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Archive for June, 2010


Apparently I needed a good laugh.  That is the only way I can understand what happened.

I just went to the mailbox at the church.  Amidst the rest of the mail was a catalog.  It was for church supplies.  One of the hot items, the cover item, was their “new offering cans”.  Yes, they are little banks meant to look like soda cans (or pop cans if you are so inclined).  These are supposed to make our collecting coins more exciting, interesting and worshipful.

They have taken popular soft drinks and mutated them.  Much like some “Christian” t-shirts.  7-Up was “converted” to 7 Gifts of the Spirit.  Coke, as usual, was “converted” to Jesus Christ: Eternally Refreshing.  Red Bull became Red Sea: Hope Gives You Wings.  Pepsi One => Perfect One.  Sprite => (you guessed it) Spirit with the saying, “God Loves a Cheerful Giver” on the side.  A&W Rootbeer was converted to Alpha & Omega.

There are 8 of these in all.  And I’m wondering “why?”.   They seem innocuous enough, right?  But don’t they seem to trivialize faith?  I can’t think of many things more unimportant than a soda can.  After all, soda really isn’t all that good for you.  It is nutritionally meaningless and rots your teeth.  That really doesn’t seem to represent the gospel well, and doesn’t really reinforce the message on the outside- that the gospel is precious.  Not only that but the cans themselves are essentially worthless, true symbols of pop culture not an eternal gospel.

Yes, I’m not hip, cool and sometimes a stick in the mud.  But not all fun in harmless.  Laughter is the best response (no, anger really isn’t for it gives the devil a foothold).

What is it about American Christianity that we consistently do such things?  Can you see Paul thinking up ways to “convert” popular symbols of the Roman culture?  I’m not sure what popular symbols there were of Roman culture, but there had to be some.  It seems like running a “Christian” vomitorium or bordello.  You can’t sanctify sin, and isn’t a soda can a symbol of our gluttony and obesity?

As I consider culture-making, this is no what I had in mind.  We can do better.  We have a better story than this.

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In The Letters of John Newton, the last letter to Rev. Symonds concerns the differences that exist among Christians.  Some of those are differences in belief, and some are differences in practice.  Newton’s comments lead us toward charity on the non-essentials.

He had recently moved from Olney to London.  There in London his sphere of influence was greatly enlarged.  This mean that a wide range of people were coming to hear him preach.  He mentions “Churchmen and Dissenters, Calvinists and Arminians, Moravians and Methodists, now and then I believe Papists and Quakers sit quietly to hear me.”

I know that in the churches I’ve served, this can often be true.  There have been a hodge-podge of backgrounds and present views.  And you just never know where that visitor is coming from.

What he says in the rest of the letter concerns our brothers with whom we disagree.  Don’t take them as applying to denominational standards.  The greater the bond the greater the agreement must be.  Denominations do well to have statements of faith that are binding (even if I disagree with many a denomination’s’ particulars).

“Whoever wants to confine me to follow his sentiments, whether as to doctrine or order, is so far a papist.  Whoever encourages me to read the Scriptures, and to pray for the teaching of the Holy Spirit, and then will let me follow the life the Lord Jesus gives me, without being angry with me because I cannot and will not see with his eyes, nor wear his shoes, is a consistent Protestant.”

He accuses those who demand that others believe as they do, and do as they do of acting like a Pope.  Such people, though often claiming to be Protestants, condemn all who disagree with them.  For instance, this is the issue the Ray Ortlund, Jr. has with the “Truly Reformed“.  In their zeal for truth, particularly Reformed Theology, they condemn all who do not believe (and do) as they believe (and do).  They have lapsed into functional papacy.

This does not mean we should not expect others to hold to essentials of the faith (unless we start thinking everything is essential, which is what these folks do).  He continues:

“The depravity of human nature; the deity of the Savior; the influences of the Holy Spirit; a separation from the world, and a devotedness to God- these are principles which I deem fundamental; and though I would love and serve all mankind, I can have no religious union or communion with those who deny them.”

There are certain minimal beliefs that make one an orthodox Christian.  Newton does not deny this.  But he does not want to hold people to the maximum standard before admitting them as brothers.

“Though a man does not accord with my views of election; yet if he gives me good evidence that he is effectually called of God, he is my brother.  Though he seems afraid of the doctrine of final perseverance; yet if grace enable him to persevere, he is my brother still.  If he love Jesus, I will love him; whatever hard name he may be called by, and whatever incidental mistakes I may think he holds.  His different from me will not always prove him to be wrong, except I am infallible myself.”

Newton looks for evidences of the grace of God in them, not theological consistency.  The key word is “incidental” mistakes.  For instance, Rob Bell’s increasing syncretism is not an “incidental mistake”.  Rob needs the real gospel.  But Protestants can disagree on issues regarding baptism, the Table, election, the covenants, the millennium etc.  I did say Protestants since the Roman views of baptism and the Table depart too far from Scripture as to be heretical.

