Saturday, August 29, 2009

The Purpose Driven Life

"All things were created through Him and for Him."

Monday, August 24, 2009

Jesus vs. Paul and Counting the Cost

John Piper's blog-post on the recent Lutheran abandonment of submission to Scripture has generated a lot of buzz in the blogosphere and the post so far has garnered over 500 comments. The commenters fall into three general categories - those who agree with Piper altogether, those who agree with Piper on Scriptural authority and sexual morality but disagree with his interpretation of the tornado and then a third group which consists of liberals willing to throw out Scriptural teachings that they find unpalatable. I would lean toward the second group although I see no reason why the tornado couldn't have been a "firm but gentle warning to the ELCA."

Unfortunately I couldn't help but read through a good number of the comments. The only thing I could compare it to would be the inability to look away from a bad car-accident or something like that. And as I read through the comments I saw two arguments from the more liberal-leaning commenters which I've seen time and time again. I've seen these arguments so many times that I sometimes almost find myself starting to think that maybe there is something to them. But when I think about them I come to the conclusion that these arguments are fallacious. The two arguments that I saw in multiple comments included:

1. Jesus was accepting and non-judgmental while Paul and modern conservative Christians are too judgmental.

2. Christians can't say certain things, even if they're true, because they might turn non-believers away.

1. As for the first argument, I think one reason for its popularity is because the church has given a false picture of Jesus. As Mark Driscoll famously claimed, the church has presented Jesus as a "neutered and limp-wristed popular Sky Fairy of pop culture that . . . would never talk about sin or send anyone to hell." The people who draw this dichotomy between Jesus and Paul or between Jesus and modern-day Bible-believing Christians are right in believing that Jesus associated with those who were known as notorious sinners in his day. There is no reason to believe that Paul didn't do the same and I know a good number of conservative Christians who do outreach to those who might fit in a category of marginalized "sinners."

The assumption that seems to be made though is that because Jesus spent time with notorious sinners that he wasn't calling them to repentance, that he wasn't calling them to give up their lives of sin. But nothing in the Gospels suggests this. When Jesus saves the woman caught in adultery from being stoned to death he tells her, "go, and from now on sin no more." When the pharisees criticize Jesus for eating with sinners in Matthew 9:11 Jesus responds that it is the sick who need a physician. The pharisees were probably spiritually sicker than any "sinner" that Jesus spent time with, but Jesus still calls the tax-collectors and prostitutes "sick." These sinners were still being called to repentance. If anyone in the New Testament raises the bar on sin and holiness it isn't Paul but Jesus who said that even to look at a woman lustfully was to commit adultery. So the only reason why the argument can be made that Jesus would somehow accept "sinners" in the way that modern liberals do is to ignore the testimony we have about Jesus in the Gospels. Of course Jesus "accepts" all sinners but he also calls all sinners to repentance. In chapter one of the Gospel of Mark, Jesus begins his ministry saying, "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel." By calling people to repentance, Jesus was not affirming people in their sins. In his mercy Jesus associated even with the most notorious sinners of his day but he called them to repentance, to cast down their idols, leave their sin behind and follow Him.

2. The second argument claims that Christians shouldn't say certain things, even if they're true, because they might turn some people away. I'm trying to be as generous as possible in the way I state this argument because I think it could also be said that these people are concerned about Christians looking good to the world. The fear seems to be that if Christians are disliked that this reflects badly on Jesus and therefore evangelism will be more difficult.

This second argument is harder for me to dismiss than the first. I think many of the people who make this argument have good motivations. They are concerned for the lost. And I think that in some cases this argument is correct. I have a friend who wants to do missions to Muslims and I know that some of the overblown anti-Islam rhetoric seen among many conservative Christians concerns him. It concerns him that support for the war in Iraq is somehow linked to evangelical Christianity in the United States. I agree with my missionary friend whole-heartedly when people can't separate certain political beliefs, like support for the war in Iraq, from their Christianity. Another case where people might be seen as making Christians look bad is Fred Phelps and his infamous "God hates fags" protests. But political conservatives mixing up faith and politics or a lunatic like Fred Phelps getting undue media attention don't fit into the argument above. The claims of some political conservatives or Fred Phelps come not from sound Scriptural interpretation but from other sources - for the political conservative perhaps from the tradition of American conservatism and for Fred Phelps, perhaps insanity.

But the argument which I saw in more than a few comments on Piper's post was that, yes, homosexual behavior is sinful but we shouldn't talk about it, especially not in the way Piper did because it will turn people away from Christ. This is the argument that even though something is true, Christians shouldn't say it. This argument doesn't seem to fit with anything that I see in the New Testament. Jesus never seemed afraid to say things that would offend or turn people away. In the Gospel of John, Jesus gives the "hard saying," "Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life," and for the person who doesn't do this He says, "you have no life in you." This statement not only shows the exclusivity of Christ, that eternal life is found only in Him, but also that Christ was willing to give hard teachings that would turn many away. The Gospel says that after this many of his followers turned back and no-longer walked with Him. There is no record of Jesus chasing them down and apologizing for his difficult teaching and promising to say nicer-sounding things in the future. Instead we see Christ asking the Twelve, "Do you want to go away as well?" Another occasion that sheds some light on this argument is when Jesus sends out the twelve to "proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal." Jesus said that when a town would not receive his messengers that they were to, "shake the dust from your feet as a testimony against them." Jesus doesn't tell the disciples to tweak the message a bit to make it sound nicer. But this seems to be exactly what some are suggesting modern Christians do - change the message a bit, or perhaps just leave out parts, to make the gospel more attractive to modern ears.

But when it comes to unpopular teachings in the Bible I think talking about them less is exactly the wrong thing to do. In Luke 14:25-33 we find Christ telling those who would come after him that they must "count the cost." Those who would follow Christ must look and see what they are commanded by Scripture to leave behind. If we don't teach the full revelation of God in Scripture how can anyone who would follow Christ count the cost of what he must leave behind? If we quit preaching on sexual purity because it is unpopular, we will only be adding to the numbers of false-converts, of nominal Christians who have prayed some prayer and been baptized but who have never actually counted the cost and renounced all in order to follow Christ. We must hold firm to the "faith once-delivered," and expect to be hated by the world for it. Jesus said, "If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you."

Thursday, August 20, 2009

What will they do in heaven?

“Look at the greater part of those who are called Christians, in every part throughout the land…What are the tastes and pleasures of the majority of the people who live there?…Observe the manner in which they spend their Sundays. Mark how little delight they seem to feel in the Bible and prayer. Take notice of the low and earthly notions of pleasure and happiness which everywhere prevail, among young and old—among rich and poor. Mark well these things—and then think quietly over this question: ‘What would these people do in heaven?’

-J.C. Ryle (Bishop of Liverpool 1880-1900)

H/T: J.C. Ryle Quotes

Monday, August 17, 2009

Vietnam, a Honduran and a ride to church

A post over at T19 started me thinking about a conversation I had last night as I drove back to Loma Linda with some friends from Greg Laurie's Harvest Crusade in Anaheim. It was wonderful to worship with tens of thousands of other Christians at Angel Stadium as Chris Tomlin led us in song.

As we drove home one of the other guys in the car shared his testimony. All testimonies are unique and wonderful descriptions of God's sovereign and saving action but this young man's story struck me as being especially unique. His parents had come from Vietnam in 1975 as the last helicopters left Saigon. He grew up in a non-Christian household in southern California and it wouldn't be until college when he would first hear the gospel. As a college student this son of Vietnamese immigrants sublet a room to another young man from Honduras who was working on his Ph.D. in anthropology. This Honduran was a follower of Christ and without a car so when he was invited by someone on campus to a local church he needed a ride. He asked his roommate, the non-believer, for a ride to church and they both began going to church together. This part of the story kind of amazed me and I realized that in my own cynical way I usually assume that non-Christians are completely opposed to going to church. But here it was obviously not the case and it makes me wonder how many people I know whom I could have invited but never did because I just assumed that they would say "no."

