Thursday, November 26, 2009

Saved From What?

Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst. (1Timothy 1:15)

Just a quick question today - hoping for some feedback.

Jesus came into the world to save sinners - but from what do sinners need saving?

What was the Son of God doing on that cross?

In the Garden of Gethsemane; before Judas brought the mob and betrayed Him, Jesus prayed three times, "My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will." (Matthew 26:36-46)

What was in the cup that Jesus did not want to drink if there was any other way?


Monday, November 23, 2009

The Christian Side Hug?

Those who have known me since back in my youth ministry days will be able to appreciate how difficult this is for me to watch. Part of me wants to laugh hoping it is only a silly spoof of some kind, but the larger part of me still weeps over heavy burdens and a gospel message that is anything but good news.

"I'm sorry Lord for the thing I made it - When it's all about You, it's all about You Jesus!" 

When Christianity becomes a legalistic series of rules to keep and hoops to jump through is it any wonder so many have tried it out and left the fold without ever really coming to know the condemnation free life that belongs to those who are "in Christ".

"Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest."
Matthew 11:28


The Clash

Sooner or later (probably sooner) if you go into any depth at all with the Christian faith you are going to run into Biblical doctrine that grinds against everything you have ever thought or felt to be right or wrong.

It's only a matter of time.

Perhaps the Bible will label as sin something which you are absolutely positive is no sin at all - or you may discover within its sacred pages attributes assigned to God which you are beyond certain cannot possibly be true of Him. Some may find the Bible to be defining the roles which they occupy in life (husband, wife, employer, employee, father, mother, friend, etc) in ways that are offensive to put it mildly.

"If that's what the Bible says a husband/wife is to be - then I reject the Bible"

If the Bible is rejected as the inspired Word of God we are left with a Christianity that is governed by nothing more than the thoughts and feelings of man. To rob the scriptures of authority is to place the man who believes in salvation by faith in Christ alone on equal footing with the man who believes in salvation by clicking together the heels of the ruby slippers 3 times while chanting, "There's no place like heaven, there's no place like heaven..."

There are two options available to us when the clash comes:

1. Read beyond what the text says forcing it to submit to pre-determined human understanding.

2. Yield positions of human arrogance and submit to hard truth.

It's a matter of Lordship.

They worship me in vain; their teachings are but rules taught by men.
Isaiah 29:13

Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.
Proverbs 3:5-6


Wednesday, November 18, 2009

By Popular Demand

My good friend Harry Mahood (a.k.a. Hoody) is the head coach of the Phoenix Polar Bears Jr. A Hockey Team in Phoenix Arizona. After the Polar Bears lost a close game last Friday night Hoody "tweeted" the following message:

"Losing in regulation is embarrassing. Losing in OT is humiliating. Losing in a shootout has nothing to do with hockey."

Talk to most hockey purists and they will tell you that they despise the shootout; hockey is a team sport but the shootout is all about the individual. The obvious question then is, "If the majority of the people who hold the power don't like it - why does the shootout remain?"

Answer: The fans LOVE the shootout!

I guess it's only good business sense to give the paying customer what he wants, but is it possible to concede too much?
More knowledgeable men than I will decide the fate of hockey but what about church direction by popular demand? "Give the people what they want" works wonders in the business arena - but is it right to adopt these practises for building the Kingdom of God?

Why in the church is it now so rare to hear any mention of sin or its consequences?
Why has the cross become so conspicuous by its absence?
Why are so many worship songs so light and fluffy and lacking any doctrinal meat?
Why are the sermons (When they aren't replaced by video clips) so trendy and vacuous and completely gospel free?

Is there any danger in treating Christians like consumers of a religious product?
Should faith be marketed as "new and improved"?
Is it wrong to sell Jesus as a ticket to a better life?
What happens when life doesn't get better?
What happens when faith in Christ equals rejection, abandonment, persecution, or suffering? What happens if tragedy strikes?

Is it possible that by viewing the world through our North American cultural glasses we have completely misunderstood the meaning of the "abundant life" Jesus mentioned in John 10:10? The popular definition just doesn't seem to fit with Luke 9:23.

"If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me."

For now it seems the customer remains king, "felt needs" rule over mankind's actual need and the congregants are free to vote with their feet heading to wherever itching ears are being scratched. 

Shame about the shootouts though.


