Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Physical Fitness vs. Spiritual Fitness

We all know the old saying "no pain, no gain." In the fitness world it means we all have to work harder, longer and more intensely than our bodies want us to work if we want to see progress. We have to earn our results. If we shed pounds, gain inches, run farther, or lift more weight, it is because we have put the time in to make it happen ourselves. There are no shortcuts and there is not an "easy" way to do it. It is hard work repeated consistently. We progress in fitness because we follow the "law" of physical fitness: exercise + diet + consistency = progress.

It is a mistake, however, to apply this same thinking to spiritual training. Romans 3:20 says "For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin." If we are relying on our efforts to draw us closer to God, or to make us righteous we are in for a huge disappointment. The truth is that we cannot, on our own power, be righteous at all. The "law" of spiritual growth is this: our effort (even if we are trying to be righteous) + our sin nature = greater sin. It is a continuing loop of defeat and sin that will never end.

The Apostle Paul wrote about this struggle in his own life in Romans 3:15-18 "For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out."

By the end of this description Paul cries out "Wretched man am I! Who will deliver me from this body of death?"

Paul answers his own question in Romans 8:1-4 "There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin,c he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit."

The key to spiritual training is to look to the one who started, finished, and perfected the training for you: Jesus Christ. His life, death, and resurrection provide a righteousness from God that we cannot ever produce through our efforts. It is the finished work of Christ on the Cross that provides everything we need for life and Godliness. To grow Spiritually is not a matter of trying harder, doing more, and performing better, but a matter of moving more and more deeply into the Gospel of Jesus Christ. His Grace has already made you perfect. What we have to do is to come to know the truth about ourselves (we are utterly sinful and every effort to produce righteousness is doomed to failure) and the truth about God (He has provided righteousness through the Gospel of His Son Jesus Christ.)

We are to keep our eyes focused on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith. To grow spiritually is to learn to rely on His Perfect life, His sacrificial death and His powerful resurrection in all things. The pain, then, is not the pain of effort and performance (which wear you out but provide nothing), but he pain of dying to self. It is the pain of realizing the truth, as Paul did, that "no good thing lives in my flesh" but that the finished work of Christ has already made you Holy in God's sight. So, no pain, no gain stands, but not in the area of effort, but rather, in the area of denying self.

How are you denying self today and relying on the Grace of God through Jesus Christ? Do you beat yourself up for not "doing more" or do you feel you have to "try harder" all the time? All these behaviors are based in the assumption that we can be righteous. Listen to the truth of the Gospel, because the Truth will set you free.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Intellectual Legalism

I remember when God led me to begin studying the scriptures I would read for hours, devouring everything I could. I loved reading commentaries and listening to teachers who seemed to have an endless wealth of knowledge. I loved every bit of it. Questions were being answered and life seemed to make more and more sense.

Then, it happened.

First, I began encountering differing opinions on what appeared to be straight-forward scriptures. Some were good food for thought while others seemed to be so far out in left field they might have been from a different Bible. Not only that, some of these teachers began to accuse those who dared to disagree with them of being God-hating heretics.

Then, I went to Bible college and seminary. Wow…that was eye opening. What seemed like a straight-forward call to make disciples was often turned into an argument regarding God’s sovereignty and man’s will. What looked like a call to God-focused spiritually responsive worship was turned into an argument regarding traditional forms versus new…well, you know the drill.

How does this happen? How can those who “know” the scriptures so well sometimes become the most divisive, unloving, and judgmental people in the room?

I’ve come up with a name for this phenomenon: intellectual legalism.

Our world is dominated by humanistic philosophies. Humanism is the belief that the human mind is the final arbiter of truth and is able to recognize and apply truth without outside help. In humanistic systems education reigns supreme due to the belief that the more knowledge a person gains, the better choices he or she will make, and the better person he or she will become.

There are those who seek to combine faith in God with humanism; they admit that truth is found in God, but that it is up to the individual to find it, define it and apply it. “Christian humanism” tells us that we can study our way into righteousness—by knowing more about God—as we seek and find the truth. The answer for a weak spiritual condition is simply more study. Learn the scriptures better and you will become a better person.

