Saturday, December 29, 2012

Occupants of Cells Without an Exit

"Here I am! I stand at the door and knock.
 If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, 
and they with me."
Revelation 3:20

Tyler Stevenson commenting on how our consumeristic culture has impacted the very way we interpret texts such as this one:

"The popular treatment of this passage demonstrates the degree to which consumerism has co-opted Christianity. In most treatments of this passage that I have encountered, we are led to imagine Jesus standing on the front stoop of the mansions of our lives. The moment of conversion in this depiction is that glorious moment when we deign to let him in, that salvific Fuller Brush man or Mary Kay rep who stands ready to make the sale that will change our lives. But this understanding is an inversion of reality. The one who crosses your threshold in such a case will not be the Lord but a Brand Jesus pitch-man. The real, living Lord does not wander the scorched suburbs of our reality, a lonely figure trooping door to door in search of those houses that could use a spiritual sprucing up.

Rather, in reality, we are occupants of cells that have no exit-no exit that is, until his knock makes a door where before there was none. Our lives are not six billion points of reference between which he wanders; no, he is the one point of reference onto which all doors open. And his invitation to 'come in and eat with' us and we 'with him' is not the plaintive wish of one begging for scraps, but the offer of a minister offering to share a meal with a condemned person in his or her cell. Jesus offers to come into our lives, not because our lives are his proper place, but because his life is ours-and until he enters, we cannot be led out into the Kingdom of God."

Just take the two pictures Stevenson paints, and ask yourself which one is more beautiful. The first picture being of the proud man who makes much of himself because of the what he has accumulated. This man views Jesus, the Lord of Glory, as just another important accessory to add to his mansion of possessions, accolades, and piety. Jesus is just a way to boost the spiritual component of his life.

Or take the prisoner. He has no exit to his cell. He doesn't have much, if anything to his name. His life has a lot of regrets; certainly he has done things he is not proud of. But, he is real with his brokenness. He doesn't wear a mask behind which he can boast. No, he is a sinner; a broken man in need. To this man, Jesus means much. To this man, Jesus is real. He another accessory to add onto his already stacked life. No, Jesus is everything to this man. 

I don't say this to condemn physical possessions, but rather to point out the spiritual reality of pride vs. humility. There is a reason Jesus said, "it is easier for a camel to enter through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God" (Matthew 19:24). God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble. The proud man makes much of  himself. The humble man makes much of Christ. 

Thursday, December 27, 2012

For the Love of Mammon

“No one can serve two masters. 
For you will hate one and love the other; 
you will be devoted to one and despise the other. 
You cannot serve both God and mammon.”
Luke 16:13

The word I highlighted, mammon, is translated in the English as 'money' or 'wealth'. I highlighted it because the typical English translation of the word really doesn't do justice to what Jesus is actually getting at. Tyler Wigg Stevenson describes the concept of 'mammon' in his book, Brand Jesus:

"The connotation when Jesus talks about 'mammon', therefore, is that of a proper noun. It is not a generic concept that can be translated between different languages; no, Mammon is the name of a force in opposition to God." pg. 46

Stevenson goes on to show the contrast in how Jesus talks about 'mammon' and other opposing forces, such as human government. Even though Caesar was in someway opposed to the Triune God, Jesus teaches his disciples to give to Caesar what is Caesar's. He never says you can't serve both God and Caesar. It is interesting then that Jesus would say that money, or 'mammon', are completely mutually exclusive. You cannot serve both. Mammon is a complete alternative to God in a way government doesn't have to be. Stevenson continues:

"For Jesus to isolate Mammon like this, and to such a degree, gives Mammon the force of a veritable super-idol. If Mammon and God cannot be served simultaneously, then Mammon must be an idol above all other things that can become idolatrous for us. For, while it would be true to say we cannot serve both  God and an idol, note that 'an idol' is not an independent entity. An 'Idol' describes something defined by improper devotion to it. A statue is a statue; only when people start worshipping it does it become an idol. It's idol-ness comes from its devotees rather than anything inherent to it...But Mammon, it is, in itself, necessarily idolatrous..."

