Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Friendship with God

My buddy Jim spoke at our worship gathering last Sunday. Here are some reflections on his treatment of “friendship with God.”

His text was John 15:14 “You are my friends if you do what I command you.”

One thing I liked was how Jim regularly “confused” the phrases “friendship with God” and “friendship with Christ,” as though they were one and the same. And I agree. We cannot have one without the other.

Another point that got me thinking was on the conditional nature of this friendship/relationship. Jim made the point that other relationships that we have with God are not conditional – they just are. But this friendship with God is more responsive on our part. We enter into friendship as we obey. I am wary of a treatment that creates two classes of Christians: those who believe; and those who believe and obey. There have been many versions of this “staged” sanctification in church history, and I believe that all have been shown as flawed.

So is it possible that a true believer refrains from friendship with God? My theological framework argues against it, but I am glad for Jim’s message, and how it makes me wrestle with the issue.

I appreciated the point that Jim made, purposefully, that God is our friend, and that Christ has initiated friendship, even when we seem to withhold it. Our friendship with Him is grounded in His reaching out to us.

This is a subject that demands to be applied. Do I respond in frienship to the Lord? Do I love him? Am I in love with an idea, or with a book, but not with the Person? If so, I am afraid that my greatest danger is not a deficiency in my faith, but an absence of faith altogether.

Jim is a visual guy. It just wouldn’t be the same listening to a recording. And Jim speaks visually. He strives for word pictures, some of which land him in hot water. I’m still struggling with a contemporary greeting of Jesus that includes the words “how’s it hangin’?”

Thank you, Jim, for your ministry. And thank you, Lord, for giving us this verse of Scripture, and an entrance into this level of intimacy with the living God.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008


Thinking through Why We’re Not Emergent (By Two Guys Who Should Be), by Kevin DeYoung and Ted Kluck. Moody, 2008

In the Second Introduction, and especially on pp. 27,28, the “ordinary” author refers to “experience” in a few different ways. He seems to be poking fun at the “emergent” quest for creating the optimal “experience” for Christians. This is very much a seeker-sensitive quest as well. It is just that the emergents are tending toward an experience that is less glitzy and production-oriented, and more mystical. But, my goal is not to critique the book, or even the emergents. It is to critique myself and our own church(es). We also have a worship experience.

Jonathan Edwards and others in his age talked about “experimental religion.” He was certainly not talking about a pragmatic approach to church where we keep throwing things at the wall to see what sticks, trying to find what works to make people happy and get more people to come. He was talking about the actual application of spiritual truth to life. I think when he says “experimental,” we would say “practical.” So let me combine these thoughts. What we deeply need is “experimental experience.” That is, the transforming truth incarnated by believers, who are not much like the people they used to be.

But that is not what either “experimental” or “experience” mean in our present situation. We experiment with formats and programs and approaches, trying to create the experience that will prove to be satisfying and rewarding. But here is the point – the experiment is God’s experiment, and we are the lab rats. It is not up to us to combine the chemicals. That is God’s job. The explosive results are not designed by the leadership team, but are to be seen in our lives. And the experience is not really about how we feel, or what we enjoy. The experience is a family of confessing believers who are in the process of being truly transformed, being brought into fellowship with God and with one another in ways that are not always pleasant or pleasurable. The point is not, how do I feel in the car on the way home from church, but, was God glorified?

So where, and how, is God glorified? In the worship of His people. But what does this mean? It involves Scripture, but the presence of a Bible in the lap of every attendee does not, in itself, glorify God. It involves music, but, whether hymn or chorus, piano or guitar, glorifying God can be present or absent with either. It certainly involves people, but a collection of bodies does not make a temple for God’s Spirit, and there can be more glorification taking place with four spiritual old ladies then with four hundred emotionally charged young adults.

Do we truly love God? Is that love exhibited in a sincere hearing of His Word? Does the hearing of His Word result in concrete obedience, in both attitude and action? Is the hold of the world, the flesh, and the devil on our lives being progressively weakened and crucified? Is the name of Christ regularly on our lips, both in private and public? Do our families see the change?

If so, God is being glorified. And His experiment is working out in our experience. And if not, then we ought to try something different.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Gravitational Pull: An Illustratration of Being Converted to True Center

We all have a point of view. We look out at our world in every direction, and from that location, we are the center. Point of view defines what we mean by “here” and “there.” It is implied in our prepositions, such as “away from” – me, and “toward” – me.

Point of view rules in our relationships. We think of people in terms of how they relate to “me.” He is “my brother,” or “my neighbor.” We come to see people as friends or enemies, depending on how they treat us. We categorize them according to what we ourselves have experienced from them, for instance, “that boy is really mean,” meaning, of course, that that boy is really mean to me.

And so the contruct of our universe places ourselves at the center; we are, indeed, self-centered. And I would like for you to imagine that your universe has a gravitational pull, toward the center, toward yourself. Even the divine is evaluated and defined in terms of your gravitational pull. When we believe, we pull him in; and when we want to be left alone, we shut him out.

But when a person comes to Christ; when the reality and significance of Christ dawns upon him or her (cf. John 1; Colossians 1; Hebrews 1), the Bible describes something that happens in one’s own human, personal experience. He/she experiences conversion, including repentance and faith: a turning from a set of viewpoints and beliefs and behaviors, and a turning toward a Person, Jesus Christ.

This person realizes that he/she is not the center, but Christ is, and that gravitational pull is found, not in me, but in Him. And so we stop praying to ourselves (“do better, do better, do better”). We stop depending upon ourselves (“try harder, try harder, try harder”). We stop doing things merely for ourselves (“I want, I want, I want”). This is conversion.

But then, those who are Christians may be willing to admit, there seems to be a problem in our everyday experience: partial conversion. We worship Christ, but we continue to throw (quite) a few honor-offerings our own way as well. We religously differentiate mankind as either saved or lost, but we still really evaluate people on how they react to us. There seems to be at least as much gravitational pull toward ourselves as there is toward the True Center.

This can’t be good. It is inconsistent. It introduces tremendous dissonance into our lives, between what we say we believe, and how we actually behave. I think this has been called, “hypocrisy,” two-faced, but in terms of gravitational pull, two-poled.

Are you half-converted? Yes, if you are a believer in Christ, both a saint, but still a sinner. A half-believer? No, not in your religious confessions, but yes, in your practical behaviors. And we pray for a full conversion; for a mature faith; for a relief from the tension between Him and me.

We don’t convert ourselves. But we seek a more complete conversion. Having already trusted in the redeeming work of Christ, we seek to open our hearts to the conviction of the Spirit of God, who will lead us into greater, ongoing repentance; and we invite the promising Spirit to grow our faith, to expand our appreciation of Christ, and to blow out the false limits of and contradictions to our honor of Him. We humbly ask God that we might experience a more complete conversion of comprehension: “to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth” (Ephesians 3:18 ESV) of His gravitational pull.

Friday, November 21, 2008

On Your Shoulder, or Back?

Is God on your Shoulder?
- or - do you feel like
God is on your Back?

What a difference of perspective! And yet I am afraid that there are many people who feel like God is constantly on their back, and that it is the job of the church to make sure he stays there. It may very well be why some people avoid church. They don’t want to be reminded how they don’t measure up to God’s high and holy standards.

But there is something missing here, since none of us measure up - correct? Why is it that some people find comfort in God, even though they are not perfect, and other’s feel threatened? It comes down to a certain faith-attitude toward God. When a person truly trusts God, then he/she will have a sense of “God on one’s shoulder.” He is there to provide and to protect; to lead in the right path and the guide our very steps. But when one is not willing to trust God, then he/she will have the sense of running from God, always listening for his advancing footsteps.

Perhaps the big dog illustrations will help. The large gentle creature is as gentle as can be so long as you face him and pet him and enjoy his company. But as soon as you begin to run away, the gentle giant barks and begins his pursuit. Same dog; different posture on the part of the person.

Biblically, we find the invitation to draw near to God. As we do so, we are in a position to enjoy all that God will do for us as a gracious and giving God. But the Bible also uses the phrase in that God will draw near, and in that context, He comes in judgment.

