Archive for the 'grace' Category

As many of you know, we’re somewhat mixed in feelings when it comes to Mark Driscoll, with some of us as fans and others, um, anti-fans.

I think, though, that at least for a day, he should be an honorary PPP’er, after reading his response to critics of Rick Warren and the events of the past week. I offer a link to his article and the following quote from the article, with no additional commentary:

“These people are often well intended but badly informed. Rather than reading the doctrinal statement on his church’s website to discover what he believes, they instead get bizarre bits and pieces strung together out of context from extremist “discernment” ministries with no theological credibility or research integrity. Subject to lying, fearful and gullible people are then guilty of lying and gossiping as they swarm like bees around a colony every time some queen bee summons them for orders to head out for online stinging. I make a conscious effort to avoid these and porn sites for the same reason: they are filled with horrible trash that ruins lives.”

Amen.

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Matthew Warren, youngest child of Pastor Rick Warren, suffered from several aspects of mental illness his entire life of 27 years. In a moment of deep depression, he took his own life Friday.

We were not created to die (thanks, Adam) and we certainly were not created to outlive our children. Not being a parent, I can only begin to sympathize with what Rick and Kay must be going through.

Please be in prayer for the family in this time of profound grief.

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Caveat 1: That’s not a typo, but a pun that jumped out at me, given the topic at hand. Had I declined to use it, I surely would have been disinherited.

Caveat 2: This is not a pop on all cessationists — some of my best friends are cessationists. It is, however, a pop on those who feel that they must beat the dead horse into the ground with a stick as part of their ministry of criticizing continuationism (that list of links spans less than a month, and yet doesn’t even include the post about which I wish to talk).

Over at TeamPyro (where one can have one’s comments purged for the horrific offense of quoting the Bible), Dan Phillips has climbed back on his hobby horse of bashing continuationists. The latest installment contains several interesting aspects on which I’ll briefly touch before getting to my main point:

  • Phillips starts by noting that we all have blind spots, however there’s no indication in the context of the post (or the favorable comments or Phillips’ response to them) that this could be one of his, but rather that this is one that others have which he has identified.
  • We are assured that this post is not a blanket criticism that impugns the “Gospel soundness” of all continuationists, some of whom are “splendid preachers of the Gospel”. I’m sure that this is of great comfort to those people, as Phillips never actually refers to them as “continuationists”, but always uses the highly derisive term, “Leaky Canoneers”.
  • Noting that something occurred to you “while I was praying today”, when prayer has nothing to do with your topic, seems like a violation of Matthew 6:5-6 to me (see also, “I thank thee that I am not like these continuationists”).
  • Phillips’ overall thesis is “that there is a parallel between the Leaky Canon position and the false gospel of moralism”. This is an “interesting” idea, at least in my experience, as the vast majority of the moralists that I know are cessationists.

But, all of those observations aside, the implications of Phillips’ “proof” of his argument are terrifying (or at least an epic fail in logic), and one doesn’t even need to subscribe to any particular belief in the cessationism/continuationism spectrum to see the problem.

Phillips premise is that since Christianity does not perfectly teach nor practice the 66 books in the Canon (I’ll certainly buy that), that the last thing we need is more revelation from God to further condemn us.

If you aren’t nauseated by that last sentence, go back and read it again. If you still don’t get it, read on.

Phillips’ contention is that the purpose of Bible (and/or further words from God, if you embrace such a thing) is to provide a means by which God communicates to us how much we suck.  And no, that is not my analysis extrapolated from his statements. Rather, witness these words, direct from his keyboard:

More words from God, given our failure to be faithful to what we already have, and absent repentance, would simply mean more failure and more faithlessness.

If that’s Christianity, would someone please direct me to the nearest mosque?

UPDATE: It has been pointed out to me that if the occurrence “while I was praying today” is not a violation of Matthew 6:5-6, then one must come to the conclusion that God extra-biblically communicated to Phillips while he was praying. Which, ya know, pretty much destroys his whole post.

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Let me start by saying that this is going to be about the Andy Stanley kerfuffle. If you’ve missed out on what I’m talking about, hit your knees and thank God — even if you’re an atheist.  Also, if you fall in that category (blissfully ignorant) — and here I’ll commit a major sin of authorship — I suggest that you read no further, as your curiosity may be piqued. Then you’ll go and hit Google and start reading up on what this is all about. And then I’ll be partially responsible for you being exposed to articles and comments that have all the civility of Johnny Knoxville burping the alphabet during the prayer at a royal wedding.