"Mammon, as Jesus uses it here, is another name for the spiritual goal to which the original humans (Adam and Eve) aspired in their first sin...They wanted to claim something that could be their own; not as a gift, because everything they had was a gift. No, they wanted something free and clear, something they could possess, hang on to, say, 'I have rights toward this.' In the first sin, they tried to be owners rather than stewards that God had made them to be. They tried to become wealthy. They were willing to trade the stewardship of all God's gifts-in which they owned nothing-for ownership of one thing, knowledge of good and evil. And ownership depends on a concept of wealth, Mammon, to rule it. The first humans, in seeking to own themselves, gave birth to the one who would rule over them (Mammon)." pg. 47

In essence, 'Mammon', is in direct opposition to God because its very nature inverts the proper Creator-creature distinction. 'Mammon' is the driving force behind  humans wanting to be God. It compels us to live in self-autonomy. It is exactly what Paul was talking about in Romans when he wrote, "because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator" (Romans 1:25). The concept of 'Mammon' captures the absolute pride and arrogance of our human race in seeking to build our own kingdom (or system of wealth) over and against God's Kingdom. This explains why, when Jesus came proclaiming the Kingdom of God, the imperative to "repent" or turn from your own little kingdom was also given. These kingdoms are in opposition to each other. The proud continue their vain pursuits of 'Mammon', while God graciously reveals himself to the humble. Stevenson closes his chapter on Mammon by writing:

"Mammon embodies original opposition to God and God's wishes for us. That is why Paul writes in 1 Timothy 6 that the root of all evil is the love of money. I know many Christians reading this will say that they do love God and they don't love money. But in our culture, regardless of what we say with our mouths, the way that many of us live expresses most of all a love of money. We speak about our love of God, but we live out of our love of Mammon." pg. 48

I know these are all hard words to swallow, and I don't write as one who is innocent of these realities. No, I write as a fellow culprit. I haven't really processed a response to these strong claims, but I do know that I need to repent of my love of Mammon. 

Tyler Wigg Stevenson, Brand Jesus: Christianity in a Consumerist Age (Seabury Books, NewYork, 2007). 

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

The Idols of the Nations

Over the next few days, I am hoping to share some quotes from a book I recently read, Brand Jesus. The author, Tyler Wigg Stevenson, poses the frightening reality of consumerism in America, especially the effect this principality has had on the Church in America. Without doubt, Stevenson's work is one of the most challenging and piercing books I have ever read. Stevenson describes what it means for us to live in a consumeristic society:

"Consumer goods ceased to be simply the things that we bought to eat, to cover our bodies from the elements, to shelter us, and to move us from place to place. And, while such goods had always served to delineate classes of people, in these decades, their ubiquity led to their becoming the very building blocks of our self-understanding as human beings" pg. 15

"To live in a consumeristic world means that who we understand ourselves to be is deeply and significantly related to what we buy/consume. And this is true to a much greater extent than we'd like to imagine. In the act of consumption, we purchase our very sense of selves...And with the digital age, the ideal of self creation through consumption has gained a new potency, given that technologically enabled, digital forms of identity are the most complete 'selves' that we can gain through purchases, without having anything given to us." pg. 27

Stevenson goes on to identify the problem with looking for our sense of meaning and self understanding from a certain consumer lifestyle or branding:

"Like prayers offers to idols, we offer the resource of our devotion to the consumer selves that are utterly of our own making. These consumer lifestyles are the never-finished goals of our own quest for meaningfulness, order, and location in the world, but they lack any integral ability to grant us what we ask from them. That we ourselves believe the meaning we ascribe to them is not surprising." pg. 44

Stevenson's words echo Psalm 135:

"The idols of the nations are merely things of silver and gold, shaped by human hands. 
They have mouths but cannot speak, and eyes but cannot see. 
They have ears but cannot hear, and noses but cannot smell. 
And those who make idols are just like them, as are all who trust in them."
Psalm 135: 15-18

Simply put, idols, or as Stevenson puts it, "consumer goods", don't deliver. They never have. They never will. I think Stevenson has a point when he talks about the motivation behind our consumption. No matter how immaterialistic you believe yourself to be, we are all trying to "brand" ourselves in a sense. We all try to build an identity off of something. In our culture, it tends to be consumer goods that brand you as part of a particular group or status.

As I will post in the coming days, Stevenson contends that this consumerism has entered American Christianity in a rather detrimental way; not merely in a rising tendency for American Christian's to "church hop," but primarily in the way Christianity has been deduced to a brand identity or accessory that we add to our self created identity. More in the days to come. 

Tyler Wigg Stevenson, Brand Jesus: Christianity in a Consumerist Age, (Seabury Books, New York, 2007). 

Monday, December 24, 2012

Saturday, December 22, 2012

The Power of Mercy and Forgiveness in Marriage

A couple great quotes from Dave Harvey's book, When Sinners Say 'I Do'.

"Mercy sweetens marriage. Where it is absent, two people flog one another over everything from failure to fix the faucet to phone bills. But where it is present, marriage grows sweeter and more delightful, even in the face of challenges, setbacks and persistent effects of our remaining sin." 