So are you pursuing God, and finding the God on your shoulder to be a source of blessing, or is God pursuing you, and you are running so that you can keep your life to yourself?
SJS, 9/02

Thursday, November 06, 2008


Thinking through Why We’re Not Emergent (By Two Guys Who Should Be), by Kevin DeYoung and Ted Kluck. Moody, 2008

In the Introduction, p.17, the authors refer to a lot of those in the emergent world as “talkers.” I’d like to work on that theme for a little while.

The emergent preoccupation with “conversation” is, in some ways, a reaction to ways in which conservative evangelicals talk past one another. We tend to state our point of view without listening carefully to either the questions, or to other points of view.

Call it conversation if you want, but I’m not sure that emergent leaders are much better at listening than are their more conservative counterparts. But, in the current environment, to question the conversation is rude, like ending a phone conversation when it was not you who called. So on it goes, and we find that there is much talking, but little is said. The booksellers are making a bundle, but few of the books are worth re-reading, or keeping.

I struggle to find a Biblical basis for this “conversation.” I’m much more comfortable and confident when a speaker says, “Thus says the Lord.” When God said, “Let there be light,” there was not a conversation. And when God said, “Thou shalt not,” again, He wasn’t asking, “what do you think?” God’s speech is to be met with confession, agreement, and obedience. Why all the conversation?

I understand that there can be fruitful interaction in discussing how to apply principles and graces in the grayness of this world. So I do find that conversation is helpful in this regard. But not in trying to reframe the Biblical material in some way that warps historical theology and redefines classic doctrine. In that case, conversation becomes perversity.

So there must be a difference between prophetic proclamation, and applicational conversation. There must be a difference between humble and ready response to the Word, and the sharing of creatively comfortable points of view that divorce the text from the author’s intent. We cannot be just “talkers.”

I cam across a fascinating passage in Ezekiel about prophetic speech, and the people’s contemporary (then, and now) response.

““As for you, son of man, your people who talk together about you by the walls and at the doors of the houses, say to one another, each to his brother, ‘Come, and hear what the word is that comes from the LORD.’ And they come to you as people come, and they sit before you as my people, and they hear what you say but they will not do it; for with lustful talk in their mouths they act; their heart is set on their gain. And behold, you are to them like one who sings lustful songs with a beautiful voice and plays well on an instrument, for they hear what you say, but they will not do it. When this comes—and come it will!—then they will know that a prophet has been among them.”” (Ezekiel 33:30-33 ESV)

So I agree with the authors, that much of emergent-ville amounts to swarms of words. And incessant talking only serves to further cheapen words, and lead poor listeners to be even poorer.

But as I said in the first post in this series, my main goal is not to critique the group being critiqued, but to use the book to ask, “what can I learn about myself, and the weaknesses and dangers to which conservative evangelicals are prone?”

As a pastor, I’m a talker. I talk a lot. And I’m sensitive to the fact that people sit and listen to me talk. But I don’t want to be just a “talker.”

• We become mere talkers when we preach our opinions rather than the substance of God’s Word.

• We become mere talkers when we preach doctrine that is unrelated to life; when we dump loads of information without demonstrating its significance and application.

• We become mere talkers when we repeat our Biblical formulations and doctrinal statements by rote, without thinking about how this material is being received.

• We become talkers when we use philosophical or technical language that may impress, but does not lead to understanding. There is a certain kind of understanding that requires the work of God’s Spirit, but there is also a kind of understanding that happens when the speaker is speaking your language.

• We become mere talkers when we refuse to listen carefully to the questions people are asking. Now it is true that, at times, people ask the less pertinent question. And there is then the responsibility and opportunity to direct people to the better, more telling question. But all of this requires listening.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008


Thinking through Why We’re Not Emergent (By Two Guys Who Should Be), by Kevin DeYoung and Ted Kluck. Moody, 2008

First of all, this is not properly a book review. For a thoughtful review, please go to here - where Tim Challies authors a review of this book.

What I would like to do as I blog through this book, is to look for aspects in the emergent movement, discussed and critiqued by the authors, that should give “submerged” evangelicals (ch 1) pause. Why is it that this movement has “emerged?” Have there been things about the “old” evangelicals that are so stubborn and stupid, that some from a younger generation have been compelled to go start something “new?” I’m not sure that the answer is all that easy. Points of frustration with what is old have likely merged with points of curiosity that appeal to the young; and points of contextualization that may be theologically astute may have intermingled with points of compromise that are Biblically weak, or worse.

But what can we gain from this? What can we learn?

In the Introduction by David Wells, we are challenged with being self-critical. And here are six suggestions about which traditional, conservative evangelicalism may be justifiably self-critical:

1. We tend to be too rational; and not sufficiently engaged emotionally. We simply do not display the kinds of deep emotion described in the Bible, particularly in the Psalms, but by Paul as well. Both joy and tears are terribly subdued, or absent. Something is wrong when, due to the entrance of grace into one’s life, and discovery of the greatness of things divine, we are not often overwhelmed by a sense of joy and wonder. And something is also wrong when we lose sensitivity to sin, whether in our own lives, or the terrible evils of the world. God is not unmoved by these things, but strangely, we are.

2. I believe that two key indicators of spiritual vitality are prayer and witness. In that case, we are in trouble. It is like saying, “Other than the fact that his heart is not beating, and he is not breathing, everything seems just fine.” Whether or not emergents provide a solution, they have heard a couple of generations of evangelicals talk about the absolute importance of prayer and witness, but have witnessed their absence.

3. The Cross is more old news than good news. The old hymn says, “To the old rugged cross, I will ever be true.” But meditation on the Cross requires thoughtfulness – more than merely trotting out phrases made into cliches. Verbalizing a subconscious ditty about the Cross is not remaining true.

4. A religion that becomes routine must necessarily deal with small subjects. We’ve made our doctrines of God and sin manageable. And in order to be grasped by the wonder of grace, we must certainly realize that sin is anything but manageable. And any reading of Scripture with brains turned on will be instantly shocked by the unmanageability of God.

5. We, in our comforts, securities, and prosperities, have adopted a local, present-world orientation. “How’s it going for you?” We rarely think of heaven outside of funerals, and we generally ponder the wider world in terms of threats to security or opportunities for commerce.

6. We are beset by little-changed lives. The pursuit of holiness has been replaced by the pursuit of many other things. We are taught to affirm ourselves, and we assume that if we are satisfied, then God must be satisfied as well. This is tantamount to resisting the Spirit, and we seem content, having claimed the benefits of justification, to avoid sanctification altogether.

Now I understand that these are sweeping condemntations, and that none of these are universal. There are wonderful exceptions to each and every point. But if that is what they are, exceptions, then that would mean that the above points are the rule. I pray for the kind of renewal in local churches where the rule, not the exception, would be a revitalization of deep, heart-felt worship that expresses itself in prayer and witness – that digs deep into the Cross, and regularly experiences wonder and awe at being “loved to death” by Christ – and that then is seized by hope, and driven by love.

I wonder if, lacking these things, some from a younger generation have gone off to seek something better.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Good Works

It is surprising how often "good works" are mentioned in the little book of Titus (1:16; 2:7,14; 3:1,8,14). I believe that many Christians who hold firmly to justification by faith shy away from the subject of works out of fear of compromising this foundational doctrine. But such "shying away" is unbiblical in itself. Paul was clearly concerned that Cretan Christians not live for themselves, but that they, on the foundation of God's grace (2:11) and kindness (3:4) be earnestly involved in good works. The following study seeks to show that the theme of good works is prevalent not only in Titus, but throughout the New Testament.

The following are Bible verses and notes containing some form of the phrase "good works" in the New Testament. These references are taken from the ESV. The list is broken into parts due to either different words used for "good" in Greek, or because of word order (in English, our adjectives normally precede nouns, e.g., good works; but in many other languages, including Greek, the word order is flexible.

"Good (kalos) Work"

Matt. 5:16
In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.

Note: These “salt and light” good works, distinctive in a tasteless and dark world, emanate from transformed, distinctive lives, as evidenced by the shocking qualities of the Beatitudes.

Mark 14:6
But Jesus said, “Leave her alone. Why do you trouble her? She has done a beautiful thing to me.

Note: Devotion, even wasteful devotion, to Jesus, is a good work. Good works are not judged on their worldly profitability, but in honoring that which has eternal value.

