Thursday, February 24, 2011

Sandcastles aren't Good Homes

We are bound by the Creator of the universe to no longer waste our time on pursuits that will not last. Those endeavors that are the sandcastles we at one time called our homes. Within which we built our lives and around which we built our community. But when the call came and the Sovereign God said, “Let light shine out of darkness.” We saw the sandcastle for what it was, failing.

Now we understand, “Jesus also suffered outside the gate in order to sanctify the people through his own blood. Therefore let us go to him outside the camp and bear the reproach he endured.” (Heb 13:12-13) For all that is not built on Christ is a sandcastle and all that we cling to in this life will be washed away with the tide.

We are the people with no nationality, no city and no home. We wonder outside the sandcastle camp for that is where our Jesus is; looking to the Reward is our theme for in the Reward is home. But in this life, though comfort will be found, the constant prodding of this world not being home will mark all our decisions.

Indeed we are sojourners in a distant country. Thus be wary for this land is full of dastardly fellows that wish nothing more than to see the redeemed sin. Wear well the armor of your King. Fight well the fight of faith. Stand firm in the righteousness of your Savior. You, believer, are a beloved child and will soon be home.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Right Way, Wrong Way

There is a right and a wrong way to read Scripture. Recently I was sitting down over a cup of coffee when I was told, “There are thousands of different interpretations for what the Bible says.” This stopped my brain in its tracts.

For if this is true then the truth of Scripture is extremely relative to the reader and the point in studying it is completely fraudulent. You see if there is not one meaning for a text but rather thousands then the meaning of Scripture is different for whoever is reading it at that moment…

This however is not so. There is a right way and a wrong way to read Scripture. It does not have a myriad of interpretations rather it has a myriad of applications. The meaning will be the same, but the way it is applied from life to life will look different.

This post has one meaning, namely that the Scriptures have one meaning. I, the writer, intended for this to be read and seen as having one meaning. If some dork comes along and says this post is all about the way dogs treat cats then he is a loon and will be seen as one.

But when it comes to Scripture we lay down and die saying it has a different meaning to someone else… That. Is. Dumb. Scripture is the only sure footing we have in this relativistic wind of a society and we are willing to let it be tossed around like a tennis ball.

Either Scripture is seen for what it is (The Word of God) or you will never see the glory of God, that's pretty clear.

'Traditional' Church? Pt. 4: Gospel-centeredness vs. whatever the hell is being taught (revisited)

(For clarity let me define what I mean by “Gospel.” The Gospel is: Jesus Christ living the life you cannot (nor could not) live, and dying the death you should be, daily, dying. Romans 3:23-28 and 1 Corinthians 15: 3-8 provided beautiful descriptions.)

This post is the main post. All the others lead up to this one. All the problems proposed in the other posts stem from this one misconception. All the silos, all the faux joy, all the porcelain faces, all the prideful nostalgia, all the fearful leaders, all the tradition come from one factor, lack of Gospel teaching.

The Gospel is central in the teaching of the Church… No, it IS the teaching of the Church. It’s not a sermon saved for Easter or Christmas. It is every sermon. It ought to be present in every group, every meeting, and every prayer.

Because of the Gospel we see deep-seated community; the realization of one’s depravity outside of Christ and one’s righteousness in Christ alone; an overwhelming joy that is quite inexpressible; a desire to lead others farther up and farther in to their understanding and application of the Gospel, even if they’re not the pastor; and the necessity to hold all things (save the Gospel) loosely. Indeed the very nature of the Gospel is transformation not tradition.

But when the Gospel is not taught, when it is not heralded well, we see complacency, a fractured community, silos, pride, and stupid traditions. Congregants are more passionate about getting things their way than they ever have been about seeing the lost redeemed.

I hope by now you are catching my drift that you are beginning to see for yourself the paramount necessity we have, and the massive problem that must be overcome. Tradition is, quite literally, killing. I’ve said it in every post. Let me tell you why.

