A Secular Defense of REAL Faith

 

Beware – I would say to believers – the patronage of unbelievers

bible-pic-for-fb

This author rails against the notion that because faith has social benefits, believers shouldn’t worry about the truth of what they believe. While I disagree on many points, I appreciate his candor. He warns us against unbelievers speaking glibly about the social benefits of religion without addressing the truth of the claims. And even though this may feel good, believers should beware of it as well. Useful lies are still lies. And truth is truth even if it doesn’t appear victorious in the moment.

“One of the reasons we can be pretty sure Jesus actually existed is that if He had not, the Church would never have invented Him. He stands so passionately, resolutely and inconveniently against everything an established church stands for. Continuity? Tradition? Christ had nothing to do with stability. He came to break up families, to smash routines, to cast aside the human superstructures, to teach abandonment of earthly concerns and a throwing of ourselves upon God’s mercy.”

And again

“As I get older the sharpness of my faculties begins to dull. But what I will not do is sink into a mellow blur of acceptance of the things I railed against in my youth. ‘Familiar’ be damned. ‘Comforting’ be damned. ‘Useful’ be damned. Is it true? — that is the question. It was the question when I was 12 and the question when I was 22. Forty years later it is still the question. It is the only question.”

 

Source: Beware – I would say to believers – the patronage of unbelievers | The Spectator

Peace or No Peace? Which Is It? — Free Grace Church

Here is a post I wrote on our Church blog at Freegracefresno.com

Jesus says “Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division.” (Luke 12:51).

After discussing how sin reveals itself in social structures I discuss the way that Jesus calls us to stand against the current around us. But that is still expensive. How could anyone be joyfully willing to pay that price?

“Here is the good news. Every other group that demands your allegiance will take advantage of you. They will use you for their own ends. They will expect you to sacrifice yourself for the good of the group. But Jesus is different. Just before he says that he did not come to bring peace, he says this, “I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how great is my distress until it is accomplished?” (Luke 12:50). What is this baptism? It is referring to his death on the cross (Mark 10:38).  Every other group is a kind of vampire. They will use you for their own ends.  And if you fail them, they will disown you. But Jesus, the only one worthy of your complete devotion, laid down his life for yours.  And he had to do that because of your misplaced loyalties.   And it is this love and sacrifice that is the power that moves us. It allows us to suffer the loss of relationships, respect, and approval that comes from standing with Christ against the world.”

Source: Peace or No Peace? Which Is It? — Free Grace Church

You Need To Go To Church

You need to go to church. Sometimes people say ridiculous things about Jesus and Christianity. And here is something crazy: Christians can be the worst of all at this.

Here is one of the most ridiculous things I have heard believers say, “You don’t need to be a part of a church to be a Christian.” Some nuance is needed to pick this statement apart because there are some christians that are separated from the body of Christ. But when I have heard this statement the overall meaning is that we can do this on our own… that we don’t need to give or receive fellowship.  That we can live as amputated limbs without the rest of the body.  Well, below is one of my attempts to Biblically deconstruct this idea. Here are some notes and a link to a sermon I recently preached on this.  At the core of this message is the truth is that Christian community is tied to the work of Jesus on the cross and in our lives.  The need for fellowship and worship is much bigger than “being a good Christian.”

Hebrews 10:19-39 “Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, 20 by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. 23 Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, 25 not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.”

Community starts with understanding what Christ has done for us. This is true because sin has separated us from God and one another. And the most important work, the first work is to repair the breach that our sin has caused between us and our God.

Sin separates us from God, and God from us. And sin also separates us from one another. God’s righteousness has barred us from his presence. And because our consciences are defiled, being in the presence of God is no longer pleasurable. We now run from him rather than to him. The OT temple worship was a depiction of this situation. We are separated from God’s presence, but he has made a way for us to return and be cleansed.

The work of Jesus (especially v. 19-21), as described in this passage, shows us 4 things that are the foundation of Christian community.  We cannot separate the way we relate to God from the way we relate to other people.

1.     We are welcomed. We have bold access to God’s presence because of the sacrifice of Christ. His blood has cleansed us. We are no longer banished. This is not because we have become good enough or worked hard enough. This is purely because of his work on our behalf.

2.     We are clean. Our hearts have been sprinkled by his blood. We are washed and forgiven and our consciences can be at peace. What the Old Testament animal sacrifices could only depict, Jesus has accomplished. We no longer need to be controlled by guilt and shame.

3.     We are secure. A promise is only as good as the one who makes it, and we are safe and secure because he who promised is faithful.