This, however, is not true Christian spirituality. Jesus ran into this exact same problem with the Pharisees. Look at John 5:37-39:

“And the Father who sent me has himself borne witness about me. His voice you have never heard, his form you have never seen, and you do not have his word abiding in you, for you do not believe the one whom he has sent. You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me…”

The Pharisees had a broader knowledge of the scripture than anyone and yet they did not recognize Jesus as the Son of God. They depended on their own intellectual abilities, which failed them. They were intellectual legalists. They believed that the more they knew, the more spiritual they were. We have the same problem today.

One of the counterintuitive things about Christianity is that Jesus didn’t call us to find the truth; he called himself the truth. Our spirituality begins and ends with him. He is the “author and perfecter of our faith” (Hebrews 12:2). It is not our study or intellectual ability that gains us anything, but rather the perfect, finished work of Jesus Christ that gains us everything.

Just listen to how the apostle Paul describes the humanist mind in Ephesians 4:17-20:

“Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart. They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity. But that is not the way you learned Christ!”

The first thing Paul tells us to do as Christians is to stop trusting our own intellect! The mind, apart from Christ, is futile, darkened, calloused, and given to sensuality. Worse, we deceive ourselves and equate theological information with knowing Jesus himself. We quickly forget that we did not marshal all of our intellectual power and so discover Christ. We forget that we know Christ because God graciously revealed Him to us.

The answer then, is to live under grace, even in our Bible study and discipleship. We must admit to ourselves that we cannot “figure God out” no matter how hard we study or how much we know. We are dependent on Him for all things.

Our dependence is answered by his grace. He promises that his grace will be sufficient, filling our every void. Where we are weak, he is strong. Where we are faithless, he is faithful. Where we are ignorant, he is wise. His power, the Lord told a suffering Paul, is made perfect in weakness. 

Friday, September 5, 2014

An open letter to Joel and Victoria Osteen


 Joel and Victoria,

Hello. My name is Dr. Roger Smith. I am a pastor of a small church in your home state of Texas and I want to invite you to attend my church and worship the Lord Jesus with our congregation. Why? Because you need to hear the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Let me explain. 

I have listened to both of you preach on television many, many times and your messages are motivational, encouraging, positive, happy and basically, devoid of the greatest truth the world has ever known. I do not know if this is intentional or if you are truly unaware of the message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Either way, I would love the opportunity to tell you in person about the greatest truth the world will ever know. 

The influence and reach of your ministry and books are truly mind-boggling and I can only imagine the influence that could be exerted if you started preaching the truth of the Gospel. I understand that many people are struggling and looking for hope. I understand that we live in confusing times and that people want and need something positive. I also understand that if you are going to call yourself a Christian preacher, you have a responsibility to preach Christ and Him crucified, something that has been conspicuously absent from every sermon I have ever heard from either of you. 

You see, here is the truth I desperately want you and everyone else who will listen to understand, life is not about being the best I can be right now but about realizing the truth that all have sinned and fallen short of the Glory of God and in danger of facing eternal judgment from our Holy God. We were created to reflect the holiness and character of God, and we all sinned and fell short of that. Thus, on our own, we cannot be better through our own efforts and to focus solely on personal peace, prosperity, and success is a deadly distraction from the truth that awaits us in the final judgment. 

On the day of judgment God is not going to ask us if we trusted him for a bigger house, a higher paycheck or personal satisfaction in the wealthiest country the world has ever seen. It is all going to come down to one thing, did we accept the righteousness offered through the perfect life, sacrificial death and powerful resurrection of Jesus Christ? Unfortunately, when I hear both of you preach a message that says God’s greatest concern is our happiness and his greatest joy is our satisfaction in this world, I hear a message that is in direct contradiction to Jesus’ call to deny self, take up a cross and follow Him in true discipleship and faith. It is in direct contradiction to the scriptures that tell us this world is not our home and it is dangerous because it takes attention off of the truth of repentance and faith in Jesus Christ and focuses people squarely their own thoughts, lives, and desires. 