Heb. 10:24
And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works,

Note: this goes back to our study on zeal: it can be “provoked,” or “stirred.” We must be sure that our appeals to zeal are built on the foundation fo grace, not obligation, guilt, or even merely human enterprise.

Note: we tend toward apathy and laziness. We tend toward self-centeredness and self-indulgence. The community of believers needs one another to stay active, not passive. We need good examples, and we need our good examples to serve, not alone, but by drawing others into their activities.

1Pet. 2:12
Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.

Note: we have abandoned the Biblical balance on this issue, and promoted evangelism above service, words above works. In a world where words are cheap, we must prepare the way for them with good deeds.

work good (kalos)

1Tim. 5:10
and having a reputation for good works: if she has brought up children, has shown hospitality, has washed the feet of the saints, has cared for the afflicted, and has devoted herself to every good work.

Note: here we are given some specifics. While service opportunities are multiplied for those who circulate outside the home setting, this passaged certainly provides a helpful outline. Care and attention to the young; offering hospitality; giving attention to basic needs of life; coming alongside those who are suffering – all of us see all of these things on a regular basis.

1Tim. 5:25
So also good works are conspicuous, and even those that are not cannot remain hidden.

Note: good deeds are not chosen for their marketing value. They are done because they are good, and, according to Mt 6, we should seriously avoid the motivation to attract attention. Does this mean that promoting “good works” programs are almost instantly flawed?

1Tim. 6:18
They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share,

Note: a great text that offers specifics.

James 3:13
Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom.

Note: “Meekness of wisdom” is to characterize our works, even as “gentleness and respect” are to characterize our witness (1 Pet 3:15,16).

work good (agathos)

Acts 9:36
Now there was in Joppa a disciple named Tabitha, which, translated, means Dorcas. She was full of good works and acts of charity.

Note: we can suppose here the truth of the last reference. She did not aim to create a reputation, but the reputation followed nonetheless.

2Cor. 9:8
And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work.

Note: we begin the first of 3 or 4 references where we are taught that good works arise from a divine foundation; they are not a ladder to get to God. Our abounding is evidence of new life that was raised from our deadness by the grace of God.

Eph. 2:10
For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.

Note: We always want to read ourselves into the center of the text. But the center is God, His grace, demonstrated and communicated through Christ to us. The argument of this passage is not talking about our activities or good works. It is talking about God’s good works. I think this is a poor translation that is almost universal, “for good works.” The Gr. text reads “upon good works.” We walk in God’s good works in Christ Jesus. Our good works (discussed in chapters 4 and 5 of Ephesians, not in chapters 1-3) are built on the foundation of God’s good works.

Phil. 1:6
And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.

Note: I believe that this reference supports my interpretation of Eph 2:10.

Col. 1:10
so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God.

Note: And even here, our “bearing fruit” may be due to our proper connection the the life-giving vine (Jn 15), so that our role may not be so much in the foundational good work done by Christ, but in the expression, or fruit, of that living work.

2Th. 2:17
comfort your hearts and establish them in every good work and word.

Note: And again, “every good work and word,” in context, may be referring to God’s grace and gospel. These, if authentic, will certainly bear fruit. But again, it is not primarily about us and what we can do.

1Tim. 2:10
but with what is proper for women who profess godliness—with good works.

Note: the ability to participate in the worthwhile work of God will not be accomplished through human persuasiveness (2:8), attractiveness or sexiness (2:9), or assertiveness (2:11). How much to our evangelistic efforts resort to these “human” trends, as though we cannot trust God to accomplish the good work that is truly His? And may this not explain some of the miserable results, whether in the lack of professions, or, more importantly, in the lack of true conversions?

2Tim. 2:21
Therefore, if anyone cleanses himself from what is dishonorable, he will be a vessel for honorable use, set apart as holy, useful to the master of the house, ready for every good work.

Note: Good works from a dirty life are incongruous.

2Tim. 3:17
that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.

Note: Good works, apart from Scriptural guidance and correction, cease to be good.

Titus 3:1
Remind them to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work,

Note: Good works done out of rebellion are generally unhelpful.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

The Answer to our Hopes and Dreams

• We want to be safe and secure.
• We want our kids to succeed.
• We want to be comfortable, and happy.
• These are our hopes and dreams.

And the person, or institution, or philosophy that can deliver our hopes and dreams we could call “savior.”

But there is the problem. There is only One Savior. And the hopes and dreams he has personally pledged to deliver may or may not align with our self-chosen hopes and dreams.

Jesus’ last name isn’t “Christ.” The term “Christ” is a title. He is “the Messiah” (the Old Testament version of the very same concept as “Christ”). “Christ” and “Messiah” mean “Anointed One.” He is the only One authorized and able (anointed and appointed) to deliver our legitimate hopes and dreams.

When I submit to Christ, I allow him to dictate what are those legitimate hopes and dreams. They include such things as:
• Being put right with God
• Receiving forgiveness of sins
• Being adopted into God’s family
• Receiving the gift of the Holy Spirit
These are hopes and dreams that we can live with, and for which we can commend to our children.

Friday, August 01, 2008

Conclusion to Do Hard Things

from the book Do Hard Things: A Teenage Rebellion against Low Expectations, by Alex and Brett Harris.

The Three Pillars of the Rebelution: character, competence, and collaboration (p. 176)
These provide an easy framework from which to Do Hard Things. Here are some of the questions that these authors have provoked me to ask about myself:

1. Concerning character

a. Am I being honest with my own heart about sins and shortcomings; about misses and failures?
b. Am I allowing Scripture to dissect my life? When I read Scripture, do I apply it personally?
c. Am I carefully listening to what others tell me? Do I seek their input?

2. Concerning competence

a. Am I paying attention to the small things, to practice them diligently?
b. Am I daring to do bigger things – things that I have never done before?
c. Am I learning from my mistakes?

3. Concerning collaboration

a. How many new people are in my circle of contacts, with whom I share ideas and make plans?
b. How many things do I find myself doing all by myself, not involving others?
c. Who am I discipling and mentoring?

A Holy Ambition (p. 181)
Not all of our ambitions are holy. Even when it comes to character, competence and collaboration, we can go astray. We might aim to see our character shaped by some shining human personality, replete with distortions, rather than like Christ, who is perfect and beautiful in his holiness. We can become competent at some pretty bad things, or become proud when we get good at good things. Teams can go astray, just like individuals.

So how can I make my ambitions holy? By making sure they aren’t mine to begin with, but God’s. When I am drawn in to His ambitions, to do my part in His way in His time, enabled by His Spirit for the fame of His Son, - then they are holy. Anything less is profane.

Taking a Stand

(an ongoing review of the book, "Do Hard Things" by Alex and Brett Harris)

If we are to Do Hard Things, then it is clear that, at times, we must stand against the tide, or even swim upstream. As the old hymn says, this vile world is no friend to grace (Am I A Soldier of the Cross), and as Jesus said, “if they hated me, they will also hate you” (John 15:18,19, paraphrased).

“We have to care more about pleasing God than we care about pleasing man” (p.148). A clear quote, and Biblically sound. My only question is this: is my problem more with being driven to please others instead of God? Or am I tempted to please myself more than God? In either case, the quote stands, since “man” is still being placed above God.

“Please understand that we are saved by faith alone, but true saving faith doesn’t stay alone” (p. 151). A classic quote, but unattributed. Am I one of many Christians who is content with a dormant faith?

A Guide for Knowing How and When to Take a Stand:
1. Start with the Bible
2. Examine yourself.
3. Listen to your conscience.
4. Seek godly counsel.
5. Be humble, loving, and bold.
6. Be part of the solution.

This list of 6 things indicates that “taking a stand” should not be done without prayer and careful thought. How much damgae is done by spontaneous reactions that are filled with not-so-righteous indignation? I especially like #’s 4 and 5. We must be open to the advice of others whom we know to be godly, and we must check our attitudes at the door.

Is there a stand you know you should be taking but haven’t?
Is there something in your life you know is wrong but continue to do?

