Sunday, November 3, 2013

Wholly Other

OK, I have taken a month away from pontificating to reflect on where we have come since starting this journey. It has been an interesting month. When you think “sabbatical,” you generally think of a time of peaceful reflection. Well, this month has been anything but that. It has seen our family come under increased attack, especially spiritually. And while that is not a pleasant experience, it is an encouragement. No, I’m not some kind of sick, spiritual masochist. I have just come to understand spiritual warfare better and to expect that increased persecution comes any time you are at a crucial point in doing something significant.

Well, I’ve written a lot on what I view as “wrong” with our theology, especially concerning the gospel. Once again, this is not because people set out to jack-up the gospel. It’s like the proverbial frog in a pot of water. Surely, you have heard this analogy before. (“No, I haven’t, and stop calling me Shirley.” – Airplane flashback moment.) Well, it is said that a frog dropped in boiling water will immediately realize the threat and leap out. However, a frog dropped in tepid water over a flame will happily stay in the pot until he is boiled to death. This is what happens in culture. In a theological sense, we call it syncretism. Syncretism is where the values and methods of the culture infiltrate the theology of the Church. In some cases it takes the form of an over-emphasis of certain aspects of doctrine to the detriment of others and a corruption of the whole. In other cases, it involves an actual change in a doctrine because it has become unpalatable within the contemporary cultural milieu.

The problem we have is that we begin to believe that our faith is our own construct. Right now, the liberals are screaming “YES!” and the conservatives are screaming “NEVER!” But regardless of those leanings, this happens, yes, even in “conservative” churches. Part of the reason is found in our sinful nature; we want to find meaning in life with ourselves at the center rather than God.  The other part is found in the Incarnation. God became God-man in order to advance His plan for the redemption of Creation and, in Him doing so, we found opportunity, not to find our identity in Him, but to define Him and His purposes through us. So there are things that are unreasonable about Him and His plans because they are unreasonable to us.

Europe is nearly a century “ahead” of us in history. If we want to see our future, we should look at the present in Europe. And to understand our present, we can look to their past. Nearly a century ago in the midst of intensive syncretism, the prophetic voice of a theologian named Karl Barth (pronounced “bart”) cried out into the consuming darkness that God is “Wholly Other.” Barth’s perspective (though I wouldn’t agree with all his theology) was one which allowed the paradoxes within the faith to be celebrated rather than rationalized away. He argued that in the rationalization of God, we make Him like us rather than allowing Him to be who He truly is, as different from us as anything can be.

So, as we attempt to move forward from here, we must have as our mindset that His ways are not our ways. He is Wholly Other. He alone has the right to Decree concerning all of Creation, including us. And when the enemy creeps in with his lies and even attacks, he is to be resisted in the Lord. What is at stake? The glory of God in us. If you still want to make it about you, then it’s your eternal soul that is in peril.
Seek the LORD while He may be found; call on Him while He is near. Let the wicked forsake his way and the evil man his thoughts. Let him turn to the LORD, and He will have mercy on him, and to our God, for He will freely pardon. “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the LORD. “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”  Isaiah 55:6-9

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Out of Lo Debar

A couple Sundays ago, I had the privilege and honor of filling the pulpit for a friend and brother in the Lord. Many of you asked for a link to this message, so here it is. I wish it was a video file, but I think I was descriptive enough so you can get the picture in your mind. I'm praying that this message will continue to be used by our Lord. Please take from it what is meant for you and pass it along to others who need to hear. And, once again, thank you for your encouragement and love. s     Out of Lo Debar

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Why It's a Big Deal

So why am I making such a big deal about all of this? “Aren’t you splitting hairs or maybe just emphasizing a part of the Gospel that others don’t?” Fair questions. Let’s look at what we get if we stick with the jacked-up Gospel.

Relativism: If I’m a person who has done “bad things,” the easy out is relativistic thinking. “Well, I do more good than bad so that makes me good so I should get Heaven.” Or, “I do more good than she does so I’m probably OK.” If God isn’t the True King, then this might be right. If He doesn’t have the right and obligation to punish sedition in the Kingdom, then being “mostly good” or “better than most” is good enough, right?

