Have you ever noticed that your attempt to place safe distance between you and a car ahead of you while driving on the highway is viewed as an invitation by some to squeeze their vehicle into that space? Yes, nature abhors a vacuum, but so does the average motorist. Especially if that “vacuum” happens to be the space you create to avoid a crash.
We have become people who fill every precious space with something. Every moment of every day is filled. Now, instead of being alone with our thoughts, to be contemplative people, we are like meerkats staring in one unified direction toward what most draws our attention, usually a cell phone.
If we have no spaces left, we have no space left for God. And if we have no space left for Him, we have no way to avoid a crash, one that may be even worse than the kind found on a packed highway.
This feed is from Cerulean Sanctum (http://ceruleansanctum.com), a blog by Dan Edelen that covers issues facing the American Church.
The old, French aphorism goes Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose. Translation: The more things change, the more they stay the same.
While that has been the case since I started writing Cerulean Sanctum, I can’t say it’s the case now.
For the next few months, posts will be sparse due to changes in my work and some other big changes due to that change. You know that old, American saying I’m as busy as a one-legged man in a butt-kicking contest? Well, I may have both my lower limbs, but the level of activity is commensurate. I’m just hoping the old, American saying of Live fast and die young doesn’t apply, because the speed of everything right now is cranked up to ridonculous levels.
I hope to get back to some level of normality, but it may take a while for me to find a life balance. Prayers for that goal are appreciated!
But most of all, if I have prayer requests, they follow:
For excellent health
For favor and success in my new work
For a greater ability to abide in Christ and find peace and strength in Him amid all the activity around me
Thanks for being a reader. Please keep checking in. You never know what may be posted here. Just know that whatever is will be sparser than normal until life settles down, probably after summer.
This feed is from Cerulean Sanctum (http://ceruleansanctum.com), a blog by Dan Edelen that covers issues facing the American Church.
I’m part of a closed group of Vineyard and ex-Vineyard folks who discuss theology on a Facebook page. Someone there raised the age-old question:
How do we measure spiritual growth?
For too long this simple question has baffled evangelical Christians. I think there’s a reason for that, but it’s not what it appears on the surface. But then, this is Cerulean Sanctum, so when do I ever approach things from a surface perspective?
Measuring anything demands we agree on what we are measuring and the tools and terms we use in the measurement. Talking measuring spiritual growth in an evangelical church immediately runs into a wall because we make poor assumptions about those bedrock criteria. Ask the wrong questions and get the wrong answers.
For me, the elusiveness of measuring spiritual growth occurs because the focus has always been on the individual Christian in the individual church. It’s a bedrock principle that what we’re measuring is how a lone Christian in a lone Church grows.
But I wonder if we’re getting this all wrong from the first step.
I go back to two posts from 2013:
What if we commit a fundamental error in checking for spiritual growth by focusing on the individual rather than on the collective church?
The language of the New Testament, again and again, is the collective you, not the singular. And the New Jerusalem at the close of the age isn’t a loose collection of people, but a unified Body—or more appropriately, a complete city.
I think one reason that leaders on the local church level burn out on growth issues is because all the emphasis is on the individual Christian. But shouldn’t successful growth be centered on what that local church is accomplishing?
Even more, the tendency to focus on the individual removes the collective church from its role as Body. Paul’s metaphor depicts health not as one organ functioning alone but as the organs in the body working in harmony, which has a secondary effect of wholeness for each part. In other words, when the eye is doing what an eye does, the foot and hand don’t end up falling off a cliff along with it.
For too long the assumption has been…
IF the individual is functioning well, THEN the church will be well.
That thinking puts everything on the back of the individual, though. The onus is on him or her to perform. Legalism and moralism can be the only result.
What if we reverse that assumption?
IF the church is functioning well, THEN the individual will be well.
I think that second equation has gone unexplored for too long. And because it has not been explored, it’s not at the forefront of how we think about church, the individual, and spiritual growth. I believe that second statement, though, is closer to the heart of the Gospel.
