Edwin Leap is an Emergency Room Physician in a medium-sized hospital in Western South Carolina. He writes a weekly column in the Greenville News, and his blog is usually a re-post of that week’s article. Here’s what he, himself, says about his faith: “As an emergency physician who has seen almost every example of man’s fallen nature, as well as many of the wonderful ways we are indeed ‘in God’s image,’ I believe that Biblical Christianity is the most accurate explanatory theory for the human condition, and also the most rational cure available for the race of men. That’s why I write a great deal of material that touches upon my faith. I’m no Bible thumping madman, and I’m not here to scream at, threaten or demean anyone who disagrees with me. I don’t want to force anyone to believe anything. I do want to use this space to offer hope and meaning.”
The following is one of his weekly columns, and it touches on a subject that is increasingly visible in our convoluted society and troublesome to those who have some form of moral compass.
“Given that this is Sunday, I’ll pose a Sunday-School kind of question. Is there any such thing as sin? It’s a funny word, sin. It’s a concept deeply embedded in our culture and language. (Some of us would say, in our souls.) It implies wrong-doing, an offense against God. But these days, the very idea that people might be separated from ultimate good (much less God) by their hearts or behaviors, the very idea that humans do ‘bad’ things and need to confess and repent, well that’s a bit of a stretch for polite society, isn’t it? ‘Oughts’ are passe, and have been generally replaced with feelings and a kind democratic process in which we all rather vote on right and wrong (or let entertainers and pundits decide for us).
“However, sin is alive and well. Let’s face it, society may scoff at the church for saying fornication is a sin, or drunkenness or theft (or anything else proscribed in scripture). But society loves (and I mean loves) the concept of sin. And people love to condemn others; it’s quite invigorating to judge, even though we are all told not to do it. (Ironically, judging is a modern sin of the first order…unless judging those who are intolerant or judgmental, obviously.) Need an example? It isn’t hard to find, as American culture is absolutely full of modern sins. How about the ‘sin’ of racism? Ask Paula Deen if she committed a sin. Heck, she was more roundly condemned and castigated than any Mosaic scape-goat could ever have been. Years ago she used a racial epithet and because she confessed her sin of racism, she was required to repent on national television. And her penance? Loss of her cooking ‘empire.’ (No Hail Marys for Paula!) And what penance will the world require of Oprah’s Swiss shop-girl?
“How about disbelief? No, not disbelief in God. I mean disbelief in some popular idea. What about disbelief in global climate change? Why, you might as well be a baptist who doesn’t believe in casseroles! Environmentalism is its own religion to no small number of moderns, thanks to our tendency to worship something. And anthropogenic global climate change is an essential part of the catechism. In general, ‘Science,’ with a big ‘S,’ can never be doubted without opening oneself up to angry accusations of ignorance; despite the very real fact that it is the job of science to question science.
“What about big business and greed? Is greed bad? Well yes. But not just to people who think God says so. Greed is bad because big business and wealth are bad; and they’re bad because, well, greed is bad. The Occupy Wall Street movement was full of tent-dwelling ascetics with student loans, i-Pads and Starbucks cups who just knew it. Wealth and greed are fine if the greedy agree with the right ideas or donate to the right campaigns. ‘Greed: good for me, bad for you.’
“And to really push the hot-button, what about those folks who just aren’t on board with same-sex marriage? In modern parlance, they’re haters (even if they happen to love same-sex people). Or, to put it another way, they’re sinners. In an odd turn-about, the condemners of what was traditionally considered sin find themselves condemned; not by God but by man, the new arbiter of the New Law. And the new cultural priests spew their own fire and brimstone, and mark their ideological enemies with a scarlet B for bigot or F for fundamentalist. Although it’s not an exhaustive list of the ‘New Sins,’ there is something hopeful to be learned here. We all at least agree that some things are wrong. While we disagree in content, between ancient revelation and modern construction, the fact that the very idea of right and wrong still exists gives me a little hope.
“What’s hopeless is that there is no redemption from the new sins. There is no real forgiveness; there’s only surrender, complicity and endless sacrifice. Judeo-Christian faith tells us that God forgives and forgets if we ask in sincerity. But the New Law is never satisfied. No sacrifice is great enough and no repentance sincere enough and no past sin, however remote, is free of examination; unless you are a law-maker, of course. And any deviation, any heresy, is intolerable. As New Sins and New Laws continually emerge, I wonder if we’ll discover that the old ways, which called out sin but simultaneously offered repentance and redemption, were gentler than we ever realized.
Cowardice asks the question, ‘Is it safe?’
Expediency ask the question, ‘Is it politic?’
Vanity asks the question, ‘Is it popular?’
But conscience asks the question, ‘Is it right?’”
(Martin Luther King, Jr.)
People make decisions for a lot of reasons and most of them are not good. Of the four choices mentioned by Dr. King, only one – conscience – is right. All others lead to trouble and, in the end, destruction. While I counsel people to listen to their conscience, I also encourage them to examine the scriptures and their conscience side by side and consider the possibility that their conscience is not biblically trained. (All consciences need some reckoning with biblical truth regardless of how one grew up.) Nonetheless, when all is said and done, they must do what they believe is right.
There was a time, when with all the discernment of a proud Pharisee, I would glibly judge a man’s motive. Having been burned by my pride and the guile of others’, I try not to presume anymore. Being that we all struggle with our motives, we must judge ourselves and do so strictly and humbly. Especially leaders. Doubtless we’ve all made decisions as cowards, as politicians, and some with much vanity. Some have decided spiritual issues based on what’s good for business and many make choices simply to “save face” and stubbornly refuse to change course. We all have a lot of decisions to make and the first question one must learn to ask in decision-making is the question of their own motive. After all, this will come up at the Bema!
If pleasing God is our motive, then at some point, scripture and its principles enter into the picture. In decades of pastoral ministry, I have been unpleasantly surprised at the absence of biblical thinking going on in the lives of many outstanding people I have known. Little mention is made of biblical parallels, principles, or truths when arguing a point of view. The absence of biblical precedent in their thinking and discussion may indicate nothing at all or it may indicate a great weakness in the body – weak minds not renewed and not saturated with the Word of God. It is not expected that all would think like they had theological training but it is expected that believers who have sat under years of preaching and teaching should have some scripture seep into their thinking. Maybe that’s not the weakness though. Maybe it is just cowardice. Maybe many of our leaders are political. Maybe? It is a sad state of affairs when men of God put their agendas, their careers, and futures ahead of the glory of God, the name of Christ, and the welfare of His people.
Not all the things one can do are things that one should do. Paul, in addressing the Romans and the Corinthians on the matter of making difficult decisions, makes others the high priority. “So then let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding” (Rom. 14:19). People matter to God. Do they to you? No, we’re not prisoners of others’ expectations, misguided convictions, and untrained consciences. That’s not the issue. But we are our brother’s keeper and we should not put him in a place of danger or temptation with our liberty. “It is good not to… do anything that causes your brother to stumble” (Rom. 14:21). Standing fast in our liberty is not a matter of protecting my personal liberty but a matter of living by grace. And doing so for the sake of God and for others. Restricting my liberty is not legalism, it is a matter of being a channel of grace and, thereby, extending grace to others. It is also a personal means to grace and growth – one that is sorely needed in the body of Christ today. Paul’s discussion on the matter of freedom in Galatians five includes a description of those who stand in freedom as producers of fruit akin to the nature of the Spirit and character of Jesus. This “standing fast in freedom” builds others and glorifies God. “For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity…, but through love serve one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: You shall love your neighbor as yourself’”(Gal. 5:13-15). Those who don’t stand in liberty are a danger to themselves and others. They have a spiritually macabre propensity to “bite and devour one another” and to please their flesh causing strife and division. Such ugly behavior appears in all who abuse freedom – libertines or legalists. They both bite and devour because they are both selfish and self-serving. (And that style of “gospel living” will not attract even the most lost among us!)
Paul is not defending one side of an issue or another. He is jumping all over one’s motive. Motive matters. You can be right theologically and dead wrong in your behavior. You can also be wrong theologically but still be right in how you carry out your position. And how about the times where we’ve been wrong on both accounts? If your motive is the glory of God and the welfare of others, you will find the right way to come out at the right place. You will be a discerning steward of grace rather than an ugly opportunist. To claim your liberty at the expense of others in order to make a selfish decision is wrong. On any side of any issue.
Make your choices according to grace. Train your conscience in grace and discern how best to channel God’s grace to others thereby. Grace is not your privilege and license but God’s gift to be exercised in a wise stewardship. Steward wisely. You will rejoice now in this life and later at the Bema. I don’t know about you, but like Paul, “I would rather die than have anyone deprive me of my ground for boasting” (1 Cor. 9:15).