Newton gets to the main point at the very end.  We cannot expect everyone to agree with us, submitting to our view of things unless we somehow mistakenly think we are infallible- that we are the Pope speaking ex cathedra (from his chair on matters of faith and morals).  No mere man is infallible, but we all err.  And this ought to humble us as we interact with brothers on matters of dispute.  Treat them as brothers, not enemies.  Grant one another grace and continued love.

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In the Letters of John Newton, he writes often to Rev. Symonds.  His friend was preaching the gospel well enough, but his personal application of the gospel had fallen on hard times.

His problem?  His focus on evidences of faith and one’s spiritual condition.

“You may think you distinguish between evidences and conditions; but the heart is deceitful, and often beguiles our judgment when we are judging concerning ourselves.”

We are to examine ourselves to see if we are in the faith.  He was right to do that, but wrong in how he approached it.

“Because you lean to conditions, and do not think yourself good enough.”

He was looking at his obedience and “spiritual temperature” (how much prayer, Bible reading, witnessing etc.).  Being the sinner saved by grace that he was, Rev. Symonds saw evidence of disobedience and spiritual lukewarmness in his life.  He did not live up to God’s standards (yes, quite shocking).

He was not doing this to see where he needed to grow in godliness.  That would be quite different.  He was gauging the authenticity of his faith.  He found himself wanting and was beginning to despair.

“It is certainly a delusion to imagine oneself of the number of elect, without scriptural evidence. … You tell me you what evidences you want, namely, spiritual experiences, inward holiness, earnest endeavors.  All this I may allow in a right sense; but in judging on these grounds, it is common and easy in a dark hour to turn the gospel into a covenant of works.”

He was not looking at the one sure sign of being elect- faith in Christ and His work ALONE.  He was looking for spiritual experience- today people look for the spiritual mountain top, ecstatic experiences, charismatic gifts etc. as proof of regeneration.  They are not.  Freedom from temptation and sinful thoughts?  That’s not it either.  Involvement in spiritual disciplines or a cause?  We can turn devotions or the pro-life movement, ministry etc. into signs of whether or not we are Christians instead of marking progress in our faith.  Newton rightly discerns that he has turned the gospel into a covenant of works.  His focus has shifted from what Christ has done to what he does.

Lest we be rough on Rev. Symonds, remember he is not alone.  Most of us struggle with this very same temptation in its numerous and varied forms.

I see here and early version of something Tim Keller talks about.  Picture a see-saw (or teeter-totter depending on the region of the country you’re from).  The “evidence” in question serves as the pivot point.  If the evidence is found we struggle with pride, often looking down on those who “don’t measure up.”  If it is not found, we despair and are crushed under the weight of condemnation.

“For my own part, I believe the most holy people feel the most evil.  Indeed, when faith is strong and in exercise, sin will not much break out to the observation of others; but it cuts them out work enough within.”

Paul, toward the end of his life, saw himself as the biggest of sinners (1 Tim. 1:15)- present tense not past tense.  If we were to look upon him, we’d think him one of the most godly people we know.  But the closer to the light you come the more you see the stains on your clothing.  Being closer to Jesus meant seeing the stains on his heart- the sins only God sees because they don’t find manifestation in behavior.  But they are sin nonetheless.

“You will not be steadily comfortable till you learn to derive your comfort from a simple apprehension of the person, work, and offices of Christ.  He is made unto us of God, not only righteousness, but sanctification also.”

Now he points his friend in the right direction, echoing Hebrews 12.  Keep your focus on Jesus, the author and perfector of your faith- your justification and sanctification before the Holy One.

“… the best evidence of faith is the shutting our eyes equally upon our defects and our graces, and looking directly to Jesus as clothed with authority and power to save to the very uttermost.”

Saving faith looks to Christ, and only Christ.  Look to your graces and pride will soon grow.  Look to your defects and despair will soon swamp your heart.  Jesus saves us from both legalism and license.

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Glenn Beck has spread lots of heat, but not much light, on the issue of social justice.  The topic is confusing, particularly since people mean different things by the term.  But the Bible clearly teaches that God is concerned about social justice (just read the Minor Prophets) and that we should be too (try Isaiah too).

Social Justice is a slogan that has been co-opted by any number of groups.  What Beck is afraid of is the kind that is preached by politicians.  Politicians often take the duty of the church and apply it to the state in an effort to get people dependent upon the state (since they don’t believe there is a God anyway).

Some theologians have separated social justice from the gospel.  I don’t mean we are nice to people so we can preach the gospel to them.  I mean that social justice flows out of the gospel.

That means that as the work of Christ is applied to me by the Spirit, I become more like Christ in my character and concerns.  I will act justly and love mercy (Micah 6), as I walk humbly with my God.