"Mercy takes people who are capable of open warfare over toothpaste tubes and toilet seats, and enlarges their vision to include a Savior. Mercy confronts a sinner wrapped in self pity and protected pride and shows him the way out of the darkness into the light. Mercy inspires us to move beyond the power and government of self love back to the nobler and benevolent principles of our new nature" 

"Forgiveness and repentance is the powerful tool that repairs the damage done to sin-torn marriage relationships. And where forgiveness is employed, and repentance is lived out, it transforms. Forgiveness humbly sought, and humbly given, profoundly expresses the glory of God. Why? Because forgiveness is at the heart of the gospel-the true demonstration of God's love for those who deserved his wrath....We have all been forgiven the greatest debt. Let's learn how to forgive the debtor we married." 

Dave Harvey, When Sinners Say 'I Do' (Wapwallopen, PA: Shepherd Press, 2007) 80, 82, 113,  

Friday, December 21, 2012

My Neighbor Needs Help

Recently, I've started reading Wayne Gordon's, "Who is My Neighbor". First of all, if you don't know who Wayne Gordon is, read a biography of him right here. The guy is an inspiration to me and certainly someone I am trying to learn from. Reflecting on his years of  ministry in North Lawndale, Wayne's book takes a look at the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:30-37) and asks the question: Who is my neighbor?

The book is organized into short (2-3 pages) chapters meant to be read daily, in which Gordon points out different aspects of "Who is my neighbor?" and "What does it look like to love my neighbor?" The second days title was, "My Neighbor Needs Help". Here's what Gordon writes:

"A second obvious characteristic of a neighbor is somebody who needs help....The parables of the Good Samaritan revolves around a person who needs help-who has been left naked and half dead and is unable to help himself.

On the surface, helping others seems like a very simple concept. It's not. Of course, if all we mean by helping is opening the door for someone whose hands are full, that's one thing. But it's another thing if helping means that we have to get involved in another person's life, as the Good Samaritan did. 

These days, people don't want to get involved. Perhaps they are afraid to get involved. After all, helping others can be a risky proposition."

I love this excerpt from Gordon because I think it points out the very nature of what it means to love someone. Actually helping someone, or as I would say, loving someone, is never convenient or efficient (as quoted by Nick Theobald). It means putting aside your own ambitions and laying yourself down in the service of another. I think as people, and as Christians, we love to conveniently help people. We love being nice. We love walking around with a smile on our face while we do some really nice things (like opening the door for someone). I'm not saying these are bad. But I am saying, this is not truly loving your neighbor. That is soothing your religious conscious. Big difference. Actually helping, or loving, means getting involved with a person. It means entering into their brokenness and messiness. It means giving up your perfect schedule, emotional energy, and comfortability for the sake of another. I think Wayne Gordon touches on an important truth: that helping others (or loving) is not a simple concept. Loving your neighbor is to risk yourself for you neighbor. This doesn't always play out in the extreme example of risking your own life. But it is risking your time, energy, money, stability, comfort, cleanliness, etc...

How did Jesus love us? He risked all of those things. He risked them to the max. He put everything on the line for us. He did it so he could save us from our brokenness and give us new life. And now, for those who have this new life, he asks us to prodigally do the same. 

Thursday, December 20, 2012

A Due Consideration

“There are two things that are suited to humble the soul of men, a due consideration of God, and then of ourselves. Of God, in his greatness, glory, holiness, power, majesty, and authority; of ourselves, in our mean, abject, and sinful condition.”

John Owen, Sin and Temptation, abridged and ed. By James M. Houston (Vancouver, B.C.: Regent, 1995), xvii. 

This due consideration of both God and ourselves is either terrifying or exhilarating. Apart from the gospel, this due consideration is terrifying. Terrifying that because of our sin and rebellion, we stand as objects of God's wrath. With the gospel, this due consideration is exhilarating. The all powerful, majestic, and holy God of the universe, with whom we were once enemies, has died on a cross to reconcile us. This due consideration is a marvelous reality to live in. 

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Thou Who Wast Rich Beyond All Splendour

"For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you, through his poverty might become rich." 2 Corinthians 8:9

The only response to such love is worship. Here is a moving hymn we sung at church  (New City South) this past Sunday: "Thou Who Wast Rich Beyond All Splendour"

Thou who wast rich beyond all splendour,
All for love's sake becamest poor;
Thrones for a manger didst surrender,
Sapphire-paved courts for stable floor.
Thou who wast rich beyond all splendour,
All for love's sake becomes poor.