Self-Righteousness: If we are all in a struggle to do what’s right and not what’s wrong, it creates a dynamic where we are constantly comparing our deeds to others.’ We feel justified when we do better than others, especially with “public” sins that can’t be hidden from the community. And we feel failure when we aren’t doing as well as those around us. And, rest assured, they will let you know when you are not living up to their standards for behavior. Have you seen judgmental people in Christ’s Church? I hope you’re honest enough to answer “Yes!” to that question, because the Church is filled with judgmental attitudes and words. If you can’t see it, just ask any non-Christian if he thinks we are judgmental. You won’t like the response, but maybe we need to shut up long enough to listen. And being judgmental is the fruit of self-righteousness.

Bondage: The jacked-up Gospel makes our life all about sin. Discipleship becomes the never-ending battle to overcome our “badness.” Becoming like Christ means becoming sinless since that’s how He was. Because of the judgmental atmosphere in the Church, we hide sin and break fellowship, precisely the opposite of what we are commanded to do. We put on our best face and try to fool everyone into believing we have it all together. Even heading to church on Sunday morning is a nightmare as we make sure our family “looks right” to everyone else. “Can the kids just behave for an hour?!?!” Ultimately, we become obsessed with our sin. We struggle against it, battle it, confess it, hide it, overlook it, deny it…. worship it! We become trapped in our sin, enslaved to it. Our sins become our master.

Self-Centeredness: The Gospel being peddled has “me” at the center. “I have a sin problem, I will spend eternity being uncomfortable, I can’t fix my problem, I need to receive God’s free gift of salvation in Christ, and then I’ll get a SWEET eternity.” And if the Gospel is all about me, then church is all about me and my life is all about me. I had better get what I want and like from church. If things don’t go the way I like, I will punish the church by withholding money or service or leave for another church if it gets really bad. The opportunities at the church have to suit me or I won’t participate. “Don’t you dare change service times, music style, programs, personalities, temperature, carpet color, (and the list goes on and on)!” In life, your money, talent, and time are yours. Your kids are a reflection of your value so they had better be on best behavior so others will know how wonderful you are. And if your marriage isn’t going well, it’s better for both of you and even the kids if you just split up. And the best that Christianity has to offer you is the opportunity to be the best little you that you can be. After all, there’s nothing more important than your happiness.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Jacked-up Gospel = Jacked-up Disciples

I need to take another step back before we try to move forward. We have to understand “sin” before we can understand the Gospel and Discipleship. And this is where the Church, especially here in America, is faltering.

I was listening to a preacher the other day and he was explaining our need for a Savior. He was talking about the “bad things” we do that deserve God’s “righteous wrath.” His presentation went something like this: “God is holy and pure and He can’t tolerate anything or anyone in His presence who isn’t also. And you and I have done bad things. That makes us bad people. Even if you have done a whole bunch of good things, they can’t erase the bad things that you have done so you deserve to be judged and sent to Hell. That’s why you need a Savior!” Is that a Gospel presentation which you have heard before? I have heard it dozens of times. The problem is: That’s just wrong.

Please don’t misunderstand me. There’s some truth in that presentation. God is certainly holy and pure (I would prefer the word “righteous”). But, if God can’t be in the presence of anyone “bad,” then how does He have conversations with folks in the Bible? Think about Moses on Mt. Sinai being told to remove his sandals – but not himself – because the place was holy (Exodus 3:5). None of us would say that Moses the murderer was “pure.” How about Satan standing in God’s presence and challenging Him concerning Job (Job 1:6-12).

And as far as the “good” things we do outweighing the “bad” things, Isaiah 64:6 tells us that “all” our righteous deeds are “filthy rags” before the Lord because we ourselves are unrighteous. Why do I hammer on this point? Because a jacked-up Gospel leads to jacked-up thinking and jacked-up Discipleship.