Honestly, I don’t know if you know this and have chosen not to give millions of people the hope offered through the Gospel of Jesus Christ or if you truly have never really understood the message of the Gospel. I hope it is the latter because if you are willingly withholding the Gospel from millions of people who listen to you and trust you, well then, sir, you and your wife are in the position of being false prophets, and God does not take lightly to people claiming his Name and then pushing their own agenda. If this is the case, then, Joel, you and Victoria need to repent and call on God to show mercy. You need to look to the cross. Which brings me back to my invitation. I would like to invite you and Victoria to my congregation to hear the Gospel so you can have the chance to respond in faith to the only true Hope offered in this dying world: The cross of Jesus Christ. 

Sincerely, 



Dr. Roger Smith

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Active Grace


 One vivid memory from my childhood is my mother’s love for exercise equipment. We always had some piece of exercise equipment in the house. I can remember a stationary bike, a rowing machine, a stationary bike with moving arms, a resistance workout bench, and a stair climbing machine were all, at one time or another, positioned neatly in our house in different places…holding laundry. Though the equipment was purchased with full “intent to use,” and the knowledge that regular use would lead to better health, the truth is simple: they were rarely ever used for exercise.

It became a running joke: I used to give my mother a hard time when she would look at a new piece of exercise equipment. “This doesn’t have enough room to hold more than four hangers,” I’d say. “This one can hold some folded blankets, but nothing more.” Yes, it really was that bad. And many of you know exactly what I am talking about.

The value in exercise equipment exists only through consistent use. Simply owning a rowing machine doesn’t make you healthier, it just means you own a piece of equipment whose purpose is to help you along your journey toward fitness. It is the doing that matters. You actually have to row.

But imagine you could buy a piece of equipment that did the hard work for you. What if you were guaranteed to see results simply by making it a part of your life (as most owner of exercise equipment vainly hope)? If there was a guarantee of this kind of return, everyone would have a rowing machine.

This is what God’s grace is like. It is guaranteed to bring results and change your life. It can do nothing else. When God sent his son to live a perfect life on our behalf, (to do the work for us) and die a sacrificial death on the cross in our place (to pay the price for us) it was so that we could be made into a new creation. 2 Corinthians 5:17 says “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.”

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if that exercise bike could make the same promise? “If anyone purchase me from the store and take me home, he will be fit. Behold, the fat is gone, all things have been made trim.” God’s grace is the only force in the universe that can make this bold and wonderful claim. Through the grace offered by Jesus Christ you are made new. You are not merely given the tools to be made new, or taught how to improve yourself until you are new. No, you are a new creation simply through God’s amazing, life-transforming grace.

Nowhere in Scripture does God command us to make ourselves new. Why? Because God knows we cannot do that. Look at what the Apostle Paul says in Romans 8:2-4:

For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. (ESV)

See that? God, through grace, has done what the Law could not do. Law cannot create, it can only condemn. Grace does not condemn, but transforms death into life through the finished work of Jesus Christ. We are made fit without having to exercise!

Now comes the even more mind-blowing truth: it is grace alone that keeps us fit, as well! Martin Luther once said that grace “gives our works a work-out.” Our lives now change from demanded exercise to grateful responses—exercises—of faith. Many people, though, think that once we are saved, we must maintain our righteousness through obedience. We get back on the exercise bike, determined to maintain by our own effort the sculpted spiritual physique that came as a pure gift from God. We submit ourselves “again to a yoke of slavery” (Galatians 5:1).

Paul ran into this type of regression in Galatia. In Galatians 3:2-3 Paul asks a question that we must all consider carefully. He said,

Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?

If grace was enough to save us from sin, renew us, and put us in a right relationship with God at the beginning, is it not enough to grow us in faith also? If we are trying to grow ourselves—or at least maintain our spiritual standing—then we are assuming that grace is actually not enough and that God needs our help in the matter. Is this harsh? Yes, it is. But the point must be made. If we can make ourselves holy by any effort, before or after salvation, then the cross is insufficient and a travesty.