Thou who art God beyond all praising,
All for love's sake becamest man;
Stooping so low, but sinners raising
Heavenwards by thine eternal plan.
Thou who art God beyond all praising,
All for love's sake becamest man.

Thou who art love beyond all telling,
Saviour and King, we worship thee.
Emmanuel, within us dwelling,
Make us what thou wouldst have us be.
Thou who art love beyond all telling,
Saviour and King, we worship thee.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Thinking Lightly of Sin

A great quote from Charles Spurgeon:

"Too many think lightly of sin, and therefore think lightly of the Savior. He who has stood before his God, convicted and condemned, with the rope about his neck, is the man to weep for joy when he is pardoned, to hate the evil which has been forgiven, and to live to the honor of the Redeemer by whose blood he has been cleansed."

Arnold Dallimore, Spurgeon, A New Biography (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1987), 14. 

Monday, December 17, 2012

Losing Sight of Sin

"Christians are rapidly losing sight of sin as the root of all human woes. And many Christians are explicitly  denying that their own sin can be the cause of their personal anguish. More and more are attempting to explain in the human dilemma in wholly unbiblical terms: temperament, addiction, dysfunctional families, the child within, codependency, and a host of other irresponsible escape mechanisms promoted by secular psychology. 

The potential impact of such a drift is frightening. Remove the reality of sin, and you take away the possibility of repentance. Abolish the doctrine of human depravity and you void the divine plan of salvation. Erase the notion  of personal guilt and you eliminate the need for a Savior. 

John MacArthur, The Vanishing of Conscience: Drawing the Line in a No-Fault, Guilt-Free World (Dalles: Word, 1994), 11.

Simply put: If you minimize sin, you minimize Jesus.

Saturday, December 15, 2012


A rather provocative title for a blog post....check out this video from Jackie Hill of P4CM. Amazing stuff.

Friday, December 14, 2012

A Brave New World

A couple nights ago, I finished reading Aldous Huxley's classic novel, Brave New World. Huxley's work is a fictional, yet prophetical glimpse at the future of society, in which the world is a complete dystopia. My goal here is not to give a detailed summary of the novel (though it was fantastic), but rather to point out a couple quotes. To read a more detailed summary, click HERE, otherwise, here is an extremely short explanation to give you some context.

In Huxley's dystopia world, everything in society is conditioned for the sake of complete stability and comfort. Humans aren't conceived by men and women, but are produced in a factory. From their very beginning, all humans are conditioned (by genetically engineering) to exist in one of 5 social castes. Each person is conditioned to do their assigned task with complete contentment and consistency. In other words, humans are deconditioned to think, feel pain, or experience life. This is all done in the name of stability and happiness. So, a person may be genetically conditioned to be a mindless factory worker, who works his 9-5, then spends the rest of his day enjoying a "soma holiday" (universal drug everybody takes to escape reality and experience euphoria), but, he is completely content, because he has been conditioned not to desire anything else. There is a complete escape from pain. There is a complete escape from feeling for that matter.

What struck me as I read Huxley's book was just how accurate some of his conclusions were regarding humans. In his dystopia, we are not oppressed by an evil power; quite the contrary actually. We willingly choose a society of lifelessness, so long as we don't feel anything and can mindlessly enjoy artificial entertainment. Do we do the same thing today? Is our tendency to pursue stability, comfort, and artificial happiness at the expense of truth, beauty, and life? Here is a quote from one of the antagonists,  World Controller, Mustapha Mond, as he decides whether to have a certain scientific article published or not. In his opinion, the ideas in the article were dangerous to the stability of society.

"It was the sort of idea that might easily decondition the more unsettled minds among the higher castes-make them lose their faith in happiness as the Sovereign Good and take to believing, instead, that the goal was somewhere beyond, somewhere outside the present human sphere; that the purpose of life was not the maintenance of well-being, but some intensification and refining of consciousness, some enlargement of knowledge."

The line about the purpose of life being the maintenance of well-being particularly strikes a chord with me. It seems that most people spend their entire lives pursuing this sense of well-being. We chase a well-being that is completely devoid of what it means to be human. We give our lives to the purpose of ultimate comfort, entertainment, and enjoyment, while we fail to realize the joy for which we were created. We make personal happiness the "Sovereign Good", while failing to realize that our very conception of happiness is dull; it is black and white compared to the vivid stream of color that true happiness presents. We fail to see the true purpose for which we were created and the true happiness for which we were made. Our purpose is not to attain a state of well-being that we may escape pain and live in happiness; our purpose is to know God and enjoy Him forever. 

