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Posts Tagged ‘greed’


I was so excited about the 500th anniversary of the Reformation I was laying awake for hours in the middle of the night.

Not really. Just some insomnia as I pondered my next sermon, my sermon series that begins in January and a host of other things. One of them was the Reformers.

Some people are very critical of the Reformation. There is indeed cause for lament over another divorce in the body of Christ (as a friend’s sermon put it). Some people are really bothered by the sins of the Reformers and subsequent leaders. Sins they are.

Many happen to be sins that our age looks down upon most severely. Sins that were not necessarily understood to be sins in their day. Luther’s anti-Semitism late in life. Calvin’s involvement in Servetus’ trial as a heretic resulting in the death penalty (this would be scandalous today, not necessarily sinful, though many misunderstand the circumstances and act like Calvin lit the fire). Edwards, Whitefield and others owned slaves. I could go on.

Some try to discredit the Reformation, or other movements within Protestantism, based on the sins of such leaders. How could God use such stubbornly sinful men?

Perhaps their sinfulness is the precise reason God used them.

God magnifies His grace by using Moses the murderer, David the adulterer & murderer, Jacob the con man, Abram the liar, Peter the impetuous, Paul the blasphemer etc. And the Reformers.

Ah, but those men repented. Luther, Edwards and others didn’t. Hmm, what about the sins you fail to repent of? Shall they overcome union with Christ too? Do they mean you were never united to Christ? We have to be careful for the measure we use will be how we are measured.

I’m not saying that these things weren’t sins. I am saying that His grace is greater than their sin (and mine).

By their sinfulness He is also saving us from our sinfulness. As Calvin noted, the human heart is “a factory of idols.” We would turn these men into saints, like Rome and the Orthodox so. Rather than leaders, we’d make them super-saints who were better than us. Even now many of us still struggle with this. Some try to down play, ignore and outright reject the idea that they were sinner like us.

God is patient and long-suffering with sinners. His active and passive obedience are sufficient for our salvation. As Steve Brown so “scandalously” said at the Ligonier National Conference in ’91, “there is nothing you can do to add to, or take away, from the work of Christ.” We are justified by Christ’s righteousness, not our own. This is the whole point of the Reformation’s re-discovery of the gospel. This is revealed clearly in the lives of these men (and women). Their faith was imperfect, just like ours is.

We quickly forget that we have our own cultural blindspots. We stand firm against many forms of addiction/idolatry. But not gluttony or shopping. Not our idolatrous pursuit of external beauty and “fitness”. Our “American Dream” driven greed would be called idolatry by Paul. Our exaltation of our culture as a norm (particularly by majority cultures) would receive a Galatians-like lashing from Paul. We’d better take the log out of our own eyes lest we somehow think we are better than these saved by grace alone saints of days gone by.

Reformation Day should really be humbling. We are truly saved by grace alone, always. Salvation is thru faith alone in Christ alone. It is for God’s glory alone. Reformation Day is the great day to remember that “Salvation Belongs to the Lord”, the focus of my sermon from Jonah 2:8-10.

The Reformation, and the Reformers, need not be perfect for us to express gratitude. It isn’t about big parties and celebrations (though those aren’t wrong) but about the grateful disposition of the heart.

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I’m reading a book on sermons by Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones on John 4 in preparation for my sermons on that chapter coming up. The book is only 750ish pages. I have plenty of work ahead of me. But some of the sermons are well worth it, like one entitled Spiritual Dullness and Evasive Tactics preached in October, 1966. Think about that for a moment, 1966. Amazing to me how much of what he says fits our contemporary situation.

He begins with noting the essence of Christianity: “we have within us a well of water springing up into everlasting life.” The Christian life is a spiritual life under the power and direction of the Spirit. This great salvation “is to enable us to live in the world and to look forward to the glory that is to come.” This positive beginning shifts as the Dr. begins to lay the smack down. He gets quickly to exposing the sins of his time in England that mirror those of ours here in America.

“We face national prejudices, class prejudices, race prejudices, and so on. There is almost no end to them. What harm they have done in the life of the individual Christian, and what harm they have done in the life of the church throughout the centuries- the things we cling to so tenaciously simply because we have been born like that!”