Our growth, then, must be about God’s active and awesome grace changing us and not about how hard we try to change. Change is what grace does. Grace is always active and never passive, giving us the good works that God has prepared for us in advance (Ephesians 2:10). Grace is God’s working on our behalf from a place of love, forgiveness, and redemption. Don’t look at God’s grace as a piece of workout equipment only made effective through your own sweat and effort. Grace like that—not grace at all—ends up as a laundry rack. Look at grace as God’s wonderful, active working in us through the Holy Spirit, doing what we could never dream of accomplishing for ourselves. 

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Distraction and The Squirrel Everyone Loves!

Distraction. Sometimes we need it. Most of the time we do not. We've all heard the jokes: "I was ADD before it was...oh look a squirrel." And sure, who hasn't spent a few days of their lives looking at endless YouTube videos of other people doing things? Which, by the way, have you seen the one where that couple dances to open their wedding? Or the one that talks about James "just got dunked on..."

But, I digress...

Distraction has become something of a national fad that is becoming more and more of a national nightmare. Texting and driving is killing way too many people and yet, every day we see someone driving distracted, or checking Facebook during a movie, or a family sitting together at dinner not talking because everyone has their phone out.

Seriously, when did we lose the ability to focus in America?

Apparently, this has been seen on the horizon for some time. Check out this comic strip from 1906 that predicts what will happen if a wireless telegraph machine is ever invented.
Replace those telegraph machines with high powered personal computers that connect you to everything imaginable and well, we see what it is doing.

But, there is a deeper issue at work here that really is dangerous and needs to be addressed. As we lose our ability to focus we are also losing our ability to think deeply and critically about the issues that truly matter today. In our churches, pastors are commonly called on to be "more practical" with shorter sermons. Gone are the days of true theological discourse that could be "applied" to all areas of life because of its breathtaking depth. (See Jonathan Edwards if you would like an example.) No sir. Now the sermon is seen as the infomercial between schizophrenic worship sets that are complete with smoke and lights.

Churches are not the only group affected. Take our wonderful politicians in Washington and at the State level. Gone are the days of true debate where those running for office were allowed to question each other and had to give real, substantive answers. Nope, just stick to talking points, recycle old cliches and count on the public tuning you out after 30 seconds because some celebrity is drunk and acting the fool again.

Proverbs 4:25 says "Let your eyes look directly forward, and your gaze be straight before you."

One of the wisest men who ever lived, Solomon, warned us against allowing ourselves to be distracted. His instruction was to stay focused on our path, our destination, and our purpose. Solomon's dad David wrote in Psalm 119:147-148 "I rise before dawn and cry for help; I hope in your words. My eyes are awake before the watches of the night, that I may MEDITATE on your promises."

Rising early, staying awake at night and meditation on God's words are all images of prolonged focus. In an age of everything "right now" and even "Your Best Life Now" God's ways are calling us to slow down, focus and think about his promises and words. In short, we are to keep ourselves focused on the truth and refuse to be distracted from it.

If the ancient wisdom was to focus and think deeply, then the modern folly is to be distracted by everything and yet see nothing. If we want to stop being taken advantage of by slick politicians, catchy salespeople, and ill trained, theologically incompetent church leaders, it is time for us to stop worrying so much about who got voted off of Idol and start focusing on truth until it finds its way into our lives, our families and our communities.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Your Best Life?




Do you want to be happy? Do you want fulfillment? Do you feel like you were made for success? Then we have an offer for you! It is time for you to live "Your Best Life Now!" Pastor Joel Osteen wants to help you become everything you ever wanted to be because as a child of the King you were made to be rich, successful, at ease, and have perfect teeth just like him. So come on and start claiming everything you ever wanted. Don't worry about the cost, God has already taken care of that. Just start living!

PUKE!!! 