Sunday, July 27, 2008

No Lonely Leadership

Titus: Paul, how could you leave me here in Crete, to pastor this church all alone?
Paul’s response: no, Titus – there is to be no lonely leadership

“This is why I left you in Crete, so that you might put what remained into order, and appoint elders in every town as I directed you—” (Titus 1:5 ESV)

Titus is to set things in order. Why? Because everything tends toward disorder, whether your garage, your closet, or your heart and life. But notice the difference. When you come to the back door, disorder in the mud room is obvious. What you don’t see is that the disorder in my soul, and your soul, is insidious. We can read the remainder of this little letter as Paul’s ordering instruction for a disorderly church.

Now I understand that, while there is great satisfaction to bringing order to segments of life – a desk, or a drawer – I understand that it is intimidating and threatening for someone else to say that they are going to restore order to something that touches your world. That seems invasive and intrusive.

But remember, we are talking about the ordering of a household of faith; our household; our community of believers. And some people are anxious for some order to take place. Others are saying, “what’s wrong with things the way they are?” But we must admit, that if the household is going to work properly, and help bring about the well-being of its members, then order is helpful; it’s healthy.

Paul wrote to Timothy in a similar vein in 1 Tim 3:15 – he talks of “how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, a pillar and foundation of the truth.” So as the church is properly ordered, the truth is properly honored. And the truth works, so long as the truth is applied to our lives. It brings about change and growth in our spiritual lives, change and growth that we desperately need. But when there is lack of order, the truth lies unattended, out of place, and change and growth are lacking.

But you might argue that Baptist don’t do elders. Well, that’s an uncomfortable question. If the role of elders is Biblically mandated, why haven’t we done it? I think there are at least four reasons.

The first arises out of how we use our Bibles. We have favorite texts, and we ignore others. Everybody does. The Bible is a big book, and we can’t hold the whole thing in our heads all at once. And our key text for church leadership has been 1 Timothy 3, in which it talks about bishops, or overseers; and deacons. Not elders. Now in other texts, like Titus 1:5,7, the words “overseer” and “elder” are used interchangeably so that we conclude that they refer to the same office.

The other reason I think that Baptists have tended toward the pastor/deacon model is because of our historical emergence. Baptist churches proliferated in the U.S. in frontier and backwoods communities. There was rarely a ready pool of leadership from which to choose elders. In fact, not only would there be one leader, but a single, itinerant pastor might exercise a primary leadership role over several congregations.

But having had time to absorb the Biblical teaching, and to grow and mature beyond our historical roots, why have we still avoided this term “elder?” And I think the hard answer is “tradition.” Tradition trains our eyes and our minds so that we see what we are used to seeing, and we gloss over what does not fit. Tradition coaxes us to rationalize, saying that our deacons act like elders, or to compromise, saying that the specific offices do not matter. This leads to the fourth reason: sin – that is, an unwillingness to change in accordance with the Bible’s teaching.

So we aren’t taking a vote – we are trying to follow the Bible. And here is what Paul says: “Titus, I need you to restore order to this church, and you are to begin with the leadership. Appoint elders to the congregation.” Why? Because there is to be No Lonely Leadership.

The Old Testament gives a great foundation for this theme. In three passages: Exodus 18; Numbers 11; and Deuteronomy 1, we are given a backdrop for our thinking about elders.

Exodus 18:5-27
In Exodus 18:18, Jethro says to Moses in the face of his responsibilities with the people, “You are not able to do it alone.” It reminds us of what God says, recorded in Gen 2:18, “It is not good for man to be alone,” or of Elijah’s dejected words in 1 Kgs 18:22, “I alone am left.” And Jethro, a brand new believer, can clearly see that this is not a desirable situation.

What’s so bad about “lone leadership?” As Jethro said, “It’s bad for you, and it’s bad for the people.” No one person has the breadth of person and experience and resources to serve the needs of the people well.

So Exodus 18 teaches that capable men are to be chosen to come alongside Moses. In connection with what we will find in Numbers 11, these are men who are made capable by God’s Spirit. They are spiritual men. Their capability is not primarily in their reliance upon natural or physical resources, but in spiritual. They have specifically forsaken foolish “valiancies,” like “holding their liquor” (Is 5:22); or hitting home runs. Further, our understanding of this capability is enhanced by the next phrase: “men who fear God.” This could be a study on its own. But suffice it to say at this point that they are more intent on pleasing God than pleasing men.

Another couplet is used in Exodus 18 to describe the men who would be chosen as assisting elders: they are reliable men who hate unjust gain. They are “amen” men; men of whom you can say, “and it was so.” What you see is what you get. And these men have strong passions. They fear God. They hate unjust gain. I love these verses from Psalm 119: “Incline my heart to your testimonies, and not to selfish gain! Turn my eyes from looking at worthless things; and give me life in your ways.” (Psalms 119:36-37 ESV) They don’t seek to find their meaning for life – what makes life worth living – in stupid things.

Numbers 11:10-17, 24-30
In Numbers 11, the Spirit who has been given to Moses is given to seventy elders (vv. 25,29). It reminds us of Jesus sharing the Spirit with the disciples after the resurrection, by breathing on them (Jn 20:22). The point I want to make from this passage is in the prophecy of v.29: “Are you jealous for my sake? Would that all the LORD’s people were prophets, that the LORD would put his Spirit on them!”
(Numbers 11:29 ESV). This prophecy was further detailed in Joel 2, where it says that both young and old, sons and daughters would prophecy. This has been fulfilled at Pentecost, and, in Christ, we are indeed all prophets, and priests, and kings.

That is why, when I see how the Bible talks about elder ministry in the church, I do not conclude that it is elder rule, or elder government. I still believe that there is a biblical basis for congregational involvement in the decision-making of the church. And one of the key reasons is that the Spirit of God is not possessed by the pastor alone, or by elders alone, but by all believers.

Deuteronomy 1:9-18
In Deuteronomy 1, the story is told once more. “Choose for your tribes wise, understanding, and experienced men, and I will appoint them as your heads.’” (Deuteronomy 1:13 ESV). The wisdom mentioned should be that of a heavenly perspective on practical issues. Understanding means the ability to exercise discernment, to sort out difficult issues. Experienced means knowledgable, that is, knowledge gained from a life experience of walking with God. These terms are enhanced by another qualification: “no partiality.” Favoritism is not to be shown to insiders over outsiders, nor to the great over the small. “You shall not fear man” (v.17). I think Jesus’ words to the Pharisees in John 7 get at what is needed: “Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment.” (John 7:24 ESV)

We need to understand that the appointing of a council of elders is Biblical, even while we recognize that it is a bit counter-cultural. All around the country today, churches are being formed that are reflecting a very different trend. On the one hand, there is a great priority being placed on youthful leadership. The church seems convinced today that, in order to catch our culture, we have to be cool. And one thing is clear: old men are not cool.

Another pattern is that of staff leadership – not the men of the church, but a staff of men brought in to design and lead the pre-planned organization.

In all of this, there is still the constant pandering to the magnetic personality of the single leader – the one who, when he speaks, we will heed his words, and follow his lead. The Bible identifies that person as Jesus.

So in summary, what is the case for a multiple leadership of elders, properly qualified?

More sets of eyes to see beneath the surface of things, to avoid reactions based on deception and lies

A pool of wisdom, discernment and experience, since no one person can embody these in fullness, save Christ (and we are not claiming that even a group of elders measures up to Christ)

A representation of God’s Spirit – though neither the pastor alone, nor the elders together, have a monopoly on the Spirit. The Spirit has been given to all believers, and we remain thus firmly committed to congregational government, though with elder direction (group) as opposed to pastor (individual) direction.

These should be capable men who fear God; and reliable men who hate unjust gain – who serve together to avoid the perils of lonely leadership, so that the household of faith might prosper spiritually and grow.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Small, Hard Things

from the chapter “Small Hard Things,” in the book Do Hard Things: A Teenage Rebellion Against Low Expectations, by Alex and Brett Harris.

Once again, I am impressed by the practical value of the material assembled and written by these young writers.

