Monday, August 31, 2015

The demise of hope haters

Each time a "faith-based" movie makes money in Hollywood the critics ask, "How is this possible?" Why do these feel-good, happy-ending, God-saturated films sell so well? (think of the recent big weekend for "The War Room," a movie that I won't get to until it hits DVD.)

Well, maybe we should be asking why happy-ending literature still sells so well. Why do people still gobble up Dickens, the Bronte sisters, Jane Austen, and George MacDonald--writers who have no problem showing the underbelly of humanity, but seem to find joy and redemption in the end?

The answers are myriad, but let me offer one: hope. These authors (and their like-minded film-making contemporaries) believe that hope is a real, living, vibrant force for the human soul.

A movie that ends hopeless or a story that ends in disaster might be honest, but rarely compelling. The characters might stun, the plot marvel, and the climax startle, but if the conclusion ends without a way forward, a way out, or a way beyond, then darkness wins. And there's something in the soul that says darkness will not and must not win. We know that evil cannot have the last word (something modern horror writers have figured out as well). The monsters must be destroyed, the enemies pushed back, despair dissipated.

Walker Percy once said the best books don't lie. (By the way, Percy was able to lace hope in his books that teemed with apparent hopelessness and absurdity. The hope lay in the worldviews and viewpoints not believed by the central characters.)

Books and movies without hope lie. They ignore a universe that was created by One able and willing to come and redeem it.

Hope sells. Hope saves.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Redeeming sexual sin...

In chapter 3 of Rosaria Champagne Butterfield's fantastic book, The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert (a free audio book download is still available for a few more days), she recounts an incident when she spoke before a college audience about sexual sin.

With candor, she told people to not think that heterosexual marriage is the answer for redeeming sexual sin.

Heterosexual marriage doesn't redeem decades of fornication.

Heterosexual marriage doesn't redeem a sinful pornography addiction.

Heterosexual marriage doesn't redeem homosexual trysts.

As one who has sinned sexually both before and after marriage, I need redemption. I also need to know there is a way back if I sin again...where is our hope? Answer:

The only redeemer of sexual sin is Jesus Christ. He forgives us of wrongdoing. He has the power to renew hearts and bodies. He can make us new and send us out as washed, sanctified and justified (see 1 Corinthians 6:9-11). Repent and turn to the Redeemer...

There is hope for anyone, from any past, from any sin...but our hope doesn't lie in "getting sexuality figured out" or "getting married to the right gender." Turn to where this great hymn of the faith points...

My hope is built on nothing less
Than Jesus’ blood and righteousness.
I dare not trust the sweetest frame,
But wholly trust in Jesus’ Name.

On Christ the solid Rock I stand,
All other ground is sinking sand;
All other ground is sinking sand.

When darkness seems to hide His face,
I rest on His unchanging grace.
In every high and stormy gale,
My anchor holds within the veil.

His oath, His covenant, His blood,
Support me in the whelming flood.
When all around my soul gives way,
He then is all my Hope and Stay.

When He shall come with trumpet sound,
Oh may I then in Him be found.
Dressed in His righteousness alone,
Faultless to stand before the throne.

On Christ the solid Rock I stand,
All other ground is sinking sand;
All other ground is sinking sand.

If this stirred ideas, frustrations, anger, or longing, you might also appreciate a sermon I preached on August 23, 2015 entitled, "Hope for Human Sexuality."

Thursday, August 27, 2015

7 Myths about Seminaries & Bible Schools

1. These schools are for pastors and missionaries. Sure, these schools prepare people for this sort of ministry, but many people end up in seminaries and Bible schools to serve their other vocational spheres with more theological acumen. It's not uncommon for a lawyer, homemaker, and local police officer to be studying the Puritans beside future missionaries. Thinking is something all Christians are called to, and many people in many fields of endeavor have benefited from a class or two, or a degree or two from a theological institution.

2. These schools will help you to mature in your faith. Don't think of seminary as some sort of God's Gym for the soul. The academic nature of these institutions have stolen the soul of many. Most professors are not trying to make someone doubt the authenticity of holy Scripture or question theological belief. But yes, they want you to know what various scholars have said and taught, what heresies exist then and now, and they want to make you question your questions and doubt your doubts. On the backside of the hard work of thinking, you will probably mature. On occasion, you'll feel stunted and pulled in many directions. 

3. These schools will protect you from secular influences. Sometimes these schools lose their gospel-centricity. Some schools come to question or deny orthodox belief and practice. Others get attached to legalistic ideas and behaviors. Others get caught in the crossfire of cultural debates. Don't send your kid to any certain school thinking they'll come out looking like a Billy Graham, Jonathan Edwards, and William Wilberforce all wrapped into one. Even the best schools will expose students to current ideas. They aren't trying to woo you to believe these ideas, but your soul might get wooed nonetheless. It's your job (not the school's job) to examine yourself so that you stay in the faith.