Aside from Osteen's complete lack of Biblical knowledge, fake smile, and his canned repeat sermons there is something far more sinister about his message. It's like we've heard this before somewhere. Can't quite place it? Let me point it out...

Genesis 3:1-5:

Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the LORD God had made. 
He said to the woman, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” 2 And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, 3 but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’ ” 4 But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. 5 For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”

From the beginning, Satan has tricked humanity into believing that they are made for something more than serving God, that we could actually be God. 

And he is still doing it today. 

The "Best Life Now" brand of Spirituality isn't about God, Jesus, or even being spiritual in the sense of looking for greater purpose or meaning. It is about inflating the ego of sinful people who have no sense of God and therefore attach God to materialistic success. 

When the message of Osteen's "Best Life Now" is held up against the Gospel message preached by Jesus, it is found so completely lacking that one wonders if Osteen has ever actually read the Gospels. 

Osteen says "God wants to increase you financially, by giving you promotions, fresh ideas, and creativity."

Osteen says "Your best days are ahead of you." 

Jesus said "If they hated me, they will hate you" and "blessed are you when you are persecuted" and "take up your cross, deny yourself, and follow me." 

Deny Yourself.

DENY YOURSELF. 

Osteen is merely a false prophet cashing in on humanity's longest running delusion. Namely, that we can have the favor of God and still hold on to our sin. Or, to put it another way, we can reject God's standards and still claim to be good people because we are "happy." And, if we are "happy" it must be proof that God is for us. 

The major flaw in this thinking is that the proof of what God thinks of us is found in the cross of Jesus Christ. God has already provided your best life now in the cross. The Christian life is not about what material success we achieve in this world, but about what Jesus Christ achieved for us on the cross. This is what makes Osteen's message and those like him so absolutely insidious. 

It takes our attention off of Jesus and places it squarely on us. Even if we are trying to be "good people" and do "good things" with our success, we are still focused on ourselves with the incorrect idea that we can somehow be righteous or see proof of God's favor apart from Christ. 

Some have described this as "all the blessings of God without the sacrifice" but it is worse than that because the blessings of God have nothing to do with financial and material success. We simply have to stop thinking that because we did the right thing, God is waiting to give us everything we want. 

Jesus has told us that to follow him we must carry the cross of self-denial. Stop looking for meaning, happiness, fulfillment, or favor in anything in this world. You must look to the cross and the cross alone. 

Quit defining yourself by your own feelings and take on the identity that Christ gives you as a part of His body that has been redeemed by the cross. Stop thinking about your own happiness and start thinking about Christ's sacrifice and what it means to your life. 

The truth is that as long as we continue to ignore the truths of scripture in favor of feeling "happy" or "contented" or "fulfilled" we prove that we have not even begun to enter into denying ourselves and carrying a cross. Do you want to rise Above Reality? Then reject the gods of this reality and follow the God of Heaven and Earth. Learn His ways, His values, His Truth, and Trust Him instead of your own feelings. Your life is not about living "Your Best Life Now." 

Your life is about moving from Death to Life through the perfect life, sacrificial death, and physical resurrection of Jesus Christ. Stop looking at yourself and start looking to the cross. 

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Relevant or Subversive?

There has been a catch phrase in the modern church for a generation now that is always sure to stir up some emotions, rally some, offend others, and always start a long dorm room discussion among Christian College students. What is it?

Cultural Relevance.

This thought has led to thousands of sermons about Paul in the book of Acts preaching on Mars Hill quoting the pagan poets Aratus and Epimenides in Acts 17:28 as proof that Christians need to be connected to the culture in order to spread the Gospel. After all, we must speak a language that the people understand and relate to, right?

On the other hand there are those who will run to Paul's statement to the Corinthians about only knowing Christ and him crucified and nothing else. After all, the Gospel is relevant enough, right?


What if both are right and both wrong because they have missed the point of the Gospel? When the church's focus is on being culturally relevant, this is often the result:






The goal of the church seems to turn into an endless pursuit of trying to impress an unbelieving world by trying to look and act as much like the world as possible. 