Monday, November 16, 2009

Jesus & the Filthy Sinners

God is Holy and a part of that Holiness is revealed to us in the fact that God is a just judge (One before whom we must all stand to give an account of our lives - Romans 14:12). Once we discover exactly what God requires of us in the law we respond in one of two ways - hardened defiance or broken contrition.

It is a horrible cruelty to preach the law (God's requirements) without following it with the gospel. (God's solution to our inability to meet His requirements). The reason so many Christians find their religion to be a burden that they drag through life is because they are hearing all law and no gospel. The following clip illustrates the point perfectly. 


Sunday, November 15, 2009

Dude Looks Like A Lady

I just finished reading a recent blog post at about a new form of teenage rebellion known as gender bending. (Read it here.) It seems that some young men are fighting conventional social norms and sexual stereotyping by showing up for school in skirts and make-up while the young ladies are wearing anything from baggy jeans to tuxedos.

The question being addressed by Dr. Mohler seems to be;

“What is going wrong and what should Christians be doing to fix it?"

From the article -

For Christians, the issue is a matter of biblical concern. The Bible reveals a concern for respecting and honouring gender as God's gift. In the Old Testament, the Law taught respect for these distinctions and roles. In the New Testament, we find similar expectations. As the Apostle Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 11: 7-15

Is this really a matter of Biblical concern for Christians? 

If there is a New Testament directive concerning the policing of secular society, I need someone to point it out to me. I don’t see Jesus or the apostles taking on the wicked cultural practises of the Roman Empire; yet in our day there seems to be no end of this kind of activity being pursued and promoted as the main indicator of spiritual fervency. Have we come to believe that if we can’t get people to actually become Christians then we should at least force them to act Christian as the next best thing?

This is counter-productive to the Christian cause. 

Forcing sinners to live by the rules of saints only leads to self-righteous pious secularists who cannot see their need of a savior or to closeted rebels who hate the church for meddling in their affairs. Our mission is not about changing society – our mission is about changing hearts – and hearts do not change except by rebirth. Enough of bemoaning the darkness; let's just turn on the light. 

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Bring It To Life?

With sincere apologies to the Christian prohibitionists I found this new Guinness ad on You Tube and thought it was worth sharing.

Do you like the ad or not? In your opinion does this ad make any kind of a statement about God, evolution, creation, or fallen man's desire to be like God? (Or supplant maybe?) 
I know, I know, - sometimes a cigar is just a cigar and sometimes a beer ad is just a beer ad -  but I thought this one was pretty cool and I'm interested to see if anyone else agrees or disagrees or maybe even thinks that as a pastor I should not even acknowledge the existence of beer.


Friday, November 13, 2009

Going My Way?

Stubborn, Pig-headed, Arrogant 

Today I am thinking about pride. Not the good kind of pride, not the kind that comes in a job well done, or the kind a dad feels as he watches his son achieve a worthy goal. I'm thinking about that other kind; the dark kind.

Religious, Intellectual, Economic, Social

I'm thinking about the kind of pride that rises up and refuses to yield even when logic is screaming that it is in the wrong. I'm thinking about the kind of pride that stops ears and refuses to listen, the kind that digs in its heels and ignores everything but self.

Sarcastic, Condescending, Mocking, Belittling

It is this dark pride that loves to follow Jesus - as long as He is going my way - but if or more accurately, when the path turns - look out! When Jesus says or does something that goes against my grain - that is when I discover the identity of my one true LORD.

As a younger man bent on achieving my own warped definitions of success I used to "confess" that "Things go my way". It was great - until they didn't.
C.S. Lewis said, "Pride robs a man of common sense." and I would wholeheartedly agree. What of God in this case. Does He humble a man or does He create the circumstances that lead a man to humble himself? I'm not sure, maybe you have an opinion you'd be willing to share. I like these words of Ravi Zacharias, "Wherever there is a proud man, there is a sovereign God working behind the scenes."

A man's pride brings him low, but a man of lowly spirit gains honour. (Proverbs 29:23)


Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Meet My Invisible Friend

It seems to me that there is ample evidence to support the claim that one does not need Jesus in order to experience positive life change. 

Read the right new book and you may be inspired to turn your finances around, watch a documentary on modern farm practices and you may find yourself wandering the vegetarian aisle at Safeway, experience a brush with death; maybe the unexpected heart attack of an acquaintance who just happens to be the same age as you, and you may find yourself at the gym with a new passion for health and fitness.

Here's a shocker for you - some people have spiritual experiences that result in improved moral behaviour - in religions other than Christianity!