4. These schools are filled with only godly teachers and students. These schools are filled with humans. Some who deeply love Jesus. But others are in the throes of spiritual depression, doubt, and despair (necessary seasons for every believer). They have good days and bad days. Others have abandoned the faith but haven't had the courage to share it. Others seek to subvert godly belief and practice. (This is not the norm, but it has happened and will happen.) Be wise as serpents and gentle as doves even at a theological institution.

5. These schools are easier than other educational endeavors. These schools believe in academic rigor. They want Christians who can think and honor the LORD with their mind. An unthinking Christian is a disobedient Christian. Come ready to dig in.

6. These schools are like little churches. These schools are schools. Many of these schools have people who will love you, pray for you, instruct you, correct you, and fellowship with you. Still, however, none of these schools have been tasked to shepherd you. They do not have elders and shepherds. They do not (or at least should not) conduct the sacraments of holy baptism and communion. They cannot put you through church discipline (Matthew 18; 1 Corinthians 5). So, stay plugged into (or find) a local church. Submit yourself to its leadership, doctrine, and ministries. Find mentors who know a thing or two about what it takes to walk with Jesus in the midst of theological education. 

7. These schools prepare people for "the ministry." Since the dawn of the church, ministry leaders are formed through disciple-making. Leaders are formed through the liturgy of the gathered church, the ordinary means of grace, and through intentional apprenticeships. St. Augustine never went to seminary (not to mention Peter, James, and John). Gaining the theological tools of using the ancient languages, reading and integrating theology, and the analysis of the Biblical text can all be learned and honed in a theological school. Still, these are tools, and I've met my fair share of weekend warrior carpenters who shouldn't use the tools they bought at Home Deport. There are weekend warrior ministers who are just as dangerous with the theological tools they've picked up in school. If you are desirous of serving the kingdom, you'll get your best training in the local church, among a college of laboring pastors, and through submitting yourself to apprenticeship. Bible college and Seminary can aid you (it was totally awesome for me), but it is not even close to sufficient.

Let me leave the myth-side of things and close with one final application:
  Pray for seminaries and Bible schools. Add the 3-4 schools closest to you geographically, or related to your local church's networks or denomination, and pray for them. Pray for godly instructors, holy students, and long-term kingdom impact. These institutions are gifts to the kingdom. 

Are there any other myths you could offer?

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

No introductory fluff

                With a hunger of expectation, I devour books like some people binge on Netflix. Sadly, too many books in the 21st century have embraced a practice that most filmmakers figured out decades ago--just start the story. Since the dawning of fast forward, no one watches the ten-minute credits that precede the epic films of the 1940s. Still, however, the more books written, the longer introductions have become. Then, there are forwards, acknowledgements, and then some sadist thought new editions needed multiple introductions for each edition.  We assume your spouse and children played a key role in the book’s development. Yes, we get it; your editor corrected your English and those six couples that come over for yard games in the summer were a huge inspiration. Well, ladies and gentlemen, guess what? Those one to two dozen people we do not know and will never meet are going to read your entire book so if you put those kind words in the back, they will get to them in due time. For the rest of us, just start the story. 

Friday, August 21, 2015

3 Priorities for Families with School Starting

1) Update your prayer list. Pray that your child would seek first God's kingdom in all their endeavors and in all their education. Pray regularly for teachers, classmates, coaches, and conductors.  (If you're a public, private, or home educator, "Help Lord", is a good prayer.) Pray for administrators. Pray to God that you'd prioritize your schedule for His glory, not your kids' glory, your glory, your teams' glory, etc.

2) Develop a kingdom-minded schedule. What are the things that allow you to grow in Christ and focus on the Kingdom?
       Make sure those items of utmost importance are scheduled first. Start with carving out 24 hours for a weekly Sabbath--if all all possible, make this the Lord's Day (Sunday)--a day for worship, resting, praying and playing. Next, schedule daily time (or at least most days) where you personally and your family together pause to pray and hear God's Word. From there, listen to the Spirit and wise counselors and friends. We'll need to honor our vocational callings as students, entrepreneurs, engineers, homemakers, moms, dads, etc. At some level, we all need wisdom to schedule good sleeping routines, exercise, and wise eating patterns. Each of us need regular time with other believers during the week--a small group Bible study, 1-on-1 accountability, and things of that nature. When will you read, hone skills, pursue life-giving hobbies, serve the poor, and the like?
        In a fallen world, we'll never finished "our" work. But Christ's work is finished...begin by resting in His finished work.

3) Work with your eyes on Christ. Success for you and your family members is not measured by grades, promotions or paychecks. Success is not what your boss or coach thinks. Success is walking by faith in and for the Son of God. Through Jesus Christ, all believers are dearly loved children of the Father and pleasing in His sight. Now, live for HIM--not your boss, not to out-do you cube-mate, not to impress scholarship committees, not just to get ahead. We are not to be man-pleasers or to work with our eye on the employer. We focus on for Him and through Him. All labors are not in vain...Jesus' resurrection assures that all worthy, sacrificial, love-inspired labors will be tested, tried, and found approved and blessed. Labor in love; labor for Jesus.

