Being Acceptable to God

Modern Christianity tells believers they are accepted by God no matter what. “God loves you just the way you are.”

There is, no doubt, truth to this sentiment, but not when it is taken to mean that God doesn’t care what you do or that God is OK with everything you do. He isn’t. Sin is bad. Always has been and always will be.

So when a guy brings up verses like 2 Corinthians 5:9 that says Paul labored so he might be acceptable to God, or that we are to lay down our lives as a living sacrifice to be acceptable to God or that we should serve righteousness, peace and joy to be acceptable to God, people don’t quite know what to do.

The response is generally to label me a legalist, a denier of grace or other besmirching cliches. In reality, I’ve just read verses to you!

The fact that people only want to hear select verses is nothing new. Most theological camps are clearly defined by what verses they’ve agreed to ignore.

The classic comeback to raising the subject that everything you do as a believer is not acceptable to God, and this may, in fact, mean you are not acceptable to God, is to quote Ephesians 1:6, “Nu-uh, you’re wrong Christ has made me accepted in the beloved. I can do what I want and God accepts me, man.”

The problem with using that snippet of Scripture is that the word “accepted” there is a very poor translation. The actual word means to “be graced,” or to have bestowed. The verse is about grace and how it’s been bestowed to us. Why the King James goes with accepted in the beloved, I really don’t know, but other translations don’t go there.

It is true that a true believer is in Christ and is secure there by faith. But this reality does not mean that God loves a believer’s sin. On the contrary, Paul labored to do what was acceptable to God. The fact Paul has to labor to do what is acceptable means it is quite easy to do what is not acceptable.

Our desire to elevate grace, to minimize good works, and generally get us off the hook for everything remotely serious, has destroyed our ability to hear the plain words of Scripture. We all lose.

Church Discipline and Powerless Christians

Yesterday I talked about 2 Timothy 3 and modern Christianity’s propensity to ignore power and live in the flesh pretending to be with Jesus. I quoted a verse, “Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof” to describe the problem. Unfortunately, this wasn’t the whole verse. It gets worse.

“Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away.”

OK, well, if I wasn’t in trouble yesterday, I will be today!

The only thing that can make my diatribe of the last two days worse is to drop church discipline into the mix. Paul seems pretty fed up at this point. He’s about to die, he’s done, he’s run his race, but he is concerned for the Church and he sees what’s coming.

What is the response of the Christian to the false professing Christian?

Paul says we’re supposed to leave them. To “turn away” means to um, turn away. Leave. Paul said the same thing in 1 Corinthians 5 that we shouldn’t even eat with them.

Church discipline reminds most people of legalism. It reminds you of the red-faced elders standing around the cowering adulteress condemning her. Yup, and that’s why the church is what it is today–a gathering of people who want to feel good about being bad.

But true Christianity doesn’t want you to feel good about being bad. It wants you to 1) feel bad about being bad so you cry out for salvation and then 2) wants you to feel good about being good because Christ is at work in you and you are working out what He has worked in.

Those who want to play games with this and want to continue willful, rebellious sin and still talk about God need to be confronted and possibly, according to Paul, avoided altogether.

2 Timothy 3 contains some of Paul’s last words to us, there’s no further revelation coming to make what he said here not true. Paul knows that Christianity will devolve into a mess, just like OT Jewishness did. They were given so much, yet they chucked it to feel good about their sin and there was nothing left for them but judgment.

Love steps in and warns a person, tells them they’re going the wrong way. If the person does not listen, the only safe thing is to avoid them. It’s a sad thing. Church discipline is never something to be done with joy or pleasure. It comes with tears as you watch yet another person chuck eternity with God for temporal pleasure.

Where’s the Power?

Doing one time deals at some point in the past is what now qualifies as “being a Christian.” As long as you think you’re saved, you are. As long as you jumped through some hoop, you’re in. This sort of thinking has taken over Christianity and has done a large disservice to the Church and to Christ. As pointed out yesterday, it robs Christianity of all its main ideas.

We’ve come now to a point where “Christians” look like the world. There is no distinction at all. And we then use this as a point of celebration because we are now “culturally relevant.” Paul’s admonition to us to “come out from among them and be separate” sounds quaint and possibly racist.

So, we’ve got a spirituality today that is floaty and gushy. People know they are saved because they pray for things and occasionally they happen. Or because they look normal and fit in with people at church. Or because they listen to Christian music and put out of context verses as their Facebook status updates.

Yet Christians look like the world. “Christian” kids don’t obey their parents. We don’t keep our word. We live for pleasure, and sacrifice nothing. We’re angry at every indiscretion cast our way instead of rejoicing in persecution. Our sexual morals and restraints are all but dismissed as old-fashioned puritanism. But hey, we show up to church occasionally and read some devotions in the bathroom once or twice. We know our pet doctrines and argue them smugly.

It all reminds me of 2 Timothy 3. The phrase that sums up all I’ve been saying yesterday and today is “Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof.”