Shifting toward measuring church growth rather than individual growth makes it far easier to gauge genuine growth overall. The Body metaphor makes more sense and lends a better basis for measuring growth.
We can chart some growth elements from the perspective of an organic Body or organism. Two obvious aspects of a living organism that we can then examine:
How well is the organism feeding itself?
How well is the organism reproducing?
Starting at the second question also answers the first. Healthy organisms reproduce, while unhealthy ones do not. If disciples are not being made and the church is not growing itself, then it is not healthy. At this point, examining reasons for ill health can take us back to the first question and to others associated with it.
Here’s the thing: Measuring the growth of individuals will always have periods of mixed analysis. If you wish to measure an individual’s activity but do so while he is sleeping, bad analysis may result. What may look like slacking off may actually be recovery from a day’s strenuous work. This analytical mistake is why charting individual growth is so hard in the church and may not be a viable source for an accurate assessment. Our results depend on something that is too variable. Stepping up to a broader measure may be a better way of charting the real growth info we need to examine, and it provides us a way to work backwards and make general statements about the growth in the individual.
The main problem is that we’re not used to thinking that way, so many of our tools, questions, and interpretations will need to be recast to look more at the collective church rather than the individual Christian. Once we start thinking differently, I think we’ll have better results for making accurate statements about spiritual growth in American churches.
This feed is from Cerulean Sanctum (http://ceruleansanctum.com), a blog by Dan Edelen that covers issues facing the American Church.
The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.” They are corrupt, they do abominable deeds, there is none who does good.
—Psalms 14:1 ESV
The English Standard Version translation shows 202 verses in the Bible that contain some variation of the root word fool. Reading those verses makes it evident that the world is filled with fools and folly.
Indeed, we are all fools in wisdom and knowledge when compared against God.
But some don’t get this. And they don’t comprehend it because they have no humility. If anything, they exult in their foolishness:
Whoever trusts in his own mind is a fool, but he who walks in wisdom will be delivered.
—Proverbs 28:26 ESV
Claiming to be wise, they became fools…
—Romans 1:22 ESV
I’m tired of foolish talk. Sadly, we live in an age when the people babbling on like fools are most likely viewed as wise by most of the world. I see a lot of scientists who get face time in the media prattling on with foolish and desperate theories about this and that, and it’s clear after a while that the one thing you can say most assuredly about their views is that they desperately want God to vanish. Fact is, God doesn’t care what they think because such people are fools, no matter how many letters and titles they stack before and after their names.
The really sad part about that is almost all of Western science is based on the ideas of scientists who were Christians, or at least who ascribed to a Christian worldview. In fact, because the Christian faith is one of the only ones that contends that God is both knowable and understandable and the creator of an ordered world that reflects His knowability and understandability, science is even made possible. What would be the point of examining a capricious world built on the whims of an unknowable God or on the ruthlessness of a random world? No, that science exists at all is because God Is, God Was, and God Will Ever Be.
But then, the fool can’t begin to comprehend that truth. Somehow, the fool thinks that faith and science can’t co-exist or that science alone can answer all the questions of life. Which forces us to ask, in the end, who then is the truly close-minded?
I listen to a lot of discussions between atheists and theists, and the one thing that never fails to strike me is that for all their learning, the atheists never seem to know all that much. Their arguments are remarkably simpleminded, and when people of faith bring up the slightest aspect of what it means to live by faith, the atheist seems baffled by such reasoning.
But then, atheists are just people who are unable to admit they are sinners and that their thoughts are futile and packed with one sinful idea after another, and isn’t it easier to justify all that mental futility and wickedness by erasing God? For intellectual cowards, yes, that may be true, but not for sober people who look at life with any seriousness.
I’m not surprised that people try to erase God as a means to justify their immoral lifestyles, though. A recent scientific study shows that many people are unable to morally reason from the perspective of someone whose beliefs differ from theirs. In most cases it is people who hold more “liberal” attitudes about life who cannot grasp the thinking of more conservative people, though the reverse is demonstrably not the case. While this is not intended as a political statement, it nonetheless shows that an incapacity to grasp some moral truths does exist in people, especially those who proclaim their “enlightenment.” In that same way, the Bible says that issues of faith are foolishness to many. Things of the Spirit are incomprehensible to them:
Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual. 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.
—1 Corinthians 2:12-14 ESV
We live in an age when spiritual discernment is at an all-time low. Our leaders talk all sorts of lofty ideas, but they cannot bring themselves to talk about God or anything related to Him because they don’t know Him. In the end, their wisdom is actually foolishness, and that foolishness is blasted out for everyone to see and hear and receive as “wisdom” when it is anything but.
Sadly, some who self-identify as faithful are just as foolish. Many people who parade themselves as Christians are peddling fear instead of faith. That’s foolishness, too, and yet those hucksters are able to gather around them a sycophantic horde and sell millions of books that do nothing but stir the pot of fear.
In the midst of all these fools, what does God ask of us? It’s pretty simple actually:
He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?
—Micah 6:8 ESV
Fools can do none of those things. Only the wise can acknowledge that, without Jesus Christ, we are all fools.
With Holy Week now concluded, I was pondering what appears to be the demise of the local Good Friday service in my community. It used to be that the local churches near my little town would combine to host a Good Friday service, but I heard nothing about it this year. The large (for our area) Pentecostal church of which I am a member does not hold its own Good Friday service, but we did host the traveling community service now and then.
Having grown up in the Lutheran Church, which firmly places Good Friday among the most “holy” dates of the year, the day retains great meaning for me. Since leaving that denomination, I’ve wandered through more traditionally evangelical churches. Almost universally, those evangelical churches have had an indifferent relationship with Good Friday. Scant few held their own Good Friday meeting, and if they did, it always felt more haphazard than those I was used to in the Lutheran Church.
Over the years, even those evangelical churches that DID have a Good Friday meeting seem to have let it slide into oblivion.
I talked with a Roman Catholic last Good Friday evening and we tried to come up with some reason for the evangelical burying of Good Friday, but we came to no good conclusions.
As much as some evangelicals talk about the cross, Good Friday for them is a curious nonevent. And I have no idea why.
Do you have an answer as to why Good Friday has gone missing? What are your thoughts on the downgrade of Good Friday among evangelicals? Have you noticed the date sliding into oblivion in your church or community? Why do think this may be happening (or not happening, depending on your local situation)?
I miss celebrating Good Friday together with other believers. Though I no longer consider myself an evangelical, the majority of my Christian life has been spent in evangelical churches, and I don’t see that changing. I hope someone in evangelicalism starts working to place Good Friday in its proper context for the 21st century.
Toward the finale of The Return of the King, after Frodo and Samwise have cast the evil ring into the molten core of Mount Doom, an exhausted Sam, recovering from his ordeal, awakes to the face of Gandalf.
“Gandalf! I thought you were dead! But then I thought I was dead myself. Is everything sad going to come untrue? What’s happened to the world?”
A great Shadow has departed,” said Gandalf, and then he laughed and the sound was like music, or like water in a parched land; and as he listened the thought came to Sam that he had not heard laughter, the pure sound of merriment, for days upon days without count.”
Yesterday, I attended the visitation of an old neighbor from an old neighborhood, the one in which I experienced some of the sweetest days of my life. Joe had suffered through dementia for years, and the family of six boys with whom we played football in our backyards felt a sense of relief for their dad. Shirley, his wife, did too. She said it was a blessing that all this happened during Holy Week. Even in that sad time, there remained hope that everything sad is going to come untrue.
The passion of Jesus marks the high, holy days of the Christian Church. And they are holy because they mark the beginning of the answer asked by a beloved fictional character.
In the cross of Jesus, everything sad begins its journey toward untruth. The lie of who we were in sin is replaced by the truth of who we are in Christ. The great shadow over us has been removed.
In the resurrection of Jesus, sadness takes a further step toward being untrue. Death no longer holds the victory. Christ triumphed over it. When we are in Christ, so will we be victorious. And there will be no second death.
In the ascension of Jesus, sadness declines yet again, as the promise is of Christ’s return. In that return, we understand that sadness will be swallowed up in truth, and that tear-filled eyes will no longer be so, that no one will want for anything, and that all our crushed dreams will live again.
And sadness will be untrue forever.
In this week of recalling Jesus’ betrayal, death, and resurrection, we understand that the world has changed, because Jesus made it so.
Jesus can change your world, if you lay aside your life and let Him give you His. All you have to do is ask Him.
Wait for the LORD; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the LORD!
—Psalms 27:14 ESV
The LORD is good to those who wait for him, to the soul who seeks him. It is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the LORD.
—Lamentations 3:25-26 ESV
Then they believed his words; they sang his praise. But they soon forgot his works; they did not wait for his counsel.
—Psalms 106:12-13 ESV
I’d like to believe that the American Church is filled coast to coast with people who wait patiently on the Lord. I’d like to believe that.
I know better, though. The part of American Church that causes problems is the American part. In America, we don’t want to wait for anyone or anything. To wait is to waste time when something can be done. Doing is all that matters. Or as it is in many cases, talking about doing, even if the doing never happens.
Here’s a line you never hear from the pulpit in America: “We’re not moving ahead on this until God gives us the OK. Until then, we wait.”
For the Christian, waiting doesn’t mean doing nothing. Prayer and faith together make a difference. In fact, prayer and faith might just be what God is waiting to experience from us before the awaited result comes. Two little practices, yet how we forget to do them.
Whatever it is that we’re forgetting, our porous memory hurts our waiting.
The Psalm 106 passage quoted above shows that forgetfulness and impatience go together. We know what the Bible says, and we sing about God’s care for us, but we forget what He has done nonetheless, and therefore we charge forward, as if THIS time is the time in which He will not come through in his perfect timing. So, we grease the rails and proceed full steam ahead anyway.
Regular readers will recognize this familiar lament: The good is the enemy of the best. In the American Church, that should be engraved on every church doorway lintel.
Impatience yields not only bad results but good. The problem is that we get satisfied with good results and never give God the opportunity to deliver mind-blowing results. All because we could not wait on Him. All because we had to make something happen.
None of that is of faith, though. And sometimes, the result is devastating.
I wonder how much we miss as a Church in the United States due to impatience. I wonder how many once-vibrant churches no longer meet because they didn’t wait on God.
Or perhaps they did and were so enamored of one type of answer that they missed God’s answer when it finally came. Either way, the best didn’t happen for them. So they grumble and blame God for not coming through on their timing. Except He did; they just weren’t attuned to Him.
Impatience and an inability to hear God when He does speak in His timing are epidemic in today’s noisy, “make something happen” churches. Will it take an ethereal hand writing on the wall to get us to pay attention and listen?
I’d say that’s something worth waiting for, except we all know how it turned out.
Elijah didn’t die but ascended to God in a flaming chariot. Most of us know the story. Elijah was certainly a man of God.
Elijah was also something of a depressed prophet. He was always complaining about apparent circumstances, what he believed to be true about his situation. No matter the case, though, God never abandoned Elijah—far from it—and yet Elijah kept up the doom-saying.
One of Elijah’s “personal doom scripts” that kept running through his head was that the bad guys had killed all the other prophets and he alone was left. You read the life of Elijah in 1 Kings, and he repeated that script a lot.
God finally had enough of it:
[Elijah] said, “I have been very jealous for the LORD, the God of hosts. For the people of Israel have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword, and I, even I only, am left, and they seek my life, to take it away.” And the LORD said to him, “Go, return on your way to the wilderness of Damascus. And when you arrive, you shall anoint Hazael to be king over Syria. And Jehu the son of Nimshi you shall anoint to be king over Israel, and Elisha the son of Shaphat of Abel-meholah you shall anoint to be prophet in your place. And the one who escapes from the sword of Hazael shall Jehu put to death, and the one who escapes from the sword of Jehu shall Elisha put to death. Yet I will leave seven thousand in Israel, all the knees that have not bowed to Baal, and every mouth that has not kissed him.”
—1 Kings 19:14-18 ESV
And Elijah never again beefed about being the last one left.
God had His 7,000. God even had a successor to Elijah lined up. Despite Elijah’s office as prophet, he seemed blind to those possibilities. All he could focus on was the doom.
God has his 7,000 at all times. In your life and in mine, God has a form of that 7,000 on-hand and ready to supply.
Even if you don’t see it, that reserve exists. God had fed Elijah by ravens, but the prophet, so stuck in his doom, was unable to understand that provision or believe that God might have preserved other faithful followers to stand with him. All Elijah could see was his personal circumstance. God had to enlarge his vision.
Funny thing is, the prophet who followed in Elijah’s footsteps inherited nothing of his mentor’s doom and shortsightedness. A classic instance of how Elisha did better than his predecessor is found in 2 Kings 6. The king of Syria was frustrated because someone seemed to be telling all his plans to the king of Israel. Eventually, a servant told the Syrian king that Elisha was receiving this info supernaturally. The enraged king decided to put an end to that:
So he sent there horses and chariots and a great army, and they came by night and surrounded the city. When the servant of the man of God rose early in the morning and went out, behold, an army with horses and chariots was all around the city. And the servant said, “Alas, my master! What shall we do?” [Elisha] said, “Do not be afraid, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them.” Then Elisha prayed and said, “O LORD, please open his eyes that he may see.” So the LORD opened the eyes of the young man, and he saw, and behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha. And when the Syrians came down against him, Elisha prayed to the LORD and said, “Please strike this people with blindness.” So he struck them with blindness in accordance with the prayer of Elisha.
—2 Kings 6:14-18 ESV
Elisha understood that even in the midst of apparent doom, the apparency was an illusion. Something greater from God was present, and all it took was a greater vision of what God was doing. Elisha knew and could see what Elijah failed to: God frustrates doom.
Doom will never win because God is greater. Today, make that your personal script.
I was ill late last week with an annoying head cold, so I decided to take Saturday off and heal.
Lately, I’ve been listening to the weekly Phil Vischer Podcast, which talks from a Christian perspective on issues facing American culture and Christianity. Vischer, best known as the creator of VeggieTales, offers the comic relief and pushes the conversation forward, but his co-hosts, Christian Taylor and Skye Jethani, offer the more serious insights.
Jethani, in particular, gets me thinking. I was familiar with his writings at “Out of Ur” (now called Parse) and have read them occasionally, but he comes across better in recordings than in print. Also intriguing to me: He graduated from a college in my area and now lives in Wheaton, Ill., and routinely interacts with students from my alma mater and examines those interactions.
Jethani is a pastor and current editor for Leadership Journal, which is a satellite magazine of Christianity Today intended for Christian leaders. I watched several videos featuring Jethani on Saturday and was blown away by how good they are, not only in their spiritual content but in their conciseness in teaching. Jethani gets to the point and makes it live.
Below are three video links from Jethani that I think everyone should watch. I can’t stress enough how excellent they are. And again, he gets right to the point.
Jethani wrote a book called With: Reimagining the Way You Relate to God, and in the following video, unpacks the main points in 19 minutes. This video was so good, I sat down with my 13-year-old son to watch it together. He was touched by it in a way I’ve never seen.
This second video, about 50 minutes long, is aimed more at church leaders and talks about how ministry models must change to better present Jesus to people who are dissatisfied with current church programming and intent. It’s dead on and reflects many of the themes I’ve discussed here.
