People to Ignore: Critics and Groupies

I haven’t read much of Max Lucado’s writings… OK I haven’t read anything he has written.  But I saw this interview in the Leadership Journal and it has some good stuff.

As a pastor (or leader in general) you have to keep your feet on the ground.  You can get knocked off your feet by what people say. When you are the object of bitter (and false) criticism that hurts. But another unexpected danger comes from praise. At some point every pastor will have someone telling them that they are amazing. That “no one preaches like you do,” that “no one else understands.”  Its true we need both honest feedback and encouragement, but these two voices are not giving us either of those things.

Max Lucado talks about this danger in his interview.   It is easy to think about the danger of critics, and they get a lot of press.  But I appreciate the fact that he is dealing with reality on both sides.

Here is a highlight:

“As a pastor, what are some uniquely loud voices that you’re hearing?

“Every time somebody says, “You’re such a wonderful spiritual leader,” there is a temptation to believe that. Because I’m not. I may have a little more experience than they do, but I’m certainly not as good as they’re saying I am. But there’s a temptation to believe that I am. And there is a temptation to believe I am as bad as some people say I am.

“In every church there are naysayers, there are critics, there are unhappy people. I’ve been at this church since 1988. I’m closing in on 30 years, and I still have people who complain and are grumpy and critical. I have to fight that thought: Am I as bad as some people say I am? Those are the two extremes we in ministry really have to struggle with: feeling self-righteous or defeated. Their voices are completely different, but both of them require leaning into the truth. There has never been a Sunday that I’ve driven home from church having preached that I didn’t battle with insecurity.” (Emphasis mine)

Source: Max Lucado: Dangerous Voices | Leadership Journal

Ashley Madison Data Leak Leads to Possible Suicides and Extortion

Nuclear explosions are dangerous in a number of ways.  But it is the fallout after the explosion that causes the most enduring damage.

It seems there is some strange fallout from the Ashley Madison info leak. If you don’t know about it, Ashley Madison is a website that was created to help people commit adultery in anonymity.   And evidently the kinds of people that used the site REALLY don’t want their private behavior to become public.  This makes them easy prey for people with the truth and bad intentions.  For some the release of this information is not just embarrassing, it is devastating.  And this makes them prime targets for extortion.

None of this should come as a surprise. Ashley Madison is not some small, insignificant website with a few users. This site had 30 MILLION people trusting that it would become a safe secret place for dark deeds.  And it should be evident now that such a place does not exist.  As Benjamin Franklin is reported to have said, “Three can keep a secret if two of them are dead.”  And ironically the world is not only full of unscrupulous adulterers, it is also full of people that want to take advantage of them.

This level of infidelity can only be remotely possible when we are satisfied with hypocrisy, when we are more upset about immoral people exposing infidelity than we are about immoral people practicing infidelity. Right now the news is that hackers have breached this information, when the real story is that we are so desperate to lead double lives.

In a fascinating and hopeful twist, this whole situation may become a golden opportunity. It is an open door to come clean. It may be an opportunity for marriages to heal, and root causes to be exposed.  People that have been skulking about in the shadows may paradoxically stumble into hope when the light dawns on them.  That is my prayer.

It’s not good to find out you have cancer, unless you have cancer.

We wrongly suspect that the revelation of our misconduct is the big problem, when it is actually just a symptom.  It’s not good to find out you have cancer, unless you have cancer. Then finding out opens the door for treatment.

Ashley Madison leak leads to possible suicides, Toronto police say – The Globe and Mail.

God Loves Me & So Does My Dog, But It’s Different

God Loves Me,And So Does My Dog. But 2

I have a 1-year old chocolate colored poodle. She’s a great dog and she’s always happy to see me. Wait, that’s an understatement. She goes nuts when we come home.  She is so excited that often she wets herself.  We feed her, and pet her.  We take her for walks occasionally. We play with her and hang out together. And that’s enough, she thinks we are wonderful.  She jumps on the bed in the morning and licks my face to wake me up. She always wants to play. And even when we aren’t playing she just wants to be near me. She follows us around the house and lays at my feet.  And all her enthusiasm and love is great for my self-esteem.  And she does this even when we ignore her. Sometimes we have to lock her up in a crate for most of the day to keep her from destroying the house. But when we come home and let her out, it’s a celebration.