Our Christianity has no power today. We’re content with being worldly with Jesus. We’re content to keep faith as that thing I did when I was 7 when I prayed that prayer at camp. We do enough religion to feel spiritual, but there’s no power. There’s no resurrection life. We’ve even got doctrinal reasons to prove why our lives are filled with sin, “Hey, it’s all Adam’s fault, ever hear of original sin?”

I have heard of original sin, and I’ve also heard of resurrection. “Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.”

If you’ve got no power, you’ve got no true godliness. You’ve just got you feeling special about yourself and that will get you nowhere on judgment day.

Christian Living Is Real

In Acts 5 the apostles were told by an angel to “Go, stand and speak in the temple to the people all the words of this life.”

I love that phrase “all the words of this life.”

Christianity is a way of life, it isn’t an aspect of life, or a thing tacked on to the corner, something you squeeze in when you have the time. Christianity is life. The just shall live by faith. Faith is a living thing that changes all of your life.

Israel got in trouble many times by emphasizing circumcision as the end-all of faith. A one time act as a kid was used as support for salvation for the rest of their life. This led to apathy along with self-righteousness and a denial of true faith.

Jesus Christ constantly hammered this thinking and Paul follows up. “For in Jesus Christ neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision; but faith which worketh by love.”

One of the main points of the New Testament upon following the Old Testament’s record of Israel’s failure to live by faith, is to point out the ongoingness of faith. There is no half-hearted worship, lips that praise while hearts depart, empty ritual and sacrifice, and dependence on a one time act to prove yourself.

Being saved is a life, it’s the life of Christ in us, the new life we’ve been raised up to. Yet today we desire to go back to Jewish legalistic tendencies and conclude people saved because they did some thing one time at some point in the past, whether that’s baptism, saying the prayer, going through catechism or whatever.

No man is saved by works. You don’t get saved by trying to live like Jesus. Salvation is taking in to yourself the life of Christ to the extent that it’s no longer I who lives but Christ who lives in me. If His life is not present, then you are not saved.

A denial of this point is to deny that the Holy Spirit in the life of a believer is of any use,
it denies the power of the resurrection,
it denies Scriptures’ ability to make the man of God thoroughly equipped to do good works,
it cuts off the effectual work of grace to allow us to live soberly, righteously and godly even now,
it denies the new creation of the believer to do good works that God ordained we do,
it denies the power of the blood that was shed to purchase us to be a people zealous of good works,
it denies the redemption that we were bought for a higher use,
it denies the whole idea of sanctification being in Christ,
it denies the power of the crucifixion by which we are crucified unto the world and the world unto us.

Our desire to avoid the charge of “works righteousness” has made Christianity of no effect. Our old man was crucified with its affections and lusts in Christ. To deny that Christian faith changes the person is to go back to the works mentality of the Old Testament, Pharisaic religion of the past, which left everything up to the flesh and became a mind over matter sort of fake spirituality.

These things have been written for our learning. I suggest we learn lest we also are cut off.

Acts 5:32 and Getting The Spirit

One of my favorite things is bringing up verses no one likes to deal with, verses you haven’t heard in church for quite some time, verses that commentaries skip over, verses that mess with our pat doctrine. Part of me does this for kicks, the other part likes to see what people think they mean, which helps me determine what to do with them as well, since I don’t always know either.

Here’s a great one I had to mention in my sermon this week on Acts 5:

“we are his witnesses of these things; and so is also the Holy Ghost,
whom God hath given to them that obey him.”

Peter is speaking and says that God gives the Holy Spirit to those who obey him. Now, we all know that it is absolutely impossible for people to obey God unless they have the Spirit, so how can God give the Spirit to those who obey God, which they can’t do unless they have the Spirit?

There are several approaches:

1) Bash Peter. Seriously, what does he know? Paul is the only apostle who knows anything, so we’re safe in ignoring Peter here as speaking nonsense.

2) Define Words. “Obey” might not mean obey, if we try hard enough, we might get there and turn obey into “be in the general vicinity of God” or something.

3) Muddy the subject. Maybe the giving of the Spirit does not refer to salvation but rather to the giving of the Spirit with power as evidenced by tongues in the early church.

4) Pretend this verse doesn’t exist. Hey, how about them Packers?

5) Go with it. Only those who obey God get the Spirit, which seems to be the plain meaning.

For me, I guess number three seems plausible. Number one seems cheap since all Scripture is inspired and I can’t imagine Peter snuck one through. Number two is out because obey here is the strongest Greek word for obey that could be used (means to submit without question). Number four, although easiest, isn’t really an answer.

Then there’s option 5, anyone got the guts to go with the plain words?

Rejoice Later, Too

The command to rejoice is one we are to apply to ourselves today, but let us not forget about the future.

“Holding forth the word of life; that I may rejoice in the day of Christ,
that I have not run in vain, neither labored in vain.”