Belief in the Gospel is necessary for salvation. Whether you think God chooses you or you choose God doesn’t matter a bit. We who were once dead are brought to life by the work of the Spirit breathing life into our dead lungs through the proclamation of the finished work of Christ on the cross. Thus if the Church, the very place where this good news ought to be spoken and seen most clearly, turns from what it must proclaim to something, anything, else it is killing, through it’s resignation to see sinners damned.

As the Church we must, for necessity is laid upon us, preach about, sing about, commune over, steep in, meditate through, and savor the taste of the Gospel. But the verse we love to quote about sinners is our description; “They have exchanged the truth about God for a lie…”

However some will never learn. Some will always be more offended by the title of this post than the lack of Gospel in the pulpit. Some will continue on wanting to be pleased, have their ears tickled, if you will, rather than be broken of sin, and rejoice over the lost redeemed.

But though our cynicism runs deep and though some of us have been burned so badly by the people of God all the aloe in the world would not calm the pain, we must remember one thing the Church is a whore. She, better yet, we will strive to be satisfied by every other thing rather than God.

So when she stabs us in the back and twists the blade, we forgive as we have been forgiven in the Gospel. When she cheats us and gives us what we ‘don’t deserve’ we must remember that in the Gospel we were saved from what we do deserve, namely hell and death. When she tells us we’re not good enough, or don’t make enough, or aren’t pretty enough to be in her halls we must realize that the Gospel makes us good enough, wealthy enough and pretty enough to allow us to stand before God as righteous because of Jesus; as able to come with what we don’t have and buy what’s underserved because of Jesus; and as glorious as Jesus because of Jesus… It is always, only, ever about Jesus, not tradition.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

'Traditional' Church? Pt. 3: Reality doesn't look like 'tradition' (Revisited)

We are creatures of habit for sure. Driving down well-worn streets, walking favorite routes, eating familiar food, and spending time with people we love. Often times these habits become our tradition. We open one present on Christmas Eve and save the rest for the Christmas morning. We go shopping on Black Friday and bond while dodging death for a cute shirt or some DVD’s at the crack of dawn.

The point is we create habits and traditions. So it is understandable that the Church will have habits, tendencies and traditions. But we unrealistically expect the Church to always do the same traditions the same ways. We want a Children’s Ministry, Youth Ministry and Adult Ministry and when it’s questioned we argue, “We’ve always done it this way and its worked, why should we change it now?” Has it worked? I argue no.

80%-90%, that’s the statistic of youth that leave the church during high school or after graduation. I suck at math but I know that leaves a 20%-10% success rate… Also known as failure. If a kid comes home with a 15% on a math test, he may be in a little trouble. Tradition is working, eh?

Reality does not look like tradition. Your traditions change, your habits change. Whether from a move, a child, or death your traditions will not remain the same. But we think the Church’s traditions can’t change. Traditional Church must remain the same so as to please those who grew up in the tradition. Because it’s the way it was done.

That’s the problem. Did you catch it? People want to be pleased and cuddled by a nostalgic memory of the way things were. Rather than being prodded to growth we would remain children of what use to be, than be men and women of what is. Its pride is what it is. Pride.

Change is inevitable. But we would presume to stop the hands of time to keep the church the way it was when we were kids. We would have the audacity to sacrifice our children to the god of tradition so things remain congruent.

Similarly, leaders won’t press for change, because they were trained in the tradition. They logically, and rightly, think that if the format changes their position may not be necessary. They are a stagnant bunch, where rot and decay run rampant and unchecked. A leader is an under-shepherd. Keeping watch over the souls God has given him. But if the leader is more concerned with keeping his job than pushing souls into the Gospel, he is a liar and cheat and the congregation he ‘shepherds’ should get their money back.

Tradition is sucking the life from the church.

May, God in his grace break us who audaciously presume to fight change choosing rather to be cuddled by nostalgia than broken by Gospel heralding.

Beautiful Scripture for a Beautiful Day

"The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad; the desert shall rejoice and blossom like the crocus; it shall blossom abundantly and rejoice with joy and singing. The glory of Lebanon shall be given to it, the majesty of Carmel and Sharon. The shall see the glory of the Lord, the majesty of our God.

Strengthen the weak hands, and make firm the feeble knees. Say to those who have an anxious heart, 'Be strong; fear not! Behold, your God will come with vengeance, with the recompense of God. He will come and save you.'

Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; then shall the lame man leap like a deer, and the tongue of the mute sing for joy. For waters break forth in the wilderness, and streams in the desert; the burning sand shall become a pool, and the thirsty ground springs of water; in the haunt of the jackals, where they lie down, the grass shall become reeds and rushes.

And a highway shall be there, and it shall be called the Way of Holiness; the unclean shall not pass over it. It shall belong to those who walk on the way; even if they are fools, they shall not go astray. No lion shall be there, nor any ravenous beast come up on it; they shall not be found there, but the redeemed shall walk there. And the ransomed of the Lord shall return and come to Zion with singing; everlasting joy shall be upon their heads; they shall obtain gladness and joy, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away."

Isaiah 35

"Jesus said to him, 'I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you had known me, you would have known my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him."

John 14:6-7

"For God who said, 'Let light shine out of darkness,' has shone in our dark hearts to reveal the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ."

2 Corinthians 4:6

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

'Traditional' Church? Pt. 2: Community? (pt.2) revisited

The Second part of a two-part post the first of which may be seen here

We ought to be desirous of true community within the church. Starbucks and bars offer a different kind of community, a community that doesn’t require the attendee to be real. People are known for their work rather than their struggles; they are known for what they drink not who they are.

Tradition has made this ‘community’ within the church. People are known for where they work not who they are. Indeed, most cannot answer the simple question, ‘Who are you?’ without much pressing, they answer with what they do, not who they are.

Is it possible to change this, to trade the bastard child of community for community itself?

The mold must be broken, not in two, but shattered. The tradition must be forgot and we must press on to have community. Now we have ‘neat country clubs’ by God’s grace, in the future we will have godly community.

Though it is dirty to toss the Sunday school (country club) model out and push all ages together, indeed it will be difficult, but when is life not? Yet through this strife our young will see godliness lived out in the generations before them.

To be sure, our grey-haired congregants hold a beautiful place. They have seen life, come through its trials, and have, by God’s grace, continued their belief in the Gospel. Occupying a unique arena in discipleing the young in both life and faith. Yet the old do not, not learn. They learn how the young culture thinks, works, feels and thus can adapt their skills to the new generations.

Church was not meant to be multiple silos.

The silo model is a wonderful strategy to kill churches. It is divide and conquer used by the devil to smash and grab the young, create a pride complex in the old, and a sophisticated air in the parents who now think it is the church’s job to disciple their kids. Within genuine community sin is fought, accountability given, the Gospel heralded, thoughts redirected by Scripture, and discipleship done with all ages seeing struggle, sin, reproof and Gospel-victory.

But we ‘Christians’ are lazy. Apathy is our cup of coffee. We sit and sip this brew and anticipate the ‘next generation being the difference.’ While our young die, while our kids are taught to look up to David, Moses, and Abraham rather than Jesus. Our thick skulls must be bruised, and biblical community must be had.

Indeed we need graceful, forceful redirection.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

'Traditional' Church? Pt. 2: Community? (pt.1) revisited

The new-old post of 'Traditional' Church? part 1 can be seen here (This will be a two-part post)

On an average Sunday thousands of churches will perform the routine of ‘Sunday School’. Children will attend ‘Children’s church’ with its coloring pages, crafts, and ‘children’s Bible stories’. Youth will go to their building or room, eat donuts and drink soda while sitting on couches. Then have ‘stimulating message’ with cliché phrases and pyrotechnics given. Adults will go to their room and sit in chairs either around a table or in rows and listen to a man who has studied all week to teach them.