In the sermon that everyone’s carping about, one of the other things that Andy said was:

“… people may misunderstand your grace towards sinners as somehow condoning their sin, but that is not the case.”

The story of the woman caught in adultery is a prime example of this. A cursory reading of the passage makes it look like Jesus totally let her off the hook. Actually, forget “cursory” — there’s a level at which I still don’t get it. And it’s probably a safe bet that you’re in the same boat.

Yes, He said “go and sin no more”, but He didn’t even specifically state that the act in which she was caught was sin. Based on nothing more than that single isolated instance (notice a pattern here?), we could just as easily conclude that He was telling her to stop smoking those funny cigarettes.

When Jesus told parables, people misunderstood all the time. And it wasn’t simply an issue of Him knowing in advance that this would be the case and thinking “c’est la vie“. Part of the reason that He used parables was specifically because people wouldn’t understand.

By sheer definition, not everyone can be the sharpest knife in the drawer. When we show grace, some people are going to misunderstand. The only way to avoid misunderstanding is to stop showing grace altogether.

Is clarity of your beliefs that important to you?

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Shawn & BrendtMeet Shawn. Shawn was my best friend in high school.  (That’s him on the left at his graduation, and me still looking 12 after my first year of college.) When we were in our fundy Christian high school together, Shawn was planning on being a pastor. He even preached a few times in our weekly chapel service. We lost touch a couple years after this picture, but I caught up with him on the phone about 5 years after college. When I asked what he was doing (work-wise), he hemmed and hawed a bit before finally “admitting” that he was a social worker in the county where he lived. He was happily surprised that I wasn’t disappointed (in him) that he wasn’t a pastor.

I asked if he was doing what he believed God wanted him to do and he affirmed excitedly that he was and gave me a couple of recent examples in which he had seen God working through him at his job. Then I noted to him that being a pastor was a logical choice back when we were kids, given the environment that we were in. Back then, it was made clear to us (caught, if not necessarily taught) that a man who wished to truly follow God’s will for his life — and Shawn did want that — would be in “full-time Christian service”. This pretty much limited the options to (1) preacher, (2) missionary, or (3) Christian school teacher. A woman had the options of #2 or #3 or (better yet) the spouse of any of those options. There was lip-service paid to the legitimacy of the “Christian businessman”, but the overall influence showed that it was merely lip-service to the guy who actually paid the bills, er um, tithes.

In short, if you weren’t one of the big three, you were a second-class Christian.

Fast-forward to today. I saw a video whose overall theme still has me a bit puzzled, but it had a particular thought in it that conjured up the same tired old images of second-class Christianity. In addressing the Christian viewer about having heard and believed the gospel, the speaker threw a frickin’ bone to those who may have heard it differently than he did:

even if it’s a gospel that a guy like Barnabas would preach, as opposed to an apostle like Paul

Say what? When did Barnabas get ranked below Paul in anything?

If anything, in those days, Barnabas had a better grasp on grace than Paul did (Acts 15:36-39), something of which Paul apparently later repented (2 Timothy 4:11). But I digress.

I was so confused that I felt like I had to keep listening, in the desperate hope that he’d explain that gem.

The speaker’s text was Acts 11:19-26. I’m going to divide the passage into a few pieces so as to comment on the story as it progresses.

Now those who were scattered after the persecution that arose over Stephen traveled as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus, and Antioch, preaching the word to no one but the Jews only. But some of them were men from Cyprus and Cyrene, who, when they had come to Antioch, spoke to the Hellenists, preaching the Lord Jesus. And the hand of the Lord was with them, and a great number believed and turned to the Lord.

OK, so we’ve got unnamed guys (”from Cyprus and Cyrene”) who were preaching Jesus and leading people to the Lord.

Then news of these things came to the ears of the church in Jerusalem, and they sent out Barnabas to go as far as Antioch.

Hey, this sounds pretty cool. Go check it out, Barney.

When he came and had seen the grace of God, he was glad, and encouraged them all that with purpose of heart they should continue with the Lord. For he was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith. And a great many people were added to the Lord.

Barney confirms that it is way cool. And he encourages them in their faith.  A few good things are recorded about him, and apparently his influence led to others finding Jesus, too.

