Archive for January 13th, 2009

If you’ve read any organizational leadership books, you’ve probably heard about something called “reframing.” Reframing is a technique for change (both corporate and personal) that utilizes a new perspective. That is to say, you look at a situation from a different angle; same object, different view. It occurred to me this week that is what the Bible is about on almost every page.

God “reframes” all of life for us.  Think about it. What is stressing you out right now? What scares you right now? What is driving you crazy right now?  Have you ever wanted revenge? Have you ever felt alone?  What’s interesting to me is this is how Satan works too. Look at Satan’s interaction with Eve; he reframes the issue by asking her, “Did God really say…?”  Once again he’s counterfeiting what God has created for his own end.

This is what makes God so radical, and so relevant for our day. He’s always reframing your life.  Think about His command to love our enemies! Come on, be serious, that’s nuts! Forgive those who hurt you! Be kind to each other! Love one another; submit to one another, the list of crazy reframing goes on and on.

Now, this is where I’m going to get myself in trouble. I wonder if the reason we don’t see much change in the church today, in fact I wonder if the reason we don’t see much difference in those who claim to follow Christ and those who don’t is because we fail to allow God to reframe our life for us. When we hold onto our hurt, seeking revenge, we are willfully choosing to go our own way.  We are choosing to live life our way. I wonder if the reason most of the world has stopped listening to us is because we’ve decided to put down our Bibles and pick up our “political rights.” We’ve exchanged time on our knees in prayer for time on our feet in protest marches. We’ve exchanged trust in a God who has promised to meet all of our needs for trust in a political system. We’ve laid down our greatest identifying marker (love for one another) for theological wars. We’ve traded in faith, hope and love for name-calling, castigation and witty titles.  We’ve traded in forgiveness for grudges.
So I want to ask you, what is in your life right now that God is trying to reframe? What are you holding onto? What are you saying, “God you can have all of this, but not that!” What action/thought/belief do you want to change but can’t because you won’t let God reframe it for you.

Please understand, I could do a follow up post about the many things in my life that I struggle with, this post is not intended to make you feel guilty, or bad about yourself.  This post is meant to remind you, change can happen. God can change you. He can reframe your hurt, and bring you the change you’re desperately seeking. I know he has done it many times in my life and many times in the lives of others.  I’ll leave you with I Peter 5:7. Talk about reframing…

Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you
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I’ve been trying to think about what I would like to preach this year. Back in November and December of ‘08, I wrote out two complete series of sermons-each 10 weeks long. I was ready for ‘09. Then, well, let’s just say there were some issues with my mouth and my pen and then, well, let’s just say that I won’t be preaching either of those series of sermons anytime soon. Sermon schedules aren’t that helpful when the preacher is being undone by the Spirit.

So that leaves me here, wondering, staring at snow and a computer monitor, drinking a cup of hot tea, contemplating…what shall I preach? What does my church need to hear? What do I need to wrestle with in prayer and what Scripture do I need to be confronted with over and over again so that it becomes the breath in my lungs and the blood in my veins and every waking thought in my head and heart? No, not that one!

Then on the way home from the gym this morning, I was suddenly overcome by a thought, one word, something had toyed with but that seemed too convenient at the time. I mean, of course I should preach about that. Always; who shouldn’t? It’s not that I don’t preach about it, every sermon I preached is infused with and under-girded by this. And I think also, at the same time, even though the thought has continued to regurgitate itself, I have been fighting against it. Seriously: there is a part of me that does not want to preach this. There is a part of me that thinks if I preach it now it might seem choreographed to justify myself or something silly like that. Strange that I cannot get beyond trying to discern the motives of others when I should really be examining my own motives.

Even now, I am afraid somewhat to post this, lest someone misunderstand MY motives. It is a terrible thing, it seems to me, to live for nothing other than trying to discern motives when even the apostle Paul didn’t care about motives.