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Advent: The Rescue Plan

Great post from Ally Jaggard on her blog Stones & Mortar, Seeds & Water:

During Advent we celebrate the incarnation, the birth of Jesus. We celebrate and remember that Christ came down and entered into the darkness of our world so that he may actually rescue us from ourselves and from the slavery of sin. This has been God’s plan throughout history and we see it all over Scripture.
“Jesus said, ‘God so loved the people of the world so much that he gave his only Son. So that anyone who believes in him will have eternal life and never really die. He did not send his Son into the world to punish people. He sent him to rescue them.” (John 3:16-17 paraphrase from the Jesus Storybook Bible)
This Advent season I stumbled across an Advent Calendar that walks through God’s rescue plan throughout Scripture and is based on readings from the Jesus Storybook Bible. This is, admittedly, a children’s Bible. But let me tell you, it is for young and old. Whether you are 5, 16, 25, 45 or 70, you will be blessed by its telling of God’s great rescue plan that is woven throughout the many stories of the Scriptures. If you ever struggle to remember the story of Scripture and God’s great love for you and his people, you will be blessed by the simple words and images of this book.
I’ve included an excerpt below to whet your appetite:
“No, the Bible isn’t a book of rules, or a book of heroes. The Bible is most of all a Story. It’s an adventure story about a young Hero who comes from a far country to win back his lost treasure. It’s a love story about a brave Prince who leaves his palace, his throne–everything– to rescue the one he loves. It’s like the most wonderful of fairy tales that has come true in real life!
You see, the best thing about this Story is– it’s true. There are lots of stories in the Bible, but all the stories are telling one Big Story. The Story of how God loves his children and comes to rescue them.
It takes the whole Bible to tell this Story. And at the center of the Story, there is a baby. Every Story in the Bible whispers his name. He is like the missing piece in a puzzle–the piece that makes all the other pieces fit together, and suddenly you can see a beautiful picture.
And this is no ordinary baby. This is the Child upon whom everything would depend. This is the Child who would one day–but wait. Our Story starts where all good stories start. Right at the very beginning…” (p17, Jesus Storybook Bible)

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Between Idolatries

How do we determine what a worship service should look like? In his book, Christ Centered Worship, author Bryan Chapell discusses two dangerous ends of the worship spectrum. On one end is rigorous tradition. In this method, there is an exact prescription to which a worship service must strictly adhere to. There is one right way. On the other end of the spectrum is worship based on experience. Whatever gives an emotive personal worship experience is what should be used. In other words, if it tastes good, eat it. However, both of these extremes are dangerous. The alternative is Christ-centered worship, allowing for both biblical tradition as well as freedom in personal experience and expression. Bryan Chapell writes:

"Between these idolatries of tradition and experience is Christ-centered worship whose aspects reflect an enduring gospel that shapes the contours of our services. As these aspects are expressed by various components that Scripture gives us the right to vary, our worship has the gospel anchors needed to keep it true and the scriptural freedoms needed to keep it fresh."

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

The Story of God

An incredible spoken word piece by Matt Papa. He does an excellent job of capturing the storyline of all human history and connecting it to this present moment. As he says, "it's a story like no other, it's a movement you can't undo."

Monday, December 10, 2012

Santa Claus=Bad News, Gospel=Good News

The declaration of Santa Claus goes a little something like this: Get your act together because whether you are naughty or nice determines the gift you receive, whether that be a good gift or a lump of coal.

The declaration of Jesus Christ goes a little something like this: You all alike have been naughty, and the reward you justly deserve is far worse than a lump of coal, it is death. On top of that, you can't possibly fix yourself or reverse your outcome. BUT, I lived the life you should have lived, and earned the reward or gift that you failed to obtain so that all who turn from their own act can receive me, and receive the ultimate gift, life in God. Whereas you deserve punishment for your track record, you can receive mercy, forgiveness, grace, and life in Jesus Christ.

My fear is that most of us functionally believe a Christianity that is more comparable to the Santa Claus declaration. If our good outweighs our bad, then we get a reward. This is not reality. This is not the gospel. This is, as John Piper puts it, actually very bad news. If you are banking on your own moral track record as your assurance, you can never be sure. You will constantly be wondering if you did enough, or if you are good enough. Simply put, you will never be good enough, and you will never do enough. All of us are sinners who are broken and distorted. But, there is one who did everything you couldn't do, and now freely offers himself to you. That is the good news of Jesus. Receive and rest in Jesus.

