Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Who's Your Daddy?

I have a confession.  A struggle.  A great shame.  I am my father's son.  I talk just like him, I walk like him, I look like him(but obviously a much handsomer version).  The way I process information and respond is a carbon copy of my dad.  There is virtually no way I could convince anyone who knows both of us that I am not his son. 

Now, I am just kidding.  I think my dad is great and I look up to him in so many ways.  One of my greatest disappointments as a child was when I discovered that my dad couldn't be President(he wasn't born here).  All the problems we have would have been easily solved by my dad! 

In part, a lot of the ways I am similar to my dad are genetic.  I didn't choose to have such masculine and attractive facial hair.  But in many ways our similarities were born not out of genetics, but love and respect for my dad.  He was my model in so many ways.  And consciously and subconsciously I mimicked what I observed because I valued him and wanted him to be pleased with me.

Our lives become living reflections of what we value and love.  There is no hiding what is important to you.  It is literally written all over your "face".  If you were to say you place the highest value on "this" but act in ways directly contradictory to those ways....then you don't really mean it.  No one would ever say that I think running long distances is important.....I clearly don't look like I run long distances...and...I never actually run.....No matter what I might say about the matter does not change the reality.

In the Gospel of John, Jesus has been laying out a very clear challenge to the Jewish leaders who have become enamored with their own self-righteous behavior.  As chapter 8 is wrapping up I think the most important practical application is presented. 

"If God WERE your father, you would love me"- John 8:42

He does not say, "If God were your father, you would DO something".  He makes the central point that love for God and Jesus is the driving force behind our kinship with Christ. Earlier in the passage he does start by saying that if they were really his disciples they would follow his teaching.  But lest we confuse the issue, and the order of importance, he clarifies that it is LOVE for God that drives behavior. 

To be very clear, he says FIRST--Truly being his disciple......LEADS to SECOND---Following his teaching.

Acting a certain way does not MAKE you a disciple of Christ and a child of God.  Loving God is what makes us a child of God....AND that love changes how we act. 

When we reverse the process we do not create beloved children, but whitewashed tombs. 

There are so many ways that I am like my dad.  And most of them just happened as a natural response to my love for him.  I didn't say as a five year old, "I need to WALK and TALK this way SO that daddy loves me".  BECAUSE I love my daddy I desired to do so.

So what do we need to ask ourselves?  When we look at our lives, our behaviors, etc, do they reflect plainly how deeply we love the Son?  Or, do they reflect how much we love ourselves, and, this world?  Love as a motivator needs not be given a list of do's and don'ts.  But when they aren't a natural outpouring of who we are....we have to look deeply at our hearts. 

Sometimes it is good for a dad to copy a son..... I am pretty sure if my dad understood computers he would do stuff like this to me as well.....

Thursday, November 20, 2014

When Good isn't Good Enough

My son has reached the age where he has been taught the classic, "Stop, Drop and Roll" technique for addressing being on fire.  This is a good thing.  If my son ever finds himself in a situation where his pants have begun to burn and smolder, it will be very beneficial for him to know what to do.  Not to mention it is fun to watch him demonstrate his SDaR technique in our living room.

Valuable as it may be, SDaR misses a very important point that ultimately is much more vital to my sons survival.  Practically speaking, the likelihood of my five year old spontaneously catching fire while playing on the swing set is highly unlikely.  What is much more probable is that while we are sleeping there is an electrical fire that starts somewhere in our house.  With our house ablaze my son may very well find some sort of fire on his clothes.  And if that is to occur....he has to GET OUT OF THE HOUSE!!!! 

If you were to find yourself in a burning house all the SDaR in the world will not save you if you do not first get out of the source of the fire.  No matter how effectively and rapidly you roll back and forth on the floor you will eventually burn up.  Get away from the fire, and THEN deal with your smoldering pants.  To reverse that vital process is the height of absurdity. 

In the Gospel of John the ministry of Jesus really gets going when he comes to the Festival of the Booths and calls out all the hyper religious people for being great rule followers who are still destined for destruction.  The Jewish religious establishment prided itself on doing all the right things the right way, but Jesus tells them it is all for naught.  Their behavior is not going to stave off destruction. 

Clearly he was a popular fellow......

Behaving morally, ethically, kindly, etc, are all nice and commendable things.  My preference is to have neighbors who do NOT rob me in the middle of the night and set my house on fire.  The reasons that they do not behave in such a manner are, in some ways, immaterial to me.  If my neighbor believes he is being monitored by aliens who will shoot him with space lasers if he mistreats me, the end, self-centered result is that my day to day life is more pleasant because I have a neighbor who acts appropriately. 

