Category Archives: Christian Life

How I’ve Neglected Grace

Owning up to ones faults is never an easy task. Identifying the qualities of oneself that are less than appealing or distasteful is an uncomfortable yet humbling experience. This has been my undertaking over the last few days. Over the past couple of weeks I have been reading the recent biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer by Eric Metaxas. In this book, which I recommend highly, I have encountered a man who so passionately pursued God that every action that flowed from him encompassed grace, honesty and self-reflection. From my time spent reading this book I have come to realize that a characteristic that I have come to embrace about myself has been at the very same time counteracting an attribute that I wished to attain. In short, my cynical nature has been counterproductive to a life lived for grace.

My recognition of this came about from reading passages in “Bonhoeffer” that spoke of Bonhoeffer’s gracious treatment of the guards and wardens who held him captive during WWII even up to the point of his execution. Bonhoeffer knew that everything that he did was a reflection upon Christ and that he must live his life as a witness to the power of what Christ did on the cross and in his resurrection. I realized upon reflection of his actions that Bonhoeffer was embracing grace even before any action inflicted upon him constituted giving it. Grace was his way of life not, as he defined, cheap grace but true grace. The circumstances through which Bonhoeffer endured would have justly led to an attitude of cynicism and hostility but he remained hopeful, fervent in prayer and gracious.

I realized after reading this how I have often claimed to live a life of grace based solely on the assumption that grace was bound by cause and effect. An individuals particular actions would lead to a need for grace to be extended. (I am here merely referring to grace given between human counterparts, not divinely instituted prevenient grace.) This however has been a false assumption on my part. Grace does not rely on a cause but is a natural effect of one lived within Christ’s unbounded grace. It is a result of the outpouring of grace upon an individual that then flows out of response to a fully committed life to Christ. Given my incorrect assumption I operated by merely extending grace when the circumstance called for it rather than living a life that reflected the grace given to me.

By living this way I felt that I could still maintain my cynical nature and pessimistic (although I maintained it was a realistic) reaction to individuals and circumstances. My cynicism was a direct result of denying grace within my life. I now realize that I can maintain a life of critical reflection while embracing and living out grace but that I must be ever aware to not let myself slip into cynicism which would inhibit grace flowing through me. This is a fairly new revelation for me. Granted I grasped the concept intellectually some time ago it took reading an example of a godly man’s life for it to make the leap from head to heart.

Change is never easy and it’s an ongoing battle but if I desire to live a life of grace then I must be willing to tackle those things that would get in the way. In light of my own humbling encounter with the Spirit pointing out my weaknesses I would like to ask you: how are you neglecting grace in your life? How can we continue on this grace filled journey together where the Spirit is shown in our lives through the outpouring of grace and we can remove all hindrances from it?


Read This Blog And God Will Prosper You…

Recently, I’ve spent a lot of time pondering the different perspectives on theology that are within the Christian community and that are being expressed within the church. During this time of reflection a question has come to the forefront of my mind that I want to ask and hear some responses on.

Why is it that many conservative Christians are okay (and even support) those who advocate a prosperity gospel yet they condemn and judge those who raise questions about Christian theology and doctrine?

At the core of this question is another question, which is more wrong or damaging, those who use the gospel to gain profits or those who use questions to strive for a deeper understanding of faith, even when those questions may call into account traditionally held presuppositions? To me I find that those who advocate for questioning and even openly struggle with times of doubt are being honest and sincere in their desire to better understand Christ and following him, yet there are those who quickly condemn these people for preaching a false gospel. All the while, there are others who preach a gospel that tells us that if you are faithful to God he will bless you with health and wealth. These health and wealth advocates are accepted, quoted and supported by many Christians yet I find that their gospel is truly false. Granted, I can admit that many liberal theologians have gone too far in their pursuits for an empirical and completely rational Christianity but I do believe that pursuing to understand something better is far more honorable than manipulating the gospel to sell books. Some of the greatest thinkers of our time are guys like Hauerwas, Boyd, and (please contain your gasps) even Rob Bell; all of which have been labeled as heretics and false teachers for raising doubts and calling into question the status quo, yet guys like Casey Treat, Joseph Prince, and Joel Osteen are hailed as solid Christian teachers because they make people feel good. This is backwards to me.