For some Christians, this is a close description of how they understand God’s love.  He is really excited about us, makes hardly any demands, and won’t mind if we lock him away in a crate when we have better things to do. They have attempted to tame God, and as a result his love is… Well… Just okay.  But it doesn’t match the love we see at Calvary where we see Christ pouring out his life for an unfaithful spouse.   The puppy-dog  kind of love doesn’t produce the (seemingly) irrational joy, worship, and sacrifice we see described in scripture.  It doesn’t buoy up the soul in the face of great sin and suffering.

I am slowly working my way through “Yawning At Tigers” by Drew Dyck. He writes about this phenomenon, and our tendency to domesticate God.  Writing about modern preachers, he says:

“Unfortunately, in our efforts to make the Bible interesting and relevant, we try to normalize God. We become experts at taking something lofty, so unfathomable and incomprehensible, and dragging it down to the lowest shelf. We fail to account for the fact that God is neither completely knowable nor remotely manageable”

Unfortunately, in our efforts to make the Bible interesting and relevant, we try to normalize God.

He says that we are often uncomfortable with the mysterious, and transcendent descriptions of God. They are too strange or even unpleasant to our American sensibilities, so we explain them away.  Again, he writes “Here’s the beautiful irony: making God strange actually enables us to know him more. Once we have marveled at his magnitude and mystery, we are able to achieve the deep intimacy that grows out of a true appreciation for who God is. Instead of treating him as an equal, we approach him with reverent awe. Only when we’ve been awestruck by his majesty can we be overwhelmed by his love.”

I love my dog, and enjoy the way she worships me. And that would be the best word to describe it!  But God’s love is different, it’s not about his infatuation with my greatness.  One of the reasons we are “yawning at tigers” is because we are not impressed with the love of God. And we are underwhelmed with his love because we don’t understand his holiness, majesty, and greatness. If we did, we would understand our own sin as well and see just how much it cost him to love us.  And that would make his love something to live for.

Garage Sales, Self Image, and Jesus

What can a garage sale teach us about the gospel? I am not exactly sure, but I thought of something that they illustrate. Over the years I have enjoyed going to garage sales with my wife. There are a couple of different kinds of garage sales. One kind, that is usually more fun for the buyer, happens when someone realizes that they have way too much stuff and they want to get rid of it. They realize that even though they may have paid $100 bucks for that wheel barrel 10 years ago, that it is not worth that much now. And these folks are really trying to get rid of their stuff; they are fun to bargain with. “Will you take $5 for both of these?” These people are often getting ready to sell their house and move. They are motivated movers. And they know that whatever they don’t sell they are going to have to haul in a moving van across the country. Lots of times you get a good deal from these folks because they are selling stuff for less than it is worth.

The other kind of garage sale isn’t quite so pleasant. The people who have these kinds of garage sales are often sentimental pack rats (I speak from experience!). I will call them sentimental sellers. They value their stuff so much that they never get rid of anything. They don’t understand that a piece of junk is only worth $15 if someone is willing to pay that much for it. These people take personal offense when you offer them $3 dollars for that unopened white elephant Christmas gift that they have had in a box since Y2K. And at the end of the day they have almost as much stuff as they started off with. Then they have to pack it all back up, or spend the rest of the day, and the few dollars they earned at the sale to haul it to the dump. The problem with these folks is that they think their stuff is worth a lot more than it really is.

Well what does this have to do with anything? I was thinking recently about the kind of Christian message that is designed exclusively to boost your self-esteem. It seems to me a lot like going to a garage sale. The thrust of the message seems to be to try to convince us that our biggest problem is that our stuff is worth a lot more than we (or anyone else) recognize. We are motivated movers and don’t realize it. Our big problem is that we have under-valued ourselves, and Jesus can come along like an appraiser to help us see our real worth. If we could just see how wonderful we really were, and get other people to see it too, then life would be much better. Jesus is really useful in this arrangement because he helps us to fall in deeper love with ourselves.

The sad truth of the matter is otherwise. All of us are really like sentimental sellers. We all have an over-inflated view of ourselves, our accomplishments, our perspectives, our virtues, etc. We are upset with other people because they can’t manage to see our grandeur. This is not to say that we are junk. No, we are not garbage, we are the special creation of God, made to reflect his wonder. We are mirrors, meant to reflect the image of something greater. But we are broken mirrors, and the image we depict looks more like the distortion of a carnival fun house than reality.