4.     We are in process. Though we are forgiven and accepted completely, there is much work to be done in us, on us, and through us.  And this work is explained (in part) in this passage.  God is at work in us through other believers. We desperately need them to help and encourage us.

Continue reading You Need To Go To Church

A Prayer with Insight

%22Help me know how to obtain relief from

The Valley of Vision book of Puritan Prayers is a goldmine.  I pick it up from time to time.  I read (and prayed) this one this morning and found a section that is worth sharing.

“Grant that I may never trust my heart,
depend upon any past experiences,
magnify any present resolutions,
but be strong in the grace of Jesus:
that I may know how to obtain relief
    from a guilty conscience
  without feeling reconciled to my imperfections.”

Emphasis mine.

You can read the whole prayer here at the Banner of Truth website.

Jesus Friend of Sinners

Rabbi friends

I was recently invited to give a devotional at a pastor’s meeting where we discussing outreach and the importance of loving our neighbors.  The general text of my talk is below:

Luke 5:27-32

27 After this he went out and saw a tax collector named Levi, sitting at the tax booth. And he said to him, “Follow me.” 28 And leaving everything, he rose and followed him. 

29 And Levi made him a great feast in his house, and there was a large company of tax collectors and others reclining at table with them. 30 And the Pharisees and their scribes grumbled at his disciples, saying, “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?” 31 And Jesus answered them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. 32 I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.” (ESV Bible Translation)

In this passage, we see that Jesus has rescued Levi… one of the worst kinds of men, he was a tax collector. He was most likely a Jewish man, probably from the tribe of the priests. He should have been receiving tithes to fund worship in the house of God, instead he is a traitor… taking taxes to give to the Romans.  And most tax collectors also committed extortion.

But Levi has come to follow Jesus.  And he will become one of the most of the most influential men in the history of the church. He is the apostle Matthew. We still read his gospel.  This is what Jesus Christ does, he takes the people that we look down on, people that are hopelessly corrupt and despised… and He saves them and gives them a great calling. He makes them sons and servants of God. This should give us hope. God might even use someone like you!

After Levi comes to follow Jesus, he is so overjoyed with his new relationship with Christ that he throws a party. He wants all of his friends to meet this Rabbi that is different than any other rabbi… Let me say this, the only way the people in our churches will ever do anything like this, is if they are so amazed and thrilled with Jesus Christ that he is their treasure.

So, Jesus is eating and drinking with tax collectors, and “Sinners.” And the Pharisees protest, they ask the question in v. 30, “Why are you doing this?”  Jesus is so close, and so friendly, with these awful people, there can only be one reason.  He must be supporting them in their sin.

Jesus answers with his own mission statement in v. 32. He is like a doctor that came to help the sick. He didn’t come to help healthy people, but the lost and broken.

I would like to suggest that the Pharisees don’t really have a problem with WHAT Jesus is doing. The idea of telling these dirty sinners that they need to repent is probably OK with them. If he stood on the street and yelled at them, they would probably stand and cheer. No, Their problem is with HOW he is doing it.  How is Jesus calling them to repentance? By eating and drinking with them. He has become friends with them, and through friendship calling them back to fellowship with God. His actions are a living parable of the message of the gospel. God makes his enemies to become his friends.

This doesn’t fit very nicely into our box does it!  In many places in the church people live at the far ends of the spectrum.

Some embrace the lost and “sinners” by becoming friends with them. They want to love and support them, but they don’t offer them any medicine.  In fact, they think that if you suggest that people are spiritually “sick”, then you must be judgmental.

On the other end there are Christians that want to call people to repentance, but they do it from a safe distance. They want to do it the way we are fighting terrorists, with drones. They do it by tract bombing, or doing “outreach” twice a year. They want to do it from a place of moral superiority. They are concerned that getting too close to lost people might get them dirty or damage their reputation.  Though I have probably been guilty of both extremes, I think this second one is far more common among serious christians.

But Jesus does something different, he is able to receive and love people without endorsing or participating in their vices and sins. And he is able to call them to repentance, without alienating them or withdrawing from their company.

Brothers and sisters, this is our great salvation and our great example. And we will never be able to do this if we think we are the healthy and righteous ones. We will only be able to do this when we see that we are the sinners he came to call. When we see ourselves like Levi, completely beyond hope. But thrilled that we have a place at the table- that we have been loved and received by Grace.

 

Photo used courtesy of the University of Washington. 

Jesus and the Crowds

Crowds

In his commentary on Luke, while discussing the parable of the sower, Darrell Bock says, “Jesus relates the parable to ‘a large crowd.’ In Luke the mention of a large crowd often means that a warning about not getting carried away about the response follows (cf. 12:1–2)”

There is a lesson here about crowds. Too often Christians view crowds according to their temperament (introvert/extrovert) or the success (or lack of success) of their church or theological tribe. “Large crowds are the sure sign of God’s blessing.” Or, “Large crowds equal compromise.”