As he continued to be involved in this local congregation he learned the Christian lingo and most just assumed that he was a Christian. But it wasn't until a crisis arose and he became aware of his own guilt for sin that he was ready to come to Christ an undeserving sinner, pleading for grace and receiving forgiveness and sonship from our Lord. His Honduran friend explained to him the reason for his guilt. He explained that Christ had taken upon himself our sin and received the wrath which we deserved. He led him in asking Christ to be his Lord and his Savior. He repented of his sins and has since grown in the knowledge of Jesus Christ.

I like this testimony for a couple of reasons. First, I like the interesting mix of characters and seeing how it all came together - a central American anthropology student who needed a ride and a son of immigrants who had never heard the gospel. But secondly I found the story very convicting. If I had been that Honduran and knew that my roommate was a non-believer I probably would have looked elsewhere for a ride. Or if I had gotten a ride from him I would have just assumed that he didn't even want to come into the church. Even now I can think of a number of relationships where I could have shared but I didn't because I assumed they wouldn't want to hear. But we never know where people are at and we don't know what God has already done in a person to draw them to Himself.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Woodstock Anniversary

Lately I've noticed a lot of coverage in the media on the anniversary of Woodstock. I was reminded of a video I watched on youtube a while back showing a group of young people who engaged in something other than "sex, drugs and rock-and-roll" (not that I have anything against sex or rock and roll in the right context) around the same time as the Woodstock festival. It's a long video but I believe it covers a genuine move of God which took place at an institution that is very important to me.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

If our heart condemn us, God is greater

"And hereby we know that we are of the truth, and shall assure our hearts before him. For if our heart condemn us, God is greater than our heart, and knoweth all things. Beloved, if our heart condemn us not, then have we confidence toward God." (I John 3:19-21)

Here Apostle John describes a Christian’s trials, which are quite extraordinary, for matters of the heart are obscure to many. First he says, “if our heart condemn us, God is greater,” and by these words he reveals that a Christian’s heart may at times condemn him. When a vigilant Christian has dreadful temptations, which the devil effects in his flesh, and the devil shoots fiery darts from the flesh into the heart, evil thoughts occur in the mind and wicked lusts and desires are felt in the will, and, finally, self-righteousness rises as a stern and just accuser of the children of God, condemning them in this way: “How can you be a Christian with so much sin? A Christian should be holy and sinless, but you are like the devil himself.” When self-righteousness preaches thus in the reason, it appears to a Christian that his heart is condemning him, although the heart itself cannot condemn, but it is the devil of self-righteousness who condemns the children of God. And this cunning devil, who comes under the guise of truth, transforms himself into an angel of light [II Corinthians 11:14], and thus many of the penitent are deceived because they cannot understand that the one condemning the penitent is the devil. However, now Apostle John says, “If our heart condemn us, God is greater,” and by these words he shows that not a single Christian should believe his own heart, even if it does condemn him, but that instead he must believe God’s gracious promises, which show that Christ has come to save not the righteous but sinners [Matthew 9:13]...

...Rejoice, therefore, and be exceedingly glad, highly ransomed souls, for your reward is great in heaven! Rejoice, elect souls, for your accuser has been cast out of heaven. He no longer has authority to accuse you, for you have an Advocate with the Father, who intercedes on your behalf. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, children of God, and cry with a loud voice that you have prevailed by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of his testimony. If you struggle in your most precious faith until death, soon you too can sing a hymn of victory with the angels and all redeemed souls. Soon you can sing a new song on Mount Zion and say, “Now is come salvation, and strength, and the kingdom of our God, and the power of his Christ, for the accuser of our brethren is cast down, which accused them before our God day and night. And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony.” Amen.

-Lars Levi Laestadius 1854 sermon

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Apostolic Lutheran Videos

I was procrastinating today and found these videos on youtube. For any of my readers interested in the Laestadian (Apostolic Lutheran) movement, you might find these videos interesting.