Heaven is our hope and our anticipation of it brings us joy. But there’s another future time that is to be on our minds–the Day of Christ, the day we stand before our Savior. Think about that day.



That’s it.

Awkward silence.

Crickets aren’t even there.

How is that day looking for you?

Our desire to eliminate guilt over works has gone way too far. We have convinced people that they can have joy with disobedience. You can’t. You might like to think so, but it’s not possible.

Paul had rejoicing because he had a testimony of laboring for the Word of God. When we do what God says there is joy. “Trust and obey, for there’s no other way to be happy in Jesus.”

Our exuberance to make much of grace has succeeded in making little of everything else. Heresy happens when one thing is pressed out of measure. There are many who deny the requirement to do good works and most of them have a hard time sleeping at night.

On the other side, there are those who think works save, and they also have a hard time sleeping at night. Rejoicing is not possible for either group.

But a group who knows we are in Christ, we are saved by His grace through the shedding of His blood and have been created unto good works and have been redeemed to be a peculiar people zealous of good works, a people who desire to make much of Christ in word and deed, oh, these people have joy!

Be one of them! Think about the Day of Christ regularly, and labor so that day will be joyful.

Rejoice in Hope

Heaven is the realm of our rejoicing. If we are earthly minded our rejoicing will be temporal at best, non-existent at worst.

The problem with heaven is that it is THERE and we are HERE. How can we who are HERE rejoice in what is THERE?

I think this is tough and is why heaven gets so little air-time in our theology. We know we are to set our affections on things above, but things above are not seen, so soon our affections are drawn to what we can see.

“Hey, that guy Moses who brought us out of the wilderness, he’s been gone for a couple weeks, let’s go worship some golden cows.”

“Dude, sweet idea.” and off we go.

We laugh at goofy Aaron and the Israelites, yet we do this all the time, just not with golden cows, but with plastic Apples (this is a reference to the various iProducts produced by the Apple corporation that everyone has their face in and is intended to be a joke with some truth and applied much further than merely Apple products). (Jokes that need to be explained are not funny.)

Heaven is like Christmas for a kid. I remember many a Christmas Eve having a hard time sleeping. Looking at presents under the tree for weeks beforehand, even popping some tape off to see if I could get a glimpse at the package inside without mom and dad finding out.

“Anticipation is better than gratification” my parents always told me. They also told me lima beans taste like candy.

But in many cases anticipation is what makes the gratification worth it. Heaven is our anticipation, it is our hope, our hope of God’s glory fully revealed and reveled in that causes us rejoicing now.

Don’t even try to give me this, “Oh, but we can have heaven on earth” business, because we can’t. If we could, then all the promises of heaven and its hope are meaningless. As we convince ourselves heaven can be on earth, we talk less about heaven and fixate on materialism (see American Christianity).

We rejoice in hope and hope maketh not ashamed. Whatever junk life throws at us, our eyes are on heaven, and since heaven is our real expectation, we are filled with rejoicing.

Heaven is Our Realm of Joy

Our rejoicing is to be in the Lord and in all that the Lord brings to us.

It is easy to make rejoicing dependent upon our circumstances, but problems arise when our circumstances are a bummer. Ignoring pain to only see happy things can be insensitive to others. We are to weep with those who weep, not ignore their problems so we can maintain our happiness.

One of the best sentences in the Bible on the subject of rejoicing comes after a victory, but is actually a rebuke on the celebration of the victory. Not some stupid victory either, but a spiritual, ministry victory.

The disciples have just gotten back from exercising their newly given disciple powers and are thrilled with themselves that they can cast out demons. You can almost hear them tripping over each other to share the news with Jesus, “Hey! We’re awesome! Look at how awesome we are!”

Then Jesus says to them, “Notwithstanding in this rejoice not, that the spirits are subject unto you; but rather rejoice, because your names are written in heaven.”

Perhaps one of the worst things that can happen to you is success. I really don’t know if this is true for me or not, seeing as how I’ve never had any, but apparently success can be misleading. Jesus tells them not to rejoice in the success of their ministry!

This is contrary to most ministerial advice. We constantly write our newsletters about how many were saved at our VBS and reports on our missions trips about how we saved these people and got running water for those people and whatnot. You can’t make any money if you can’t show people what great things you do with their money.

Yet Jesus tells His disciples to cool it; if you want to rejoice, rejoice that you’re going to heaven.

Heaven is a forgotten truth. Oh sure, we bring it up on occasion, like funerals, but heaven has very little to do with our doctrine or teaching. Our lives reflect this lack of aim.

Heaven is the source of our rejoicing, not anything that happens on this earth. Heaven is our source and hope of joy, it is for the joy set before us that we endure the pain, just like Jesus did for us.

Heaven is our rejoicing; there is no other place of joy.

Clay Matthews, God and Rejoicing

We’ve established that the rejoicing we are commanded to do is in the Lord. No other source of rejoicing fulfills the demands of God’s command to rejoice. God is not calling you to rejoice in the awesomeness of Clay Matthews, but to rejoice in Him.