Good behavior is our Stop Drop and Roll.  In a vacuum it is a good thing to know and put into practice.  But what if we are ultimately in the middle of a blazing inferno? 

In John 8 Jesus is beginning to get to the crux of his argument.  That these moral and good behaving people cannot follow Jesus and are going to die in their sins(verse 21).  To understand the context of what Jesus is saying we must recognize the context of the environment that Jesus is stating this.  Everything about this Festival is in proclaiming how righteous and good they all are because of how they follow all the rules.  Their self-styled "goodness" is based on the belief that following the clearly laid out rules justifies themselves in the eyes of God.  They treat religious law as a sort of road map that guarantees that they will arrive at their desired destination. 

With that sort of imagery in mind Jesus says, "You cannot follow where I am going".  Which means, "There is no human road map that you can control and manipulate that will save you".  What will save them?  Believe in the Son of Man who will be raised up(verse 28).  Through the finished work of Christ on the cross(the raised up Son of Man) we can be saved from death.  There is no other way.

If you are sit in a burning house your inevitable life trajectory is destruction.  Before you do anything else, get out!  The natural state of our lives is death.  No matter what good we do, what rules we adhere to, what ethically justifiable behaviors we practice, we are headed to a fire. 

Does this mean that "good" behavior is pointless?  Of course not.  Even if you get out of the burning house you still have to deal with the embers before they cause you damage.  But if you reverse the process of salvation first, THEN regeneration(Holy("good") lives), you aren't doing anything at all.  Rolling around on the ground won't get you out of the house.  Getting out of the house makes the rolling around effective. 

You will never be good enough to get out of the fire. 

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Is Mark Driscoll Bigger than the Cross?(aka, what Church should I go to)

What makes a good church?  Why should you go to "this" church instead of "that" church? 

The Gospel.

Let me be more clear.

The message that we are sinners.  Lost and dead in our sin.  Christ came and died in our place to pay the penalty for our sins.  Through his FINISHED work on the cross we can have life and this is the power of God.  And the cross PREACHED is alone the power that a church has to share.  (I Corinthians 1:18)

Everything flows from that.

Paul says in Galatians 1:8 that if anyone is preaching something OTHER than the Gospel of Christ crucified they are under a curse. 

So what about churches and people teaching things that you disagree with regarding secondary issues?  In Philippians 1 Paul shares about two types of people; 1) Those who preach Christ humbly, and, 2) Those who preach Christ for personal gain.  And how does he respond to these "false" teachers?  He rejoices that the Gospel is preached. 

So why doesn't he get more tough on these self-centered teachers?  I believe it is because of what he says in 1 Corinthians;  Only the cross has power.  Either we, in our clever words and window dressings, have the ability to change lives, or, the redemptive finished work of Christ on the cross changes lives. 

Let me illustrate this in a silly way.....

If I have a goal to teach someone how to read there are a number of different ways I can present it.  Some we could argue are better than others.  Some techniques might even be fairly absurd.  But even if I teach my son that the way to read is to hold a book in one hand while tugging on his ear with the other, does he learn how to read?  Yes.  We can all agree that my added ear tugging was unnecessary and ultimately unhelpful, but, if he does learn to read, he will probably realize that the ear tugging is superfluous to the process and eliminate it on his own.  Yet the essential and life changing goal has been achieved.  He can now read.  And he will be able to read for the rest of his life.

If Christ is preached, and the cross is visible, most, if not all, of the superfluous ridiculousness that people may add will eventually take a back seat.  Because it is not our power that changes lives, but the power of God. 

Does this mean we ignore absurdity?  No.  But we too often focus on the absurdity and not the power.  The way we criticize other churches is often done in such a way that we are subtly claiming that because they have added some "ear tugging" they aren't really alive in Christ.  If the central message of a church is Christ Crucified, than let us rejoice in the Gospel.  Which isn't the same as saying that we should all go to that church and participate in "ear tugging". 

In the course of the Mark Driscoll and Mars Hill saga(look it up yourself) a common refrain I hear is how "this" is the sort of thing that causes people to leave Christ.  Let me say that again.  When my son discovers that my "ear tugging" technique was stupid he will never read again........

What power do we preach?  Our own?  Or the Cross?  If we preach the Cross, regardless of the reasons or the technique, than our own failures and mistakes have no effect on the power of God.  Unless you believe that a single man, or church, can supersede the power of Christ. 