So help me with this a bit, removing the extreme aspects of liberal theology, is it more noble and Christlike to pursue a deeper understanding of the Christian faith through questions and doubts or by preaching a gospel that advocates for riches, wellness, and happiness?

 


A Broader Celebration of Freedom

For anyone who knows me well they will affirm the fact that I am not the most patriotic person in the world. If I’m completely honest patriotism is not a part of my personality. I don’t hold my hand over my heart and recite the Pledge of Allegiance and I don’t tend to like the phrase “God Bless America”. Now before I turn you off and get labeled as a “pinko-commie” let me say that I love the freedom that I have in the United States and feel fortunate to live in such a place. The core of why I am not overly patriotic is simply due to the fact that I believe that my citizenship and allegiance are to the Kingdom of God not any Kingdom of man. Also, just because I hold to this belief does not mean that I condemn those who are patriotic, it’s simply a difference of opinion and ideology. With that being said, I definitely struggle when July 4th rolls around and we have patriotic elements in our worship services.

Despite my reservations with patriotism mixing with Christianity I do believe that God has a sense of humor and so today I filled the role of Campus Pastor at our Graham Campus as we held our services and had patriotic elements. Now, our services weren’t overly mixed with patriotism. We sang God Bless America and had a short video of quotations from our founding Fathers. Beyond that there wasn’t much to it. I walked away not feeling bothered but with a lot still on my mind.

The thing that I love about the 4th of July and affirm in our worship services around this time of year is the celebration of freedom. It’s an amazing privilege to have the freedom of Religion that we have in the United States and I am thankful for that, it should be recognized. But let’s not stop there, let’s not have our celebration of freedom be in regard to the United States, rather let us celebrate freedom in Christ. Political freedom is one thing but it really is no match for freedom from the bondage of sin and freedom from this world. Perhaps a middle ground for us “pinko-commie Christians” and those “patriotic Christians” is the universal love for freedom that is brought in Christ and we can use the 4th as a recognition of that. In doing this it will not only serve as a reminder of how privileged we are to have our freedoms here in the US but also as a reminder to pray for those and take action for those who are in bondage both locally and abroad. Let the reminder of our freedom motivate us to act for those who are in bondage both spiritually and physically.

I hope that this post isn’t taken as a patriotism bash, or that I am negative towards the United States but rather as a few thoughts from a guy who wants to respect perspectives and find balance so that God is glorified more than anything else. Feel free to disagree and comment but any conversation should be done in love not in anger or frustration.

 


What Harold Camping Taught Me About Following Jesus

There has been so much hype lately around Harold Camping and his prediction that the rapture would occur on May 21. Well, May 21 has come and gone and we are all still here. Either the rapture was far smaller than even Camping predicted and the tribulation rings far more of normal every day life than of all out craziness OR it didn’t happen. Now, for anyone who knows me I’m not one who spends a lot of time dwelling on the end of the world or eschatology, in fact I find that it is by far the theological practice that can do the most danger when in reality we are called to make Disciples today so they can follow Jesus today. The present is what I’m concerned about, I’ll let God deal with the end. BUT there were a few things that I learned from Harold Camping and his followers that I wanted to share.

1. Eisegesis leads to neglecting the obvious parts of Scripture.

Most Christians that I know disregarded Camping and his predictions because of what Scripture blatantly says, no one knows when Jesus will return except for the Father. This seems fairly obvious but it wasn’t for Camping. Now, I don’t know his response to that passage however, what I can see in his interpretation was that he became so consumed with what he wanted Scripture to say that he disregarded what Scripture did say. Placing your own interpretation into Scripture is eisegesis and this is what Camping was doing, so much so that it blinded him to what Scripture did say. Exegesis is the practice of taking the meaning from the text rather than placing meaning into it. Exegesis leads to in depth study of original languages, historical and cultural contexts as well as basic literary criticisms. Exegesis is a healthy and necessary practice for studying the Bible, but one must be careful not to confuse the two. Harold Camping taught me to be extra aware of what I’m doing when I’m studying the Bible because otherwise I can look like an idiot. It wasn’t his intent but I’m gonna give him credit anyway.