A little video from one of my favorite preachers of all time, John Piper:

Friday, December 7, 2012

Wealth and the Gospel

 A certain ruler asked him (Jesus), “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”  
“Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone. 
You know the commandments: ‘You shall not commit adultery, you shall not murder, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, honor your father and mother.’”  
“All these I have kept since I was a boy,” he said. 
When Jesus heard this, he said to him, “You still lack one thing. Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” 
When he heard this, he became very sad, because he was very wealthy. Jesus looked at him and said, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God! Indeed, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”
Luke 18:18-25

For anyone who reads the Bible with an open heart, these are extremely hard words to swallow, especially for those living in the present Western World which is considered by many to be the wealthiest context in all human history. What does Jesus mean in this passage? Does he mean that if you are rich, you cannot enter the Kingdom of God unless you literally sell everything you own? 

As I've been going through the Gospel accounts, I am amazed at how frequently and directly Jesus approaches the topic of wealth and possessions. Jesus gets right at the heart and holds no punches back. At first glance, most of us (myself included) will mistakenly read this text in either a moralistic or relativistic way. What I mean is this: In a moralistic reading, we take Jesus' command to "go sell everything and give it to the poor" as a universal rule that must be literally followed by anyone who truly considers themselves to be a Christian. The story is then a direct moral imperative to be followed literally and universally. The other end of the spectrum many of us will fall on (especially if we have great deal of wealth), is a relativistic reading. We read Jesus command and instantly think that there is no way this applies to me or actually demands a change from me. Jesus didn't really mean what he said. In this reading, we relativize the text in such a way as to protect our self from being faced with our own sinfulness. I think it is important that we examine our hearts and be honest with ourselves in regards to where we fall on the spectrum. Like I said, for those who hold on tightly to their wealth, and are consumed with building their own little kingdoms of comfort, you are probably going to fall on the side of relativism. On the other hand, for those who are often discontented with the status quo of 'safe, individualized, lifeless, consumeristic Christianity', you might find yourself imposing pharisee like rules on people. For the person who struggles deeply with self-righteousness (like me!), you might read the text in a moralistic way as a way to justify yourself. 

At the end of the day, both of these ways (relativism and moralism) are incorrect ways to understand what Jesus is really getting at. The proper way of understanding this text is a third way, lets call it a 'gospel' reading of the text. When we read this text in light of the whole gospel story, it is evident that Jesus is getting at something much deeper than a simple moralistic formula for how to deal with wealth and possessions. Rather, Jesus is getting at the radical way in which the gospel completely reorientates everything in our lives. In other words, Jesus is saying "the gospel changes everything." Being in the Kingdom of God is a complete reordering of everything in our lives. 

The story of the Rich Young Ruler is piercing because along with the heart of the young man in the story, our hearts are also revealed. In the story, the young ruler goes away sad because he realizes that the cost of following Jesus is too high; he is not willing to sell all that he has to follow Christ. The problem here wasn't so much that the man had possessions or power, but that he loved and trusted his wealth above God. His hearts orientation was out of whack. His life was out of order. The purpose for this story isn't ultimately that we might all sell our possessions, but that we may see the way we, like the young ruler, trust and love things (like wealth) more than God. We put other things (in this case, wealth) at the top of the pecking order. When Jesus says that you can't enter the Kingdom of God if you are rich, this means that only way you can enter the Kingdom of God is if you are living under the loving and righteous reign of the King. For a disciple, or a person living under God's reign, all other compartments of life fall under this ultimate allegiance. Money, possessions, relationships, work, family, time, energy, food, religion, they all must be orientated under God. They all must be submitted. We can see by the rich young ruler's response that this is a hard pill to swallow. Here was a man who kept all the rules and who zealously tried to live for God, but there was just one area of his life that he trusted and loved more than God.

So, the take away isn't so much a moralistic rule to follow, but a paradigm shift. The gospel of Jesus Christ brings us into a completely new worldview. Wealth is no longer something that needs to grip our hearts affections, but is something to be freely given to our God. This story is a way to ask ourselves, "what is it that I trust and love in more than God," "what do I look to in order to gain significance," or "what compels or controls me?". For this man, it was his wealth and power. That was the barrier between him following Jesus. Is this true of us? How we respond to Jesus' challenge, "Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it," (Luke 9:23-24) reveals where are hearts are at. 

To close, there is good news in all of this. Just thinking about this now, I realize all the ways I fail to orientate my life completely under Christ's Lordship. It seems impossible. The crowd following Jesus thought the same thing. Read how the story finishes:

"Those who heard this asked, 'Who then can be saved?'
Jesus replied, 'What is impossible with man is possible with God'"
Luke 18:26-27

The good news is that Christ died in our place, and resurrected, that we, along with him could be resurrected to new life. Jesus lived, died, and rose that in him, we might receive a new heart, one that is orientated toward God. In our own strength and religious zeal, this is impossible. With God's supreme power and unfailing love, this is possible. 