OK, great, super-duper, what does that mean? How do I rejoice in the Lord?

If we look at more verses about rejoicing, we’ll see that these verses point us to aspects of who God is and what He’s done for us that should, in all honesty, make us rejoice. Seriously. There is an outside chance He has done more for us than Clay Matthews if we go ahead and look.

“Glory ye in his holy name: let the heart of them rejoice that seek the Lord.”

First thing is that you have to seek the Lord, which means to have a desire to know more about Him. It’s awful hard to rejoice in something if you don’t know what it is.

Those of you who read my blog in other countries who don’t follow American Football have no idea who Clay Matthews is or what a “sack” is, or the deep-seated emotions residing in the Packers/Bears rivalry, therefore, it makes it difficult for you to rejoice in Clay Matthews as I do.

However, if you were to seek the face of Clay Matthews, as it were, you would find out more about him and how dominant he is, especially against a fat, lumbering Bears’ offensive line. But as you learn of his awesomeness, you too will be brought to a point of rejoicing in him.

The same holds true for God, well, on a slightly larger scale anyway. If God does not fill your heart with rejoicing, perhaps it’s because you don’t know much about Him. Set yourself to find out more. Read the Bible. Read great books on God. Talk to those who know Him. Pray. Find out who He is.

Perhaps the reason why rejoicing is missing in your life is because you don’t know the only true source. There is a way to remedy this! God rewards those who diligently seek Him, one of the rewards is rejoicing.

Rejoice in the Lord

The Greek word for “rejoice” means, “to be glad.” “Glad” means “to be merry, to be delighted in a thing.”

When we stick this together we see that we pretty much know what the word means without having to use a dictionary.

Rejoice means to be happy, to have found a source of merry-making. Perhaps you noticed that my quotation of the verse “Rejoice and again I say rejoice” was not a complete quotation. Here’s the full quote:

“Rejoice in the Lord always: and again I say, Rejoice.”

Our rejoicing is to be in the Lord. God has to command us, not merely to rejoice, but to rejoice in the Lord. People rejoice over dumb stuff all the time. Clay Matthews sacked Jay Cutler 4 times last Thursday. This is great reason to rejoice in my life!

Yet how dumb is it that I can be happy about one steroidal freak knocking down one whiny guy who can occasionally throw a football? It doesn’t even make sense, I don’t even know these guys.

People have an easy time rejoicing in stuff. Modern career advice usually goes like this–find what makes you happy and then go do that.

That’s one reason why we have such high unemployment–there are jobs available, just not doing anything that makes anyone happy–I know a resort owner willing to pay $12 an hour for people to clean cabins. I turned em down. Cleaning cabins does not make me happy.

But the true source of rejoicing is not in things, but in the Lord. This we need to be commanded to do. God commands things that are possible; just not things that are natural.

Romans 1 says the great downfall of man is to worship the creation more than the Creator who is blessed forever.

Being happy is not the point, being happy in the Lord is. The Lord is to be the source of our rejoicing. That is the Bible’s command.

Rejoice! Rejoice! Again I Say Rejoice! Another Annoying Verse

Rejoicing is not as easy for some as it is for others. There is a class of people who seem to be happy all the time. They have the enviable ability to ignore reality and carry on in simple happiness. These people amaze me, if not for their ability to be happy as much as for their ability to live a lie!

Rejoicing is a tough thing. When the Bible gives us the command “Rejoice and again I say rejoice,” there must be a reason God thought it necessary to command people to rejoice. In other words, this must not be natural for us.

Rejoice also carries with it connotations and assumptions with it that further make rejoicing tough. Rejoicing is often characterized as being like David, dancing to the music and embarrassing his wife. Do I really have to dance and act goofy?

Others say that rejoicing is just a heart thing, it may not be seen on the outside. There maybe truth here, but if it’s truly in the heart, I think it has to be seen on the outside at some point–as a man thinks in his heart, so is he. The mouth speaks out of the abundance of the heart.

Others get the idea that we rejoice when things are good, so pretend things are good. These folks try to find silver linings everywhere to give them reason to rejoice. They may be on to something, but I don’t think biblical rejoicing is based on circumstances.

I want to take a look at rejoicing the next couple days. I want to talk at ya about biblical rejoicing, what it is, how to get it and what it truly looks like as God describes it.

Lies and Christian Service

“When we do anything from a sense of duty, we can back it up by argument; when we do anything in obedience to the Lord, there is no argument possible; that is why a saint can be easily ridiculed.”

Still reading Oswald Chambers! Man, the guy says good stuff.

I have often wondered how much of what I do as a pastor would I do normally if I were not a pastor. How much of my service is duty?

When God does things it usually makes no sense. If you were to ask Joshua mid-trip around Jericho, “Hey, what’ch’ya doing?” I doubt he’d know how to answer.

If you asked Moses what he was doing preparing to go before Pharaoh to ask if the Israelites could go home, I doubt he’d have an answer.