He was addressing the Jewish-Samaritan prejudice. Later in the sermon he brings us to the problems of Apartheid and the Civil Rights struggle in the U.S. The people in England were denouncing the white South Africans and Americans. He admits, obviously, the sinfulness of racism, but takes this as evasiveness. The woman at the well used this prejudice to evade Jesus, and the Dr.’s contemporaries were using those prejudices in other nations to evade the truth about themselves.

“You see, in denouncing somebody else, you are shielding yourself. While you are denouncing these people or friends in America or somewhere else over this racial problem, you are full of self-righteous indignation. That is very clever, but you are just evading the problem of your own life, the running sore of your soul.”

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It was precisely 30 days, 6 beds and 4 states after our arrival in Newark.  As the plane descended that day, CavGirl shouted “Green!” with glee over seeing so much green that is decidedly missing in the desert.  It was a great vacation.  My one complaint was that I didn’t get as much sleep as I wanted (and I didn’t get to go to Fenway).  This was partly because my in-laws don’t believe in using shades, blinds or anything else that blocks the light from entering the windows.  This means the CavKids got up early.  They would inevitably decide to wake me up.

This morning was no different, though a little bit earlier.  For government work, I’d say around 6:30 or so they roosted me from my slumber.  It would be the beginning of a long day, that would not end until about 3:30 in the morning after crossing the country.  It was not as strange the first trip, but strange in its own way.

After our good-byes, we climbed into the Envoy for the long trip to NJ.  Deciding to save CavWife from car sickness, I sat in the middle section.  I thought that after we got out of the mountains we’d switch.  I … was …. wrong.  This meant I spent about 4 hours unable to stretch my legs except for the stops at rest areas necessitated by traveling with 2 young children and 2 retirees.

Finally we arrived at one of CavWife’s sister’s home.  She fed us a late lunch.  The kids were able to get some exercise in the pool.  Soon they beckoned me to join them.  I dragged my aching back into the pool while CavWife spent time talking with her parents and 2 of her sisters.  At one point I inadvertently ran CavGirl over with the raft CavSon was in.  She was a trooper, hanging on and bobbing back up without getting scared.  Ah, progress.

Then back into the car for the ride to Newark and the airport.  This time I lodged myself into the front passenger’s seat.  No, didn’t call shotgun.  After another hour or so in the car, we arrived and were dropped off.  We paid the sky caps to take care of our bags rather than wait in a long line.  He must have been new because our boarding passes took forever.  His name was long, and unpronounceable.  “Welcome to America!  Here, have a job checking our bags.”  He must have thought us a strange culture.

We made our way through security, and then the fun started.  We were in the same terminal but all the things we didn’t notice in our previous exhaustion soon became apparent.  It is a smaller terminal.  Operative word here is smaller.  There was precisely one sit down restaurant.  We didn’t want to sit down for dinner.  It was around 6 and we wanted something to carry on to the plan.  Mrs. Obama would be happy, there was no McDonalds.  We were not so happy.  There was only a newstand that sold $8 sandwiches.  Yes, $8 for prepackaged sandwiches you could get at 7-11 for half that.  You have to love the whole captive passenger thing.

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When you’re a kid, there are few things more exciting than a circus.  When you are the parent … there are few things as frustrating.  And enjoyable.  We experiences all of that and more on our recent trip to the circus while on vacation.  Seen thru the eyes of faith, there are few things that more clearly give us a vision of the creation mandate.

There is the blessing, and the curse.  You see people subduing part of creation.  The trainers have various animals performing prepared routines.  While this could lead to exploitation, it isn’t necessarily the exploitation of the animals.  We see people exercising the authority God gave humanity at creation.

We also witness some performers mastering the “laws of nature” to perform great feats that exceed our imagination.  I love to see people do such things.  It is a glimpse of glory.

Then there is the curse.  Sometimes people and animals are exploited.  Some of the performers are treated like, or act like, sexual objects.  One of the performers had a very casual and scarily seductive way about her.  Sex can sell, and she was using it to keep her job.  That’s sad because her skills exceeded the other women she was working with.  They were more awkward.  She seemed a natural, but the look on her face seemed to invite more than admiration of skill.

The curse is also seen in the crass greed.  They had some good sale pitches.  For instance, peanuts were only sold for 5 minutes and might include a coupon for a free balloon.  The stick of the balloon won by the girl in front of my kept hitting me and poking me.  Not so much fun.  But I felt like Pilgrim at Vanity Fair: buy this, eat that, ride this…. The onslaught was non-stop, and my kids would have been willing victims.  Thankfully, we don’t carry much cash so they didn’t get all the pony or camel rides, popcorn, etc. that their hearts desired.