Key Quote: “The truth is that your life (both now and later) will require you to invest a lot of time and energy in things that aren’t big and that don’t seem to make much of an impact” (p. 134)

Five Excuses for Failing to do Small Hard Things:
1. Procrastination
2. Inconsistency
3. Compromise
4. Begrudging
5. Cheating

One of the “smallest,” hardest things in my life is prayer. And I think I can apply each one of the points above.
1. Persistence - I many times put prayer off until a better time, but there rarely is.
2. Inconsistency - So some days, I fit in prayer, and some days I don’t.
3. Compromise - One area of compromise is praying on the run. Instead of getting into position to wrestle with God in prayer, I think that I can as effectively pray on the fly. But this kind of prayer lacks seriousness and reverence.
4. Begrudging – this shows up especially when it is time to pray with others. These times can be precious and powerful, but letting go of the time that I selfishly call “mine” is difficult.
5. Cheating – when I spend some time thinking about someone, and call it “prayer,” it is cheating. Thinking and a problem and praying for a person are not the same thing.

Here are some habits for doing Small, Hard Things:
1. work hard
2. maintain a postive attitude
3. live with self-discipline and integrity
4. serve others

Again, all these can be applied to prayer.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Hard Drudgery

"Hard Drudgery," from the chapter “Raising the Bar,” in the book Do Hard Things: A Teenage Rebellion Against Low Expectations, by Alex and Brett Harris.

The authors inroduce the phrase “hard drudgery” in an illustration about Teddy Roosevelt. He “did more than survive. In a way that few men have matched, he thrived” (p.104).

Teddy’s father introduced him to routines of “hard drudgery,” daily disciplines that pushed him and stretched him. I think that these exercises probably provided benefit in at least a couple of ways.

On the one hand, they helped him overcome some built-in weaknesses with which he was born. If I have a weakness, I need to work hard to overcome it. Also, the routines of “hard drudgery” accustomed Teddy to discomfort. It is my addiction to the comfortable that builds up a resistance toward stretching and strengthening.

The authors make this statement on p. 103: “A commitment to growth kills complacency.” So now we have two devastating “c” words: comfort and complacency.

When I perfect the practices of comfort and complacency, I show myself to be firmly committed to the status quo. I’m resistant to change, and I am setting myself against growth.

The authors introduce yet another pentrating thought early in the chapter – claiming that to “do your best” is usually an excuse. If we claim to have done our best, then we exempt ourselves from doing more. Steps that go above and beyond will be precluded. What, exactly, is “my best?”

The authors don’t press doctrine at this point, but I feel that I must. To think that Jesus did “his best” at every step and turn throughout his earthly life is absolutely astonishing. He lived perfectly. He never misused an opportunity. He never cut a corner. He always fulfilled the will of the Father on every level, whether externally in behavior, or internally in motivation. He did the little things, the acts of “hard drudgery.” He never opted for the comfortable or the complacent. He always did his best. I’m amazed.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Why Not Change Now?

from the chapter “A Better Way: Reclaiming the Teen Years as the Launching Pad of Life,” in the book Do Hard Things: A Teenage Rebellion Against Low Expectations, by Alex and Brett Harris.

This chapter, “A Better Way,” sets up the next section of the book with five challenges for doing hard things. We’ll be looking at those one at a time. So specifically, the question, “Why not change now?” is pointing toward that section.

But who understands exactly how we change? We all talk about it. Most of us desire it. But the most valuable change comes from the inside out. And this seems to surpass our capabilities. I am suspicious that our authors, young as they are, may think that deep life change is merely a matter of making up one’s mind to do so. For example, I’ve made up my mind many times to lose a few pounds. A few times, I’ve actually done it. But I can’t for the life of me tell the difference at the beginning of the process between the few successful diets and the many fairy tale diets.

Here’s just a couple of “change” verses in the Bible: “Can the Ethiopian change his skin or the leopard his spots? Then also you can do good who are accustomed to do evil.” (Jeremiah 13:23 ESV) – it makes “deep” change sound pretty difficult. “For John came to you in the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him. And even when you saw it, you did not afterward change your minds and believe him.” (Matthew 21:32 ESV) – what would it take for them to change?

But my skepticism aside, how about a better, more powerful word? Not just changed, but transformed. “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord,are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.” (2Corinthians 3:18 ESV)

And here, we have to confess that we do not change ourselves, but we are changed by Another, by the One who Comes Alongside, the One with whom we are to keep in step.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

What is Dependent on God’s Word?

That is, if not for the truth and power of God’s Word, what would we be missing?
1. life change that is more than cosmetic
2. a certain future shaped by promise
3. confidence in the midst of confusion

Let’s look at the first paragraph of Titus again: “Paul, a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ, for the sake of the faith of God’s elect and their knowledge of the truth, which accords with godliness, in hope of eternal life, which God, who never lies, promised before the ages began, and at the proper time manifested in his word through the preaching with which I have been entrusted by the command of God our Savior;” (Titus 1:1-3 ESV)

We’ve covered (in previous messages and posts) faith-knowledge, and the fact that an eternal God who plans our eternal future chose people for faith in eternity past. Now we come to this subject of the truth. This idea is linked in this first paragraph to the character of God (He never lies), to the nature of much of His revelation (promise), and to ways that He has expressed Himself by Word and words, through His Son and messengers. I’ve also marked in my study Bible in the letter to Titus the many references to God’s Word, teaching and doctrine, so that we must conclude that when Titus was sent to “put things in order” (1:5), the use of God’s Word was absolutely critical.

1. God’s Word is absolutely necessary for life change.
If God’s Word in its truth and power is missing from my life, I will never change. Yes, of course I can change cosmetically. I can change the color of my hair. I can rearrange the furniture. I can change certain patterns and habits. I can re-invent myself in various ways, maybe even learn an accent. But I cannot change at the deepest level. I cannot change my heart. God does that through His Word.

And this is where I know, deep down, that I need to change. This is where the frustration and sadness really comes, when I see the kind of person that I really am, whether it has to do with self-centeredness, or lack of love, or twisted motives. I can paste a smile on. I can’t, by myself, change my heart.

So merely educating myself in the latest psychologies or motivating myself with some best-selling self-help is still only cosmetic. It is like adding volumes to a library that does not contain the answer. Dewey and his decimals do not hold the answers for the problem of a sinful heart.

Also, will-power, for all that it can do (cf. Tower of Babel) fails on two levels. It, also, does not change the heart. And it is guilty of producing unintended consequences. How many cancers are the result of a desperate will-power? How much mental dis-ease? How much nervous exhaustion, leading to an inability to rest or relax? When we saddle our own wills with the burden of responsibility for accomplishing things that only God can do, we will tend toward destruction and debilitation.

And so, if I truly desire heart change in my life, what will I do? I will bow my knees and devote my attention to God’s Word. I will read it prayerfully and ask that God’s Spirit would take its truth and imbed it in my heart, even as I purpose to submit and obey what I find there.

Further, if I fail to spend time with God’s Word, I must honestly admit that I really don’t want to change. I will, in that case, be telling God that I would rather do things my own way, and please leave my heart alone. If I neglect God’s Word, I am proclaiming my rebellion against being God’s person, whom He would reform and re-make into Christ’s likeness.

2. God’s Promise has the Power to Shape the Future
Secondly, God’s Word has the power to shape my future, since He so often speaks by way of promise. All other words, other than God’s Word, come across as so much propaganda. Much of it is wishful thinking, and all of it is subject to change.

But God’s promises are certain, so much so, that once He utters the promise, the outcome is as sure as though it had already happened. Think of Abraham, to whom God said, “I will make you a great nation.” That’s a promise, and it implies that there would be a son. Even though it would be 25 more years before a son was born, the certainty of there being such a son was absolute. Further, even though twice Abraham tried to give his wife away, God would not allow His promise to be sabotaged.

Another promise is repeated many times throughout Scripture: “I will be with you.” This promise was repeated to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and many times over, even to us, when Jesus ends his Great Commission with, “for lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” This shapes our future, so that we know that we are never alone. And so we, like Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, make our decisions based on this certainty. These young men were faced with the test of bowing to Nebuchadnezzar’s idol, or being thrown into the fiery furnace. But the promise of God so shaped their future, that they were willing to enter the furnace, whether or not they would be delivered, knowing that they would certainly not be alone. And Nebbie himself was forced to admit that there appeared a fourth figure in the furnace.

If I fail to lay hold of the promises of God, then I consign myself to a life of good (or, not-so-good) intentions and wishful thinking. I may prove to be “the captain of my soul,” but it will be a soul that never reaches port. Only God’s Word can safely lay a course for tomorrow. These promises deserve memorization and meditation.

3. God’s Word is the only Source of Confidence in a Confusing World
Finally, we can live confidently in a confusing world only if we commit ourselves to the touchstone which is God’s Word. We live in a world full of experts who do not know what they are talking about. Week by week, we are warned against, and then advised toward, eating eggs and apples. We cannot agree on the condition of the atmosphere above us or the fossil fuels beneath us. And now we see a bunch of women carrying around little ugly dogs, just because Paris Hilton did it. I need direction that I can trust, that keeps me from being “tossed to and fro by every wind.” Where can I find the help that I need?

In the truth, in which God has made promises, and now has made available to us. And God does not lie.

Monday, June 16, 2008

How Can Cretans be Christians? (2)

In the first article, we found that Titus 1:1 makes clear that it is faith-knowledge that can make Cretans to be Christians. But the next question is, “How does one get this faith-knowledge?” The answer is at least partly contained in the phrase, “the faith of God’s elect” (Titus 1:1).

We are in the midst of an election year. Candidates will promise all kinds of things, hoping to convince and compel fickle voters to pledge their electoral commitment. We will find that the candidates are willing to say and do almost anything to collect votes. Let’s be clear here: God is not running for office. He is not up for election. God is the One who elects.

People often counter: But don’t we have free will? Jonathan Edwards thought so (The Freedom of the Will), if I read him correctly. My illustration (gained from reading him, but for which he bears no responsibility) is as follows: My car has a free wheel

That’s right. It has a steering wheel. And that free wheel determines the direction the car goes. But the free wheel is also stupid. It is completely dependent upon the character of the person behind it. And if the Bible is clear about anything, it is clear that the hearts of men and women are sinful – so much so, that apart from the grace of God, not a single one of us would direct our free wills to turn to God. There would be not one single Christian if it was up to human free will as directed by sinful hearts.

Let’s think of a Bible illustration. God had promised to Abraham lasting life through the gift of a son. So was Isaac, born when Abe was 100, the product of Abraham and Sarah? According to Romans 4:19, not really. There was a time, 13 years before Isaac’s birth, when Abraham attempted to assist God in the fulfillment of God’s plan and purpose. The result was Ishmael, and Abraham could say, “Look what I did,” and God said, “No!” But by the time Isaac came around, the verdict on Abraham was “as good as dead,” and the description of Sarah’s fertility was “barrenness.” And guess what? A baby was born – a gift from God, wholly of God.

We sometimes think that in salvation God gives the grace, and we supply the faith. But just as God supplied both the seed and fertile egg for the life of Isaac, so also God supplies both the grace and the faith for spiritual life. When we are born again, our first response is that cry of faith in Christ, similar to a baby’s first cry, and yet no one thinks that the baby was the cause of his/her own existence, or contributed to his/her birth in any way other than showing up.

When Jesus spoke those phrases in John 6: “All that the Father gives me will come to me” (v.37); “No on can come to me unless the Father who sent me draw him” (v.44); and “no one come to me unless it is granted him by the Father” (v.65) – the people grumbled (v. 41), and the disciples grumbled (v.61). Why did they grumble? Perhaps for two reasons:

On the one hand, and more generally, people resist the idea of a God in charge. It is strange, because if God is not in charge, then can we really call him God at all? But on the other hand, people grumbled because Jesus was describing the radical nature of the relationship that one must have with him in order to be raised at the last day, that is, to have eternal life. We must get Christ into us somehow, almost like ingesting and digesting. We need to get him into us, almost to be us.

That is not the kind of relationship that most people want with Jesus. They want a mutual consent relationship. You give me bread, and I’ll give you a measure of loyalty. You make me happy, and I’ll attend church, or give away something, or give up something. You make me promises, and I’ll vote for you as Lord and Savior.

But remember, neither God nor Jesus are running for office. No, that is not Biblical Christianity. Paul talks to Titus about Cretans who are wonderfully changed by a radical relationship with Jesus Christ that they could never have come up with on their own. It must have been something that God did, because He chose them for salvation.

This subject brings up so many questions. I’ve already answered the “whosoever will” questions. The answer is, that the world is filled with “whosoever won’t” kind of people. But what about this response then: if God is going to do all the choosing, then why bother to pray or witness?

The answer is that God is pleased to use means to accomplish His ends. And if God is pleased to use my prayers or my witness to be a vehicle or instrument in causing a light to shine into a darkened heart, or in causing spiritual truth to be apprehended by an obstinate mind, so that for the first time a person sees Christ clearly, or understands the Gospel for the very first time, though they may have heard it many times before – then praise the Lord. And what a privilege to be involved in His eternal plan and purpose. I need not worry about who is elect and who is not. But I know that, were not God so good and gracious, all would be condemned.

How Can Cretans be Christians? (1)

I ask this, especially in light of Paul’s description to Titus of the society to which he was ministering, “Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons.” (Titus 1:12 ESV)

Cretans can become Christians because of the faith-knowledge that has taken hold of them (1:1). According to J.I. Packer, this is “a kind of knowledge of which God is both giver and content.” “It is a Spirit-given acquaintance with divine realities, given through acquaintance with God’s Word” (p. 57 of “What Did the Cross Achieve?” in In My Place Condemned He Stood, Packer and Dever, 2007.

It is the kind of faith that transformed Paul’s perspective in Galatians 2:20, where he says “the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” It is the kind of knowledge that Paul aspires to in Philippians 3:10, where he says “that I may know him and the power of his resurrection.”

People with this faith-knowledge, used together in Ephesians 4:13, will be marked by the priority of Christ in their lives, more so than by commitments to programs and personalities. They, in short, are enamored with Jesus. The two words are also used together in Philemon v.6, where it brings about counter-cultural behaviors that will surprise those who live around you, so much so that they will probably ask you the reason for the hope that is in you (1 Peter 3:15). In Titus 1:1, this faith-knowledge allows people to see and appreciate God who has an eternal plan and purpose.

Now, to avoid confusion, let’s try to define this faith-knowledge more finely:

What Faith-Knowledge Is Not:
1. it is not rationalism or unaided reason (divine realities are not merely higher thoughts that Cretans can sit down and figure out)
2. it is not experientialism or emotionalism (not just a hyped-up state, the result of a Cretan revival meeting)
3. it is not the exclusive property of either the intellectual elite; or the religious elite (this faith-knowledge did not belong merely to Paul, or Titus, or even just the appointed elders, but to the common, Cretan Christians)

What is Faith-Knowledge?
1. it is revealed insight, graciously unveiled by God
2. it is relational and covenantal, thus enduring and binding
3. it is spiritual and transformational, changing from the inside out

Based on the three points above (What is Faith-Knowledge?), here are corresponding practical implications:

Practical Implications:
1. do I demonstrate a practical dependence on God’s revealed truth? Do I read, study, discuss and apply God’s Word.
2. do I love God and His Word? Am I captivated by Christ?
3. am I a changed person? Am I a changing person? Am I committed to being shaped by God and His Word?

Tuesday, April 22, 2008


On page 5 of chapter 1 (see note below), the authors say that this book is about “a rebellion against low expectations.”

It is not unusual to see the word “rebel” associated with teens. A “rebellious teenager?” Some might ask if there is any other kind.

But the truth is, we are all to be rebels, against some things. And also, it is wrong to rebel against other things.

It is wrong to rebel against God; against His Word; against God-given authorities, like parents, elders, and government. There are exceptions in cases with the last three, but there is a principle of submission here, not rebellion.

So against what (or whom) should we rebel?
Against sin and Satan, and the kind of tyranny that they would exercise over my mind and my heart.
Against the world and its God-ignoring tendencies, treating Him as though He does not exist or does not matter.
Against the worship and coddling of self, whether in avoiding responsibility, or in seizing selfish ambition.

The list could be long, and our lists will be different. What is your list of things against which you should (must) rebel?

Do Hard Things: A Teenage Rebellion Against Low Expectations, a recently released book (Multnomah) written by 19 yr old twin brothers, Alex and Brett Harris, is a challenge to do just what the title says.

As a dad, mentor, and pastor, I have shared this book with a little circle, and we will be discussing its contents with one another. Here are some short posts con of my initial thoughts as I read through.