The parable of the sower, and the rest of Jesus ministry shows us something different. We should neither worship nor despise crowds of people. He did not. We must look at them more critically. They are both opportunities for for ministry and occasions for temptation.

Bock, Darrell L. Luke. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1996. Print. The NIV Application Commentary.

Photo used by Permission National Archives 

The Teacher or the Teaching? Why Jesus is Different

This passage is from Ravi Zacharias Book, “Jesus among Other Gods:”

“He who comes to Me will never go hungry, and he who believes in Me will never be thirsty.” Notice the power implicit in the claim.

“At the heart of every major religion is a leading exponent. As the exposition is studied, something very significant emerges. There comes a bifurcation, or a distinction, between the person and the teaching. Mohammed, to the Koran. Buddha, to the Noble Path. Krishna, to his philosophizing. Zoroaster, to his ethics.

“Whatever we may make of their claims, one reality is inescapable. They are teachers who point to their teaching or show some particular way. In all of these, there emerges an instruction, a way of living. It is not Zoroaster to whom you turn. It is Zoroaster to whom you listen. It is not Buddha who delivers you; it is his Noble Truths that instruct you. It is not Mohammed who transforms you; it is the beauty of the Koran that woos you.

“By contrast, Jesus did not only teach or expound His message. He was identical with His message. “In Him,” say the Scriptures, “dwelt the fullness of the Godhead bodily.” He did not just proclaim the truth. He said, “I am the truth.” He did not just show a way. He said, “I am the Way.” He did not just open up vistas. He said, “I am the door.” “I am the Good Shepherd.” “I am the resurrection and the life.” “I am the I AM.”

“In Him is not just an offer of life’s bread. He is the bread. That is why being a Christian is not just a way of feeding and living. Following Christ begins with a way of relating and being.”

Zacharias, Ravi K. Jesus among Other Gods: The Absolute Claims of the Christian Message. Nashville, TN: Word Pub., 2000. Print. (p. 89)

Jonathan Edwards on the Poor


Of the obligation of Christians to perform the duty of charity to the poor.

“THIS duty is absolutely commanded, and much insisted on, in the Word of God. Where have we any command in the Bible laid down in stronger terms, and in a more peremptory urgent manner, than the command of giving to the poor? We have the same law in a positive manner laid down in Lev. 25:35, etc. “And if thy brother be waxen poor, and fallen in decay with thee, then thou shalt relieve him; yea, though he be a stranger or a sojourner, that he may live with thee.” And at the conclusion of verse 38, God enforces it with saying, I am the Lord thy God.

“It is mentioned in Scripture, not only as a duty, but a great duty. Indeed it is generally acknowledged to be a duty, to be kind to the needy. But by many it seems not to be looked upon as a duty of great importance. However, it is mentioned in Scripture as one of the greater and more essential duties of religion. Mic. 6:8, “He hath showed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the Lord thy God require of thee, but to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?” Here to love mercy is mentioned as one of the three great things that are the sum of all religion. So it is mentioned by the apostle James, as one of the two things wherein pure and undefiled religion consists. Jam. 1:27, “Pure religion, and undefiled, before God and the Father, is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world.”

“So Christ tells us, it is one of the weightier matters of the law. Mat. 23:23, “Ye have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith.” The Scriptures again and again teach us that it is a more weighty and essential thing than the attendance on the outward ordinances of worship. Hos. 6:6, “I desired mercy, and not sacrifice;” Mat. 9:13 and 12:7. I know of scarce any duty which is so much insisted on, so pressed and urged upon us, both in the Old Testament and New, as this duty of charity to the poor.”

Jonathan Edwards From The Duty of Charity to the Poor, Explained and Enforced

Dealing With The Accuser

“Satan accuses Christians day and night. It is not just that he will work on our conscience to make us feel as dirty, guilty, defeated, destroyed, weak, and ugly as he possibly can; it is something worse: his entire play in the past is to accuse us before God day and night, bringing charges against us that we know we can never answer before the majesty of God’s holiness.

What can we say in response? Will our defense be, ‘Oh, I’m not that bad?’ You will never beat Satan that way. Never. What you must say is, ‘Satan, I’m even worse than you think, but God loves me anyway. He has accepted me because of the blood of the Lamb.”

—D.A. Carson, Scandalous: The Cross and Resurrection of Jesus(Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2010), 98-99

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.