So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. Give no offense to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God, just as I try to please everyone in everything I do, not seeking my own advantage, but that of many, that they may be saved (I Cor. 10:31-33).
It is amazing how many mistakes are repeated generationally. Of course, not in the same way and usually under a different name and in a different suit of clothes but nonetheless, the same error is recycled in hopes of its purchase by a new and naive generation. This insightful article not only speaks to this but serves as a good warning for us to remain true and authentic to biblical servant ministry in every era. Alas! Is there nothing new under the sun?
“The New Televangelists” Chris Nye
“Pastoral work is the aspect of Christian living which specializes in the ordinary.” —Eugene Peterson
I thought we were done with the Televangelists.
I grew up as part of a generation that scoffed at their expensive suits, golden watches, flawless smiles, and poofy hair. The sermons I heard growing up had lines about their cheesiness and insincerity. These sermons proclaimed a gospel that could not be bought, one that didn’t need vials of healing water or anointing oils that could be mailed to you after a small payment. I liked being part of that generation, one that stood for authenticity and rejected anything that smelled phony. And when it comes to being phony, Televangelists were Exhibit A. I believed our Christianity was moving away from the make-up encrusted, spiritual hucksterism that dominated the airways during our childhoods.
I was wrong. Sure, most members of my generation still have no time for Televangelists, but many of us have fallen prey to something just as pernicious.
Role Models under Shining Lights
During the first two years of church ministry, I was surrounded by some really wise older pastors. They met with me regularly, prayed for me, and kept me up to date on the business of the church. We all worked for a pretty classic suburban megachurch, but all loved one another. But there was one problem: I didn’t want to grow up to be like any of these pastors. The pastors above me were pretty normal guys. They had solid skills and were leading decent-sized ministries. They wore Hawaiian shirts or pressed dress wear and enjoyed golfing. But that wasn’t me. This was not my future, I thought.
I began looking for role models, for people I wanted to be like. Through the Internet, I was exposed to ministries from all over the country—pastors with 3,000 member churches preaching to multiple campuses and looking good doing it. They preached slick sermons under shining lights. Best of all I could watch it all on my laptop from anywhere.
I want to be a pastor like that, I thought. I just need to be like them, imitate them, and then I’ll have success—my ministry will grow. These pastors taught me how to teach, how to read Scripture dramatically, and how to hold a Bible the right way when making a point. It seemed like all these guys had to do was prepare a sermon for Sunday and deliver well and watch their churches grow—how rewarding! It all seemed to be working for them. Certainly, I thought, this will work for me, too.
This slowly became my vision of a life in ministry. But as I soaked up podcasts and sermon videos from famous pastors, I was unwittingly forming an inaccurate vision of the life of a pastor. The more I listened to and watched these dynamic pastors, the less I heard the voices of the pastors in my own church. They don’t know what they’re talking about, I would think as I loaded another video.
But two years into my ministry, I found myself with the same sized group. What’s more, they seemed to experience only marginal spiritual growth. I was frustrated with my ministry and annoyed at the small things I needed to get done and the people I needed to tend to. It was around this time that I realized what I was doing. I wasn’t sincere at all. I wasn’t authentic. Sure, I knew a bit about the Bible and knew how to sound good, but when it came to caring for people and guiding them toward spiritual maturity, I didn’t have a clue. The podcasts were teaching me a lot, but I wasn’t learning how to pray for the sick or counsel someone in a bad marriage or comfort the hurting. It wasn’t that I just needed to look at some different role models; I needed to figure out if I really wanted to be a pastor in the truest sense of the word. Was I committed to ministry even if it didn’t mean communicating to thousands of people from a stage?
Image or Identity?
We are not finished with the Televangelists, I’ve realized. We have simply rebranded them. We’ve changed the style but not the substance. When it comes to the habit of elevating certain gifted communicators, and trying desperately to be like them, little has changed. As our culture has moved from the television screen to the computer/tablet screen, the Televangelist has moved along with us. He now exists on his blog, his YouTube channel, Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. He looks good too, better than any of his predecessors. He is groomed to look sincere, to preach with passion, and, of course, to never mention money like the old Televangelists did. But just like the Christian celebrities of yesterday these new Televangelists seem to live our ministry dreams. They have nice clothes, they write books, they hang out with famous people, and they always seem to be so happy.
And here’s the problem: holding them up as paragons of ministry leads us to become dissatisfied with our ministries. We get a distorted view of what life is like as a pastor. We lose sight of true spiritual leadership, of what it really takes to shepherd people. In the blogs and Twitter feeds of the New Televangelists, being a pastor looks entertaining. It looks fun, and kind of easy. We have lost the true vision of spiritual maturity: that suffering produces character, and that recognition and accolades rarely will.
The biblical vision of pastoral leadership is nothing like the Televangelists of the 1980s or the ones of the new millennium. It is not about fun or entertainment. In fact it is often painfully ordinary. The building blocks of a great ministry include such everyday things as a community meals, counseling sessions, and private prayer. It is about knowing the poor by name and praying for the people in your congregation when they ask. It is about calling people back and remembering the names of their children.
This is not about wealth or poverty, recognition or obscurity. It is not about big churches, small churches, or medium-size churches. The New Televangelists aren’t bad people. We just elevate their skills above their character. We love their image, not their identity. We want to emulate their personalities, not their personhood. We don’t really know them.
It was the faithful who our master celebrated (Matt. 25:23, 1 Tim. 1:12), and if we’re truly following Jesus, we will celebrate faithfulness as he did. We must check our fascination with good looking and success and learn to value of being men and women who walk with God and truly lead his people. Only a few of us will ever be in the celebrity spotlight. Only a small minority will speak at conferences and write books. But those “ordinary” men who spoke into my life during the early years of my ministry have experienced true success. They may wear Hawaiian shirts or boring suits beneath balding heads, but they have done something very few have us have: remained.
I continue to learn from the prominent pastors. But I no longer extol them as paragons of ministry. The truth is, most of us will lead small groups of people. We will be entrusted to lead a few people in the process of discipleship. We will learn their names, know their stories, and love their families. I am not aiming for the entertainment of masses anymore. I am seeking to be faithful with the people that God has given me. My role as a pastor has been simplified. My greatest contribution will not be preaching sermons that are watched on TV or downloaded by thousands. My mission is to love the people God has placed in my life for as long as possible.
(As printed in the March, 2013 issue of Christianity Today)
Living where there is a church on every corner and in every church a preacher, you would think we would find plenty of gospel preaching. Surprisingly, that is not the case. Since moving here a month ago, we have visited four different churches only to hear the gospel proclaimed in two. Though a conservative evangelical church, the preaching in one was so vacuous and indefinite that the name of Jesus was not even mentioned except in prayer. It was mentioned that we needed forgiveness — which most everybody already knows – but from whom and how was not mentioned. In another pulpit, a text was opened up and briefly explained. The preacher emphasized the importance of “choices” without mentioning the most important choice of all. Although they were serious gospel believers, it was not evident in the preaching. Being a preacher, I know one can have an “off day” where Gospel truth is not central to one’s message and I did not leave the services thinking they were not Gospel preachers but I did wonder if the churches were Gospel centered. Worse yet, in another service, a psychologized, self-image “gospel” was preached. It diminished the cross, the atoning work of Christ, and barely mentioned Jesus as anybody other than someone you should “self-select” in order to “feel better about yourself.” The word “sin” was hardly mentioned in the message – if at all – and did not seem to the preacher to have much to do with the human dilemma. Containing myself, I walked silently to the car. As the doors closed, my wife said – without a word from me, “I was waiting to leave whenever you’d had enough.” She had heard what I heard. The superficial treatment given Christ in the message was offensive to God and man. And on top of it all, his text was the first chapter of Ephesians – one of the most Gospel-laden in the New Testament!
What an author recently wrote about American preaching is apparently true. “In this present hour, preaching that is devoid of the person and work of Christ is all too often commonplace…. Rather than giving Him the central place of pre-eminence, Jesus is demoted to the periphery. Instead of being in the spotlight, Christ is left standing in the shadows.” I do not know about other preachers but I believe I have no hope to offer people other than the clear and uncluttered Gospel. Jesus’ deity, His sinless life, and His purpose in dying and rising again are what my heart burns to preach. One way we love God supremely is by giving a clear, accurate, and proper view of who He is and what He is like to others. Nothing reveals God like the Gospel work of Jesus. Does reducing Calvary to a dull chore carried out by a bored and bothered Divinity honor God? Do we love God by lowering His motive to human sentiment? Pushing Him to the edge of the story and making man the cause and agent of it all is to offer earthly husks and not heavenly manna to the flock. Such a gospel not only makes a caricature of God but sucks the love out of it also. What if one struggles with another bout of bad self-esteem? Will you persevere by turning to a “help yourself gospel” or to a great and majestic Savior? When the most valuable, precious, and priceless person who has ever lived is made a minor player, it not only diminishes the value of Jesus but the quality of His salvation also. Cheap man-centered preaching produces cheap self-centered living. In an age when people need anchors, foundations, and wisdom based on truth, we need to hear the powerful, deep, and rich truths of the person and work of Jesus the Christ.
Spurgeon once preached, “A sermon without Christ is a horrible thing. It is an empty well; it is a cloud without rain; it is a tree twice dead, plucked up by the roots. It is an abominable thing to give men stones for bread and scorpions for eggs, yet they do so who preach not Jesus. A sermon without Christ! As well talk of a loaf of bread without flour in it. How can it feed the soul? Men die and perish because Christ is not there.”
I need to point out two positives. First, a guest preacher and not the pastoral staff preached that self-image gospel. After a conversation with church leadership, it was obvious that they too were distressed. Apparently, I was not the first person to contact them as members had also voiced concern. (We have heard the Gospel proclaimed more than once by others in that church.) Also, we have heard the gospel proclaimed clearly from another pulpit along with excellent exposition of God’s word but that church is 25 miles away from us. Proving that though it seems there even though there is a church on every corner here in the Bible belt, and a preacher in every church, one cannot assume the Gospel is being preached.
If a Gospel preacher stands in your church’s pulpit this Sunday, rejoice and thank God… and thank the preacher.
 Stephen J. Lawson in The Kind of Preaching God Blesses
A Roman Catholic challenged me to explain how my non-sacramental view of the Lord’s Table provided any spiritual benefit. He was confident that Sacramentalism provided saving grace. He could not see how my Ordinance did anything at all. Further contemplation changed how I led worship at the Table. Provoked further by an excellent paper written by my daughter (for class at Virginia Baptist Seminary), my study and understanding deepened. My Roman Catholic friend was correct – there is a grace to be found at the Lord’s Table – but not in the manner prescribed by his dogma. Rather, it is found in Christ. This article by Pastor Chris Anderson (found on ChurchWorksMedia.com) is a sound and biblical perspective. His exegesis shows that the Bible teaches Communion is not to be a ritual, a Baptist confessional, or a morbid, self-centered introspection. It is to be joyously centered in Jesus’ gospel work and should leave us much more aware of His power and grace. I know it’s a cliche now but — it’s not about us. It’s about Him.
What Does “Unworthy” Mean?
Gathering with the Lord’s church to remember Christ and His work is a vital part of Christian worship and an edifying exercise for both the corporate body and the individual Christian. Yet, Scripture protects the Lord’s Table in 1 Corinthians 11:27, where we are warned not to partake “unworthily” (KJV) or “in an unworthy manner” (ESV). That’s important—so important that people can suffer illness or even death for doing it (v. 30). But what does it mean?
For many, it means bondage. Countless believers have spent their entire lives afraid to partake of the Lord’s Table because they doubt their own worthiness. Communion has become a time when they remember themselves rather than (or at least more than) Christ. They’ve been trained (in part due to the KJV’s translation, in part due to careless teaching) to focus on their relative obedience or disobedience in the days preceding the Table. The result is pride, or despair, or fear—but not worship! Gordon Fee explains:
Unfortunately, this adverb was translated “unworthily” in the KJV. Since that particular English adverb seems more applicable to the person doing the eating than to the manner in which it is being done, this word became a dire threat for generations of English-speaking Christians. (The First Epistle to the Corinthians, 560)
Many of you can say “Amen.” You’re there. I’ve been there. Let’s make sure we’re clear on this. This requirement doesn’t mean that you must be “worthy” to participate based on your performance as a Christian. You’re not ready to partake because you’ve “been good.”
- First, regardless of what you may think, you’ve never been good. The fact that you think you have just demonstrates that your standard of “good” is far different than God’s.
- Second, your spiritual performance doesn’t determine your worthiness. Whatever Paul is saying, that’s not it, for that would be legalism in the truest sense—the idea that your obedience makes you more or less acceptable to God. True grace welcomes the penitent one, not the worthy one.
- Third, the fact that you’re unworthy is the whole point! If you feel unworthy, you’re getting it! Your sinfulness—your unworthiness—is why Christ came and offered His body to be broken and His blood to be spilled in your place.
So if Scripture isn’t dealing with the worthiness of the Christian, what is it doing? Well, the word “unworthily” is an adverb, not an adjective. That means that “unworthily” is describing the partaking (“eats” and “drinks”), not the participants. It’s not saying that we must be worthy in ourselves, but that our manner of partaking must be worthy (as the ESV translation makes clear). The surrounding context tells us what that means:
- To promote or allow a factious spirit is partaking in an unworthy manner (vv. 18–20, 33).
- To partake selfishly and thoughtlessly is partaking in an unworthy manner (vv. 21–22, 33–34).
- To have a self-satisfied, flippant attitude is partaking in an unworthy manner (vv. 28, 31).
- To treat the Lord’s Table like a common thing is partaking in an unworthy manner (v. 29b).
What a privilege it is to fellowship with Christ’s church, worshiping Christ’s person, remembering Christ’s work, and awaiting Christ’s return! This is a precious time. The next time you prepare to partake, take pains to approach the Table as Scripture requires. Be reverent, humble, and thoughtful as you gaze on Christ through this ordinance. Examine yourself (v. 28). But make no mistake: you’re not worthy, and you never will be. Here, as on every occasion, you approach God on the basis of Christ’s merit, not your own. He is worthy. So partake in remembrance of Him, not yourself. Worship. Remember. And rest.
Chris Anderson is an author, hymnwriter, husband, father and pastor (Kilian Hill Baptist Church) and hosts ChurchWorksMedia.com.
Today was really strange. I do not remember a Saturday like this since … well, I don’t really remember a Saturday like this. Marcia and I got up early. We headed out in the rainy chill to a warehouse sale at the Bob Timberlake Studios in Lexington. Just the two of us. Alone. We picked out a nice table and a nice leather travel bag. (The bag is mine.) Got some help loading the table. Then we, just the two of us, headed south to check out a rumor of a fishing hole. Appears it was true and that’s a good thing. I tracked down a good boat landing while there at High Rock Lake. A return trip is in order. It was still raining and chilly. We stopped for some good old Lexington style North Carolina Barbecue while in town. Just the two of us. Then it was back to Mocksville to check out a possible rental. Just the two of us. She spied a “great-old-house” (as she called it) next door to the one we went to look at. It had a log cabin in the back yard. She was intrigued. Of course we looked at it. And in it. (Hey, the door was open.) Marcia loved the “great-old-house” as any restoration buff would but I reminded her that we’ve already done that once. After I grabbed a coffee from a shop on the town square, we – the two of us – headed down the 801 and over to Cooleemee to stop by the old mill where her grandfather worked the afternoon shift for decades. Of course, that was after he worked the day shift on his farm. It was the first time in years it was open to the public. A restoration of the mil is being organized. She loved it and I loved being with her. Just the two of us. Then it was up to Cana and the now empty site of her grandma’s family farm. This was important to her and that was important to me. And that’s why it was one of the best days ever. Of course, just her and I were there to unload the table from the car when we got back. Just the two of us. My phone didn’t even ring. I take that back. It did once. I ignored it though. Today was really strange. A good strange. Just the two of us. I Loved it.
This post is written by someone else, not me. It blessed my heart and I wanted to pass it on. When confronted by life’s trials we often settle for superficial answers — usually, not just often. Ed Welch thinks God wants us to come to deeper answers. I agree. What do you think?
When God Pulls the Rug Out
By: Ed Welch of the Christian Counseling and Education Fellowship (Published: Sep 10, 2012)
Has this happened to you?
You read all the signs that were so blatantly from the Lord—“yes, this is the path, go this way, I am with you.”
You have been amazed at the way he opened doors—you were scared but you walked through them.
The Lord confirmed his will for you through other people too—they were excited that God was doing this.
Finally, you were on board. You were excited. You were all in. You had peace about your decision.
And then, splat, he pulled the rug out from under you.
How will you be able to trust God again?
This, I think, is a common experience. Very common. It happens with all kinds of decisions: business, vocational, financial and relationships. You pray earnestly, you see God moving, you are amazed, and then… it looks as if he simply vanished and left you on your own. You especially see it in broken relationships. That is, you seek the Lord about a marriage or relationship decision, it starts almost too well, and then the relationship takes a sudden and tragic turn, and there is no explanation for it.
You want to know why
Some problems are universal, but this one is for those who are spiritually mature. It happens to people who are earnestly seeking God, and only the mature do such things. And though anger toward God might flash occasionally, it isn’t the real issue. The real problem is that you feel you no longer know him. You want to know why God did this, yet he is silent. It doesn’t make sense: he gives with one hand and takes away with the other.
When no response comes, you start filling in the blanks. Maybe you deserved it. Maybe you have done wrong and you need to figure out what it is. That’s what maturity gets you; you see yourself as the culprit. This approach is understandable and—misguided.
Not a scavenger hunt for sin
“Why, O Lord?” is a recurring question in Scripture. In response, God does not send anyone on a scavenger hunt for sin, and does not fill in all the details that the asker might want to know either. Instead, he reaffirms that he does see trouble and grief (Ps. 10:14), and he will strengthen those who are weak (Is. 40:27-31). With these words he is revealing to us what we really need to know.
Check your assumptions
But there is another matter to consider.
All this started with our assumptions about how God works—we had confidence that we could know the will of God. We could discern the “open doors” and had that “peace.” Even more, we were confident that those open doors would lead to blessing, according to our definition of blessing. Perhaps it is time to re-evaluate.
The Apostle Paul held very different assumptions yet he believed that he knew plenty about God’s will. The King reigns, the Spirit has been poured out, the nations are ripe for the picking—that was enough for him. The times he received specific direction, he was confident that it would mean blessing for the larger church and hardships for him. He knew that if God was in it there would be challenges—challenges that reveal weaknesses and test faith.
God is not playing games when he pulls the rug out from under you. He is up to something, but it is probably not what you think it is.
You can’t learn without chewing on something and you really don’t learn until that something has chewed on you. “Chewing” on something means reflecting and meditating on the matter. But being chewed up by something is a matter of letting that truth work on you. In the end, a truth that has chewed on you requires that you accept that truth into your world without changing that truth or else that you reject that truth. Accepting that truth means letting that truth change you. It means adjusting your view and your life to it. Rejecting it means staying with what you are already confortable with and what you have already shaped your life around.
For a believer in the scriptures, this is truer than anybody else. If I want to change God’s truth because it does not fit into my world or my comfortable perception of how life works, I know that is to compromise God’s truth. I can’t do that. So, I must accept that truth and change my life accordingly. Unless, I find that to uncomfortable. Then I am tempted to find fault with that truth and prove it is not true (a mistaken view, misinterpretation, a heresy perhaps) or I must just ignore it as though I never heard it and chewed on it (never mind that it chewed on me). A believer who chooses to be true to the Word of God will be faced with times when the very truth he has learned demands change. In order to bring that truth into his life, he must now change the structure of how things have been done. He will have to change how he has mentally filed and how he has “managed” that area of his thinking. The familiar will have to accept the unfamiliar and the known will have to make room for some unknown. Discomfort is created. At some point, the believer will have to either agree or choose to disagree with that truth. And they will have to obey it or not. But many believers no longer approach truth this way anymore. While we are glad to chew on something, it seems that these days we aren’t really open to letting it chew on us.
That discomfort was better known in past days as conviction but today it is rarely identified as such. At least, not in today’s post-modern world. It’s now defined as a matter of relevance or irrelevance, enlightenment or ignorance, and culturally acceptable or not. Agreeing with God’s truth and accepting it as truth used to be known as confession. Remember admitting to God that He was right and your were wrong. That’s how you became His child. You were told the truth that you were not His child, but rather a sinner estranged from Him. After chewing on that for a while it started to chew on you. It did not feel comfortable. But you accepted it because it was true. You chewed on the gospel and it chewed on you. You were uncomfortable (convicted). Finally, you accepted His view that Jesus was sufficient and able to make you His child through His work on Calvary. So you agreed with God that you were a sinner and that your only hope was Jesus (confession). You became God’s child! But nowadays, we don’t really confess anymore. We “learn” a new truth but rarely admit our old truth was wrong. If the acceptance of the new truth means being chewed on and experiencing any measurable discomfort, then it is only necessary to give it intellectual and academic assent but not really admit it is “right enough” and my old view is “wrong enough” for me to adjust to. Biblical confession rarely happens anymore it seems.
And that kind of confession was what use to bring about that other old fashioned idea, repentance. That meant an actual change. In other words, that meant letting the truth you had chewed on chew on you until you had been chewed up and remade. Conviction and confession used to lead to change. It meant that you would follow through with a change that impacted more than just your thinking and your doing. It meant letting that truth impact your being. It changed who and what you were. Again, remember when you first believed? By God’s grace, though you were a sinner, you became a saint. After that? Repentance continues in a believer’s life for they who were once set in their sinful ways continue to repent of those ways. Slackers and slouchers become workers with a new ethic. Liars, deceivers, and manipulators become trusting and trustworthy truth-tellers. Thieves and takers become givers and contributors. From grace to grace we are changed into the image of the Firstborn. Conviction, confession, and repentance continue.
Repentance is the visible marker of genuine conviction and confession wrought by God’s truth and accomplished by His Spirit. At least, it used to be that way. What has happened? We still believe that God’s truth and revelation is still THE TRUTH don’t we? It is still, to us, absolute and final isn’t it?
If it is or not is revealed by how you respond when the Word you have been chewing on chews on you. Do you conform to it? Do you change? Do you confess when convicted and let repentance take its course regardless of the level of discomfort it may cause you? Sure it hurts. The whole planet hurts. It’s under a curse and only the truth of God can set it and any of us free from that curse. And if you change it is because you have believed. No change? No belief.
You can’t learn without chewing on something and you really don’t learn until that something has chewed on you. And a believer in Jesus has not really believed until that truth has changed him at the core of his being.
The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. The spiritual person judges all things, but is himself to be judged by no one. “For who has understood the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?” But we have the mind of Christ. (1 Corinthians 2:14-16)
In an effort to speak to moral issues that threaten the flock and community in which we live, biblical warnings and rebukes with explanation will be placed here upon occasion. Sourcing both special and natural revelation, this is an attempt to equip you and others both in life and in the defense of truth. Replicates of statements worthy of passing on will often appear, and at times, adaptions and abridgments of such. Though nothing (other than God’s thoughts) can truly be called original, I will upon occasion, after chewing the cud sufficiently, regurgitate what I assume is from my own soul ! Any lack of attributing credit is indicative of a weak memory more than anything else!
Today’s insight comes from the staff at Kairos Journal, Current Trends, found at www.kairosjournal.org)
“Traditional marriage is on the rocks in the West, and not just because of the influence of the homosexual activist community and the introduction of so-called gay marriage. Heterosexuals are also to blame for marriage’s bad press. Since the 1960s and 70s, heterosexual cohabitation outside of marriage has skyrocketed. In fact, the number of American couples cohabiting has risen 1,500 percent in the last fifty years, with more than 7.5 million couples currently living together. Most American adults in their 20s will live with a romantic partner to whom they are not married at least once, and most marriages will be preceded by cohabitation.1 When queried about why they live together, many couples exclaim, ‘Oh, marriage is just a piece of paper.’ While Christians know that lifelong, heterosexual marriage is much more than that, the justification for living together is often made on the assumption that cohabitation is more emotionally healthy than marriage.
When one examines the data, however, cohabitation is actually harmful to couples and children. Even secular researchers have concluded that couples who live together before marriage tend to be less satisfied with their marriages and more likely to divorce.2 In her statistical analyses of the rise of cohabitation and its effects, sociologist Patricia Morgan has debunked four popular myths about living together: 3
Myth no. 1: Living together sets women free from the shackles of a male-dominated, dependent relationship in marriage.
Fact: Women and their children are at greater risk of being abused in a cohabiting relationship than they are in a marriage.
Myth no. 2: “It’s the quality of the relationship that matters, not the bit of paper.”
Fact: Where people live together without marrying, the quality of the relationship is often significantly worse than it is in marriage.
Myth no. 3: Cohabiting relationships are just as stable as marriage. The ‘bit of paper’ does not mean anything.
Fact: Cohabiting relationships break down more easily than marriages do. Couples who have children without getting married are very unlikely to stay together while their children are growing up.
Myth no. 4: People live together until they have children and then get married.
Fact: Couples who have children and then marry are more likely to divorce than couples who marry first then have children. Cohabiting couples with children are more likely to break up than those without children.4
So, people may offer a variety of reasons for living together, but emotional health and the well-being of children cannot be among the justifications.
Christians should rejoice over God’s good and gracious gift of covenantal marriage. Helping congregations—especially young people preparing for marriage in the future—understand the benefits of monogamous married love and dispelling the myths of cohabitation are great privileges afforded to the faithful shepherd.”
|1||Meg Jay, “The Downside of Cohabiting before Marriage,” The New York Times, http://www.nytimes.com/2012/04/15/opinion/sunday/the-downside-of-cohabiting-before-marriage.html?_r=2 (accessed April 18, 2012).|
|3||Morgan’s study centers on England and Australia, though it does connect with the literature on the U.S. and continental Europe.|
|4||Adapted from Patricia Morgan, Marriage-Lite: The Rise of Cohabitation and Its Conse- quences (London: Institute for the Study of Civil Society, 2000).|