Instead of discussing the nature of the culture we are in and worrying about being relevant to a culture that neither understands nor worships God, maybe we should start having a discussion about the very nature of the Gospel. What is that nature?


Subversion. 


Yes, Subversion. The Gospel is about subverting culture, which requires understanding the nature of the culture we live in, and how the Gospel would change it in light of the death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ and the reality of the coming Kingdom of God.


This is exactly what Jesus, Paul, Peter and every other successful preacher of the Gospel has understood and practiced. Jesus entered a culture and was well acquainted with it. He understood the culture all too well and then taught with statements like "You have heard it said 'love your friend, and hate your enemy.' But I tell you, love your enemy and pray for those who persecute you." Jesus was being culturally relevant by stating a commonly held, popular belief of his day and then he subverted it to God's purposes. He refused to embrace it. In fact, he demolished it in favor of the ways of God. 


Paul did the same thing with his sermon on Mars Hill. He wasn't embracing the pagan culture, he used it to demolish the polytheistic culture that grieved him so badly. Sure, the people recognized what he was saying, but it wasn't so that he could feed them something that was already killing them. Rather, it was for the purpose of destroying the foundation of their polytheistic culture in light of the knowledge of the One True God who created Heaven and Earth and sent His Son to die for the sins of the world. 


Subversion. It is what we are all about. And yes, it is going to make some people, very, very angry. The Church isn't going to look cool. The Church will be at odds with the world powers just as it has been for almost 2000 years.


Get over it. 


If you want to serve God and His Kingdom, you must understand that we are not called to cultural relevance, but to Kingdom Relevance. God's Kingdom that is. 


Take for example Jesus' introduction to the sermon on the mount, or really the whole sermon for that point beginning in Matthew 5. 


Blessed are the poor in Spirit. Blessed are those who mourn. Blessed are the meek. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness. Blessed are the merciful. Blessed are the Pure in Heart. Blessed are the peacemakers. Blessed are those who are persecuted. 


Everything in that list is turning popular concepts in his culture upside down. He is subverting the value system, politics, economics, and philosophies that were prevalent in his day. Sure, it was relevant alright. Why? Because it was (and is) the complete opposite of everything that people naturally pursue, believe, and practice. 


Subversion. It is the nature of the Gospel and God's Kingdom.


So what does this have to do with today? Oh, let me count the ways.


1. The Worship wars. Enough already. We live in a culture of consumerism and the more we cater to desires and styles that "speak" to people who are driven by consumerism, the more the Gospel is going to be lost and the Spirit of God ignored. We must, MUST stop worrying about our own entertainment and learn what it means to worship in Spirit and in Truth. That is, Worship GOD. Not fulfill my own desires for a killer praise band, a guitarist that can shred my face off, and a worship set that makes me feel all warm and fuzzy or a worship style that reminds me of what I remember as a child back in the "good ole days." The whole argument about style is nothing more than consumers fighting over what they want. This is not SPIRIT AND TRUTH. Worship is to be subversive to consumerism, selfishness, and personal desires. Worship is about God, not me. If the unbelieving world is comfortable with our worship of God, then I can assure, something is wrong with the way we are worshiping God. 


2. The self help craze. 3 Minutes to a better you because every day is Friday during your best life now. Our culture is infatuated with self-improvement, personal appearance, personal peace, and personal prosperity. Guess what, not the Gospel's concern. Jesus did not come to die on the cross so you could have a nice house and be happy according to cultural standards. Yet, we see self-help books line the shelves at Christian stores. Our music is more about our feelings than the power of God or the Gospel truth. Jesus and the Gospel are so subversive to these ideas that many Christians won't even hear it today. Jesus said "Deny Yourself, take up your cross and follow me." He did not say "Come to me and I will make your life work out." The Gospel requires that I get over myself. If my faith is not leading me to become less worried about myself, then I am not serving God, because God will subvert that part of you and me. John the Baptist said it best "He must increase, and I must decrease."