But something is missing, something important, a main tenant to Christianity.

Silos. Silos are what tradition has adult, youth, and children’s ministries, which ‘cater to each level’s individual needs and comprehension’. But this tradition is killing community and our youth.

Boys grow up watching other boys get old, graduate and go drink their brain cells dead. While girls grow up seeing other girls get old and sleep with the drunken boys. Because there is no community within tradition! Boys cannot watch godly men be godly men in college, because they are in a different part of the church. Girls cannot watch godly women be godly women in relationships because they meet off campus. Boys cannot watch godly men be godly men in marriage because the married folks meet at the other end of the church. Girls cannot watch godly women be godly women with their kids because they meet on Thursday mornings by themselves… Are you catching my drift? Do you understand that this ‘silo system’ we have developed, this Sunday school system, this tradition is killing our youth?

Additionally, within tradition we don’t talk about sin. We don’t confess to each other. We don’t repent to each other. We don’t cry because our sin is massive. Rather we walk around hiding our sin as best we can, avoiding being seen as vulnerable. Our facade of faux joy is like the face of a well-polished porcelain doll, never changing, always smiling, ever eerily fake.

So the proposition is this: break the porcelain face to reveal our own, marred, scared, impaired, and hideously ghastly features so as to be in community with other appallingly similar shattered people.

The answer is simple, but it requires work, it isn’t pretty, and it is not clean. Traditional churches seem to want to come off as though they have no problems, as though everything is all right. Bull. Churches are hospitals. People are dying in them, defecating, having limbs amputated, sicknesses cured, gory wounds mended. If a church longs to be seen as clean and shiny as opposed to needing sterilization from such grotesque diseases, then it would be better for that church to die than carry on. For what good is a hospital with doctors who are scared of getting the floor dirty with the blood of patients?

Monday, February 14, 2011

'Traditional' Church? Pt. 1: Cynical (revisited)

For the next few days I am going to re-post a series which I wrote last August entitled "'Traditional' Church?" The main reason for seeing these put forth again to because the validity of the problem is still apparent to my mind. Interestingly enough the thoughts contained within these posts seem to be a common thread amongst those who have been church goers for the majority of their lives, leading me to believe that something has got to change.

Most of us grew up in it. Walking in on a Sunday morning seeing people just like you with years of deep-seated problems repressed behind a composure of faux joy and the illusion everything is all right. Casual conversation flows carefully, not wanting to get tied up in the mire of someone’s ‘sins’. Glancing cleanly off the surface people greet each other and find their sets, the children are in their place, the teens in theirs, and now you, the adult, sit in yours.
As you sit through the service the preacher gives some helpful hints on the meaning of a word, six points on whatever he’s talking about, and you sing a myriad of new, old, odd songs. Whether the music feels soft and mellow, or you walk out thinking it was a concert doesn’t matter they do it all the same.

It’s an old theory, divide and conquer, working well on playgrounds, in police interrogation rooms, at dinner, and war. Splitting the enemy into manageable portions and reigning victorious over each. So the church has taken the family and catered to each level’s individual needs. The Children get something that stimulates them to learn about the Bible in Sunday school, VBS and other activities. The youth receive pizza and a man whose been trained specifically to help them learn about God, through weekly studies, camps, and retreats. The adults sit with coffee in hand listening to a man talk, to learn more about life while attending Adult Fellowships, prayer meetings, and other weekly events. All of this is designed to create good converts, people who know the Bible, God, and life well so as to live God-centered, Bible-based lives. Right?

Wrong. This system of church that we call ‘traditional’ is killing the Christian faith. The church has become, over time, more harmful to one’s faith than helpful. Whether you go to the flashy-concert-mega-church with some sort of teaching, or the small fledgling church with solid teaching, it doesn’t matter. The system, the way they do ‘church’, if it is traditional, is dangerous and ought to be killed. In those cases church has become a pitiful country club.

