very being in our current state.  It's not something we just do some times.  It's what we are.

I've been reading a book about depression called Christians Get Depressed Too by David Murray which is a really good book in a lot of ways.  One thing that bothers me about it, though, is the way that Murray is anxious to show that depression is not always the result of sin.  He says that it can be the result of personal sin but also can be caused by false or wrong thinking or stressful lifestyles.  He also spends time talking about possible physical causes.  I'm no doctor and can't really address the medical side of it at all, which I agree is real.  But why would we say that a lifestyle which causes stress from overwork is not sinful?  Perhaps that work is compelled through slavery.  But most of the time in our modern lives, people fall into a habit of overwork because of wrong habits of thought or values, which are themselves sinful.  False thinking is likewise a sin, regardless of when and how we learned that false thinking, even if we learned it as children on our mother's knee.  Sometimes it seems like Christians believe that for something to be sinful, it must be consciously chosen and able to be resisted.  But sin is "falling short of the glory of God."  Sin is failing to be what God has made us.  Sin is not something we do, it's something we are.

This is why the gospel of Jesus Christ is so important.  It's not just a matter of making better choices.  We need to be transformed.  On the subject of depression, we can recognize that the person did not consciously choose the sinful thought patterns or the particular debilitating reaction to trauma or abuse in their lives, and yet still recognize that it is nonetheless a sinful reaction, as it falls short of the glory of God.  The solution is often much more complex than simply telling the person to stop it.  And yet the solution still lies with Christ, with repentance, with the long-term work of the Spirit in replacing our heart of stone with a heart of flesh (Ezekiel 36:25).  Even those lifetime habits of thought that we learned from our parents or childhood before we even knew we were learning anything, are either true or false, righteous or sinful, and therefore to say simply that something was not a matter of choice, was not something someone had control over when it started, and is therefore not a matter of sin, ignores the nature of the Biblical teaching on what sin really is.

The same thing is true regarding the homosexual debate.  Christians often fall into simplistic language, saying that someone chose to be homosexual.  We know it's a sin, and therefore they must have chosen it at some point.  Yet the reality is much more complex.  Lots of factors, genetic, environmental and social, can go into the development of homosexual tendencies.  As Christians, we can recognize this and have compassion over it, and yet at the same time say that it is a sin, which requires repentance.  Now of course this is not to say that depression and homosexuality are the same kinds of things.  But there is this similarity, that both of them often have very complex roots that the individual usually had little or no control over, and yet both of them "fall short of the glory of God."

To say that something is a sin is not so say that it has an easy quick fix of just "stopping it".  If that were the case, we would not need Christ, or the Spirit.  But we do.  At the same time it is never compassionate to tell people who are stuck in the mire of sin that they have no choice, that they can simply manage the symptoms but that there is no real cure.  There is always a cure, in the blood of Christ and the power of the Spirit.  It's a process, and it takes time, and that process will not be complete until Christ comes again.  But by His grace, all His people will achieve the glory that God intends for us.

Labels: , , , ,

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Don't Feel Sorry for Pastors 

I want to let you in on a little secret- being a pastor can be pretty great.

I read a lot of articles circulating on blogs and Facebook talking about the poor, mistreated pastor, about unrealistic expectations, the challenges of living in a fishbowl, the criticisms, the lack of support, the stress, the relatively low pay compared to other professions with similar educational requirements.  These things can all be true.  Certainly we should all strive to treat our pastors the way the Scriptures tell us to (Heb. 13:17 for example).  But consider the following points:

1.  As a pastor, I am paid money to read the Bible and study theology.  I know a great many good Christians in other professions who would love to have time to study theology more.  I am expected to do it.
2.  I am invited into many of the most intimate aspects of people's lives.  In an age of alienation and loneliness, of breakdown of community, the pastor has the opportunity to share a great many joys and sorrows with other believers.  This is quite a privilege and honor.
3.  The schedule can be challenging, but is usually flexible.  A pastor often sets much of his own schedule.  This can be a pitfall for men who are not self-motivated.  But I do not miss the days of punching a time clock one bit.
4.  I get to be a means God uses to sanctify people. (Ephesians 4:11-12)  What a great blessing and joy this is, to see people grow in the Lord!  And it's not because of my superior wisdom or moral example.  It's because of God's sovereign work through the means He has appointed- the chief of which is the preaching of the Word.  James refers to Christians as having been "brought forth by the word of truth"- that the preaching of the Word causes the "birth" of Christians.  All Christians, not just pastors, are part of the whole process of mutual encouragement and exhortation.  But pastors get to watch this process up close and personal.  Many times I have watched people come to faith, growing in faith, repenting of sin and turning to righteousness, and there are few joys in life that can compare.

So don't feel sorry for me as a pastor.  I chose this life, and I pray to God that I get to do it for a long time.  It's a great privilege.  And of course, while people need to be exhorted to treat their pastors right, plenty of pastors need to be exhorted to treat their congregations right- to lovingly shepherd them, to fight the hard fights that need to be fought, to be diligent in their work.  Sometimes I think pastors slip into self-pity over their particular challenges, and forget all the blessings and privileges they've been given.  The life of a pastor has its challenges, just like the life of a businessman or farmer or doctor does.  But there are also unique blessings, and pastors would do well not to forget that.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

God's sovereign work through His appointed means 

God works sovereignly through means.  This has become such an important idea to me, a crucial piece of the theological puzzle in my own mind.  God controls all things, directs all things, but does so usually not directly and immediately, but through means, and especially the means which He has appointed.  So He sanctifies the believer, but does not normally do so in some immediate mystical fashion.  He works through the preaching of the word, through the sacraments, through prayer.  He works through the exhortations of family members and other believers.  He converts people to faith, but rarely does so through some vision or message in the sky.  He does so through relationships, through sicknesses, through prosperity and poverty.

The idea of God working through means is so important because I believe it helps us steer away from errors on both sides.  On the one hand, some deny the sovereign working of God, and look to the events of this life as determinative.  On the other, some who believe in God's sovereignty lapse into fatalism and seem to think it doesn't matter what anyone does.  Very often Christians would not explicitly express either of those errors, yet it is easy for this thinking to creep in- either that it's all up to us, that our environments or backgrounds or blind chance are what determines what happens in this life; or that it doesn't matter at all what we do one way or another.  So for example one Christian looks at the warnings of Scripture against falling away (Hebrews 6 for example) and lives in terror of losing his salvation; another Christian looks at that same warning and ignores it since he believes that he is elect.

But if we can remember that God is sovereign, then we will know that God certainly is sovereign; God certainly preserves His elect, but that He does so through means.  So the believer will look at those same warning passages and take them to heart, carefully considering those warnings, and will thus reveal himself to be elect.  God has sovereignly preserved this believer in the faith, but has done so through the means of the word of God.

As believers therefore Scripture calls us to have full comfort and confidence in a sovereign God, and to know how that God has elected to work, through the means that He has appointed.  Therefore we will look for God's work through those means and diligently lay hold of them in our lives.  "Work out your own salvation in fear and trembling, for it is God who works both to will and to do for His good pleasure." (Phil. 2:12-13)

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?

Google Analytics Alternative