These are just two examples, albeit major ones, in our culture today. The fact of the matter is simple. The Gospel is subversive. The Gospel will make you uncomfortable. God will not tell you everything is okay, if everything is not okay. The Spirit will convict you and make you feel bad about the sin in your life. God is not interested in a person steeped in sin having a good self-esteem. 


The Church cannot focus on being culturally relevant while at the same time trying to be subversive. You will be one or the other. If you truly understand the Gospel, then it will lead to reject much of the culture we live in and start living in light of the Truth of God's word. That is, once you can get over yourself. 

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Stiff Neck?

Stubborn

Stiff-Necked

Hard Headed

Strong Willed

Defiant

Obstinate

Immovable

These are words that are used to describe an attitude that refuses to bend to the power of another. There are  times when being defiant or immovable is good and there are times that it is bad. Early Christians refusing to bow before the Emperor - Good. Followers of God refusing to listen to scripture - bad.

One is seen as strength the other as weakness. One makes you feel weak when you are not and the other makes you feel strong while you are weak. It is a condition that every human being on the face of the earth will have to deal with at one time or another. We can (and often do) become extremely willful in our lives and  turn off all reason in the process.

God often referred to the stubborness of his people as being "stiff-necked" when they would desert their commitment to Him and chase after phantoms of pleasure or power. It was something that would draw the ire of the Most High more than just about any other attitude.

In Psalm 32:8-9 God tells us this:


I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go;
I will counsel you with my eye upon you.
Be not like a horse or a mule, without understanding,
which must be curbed with bit and bridle,
or it will not stay near you. (ESV)

God understands us and thus, knows that we are going to become willful as He leads us. He warns us against it. Notice the imagery. 

Don't be like an unthinking horse or mule. This is what I meant when I said being stubborn and refusing to listen to God's voice in the scriptures can make you feel strong when you are in truth being incredibly weak. For God, (Creator of Everything!) being willful against Him means we have reduced ourselves to the level of creature rather than the pinnacle of creation that displays God's image. When we think we are exercising strength we are really disengaging from what really matters. 

Why?

Because apart from God, man has no reason for existence. Humanity was created to bring Glory to God by revealing His nature, His love, His wisdom, and His Holiness. When we are defiant, we are refusing the very things that are meant to define us. Without them, Humanity becomes something less than it was intended to be by its Creator. 

God does not want to force us to listen or obey. That's what we have to do with mules and horses. We have to force them. God created us for more. Notice the promise of these verses. "I will instruct you and teach yo in the way you should go. I will counsel you with my eye upon you." 

God has told you that you aren't in this alone. He wants to walk your journey with you and He promises to equip you for what you need and for where you are going. He says He will keep His eye on you like a father watching carefully as his son learns to handle a power saw or shoot a gun for the first time. His eye is there for protection and guidance into becoming more than you were before. 

It is a promise from your Father. 

Yet, this is the tragedy of becoming stubborn, hard-hearted, or stiff-necked. We are refusing the help of the Father who loves us. We are refusing the One and ONLY One who can lead us where we need to go. Instead, we tell Him "I got this." 

Really? 

Every time man has said this to God, something very bad has resulted, which leads us to the conclusion of Psalm 32. Verses 10-11 lay it out for us:


Many are the sorrows of the wicked,
but steadfast love surrounds the one who trusts in the LORD.
Be glad in the LORD, and rejoice, O righteous,
and shout for joy, all you upright in heart!

It isn't that God decided to make your life miserable because you didn't do what he wanted. Rather, it is the natural state of affairs. When we become stiff-necked, we rebel against all sound judgment. We refuse the hand of the Loving Father and we hurt ourselves, again, and again, and again. 

But,

For those who will listen to the Father, bend their will to Him and seek Him, the steadfast, protecting, guiding, watchful love of the Father will be in your life. Its not that you won't make mistakes. It is that the Father will be there to keep you from hurting yourself and stop you before you really do something foolish. His love will protect you from yourself. When we become stubborn we refuse his help. When we are willing to listen, His Love surrounds us and will not need to fear the valley of the shadow of death.