If you asked Noah in mid construction, I doubt he’d have an answer.

Except for one: I’m doing what God said.

God, eh? Riiiight.

God makes people do weird stuff, stuff that defies explanation, yet in the end, it works! You can construct buildings, but if the Lord is not the builder, you labor in vain.

How much of our work on the foundation will be nothing but ash when God examines it?

But, hey, that’s a long way off. Instead we trump up our activities now, act busy and important so people are fooled into thinking we’re godly, helpful people. We’d rather have the lie of knowing what we’re doing than the uncertainty of following God’s truth.

Crushing Lies

People are afraid to be truthful. We want people to like us and we’d prefer to like people, too. Truth has a way of dividing. Jesus Christ, who is The Truth, did not come to bring peace but a sword. His very presence polarizes.

Believers are members of His Body, therefore, our presence is supposed to polarize. Yet we’re also supposed to speak the truth in love. Our dropping of truth bombs is not a call to wipe out people, but a call to hopefully wake them to spiritual truth.

More than likely, no mater how lovingly you present truth, someone is going to be hurt. People want their comfy lies they’ve propped up to continue to support them through life. If your loving truth messes with their scaffolding of lies, get ready for trouble because they don’t want to fall.

Romans tells us people would rather change the truth of God into a lie, this is evidenced by worshiping the creation more than the Creator. Society pressures us into celebrating creation–look at the pretty people and the awesome things they do.

When you touch on religion, people don’t want to hear God’s Word, they want to have their lies supported so they can carry on feeling good about themselves. Don’t even mess with whatever work it is they cling to that proves their salvation–their ministry, their service, their teaching, their whatever it is that leads off their obituary proving their salvation.

Yes, salvation has fruits and you should be able to show your faith by your works, but if your works are your foundation, if they are what you trot out, if they are what makes you feel secure, then there’s a chance you’re believing a lie.

I have popped a few bubbles in my day, most of which I had no idea I was popping. I thought I was merely teaching the Bible and afterwards I find out I’ve trampled someone’s sacred cow and off they go in a self-righteousness huff. Most of the time reacting to things I didn’t say.

When I see that, I know I’m dealing with a delusional person, a person who is believing the lie of their lives over the truth of God’s Word. Truth is hammering away at us, do we have the sense to hear it and do the hard work of tearing down our walls? Can we die that Christ may live in us?

Oswald Chambers on Being Abandoned to God

There are times when it seems as if God watches to see if we will give Him the abandoned tokens of how genuinely we do love Him. Abandon to God is of more value than personal holiness.

Personal holiness focuses the eye on our own whiteness; we are greatly concerned about the way we walk and talk and look, fearful lest we offend Him. Perfect love casts out all that when once we are abandoned to God.

We have to get rid of this notion – “Am I of any use?” and make up our minds that we are not, and we may be near the truth.

It is never a question of being of use, but of being of value to God Himself. When we are abandoned to God, He works through us all the time.

Lies Over Truth

Truth is difficult to face and yet it has a way of forcing it’s way into your face whether you like it or not.

For years I thought I was a great baseball player, until I attempted to play baseball with real people. Turns out, bouncing a ball off the back wall is not the same thing as real baseball.

For years I thought I was a pretty good looking young man, shouldn’t be too hard to get a girlfriend, what with my good looks and my charm. Yeah. Luckily on this one, all I needed was one.

Experience is a version of truth, you can’t deny what is happening to you, but at the same time, there is really only one truth out there–God’s Word. His truths are even more tough than whether people think you’re good at baseball or whether girls even look at you.

Most lives are spent ignoring God’s Truth. Our world is filled with amusements and distractions that keep us “busy” so we don’t have to think on truth. Music surrounds us, catchy tunes distract our conscious brains so we don’t have time for quiet reflection.

Most human behavior is consumed with promoting lies. We want to make “impressions” on people. Impressions are easier to make than reality, yet most are too consumed with themselves, the odds of them seeing the true you are slim to none anyway.

We’re a culture of the surface. Our religion is just strong enough to impact the surface, but no more, and we seem to like it that way.

But reality will wake you up some day, either in this life or the next, and you’ll see what your accentuation of the surface gets for you. But hey, that day is off in the floaty future somewhere, might as well go back to putting on deodorant and ironing the suit.

Book Reviews

I read a lot. Reading should be a big part of the pastoral life. I’ve heard this from many sources and I agree. It forces me to consider other theological views and put stuff in front of me I would otherwise not be paying attention to.

Frequently people ask me what I think of certain authors or books and it is helpful to know what they are talking about to give an informed and helpful answer.

So far this year I have read 59 books, 30 of which are theological in nature. I give a rating to every book I read from 1-10. I give out very few 10’s and very few 1’s. In fact, 9’s and 2′ are few and far between. 3 or below is a book I couldn’t even manage to finish. My average rating for theological books is a 6.