You see, Jesus is the One we should be looking to for an understanding of the Gospel, not a televangelist or pastor or even Peter and Paul. The Disciples’ understanding of the Gospel and their subsequent communication of it are indeed very important, but the One who knows best is the Person who actually is the Gospel. And Jesus did not come into the world proclaiming the 4 Spiritual Laws. In fact, time and time again, the gospels refer to Him proclaiming the “Gospel of the Kingdom” (Matthew 4:23, 9:35, 24:14; Mark 1:15; Luke 4:43, 8:1). Look at two more examples:

Luke 16:16  “The Law and the Prophets were proclaimed until John. Since that time, the good news of the Kingdom of God is being preached, and everyone is forcing his way into it.” This is Jesus’ synopsis of redemptive history. He says that up to the time of John the Baptizer, the Law and the Prophets were proclaimed. Later in Luke’s Gospel, Jesus would explain to two disciples on the road to Emmaus that the proclamation of the Law and the Prophets was about Him: He said to them, “How foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Did not the Christ have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” And beginning with Moses (the Law) and all the Prophets, He explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning Himself. (Luke 24:25-27)

Acts 8:12  But when they believed Philip as he preached the good news of the Kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women. Notice that Philip is continuing the ministry of Jesus, proclaiming the Gospel of the Kingdom of God and the person of Jesus.

The message of the Bible is not about how God is demanding that we “be good enough,” not for salvation and not for sanctification. The message of the Bible, from beginning to end, is about a Creator God who is actively involved throughout history bringing His Creation under His sovereign rule by means of the work of Himself in the person of Jesus. We don’t have the authority to speak of “good” and “bad” things apart from the reign of the King. There are those who throw themselves at His feet in subjection and those who are in active rebellion against Him. That is what “sin” is, sedition against the King. We do not have the authority to tell Him that, because we were loyal most of the time, He should or must pardon our treasonous activities. The King alone holds the power over life and death. All of Creation is His. There is nothing which exists that doesn’t fall under His authority. But He, in His love and mercy, has offered His grace to those who would receive it and pledge their undying devotion to Him.

More to follow…..

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Mission or Discipleship?

Have you taken the week to think about this question? Which is the Purpose of the Church, Missions or Discipleship? This is a question which, though probably not uttered much, is definitely at the heart of much of the differences in the local churches around you. Some believe that the message of the Gospel of forgiveness of sins is not going out enough, that the world is filled with lost, dying people who will enter an eternity of judgment if the Gospel is not proclaimed to all peoples. Their ministries emphasize local and global missions and their preaching is about Jesus as Glorious Savior. Then there are those who believe that there are too many people who have “received the Gospel” but have remained spiritual babies and have not been discipled in the faith. While they probably support Mission work globally, the emphasis of their ministry is on Bible teaching, through the pulpit and in Sunday School (by whatever name – SS, ABF, Discipleship Classes, Small Groups). Which of these emphases seems right to you? Your opinion is probably based more on your story than on the Word….

For those who have spent any time in the Church, it’s clear that Evangelism and Discipleship are radically different:

Evangelism is all about you being a sinner and deserving God’s punishment for your bad deeds. You can’t save yourself because nothing you could do “right” can erase the stuff you’ve done “wrong.” You need a Savior, and His name is Jesus. You just have to “receive” Him (or “repent and receive”) and you will have forgiveness of sins and will get a SWEET eternity! Is that pretty much what’s familiar to you? Maybe there is a class (Discipleship) on Evangelism where you learn how to “share the Good News” by handing out tracts, or sharing your testimony, or inviting people to church or your home for a Gospel presentation. 

Discipleship is about “becoming like Christ,” which generally is taken to mean becoming sin-free. It’s about listening to solid biblical preaching and teaching that “feeds you meat instead of babies’ milk.” There are classes and Bible studies. Maybe you get into Small Groups and study and discuss the Word in your homes. There are Disciplines that you practice, like Fasting, Tithing, Serving, Prayer, and Giving. And the purpose of all of this (and a laundry list of other things) is to remove sin from your life and to make you holy and pure like Jesus. Fair, if not generous, appraisal of what we have?