Do Hard Things

Do Hard Things: A Teenage Rebellion Against Low Expectations, a recently released book (Multnomah) written by 19 yr old twin brothers, Alex and Brett Harris, is a challenge to do just what the title says.

As a dad, mentor, and pastor, I have shared this book with a small circle of people, and we will be discussing its contents with one another. Here are some short posts on of my initial thoughts as I read through.

The title reads: Do Hard Things. What are the hard things that God wants us to do? I think I know the hardest: to die. Not necessarily in the physical sense of the word, since we are all going to die eventually; but to die as a follower of Jesus. Since he died for us, we die with him, dying to self and our own little kingdoms. He becomes the central figure of my life; not me.

Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” (Matthew 16:24 ESV)

As I read the title of the book, the endorsements and the introduction, I hope that the authors will challenge me and other readers to think through and take action to do
the hardest thing - dying, in order to do
the greatest thing – living a life that is truly alive.

Thursday, March 27, 2008


Jonah’s life was marked by flagrant fouls; by grievous inconsistencies. He claimed that he “feared God” (Jonah 1:9), but he really didn’t. His actions spoke more clearly and accurately than his words.

Jonah was a non-praying prophet. Yes, it must be admitted that he prayed in the belly of the fish. “I called out to the LORD,” (Jonah 2:2 ESV). But he did not pray in chapter 1, even when urged to do so (1:6). He prayed only when he had to, only when he was compelled. This is like when a person confesses their sin .. once they are caught. You can never tell if the repentance is real or authentic. And you can not tell the authenticity of the submissive soul except when it prays willingly, and not merely out of desperation.

And so when Jonah prayed, he must have felt so good about himself. “What a relief to get this off my chest! I feel so good when I pray, kind of like making up after a fight. God and I are good again.” Is this true religion? A brief religious exercise that purges our conscience but changes little else? And don’t we do the same thing? Don’t we, in our occasional prayers, actually betray our own selves, indicted by all the times when we fail to pray, and that our prayerful pledges of love and dedication sit stranded in lives lived in autonomy from God’s help and direction in our lives? What about the songs that we sing? “Oh, how I love Jesus; Oh, how I love Jesus, Oh, how I love Jesus, because He first loved me.” Certainly love for Jesus is fitting. But memorizing in our heads this little chorus is far different from having our hearts trained to fly to Jesus in love moment by moment throughout each day of the week. Or how about “I Surrender All?” “All to Jesus I surrender, all to Him I freely give; I will ever love and trust him, In His presence daily live. I surrender all. I surrender all. All to Jesus I surrender; I surrender all.” Really? Complete surrender? Has anyone ever surrendered absolutely everything to God outside of Jesus Himself? Yes, the category of song is that of Aspiration. Perhaps the song is not stating a fact, but a desire: I desire to surrender all. Really? Don’t you at times desire to rebel? To live independently from the will of God, fleeing from the doing of his will, like Jonah, the liar? “It is the Cry of My Heart to follow You.” Well, sometimes. But a lot of the time, the truth is that cry of your heart couldn’t even be voiced aloud due to the shame that it would bring to you and your family.

The truth that must be said of ourselves is not that we are excellent in our religious practices, but that we are sinners. And then, gratefully, it can also be said, truthfully, that God is gracious, and that He is able to drive His grace just as deeply into our hearts as our sin is rooted.

Secondly, Jonah is much too willing to blame God for his predicament.
“For you cast me into the deep,” (Jonah 2:3 ESV)
“Then I said, ‘I am driven away from your sight;” (Jonah 2:4 ESV)
Don’t we do the same thing? How could God let this happen? Imagine the setting, the stench, the slime, the revulsion.

But are we careful to trace how the consequences of our sin bear themselves out in our lives? And in our most reflective times, are we willing to sort through the events of our lives to see if it could be that a loving Father is using discipline in our lives that will correct his erring children, and purify us for His purposes and for our sake?

So we have these two lies from the lying lips of Jonah: the pretending of a Christian consistency; and the pretension of a Christian blamelessness. Once again, I find that I am more like Jonah than Jesus. By God’s grace, that will change.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Spiritual Sleep

There are at least two kinds of sleep: the one in which a person is exhausted by pouring himself out in ministry to others (Lk 8, see verse below); the other in which a person is dull and lazy, serving only selfish interests (Jonah 1, see verse below). In Jonah, we have an example of the latter, while in Jesus we have an example of the former.

Spiritual sleepiness lays one bare to any number of perils. An interesting cross-reference is that of Sisera, captain of Jabin’s troops, as he flees for his life (Judges 4, see verse below). A false sense of safety and security allows him to fall into a deep sleep, to his peril. There are lessons to apply for those of us who battle spiritual sleepiness.

How does one know if he/she is in the grip of spiritual sleepiness? Just compare yourself to Jonah.

1. Do you place high priority on feathering your own nest (or, find a nice, quiet, dry spot in the hold of the ship in the midst of a horrendous storm) with little thought of the predicament of others?

2. When challenged to pray, do you actually pray? Jonah was commanded by the Commander to arise and pray. He arose, but he didn’t pray, just as God had told him to arise and go to Nineveh. He arose, but he didn’t go to Nineveh.

3. Do you spout theological truth that is patently untrue when it comes to your life? Jonah said that he feared the Lord. But it is obvious that he did not fear the Lord. He got his description of God down real nice. But there was a gap between his doctrine and his practice.

4. Would you rather die than do God’s will? That sounds extreme, but that is where we find Jonah. He could have fallen on his face and repented, saying, “Turn the ship around. Let’s go home.” But he didn’t repent. “God hurled the storm at me. Pick me up and hurl me right back at God.”

Spiritual sleepiness a) lulls us into losing any sense of concern for the souls of men, whether of sinners or sailors. Spiritual sleepiness b) drowns out a sense of the reality and fearsomeness of God. Spiritual sleepiness c) seriously fogs the claim of God upon one’s life to serve Him according to His will, as He sees fit.

And spiritual sleepiness is not merely an OT problem. The church at Sardis is warned of their death-like sleepiness, and given pointed instructions:

“You have the reputation of being alive, but you are dead. Wake up, and strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have not found your works complete in the sight of my God.” (Revelation 3:1-2 ESV)

I know that my works are not complete in the sight of my God. The works of our local church are not complete. Nor are the works of the Body of Christ throughout the world.

Verses from Above

(Luke 8:23-24 ESV) “and as they sailed he fell asleep. And a windstorm came down on the lake, and they were filling with water and were in danger. And they went and woke him, saying, “Master, Master, we are perishing!””

(Jonah 1:5-6 ESV) “But Jonah had gone down into the inner part of the ship and had lain down and was fast asleep. So the captain came and said to him, “What do you mean, you sleeper? Arise, call out to your god!”

(Judges 4:20-21 ESV) “But Jael the wife of Heber took a tent peg, and took a hammer in her hand. Then she went softly to him and drove the peg into his temple until it went down into the ground while he was lying fast asleep from weariness. So he died.”

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

God in the Concrete

“But the LORD hurled a great wind upon the sea, and there was a mighty tempest on the sea, so that the ship threatened to break up.” “ (Jonah 1:4 ESV)

God acts concretely in the Jonah narrative. God hurls. God appoints, a fish; a plant; a worm; a strong east wind. He does these things, not in the abstract, but in the concrete.

If a meteorologist had studied the maps in the moments leading up to this storm, what would he have seen? Did God arrange for this storm using natural means, or was it a surprising, inexplicable occurrence? Or what about the fish (1:17)? Did it have a mommy fish, growing the way that fish grow? And did God move the boat to where the fish was, or the fish to where the boat was? Could God have created that fish right then and there, so that Jonah was its very first meal?

Whether or not God worked through means and processes, or whether He acted in more radical fashion, what we have are God’s acts in the concrete. But in our world today, we are often left with only abstract references to God and abstract expectations of God.

When someone says, “Well, I guess the good Lord was watching out for me today,” he probably is referring more to a god-idea or god-principle than he is to the Almighty God who breaks into history to accomplish His purposes. I am not arguing against the providence of God. Not by any means. I am arguing against the widespread notion of God that denies His fierce reality. When we say, “Watch out! God might strike you with lightning!” we don’t really believe that God might actually do that. We don’t really believe in that kind of God, who stops people in their tracks, or puts His finger on a prophet gone AWOL.