The worst theological book this year is a book that didn’t even make my list apparently! I guess I read so little of it I didn’t even bother to record it has having been read. It would have gotten a 1. It was a book about a “theologian” named de Chardin. He was awful and the book was awful. It went into the garbage can.

Besides that one, my next lowest rating was a 4, which went to:

Rob Bell’s Love Wins, because even though Love does win, it doesn’t look anything like Rob Bell’s version of love winning.

A book on Rudolph Bultmann (in the same series as the de Chardin trash). “Theologian” is a term that makes the common man think of a great biblical mind, when in reality “theologian” means, “academic guy who says a lot of stuff coming from the root of his screwy mind that has little if anything in common with the Bible.”

Gabriel and Michael by Gaebelien. I imagine this book would have been better if it were actually about Gabriel and Michael and not as much about ridiculing everyone who disagrees with him on a various assortment of theological issues that had nothing to do with Gabriel and Michael.

The best theological books I’ve read this year, which get a rating of 8, are:

If Ye Shall Ask by Oswald Chambers. I never paid much attention to Chambers over the years. His devotional writings were shoved off by me as not worth my time. But actually, when you read the guy, he has great things to say and a great way of saying them. You should read more of him.

Conformed to His Image, also by Chambers, is more proof that this man has good things to say.

Spirituality According to Paul by Rodney Reeves. This is a brand new book and very well done. My wife has begun to read it and commented “He sounds like you.” With that appraisal, how can you not want to read this book?

These are the highlights and low-lights of my year’s reading to this point. I read 11 books in August and one so far in September, as August kind of wore me out with all the reading. The one book I’ve read this month had to do with the 1957 Milwaukee Braves. Not too theological but highly enjoyable!

Hearing God is Terrifying, Your Bible Reading Proves It

God’s Word contains tough truth. People don’t like truth. Truth is a light that illuminates falsehood, and in God’s case, His truth burns up falsehood. Men love the darkness.

Most of our understanding of what God says in His Word is based on what people have told us. I am frequently shocked at how little people know what the Bible actually says.

A couple years ago I heard a guy ask a long-time pastor if he had ever heard of a certain verse. The pastor said “No, I don’t think I’m familiar with that one.” I was stunned!

Yet pastors are the people others get their knowledge of the Bible from!

It is easier to go along with what some guy says, because more than likely the guy has toned it down, or at least only shared what he knows will make you feel better. Most doctrine is based on what other guys have said. It used to be block quotes in theological books were quotes of Scripture, increasingly they are quotes of other people.

We are fascinated by people’s words about God’s word, much more than we are fascinated with God’s Word.

People settle in on what Their Guys teach and they don’t budge an inch. They are not confronted with Scripture at any point about their guys because Scripture really isn’t something they are reading. And, when they do read the Bible, they only hear Scripture through the words of their guys.

I don’t know if any group is immune to this, but it should be. God’s Word is the expression of how He thinks, believers are given the mind of Christ, the Word shows us what He thinks. If we don’t know His thoughts, how are we going to think like Him?

The people of Israel said to Moses, “Speak thou with us, and we will hear: but let not God speak with us, lest we die.” God’s Word messes with you, everyone knows this, that’s why we avoid it like the plague and just drink up the sweetened version our guys give us.

Read the Bible. Drop the notes. Read the Bible.

The Gospel is Christ

“God has a wonderful plan for your life.”

“Don’t you want to go to heaven and not hell?”

“God can remove all sin and guilt from you and promises you rich blessings instead.”

These statements, and ones like them, are given in a  sincere effort to get people saved. There may even be some truth to them, but I fear they misplace the emphasis the Gospel should have.

The common fault with all these statements is that what’s in it for me becomes the motivation. We are not so much calling people to Christ as we are calling them to a better self.

If “what’s in it for me” tactics appear in your Gospel, you may have swung over to salesmanship. Sales is based on getting the customer to say “yes.” Customers who get offers they can’t refuse will sign off and you’ll get your commission.

Convincing otherwise busy and supposedly poor people to give you time, let alone a commitment, is tough work. Therefore, you have to sweeten the deal by promising perks.

The Gospel is not a product to be sold. In all honesty, the Gospel will ruin your current life. You’ll see all you did before as being nothing but dung.  Paul was OK with that, but this same conclusion has led many to deny the Gospel and keep their illusions about their fantastic life.

The Gospel may ruin family relationships, cause division among friends, lead to ostracism and persecution, and might even lead to an early death. Jesus never tried to soften the Gospel message; He always made it harder and more demanding if anything.

Calling people to Christ gets their eyes off of self and on to He who is perfect. When we see Christ for who He is and are driven to Him in love and gratitude, what happens in this temporal life pales.

Calling people to a better life with Jesus tacked on, will merely leave people in self-absorbed narcissism and will never bring them to Christ. In fact, when they discover that Christ will ruin their checking account balance, many leave.

The Gospel is about Christ; not you. The Gospel is not a product for bait and switch tactics to get people to sign off on so we get a commission. The Gospel is Christ; He needs no sales force.