2. People Don’t Equip Themselves to Study Scripture Enough on Their Own

In #1 I mentioned the practice of exegesis. If the followers of Camping had taken the time to learn to properly study the Bible then they would have been able to not only save themselves humiliation but also vast amounts of resources. (I read one article that mentioned a man who spent 140K on promotions.) Now, I’m not saying that everyone needs to learn to study original languages but people need to be willing to look at outside resources from theologians who have studied the historical aspects of Scripture. When doing this they also shouldn’t study only people from their theological tradition but various traditions to get a better scope on their understanding. When we learn to study Scripture we can better way out what is an accurate teaching and when someone has been misguided.

3. It Shouldn’t Take the End of the World to Motivate Us To Be Reconciled To God

The campaign to spread the word of May 21 as the end of the world was to motivate people to repent and turn to God. This type of idea just has bad news written all over it, particularly if it doesn’t happen then people will look at it as a joke and disregard any true teaching that may have been hidden below the wrong teaching. Along with this, people’s motivation to turn to God is simply out of a fear of the end and not out of a sincere embracing of the transforming love of God. Their reaction is out of survival not out of passion or conviction. If it takes us trying to predict the end of the world to motivate and scare people into turning their lives over to God then we are just crappy ambassadors for Christ and need to learn to live as Jesus called us to and to love as Jesus did so that we can actually create devoted followers of Jesus.

Overall, I had a good laugh when thinking about this prediction. It’s not a bad thing to hope for Jesus’ return but I also think that we need to remain in the present to reach people in the here and now. While my hope was that after this weekend Camping may stop trying to predict Christ’s return, I realize that isn’t the case and now the date is for October 21. Well, between now and then I hope that God uses us to reach more people for Him so that they can be a part of God’s advancing Kingdom after October 21 and after December of 2012.


Tattooed Grace*

Yesterday afternoon I had the privilege of spending in a local tattoo parlor. It was my first time at this shop, and well my first tattoo since leaving my old artist, John, in California. It was a nerve racking situation, to be honest. I have high standards when it comes to the work that I will allow on my arm after all it is permanent. It was a 2 hour job that was filled with pleasant conversation. I was able to share with this artist about my job and why I love Jesus and what He’s about. After the two hours were over my arm was nicely wrapped in saran wrap and tape to control the left over blood that was coming out. I paid the artist and drove home.

It wasn’t until after I got home that I noticed that some of my fears about having a new artist had come true. There were blemishes in my tattoo, nothing drastic but it definitely was not up to the standard that my previous artist had set. I got a little frustrated, it’s permanent!!! I expressed some of my disappointment to my wife and became a little embarrassed about it. But something changed this morning. I looked at my tattoo in a different way when I woke up today. I saw it as one small piece of a larger work that will take place on my arm. It was only a small portion, it didn’t make up the entirety of what will be. And beyond that, I see now that the blemishes are only a small part of the piece that is already there. I smile now, even as I write this. There is beauty in the blemish. This tattoo has significance for me, it always had but now it represents something far more beautiful than I ever intended. I have blemishes in my life. I have made mistakes and they aren’t pretty but thanks to the grace that I received from Christ those blemishes are now lost in the larger picture of who I am in Christ. They are gone. How beautiful to think that they are gone.

My new tattoo now for me represents grace. The blemishes will remind me that I’m not perfect but through Christ I am reconciled and redeemed.

(I cannot take credit for the title of this post, it’s inspired by my friend Kyle Liggitt’s blog of the same title. Tattooed Grace )


Context is everything…well, almost

Whenever I have a discussion with someone about reading the Bible I always emphasize context. The background surrounding a passage of Scripture is vital to understanding what the intended message is for the reader. Not only must one look at the surrounding context within the text but they must also look at the context in regard to the community that was receiving the writings, and the larger context of the authors other works as well. This provides a better understanding of both the author and the recipient.