Not only is God really real, but so is the incarnation and resurrection of His Son. Jesus really rose from the dead, in the concrete, not just in abstraction. Some teach that Jesus rose “spiritually.” Somehow we are to be inspired with this sentiment. But Jesus’ resurrection actually involved the reversal of all the effects of death in a human body that had already begun. It is this physical, concrete resurrection which assures us that the concrete God will work again to make a New Creation that is rid of sin and evil. It’s more than just an idea or theory. It is a confident, concrete expectation.

And so, then, Christians should be more than abstract Christians. Am I a concrete follower of Christ? Do faith, hope and love have concrete expressions in my life, clinging to God’s Word over my own senses; living beyond current conveniences in the expectation for future glory; sacrificing self for the sake of others?

A merely abstract God is no God at all.
A merely abstract Jesus is no Savior at all.
A merely abstract Christian is no Christian at all.

A final word. No Christian perfectly expresses faith, hope and love. At times we despair in the almost-absence of these evidences. But God will fan into eternal flame the smallest sparks of His saving grace in our lives. We are not saved by our faith, hope and love. But we seek to encourage such concrete expressions, that the world might be convinced of God, so much so that they “ “falling on their faces, will worship God and declare that God is really among you.” “ (1Corinthians 14:25 ESV, edited)

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

In God’s Face

In God’s Face

In a world where people have a hard time grasping the concept of sin, we struggle even more with the truth that our sins are offensive to God. Isn’t it His job to forgive? Isn’t He big enough to get over it?

God says to Jonah, “their wickedness has come up before Me.” (Jonah 1:2 NAS95S) The phrase could be translated literally, “their wickedness has come right up in My face.”

We have a hard time facing up to our sins against God. Perhaps this illustration will help (in part, gleaned from Colin S. Smith, “The Ambassador's Job Description: 2 Corinthians 5:11-21” in Telling the Truth: Evangelizing Postmoderns, D.A. Carson, general editor, 2000, p.185). If I dig a hole in the garden with a shovel and cut an earthworm in half, I’m not bothered at all. If I hit a squirrel with my car, I go, “eww,” but don’t lose any sleep. If I back over the neighbor’s child, the lives of several people, including my own are shattered. But when I sin against God - and all sin is against God - it affects my relationship with God eternally, unless that sin is dealt with in a satisfactory way. The gravity of an offense is measured by the value of the being that is offended. Cut a worm in half. Two worms. Hit a squirrel. Nuts. But human beings created in the image of God, devastating. And offending God. Damning.

So Nineveh’s sin is serious. So is your’s. So is mine.

When King David fornicated with Bathsheba, conceiving a child while her husband was on the battlefield fighting for David’s kingdom and David’s honor, David sinned. When Uriah refused to come home and sleep with his wife (so as to cover up David’s earlier sin) while his comrades were still fighting, and so David had him placed on the front lines in order to be killed, David sinned. And finally, when David confessed his sin, he said, “Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight,” (Psalms 51:4 ESV). Strange. Seems to me David sinned against more people than just God. But David got something right. Because of the value of the Person offended, his sin was mostly, primarily against God.

When I sin, it has consequences for me and for those around me. But the magnitude of my sin is right up there “in God’s face.”

About Face

The best way to know one’s mind is not only to hear his words, but to also see his face. And so God, in making known his holy mind to sinful men sends His Word delivered by prophets with human faces.

Jonah, and Jesus, are prophets. One was an Anti-Prophet. The other is the Ultimate Prophet. Once again, we must decide if we will follow Jonah, or Jesus. The (literal) use of the word “face” in the opening verses of Jonah provides the starter material for our discussion. “But Jonah rose up to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the LORD.” (Jonah 1:3 NAS95S) The phrase could be translated literally, “from the face of the Lord.”

Where is God’s presence? Isn’t it everywhere? “Where shall I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence?”
(Psalms 139:7 ESV) For this prophet, a fair interpretation would be to say that when Jonah ceased to be where God wanted him to be, and go where God wanted him to go, then he was no longer living in God’s presence, or before God’s face.

So Jonah forsook God’s face, rejecting the message, and he also fled from the mission field, rejecting the recipients, refusing to communicate with them face to face. There is a lesson here. Rejecting the faces of the recipients of God’s message coordinates with fleeing from God’s face. “If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar;” (1John 4:20 ESV) We cannot love the Lord fully and not also love those to whom we have been called or sent.

As followers of Jesus and representatives of the Ultimate Prophet, we may wish that God’s mind could be communicated merely with propositions. Air drop some literature on Nineveh. Send a mass e-mail to all my associates. Let’s be done with it. But the message is not merely propositional. It is also personal. Jesus came and delivered God’s mind to us in person – He spoke the message (propositions), but even more, he incarnated the message. There is an application here. So we also must seek “face time” with those who would be recipients, in those places where God has called us to be, and those places where God sends us to go.

We live in an informational age overladen with technologies that permit and encourage minimal personal contact. But the very culture that maximizes such capabilities at the same time hardens people against the practice. People are resistant to mere propositions. They need to receive the Good News from someone they can respect; from someone they can know and trust; from someone who will take the time to sit with them face to face.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Jonah: The Recalcitrant Prophet

This past Sunday (1/13/08), in introducing Jonah, we looked at some of the historical and geographical background.

Regarding the historicity of Jonah and this story:

The truthfulness of the Jonah story is no more difficult to swallow than is the resurrection of Jesus from the dead, just as our hope in a new heavens and new earth is no less justifiable than is our acceptance of the creation of this present earth as described by God in Genesis 1,2. Yes, our faith embraces that which is utterly fantastic, and we deal with a God who is wild and wonderful. And what is our problem with that?

Regarding the geography of Jonah:

The far, even unreasonable distance which Jonah was unwilling to travel east to Nineveh was more than matched by his willingness to travel even further west to Tarshish (perhaps on the SW coast of Spain). But then, the distance that Jonah was willing to traverse in order to avoid God, God is willing to solve in order to forgive and fellowship with His people:

“as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us.” (Psalms 103:12 ESV)

“I tell you, many will come from east and west and recline at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven,” (Matthew 8:11 ESV)

The low esteem which Jonah held toward the Ninevites could be contrasted by the high value he placed on his own self and independence from God. Jonah helps us to see more clearly, then, the humiliation of Jesus, who placed such high value on miserable sinners that he voluntarily humbled himself to serve us and save us.

“Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus,who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant,being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” (Philippians 2:5-8 ESV)

And so we see Jonah, the Recalcitrant Prophet, that is, one who digs in his heels and resists his summons to testify. Perhaps we can see some parallel with this excerpt from a portion of our legal code, and maybe even a hint of what is in store for Jonah, the Anti-Prophet.

U.S. Code Collection: TITLE 28 PART V CHAPTER 119: § 1826. Recalcitrant Witness (a) Whenever a witness in any proceeding before or ancillary to any court or grand jury of the United States refuses without just cause shown to comply with an order of the court to testify or provide other information, ..the court, upon such refusal, ..may summarily order his confinement at a suitable place until such time as the witness is willing to give such testimony or provide such information.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Faith Illustration

This illustration is designed to show that faith is not a work. It helps me to think about the relation of grace and faith, as in Eph 2:8,9.

Think of a milkshake. God graciously gives the milkshake. We didn't provide the resources, or make it. God did. But we are supposed to drink it.

Some people would say that our faith-response to God's gracious gift is the straw through which we suck up the milkshake. But I don't think so. God gives the straw as well.

So then faith must be our ability to suck the shake up the straw to ourselves. But I don't think that is right either. We can't even suck without God giving the ability, and even then, I don't think that is where faith comes in.

I think faith is more like God doing everything, providing the ingredients, making the shake, giving the straw, drawing the shake to our mouths, and the response of faith is merely savoring what God has done.

I think that is what faith is. It is realizing that without God, we can not be saved, and that we cannot contribute to the process. Faith is savoring, appreciating, and valuing what God has done in Christ. Faith is savoring Christ. Is it essential to salvation? Yes. But it does not place our actions at the center. God through Christ is at the center.