Evangelism Isn’t Sales; It’s Life

Evangelism is one of those issues that immediately makes everyone feel guilty. This graph of a recent study shows our discomfort. We all know we should do it, but few do.

The interesting thing about evangelism is that there are not many verses that talk about doing it. This is mainly because of two reasons:

1) Do you have to be told to talk about yourself at any other point? Do people say to you, “Hey, you know, you should really talk about your love for the Packers more.”

2) Evangelism, which has come to be known as selling the Gospel, isn’t what biblical evangelism is anyway. We don’t take our cues from salesmen and conversion is not our product.

I am a horrible salesman. I tried being one once and it was dreadful. I’m an author with a book published that no one buys because I hate self-promotion and selling. Best selling authors are best selling authors, they aren’t necessarily best writing authors.

Since I am uncomfortable with sales, and social skills in general are lacking in me, I hate the modern notion of evangelism. Guilting me to do it does not help either, it just makes me more forced, stilted and disingenuous.

The Bible does speak about telling people about Christ. The Great Commission is the best example. Romans 10 also ranks up there–how will they hear unless they are told?

But in both of these cases the issue is sending out someone who is an evangelist to go evangelize. There is a gift of evangelist, yes, even those gifted otherwise should do the work of an evangelist, but for the common Joe Christian, what does evangelism look like?

Outside of the verses listed above, there really aren’t many more verses that tell us to talk about the Gospel. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t (see point one above), but modern evangelism is all about giving the sales pitch.

The Bible is filled with verses that tell us to stop sinning and do good and how this shows the love of Christ and silences ignorant men. The problem is that we then wig out and say things like, “Share the Gospel as much as possible, use words if necessary.”

At some point you have to share the Gospel with words–faith comes by hearing, but quite frankly, the way most Christians live, I’m glad 61% never say anything about the Gospel. To say stuff that doesn’t ring true doesn’t carry weight. If you aren’t living it, don’t talk about it, you’re only hurting the rest of us.

Live the Gospel. As we live it, we will demonstrate that we are different, that we have hope. When the time comes, be ready with the Gospel. You won’t have to slick it up with marketing or sales tactics, all you’ll have to do is give a reason for the hope your life displays to shame the unbelieving accusers.

If your life does not display hope, don’t bother trying to show someone else the Gospel, get it for yourself first.

Oswald Chambers on Service

It is one thing to go on the lonely way with dignified heroism, but quite another thing if the line mapped out for you by God means being a door-mat under other people’s feet. Suppose God wants to teach you to say, “I know how to be abased” – are you ready to be offered up like that?

Are you ready to be not so much as a drop in a bucket – to be so hopelessly insignificant that you are never thought of again in connection with the life you served?

Are you willing to spend and be spent; not seeking to be ministered unto, but to minister?

Some saints cannot do menial work and remain saints because it is beneath their dignity.”

Mourning and Comfort

Lots of people around me are going through real bummer things right now. People are sick, dying and hurting.

Pain is not comfortable to be around. We would rather avoid it at all costs. In our world of distraction and easy amusement, it is quite easy to look elsewhere and forget the pains of others.

Unfortunately, while we are out amusing ourselves and ignoring others pain, we are cutting ourselves off from great blessing.

First, we miss out on an opportunity to be of comfort to others.

Second, we miss out on an opportunity to be comforted by those in pain. It is amazing how often the one in pain comforts the observers!

Third, we miss out on God’s comfort.

“God, that comforteth those that are cast down.” If we are not cast down we have no reason to be comforted. How can you be comforted if you don’t need comforting?

Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.

But instead it’s easier to avoid stuff that makes us feel down. Self-help books tell you to avoid people who bring you down and only choose the company that picks you up.

This makes total sense from a humanistic, live for me mentality, but makes no sense to a person who desires comfort from God.

Don’t be afraid to feel pain. One of the things the American, sterile church misses out on today in our clinical happiness, is that we don’t feel pain. Yeah, we pray for people occasionally, maybe bring them a pie, but do we feel the pain? Do we mourn for sin? For sin’s effects? For the sufferings we go through and that others are living in right now?

Are we moved to tears? Driven to our knees?

Jeff is getting whacky on ya here. Wondering if I’m turning charismatic? I’m not, I’m merely pointing out a fact. It is better to be in the house of mourning than in the house of mirth.

Feel stuff and allow yourself to be comforted by God, the only one who can give you lasting peace.

Oswald Chambers on God’s Call in Your Life

The call of God is not the echo of my nature; my affinities and personal temperament are not considered.

As long as I consider my personal temperament and think about what I am fitted for, I shall never hear the call of God. But when I am brought into relationship with God, I am in the condition Isaiah was in. Isaiah’s soul was so attuned to God by the tremendous crisis he had gone through that he recorded the call of God to his amazed soul.