Then Barnabas departed for Tarsus to seek Saul. And when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch. So it was that for a whole year they assembled with the church and taught a great many people. And the disciples were first called Christians in Antioch.

Hey, Paul, you gotta see this! And so Paul comes and the two of them stay there for a whole year, teaching.

So, we’ve got a movement of the Spirit that starts with guys that the Bible doesn’t even bother to name, then Barnabas gets to throw in, and then Paul does too. It definitely seems that this whole thing is all about God, both from just the general gist of the story and that whole “the hand of the Lord was with them” thing in verse 21.

BZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ !!!! Wrong !!! Thanks for playing.

This isn’t about God. This is about Paul. You see, according to the speaker, the reason that Barnabas went for Paul was because the people at Antioch wanted to know more than Barnabas could teach them. And Paul knew the Scripture better than Barnabas and had actually had a (brief) physical encounter with Jesus.

Yeah, I’m not sure what bodily orifice the speaker got that one out of, either. Is it possible that there was such a need/desire and that Paul could better fulfill it? Sure. But nowhere near with the factual certainty that the speaker classified it.

Oh, and the disciples in Antioch being called “Christians” — that was a direct result of Paul teaching them.  (See previous bodily orifice reference.)

When it comes to doctrine, Paul could kick anyone’s asterisk-dollarsign-dollarsign. So it’s really a toss-up as to whether this junk is Paul-olatry or doctrine-olatry. Either way, though, it ain’t good.

In short, Barnabas was (in the speaker’s mind) a second-class Christian. I guess the unnamed guys were third-class. So brush up on your doctrine, boys and girls. Otherwise, you’re disappointing God.

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OK, I over-state my case, but I got your attention, didn’t I?

I have a friend who grew weary of people telling him that he was being “unloving” (based solely on his content) when he spoke the truth to a third party, particularly as it regarded man’s state apart from Christ. His response was, “so you want me to ‘love’ them (the third party) straight to hell?”

And my friend’s response was right. There is a large chunk of professing Christendom that has a poor grasp on the definitions of some pretty small words, believing that anything that isn’t Mr-Rogers-nice is unloving.

Ephesians 4:14 describes a very dire issue that Paul is trying to correct:

that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting,

Paul’s solution (in verse 15):

but, speaking the truth …

And there it is, right there. The ultimate response to error is the truth. No matter how much darkness there is, it cannot fully annihilate even the smallest amount of light. The reverse is not true, though (a sufficient amount of light can fully annihilate darkness).

And, after all, what can be more loving than the truth of the Gospel? That despite our fallen state, God loves us and provided — at great expense to Him and no expense to us — a means to get rid of that fallen state.

But wait, there’s more.

Repeating that verse again, but with two more words:

but, speaking the truth in love

See, I think that Paul knew that we could be … well … idiots. That we would grasp the truth and somehow think that this said something — anything — about us, rather than merely being evidence of God’s grace. Put another way, in the words of the late Michael “iMonk” Spencer, “[w]e have to match our belief in the truth with a humility about ourselves.”

Perhaps equal in error to the assumption that anything un-nice is also unloving is the assumption that merely speaking the truth, regardless of methodology, is inherently, sufficiently — and always — loving. If that was true, then that prepositional phrase (”in love”) is redundant.

If we were perfect, then that phrase probably wouldn’t be needed. But I’m not there yet. And 10:1, you aren’t either.

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Life never leaves us alone, not for a minute. We think we have it all under control, we remember the lessons we learned in Classroom Management and Interventions for Severe Behavior Problems–a class in which we got an A–which was designed to teach us to never let a problem escalate, to always stay in control of the self. Yet still, despite how much we know and remember, we have a tendency to fail.

And after failure, we sit on a log on an ugly beach and start feeling like another piece of the garbage lying upon the beach–something the wind and waves haven’t carried off, something the cliff swallows nesting on hillside above will not be using for their nests. Yet, we hope. Annie Dillard wrote that we receive grace like a man trying to fill a cup in a waterfall.

Indeed.*

I’m like the beach upon

which I sit

Staring, aghast. Sand mottled with

Debris, detritus, and grit

Is unpleasant to behold, unsightly,

Dirty and cold.

My eyes–as anyone’s–are starved for

beauty here; grace.