Dorothy Sayers reminds us, "The only Christian work is good work well done. "

Friday, August 14, 2015

Does God hate sinners?

Does God hate sinners? Does God hate adulterers, liars, and cheats? 

Sadly, there are many people in the name of Christ who go around on blogs and conferences claiming God hates this sort of person and God hates that sort of person. They use verses like these found in Psalm 5:

NIV  Psalm 5:4 For you are not a God who is pleased with wickedness; with you, evil people are not welcome. 5 The arrogant cannot stand in your presence. You hate all who do wrong; 6 you destroy those who tell lies. The bloodthirsty and deceitful you, LORD, detest.

It’s important to note that to hate someone in the Bible does not mean what it means in normal American speaking. If I hear that someone hates me, it come across that these people see everything about me as vile and wish 100% evil upon them. It comes across that they despise every fiber of my being.

But this is not what the Bible means by hate. It means you are morally opposed to the evil in that persons’ life. God hates Matt Proctor the liar, but he does not hate Matt Proctor the person. Similar to God, we should hate rapists and child abusers. We should hate liars and cheats. This is appropriate. But like God, we should love people and want good for them. God allows the rain to fall on the righteous and the unrighteous. God loves His enemies, and sends his Son to die a sacrificial death for his enemies. It’s actually possible for us and God to hate liars as sinners and to love them as persons at the same time. It’s possible to hate rapists (the sinners) and love them (the persons) at the same time.

Woe to any group who inaccurately depicts God’s holiness and love. They can never be separated nor should be.

To say one thing without the other without context is foolish at best and culpable at worst.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Well that's a helluva an idea

"You're a bigot, Lisa."

"Wow, Tom, that's quite a loaded term. Why do you say that?"

Tom, a vibrant 30 year old young professional, with a beautiful smile and a gifted mind, responded, "I just can't stand any sort of religious person who still believes in hell. It's absurd. It's disgusting. It's laced with hubris and idiocy."

Lisa, Tom's high school educated cousin, was chewing the remains of her hot dog at the Johnson family reunion. Tom and Lisa had been chatting about life, family, jobs, and the like for the past hour. Eventually, Lisa had turned the conversation to spiritual matters. In quick succession, Tom had cornered her on whether she believed in a literal hell or not. As soon as Lisa said yes, the conversation at hand had begun.

She looked directly into his college-educated eyes and said, "Hell is one of the greatest inducements to love in the universe. It's believing in hell, and a variety of related beliefs, that makes me quite intentional to love."

"Whatever! Hell is a judgmental and old-fashioned concept that has no place in modern thought and practice. Clearly, if there's a God at all, he or she would be loving enough to bring everyone to heaven."

"Well Tom," Lisa stuttered out, "I think an 'anything-goes' sorta God doesn't lead anyone to live or act any differently."

"Well, at least it leads to tolerance and decency," interjected Tom.

Lisa stumbled for words, then went silent for a full 30 seconds. Tom figured he'd finally put his Jesus-freak cousin in her place.

"Tom, what I've come to see is that 'the anything goes God' results in people not caring about anyone or anything."

"What do you mean, Lisa; you're not making any sense."

"Well, give me a few seconds to speak before interrupting and I'll try," Lisa remarked and then with furrowed brow thought for another half-minute in silence.

"Let me put it this way. Since I believe in hell and that people who don't get right with God go there, I make it my ambition to lovingly relate and speak to people about these matters. I want to grow in love and mercy so they can know the God of love and mercy..."

"But Lisa..."

"Seriously Tom, give your dim-witted cousin a chance to finish a thought..."

"Ok, go ahead."

"Thanks cuz. Well, the opposite happens with the 'anything goes God.' If you don't think people's beliefs and actions matter for eternity, my guess is you don't care much about those people's beliefs and actions now. You'll do your own thing and they'll do theirs. Supposed 'tolerance' is the slippery slope to indifference. Believing in hell makes me anything but indifferent."

"Yeah, but who are you to say I'm going to hell or anybody else?"

"Well luckily for you and everybody else, I don't get to make that decision. God, who is just and good; He gets too. And like I said before Hell is one of the greatest inducements to love in the universe. Hell is so bad it induced God to send His only Son Jesus to come and lovingly die to provide forgiveness for all who will believe and follow Him."

"L-i-s-a, seriously, that is so narrow-minded. Jesus the only way, humph."

"Hmm...I never thought of it that way cousin. I'm just tickled there's any way at all. I'm even more tickled that I've gotten to tell you about that way right now."

Tom, at ease for the first time in the entire conversation, after a moment said, "Well, Lisa, that's a helluva an idea."