Thursday, December 6, 2012

5 Signs You Glorify Self

Very helpful insight from Paul Tripp as posted on The Gospel Coalition Blog. Here it is:

It is important to recognize the harvest of self-glory in you and in your ministry. May God use this list to give you diagnostic wisdom. May he use it to expose your heart and to redirect your ministry.

Self-glory will cause you to:

1. Parade in public what should be kept in private.
The Pharisees live for us as a primary example. Because they saw their lives as glorious, they were quick to parade that glory before watching eyes. The more you think you've arrived and the less you see yourself as daily needing rescuing grace, the more you will tend to be self-referencing and self-congratulating. Because you are attentive to self-glory, you will work to get greater glory even when you aren't aware that you're doing it. You will tend to tell personal stories that make you the hero. You will find ways, in public settings, of talking about private acts of faith. Because you think you're worthy of acclaim, you will seek the acclaim of others by finding ways to present yourself as "godly."
I know most pastors reading this column will think they would never do this. But I am convinced there is a whole lot more "righteousness parading" in pastoral ministry than we would tend to think. It is one of the reasons I find pastors' conferences, presbytery meetings, general assemblies, ministeriums, and church planting gatherings uncomfortable at times. Around the table after a session, these gatherings can degenerate into a pastoral ministry "spitting contest" where we are tempted to be less than honest about what's really going on in our hearts and ministries. After celebrating the glory of the grace of the gospel there is way too much self-congratulatory glory taking by people who seem to need more acclaim than they deserve.
2. Be way too self-referencing.
We all know it, we've all seen it, we've all been uncomfortable with it, and we've all done it. Proud people tend to talk about themselves a lot. Proud people tend to like their opinions more than the opinions of others. Proud people think their stories are more interesting and engaging than others. Proud people think they know and understand more than others. Proud people think they've earned the right to be heard. Proud people, because they are basically proud of what they know and what they've done, talk a lot about both. Proud people don't reference weakness. Proud people don't talk about failure. Proud people don't confess sin. So proud people are better at putting the spotlight on themselves than they are at shining the light of their stories and opinions on God's glorious and utterly undeserved grace.
3. Talk when you should be quiet.
When you think you've arrived, you are quite proud of and confident in your opinions. You trust your opinions, so you are not as interested in the opinions of others as you should be. You will tend to want your thoughts, perspectives, and viewpoints to win the day in any given meeting or conversation. This means you will be way more comfortable than you should be with dominating a gathering with your talk. You will fail to see that in a multitude of counsel there is wisdom. You will fail to see the essential ministry of the body of Christ in your life. You will fail to recognize your bias and spiritual blindness. So you won't come to meetings formal or informal with a personal sense of need for what others have to offer, and you will control the talk more than you should.
4. Be quiet when you should speak.
Self-glory can go the other way as well. Leaders who are too self-confident, who unwittingly attribute to themselves what could only have been accomplished by grace, often see meetings as a waste of time. Because they are proud, they are too independent, so meetings tend to be viewed as an irritating and unhelpful interruption of an already overburdened ministry schedule. Because of this they will either blow meetings off or tolerate the gathering, attempting to bring it to a close as quickly as possible. So they don't throw their ideas out for consideration and evaluation because, frankly, they don't think they need it. And when their ideas are on the table and being debated, they don't jump into the fray, because they think that what they have opined or proposed simply doesn't need to be defended. Self-glory will cause you to speak too much when you should listen and to feel no need to speak when you surely should.
5. Care too much about what people think about you.
When you have fallen into thinking that you're something, you want people to recognize the something. Again, you see this in the Pharisees: personal assessments of self-glory always lead to glory-seeking behavior. People who think they have arrived can become all too aware of how others respond to them. Because you're hyper-vigilant, watching the way the people in your ministry respond, you probably don't even realize how you do things for self-acclaim.
Sadly, we often minister the gospel of Jesus Christ for the sake of our own glory, not for the glory of Christ or the redemption of the people under our care. I have done this. I have thought during the preparation for a sermon that a certain point, put a certain way, would win a detractor, and I have watched for certain people's reactions as I have preached. In these moments, in the preaching and preparation of a sermon, I had forsaken my calling as the ambassador of the eternal glory of another for the purpose of my acquiring the temporary praise of men.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Lacking No Good Thing

"Oh, fear the LORD, you his saints, for those who fear him have no lack!
The young lions suffer want and hunger; but those who seek the LORD lack no good thing." Psalm 34:9-10

As we all know, the Christmas season is a time for gift giving. It is the time of year where we all make lists for all the 'stuff' that we so desire. It is the time of year to ask others, "what do you want for Christmas?" Not that giving gifts is bad in itself, but the consumeristic nature of modern Christmas does reveal something about our hearts. The craving for more 'stuff' and newer 'things' shows the deep longings that exist in our hearts. It shows that no matter how much 'stuff' we have, we will still want more.