So, our recent trip to the “one ring circus” was filled with glory and depravity.  It is a microcosm of life.  And I find that interesting.

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Enemies of the Heart: Breaking Free from the Four Emotions that Control You by Andy Stanley is a pretty good book.  Andy is a great communicator.  That means, for the most part, the book is interesting, easy to read and potentially impactful.  It is an updated version of It Came from Within.

His premise is that most of us are controlled by guilt, anger, greed and jealousy.  I would agree that these sins- I have a hard time calling greed an emotion- make war on our souls and flow out of our hearts.  His theology, as a pastor he should have a theology, is fuzzy at times.  He’s a bit inconsistent as to whether they flow out of our sinful hearts or attacking our hearts.  It does matter.

Andy seems to be writing for unchurched or newly churched people.  This, it seems, is his niche.  He avoids theological terms, which is perfectly fine.  At times, however, it is shorter than it need be on theological concepts.  So, while it is far deeper than most self-help books, at times Andy doesn’t go far enough.

First he identifies each of the 4 in order.  Then he cycles through them 2 more times in how to confront them and how to put on new habits.  He is typically clear and practical in his orientation.  I found a fair amount of the book pertinent to my own life and struggle with sin.

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Radical by David Platt is one of the books that has been enjoying lots of word of mouth among American Calvinists (mainly neo-Calvinists) since its release.  When I had the opportunity to get a review copy, I took it.  I wanted to read it to see what the buzz was about, and the topic interests me.

“I am convinced that we as Christ followers in American churches have embraced values and ideas that are not only unbiblical but that actually contradict the gospel we claim to believe.”

Years ago, I preached my Advent series from Revelation.  One of those sermons was on the dual strategies of the Evil One to destroy the church.  The Beast represents governments that persecute the church.  The Prostitute represents seduction, as the world seduces the church such that she slowly becomes like the world.  In some countries the church experiences persecution, but here in America we face the Seductress.  It goes without saying that the message was not well received by some.  So, that being said, I get what David Platt is trying to say in his book.

This is not a new subject.  Michael Horton has written numerous books on the subject of how American Christianity has been warped by American values (instead of the influence going the other way).  People like Ron Sider, Francis Chan and a host of others have tackled this subject in the 25 years since Christ rescued me.  In fact, this book is part Horton (he stresses some theological ideas contrary to American thought- Calvinism), part Francis Chan (a ‘radical’ approach) and part Ron Sider (“pack your bags, we’re going on a guilt trip).  Which makes this a difficult book to review.

“A command for us to be gospel-living, gospel-speaking people at every moment and in every context where we find ourselves.”

Radical is not as good as the hype nor as bad as most (poorly informed) critics make it out to be.  But let me start with some good things, because there are things I appreciate about the book.  There are things the American Church needs to reckon with regarding how we’ve been seduced by our corner of the world.

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After considering the idea of justice, Tim Keller moves to the topic of Justice and the Old Testament in his 2nd chapter of Generous Justice.  This chapter is about how to interpret the Old Testament law with justice as the example.  I think that best summarizes it.  Keller does this to answer the question of whether or not the laws of the Old Testament are binding on Christians today.

This is a thorny issue, and your answer reflects your method of interpretation.  Dispensationalists, Covenant, and New Covenant theology answer this question differently.  Keller comes from a Covenant Theology perspective.  He recognizes the differences between moral, ceremonial and case/civil law in the Old Testament.  The New Testament is pretty clear that Jesus fulfilled the ceremonial law in a way that means it is not binding on us any more.  We are ceremonially clean in Christ, and He is our Sacrifice which brings pardon and fellowship.

“So the coming of Christ changes the way in which Christians exhibit their holiness and offer their sacrifices, yet the basic principles remain valid.”

Keller brings a concept from Craig Bloomberg into the mix.  “Every command reflects principles at some level that are binding on Christians.”  So, Christians need to be ceremonially clean, have a sacrifice for sin etc.  The Christian looks to Christ for all this and more, however.  The need still exists, but the reality is in Christ.  Romans 12 teaches us that additionally we offer our whole lives in view of this great mercy.  We offer the sacrifice of praise (Hebrews), not the blood of animals or food offerings.

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