By now the majority of readers will say, ‘O were you burned by the church?’ trying to explain away my cynicism through psychology. No, the church, to answer the question, did not burn me; I’ve simply grown weary of the same statistics being true and the ‘church’ not acting like the Church in any manner whatsoever. So in these posts entitled “’Traditional’ Church?” I will chronicle the reasons for my cynicism and, by God’s grace, offer what seems to be the logical solution.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Thoughts on Isaiah 29:17-21

"Is it not yet a very little while until Lebanon shall be turned into a fruitful field, and the fruitful field shall be regarded as a forest? In that day the deaf shall hear the words of a book, and out of their gloom and darkness the eyes of the blind shall see. The meek shall obtain fresh joy in the Lord, and the poor among mankind shall exult in the Holy One of Israel. For the ruthless shall come to nothing and the scoffer cease; and all who watch to do evil shall be cut off, who by a word make a man out to be an offender, and lay a snare for him who reproves in the gate, and with an empty plea turn aside him who is in the right." Isaiah 29:17-21

2 things:

1) Jesus has come and the deaf hear words from a book, Scripture. Sharper than any two-edged sword piercing to the division of joint and marrow, sharp enough to make a heart of stone bleed (Heb. 4:12-13). Jesus has come and the blind see for God has shone in their dark heart to reveal his glory (2 Cor. 4:6). Jesus has come and the meek have obtained and are obtaining fresh joy (2 Cor. 4:7-12). Jesus has come and the poor are rich because of the Holy One of Israel (Heb. 11:26).
"... 'Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?' And Jesus answered them, 'Go and tell John what you hear an see: the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them. And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.'" Matt. 11:3-6

2) The ruthless will come to nothing, the scoffer cease, and the evil dower cut off. Because Jesus is not their hope.

Either our hope lies in Jesus or there is no hope at all.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Salt Covered Lemon

Pain is for the glory of God. Pain is given by God to sanctify his beloved children. Pain sucks. Yet as believers we’re told to expect it and when it comes count it all joy (James 1). Paul calls affliction “light and momentary” in comparison to the glory that will be revealed to us (2 Cor. 4:17). What is more astounding for the believer to see and understand is that pain is for their good (Romans 8:28).

What about when the trial really comes and bears all its hideous teeth down on you? What about when the sin you are being convicted of is rooted so deep that it means pulling up your very heartstrings in order to kill it?

In that time doctrine is no help, it is a salt covered lemon squeezed onto a gaping wound. Doctrine is what I should believe, but it is cold and hard. Theology is what the Christian’s tear stained face longs to be buried in rather than the cold hard steel of doctrine.

For in Theology there is God. In Theology there is the beloved’s Father. In Theology there is the embrace so desperately needed and the calm voice to comfort the gasping crier. God is Comforter.

For pain is for the glory of God, and ought to press us farther into his arms because he is the only One that can truly comfort the mourner, the broken or the depressed.

Therefore it is a joy to be in pain and be pushed into God. It is light and momentary for more of his glory is seen. It is for the believer’s good for he is wooing the broken to himself with himself.

Quite Frankly

“Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” Heb 4:14-16

Allow me to be frank. I love this passage, most of time. That Jesus was tempted just like us is an astounding idea in my brain… But it is no comfort to my heart. When conviction of sin comes and the realization of your own failures is before your eyes this passage, for me, is absolutely no help in calming my heart.

This may be on the verge of heretical for some of you, but let me explain why this passage is no help.

My biggest enemy and I are one! Sin dwells in my heart and makes a home in my very being. I am, by nature, a sinner. But Jesus was not. The enemy was not dwelling within him. So, yes, temptation came and he came through it perfectly because the draw was not deep inside his bones.