This means that social justice is also an expression of the gospel.  It is a foretaste of the new heavens and new earth.  It reveals something (not everything) of God’s heart.

There have been a number of books that have recently come out concerned with social justice.  I haven’t read any of them, but some guys I read have.

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I started working on a “Father’s Day” message for a special event this coming Saturday.  So I dug out How Children Raise Parents by Dan Allender.  To my surprise I had not finished the book when I used it for a sermon on Ephesians 6 back in 2005.  I had some reading to do.

I found a few things.  First, he had a chapter on marriage that I wish I had read before my sermons on Genesis 2-3.  Oh, well.  Even better, he connected parenting with the creation mandate to subdue, rule and fill the earth.  One of those lightbulbs went on for me.  I feel really stupid actually.

In Genesis 1-2 we discover that we’ve been given a mandate to subdue, rule and fill the earth.  God modeled this for us in Genesis 1.  From him we learn what our activity is to be like.  Raising children is how we fill the earth in order to subdue and rule it.  Marriage, as a result, is not some romantic day dream but part of this creation mandate (a little romance makes it sweeter, though).

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Books on prayer are always a risky proposition.  They tend to raise some sort of controversy, whether they want to or not.  The Prayer of Jabez got lots of heat.  It was a little book, and wasn’t intended to be a treatise on prayer.  Did Wilkenson over-state his case?  At times.  But the book was not heretical like some people (at least in my circles) made it out to be.  Could have done without all the hype that spawned an industry.  Or take E.M. Bounds.  Some people love his stuff.  I just end up feeling guilty.  It only points out that facts that my prayer life is not like Martin Luther and John Calvin’s.  Not so helpful for me.

It is into this conflicted world that Will Davis Jr. released his latest book on prayer- Pray Big: The Power of Pinpoint Prayers.  I’m not sure what I was thinking when I asked for a review copy.  I guess I was hoping it would help my prayer life.  I’ve seen some reviews on Facebook- some people like this book, alot.

There were warning signs.  One of the blurbs on the back is by Don Piper.  Yes, Don.  He of 90 Minutes in Heaven fame.  The book that apparently has spawned its own cottage industry of calenders and devotionals.   Call me old-fashioned, but I’m thinking that if there is something about heaven God wants me to know, it will be … in the Bible!  So a guy who has functional issues with the authority of Scripture really likes this book.  Not a selling point for the likes of people like me.

Initially I had some agreement with Pastor Davis.  Most evangelicals are pretty superficial in their prayers.  “Bless Josh” is not really what the Father is looking for.  It reeks of a lack of thought both in knowing God and knowing Josh.  I also agree with Pastor Davis that Scripture should direct our prayer life.   Our areas of agreement began to dissipate quickly.  So quickly that I never finished the book.  The reason was there were unconstructive thoughts arising.  I felt I was being overly-critical.  Perhaps I wasn’t, but I decided for my own sake to stop reading.  Little did I realize it had it’s own cottage industry.

What was the problem?  I’ll mention 5.

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Back in 1991 a strange, beautiful thing happened.  Members of 4 of my favorite alternative Christian bands formed a side band called The Lost Dogs.  Terry Taylor (lead singer & songwriter for DA & the Swirling Eddies), Gene Eugene (singer & songwriter for Adam Again), Derri Daugherty (singer & guitarist for the Choir, which is releasing a new album in June) and Mike Roe (lead singer, guitarist and songwriter for the 77’s) decided to move from friends to musical partners.  What emerged was the band much like the Traveling Wilburys.  It was like nothing any of them had done before.

It was a blend of folk rock and blues rock.  The first album (Scenic Routes) contained moments both serious and silly (Why is the Devil Red?).  While I don’t much like the political statements (Bush League) I really enjoyed the combination of sadness and faith.  They did covers (You Gotta Move, Lord, Protect My Child), adapted songs (Old and Lonesome), wrote some songs together and some alone.  It was a great, vibrant mix that has held up well over time.

In 1993 they followed this up with the similar-sounding but equally good Little Red Riding Hood.  If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.  The only covers this time was I’m a Loser by the Beatles and the traditional song Precious Memories.  There were silly songs (Bad Indigestion) and sad songs (Rocky Mountain Mines and Eleanor, It’s Raining Now).   There were also struggles (No Room for Us) and hope (You Satisfy).   The album had a slightly less folk and more rock feel to it.    Working together seemed to scratch an itch they all had in a way that we could all benefit from.

The Green Room Serenade (Part 1) was released in 1996 and continued the shift to a more popular style.  Terry Taylor was responsible for more of the songwriting.  The formula was still there.  They covered If It Be Your Will.  They had some fun on songs like Close But No Cigar and Hey, You Little Devil.  There was hope in songs like Love Takes Over the World.  It was probably their most upbeat and accessible album.  Things were looking good for their side gig.

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