Say whatever you want about Driscoll and his innumerable problems, but he preached the Cross.  There are literally thousands of stories of people who came to the cross through the message of the Gospel that was preached.  There surely was a progressive growth of "ear tugging" secondary doctrines that began to bleed into the life of Mars Hill, but the cross was always preached.  And like Paul, I rejoice for the lives that were saved because of CHRIST! 

And we should also weep for the people who were hurt by the secondary issues.  This is a fine line that we must struggle to maintain.  But we can not lose perspective that while we have a responsibility to address sinful behavior(ala Paul vs Peter), we cannot begin a process of claiming that the power of salvation comes from any one teacher's perfect motivation and technique. 

When we look for a church to go to we must begin and end with the question, is the Cross preached?  If it is, than weigh carefully the secondary issues.  If it isn't, it is not a church.  Even if it gets secondary issues right.   

Reminder...preaching the Gospel does not give you a pass for sin....

Friday, November 7, 2014

Sin, Judgement, Grace

My five year old son loves to play a "game" with his little sister.  He will snottily ask her a question that has an obvious answer that he knows she will get incorrect.  When she inevitably fails the pop quiz he will snap "no, you're wrong!!"  Obviously we are working on correcting it.  But it is an interesting illustration of our human nature....An unhealthy part of our psyche enjoys proving people are wrong and that we are right. 

Very few things feel sweeter than a good old fashioned, "I told you so".  It isn't just enough to be right, we like to bask in the gloriousness of our rightness while rubbing other peoples faces in their wrongness.....Especially when we perceive someone's being wrong as a personal affront of some sort.  You probably don't think of yourself as being a snotty 5 year old tricking his sister, but ask yourself how you feel about people who defend a diametrically opposed political position.  WE LOVE to see them be wrong.  And if we have a good clickbait article to illustrate it we will find some way to slyly post it in the social media world so that they have to see it....

Legalistic morality is the dressed up and articulated version of the "told you so's".  Religious Laws are a tool that are used as hammer to bludgeon those who do not live up to the standards that we appeal to.  While the Law in general serves a helpful purpose in structuring and protecting culture, it does not develop people who live naturally within the framework illustrated by the Law.  It, quite frankly, does not change hearts.

Will my son stop tricking his sister with his questions because he wants to be loving and encourage her to feel good?  Or, does he stop tricking her because he doesn't want to put his nose in the corner anymore?  If the only reason we do what is right is to avoid something that is bad, are we truly doing what is right?

The Law is a trap that is used to produce guilt. 

In the Gospel of John chapter 8 a woman is brought to Jesus

“Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him."  John 8:4-6

Is a law against adultery a good thing?  Sure.  But do we hear from these Teachers a broken heartedness over the damage of this sin on her family or the family of the person she sinned with?  No.....Do they seem personally broken up about having to confront such a difficult situation?  No....They were just giddy(I say that because of the preceding context that we know these men were previously brainstorming a way to get rid of Jesus) at this golden opportunity to trap Jesus.

The Law was not being used for the woman, it was being used for their selfishness.  It wasn't an opportunity to correct a harmful behavior, but a chance to prove that THEY are the righteous ones. 

Those who are most comfortable with appealing to the rules are often those who do so to assert their specialness because of how they perceive that they themselves measure up in comparison. 

Jesus makes an appeal that cuts to the heart of our "gotcha" attitudes.  

When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” -John 8:7

Those who want to harness the hammer of the law need to recognize that it will be equally upon them.  The Law does not give freedom to anyone.  It enslaves everyone.  Jesus is making very clear to us that the their are no degrees of condemnation that the Law brings with it.  

At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. 10 Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”
11 “No one, sir,” she said.
“Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.” - John 8:9-11

The Law exists.  It is true.  But it does not change us.  Grace and love are the tools that change our hearts.  When Jesus came He fulfilled the demands of the Law and offered Grace to all who accept it.  When we don't accept it, we make a claim that we would rather live with the Law.   When someone says that they think they are going to heaven because they are a good person they are appealing to the prison of the Law as their hope.  They are hoping that they can do enough good to avoid punishment.  

The irony is that one of the oft used criticisms of Christianity is that Christian's use the threat of hell to get people to behave.  Yet by divorcing ourselves from the Grace of Christ the only reason we have to behave is to avoid punishment.  Either in this life or the next.  Why should the atheist "act" good?  Because there are "consequences".  Why should the generic spiritual person "act" good?  To avoid consequences.  Only in Christ are we told we can be fully loved even when we break the "Law".  