For there is only ruin here

In this place.

I am an ugly, untended

Beach strewn

With sticks and rope and bottles;

Garbage left over from June.

I am littered with butts, straws,

Cans and mold.

My only hope is the waves small,

Beating a hasty retreat–

No more anxious to stay on the beach

Than tiny feet.

I am an ugly Lake Erie

Beach, not a white

Sand paradise whose water

Clear and bright

Lingers close to shore–or

So I’m told.

Dirty beach that I am I call out:

“Break, O Wave, upon this place.

“Break upon this beach, separate me

“From litter, dirty me with grace.”

*Sorry for the formatting. There are three stanzas. I hope you can figure out where they are, I couldn’t get the extra space to stay.

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“There is neither encouragement or effective exhortation in telling those who are suffering that others have suffered more, in telling those grieving that others have lost more, in telling the hungry that others have actually starved. Such spoutings produce feelings of guilt, shame, and anger—all of which are not only counterproductive but also destructive of the faith that was already only barely clinging to the altar.”—Fred Craddock, in The New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary, ‘Hebrews,’ p 83

I had to apologize to my eldest son this morning after reading this. Sometimes being a parent is especially difficult and even though he is graduating on Saturday, I realize I am still learning and he is still teaching. Learning how to speak to our children properly and being repentant when we speak to them improperly is a humbling lesson to learn. I confess I have had to learn the lesson more than once.

What I think happens is that there are times when my son will come to me for conversation, for dialogue concerning his life. Lately, it has been mostly about his car. It breaks; a lot. And it frustrates him. It collapses entire days for him. So when he starts in about how terrible his life is because his car is broken, again, my usual response has been something like, “Jerry, it’s a car. It’s not the worst thing in the world. You want to go and see people your age who are having a difficult time?” Ugh. Worst. Response. Ever.

Worst parent ever.

So I have to learn: his suffering does matter. Is the end of the world? To me, no; to him, yes! To a teenager, the car is everything. It is their lifeline to freedom and responsibility. So I err when I am dismissive of something that, to me, seems so miniscule or minor and to him seems so major and life altering. What I have suffered is irrelevant as a means of comparison. Comparison is unnecessary in such situations because that is not what people want or need to hear. Comparison is meaningless because it ends up being like a game of one-upmanship.

People need grace. If they are weeping, weep alongside them. If they are laughing, laugh it up fuzz-ball. If they are angry, join them in anger. If they are dejected, come alongside them and sit in the ashes. I’ve always been impressed with the first seven days and nights of Job’s suffering when his friends sat with him on the ground and said nothing to him for seven days and seven nights. When someone suffers, yes there are probably others who are and have suffered more. Undoubtedly this is true. But that is irrelevant because it minimizes the suffering of the individual directly in front of me. It is dismissive and likely damages them even more. Not to mention that it also sort of cheapens the suffering of others too–those who have become mere props in our game of who has suffered more.

My role is to help them strengthen their grip, not weaken them even more.

Frankly, I don’t even think it is very nice or appropriate when preachers say things like, “You are suffering, but you have not suffered as much as Jesus.” Well, maybe; maybe not. But is that the point? Jesus didn’t say, “Father I am suffering, but I have not suffered as much as David or Job so it’s OK.” No, Jesus said, “Father, I am suffering; take this cup from me.” Even Jesus didn’t minimize his suffering by comparing it with that of others. Jesus suffered.

This is about learning to see the person directly in front of me and loving them regardless of whatever else in the world is going on today. My son’s suffering is as valid as any other person’s suffering precisely because it is he who is suffering. His suffering is not minimized because others have suffered more; his suffering is not maximized because others have suffered less. His suffering is his. And that is where we start.

Lord, forgive me for being dismissive of people who have suffered—especially my son. Teach me Lord to patiently listen to those who speak, to sit silently for as long as it takes, and when I finally speak, if asked to, to speak softly the words of your grace and mercy.

“Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.”—Colossians 4:6

I’ll leave it up to you, the reader, to determine how grace fills our conversations.