William Willimon wrote, “Preachers, by the nature of their vocation, are those who speak because they have been told something to say. Can you imagine Paul pacing about his prison cell, agonizing because ‘I have nothing to say to First Church Corinth?’” (Conversations with Barth on Preaching, 47). We speak, he notes, because God has spoken. I am normally very organized in my preaching schedule. Right now I’m not. This is one of those times when I have to ‘not worry about what to say because the Holy Spirit is teaching me what to speak’ and, I am fighting it. I don’t want to preach what the Holy Spirit is telling me to preach. I want to preach from my neatly organized sermon schedules that are lying upon my desk on nice clean paper not from some fit of inspiration that certainly did not come from within me. He’s stalking me.

Seriously. I don’t want preach this word, but as I was on my way home from the gym this morning, was so overcome by this that I literally had to pull off the road. I’m not like that at all. I’m organized. I’m a planner. I want to know where I’m going and how I’m getting there. “Oh God, don’t do this to me. I don’t want to preach on that.” Christus Victor, yes! Resurrection, yes! Anything but this. But it is a losing battle. I can’t shake it. I’m defeated. I’m undone.

” ‘A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.’

” ‘Lord, where are you going?’”

Jesus commands us to love. Why? Because if it is not commanded we will likely not do it. Seriously, loving one another is hard work and not work we are likely to engage in if we don’t have to. How many of us make an effort to love the ‘least of these’? How many of us go out of our way to ‘love one another’?

I don’t want to preach on love, not now. How can I love now when I know there are ‘issues’ and when I feel like some haven’t loved me. It might seem too fake, too contrived, too choreographed. Right. Like preaching a ten-week series on church leadership isn’t contrived! Still, God is not being at all merciful to me right now. I don’t want to do this, but…

And here’s the worst part of it: I know he’s talking to me; first. I looked briefly at another blog yesterday (I won’t mention which one, but use your imagination) and saw that the top three posts on the front page were all scathing attacks against pastors, men who stand in a pulpit each week and proclaim the Gospel of Christ; imperfectly all, yes, but done nonetheless. And Christ empowers their words or he doesn’t. My heart broke when I saw those blog posts. I am asked to love a person who has not a kind word for even these preachers? How can I do that?  ”I don’t want to preach on love! I can’t preach on love! I am too angry to preach about something so redemptive, something so resurrection empowered, something so kingdom oriented as love. Can’t I just preach on something else. What words could come out of my mouth now about love.” That Hound of Heaven has me in his jaws and the more I wriggle around and excuse myself and justify my Jonah-like attitude about this sermon, the deeper in those jaws sink to my flesh and spirit.

Who cares if we don’t love one another? And how will preaching change any of that at all? Then I was slapped in the jaw with this: If we don’t love one another, how on earth are we going to love our enemies and the poor and those who persecute us? That is, if we don’t, won’t, or can’t love one another-those whom it should be easiest to love-then how on earth are we ever going to be able to love those it is the most difficult to love? Or, worse, if I cannot love those I can see in the flesh, then how can I ever begin to love the God whom I cannot see?

It is far easier, I think, to simply pretend that I love ‘one another’ and go on in life without any real level of commitment to those persons. Words can be terribly empty at times, can’t they? I think it is far more complicated and difficult to be obedient to the command to love one another when there is nothing to gain except a possible rejection. Yet the command is not abated or rescinded. Jesus didn’t say, ‘Wait until everything is A-OK and then love one another’ He just said, “Love one another” and he qualified this in no way at all. Love. We are the only ones who qualify love.

Paul wrote that ‘love keeps no records of wrongs,’ but that doesn’t mean love begins with a clean slate. It means that love wipes the slate clean and starts all over again-each second, each minute, each hour, each day. It means that I forgive 70 times 7 70 times 7 times a day. Do you understand why my flesh is rebelling against this? Jesus has commanded us to do the most difficult thing imaginable: Love one another. My God, I cannot love one another. Or maybe, I don’t want to. Either way, what you are asking Lord is too difficult. Lord, how do I love those and preach love to those that I am struggling to love right now and who are not struggling at all to love me? Is there room in the church for this love? Better: Can the church survive without it right now?