Let me say here for the record...if anyone tells you that you should be a Christian so you don't go to hell, they are not telling you about Christianity.  They are just telling you the age old performance based story of the Law dressed up with some "Christ-yness".


Having the Law doesn't change the Heart

Thursday, November 6, 2014

The Gospel Doesn't Care if you Fail Today

We have developed a pretty extreme standard of evaluation for success.  Specifically, that it must happen immediately.  This is influencing nearly every aspect of our lives. 

What are some of the most popular television shows over the last few years?  Reality competition.  American Idol, the Voice, Project Runway, etc.  They all promise something very similar.  You, yes you, are a diamond in the rough.  Overnight we will discover your God given talent, launch you into the stratosphere and you can bask in the glow of your own brilliance for the decades to come. 

Perhaps you would never try out for something like this, but when we look at our culture today we see this same insipid attitude permeating every nook and crevice of societal thought and progression.  Recently I was reading about how the Millennial Generation was struggling post college.  The dream careers they had been promised were not materializing.  One particular character was profiled in a NYT's piece who was currently living in his parents basement.  Now, he had been offered a well paying job right out of college(50k+) but it wasn't REALLLLLYYY what he saw himself doing to "change the world" and "live his dreams".  So, instead of contributing to society, he was playing Xbox in his parents basement......

Do you remember layaway?  It used to be the common method of purchasing something you needed or wanted.  You made a long term disciplined commitment to putting away a set amount of money towards the eventual purchase of the item.  Today we just carry credit card debt with huge interest rates.  We want that big screen TV today, not in 12 weeks.  So what if I pay 20% more than it is really worth.  My life is poorer if I have to wait.....

It is what we desire from our politicians today.  I have a problem, however I define it, and it should be fixed.....immediately.  The long term costs of fixing the problem today do not factor into whether or not it is actually a good idea, fix it for me this very moment!  And the politician who promises the most quick fixes gets my vote......

Can you name any successful weight loss programs that advertise that if you stick to our plan for the next 2 years you will do great????  Or, are the ones that are out there promising 10 minutes of exercise 3 times a decade.......

In the Gospel of John chapter 7 Jesus has been rubbing everyone the wrong way.  He has called out their self-centered hypocritical religiosity and basically ticked off all the big wigs in Jerusalem.  No one is clamoring for more of this criticism.  They are actually plotting to try to kill him.  So, the next day, since it wasn't working out very well, JC went on vacation.....I mean....He came right back and kept at it. 

During Jesus' Earthly ministry He experienced arguably more setbacks than victories.  Not to mention an entire community would turn against Him and cheer for His execution.  You might argue that He did all of that because He knew what was going to happen in the end.  But, you and I, we clearly aren't God, we don't really know about tomorrow. 

And that, my friends, is our problem.

Could you die tonight in a freak ceiling fan accident?  Of course.  But by focusing on the limited reality of our temporal existence we accept a false premise that our lives are measured, and therefore, valued, by finite circumstances.  The Gospel of Jesus Christ and His finished work on the cross instead points to the reality that every moment of our lives is a beautiful facet in the tapestry of our eternally designed purpose.

We have become prisoners to the tyranny of the moment.  The seduction of the quick fix.  The comfort of the easy solution.  What makes us feel good today becomes the highest standard of our subjective morality and evaluation of value.

The Gospel is not concerned with the immediacy of the moment, but in the reflection of an Eternal God.  Even in the suffering and the failure of a moment eternity beckons us forward.  When we make decisions from a perspective of self we make limiting choices that disconnect us from a larger picture.

When Jesus returns to Jerusalem in chapter 8 the teachers of the Law bring an adulteress to Jesus to judge.  They point out her clear sin, and, the clear punishment.  Black and white and in response to the immediate moment they demand "judgement".   The law, the tyranny of the moment, demands us to value each other's personhood by our most recent success or transgression.  The Gospel tells us that we are more than our failures.  Sin locks us into being defined by our moments.  The Gospel frees us to be shaped by Christ's love. 

Though you may die tonight, the life God has made you for, and the life you are called to, is one that sees the moments of your life as part of an ever continuing whole.  Are you looking to feel good today, or be met in love and grace forever?  There is a reason that the Gospel message is to come and die, to pick up our cross.  Living for yourself shrinks your experience and joy to a mere moment.  Living in Christ extends it to everlasting.

Even when you make a terrible mistake, you are never a mistake