In light of this reality do you think maybe Christians should spend a little less time promoting Jesus as the ultimate invisible friend and life coach?

Coming to the cross is not about a better life - it's about eternal life. 
Jesus didn't come to save us from unhappiness by teaching us the keys to success; Jesus came to save us from our sin by taking its penalty upon Himself.

Most of the people I meet outside of the church already believe that God loves them (if they believe that He exists at all);  - what they need to know is HOW God loves them.

This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.   (1 John 4:10)


Friday, November 06, 2009

Assuming the Gospel

I'm guessing (assuming?) we are all familiar with the old saying about what happens when we assume. If not send me a private e-mail and I will explain - or just stare at the picture on the left and think really hard.

I think that one of the many mistakes I have made as a minister (and there are too many to list) over the past 20 years has been the sin of "assuming the gospel". What I mean by this is that in choosing topics and preparing sermons I have often omitted the gospel message altogether or relegated it to some secondary addendum that is addressed only to the unchurched. I have "assumed" that the regular attendees already know the gospel and so I haven't wanted to bore them with repeated information. There are three immediate problems that come to mind as a result of this assumption.

First - We wind up with a very man-centred version of Christianity (Me-ianity?). 

Lots of talk about family life, financial planning, goal setting, leadership, sexual issues, careers, education and on and on; - not so much as a mention of Christ crucified. There's nothing wrong with teaching on important aspects of human life - but these should not be allowed to supplant Christ as the central topic of Christian preaching. Christianity is not primarily about you and me and what we do; Christianity is about Jesus and what He has done, is doing and will do.

Second - In assuming the gospel we forget that fallen men and women have a default setting of legalistic piety.

Because the law of God is written on our hearts we naturally drift into works based rule keeping as the route to pleasing God. We all do it.

"God must not be pleased with me because of this thing I did - or that thing I didn't do."

All believers, myself included, need to be constantly reminded of the cross, reminded that we do not stand approved before God based on anything we have done; we stand justified because of what Jesus has done for us - that is the gospel or good news that sets Christianity apart from every other religion of man.

Third and finally - In assuming the gospel we run the risk of suffering eternal loss.

Consider for a moment that on any given Sunday I may be preaching to some individual the last sermon they will ever hear in this world. What do I want as the content of that sermon? What do I want as the content of the final sermon I will ever preach for that matter?
- Life Tips?
- Financial Aides?
- 10 Keys to Marital Bliss? - No, no, a thousand times no!

On my last day in the pulpit I want to have fulfilled the great commission, I want to have warned the wayward soul, I want to have encouraged the weary saint, and I want to go out with the glorious message of God's saving grace on my lips.

No more assuming the gospel!

Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel—not with words of human wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.
For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. - 1 Cor. 1:17-18


Thursday, November 05, 2009

What Is The Real Problem?

What is the real problem between God and man?

Is it that God is so fragile that He cannot stand the sight of me in my fallen state? Is He so easily offended that He behaves like the constantly shocked church lady of late night fame - shooing the dirty sinners away?

No the problem between God and I is not His easily offended sensibilities - the problem is that when I come into His presence the light of His holiness reveals TO ME the horrible truth of my shameful nakedness. I am the one who flees from the light; I am the one who becomes offended seeing myself as I truly am.

I either run and hide in shame or allow Him to mercifully clothe me in Christ's righteousness.

You say, 'I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.' But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked. I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see. - Rev. 3:17-18


Wednesday, November 04, 2009

What Do I Deserve?

I am just returning to normal health after a week of battling a nasty flu bug. (Not the H1N1 according to the symptom checker.) This one started last Wednesday with a sore throat then morphed into fever and a wicked headache followed by a day of steady vomiting and ended with a few days of chest congestion, runny nose and relentless coughing, all in all not a nice week. There is nothing like a little dose of the flu to get me thinking about how much I take for granted my usual good health. I don’t do sick well, I’m a bad patient, I just feel that there should be some sort of Star Trek(y) type of hypo-spray thingy that fixes me instantly by now – I mean what are we doing with all that research money anyway? I digress.

To my point - and yes I know this is infantile - at one point in the week I recall rolling over in bed and in my misery complaining/praying/whining to God; “What did I do to deserve this?”
This is what I would like to hear from you on:

Do people get what they deserve? Do we all deserve good health? Does anyone ever deserve anything bad? What about people who have done horrific things – what do they deserve? To those of you who are believers – what part does God play in all of this? Is there any justice and if so, how and when do we see it?