However, as Psalm 34 points out, those who fear and trust fully in the LORD live with a deep sense of contentment. They lack no good thing. They have everything they could possibly need, because everything our human hearts long for are ultimately found in Jesus. Therefore, more than gift giving and shopping, Christmas should be a reminder that Jesus Christ has come, and with his coming, we have been given every good thing. Truly, since we have Jesus we lack nothing. The ultimate gift that truly satisfied has been given to us.

Jesus, The Emobodiment of the Law

Last post, I talked a little about Jesus being the fulfillment of the Law.  Jesus is the completion of the Law in that he did what the Law itself could never do. That is, give new life. Not only was Jesus the fulfillment of the Law, but he was also the embodiment. In other words, the actions of Jesus were perfectly integrated with what he taught. As Frank Thielman puts it,

*all scripture references are to Matthew

"Not only did he urge his disciples to be merciful (5:7), but he showed mercy to others (9:7, 15:22, 20:30). Not only did he bless those who were persecuted for righteousness' sake (5:10), but he himself died unjustly, despite his innocence (27:23). Not only did he tell others to turn the other cheek (5:39), but he refused to strike back at those who arrested him (26:52-53). He urged his followers to deny themselves, take up their crosses, and follow him (16:24), and he took up the cross to suffer death for the forgiveness of others' sins (26:28, 39, 42; 27:26). Not merely Jesus' teaching, therefore, but Jesus himself is the expression-in deed as well as word-of God's will. Because of this Jesus replaces the Mosaic law."

Frank Thielman, Theology of the New Testament: A Canonical and Synthetic Approach (Grand Rapids, Mich: Zondervan, 2005), 90. 

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Jesus, The Fulfillment of the Law

"Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; 
I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them."
Matthew 5:17

These words Jesus spoke come right in the middle of his famous Sermon on the Mount. It directly follows the beatitudes and is followed by his teachings on murder, adultery, divorce, and love. In many ways, Jesus' Sermon on the Mount is a parallel to the Law (think 10 commandments) given to Moses in the Old Testament. However, in his teaching on the Law, Jesus takes everything further. Whereas Moses taught "You shall not murder", Jesus proclaimed that everyone who is even angry with his brother, or speaks insult is liable to the same judgement. Where the Law of the Old Testament said, "You shall not commit adultery", Jesus said, "everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart."The Old Testament allowed for a man to divorce his wife, but Jesus said that the only legitimate reason for a divorce is sexual infidelity. 

What was Jesus doing here? He seems to be challenging and contrasting the ancient Law of God. These words would have undoubtedly caused his Jewish audience to question such a man claiming to usher in God's Kingdom. How can this be a man from God if he is changing what God has already given us?

This is where Matthew 5:17 comes in. What Jesus is saying here is that he came to fulfill God's own intention in the Law. The Law is meant to lead us in righteousness and point us to God's perfect moral character. Yet, in the Old Testament, the Law served more as a guide and restraint to an imperfect situation. For example, lust is an unavoidable reality among people, but instilling retribution (The Law) for such acts puts restraint on this action. However, this is incomplete; it never really gets at the heart of the action. 

Jesus fulfilled the Law in that he got at the heart of the matter. Jesus wasn't interested in giving his people a minimal standard of rules so that they could live functionally as a society. He came to bring so much more than that. Jesus came to call a new people, to which he would give completely new hearts. These new hearts wouldn't be fashioned after the minimal requirements of the Law, but would be fashioned after God's heart in the Law. Therefore, it was no longer an issue of literally committing murder or adultery, but rather, as God's new people, who have been given new life and new hearts, we are living under God's loving and righteous rule and reign. Jesus is the fulfillment of the Law because he did what they Law never could do. The Law could never change hearts and give new life. Jesus came to assemble a new people who had the Law written on their new hearts, and who were free to follow God in righteousness. 

Monday, December 3, 2012

One Chance To Speak With The Leader Of Hamas

An amazing 3 minute audio clip in which world renowned intellectual and Christian apologist Ravi Zacharias retells his encounter with the leader of Hamas.