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First, a confession. This little devotional is basically ripped-off from part of a sermon I heard this morning. I found it so helpful, though, I had to steal it. I think the pastor who preached it would be OK with that, though. Also, being that tomorrow is the eighth day after Easter, I find it to be timely.
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Of all the disciples, I think Thomas (alias, Didymus, or “the Twin”) gets a bad rap. Of course, we all know him as “Doubting Thomas”, and that term is still used in the vernacular to describe any skeptical person. But if we take a close look at the text surrounding the events where he is having trouble believing, I think it becomes clear that he wasn’t a guy who was known for waffling.

First a little back-story. Thomas is mentioned four times in the Gospel of John. The first is in John 11 when Mary and Martha send word to Jesus that their brother Lazarus is very sick. Jesus actually knows that at the time He gets this message Lazarus is actually dead. He loved Lazarus greatly, though, and because of this, He plans to go back to Judea so He can raise Him. Going back to Judea, though, means He would be going back to the place where the people recently tried to stone him. The other disciples, realizing this fact, basically tell Jesus, “are you serious?!” This is where Thomas speaks up. Thomas says, “Let’s go, too—and die with Jesus.” This does not sound like a doubt-filled man. He was willing to lay his life on the line for Jesus when others were second-guessing Him.

So fast-forward to John 20:24-29. We read about this interchange between Jesus and Thomas:

One of the twelve disciples, Thomas (nicknamed the Twin),was not with the others when Jesus came. They told him, “We have seen the Lord!”

But he replied, “I won’t believe it unless I see the nail wounds in his hands, put my fingers into them, and place my hand into the wound in his side.”

Eight days later the disciples were together again, and this time Thomas was with them. The doors were locked; but suddenly, as before, Jesus was standing among them. “Peace be with you,” he said. Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and look at my hands. Put your hand into the wound in my side. Don’t be faithless any longer. Believe!”

“My Lord and my God!” Thomas exclaimed.

Then Jesus told him, “You believe because you have seen me. Blessed are those who believe without seeing me.”

So, let’s not forget, Thomas was not there when Jesus appeared to the disciples the first time. We aren’t told where he was. Perhaps he was simply too devastated to join up with his companions. Perhaps he was just at the end of his rope. Wherever he was, though, he needed to see Christ for Himself to be brought back to a place of belief. And the thing is, Jesus understood this. Jesus didn’t condemn Thomas for doubting. I believe there was a smile, not a scowl, on Jesus’ face as he welcomed Thomas. His beloved disciple has seen Him, and that has restored His faith. Jesus says to Thomas, “Peace be with you.” In other words – “Thomas, come back into the Shalom of my presence”.

So perhaps we too find ourselves in a dark place. We find ourselves in a post-Easter world, but we simply can’t see Jesus. Perhaps our faith is beaten down and we are to the point of despair. We are far from Shalom. I believe that in these circumstances, hopeless as they seem, Jesus will still speak Shalom into them if we let Him. Letting Him means facing our doubts head-on. It means being honest with Him. And it means being honest with ourselves. I believe we’ll find that when we do things Christ will turn and breathe on us.

Peace by with you.

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A few weeks ago, a guy I knew died. He died in a house fire with his 5 month old son. His wife and two other small Children were coming back the next day from Florida.

At the same time, I was fighting bronchitis, a double ear infection and strep throat. I was falling behind on my school work. I was too busy and under-resourced. I was discouraged.

That Saturday I almost skipped church. I had received a few shots and was starting to feel better but I was still so far behind and discouraged and to be honest I was struggling with the “ug” question.  There was the death of a man who had sold his life for Jesus. His wife and children. There was my impending failure at school. There was just the over all “ug” of life catching up with me.

I didn’t skip church.

I went and it was awesome. I vaguely  remember what was preached. What I do remember was singing “It is well with my soul.” One particular line came down and hit me so hard, I almost had to sit down.

These particular words pierced my soul.

Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come,

Let this blest assurance control,
That Christ has regarded my helpless estate,
And hath shed His own blood for my soul.
My sin, oh, the bliss of this glorious thought!
My sin, not in part but the whole,
Is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more,

Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul! (Emphasis mine)

I grew up singing this song. It had never hit me like it did at that moment. Perhaps because I have a life time of failures to reflect upon now. I’m not really sure why but it was a time where God reached down and hugged me all at once. In a world of partial forgiveness, God’s love is perfect. It is redeeming. I bear my sin no more.

We can let go of our anger. We can let go of our hurt. It’s OK to struggle with ug questions of life. God is big enough to handle it.

Be blessed today as you realize that God has forgiven you wholly.

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