The majority of us have no ear for anything but ourselves, we cannot hear a thing God says. To be brought into the zone of the call of God is to be profoundly altered.

What Shall We Do?

Good works are anathema in today’s church. Any mention of works will get you labelled a legalist within seconds. We have taken Paul’s statements that no man is saved by works of the law to mean works are now unnecessary.

In fact, some have even gone so far as to say good works might mean you’re in trouble because now you might be depending on your works and not on Christ.

This is the highest sort of religious deception that has ever been invented by the wicked heart of man.

Good works are the result of grace at work in you. No good works; then you have no case proving grace is at work in you. You don’t work to get grace; you get grace to work!

Scripture contains several sudden conversions of people and these conversion events are worth looking at. Observe the following:

People, publicans and soldiers heard John the Baptist and their immediate response to his message was : “What shall we do?”

The crowd listening to Peter’s sermon at Pentecost said, “What shall we do?”

The jailer was awoken by an earthquake and the fear of having lost his prisoners. He ran up to the imprisoned apostles and said, “Sirs, what must I do?”

Saul is walking down a road and gets blinded by an appearance of Christ and his first sentence is “Lord, what would you have me to do?”

If a sinner came with this question to the Church today, they’d no doubt be corrected immediately! “What? Are you crazy or something? Grace means we don’t have to do anything, relax.”

When a man sees the glory of Jesus Christ, which magnifies his own sinfulness, he is blown away. He realizes everything he has done to that point is wrong, he counts it as dung. Obviously he had no clue what he was doing and now that he gets a glimpse, the obvious question is, “So, what should I be doing?”

One of the major points of salvation is that it changes who we are and this changes what we do. No change in what you do? Then the Gospel is just words for you.

Again, no man is saved by works, but works are the evidence and the fruit of salvation. It worked for Paul and this same grace is there for you too.

Grace, Temptation and Sin

Because of our sin, we can not stand before God. God’s Grace is the only thing that can allow a sinner to stand before Him. He must decide to be gracious and merciful to us. If He is not, there ain’t nothin’ we can do.

We can’t fix ourselves up, we can’t work off our sin, or remove it in any way. If God is not good, there is no reason to come to Him.

This is where most people’s understanding of Grace stops. I sin, therefore I need grace. Grace is seen as “the stuff you apply after sin.” It’s the surgery that removes the cancer.

This is indeed what grace can do, but it can do so much more. Observe:

Our High Priest, Jesus Christ, “was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.”

You can apply grace before sin, too!

Our time of need is when we face temptation. Christ faced temptation, just like us, yet was without sin. Why was He without sin? Grace!

We can come get grace before sin to keep us from sin, just as much as we can come for grace after we sin. When we only talk about the cleansing effects of grace, we undermine the preserving effects of grace.

Grace isn’t just the surgery that can remove the cancer; grace is also the way of life that prevents cancer in the first place!

Grace teaches us to deny ungodliness and worldly lusts so we can live, soberly, righteously and godly.

Our overemphasis on grace for after sin, rather than grace to prevent sin, shows that we’d rather ask for forgiveness than just do right to begin with. Few truly desire the grace to not sin; everyone desires sin that can be wiped away at no cost. What do we want grace for?

Grace and Fear

God is gracious and wants to give us a lot, including a kingdom that cannot be moved. What is the response we should have to His magnanimous giving?

Some see that we can gain and will turn this into a sort of materialism. Let’s see how much we can get and then use it to achieve our own ends. This is a bad idea and will not turn out well. We’re not talking Health and Wealth Gospel. Nor are we talking about finding your purpose and achieving the American Dream with Jesus.

Some will see what God gives as completely impractical. Grace may be nice, but it doesn’t pay the bills. There won’t be any thanks or appreciation, and in fact, many will walk away after seeing that what God gives doesn’t really pay off in this life, but they will also walk through life with an absence of love, joy, peace, patience, etc.

Some will see this as an awesome self-help program. God gives you stuff and then you get love, joy, peace, patience, etc and then we become zenlike-awesome! We can write books about how Jesus has made me spiritually awesome and the seven steps you can take to be spiritually awesome like me!

Some will take it for what it’s worth–wow, look at the grace available! Life changes because now your eyes see reality for what it is and eternity becomes true reality. The result of this is “let us have grace, whereby we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear.”

Grace is a fearful thing. As “Amazing Grace” says “Grace hath taught my heart to fear, and grace my fears relieved.” Grace makes us grateful and willing to serve Him who is so good.

This is where we get weird, “well fear just means awe.” Two words to define here: reverence, which means “shamefaced, downcast eyes, modesty,” and fear, which means “dread or caution. A timid apprehension of danger.”

How can grace make us afraid? First, grace makes us fear God because we see our desperate need for Him and His grace. Without Him we can do nothing. Fear is the proper response. At the same time, grace also ends much fear. Once we fear God properly, there really isn’t anything else to fear! Grace causes and relieves fear, and the result is indeed amazing.

%d bloggers like this: