Archive for April, 2008

Friends,

The Life Under the Blue Sky podcast is now available for download. In this episode, I discuss the important issue of the cost of the sacrifices we make for Christ. The Cost of Sacrifice. This is part 2 in the six part series based on Leviticus. Thanks for stopping by, and don’t forget to subscribe and/or leave a comment. Thanks. (This podcast is about 8 minutes long.)

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Soli Deo Gloria!

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Friends,

This is part 5 of my current sermon series based on Colossians. In this sermon, I am dealing with the issue of people who want to pile rule upon rule upon rule as requirements for salvation. The apostle says, “don’t let anyone judge you.” Sound words in our age of internet ‘discernment’ (read: judgment) ministries. What people fail to recognize is that when we add to the requirements of salvation, we are not judging others but Christ and we are, in effect, declaring that Christ’s work is not sufficient. I do apologize for the poor audio. I am working on that. The sermon takes around 30 minutes. God bless.

Click here: Colossians 2:16-23 Sermon Audio

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Soli Deo Gloria!

Friends,

For quite a while now I have been reading a book by Mark Labberton called The Dangerous Act of Worship. It has been a hard read because I had a few other projects going at the same time. I am just about finished wit it now and I came across this section that I found particularly insightful.

The poverty of imagination in the body of Christ causes many to continue suffering in the world. That poverty is not just in others, but also in me.

The aspect of the ‘problem of evil’ that I struggle with most is not the generalized suffering of the innocent, as big as that issue is. Rather, for me it is this conundrum: if God is all-powerful and all-good, why are God’s people so unchanged? This issue is worthy of far longer treatment than I can give it here, but I mention it to express the seriousness and difficulty of the church being God’s agent of justice and mercy in the world when we show need of such transformation ourselves.

Perhaps that is the point. God’s work of re-creating all things, especially the church, is a necessary and difficult work. It’s beyond my imagination. Scripture tells us that God in Christ has done on the cross what is the most decisive action necessary to secure that transformation. However, it is a work that goes on in God’s people–and we see just how virulent, resistant and free we are in rejecting God’s work in our lives. If this is true among those in whom Christ dwells by the power of the Holy Spirit and who now dwell in Christ in God, then let’s abandon any naivete about what it will take to live and do the work of justice in this world.

We are not called to be idealists about the church. That’s fantasy, not sanctified imagination. That’s a false, distorted, immature imagination. Instead we are to practice hope for the church. We cannot say, ‘Look at Christ, not the church,” when Jesus says, “I want people to look at you and see me. The family of God’s people is neither a utopian society nor a negligible witness. Again, this is what makes the church a living school within the heart of God: a place to vigorously, profoundly and slowly grow into the likeness of Jesus as we seek (and don’t seek) God, as we love (and don’t love) each other, as we do (and don’t do) justice in the world. God is in the mess that is the church, and the mess that is the church is in God.” –156-157

This is probably the best four paragraphs I have read in the entire book. I think these paragraphs alone make the price of the book worthwhile. You might not agree with everything Labberton writes, but it is hard to escape the truth of what he is saying here. The church is not place of pristine fairy tales or utopian fantasy. The church is real. And loved. And it is the church that God calls to be His witness in this broken world. Within this witness is evidence of God’s grace: If God can love the scarred, egocentric, and corrupt church then surely he can love the scarred, egocentric, and corrupt world.

I appreciate these words from Labberton very much.

Soli Deo Gloria!

Friends,

Carson is one of my favorite authors and I read as much of his stuff as I can find. I happened to come across this in his commentary on Matthew in the Expositor’s Bible Commentary, p 520 commenting on Matthew 25:

The fate of the nations will be determined by how they respond to Jesus’ followers, who, ‘missionaries’ or not, are charged with spreading the gospel and do so in the face of hunger, thirst, illness, and imprisonment. Good deeds done to Jesus’ followers, even the least of them, are not only works of compassion and morality but reflect where people stand in relation to the kingdom and to Jesus himself. Jesus identifies himself with the fate of his followers and makes compassion for them equivalent to compassion for himself.”

I really appreciate these words.

Soli Deo Gloria!

Friends,

The following is from James D.G. Dunn’s commentary on Colossians in The new International Greek Testament Commentary, Eerdmans1996. Dunn is commenting on Colossians 2:16: “Therefore, do not let anyone pass judgment on you over food and drink or in the matter of festival, new moon, or Sabbaths.”

“More noteworthy still is the use of the verb KRINO [a Greek word meaning ‘to judge’ pronounced kree-no-jerry], as in Romans 13:3-4, where it clearly indicates the tendency of the more scrupulous to pass judgment on others who do not live according to their scruples. Those who insist on a more restricted lifestyle for themselves do so because they think it an essential expression of their belief and identity as believers. They observe because they think God requires such observance. That conviction will inevitably result in them criticizing or even condemning those who claim the same fundamental faith loyalty but who practice a less restricted lifestyle. If God requires observance, then he disapproves of nonobservance, and those who ignore God’s requirements are to be condemned and avoided, despite their claim to the same fundamental faith. Such was the logic of the devout Jewish traditionalist, including the traditionalist Christian Jew. It is this attitude which is most probably in view here, judged to be more dangerous than the equivalent attitude critiqued in Romans 14 but requiring less forceful response than in Galatians, presumably because the circumstances in each case were different.”—173-174

 Soli Deo Gloria!

Friends,

I have just finished reading a book that literally has the power to change your mind, your heart, your entire life. I cannot tell you how valuable this book is and why you should read it. I do not think I have words that can properly describe it. I’m not even going to review it. I’m not going to say a word about it other than this: READ IT! Drop what you are holding, stop what you are doing, go the library, the bookstore, or wherever you get books and get this book and read it. I promise you that you will not be the same when you are finished. I read it in one sitting. It is 250 pages or so and you will be captivated from the start to the finish.

For more information, please check out their webpage: The Shack Book.

Please do not wait another day before you get this book and read it. I’ll leave you with one quote from the book, “Grace doesn’t depend on suffering to exist, but where there is suffering you will find grace in many facets and colors.” (The Shack, 185) Alright, get off the internet and get to the book! You are wasting precious time. If you have read it, please share your copy with someone you know.

Props to my friend Jason Goroncy at Per Crucem ad Lucem for the introduction to the book.

Soli Deo Gloria!

Friends,

I don’t know who Jason Beghe is. I think he might be on some television program or something. Nevertheless, for those of you who are interested, here are a series of interviews with Jason Beghe concerning Scientology. *WARNING* for those of you easily offended by salty language, there are plenty of f-bombs. If this offends you, you might stay away. If you are interested in the truth of scientology and you need some help, check out the interview here.

What I’d like you to notice is how often (I watched part 2 of the interview) Behge refers to the emptiness of Scientology. You can see the remorse in his face, the regret. These videos are really sad and very enlightening.

jerry

Friends,

I am happy to bring you my second podcast. This is part 1 of a six part series from the Old Testament book of Leviticus. The six parts come from a sermon I did about two years ago. Part 1 is the introductory material. The sound isn’t too bad considering I do not have professional equipment. This episode is 10 minutes and 45 seconds long. Don’t forget to leave feedback after you have listened and you can use the button below to subscribe to this and future podcasts from Life Under the Blue Sky. Thanks for stopping by. (You can use the link above to open in a new window, or you can use the inline player below.)

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Soli Deo Gloria!

Friends,

I mentioned in my Sunday sermon last week, almost tongue in cheek, that we need to be aware of the religion of Oprah. Well, turns out I was not too far off. Roger Friedman has written an insightful essay at Foxnews.com concerning this very point: Is Oprah Starting Her Own Cult? I might suggest that Oprah already has her own cult. Friedman writes:

Oprah Winfrey may have gone too far in exploiting and distributing the teachings of a questionable New Age writer.On Monday night this week, Winfrey conducted her weekly web “event” seminar with new age writer Eckhart Tolle. His message: “Life is the dancer and you are the dance.”

Got that?

I do not know much about this Eckhart Tolle although I did see his book laying on the desk at my mother-in-laws house one day. Other than that, I have only heard about him through the blogs and I have not seen much positive press among the blogs I visit.

I would have to do more research before assessing the merits or demerits of this stuff (although I am not a fan of Oprah at any level) and from what I have read about Tolle he is sort of creepy. I am reminded of what the Scripture says: “See that no one carries you off through [by] the philosophies and empty deceit which are according to the traditions of men, according to the elements of the world, and not according to Christ” (Colossians 2:8 my translation).

These things are not merely ‘not of Christ,’ but they stand in direct, absolute opposition to Christ. The only ambition the promoters of these empty deceits, these lies, have is satisfying their greed. This stuff, regardless of who promotes it, is dangerous. We are right to be concerned and right to stay away. The apostle warns us: Do not be taken captive by those who have already been conquered by Christ. (See also Matthew 24 (& 2 Peter 2) where Jesus warns his disciples repeatedly that people will come along claiming to be something, someone, even a Christ, with the only ambition to deceive the elect. We have been warned by Christ himself. We have no excuses.)

jerry

Day 5, Colossians 1:5: Faith, Hope, and Love in the Truth

“…the faith and love that spring from the hope that is stored up for you in heaven and that you have already heard about in the word of truth, the gospel [that has come to you]…”

“ ‘The Gospel’ for Paul, is an announcement, a proclamation, whose importance lies in the truth of its content. It is not, primarily, either an invitation or a technique for changing people’s lives. It is a command to be obeyed and a power let loosed in the world (Rom 1:16-17), which cannot be reduced to terms of the persuasiveness or even the conviction of the messenger. It works of itself to overthrow falsehood.”—(NT Wright, Colossians, 52)

What I see here is that faith, hope and love are all, in one way connected with the truth which is the Gospel. Their faith, hope, and love are all based upon whether or not the message that came to them was truth. If it was truth, then there is some substance and validity to the hope they have. If what came to them was not truth, then their faith, hope and love are based on a lie and are rather meaningless. Hope that is not based on truth is no hope at all. Faith in something that is a lie is not faith but stupidity. Love that is not based on truth self-serving and empty and a vague sentimentalism. How can anyone have a faith that is not based on the truth? How can I trust the love of anyone if that love is not based on truth? How do I know that love is sincere, actual, authentic? And what is hope if not based on truth? Will I really be any more hopeful if I have no guarantees of the veracity of that which I hope for?

He also said this: our hope is stored up for us in heaven. This is very similar to what Peter wrote to his congregations:

“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade—kept in heaven for you, 5who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. 6In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. 7These have come so that your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. 8Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, 9for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls.” (1 Peter 1:3-9)

We have not yet fully taken hold of that which we have set our hope upon. It is not ours yet, but we persevere in love and faith because we know that we are looking to something that has been promised to us by God. And if this were not true, then we would be hopeless. Our hope is stored up in heaven for us: It is in the place where God is. It is protected by the God who is. It is surrounded by the grace of God and no one can take hope from us. People can come along in our lives and take everything away from us. Tragedy can come along in any of a million different forms but tragedy can never take away our hope. How can hope be stolen? How can hope be crushed? How can hope, protected as it is by Almighty God and guaranteed by the work of Christ, ever, ever, be snuffed out of our hearts? I thank God that he is the one guarding our hope and not me. It is a strong hope that He guards but in my hands it is fragile, susceptible to fracture. I will trust in Him.

So what is the content of that which we hope for? Is it mere eternal life? Is it the mere expectation of something better? Is it the wishful thinking and joyful rejoicing about the day when we shall be free from the shackles of this present darkness? Is it the mere glimmer of a life without pain, suffering, and death? Is it the glad thinking that someday all of our questions will have answers? Well, I suppose it is to an extent all of these things. But I also suppose that it is far more than we can possibly imagine. Paul later says in Colossians, “For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for Him” (Colossians 1:16). You see the fullness of our hope is not any of those things I mentioned above, but rather Christ himself. He is our hope: He is what we expect, He is why we persevere, He is why we have faith, He is why we love; He is our hope and nothing short of Christ can even compare or satisfy. We expect someday at the last trumpet to meet Christ. I have to be honest here, nothing short of Christ would be at all satisfying to me. I couldn’t care less if my questions are answered, if my suffering ends, or if I have eternal life if I have not Christ.

Finally, we see that our faith, our hope, our love all spring what we have learned in the Gospel—the Good News of Jesus Christ—which has come to you. The Gospel came to us; truth came to us. I don’t suppose that we went out of our way to pursue it even if we did accept it when we heard it and turned to the Lord in repentance calling on His Name. Nor do I suppose that we went out of our way to create truth. But here we see the Gospel as the pursuer, the hunter, the hound tracking us down. Truth comes to us and the truth is contained in the content of the Gospel, but I would also add this: The Gospel is Jesus Christ and not merely the sum total of the stories or traditions gathered around him. The Gospel cannot be separated from the person of Jesus Christ. I scoff at those who say stupid things like, “Well, it doesn’t matter if Jesus was real or not. What matters is that I hope he was. But either way…” Blah. Blah. Blah. Mindless drivel is what that is. If you take Jesus out of the picture there is no Gospel, and it certainly isn’t truth. Further,

“Neither Christians nor churches are created by accident. They do not emerge of themselves from the social milieu of any generation, nor fall unheralded from the skies. The creative agency can always be identified: “the word of the truth of the gospel. The power that convicts of truth and kindles life is the power of the Holy Spirit; the means He uses is the good news of Christ, the record of divine redeeming events, interpreted in light of prophecy and confirmed in the testimony of transformed men.”— (In Him the Fullness: A Study in Colossians, R.E.O. White, Fleming H Revell Co, 1973, 16)

I’ll close by nothing this: The truth, the Gospel came to the Colossians. I think this is a direct reference to missionary activity. Given the opportunity, most will be content in the bliss of their ignorance. Most are not going to go on a spiritual quest in the hopes of finding truth that saves, gives hope, motivates faith, and drives love. The Gospel must go and the Lord said through the prophet Isaiah, “My Word will accomplish the purpose for which it is sent.” (Isaiah 55:9-11). The Lord is active in sending out his Word to the places where it needs to be preached, to the places where it needs to be heard, the places of darkness where people are living hopeless, faithless, truthless, loveless lives. The Gospel goes and the Gospel does its work.

“And I put my hope. And I put my Trust. And I put myself in you, Lord.”—‘My Hope,’ David Crowder.

Soli Deo Gloria!

Friends,

This is a new adventure for Life Under the Blue Sky: Podcasting of sunday’s sermons.  This is a trial run from a sermon I preached about 2 years ago. The sermon is called Now is the Time to Fast and Pray and is part 1 of a 5 part series called The Resurrection Driven Life. The sermon is based on Isaiah, Matthew, John and Acts. Let me know what you think.

Soli Deo Gloria!

ps–There is a manuscript download available in the box.net widget to your right. You can download the entire manuscript for this podcast. It is a word.doc file and fairly generic so as to be accessible to most readers. jerry

Use the link below to subscribe to future podcasts via itunes or your favorite homepage such as yahoo, aol, google, etc.

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Friends,

I have made a couple of changes to the blog. First, you may notice a meebo interface on the sidebar. If you stop by and I’m online, let’s chat. It could be fun and provide for more meaningful conversation when there are debates about a particular post.

Also, I am in the process of setting up a box.net account. For those of you who stop by more meditations and sermons and other homiletical stuff, I will be uploading sermon manuscripts there instead of here. I’m not sure exactly how it works yet so give me some time.

Finally, I am also in the process of learning how to podcast my Sunday sermons. Once I have all the kinks worked out I will begin posting podcasts for your consumption.

I have asked very specifically that the Lord give me the opportunity to share the work I do in Scripture with others. I want to be a blessing to other preachers and students of Scripture (which means anyone at all interested in learning and growing which should be everyone.) Thanks a lot for your time and your visits. I cannot believe how much this blog has grown in the 14 months I have owned it. Thanks so much for stopping by. I really appreciate all the feedback and conversation: Pro and Con. (And you cons know who you are.)

Thanks again,

jerry

Friends,

Aaron W Calhoun, MD, has a rather brilliant, if short, essay in the most recent issue of Touchstone titled “Jesus Wept.” In the short essay he touches on some of the objections that atheists and others come up with for why there almost certainly is not a god.  This part of the essay has been rehearsed a thousand times by a thousand different authors so I won’t bother again. What makes this essay, in my opinion, brilliant is that he doesn’t let the Christian off the hook. He notes that it is Christians who often have the wrong answer (at the wrong times) for why there is suffering in the world and how we can justify God or God’s existence in light of such suffering. Answers that involve repeated references to ‘God’s plan,’ or ‘his sovereignty,’ while not wrong, are not necessarily the best approach either. I agree.

Instead of a necessarily philosophical answer or a ‘tired’ theological answer, what we need is a Christological answer. “Christological answers deal with natural evil not with a defense of who God is, but with an exposition of what God did. They stress, not logic and argument, but a direct appeal to the power of Christ death and resurrection over evil”  (Calhoun, 14-15). Well that is just fantastic writing. It is too often that our apologetic for God in light of a suffering world is to neglect Christ’s work, his entrance into this world, the enfleshing of God in Christ, and his suffering. It’s almost as if Christians are afraid to talk about the cross when we are confronted with the horrors of suffering and evil in this world. Now of course, we cannot leave the cross here. The cross was not merely about God understanding our suffering or participating in it. The cross can never be about mere sympathy and we must carry it on to its ends of atonement, propitiation, and redemption. But Calhoun is surely correct in this assessment that in our quest to understand suffering and God in this world the cross is the place to start. In the cross is the renewal of all things.

The fact is, God did do something about suffering: He dealt the death blow to sin in Christ. This is the testimony of Scripture time and time again. Suffering has at its root sin and if suffering and evil are going to be dealt with then sin has to be confronted and defeated. Only in the total defeat of sin in the cross will the last enemy, death, be destroyed. “When he had disarmed the rulers and authorities, He made a public display of them, having triumphed over them through Him” (Colossians 2:15). Here is your victory: Christ Crucified. Here is your answer to suffering in the world: Christ Crucified. Here is the content of the Gospel: Christ Crucified. This means that the preacher has the responsibility to preach: Christ Crucified. It is only in this message that suffering will make any sense at all. Forsyth said it profoundly, “The Cross is at once creation’s final jar and final recovery. And there is no theodicy for the world except in a theology of the Cross. The only final theodicy is that self-justification of God which was fundamental to His justification of man. No reason of man can justify God in a world like this. He must justify Himself, and He did so in the Cross of His Son” (The Justification of God, 122).

Calhoun wrote, “We forget that the ultimate response to evil is not a theory or a doctrine, but a person…And it is in him, the Infinite God who became man and died, bearing our suffering and sin as his own, that we see the truth” (15). An absolutely brilliant essay. I am thankful that Dr Calhoun wrote it and I am hopeful that more of you who have tasted it here will discover it for yourselves. If you are wondering about suffering, about ‘where God is’ in all this mess we call the world, about the massive amount of and proliferation of evil in our culture, then there is only one answer: Jesus Christ crucified.

Soli Deo Gloria!

Friends, I wrote this review as part of my requirements for my latest seminary class. The paper was meant to be 1200-1500 words and I ended up with over 3000. So before I could turn in the review I had to pare it down by 1200 words. The final count was 2023 or so. Anyhow, you are reading the short version here. I highly recommend this book if you can get it. It is a great book about how grace is meant to invade all areas of our lives. Grace will help us avoid the ‘performance trap’ and ‘perfectionism’ that pervades the church and causes the ruin of many Christians. Enjoy! jerry

________________________________

I was fully prepared to hate this book. I have very little use for psychology as a cure-all for what ails sinners. A quick perusal of the book had convinced me, prematurely, that the book was yet another one of those attempts by a ‘Christian psychologist’ to manufacture a purely psychological well-roundedness without really dealing with the heart of the matter (sin).

It was after reading the first four and a half pages (10-14), however, that I also changed my mind about the book. On page 13, I read the author’s sole complaint addressed in the book: “Just as there are different degrees of any disease, so there are different levels of intensity in performance orientation….Performance-oriented Christians represent a wide range of despairing humanity” (13). This is a horrifying charge considering that Christians should, in fact, represent the widest range of joyful humanity. Seamands contends that we are joyless because we have missed grace: “…at this point it is important to see that the roots of performance orientation are theological. If the ultimate cure is grace, then the ultimate cause of the behavior is the failure to understand, experience, and live out grace at every level of our lives.” (67, emphasis mine).

Seamands believes that the answer for Christians trapped in a “prison which was at least partially of their own making,” trapped in mind set of “I ought to do more,” and perpetually racing around in a life of “performance” is, unequivocally, grace. Grace as a way of life, not only as the way of salvation, is the point Seamands is trying to get across to his readers. “To restrict God’s grace only to saving or sanctifying grace would be to miss the all-encompassing nature of God’s love in action” (186; see also 181-182.)

Part of the problem, at least from where Seamands writes, is in fact the very church that should be the vehicle and conduit of God’s grace to the world. If the church or the preacher plays a role in Seamands’ book, it is, in my opinion, largely a negative one. “We must always remember that those who make up the visible church are products of a particular culture. So it shouldn’t surprise us to discover within the church certain impediments to receiving and living out grace” (35, my emphasis).

The three major impediments he speaks of are: 1) The Gospel of success. “American activism has clearly infected the church’s idea of success” (35). Again the blame is laid at the feet of the preacher and rightly so. “I believe the church’s distorted gospel of activism and self-effort contributes greatly to the self-belittling and low sense of self-worth so many people feel” (37). 2) The Gospel of self-reliant individualism. “Another aspect of the church’s life which conflicts with biblical grace is an overemphasis on the individual Christian life apart from open grace-filled relationships with other people” (37). 3) The Gospel of legalism. “Evangelical churches and pastors believe in and proclaim a doctrine of salvation by grace through faith…[B]ut the Sunday School lessons and sermons are sometimes not heard as messages of grace” (38). In my judgment, the preacher bears a majority of the responsibility for all three problems.

If this is to be rectified, then changes must begin to take place in the lives and preaching of the preachers and teachers in the church and others that Seamands calls ‘people in Christian service.’ Yet, for as much as Seamands criticizes the church in general, and preachers in particular e.g., 128-131), for their poor understanding and practice of grace, he rightly recognizes that pastors are usually well suited conduits for healing grace to flow (67). However, it is highly unlikely that the congregation in general will have a great grasp of grace if the preachers and teachers have a faulty or weak grasp of it themselves.

Seamands writes, “Doctrinal belief in a theology of grace, as important as that is, does not change the way performance-grounded Christians live. This is not understood by a large number of persons involved in Christian service—pastors, evangelists, teachers, and counselors, and so they sincerely but mistakenly deal with problems brought to them by parishioners only on a cognitive level—preaching/teaching/admonishing” (120). His solution is ‘the all-encompassing way of grace’ which is fine as far is it goes, but how else can preachers, evangelists, and others, ‘reconstruct,’ ‘reprogram,’ and ‘recycle’ apart from changing damaged and destructive cognitive patterns? “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind” wrote the apostle (Romans 12:2a, NIV, cf. Colossians 1:9). It seems to me that it will be rather difficult to practically apply such grace if we do not have a cognitive grasp of what it is in the first place. Furthermore, it seems to me that the very purpose in writing Healing Grace is to change the way we think about grace in order that we might change the way we practice grace.

This leads to a second complaint that I have against the book which is, there are no long, sustained expositions of Scripture. The book is full of Scripture, on this point there is no complaint and for the most part I believe Seamands handles the Scripture faithfully and justly. This does not change the fact that he quotes Scripture in pieces. Paul the apostle did not write a few verses here and there, David did not write a few disconnected lines of poetry, and the Gospels are not mere collections of ‘stories’ designed to make a moral point about Jesus or us or grace. For example, his use of the so-called childhood narratives of Jesus to build his case for good parenting (chapter 3) was a very troubling to me. Jesus as a merely well-rounded psychological profile is, to me, more than a little disturbing. Not that Jesus is not or was not, but that I hardly believe that was the Holy Spirit’s point in guiding Luke to write those narratives.

I am not a fan of piecemeal verse collections that serve to bolster an author’s foregone conclusion. Although Seamands does not necessarily damage Scripture, I cannot help but wonder if perhaps more attention to Scripture as the revelation of Christ (John 5:39-47, Luke 24:27, 44-49), to Scripture in larger portions, and to Scripture exegetically taught, would serve his ends better and make grace even more alive. Committed as he no doubt is to Scripture (see page 40), I did not appreciate on the whole his ‘use’ of it.

The strongest part of the book was Seamands’ relentless pursuit to identify those things (and people!) which are barriers to grace. It is simply stunning how many barriers to God’s free gift we (the Church, Christians) have erected. One might almost say that Christians actually delight in re-constructing the barriers that Christ himself tore down at Calvary. According to Seamands, our problem begins when we are young and our parents wreck our lives through what he calls dys-grace: “Now let us turn to the greatest hindrance of all—destructive interpersonal relationships within the home and family” (38). Families play a significant role in helping us mis-understand grace in all of its glory. But Seamands doesn’t stop there at all. Chapters 2-6 all deal with barriers to grace in one form or another whether it is the church (2), the family (3), sin (4), man-made alternatives (5), or poor psychological profile (6; 143-148).

All of these barriers form a mighty chasm, a gulf that we simply cannot span. I think Seamands has to do this, though. It is necessary for the reader to understand how completely defunct we are and how no one is going to help us out of our predicament. In short, we are in desperate straits apart from God’s grace. We are hopeless. We are a ‘wide range of despairing humanity.’ These are not just barriers we have to get around; they are downright prohibitive measures: They prevent us from enjoying God and serving others well. Thus he rightly concludes that we need something different, something diametrically opposed the traps of man-made solutions and barriers: “…we have looked at the origin and development of the more extreme variety of performance-based Christians, perfectionists. We have also seen that any attempt to find freedom by our own efforts only leads us deeper into the mire. Let’s turn now to the only solution and our only hope. God’s greatest gift—grace” (106). And with that, Seamands begins to undo all the nastiness he spoke of in chapters 2-6, all the un-grace, and dys-grace, and no-grace that pervades this world and, all too often, the Christian’s life. For Seamands, there is only one solution to bad parenting, sin, perfectionism—any of it—and that is the Grace of God. “The way of grace is not some afterthought on God’s part. It’s the way, the only way God ever planned” (199).

I spoke with a friend while I was writing my review and I expressed my concern over having to review a book that the professor had probably read a hundred times and that the professor has read countless student reviews of in the course of his tenure. I said, “How does one write a paper in this situation?” She responded, “Write it like you think he hasn’t read it. Write it like you just discovered it and you want to share it with the world. Make him care about it again.” Well, whether or not I accomplish that with this paper is beside the point and for someone else to decide. Seamands, however, accomplished it brilliantly with his book. He brings grace to the front and, through anecdotes from his counseling work that nearly any person can fit into at some point, he makes the reader think about why they are hindered from receiving God’s grace and living it. He brings the reader face to face with the problem and then he confronts them with the only answer: The grace of God. He does this time and time again in the book. Always the solution is grace.

Is that not what God does too? Reading through the Scripture are we not continually brought back, time and time again, in the narrative to grace? Here it is in Eden. There it is at Moriah. Still again it makes a grand appearance in Egypt. If we go further on, trudging through the difficult books, we see grace at Jericho (Rahab), Moab (Ruth), Phillistia (Samson), in the Desert of Sin (Israel), at Sinai (Moses), Babylon (Nebudchadnezzar), and Ninevah (Jonah). We see grace in the life of David and his dealings with the Lord time and time again in the Psalms. We see grace in the multitudes of animal sacrifices which never atoned for a single sin. Grace is there in the stories of obscure characters like Jabez and Mephibosheth. Grace is in the Law, the Prophets, the Gospels, and the Apocalypse. It opens and closes many of the epistles. It is the last words in the Revelation, and hence our canon. Grace consumed Peter, Paul, James, Mary Magdalene, John, and many other unnamed people whom Jesus touched, such as the woman at the well, the unnamed woman forgiven of adultery, and Ethiopian Eunuch, and not a few lepers. And it was John himself who pointed out that “We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth…Law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ” (John 1:14b, 17, NIV).

I appreciate what Seamands has done with this volume to open my mind to what I had always known, but had never understood; always paid lip-service to, but had never believed; always witnessed, but had never seen; always heard, but had never listened to. Surely God’s grace is sufficient for all. 

Soli Deo Gloria!

Friends,

Truth is, I don’t know too much about Brian MacLaren. I have read about him, yes; I cracked on of his books one time in the bookstore to look at the table of contents, yes; but curl up on the couch with a cup of Earl Grey and warm up to his teaching, no. So forgive me, please, if I happen to come across the wrong way in this post. I am commenting ONLY on the below information and nothing else. These comments are reserved for ONLY the below post and nothing else.

Here’s what I just read at Christian Church Today (.com) in a short article by a fella named Dr Bobby Harrington who happens to be Lead Pastor (whatever that means) at the Harpeth Community Church in Franklin, TN:

My Two Cents

I like many things Brian McLaren writes (some more than others). But I love what Brian McLaren writes in an essay called “Christian” in David Kinnaman’s new book UnChristian. His vision is GREAT! Here is what he says…

In thirty years, research could show us that when people think Christian, they think things like this:

  • Christians are the ones who love people, whoever they are—gay or straight, Jew or Muslim, religious or atheist, capitalist or not, conservative or liberal.
  • Christians are the ones who have done more than anyone in the world to stop the HIV/AIDS crisis.
  • Christians are the people who gravitate toward the poor and who show compassion through generous action and seek justice so that the systemic causes of poverty are overcome. They call the rich to generosity, and they call on rich nations to work for the common good.
  • Christians are people who believe that art and creativity are important, so they consistently produce the most striking, original, and enriching art.
  • Christians are willing to give their lives for the cause of peace. They oppose violence in all of its forms. They will lay down their lives to protect the vulnerable from the violent.
  • Christians care for the environment. They don’t just see it as raw materials for economic gain, but they see it as the precious handiwork of their Creator.
  • Christians have personal integrity. They keep their marriage vows and are aware of how destructive misused sexuality can be. Yet they are compassionate toward people who make sexual mistakes, and they never consider themselves superior.
  • Christians build harmony among races. You always know that you’ll be respected when you’re around a Christian.

Perhaps I am a dreamer. But when the hard realities jolt you out of denial (as the research presented here can do), the status quo becomes less acceptable, and one is motivated to dream of better possibilities. I hope that this research will push others toward becoming dreamers too, and that those dreams will inspire the needed creative and faithful action.

You know, I have to be honest with you I hope this is not what Christians are known for in 30 years because if we are, then people will have greatly misunderstood us, and we will have seriously misrepresented the mission of the Church. You know, it is not the responsibility of the church to solve or stop the HIV/AIDS crisis. I’m sorry, but it is not. That is not the commission that Christ gave us. And the problem with assuming it is, is that we can get so caught up in solving/stopping HIV/AIDS that we never get around to doing the real work that Christ has called us to. This is not to say we shouldn’t be compassionate, helpful, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean and reverent like the good Boy Scout church we should be. But I will say this, helping people with any disease and not sharing the Gospel is meaningless. I just cannot see how giving someone a cup of cold water is going to help them when they still end up in hell because we didn’t tell them about the Jesus in whose name it is given. But let me take the point further: Why is it always about HIV/AIDS? Why should Christians be known as leaders in that particular area? What about cancer patients? What about cirrhosis of the liver patients? What about people in Methadone clinics? What about prostitutes, strippers, or pornographers? What about helping homosexuals before  HIV/AIDS? What about pediatric AIDS or crack babies? What about emphysema patients? What about being leaders in the fight against RLS? Seriously! Why does it always come back to HIV/AIDS as if that is the only disease ravaging this planet? What about Malaria patients? TB? SARS? Bird-Flu? Anorexia? Bulimia? Paralysis? Common cold? People with HIV/AIDS are not the only people on the planet dying from disease.

Do you get what I’m saying?

I’m not sure where this stuff comes from. Who said Christians aren’t the ones who ‘love people’? I think the only problem right now is that there are a bunch of important people who are trying to convince the world that Christians don’t love all sorts of people. I serve in a church, I have for the past 12 years or so, and I have never met a single person in any of the churches I have served who has hated any of the above groups mentioned. In fact, I have found it to be quite the opposite: We tend to love the sinners more than we do one another. The problem that Christians have is not that we don’t love the sinners–oh, we are only too eager to do that!–our problem is that we don’t love one another. Calvinists battle with Arminians. Lutherans battle with Baptists. Pre-tribbers battle with A-tribbers. Instrumentalists battle with non-instrumentalists. Emergents battle with, well, everyone else. Catholics battle with Protestants. Free-willers battle with Sovereign Gracers. It is a rather sickening cycle and truth, but it is true: Christians don’t like one another. That, in a nutshell, is the largest part of our problem right now. And I submit to you that the world will become richer, more harmonious, more peaceful, when Christians learn to love one another per the command of Jesus.

I’m not going to comment on every one of those bullet-points. I think they are rather shallow to be honest with you. Neither do I happen to think that any of them are necessarily Christian virtues. Every single person on the planet could stand to be for peace, for the environment, for art! Why it is that only Christians should be known for these things is beyond me. Thus my point: The only objective in pointing those things out is to make the world think that Christians are not those things already. Maybe the authors of the books need to work on those things. Maybe the book is an exorcism of their own demons.

There is something more we should be known for. Jesus said we should be known for our love for another. He said, By your love for one another will people know you are my disciples. We could start right there. In my estimation that would be the best place to start. (John 13; 1 Peter)

Another place to start would be with Jesus. I think the church should be known as a place where Jesus is exalted and glorified and honored and obeyed. Yes, obeyed. You see the Bible says that Jesus is the head of the church. That means, in part, that he is in charge. He sets the standard. He makes the rules. He governs the church. He determines the church’s path and direction. (Colossians 1; 1 Corinthians 12)

Still a third thing we should be known for, not just in 30 years, but now, is that the church is a place where sin is not tolerated. That’s right. We are called as the people of God to be pure, holy, blameless. How about the church start eradicating sin from its members? How about we start to purify ourselves so that when Christ returns we are more than ready? (Romans 6)

A fourth thing is this: How about the church is known for its proclamation of the truth of God’s Word? I know, I know: I’m crazy right? But just what might happen, get ready…if the Church actually started believing in the Bible as the Word of God instead of continuing to think of it as a book of moral stories designed to enlighten us and teach us how to be wonderful, happy, art loving, tree hugging, people? The reason we are not a people of peace now is because we do not love the God of peace or His Word. The Bible is just another book that can be mined for practical, self-help BS. (Colossians 1)

I hope in thirty years, should the Lord tarry, the church is known for one thing: That we belong to Christ.

The fact is, some people may be ‘called’ in their Christian faith to minister to the poor in a special way. Others may be called to minister to HIV/AIDS people in a special way. Still others may be called to care for the environment in a special, God-directed way. And I say: GO FOR IT! But not everyone is called to those ministries. Not everyone on this planet is going to be a peace-maker in the above sense of ‘opposing violence in all forms.’ After all, if we did that, we would not be justified because then Christ would not have been killed: There’s a time for peace; and a time for war. Some will be soldiers who bring peace through breaking things and killing bad people who want to kill us. Still others might be called to build harmony among the races through diplomacy and government. But not all.

The point is this, to suggest that there is a list of things that we should be known for is to insist on a rather narrow definition of what a Christian is in the first place. I’ll be honest, at this point in my life I am not called in any way, shape, or form to minister in a special way to people with HIV/AIDS. Ten years from now that might change; ten minutes from now that might change. I am not called to minister to the environment in a special way–that is, I’m not called to tie myself to a tree or protest the wholesale slaughter of cattle or to become a vegan–although I can plant a garden in the spring and grow lots of flowers and enjoy the birds that live in the birdhouses I build. Still, I question whether this is of any significant value. Does God reward me because I built a birdhouse more than if I shared the Gospel? Everyone has to recognize their gift and calling from God. God gives some people great wealth that they might be a blessing to others. God gives some people poverty that they might be blessed by others. You see, for as much as Mr MacLaren wants to define what Christianity is, he is also defining what it is not. Christianity is not merely about the social services we render to the population in general. Christianity is always, first and foremost, about Christ. We do what we will for him because we can, we do what we ought to because we owe it to Him, we do what we ought to because we love him.

Here’s how the article ended:

Perhaps I am a dreamer. But when the hard realities jolt you out of denial (as the research presented here can do), the status quo becomes less acceptable, and one is motivated to dream of better possibilities. I hope that this research will push others toward becoming dreamers too, and that those dreams will inspire the needed creative and faithful action.

I agree: The Church should dream of better possibilities. We should dream of the possibility that we have been entrusted with the truth of the mystery of God. We should dream of the possibility that Jesus is coming back soon. We should dream of the possibility that if we don’t share the Gospel with the lost they will suffer an eternity in hell. We should dream of the possibility that poverty is a reality in this world as is HIV/AIDS, as is cutting down trees, as is bad art, and that it is not the responsibility of the church to fix these things. We should dream of the possibility that war will always exist in this world because sin will always exist in this world because sinners will always exist in this world (if war is a reality, how can we make the innocent victims, and the guilty perpetuators of war, safer and warmer).

We should dream of a world where Christians of all stripes love one another deeply. This is the problem of the hour: There is no grace in the church. The way things are now, there is only room in the church for one person: Me. And if you don’t agree with me, or MacLaren, or Warren, or Carson, or Horton, or Piper–or whoever, then there is no room for you. The reason the church has failed, and will continue to fail, is because we do not love one another. 

Even MacLaren’s list is nothing more than a legalist trap: Do this and be saved or respected or liked or warmly welcomed. No. Who ever said it is our job as the church to be well-liked in this world of hate? Who ever said our message would bring peace? Who ever said we would be liked if we did things that made people like us? We don’t serve the poor, the homosexual, the Muslim, the tree, or peace just so people will like us. That’s absurd. We do it because we love the God who gave His Son as the propitiation for our sins. We serve because we love, because we can, because we should. 

Our problem is not war, not poverty, not HIV/AIDS, not bad art, not fur-trappers, not disharmony, not Muslims, Jews, or anything else: Our poblem is sin. The Bible says there is only one way to deal with the guilt and power of sin and that is the sacrificial death of Jesus Christ. This should be what the church dreams of: eliminating the status quo of sin: We are far too accepting of sin, much too often in denial of its power.

So I say: If the Church wants to be known for something, for anything, let’s be known as the one place on this planet, the one people on this planet who take/took sin seriously, who offered a serious solution (Grace), and helped people to realize it in their lives. I would much rather be known for this than for any thing else.

Soli Deo Gloria!