As I understand the gospel, the message of Jesus is not so much meant to help us prop up our self-image with so much religious silicone, as it is to show us how things really are. Our problem is not that we think too little of ourselves, but too much. And Christ helps us to see the truth, and that often hurts. When he arrives we get our self-image in line with reality. He helps us to see that we are vandals. Then through his love we come to see that our greatest value comes not from ourselves but from our relationship to Him. You should think about this next time you pass a garage sale.

Walking in the Spirit

Here is a helpful outline of some steps involved in walking in the Spirit:
“I say then: Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh.” (Gal. 5:16)

A – Admit my helplessness (John 15:5)
P – Pray for help (Psalm 50:15)
T – Trust a specific promise (Isaiah 66:2)
A – Act with confidence in God (Isaiah 55:11)
T – Thank God (I Thessalonians 5:18)

This comes from John Piper, who I think got it from J.I. Packer. It is a good reminder of things to do when you face a temptation or challenge. It has helped me from time to time, and seems to be a broad distillation of the teaching of Scripture on the Christian life.

Spurgeon on Stealing Sheep

“…they maintain their churches by converts from other systems. I have even heard them say, ‘Oh, yes, the Methodists and Revivalists are beating the hedges, but we shall catch many of the birds.’ If I harboured such a mean thought I would be ashamed to express it. A system which cannot touch the outside world, but must leave arousing and converting work to others, whom it judges to be unsound, writes its own condemnation.” –Charles Spurgeon, Lectures to My Students: Complete & Unabridged, by Charles Haddon Spurgeon, page 243, Zondervan, 1979.

I cannot help think of this quote and evaluate myself and the whole Reformed Baptist movement in America.

Why Every Believer is a Missionary

What Does God Require of Us?
I have heard that there is a discussion afoot where some people are advocating the idea that it is not the responsibility of each individual Christian to live as an evangelist or missionary in their neighborhood. This is a strange idea to me, and as I have been reading my Bible, the notion has appeared even more bizarre. I would acknowledge that there are believers who have special gifts for evangelism, and should be set-aside for this purpose. Furthermore, I don’t believe that every Christian must be involved in some kind of “formal” evangelistic process. But even as I attempt to articulate just what I think the scripture does and does not teach I realize how silly this is. “What is required is… What I don’t mean is…” Trying to get technical about just how much evangelism is specifically required seems to miss the point and pander to the kind of complaint we might expect from cheeky teenagers, “Aw mom! Do I have to!?” Today, in reading from the Gospel of Mark I was struck with the fact that telling the good news is the spontaneous result of the experience of God’s grace and power in our lives.

Face to Face with Incarnate Glory
In a number of places we find people in the ministry of Jesus who are so amazed by his glory that they erupt in “evangelistic” activity. The Samaritan woman (John 4:1-42) comes to the close of her first conversation with the Son of God, and she is amazed that even thought he knows all about her sin, this Jewish man still speaks to her and offers her living water. Immediately she goes into town to tell her friends about the messiah. The disciples (who at this point are still pretty dense about this matter) come back from town with a bunch of sandwiches, while she returns with a bunch of sinners. The juxtaposition is amazing! Jesus adds his blessing to her efforts by providing commentary about the approaching group of Samaritans: “Lift up your eyes and look at the fields, for they are already white for harvest!” (John 4:35) The spontaneous proclamation of the good news of Jesus by the woman becomes the first successful evangelistic effort in Samaria. And she didn’t have any special training, unique example, or even a command from the Lord Jesus. The word of the woman is a key step in the salvation of her friends: “And many of the Samaritans of that city believed in Him because of the word of the woman who testified, ‘He told me all that I ever did.’” (4:39)