But I’ll tell you what this passage does do for me, “Before the throne of God above I have a strong and perfect plea a great high priest whose name is love whoever lives and pleads for me.”

Therefore though this passage is no comfort it is a pressing factor. For though his sympathy only goes so far his pleading goes the whole way. His finished work on the cross is the ultimate comfort, even when it seems so distant. That I am called “beloved child” because of Jesus that, that is where the comfort is found.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Psalm 51

"Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin!

For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me. Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you may be justified in your words and blameless in your judgement. Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me. Behold, you delight in truth in the inward being, and you teach me wisdom in the secret heart.

Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wahs me, and I shall be whiter than snow. Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones you have broken rejoice. Hide your face form my sins, and blot out all my iniquities. Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from your presence, and take not your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit.

Then I will teach transgressors your ways, and sinners will return to you. Deliver me from blood-guiltiness, O God, O God of my salvation, and my tongue will sing aloud of your righteousness. O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will declare your praise. For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it; you will not be pleased with burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.

Do good to Zion in your good pleasure; build up the walls of Jerusalem; then will you delight in right sacrifices, in burnt offerings and whole burnt offerings; then bulls will be offered on your altar."

Unmerited Good News

(All quotes are C.H. Spurgeon's unless otherwise cited)

“It is a throne of grace, all the needs of those who come to it will be supplied.” Come to the throne of grace, that you might know that God is the Just and Justifier. That He is from first to last. Before all things were, He was God. You must not bring Him anything, just your sinfulness, that He might show you His awesome power, in His Awesome Son.

“Come then you who are poor as poverty itself, having no merits and destitute of virtues and reduced to beggarly bankruptcy by Adam’s fall and your own transgressions.” “Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price (Isaiah 55:1).” It is the free gift of God for those that believe. “…Because if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus Christ and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead you will be saved (Romans 10:9).”

It is not by works, but by God. Excluding boasting because man does nothing in his own salvation, it is entirely a work that can only be initiated by God and finished by Christ. “Come, then, you who are not only poor but also wretched, whose miseries make you long for death, and yet you dread it. You captive ones, come in your chains; you slaves, come with the irons upon your souls; you who sit in darkness, come forth all blindfolded as you are. The throne of grace will look on you if you cannot look on it and will give to you, though you have nothing to give in return, and will deliver you, though you cannot raise a finger to deliver yourself.”

“For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption of Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by His blood, to be received by faith, this was to show God’s righteousness, because in His divine forbearance He had passed over former sins. (Romans 3:22-25)”

Worth and goodness are given in the Gospel. Though wretched we are and though broken we'll be Jesus makes us whole. Indeed we are more sinful than we can ever imagine and He is more merciful and gracious than we could ever hope to dream.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Theology + Personal Pronouns = Crap

There is an interesting phenomenon that occurs in Theological discussions. One that is quite frankly a gross misrepresentation of the whole idea of discussing who God is. It is the personal pronoun mumbo-jumbo.

When sitting and talking about God there are more “I think’s” “For me’s” and “In my opinion’s” than there are “God is” or “Scripture says”. When there are more personal pronouns in a theological conversation than there are evidences of God the conversation is not theological at all, rather it’s an anthropological view in theological terms. It’s not about God… It’s about whom you want God to be.

Rather than grasping at understanding the finiteness of man and the immortality of God we would rather supersede all authority and create our own god using mismatched quotations and verses. There is truly no desire for the study of God because there is no desire to know God.

So here’s the deal, either we, as believers do exactly what we’re called to do, namely take up our cross and deny ourselves because this is the only way to follow Jesus (Matt. 16:24), or we are not believer’s at all. For how can you ‘love’ what you do not know? How can you ‘treasure’ what you will not study?

It should not be an easy thing to come all sinful as you are to the throne of perfection and beg to know the wholly righteous God. It will be painful for sin remains so deeply ingrained in you, but it will be worth it.

“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