I have found throughout my experience that context is the most important part of building a successful working ministry. If you, for the sake of this argument, are the author then you have to understand the background of your recipients, those who are receiving your message. While the core idea in the message will never change if you are preaching the Gospel, the way in which you communicate that message will if you want to be successful in reaching people in your area. The most difficult part of being contextual in ministry is shedding the context of your past experiences. We are so often influenced by our own lens, the  way we were reached or the presuppositions we bring into a community often make us too lazy to engage in figuring out the appropriate method for reaching a community. If we want to better reach our surroundings then we must be willing to adapt, willing to shed our preconceived ideas and put in the work to understand the recipients.

There are two big downfalls to contextual ministry that poison our churches today.

1. Personal Preference

Personal preference can damage ministries because personal preferences are selfish. This happens when a pastor enters into a community and expects a community to understand, enjoy, and be affected in the same way as the pastor. This is especially dangerous in cross-cultural settings where there is racial diversity. While there may be limited success at first, if the pastor does not shift from his or her own personal desires eventually people will look for something that they can better relate to. Being a shepherd of people is to be selfless and to do whatever it takes to reach people, therefore we cannot operate with our own personal preferences driving our methodology.

2. The Bandwagon

This is probably the largest obstacle to contextual ministry. There are thousands of churches all over the world doing many different wonderful things. Most of these ministries have put in the legwork to understand their communities and how to reach them effectively. Unfortunately, a large number of pastors look at the success of other ministries and merely try to copy what they are doing. After all if it worked for them then of course it’s going to work for me. The problem is not that pastors utilize the same principals that successful ministries have used but rather that they don’t take the time to adapt those principals to fit their community. For example, Purpose Driven. Saddleback has done a lot of great things under the leadership of Rick Warren and in order to provide resources to others they advertised the Purpose Driven model of ministry. This model worked well for them and has had a positive impact in there community and others. The problem is that many pastors simply copied Saddleback’s methodology and tried to implement in their communities without adapting the strategy to fit their context. The bandwagon approach to ministry is a short cut method to damaging, or at the very least limiting, the potential of a successful ministry.

Context, for me, is a founding principal within my faith. Context in Scriptural study leads to a better understanding of what God wants me to discover. And context within ministry. To better reach people we must understand who they are, where they’ve come from, what their lives consist of and where they desire to go. Once we understand those things then we can create a methodology that will be effective in reaching them for Jesus.


When Grace is too much…

Facebook, Twitter and Blogs have been afire with the recent announcement of the death of Osama Bin Laden. As I’ve read through many of the tweets, posts and status updates there has been a world of reactions to the news and to be honest this is probably one of the more difficult announcements to respond to. I have resisted writing anything in regard to the recent events because even as a pacifist I have found myself struggling with my reactions to the news. In spite of all that I have found myself observing many people in heated debates about the Christian response. Some are rejoicing, claiming that God’s righteous judgment was carried out upon this man with a skewed and evil ideology, while others (myself included) have felt a sense of sadness over the loss of a man who never (as far as we know) came into a loving relationship with Jesus.

With the varying reactions what I have noticed is that many people who are in mourning over the death of a man who never knew Jesus are being berated for their extension of brother and sisterly grace. The grace being showed by these people is too much for some. The grace being extended is not salvific divine grace but rather grace from fellow sinners who wish to be an example of how God’s grace can work in the lives of people. It is my belief that these people are showing the world that even those who commit the worst sins according to human standards can be forgiven and that God’s grace, even greater than ours, could have extended to this man. God loved Osama Bin Laden.

That’s a tough pill to swallow. For many the idea of God loving Osama bin Laden is too far. That grace is just too much. The man was too far gone. But the amazing thing is that there is never too much grace.  In his book “Throw It Down” Jud Wilhite wrote that “In refusing grace, I was saying that Jesus was not enough & that his sacrifice needs to be greater.” The same principal applies when we view other people. In viewing someone as too far gone to receive God’s grace we are saying that Jesus’ sacrifice wasn’t enough. I believe that by extending some post-mortem grace to a man who didn’t know the love of Jesus is an appropriate response. It is not saying that his sins were forgiven by God but that we view him as someone who was created in the image of God, fearfully and wonderfully made, yet fallen and in sin. In recognizing him as such we are extending to him something that he really did not deserve and that is what grace is: getting what you don’t deserve. Salvific grace is up to God but our reactions to his death can manifest grace.