In Mark 5:1-20 we read the account of the demoniac of the Gadarenes. He is radically changed from being a screaming, naked, self-mutilating, hanging-out-with dead bodies, and uncontrollable, superhuman public enemy number one into a man who is “clothed” and “in his right mind” (5:15). How does this man respond to being the recipient of such amazing grace and power? He begs to be with Jesus! But Christ tells him that he cannot come, and instead says, “Go home to your friends, and tell them what great things the Lord has done for you, and how He has had compassion on you” (v. 19). The great commission for this infant believer was to spread far and wide the story of the messiah in his life. And as an extraordinary sinner, his testimony would have impressive potential to display the power of God. What is the result? First, the man obeys, “And he departed and began to proclaim in Decapolis all that Jesus had done for him; and all marveled” (v.20). If you trace out the events in the book of Mark you find that in chapter 7:31-37 we find that Jesus returns to the Decapolis after the region has been softened up by the message of this new believer. Jesus heals a deaf mute in the presence of a gathered multitude (v.33), and they respond with astonishment and exclaim, “he has done all things well. He makes both the deaf to hear and the mute to speak” (v. 37). It would appear that not only is the spontaneous “evangelizing” of the glory of Christ the result of his miraculous work in the life of this man; it is also quite effective means in the hands of the Holy Spirit in helping sinners to become worshipers.

Not a New Testament Phenomenon
But this idea, that I am calling “spontaneous evangelism” from an experience of God’s grace, is not only a New Testament phenomenon. It is not something reserved for people who were demoniacs, or for people who experienced miracles, or for people who had face-to-face encounters with Christ. In Psalms 32 and 51, important psalms of penitence and forgiveness, we find that receiving the mercy of forgiveness turns a sinner into an evangelist. After coming through a time of deep agony and conviction, David receives forgiveness. “Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. Blessed is the man to whom the LORD does not impute iniquity…” (Psalm 32:1-2) After coming through the experience of sin, conviction, repentance and forgiveness David says, “I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will guide you with My eye” (v.8). David warns against being stubborn in resisting God and the conviction of sin. He explains the mercies he has received. In Psalm 51 he recounts the events surrounding his sin with Bathsheba, the repentance that follows, and his hope for God’s mercy. He writes for these words for our example, “Restore to me the joy of Your salvation, and uphold me by Your generous Spirit. Then I will teach transgressors Your ways, and sinners shall be converted to You” (vv.12-13). It would seem that it is impossible to encounter deep sorrow and conviction of sin, come to God in hope of mercy, receive the remission of your sins, and not open your mouth to teach others about how they can be forgiven. Perhaps if we do not tell others the good news, we do not have a full appreciation of what our sins deserve, or what it cost to pardon them.

The Impossible Command
The passage that got me to thinking about all this is Mark 1:40-45. This passage records how Jesus miraculously healed a man suffering from a disease that was both terminal, and socially disgraceful. Jesus heals the leper and then says, “See that you say nothing to anyone; but go your way, show yourself to the priest, and offer for your cleansing those things which Moses commanded, as a testimony to them” (1:44). Try to imagine this: you have been miraculously healed of leprosy by the long awaited messiah, and you are not supposed to tell anyone. When your friends and family who have been shunning you ask you how you were cured what are you supposed to say? He should have obeyed the command, but I think that we can have a little sympathy for him. Jesus was commanding him to do what was against nature!

There are at least 8 times in the New Testament when Jesus gives instructions not to speak about his identity or actions. (Matt 8:3-5; 16:20; 7:35-37, Mark 8:29-30; Luke 5:13-15; 8: 55-56; 9:20-22) Most often this seems connected with Jesus preventing a premature growth in popularity in connection with the father’s divine timetable.

When Jesus tells people not to say anything about his miracles or identity, they often fail at this simple command. They cannot keep their mouths shut because they are so overwhelmed with wonder and gratitude. They have to tell someone!

Under the present circumstances, none of us have a command to restrain what comes naturally. In fact, we have every encouragement in the world to share the good news of the work of God in our lives and to bring others to share the same grace that we have come to understand. In some ways, asking whether Christians have to be evangelists might miss the point the same way that asking whether Christians have to worship. In both cases, everyone who has really encountered the grace of God will do it quite naturally.

Our Hope of Gospel Success

“Let no one say . . . that the doctrine of election by the sovereign will and mercy of God, mysterious as it is, makes either evangelism or faith unnecessary. The opposite is the case. It is only because of God’s gracious will to save that evangelism has any hope of success and faith becomes possible. The preaching of the gospel is the very means that God has appointed by which he delivers from blindness and bondage those whom he chose in Christ before the foundation of the world, sets them free to believe in Jesus, and so causes his will to be done.”

– John R. W. Stott, The Message of Ephesians (Downers Grove, Ill: Inter-Varsity Press, 1979), 48