And I don’t want to preach it. I really don’t. Wouldn’t it be safer for all of us if we didn’t have to love those we are like and unlike? Wouldn’t it be safer if I didn’t have to extend and expend myself for someone else and take the risk that they might just be in need of love or that I am commanded to love regardless of reciprocation? Loving one another might mean I have to forgive or humble myself or repent or admit that I am wrong-sometimes even if I am not wrong. Loving one another might mean that I have do all that I can to secure peace even if means that I have to ‘be wrong’, which Paul seems to think is far better (1 Corinthians 6:7). What is impossible with man, is possible with God.

Why is it easier to love those outside the church than those inside it? Why does our flesh rebel against this command of Christ? Why is it that ‘loving one another’ has to be commanded in the first place? Well, I sure don’t understand that at all!

Jesus three times said, “Love one another.” Yet when he was finished Peter looked at him and said, “Lord where are you going?” You know why I don’t want to preach it, love, that is? That’s why. What Peter said.

And yet, Sunday’s sermon is already written. Now I am free to practice what I preach. Better, now I am free to love. That is, Jesus didn’t tell me to preach love. He told me to love.

Semper Deo Gloria!

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Or, two steps forward and 3 steps backward…

I read a couple of book reviews this morning while I was at the gym. They are located in the vast expanse that is the back pages of the latest edition of Modern Reformation magazine (of which I am a loyal, 3 year subscriber). One of the reviews was written by someone named JV Fesko who happens to be a pastor at the Geneva Orthodox Presbyterian Church in Woodstock, GA. The book that Dr Fesko is reviewing is a book by John MacArthur titled The Gospel According to Jesus which is, in itself, ironic, since the book is written by John MacArthur.

But I’ll leave that aside for the moment. The reviewer doesn’t spare any criticism of MacArthur or his book. You would think, after reading the review, that MacArthur is firmly on the side of those Fesko perceives MacArthur is (evidently) doing battle with (i.e., ”…present dispensational antinomianism” (’carnal christians’), 39). There are two paragraphs that speak somewhat positively about the book and four that list the books weaknesses. I don’t doubt that Dr Fesko is writing what he believes. One look at his curriculum vitae at his church’s webpage (under ‘about the pastor) will tell you that this is no mere ADM writing a review of a book. This is a learned man. Still, at the end of my reading, I couldn’t help but feel a little bad for Dr MacArthur.

One might expect that Dr MacArthur is writing a popular level book (he wants it to sell) and not a scholarly systematic theology (he wants praise from the scholarly community) which leads me to ask if perhaps Dr Fesko hasn’t missed the point and over-analyzed the book. (It is, after all, a ‘revised and expanded anniversary edition of Mac’s book!) This also leads me to believe that perhaps MacArthur was intentional in leaving some things out of the book and not ‘digging deeper.’

Well, be that as it may. Here’s the real reason I am writing this short post. In the review, Dr Fesko wrote this, “Perhaps if the author had done in-depth research he would have discovered Walter Marshall’s book The Gospel Mystery of Santification.  (Must be a good book as it received three positive reviews at amazon.) Still what bugs me is that Marshall, the author of the book, lived, according to Fesko, from 1628-1680 (one of the reviewers at amazon noted that Marshall’s book was written in 1692! Hmmm.)  Fesko concludes by writing, “MacArthur’s book is helpful, but one can do better with Marshall’s book on union with Christ” (40). (All quotes and information from Modern Reformation, Jan/Feb 2009.)

1600? You mean to tell me that in the 500 some years since Marshall published his work no one, and I mean not one single person on the planet, in the church, has written a book about sanctification better than Marshall? Does this strike anyone besides me as being terrifically odd? That is quite an indictment of the last 500 years’ worth of Academic Christianity!

That’s really all I wanted to ask.

1600? Seriously? Forgive me if I don’t take Dr Fesko’s review too seriously. 1600? Am I the only one laughing?

On the other hand, it is sort of amazing that MacArthur isn’t getting a free pass and that, evidently, he can’t write a better book than one written 500 some years ago. I’m feeling for you Dr MacArthur.

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