Well, if that’s what we have, if that’s the way it’s supposed to be, then there SHOULD be a war waged over which is the purpose of the Church. Without Evangelism, there could be no Discipleship, though lots of churches are trying to do just that, create holiness in people who have never given themselves to Christ. But if Evangelism is as described above, we would never fulfill the Great Commission to “make disciples” since we would only ever make “converts.” This problem is no secret. The seminary I attended made me take a class called “Evangelism and Follow-up,” acknowledging that it’s not enough to get someone to just pray a prayer. We know there has to be something more. “If not, we’d never get enough money to pay our salaries or enough volunteers to staff our programs!”

But what if everything that we have been taught about Evangelism and Discipleship and everything we have experienced in our churches is just a little off (to be generous and not say “wrong”)?

Monday, September 9, 2013

Why Discipleship?

So, let’s just start with the question: Why Discipleship? It seems like an unnecessary question to most in the Church. However, if Discipleship isn’t happening in our churches across America, it’s probably the place we need to start. I make no apologies for starting there. If you start in the wrong place, you are surely going to arrive at the wrong destination. When the Green Bay Packers were on a 10-year losing streak and at the bottom of the league, Vince Lombardi (yeah, the guy the trophy is named after) came in with vision, inspiration, and strategy but quickly determined he’d have to take the players back to the basics for any of that to produce results. He gathered the team, held up a ball, and uttered the now-famous words, “This is a football…” Once they were clear on the fundamentals of the game, then the team was ready for vision, inspiration, and strategy. And the results are part of Hall of Fame history.

The simple answer to our question is: It’s the purpose of the Church! Right now, my Reformed brothers are screaming “Foul!” because the Westminster Confession states that the chief end of man, and by extension the Church, is to glorify God. Point conceded. However, that is dangerously vague; it doesn’t give us marching orders. The Church glorifies God by fulfilling its purpose, to make disciples. And my Purpose Driven brothers are crying out, “But there are 5 purposes.” I honestly wish there was a different word being used. “Purpose” is your reason for existing. While I believe that the PD model is not only valid, but useful for maintaining a holistic, well-rounded, “healthy” church, I also believe that it allows for individual churches and individuals to compartmentalize and re-prioritize.

Why do I say that Discipleship is the purpose of the Church? Because of the Great Commission. Do you know what I’m talking about? Do you know where it is? If you said Matthew 28, you get half credit (because we like to treat Discipleship as though it’s school and there will be an exam at the end – but that is a post for another day). Let’s look at the Great Commission as it appears in Scripture:

Matthew 28:18 -20  Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.  Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” 

Mark 16:15-16  He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation.  Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.”

Luke 24:45-48  Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures.  He told them, “This is what is written: The Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.  You are witnesses of these things.”

John 20:21  Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” (This is one we will come back to….)

Acts 1:8  “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

Maybe you don’t get half credit but 20% credit, since the Great Commission is found five times in Scripture. You see, The Great Commission, Christ’s instructions to the Church concerning what she is to be doing until He returns, is about Discipleship. It is by fulfilling this purpose in the manner in which He commands that the Church glorifies God. And the whole (Church) is the product of the parts (the faithful). This is not something that someone can opt out of or delegate to “professionals.” This is the calling of everyone who has called upon the name of the Lord.

Do I hear moaning? Do I hear complaints that I have made the case with those verses for the mission of the Church being Missions/Evangelism and not Discipleship? That’s the next post….

Monday, September 2, 2013

What Does the LORD Want Expored?

So, after taking such a long break from blogging, the question was: So, what do I start with? It's not that I have nothing on my mind. For any of you who know me, it should be clear that the problem is exactly the opposite. I have TOO MUCH on my mind. A much bigger problem for me is focusing in on a single topic and sticking with it - rather than chasing down rabbit trails.

So, as I was praying about what I should blog, a discipleship partner made a suggestion. The irony in the circumstances is that what he suggested wasn't even on my radar. For the past 5 years, since leaving SoCal and moving to Lanco, I have been obsessed with Ecclesiology, the theology of the Church, what and how she is to be and do. There was and is so much brokenness in this area (I'm sure not just this area), that it consumed me. Why can't the Church be all the Lord wants her to be?

But this brother in the Lord, another abused and wounded saint, pointed me in a new direction. It was during a mini-rant on Discipleship that he politely interrupted me saying, "That may be the third time you have said that same thing to me about Discipleship and I have never heard it before from anyone else. I think you should blog about that!" Honestly, I thought, "But I'm interested in sharing what is wrong with the Church!" Then it began to dawn on me, like a wave washing over me: The reason the Church is so messed up is because it's full of people, including its leaders, who have never been discipled.

I confess that I had been so focused on what is wrong in the Church that I missed all of the clues around me as to the REASON. And when I say "clues" I don't mean items which must be deciphered and which will lead you to the answer. It was the actual answer being plainly repeated to me over and over again. From the church member who said no one was interested in teaching her about Christianity, to the brand new pastor who was bitter because no one in his church had ever discipled him. From the seeker fumbling through her brand-new Bible desperately trying to find John while the teacher droned on unwaveringly about the church's position on Eternal Security to the three-decade Christian who said that he learned more from me in 32 months of Discipleship than in all his previous years combined. The REASON was right there before my eyes and ears all along. Discipleship isn't happening in most churches in the US.

Before you accuse me of being this wounded, jaded man who makes up things to complain about, you need to know that this is the same conclusion that most contemporary surveys of the US Church have come to. The most well-known is the Willow Creek Reveal study. The sad fact is out there from many sources - We are not discipling the folks who call themselves "Christian."

I will endeavor to unpack this problem over the next MANY blog posts. In taking on this challenge, I will start by saying that I don't have all the "right answers." What you will get is my perspective, the perspective of an APE (Apostle, Prophet, Evangelist), informed by Scripture and my observations of and experience with many churches over a decade and a half of ministry. I also have as my guide the Living Spirit of God, Someone with Whom I am in intimate fellowship. And I submit all that I write and say to the communion of the faith, to the True Church, those who have genuine relationship with the Lord, who seek to walk in His ways and to glorify Him in all that they do as they "keep in step with the Spirit" (Gal. 5:25). As a reminder to myself and as an example to you, I insert a section of Anselm's Proslogion in his attempt to prove the existence of God. May it encourage all of us as to what can be if we earnestly seek faithfulness.

I have come to you as a poor man to a rich one, as a poor wretch to a merciful giver. May I not return empty and rejected! And if "I sigh before I eat" (Job 3:4), once I have sighed give me something to eat. Lord, turned in (incurvatus) as I am I can only look down, so raise me up so that I can look up. "My iniquities heaped on my head" cover me over and weigh me down "like a heavy load" (Ps. 37:5). Dig me out and set me free before "the pit" created by them "shuts its jaws over me" (Ps. 67:16). Let me see your light, even if I see it from afar or from the depths. Teach me to seek you, and reveal yourself to this seeker. For I cannot seek you unless you teach me how, nor can I find you unless you show yourself to me. Let me seek you in desiring you, and desire you in seeking you. Let me find you in loving you and love you in finding you.
I acknowledge, Lord, and I give thanks that you have created in me this your image, so that I can remember you, think about you and love you. But it is so worn away by sins, so smudged over by the smoke of sins, that it cannot do what it was created to do unless you renew and reform it. I do not even try, Lord, to rise up to your heights, because my intellect does not measure up to that task; but I do want to understand in some small measure your truth, which my heart believes in and loved. Nor do I seek to understand so that I can believe, but rather I believe so that I can understand. For I believe this too, that "unless I believe I shall not understand" (Isa. 7:9).

Amen & amen...