Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Bonhoeffer on Reading Scripture

    There is no single pastor or theologian at this point in my life whose writing has influenced me more than that of Dietrich Bonhoeffer (other than the work his mentor, Karl Barth). I've been blessed over the past year or so to read a variety of Bonhoeffer's writings and--most recently--a fantastic biography written by Eric Metaxas, which I highly recommend you read. One of the best things we can do to be encouraged and challenged as followers of Christ is to read about the life of great men and women of faith who, "finished well," and Bonhoeffer is no exception.
     The following quote comes from a letter Bonhoeffer wrote in 1936 to his brother-in-law who did not have a high view of Scripture. I found I resonated with Bonhoeffer's words, and through them discovered a greater desire to experience the truth of God's word in the depths of my soul. My hope is that it would encourage you to engage with Scripture with renewed passion and intensity, and my prayer is that God would use it to create in you a greater hunger to hear His voice.


First of all I will confess quite simply – I believe that the Bible alone is the answer to all our questions, and that we need only to ask repeatedly and a little humbly, in order to receive this answer. One cannot simply read the Bible, like other books. One must be prepared really to enquire of it. Only thus will it reveal itself. Only if we expect from it the ultimate answer, shall we receive it. That is because in the bible God speaks to us. And one cannot simply think about God in one’s own strength, one has to enquire of him. Only if we seek him, will he answer us. Of course it is also possible to read the Bible like any other book, that is to say from the point of view of textual criticism, etc.; there is nothing to be said against that. Only that that is not the method which will reveal to us the heart of the Bible, but only the surface, just as we do not grasp the words of someone we love by taking them to bits, but by simply receiving them, so that for days they go on lingering in our minds, simply because they are the words of a person we love; and just as these words reveal more and more of the person who said them as we go on, like Mary, “pondering them in our heart,” so it will be with the words of the Bible. Only if we will venture to enter into the words of the Bible, as though in them this God were speaking to us who loves us and does not will to leave us alon[e] with our questions, only so shall we learn to rejoice in the Bible...
If it is I who determine where God is to be found, then I shall always find a God who corresponds to me in some way, who is obliging, who is connected with my own nature. But if God determines where he is to be found, then it will be in a place which is not at all congenial to me. This place is the Cross of Christ. And whoever would find him must go to the foot of the Cross, as the Sermon on the Mount commands. This is not according to our nature at all, it is entirely contrary to it. But this is the message of the Bible, not only in the New but also in the Old Testament...  
And I would like to tell you now quite personally: since I have learnt to read the Bible in this way – and this has not been for so very long – it becomes every day more wonderful to me. I read it in the morning and the evening, often during the day as well, and every day I consider a text which I have chosen for the whole week, and try to sink deeply into it, so as really to hear what it is saying. I know that without this I could not live properly any longer.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

The Resolutions of Jonathan Edwards

     Jonathan Edwards (1703 – 1758), was possibly the greatest mind America has ever produced and certainly the greatest of the Puritan theologians. He was well known for his prolific writing and revivalistic preaching, as well as for his passion for God's glory in all things. 

     As you prayerfully consider your New-Year's resolutions this year, I’d highly recommend you spend some time reading Jonathan Edwards’s resolutions. He had written seventy of them before he turned 20, and they are among the most inspiring and convicting of his writings. My prayer is that they would challenge and inspire you to growth in godliness as they have me. Enjoy!


The Resolutions of Jonathan Edwards:

Being sensible that I am unable to do anything without God’s help, I do humbly entreat him by his grace to enable me to keep these Resolutions, so far as they are agreeable to his will, for Christ’s sake.
Remember to read over these Resolutions once a week.

Life Mission

1. Resolved, that I will do whatsoever I think to be most to God’s glory, and my own good, profit and pleasure, in the whole of my duration, without any consideration of the time, whether now, or never so many myriad’s of ages hence. Resolved to do whatever I think to be my duty and most for the good and advantage of mankind in general. Resolved to do this, whatever difficulties I meet with, how many and how great soever.
2. Resolved, to be continually endeavoring to find out some new invention and contrivance to promote the aforementioned things.
3. Resolved, if ever I shall fall and grow dull, so as to neglect to keep any part of these Resolutions, to repent of all I can remember, when I come to myself again.
4. Resolved, never to do any manner of thing, whether in soul or body, less or more, but what tends to the glory of God; nor be, nor suffer it, if I can avoid it.
6. Resolved, to live with all my might, while I do live.
22. Resolved, to endeavor to obtain for myself as much happiness, in the other world, as I possibly can, with all the power; might, vigor, and vehemence, yea violence, I am capable of, or can bring myself to exert, in any way that can be thought of.
62. Resolved, never to do anything but duty; and then according to Eph. 6:6-8, do it willingly and cheerfully as unto the Lord, and not to man; “knowing that whatever good thing any man doth, the same shall he receive of the Lord.” June 25 and July 13, 1723.

Good Works

11. Resolved, when I think of any theorem in divinity to be solved, immediately to do what I can towards solving it, if circumstances don’t hinder.
13. Resolved, to be endeavoring to find out fit objects of charity and liberality.
69. Resolved, always to do that, which I shall wish I had done when I see others do it. Aug. 11, 1723.

Time Management

5. Resolved, never to lose one moment of time; but improve it the most profitable way I possibly can.
7. Resolved, never to do anything, which I should be afraid to do, if it were the last hour of my life.
17. Resolved, that I will live so as I shall wish I had done when I come to die.
18. Resolved, to live so at all times, as I think is best in my devout frames, and when I have clearest notions of things of the gospel, and another world.
19. Resolved, never to do anything, which I should be afraid to do, if I expected it would not be above an hour, before I should hear the last trump.
37. Resolved, to inquire every night, as I am going to bed, wherein I have been negligent, what sin I have committed, and wherein I have denied myself: also at the end of every week, month and year. Dec. 22 and 26, 1722.
40. Resolved, to inquire every night, before I go to bed, whether I have acted in the best way I possibly could, with respect to eating and drinking. Jan. 7, 1723.
41. Resolved, to ask myself at the end of every day, week, month and year, wherein I could possibly in any respect have done better. Jan. 11, 1723.
50.Resolved, I will act so as I think I shall judge would have been best, and most prudent, when I come into the future world. July 5, 1723.
51.Resolved, that I will act so, in every respect, as I think I shall wish I had done, if I should at last be damned. July 8, 1723.
52. I frequently hear persons in old age say how they would live, if they were to live their lives over again: Resolved, that I will live just so as I can think I shall wish I had done, supposing I live to old age. July 8, 1723.
55. Resolved, to endeavor to my utmost to act as I can think I should do, if I had already seen the happiness of heaven, and hell torments. July 8, 1723.
61. Resolved, that I will not give way to that listlessness which I find unbends and relaxes my mind from being fully and fixedly set on religion, whatever excuse I may have for it-that what my listlessness inclines me to do, is best to be done, etc. May 21, and July 13, 1723.

Relationships

14. Resolved, never to do anything out of revenge.
15. Resolved, never to suffer the least motions of anger to irrational beings.
16. Resolved, never to speak evil of anyone, so that it shall tend to his dishonor, more or less, upon no account except for some real good.
31. Resolved, never to say anything at all against anybody, but when it is perfectly agreeable to the highest degree of Christian honor, and of love to mankind, agreeable to the lowest humility, and sense of my own faults and failings, and agreeable to the golden rule; often, when I have said anything against anyone, to bring it to, and try it strictly by the test of this Resolution.
33. Resolved, always to do what I can towards making, maintaining, establishing and preserving peace, when it can be without over-balancing detriment in other respects. Dec. 26, 1722.
34. Resolved, in narration’s never to speak anything but the pure and simple verity.
36. Resolved, never to speak evil of any, except I have some particular good call for it. Dec. 19, 1722.
46. Resolved, never to allow the least measure of any fretting uneasiness at my father or mother. Resolved to suffer no effects of it, so much as in the least alteration of speech, or motion of my eve: and to be especially careful of it, with respect to any of our family.
58. Resolved, not only to refrain from an air of dislike, fretfulness, and anger in conversation, but to exhibit an air of love, cheerfulness and benignity. May 27,and July 13, 1723.
59. Resolved, when I am most conscious of provocations to ill nature and anger, that I will strive most to feel and act good-naturedly; yea, at such times, to manifest good nature, though I think that in other respects it would be disadvantageous, and so as would be imprudent at other times. May 12, July 2,and July 13.
66. Resolved, that I will endeavor always to keep a benign aspect, and air of acting and speaking in all places, and in all companies, except it should so happen that duty requires otherwise.
70. Let there be something of benevolence, in all that I speak.

Suffering

9. Resolved, to think much on all occasions of my own dying, and of the common circumstances which attend death.
10. Resolved, when I feel pain, to think of the pains of martyrdom, and of hell.
67. Resolved, after afflictions, to inquire, what I am the better for them, what good I have got by them, and what I might have got by them.
57. Resolved, when I fear misfortunes and adversities, to examine whether ~ have done my duty, and resolve to do it; and let it be just as providence orders it, I will as far as I can, be concerned about nothing but my duty and my sin. June 9, and July 13, 1723.

Character

8. Resolved, to act, in all respects, both speaking and doing, as if nobody had been so vile as I, and as if I had committed the same sins, or had the same infirmities or failings as others; and that I will let the knowledge of their failings promote nothing but shame in myself, and prove only an occasion of my confessing my own sins and misery to God.
12. Resolved, if I take delight in it as a gratification of pride, or vanity, or on any such account, immediately to throw it by.
21. Resolved, never to do anything, which if I should see in another, I should count a just occasion to despise him for, or to think any way the more meanly of him.
32. Resolved, to be strictly and firmly faithful to my trust, that that in Prov. 20:6, “A faithful man who can find?” may not be partly fulfilled in me.
47. Resolved, to endeavor to my utmost to deny whatever is not most agreeable to a good, and universally sweet and benevolent, quiet, peaceable, contented, easy, compassionate, generous, humble, meek, modest, submissive, obliging, diligent and industrious, charitable, even, patient, moderate, forgiving, sincere temper; and to do at all times what such a temper would lead me to. Examine strictly every week, whether I have done so. Sabbath morning. May 5, 1723.
54. Whenever I hear anything spoken in conversation of any person, if I think it would be praiseworthy in me, Resolved to endeavor to imitate it. July 8, 1723.
63. On the supposition, that there never was to be but one individual in the world, at any one time, who was properly a complete Christian, in all respects of a right stamp, having Christianity always shining in its true luster, and appearing excellent and lovely, from whatever part and under whatever character viewed: Resolved, to act just as I would do, if I strove with all my might to be that one, who should live in my time. Jan. 14 and July 3, 1723.
27. Resolved, never willfully to omit anything, except the omission be for the glory of God; and frequently to examine my omissions.
39. Resolved, never to do anything that I so much question the lawfulness of, as that I intend, at the same time, to consider and examine afterwards, whether it be lawful or no; except I as much question the lawfulness of the omission.
20. Resolved, to maintain the strictest temperance in eating and drinking.

Spiritual Life

Assurance
25. Resolved, to examine carefully, and constantly, what that one thing in me is, which causes me in the least to doubt of the love of God; and to direct all my forces against it.
26. Resolved, to cast away such things, as I find do abate my assurance.
48. Resolved, constantly, with the utmost niceness and diligence, and the strictest scrutiny, to be looking into the state of my soul, that I may know whether I have truly an interest in Christ or no; that when I come to die, I may not have any negligence respecting this to repent of. May 26, 1723.
49. Resolved, that this never shall be, if I can help it.
The Scriptures
28. Resolved, to study the Scriptures so steadily, constantly and frequently, as that I may find, and plainly perceive myself to grow in the knowledge of the same.
Prayer
29. Resolved, never to count that a prayer, nor to let that pass as a prayer, nor that as a petition of a prayer, which is so made, that I cannot hope that God will answer it; nor that as a confession, which I cannot hope God will accept.
64. Resolved, when I find those “groanings which cannot be uttered” (Rom. 8:26), of which the Apostle speaks, and those “breakings of soul for the longing it hath,” of which the Psalmist speaks, Psalm 119:20that I will promote them to the utmost of my power, and that I will not be wear’, of earnestly endeavoring to vent my desires, nor of the repetitions of such earnestness. July 23, and August 10, 1723.
The Lord’s Day
38. Resolved, never to speak anything that is ridiculous, sportive, or matter of laughter on the Lord’s day. Sabbath evening, Dec. 23, 1722.
Vivification of Righteousness
30. Resolved, to strive to my utmost every week to be brought higher in religion, and to a higher exercise of grace, than I was the week before.
42. Resolved, frequently to renew the dedication of myself to God, which was made at my baptism; which I solemnly renewed, when I was received into the communion of the church; and which I have solemnly re-made this twelfth day of January, 1722-23.
43. Resolved, never henceforward, till I die, to act as if I were any way my own, but entirely and altogether God’s, agreeable to what is to be found in Saturday, January 12, 1723.
44- Resolved, that no other end but religion, shall have any influence at all on any of my actions; and that no action shall be, in the least circumstance, any otherwise than the religious end will carry it. Jan.12, 1723.
45. Resolved, never to allow any pleasure or grief, joy or sorrow, nor any affection at all, nor any degree of affection, nor any circumstance relating to it, but what helps religion. Jan. 12-13, 1723.
Mortification of Sin and Self Examination
23. Resolved, frequently to take some deliberate action, which seems most unlikely to be done, for the glory of God, and trace it back to the original intention, designs and ends of it; and if I find it not to be for God’s glory, to repute it as a breach of the 4th Resolution.
24. Resolved, whenever I do any conspicuously evil action, to trace it back, till I come to the original cause; and then both carefully endeavor to do so no more, and to fight and pray with all my might against the original of it.
35. Resolved, whenever I so much question whether I have done my duty, as that my quiet and calm is thereby disturbed, to set it down, and also how the question was resolved. Dec. 18, 1722.
60. Resolved, whenever my feelings begin to appear in the least out of order, when I am conscious of the least uneasiness within, or the least irregularity without, I will then subject myself to the strictest examination. July 4 and 13, 1723.
68. Resolved, to confess frankly to myself all that which I find in myself, either infirmity or sin; and, if it be what concerns religion, also to confess the whole case to God, and implore needed help. July 23 and August 10, 1723.
56. Resolved, never to give over, nor in the least to slacken my fight with my corruptions, however unsuccessful I may be.
Communion with God
53. Resolved, to improve every opportunity, when I am in the best and happiest frame of mind, to cast and venture my soul on the Lord Jesus Christ, to trust and confide in him, and consecrate myself wholly to him; that from this I may have assurance of my safety, knowing that I confide in my Redeemer. July 8, 1723.
65. Resolved, very much to exercise myself in this all my life long, viz. with the greatest openness I am capable of, to declare my ways to God, and lay open my soul to him: all my sins, temptations, difficulties, sorrows, fears, hopes, desires, and every thing, and every circumstance; according to Dr. Manton’s 27th Sermon on Psalm 119. July 26 and Aug. 10, 1723.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Intellectual Virtue - Knowing Why We Believe What We Believe, and Having a Good Reason For It

     I have come to believe that it is crucial for each person to closely examine each of their beliefs, and to understand what they are and why they hold to them. This is why I often stress the importance of theology. One cannot hope to interact well with a God about whom they know nothing, and one certainly cannot present an apologetic for a system of belief which they do not understand and have not fully explored. Furthermore, I would say that to hold a belief without knowing why you believe it, or to accept something simply because it is what you have always been told is sheer folly. One simply cannot accept anything and everything they are told simply on the basis of the source, or because it seems to make sense in the context of their already established belief system. No, our beliefs must find their source in the ultimate pursuit of truth. Christ says, “you shall know the truth and the truth will set you free.” We cannot settle for anything less than the truth. 
     Many of the students at Johnson University where I study are at a point in our lives where we must make our faith our own. It would be easier simply to believe what we have always believed, and it would certainly be more comfortable. But we cannot afford to be comfortable, we are not called to be comfortable. We are called to challenge ourselves, to step out of our comfort zone, to be willing to be outside of our tradition, rejecting what he have always assumed to be correct if it leads us to the truth. Why is truth so important? Because ultimately truth is not some abstract idea, It is a person. God is the embodiment of all truth, and the only way for us to know him who is infinitely higher than we could ever imagine is to pursue truth.
      I greatly admire the way in which Descarte boiled down his belief system to one foundational belief that he knew was absolute, and built his system from there. “I think, therefore I am.” As I boiled down my own system of belief I decided to add to that statement. “I think therefore I am, I am therefore god is.” I say little 'g' god because all I can be sure of based only on the surety of my own existence is that there is something that caused me to be here. Something that made the place that I am in and gave me the capacity to think. Now, through rational deduction and research one can come to the conclusion that 'god' little 'g' is God big 'G,' and that 'God' big 'G' is Yahweh, the Sovereign Lord of the Judeo-Christian tradition. To do this one merely has to follow the train of historical evidence and determine the authority of the Scriptures. That is easily begun through something as simple as watching the prophecy of Scripture fulfilled in history. Once the authority of the Scriptures have been established, the rest is smooth sailing. As Christ says, “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock.” The Scriptures tell us of a perfect Creator God who is synonymous with truth. Therefore, we can build our lives and belief on the Scriptures which we have established as true and reliable through rational deduction established from the simple thought, “I think therefore I am, I am therefore God is.” Obviously this is a greatly simplified argument, but I truly believe that should one approach this proposed line of thought with an open mind, one would come to a similar conclusion.
      The way in which we examine such beliefs, it would seem, is hotly contested. A variety of systems of justification were described in Wood's text. I do not think that the three systems he presents are mutually exclusive. On the contrary, I have come to believe that if we are to be truly intellectually virtuous, we must examine our beliefs in light of each of these systems of justification.
     First we must examine our beliefs to see if there is enough solid evidence based in things we know to be true for us to accept them as verifiable beliefs. When we have gathered the evidence we must ask ourselves, did it come from reliable sources? What was our condition when we gathered it? Were we tired or in an altered state of mind that would affect our clarity of thought? In short, is the source of the evidence (and thus the evidence itself) a reliable basis for justified belief? Finally we must evaluate it in light of our already justified beliefs. Does it fit in with what we have already determined to be truth? And since we are pursuing truth, should we find that ourselves convinced that our new belief is more true than previously held ones, we must revaluate both. This is not a process that can be rushed. Nor is it something that we will ever complete, but that is the beauty of it. Our theological and philosophical systems are always developing. When they cease to do so, we must quickly repent, for we have become unteachable.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Attitude is Everything: Developing a Missional Mindset

     The following is adapted from a sermon I preached at the beginning of the academic year. Never has it been more relevant to my own life, and so I thought I would share with you all, in the hopes that it might help you as it has helped me. While it has specific application to Bible college students (particularly JU students), my hope is that God may use it to speak to you wherever you find yourself today.

Acts 20:22-24


22“And now, compelled by the Spirit, I am going to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there. 23 I only know that in every city the Holy Spirit warns me that prison and hardships are facing me. 24 However, I consider my life worth nothing to me; my only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the good news of God’s grace.”
Charles Haddon Spurgeon, arguably one of the greatest preachers outside of the Bible, once said this: “Every Christian is either a missionary or an imposter.” We are all called to missional living in some context. Wether this means we witness to co-workers, friends and family, or we travel across the world to reach the unreached in a foreign country, or even if we go into our own backyard to extend compassion to the poor and homeless, we cannot claim to follow Christ and yet ignore those who so desperately need him, those who he died to save.
Acts Chapter 2, verses 22 through 24 jumps right into the middle of a story. Paul is on his third missionary journey, going from Miletus to Jerusalem. From Miletus, he sends for the leaders of the Ephesian church. When they arrive, he begins to recount his ministry with them in Ephesus, the telling of which culminates in a tearful farewell, as he is nearly certain that he would not see any of them again this side of heaven.
This passage of Acts 20 gives us some invaluable insight into Paul's mindset as a man on fire for missions. So today I want to take a look at three characteristics of a missional mindset.
  1. The first characteristic of a missional mindset is receptiveness and submission to the Spirit's leading.
Paul says that he is “constrained by the Spirit.” That wordconstrainedis the greek word DeĆ³, which means bound, compelled, put in chains, imprisoned, constrained. This indicates the strength and extent of the compulsion Paul was given. In short, there was no doubt in Paul's mind that he needed to go quickly and directly to Jerusalem, even though the Spirit also made it clear that danger and persecution would await him. In this way, Paul was both receptive and submissiveto the Spirit's direction.
That being said, I cannot stress enough the importance of walking in daily communion with God. Now if you can use your required reading and study as your devotional time more power too you, but the reality is, that doesn't cut it for most of us. So I want to encourage you to be intentional about making time in your crazy schedule to just stop. Get alone with God, go on a walk with him and worship him for who he is, for his glory, for his power, for his sovereignty his love and his mercy. Tell him about your life and your struggles, and then sit in silence with him, and listen for his voice. Only when we have consistent connection with our heavenly Father can we grow spiritually, and only as we seek his direction in our lives will we become receptive to the guidance of his Spirit.
Paul was not only receptive to the Spirit's leading, but he was also submissive to it. This means that when he felt led to go to Jerusalem, he didn't say, “well God, I'm not so sure that's a good idea. I mean, look what happened to your Son when he went to Jerusalem, I might die too! No, God, I think I'll just stay here in Miletus instead.”
Paul could have tried to rationalize his way out, but he chose not to. There was instead a sense of urgency about his going to Jerusalem, and he wasted no time in getting there. Likewise, we should embrace the leading of the Spirit on our lives, trusting that what he has planned for us—difficult, impossible or terrifying as it might seem—will work out for our greatest good and his greatest glory.
  1. The second characteristic of missional mindset is a willingness to face opposition for the cause of Christ.
I think as I said that I might have heard a bit of a sigh of relief. We are in America after all, and on top of that, we're in Bible college. Persecution for what we believe is not something that we're too concerned about. Because of this, It is so easy for us to become complacent and to embrace lukewarm Christianity—which in reality isn't Christianity at all. See, in America, we can blend in. And even more so in Bible college.
But what would happen if we were to step out of our comfort zones, to take the claims of Jesus seriously and challenge the ways of society? People would think we were crazy, backwards even. And were we to persist in having this radical counter-culture attitude, we might even face some persecution. Now again, I know that's hard to picture in this setting; we spend most of our time surrounded by Christian brothers and sisters, so it just doesn't make sense that we would face any opposition here. Christian living isn't against the grain!
I want to take a moment to challenge that idea, because I think its wrong. The more time I spend in the dorms talking with the guys, and the more I see the way people talk and act at events like sports games, or even while just hanging out in the lounge, the more I have to question that idea that Christian living isn't necessarily against the grain.
Now I want to be clear, I'm aware that I'm making a pretty broad generalization here, and I know that there are many godly young men and women on this campus who are passionate about living to make much of Jesus. Even so, I think, that even in this environment, if we where to truly live out the Christian walkin every aspect of our lives, we just might face some opposition.
Notice that I put a bit of emphasis on “every aspect of our lives” in that last statement. I did that for a reason. Its easy to give Jesus part of our lives, but that's not enough; he wants allof us.Let's lay a foundation for what following Christ in every aspect of our lives means.
Jesus is our example, and we are called to follow that example as closely as possible, Amen? Jesus says in John 8:29, “I always do what pleases [the Father].” So let me ask you, can you make such a claim? If Christ is the standard that we are to strive for, how can we settle for anything less? And please, don't say, “well Connor that's just too radical, the Bible doesn't mean that.” Well it really does, and I say this because I love you: you need to come to terms with that fact, and decide what to do with it.
So do the topics of your conversations please the Father? What about the way in which you discuss theological concepts or perspectives, is there any arrogance or divisiveness there? Let me be the first to admit that I'm certainly guilty of that. How about the words you use? For example, the last time you called someone gay, or a douche-bag, do you really think that pleases the Father? What about your relationships with your peers, or your relationships with the opposite sex? Are you striving to please God and pursue holiness in every aspect of your life, or are you holding something back?
  1. The third characteristic of a missional mindset is a single-minded focus on the furthering of God's kingdom.
I think it is clear from the way that Paul writes, and from the lifestyle he lived, that there was nothing more important to him than the mission he had been given by God. That's why he is willing to lay everything on the line, even his very life. “Iconsider my life worth nothingto me,” he says, “my only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the good news of God’s grace.”
In Paul's life, God came first. The primary goal of his life was his calling: the spread of Gospel to the unreached peoples of the earth. Likewise, we are called to give God first priority in all things, and get this: anything less would be a form of idolatry. It only makes sense, then, that if we claim to follow Jesus, we need to be willing to give up anything and everything that we find ourselves putting in front of God.
That's hard for us in America, isn't it. Because like it or not, we are very rich. Yes, even us broke college students. I'm convinced that the rest of the world laughs hysterically at us when we complain about money. And like the rich young ruler in Matthew's gospel, we often shy away from following Jesus because we are too attached to something else. The bottom line is this: we cannot serve two masters, as Jesus tells us in Matthew 6:24. We must choose wether we will serve him, or ultimately, ourselves.
I think this goes beyond just attachment to material possessions as well; in Luke 14:26 Jesus says, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple.” Friends, if we wish to be Jesus's disciples and receive the benefits thereof, we must first be willing to make sure absolutely nothing, comes before God and his purpose for our lives.
Maybe there is a call on your life that you are trying to ignore because it would mean giving up something you prize. Perhaps you're called as a missionary to a foreign country, but you are in a relationship with someone who just is not called in that way. Are you willing to give that relationship up for the kingdom of God?
Maybe you are feeling led to get involved in something like a local homeless ministry, but if you're being honest homeless people scare you to death, and you really just aren't comfortable ministering to them. Would you be willing to lay aside your anxiety, step out of comfort zone and follow God's leading?
Perhaps for you today there is a pattern of habitual sin in your life that you can't seem to shake. And maybe that's gluttony, or little white-lies, or an addiction to porn, maybe you're a closet klepto—I don't know what it is for you. But are you willing to bring that into the light, confess, and get accountability and the help you need to break free?
What is it that is holding you back from a single-minded focus on God's mission for your life?
Conclusion:
Three seemingly simple characteristics that are so difficult to put into practice in day-to-day living. In order to develop a missional mindset we must be receptive and submissive to God's leading, we must be willing and prepared to face opposition for the cause of Christ, and we must have a single-minded focus on God's mission for our lives, putting his purpose above all else.
Just take a moment at think about what the world would look like if each and every one of us in this room lived that out. Think about the lives that could be impacted and the souls that could be saved.
But Its easy to talk big, isn't it. It's easy to dream big for the kingdom. But when it comes down to it, many of us just aren't willing to take the steps necessary to make that dream a reality. And so we make excuses for why we aren't being intentional about reaching people for Christ.
W.E. Sangster, a former president of the Methodist Conference and a powerful speaker and evangelist said this, and I'll close with this thought: “How shall I feel at the judgment, if multitudes of missed opportunities pass before me in full review, and all my excuses prove to be disguises of my cowardice and pride.”
Friends, let us not allow fear of our inadequacy, or cultural norms, or desire for the affection of our peers overcome the still, small voice of the Lord Jesus telling us to go, make disciples.



Monday, April 9, 2012

A Theological Reflection on Manhood and Marriage from an Unmarried Christian Guy

      Let me preface this by saying that I do not yet consider myself a man, but I want to be one. Nor am I a husband or father, but I hope to be some day. What I do know is this: I've only got one chance to do this right, and I want to start preparing right now, because the ideas and attitudes we cultivate while we are single will carry over into our marriages. With that said, take as you will the thoughts and passions that have emerged from my quest for manhood as I strive to figure out what that looks like and what God says about it.
     To be a man is at its core to repent, take up our cross and follow Jesus. After all, Jesus was the perfect man. The problem is that our society has confused us so much in terms of what it means to be a man. It doesn't help that the media tends to portray men as bumbling fools, drunks, or hopelessly violent womanizers. As a result, we have a world--and a church--full of adolescents who are too scared or too selfish to grow up. I don't want to be that guy, I've seen too many families torn apart and sisters in Christ hurt by manhood gone wrong. Fortunately, in a world that is so confused, scripture paints a relatively clear picture of what manhood is meant to be. Unfortunately our culture tells us this is outdated and irrelevant. However, what our culture considers to be relevant and ideal clearly isn't working, so lets take a look at the "outdated and irrelevant" word of a holy and sovereign God, and perhaps we shall see how it is just as relevant and perhaps more urgent now than ever.
     "Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands. Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies" (Ephesians 5:22-28). 
    The language used in this passage is covenant language, similar to what we read throughout the Hebrew Scriptures as well as the New Testament, particularly in Pauline literature. 1 Corinthians Chapter 15 gives us a glimpse of this. Paul writes, “As in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive” (1 Corinthians 15:22).
     Adam was the head of the first covenant between God and mankind, as the representative thereof, he sinned and broke the covenant with God. As such, all of humanity must now pay the penalty of sin. Humanity is now subject to death, the natural result of their disobedience (Genesis 2:17). This is both physical—physical death was not part of the original creation—and spiritual. In Ephesians Chapter 2 Paul writes, “And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest” (Ephesians 2:1-4).
     Similarly, Christ is the head of the New Covenant, as the representative of all humanity he lived in perfect obedience to the Father, the life we could not live, dead as we were in our sins. And he died the perfect sacrifice, being fully human and thus paying our penalty and being fully God and thus fulfilling the necessity of perfect righteousness, in doing so redeeming all creation back to himself. As Paul continues in Ephesians 2:5, “But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved).”
     Just as Christ was held responsible for the sin of humanity as covenant head, so the man is held responsible for the well-being and spiritual health of his family. This means he is responsible for providing for the physical, emotional and spiritual needs of his wife and children. It also means that when he stands before God on the day of judgement he will be held accountable not only for his own deeds but for the holistic well-being of his family. If his children went wild and he failed to give them godly counsel and do all he could to restore them to Christ, he will be held responsible for their apostasy. If his wife is dying spiritually, not growing in community and in grace, he will be held responsible for not doing all he can to lead her into a closer walk with God.
     Men, we are given a high calling and great responsibility. If we are not ready for this, who are we to even look at a woman as a potential relationship? If we are married or in a relationship, we must ask ourselves how well we are fulfilling this calling. These are god's daughters, sacred and beloved. Not only is their Father absolutely holy, all-powerful and sovereign, but he is all knowing. Every thought, every action, every intention of our hearts is an open book to him. We would do well to be afraid! This is not something we can take lightly. 

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Why "Evangelism" Is a Horrible Idea

     Last night I went out to hang with some homeless friends under a bridge, and I witnessed something that broke my heart: A couple hundred of "the least of these" standing hungry and broken beneath a bridge, waiting for a bite to eat that they might no longer be hungry, or a cup of water to drink that they might no longer thirst. Only a few feet away were tables covered with good food, clean water and intact clothing, and it would seem for a moment as if all their needs were about to be met. Until the guy praying for the meal breaks off his prayer to start preaching.
     Don't get me wrong, I'm not against preaching... I'm a preacher. I believe in the power of words to bring home the timeless truths of God. Jesus himself preached, as did Peter and Paul. I did however, have a problem with this. As the multitudes stood waiting, helpless to leave unless they wanted to go yet another day without a meal, he yelled at the top of his lungs, shouting about hell and condemnation and telling these people how absolutely terrible they were. Every now and again a verse of scripture was interspersed through the clamor, but when it was heard I wept, for the words of Christ were horribly misrepresented as they emanated from this man's mouth. It was clear to me and those who I was with that the only thing this "gospel" was doing was hardening these peoples hearts.
     Think with me for a moment, how did Jesus do ministry? He sat down and ate with sinners, he developed genuine relationships with people and loved on them. To the "religious" folk who wanted to condemn he spoke harshly, but to the lost and the broken he showed love. This is what we must do! We must meet people where they are at and love them unconditionally. Jesus did not tell us to, "love your neighbor until he converts and stop loving him if he doesn't," but to "love your neighbor as yourself" and to "love one another as I have loved you."
     What would it look like for us to love unconditionally? To reach out and to treat those whom society has marginalized like a human being? That's all they want! Imagine what it would be like to go through life being judged constantly people assuming that you got to be where you are at because of drugs, alcohol or laziness; people treating you as if you where somehow inferior--sub-human because of the circumstances you have fallen upon.
     Or even imagine for a moment that you find yourself without a job, without a home and without a friend because of bad choices you have made. And now, no one will even look you in the eye! Imagine for a moment the brokenness, imagine the despair. Now imagine for a moment that someone looks you in the eye and says, "good morning friend, is there anything I can do for you? Can I get you food or water? Perhaps some clean clothes? Is there some way I could be praying for you today?" What if someone were to ask your name... a name that had become unfamiliar to your own lips from neglect, because no one cared to ask. What if you were treated like an actual person bearing the Imago Dei and dearly loved by your Creator?
     Would not this give you hope? And if this were to happen consistently, wouldn't you wonder, "what makes this person so different? Why do they care so much about me? They say they're 'just a group of folks trying to follow Jesus, and he told us to love people so that's what we're doing...' What if there's something to this Jesus person?"
     Friends, preaching's all well and good, but its not going to validate itself! You can talk and talk until you're blue in the face but if there is nothing to lend credence to your words other than the words themselves, then the words won't have a whole lot of impact. It is a changed life that will bear witness to the truth of your words, a life changed by Jesus and inspired to follow in his footsteps by loving people without limits or conditions.
     And what if they don't respond to your kindness with anything more than a smile and a thank you? We keep loving them! The love of God is not conditional on conversion, and ours shouldn't be either. We're called to feed the hungry, even when they are our enemies (Romans 12:20) and to clothe the naked (Matthew 25:35). For Jesus said, "Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me" (Matthew 25:40 ).
     So do I think we should even preach to the poor and marginalized when we go to serve them? Well, in the traditional evangelistic sense? No. I believe our lives of love and service are to be our witness and these things will speak far louder than our words ever could. The church has gotten a bad rap, we're hypocritical don't you know? And we judge and condemn. We don't actually care for those who we preach Christ to, we just want them to convert, be baptized and go home.
     The truth is, if people believe that about us they will want nothing to do with what we have to say or the Jesus we represent. We must first prove in a very real and tangible way that we genuinely love those who we profess to, and that we care for them holistically. Don't mistake me here, the key word is genuinely. This isn't some new-fangled evangelism scheme to make converts. Listen: In order to convince people you genuinely love them... we need to genuinely love them! We're not pretending to love people so that they'll believe us and repent, I can't say it enough--Love is not conditional upon repentance! We're to be about genuinely loving people because that's what Jesus was about. Does genuine love mean that eventually we address spiritual needs? Yes. But we do that from a place of friendship, not detached sunday-school street-evangelism.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

God's Wrath as an Expression of His Love

     An interesting quote from Pacifist theologian Miroslav Volf in regards to the nature of God's character and how his anger does not contradict or work against his love, but is rather and expression of it.

      "I used to think that wrath (anger) was unworthy of God. Isn’t God love? Shouldn’t divine love be beyond wrath? God is love, and God loves every person and every creature. That’s exactly why God is wrathful against some of them. My last resistance to the idea of God’s wrath was a casualty of the war in former Yugoslavia, the region from which I come. According to some estimates, 200,000 people were killed and over 3,000,000 were displaced. My villages and cities were destroyed, my people shelled day in and day out, some of them brutalized beyond imagination, and I could not imagine God not being angry. Or think of Rwanda in the last decade of the past century, where 800,000 people were hacked to death in one hundred days! How did God react to the carnage? By doting on the perpetrators in a grandparently fashion? By refusing to condemn the bloodbath but instead affirming the perpetrators basic goodness? Wasn’t God fiercely angry with them? Though I used to complain about the indecency of the idea of God’s wrath, I came to think that I would have to rebel against a God who wasn’t wrathful at the sight of the world’s evil. God isn’t wrathful in spite of being love. God is wrathful because God is love."