Finally, in 45 minutes, Jethani cuts through all the noise and confusion and gets to the heart of life: What is the Gospel? (Unfortunately, this video link can’t be embedded, so you’ll have to go to YouTube to watch it.)
I hope you have an opportunity to watch these videos. I think you’ll be remarkably blessed.
Lastly, I want to recommend an exceptional book that is not by Jethani but further expands his thoughts on vocation in the second video above:
The Other Six Days: Vocation, Work, and Ministry in Biblical Perspective by R. Paul Stevens.
It’s not only a fantastic look at how the modern Church has totally misunderstood genuine community but also how Christian ideals of community give meaning to people’s vocations, especially those careers that are NOT in “full-time Christian ministry.” This is one of the best Christian books I’ve read in the last five years. A little more academic, but it’s powerful nonetheless.
Have a blessed week.
They’ve been calling 2014 the Year of the Faith Film. I know that in the evangelical community I tend to find myself thrust into, people were pumped about that. Perhaps Hollywood was waking up from its superhero love fest and rediscovering that the Good Book has its own caped crusaders (well, toga-ed, or whatever it is that they wore—you get the point) that can teach us about life.
So far, I’m not sure the Year of the Faith Film is delivering on its promise. And I wonder what that says about our understanding of what faith really is.
Three of those films have hit the cineplexes in recent weeks. I haven’t seen any of them. I’m not sure I would ever want to.
Noah has been called by its director “the least biblical biblical film ever made,” and at achieving this he seems to have succeeded, pulling from just about any ancient text outside the Bible that even hints at a flood narrative. He then offers us a man of “faith” whose righteousness appears to derive from despising anything that isn’t a fuzzy bunny, himself included. Rather than the LSD Methuselah slipped into Noah’s tea, Prozac may have been a better choice. Some have wondered if the director culled more from the works of J.R.R Tolkien and Timothy Leary than from the Jews.
God’s Not Dead is evangelicalism’s answer to Noah, pitting its faithful-to-a-fault, Christian-American, teen apologist against the evil college professor in a battle of hermeneutics, which everyone knows is the most gripping plotline any moviegoer could possibly hope for. And yes, there are other subplots, but they all add up to what amounts to an evangelical snuff film, where the most anyone can long for in life is to get one’s “fire insurance” and avoid hell. Should have titled this God’s Not Dead, But You Will Be.
Son of God purports to be about the life of Jesus. I heard a rumor that Justin Beiber plays Jesus. Or is it Zach Efron? Being a wizened curmudgeon, I get my teen heartthrobs mixed up. I also hear they cut out the devil because he looked too much like our current president. Also purportedly, the filmmakers saved time and cash by filming this movie alongside the making of their made-for-TV pseudo-epic The Bible. I think from what I’ve written, you get an idea of how unchallenging this film is. That I can’t recall anyone from my church claiming to have seen it may be the most damning statement I can make about it.
What these three films tells us about the state of faith in America 2014 is that no one, especially Hollywood, has one lick of an idea what it means to be faithful in the every day. God exists at the periphery of life, relegated to weirdos or to the moment of death or to some milquetoast interpretation of “faith” that has nothing to do with the guy who wakes up in the morning and hopes to connect to God amid the daily commute, a pile of unpaid bills, and the American Dream. Perhaps the superhero love fest does have more say to us (heck, even God Is Not Dead features the actors who played Hercules and Superman).
The reality of faith in God that the Bible holds out to each one of us is that it IS relevant to the mundane day-to-day. No sacred/secular divide exists, and Christianity is filled to the brim with truth that suffuses every part of life, which is what makes it worth living. God isn’t just there in the flood. He’s not just there when we die. He’s not a cleverly marketed and filmed made-for-TV-but-shown-in-the-theaters side project. God intends to be there in everything we do and to give those activities meaning.
Henry David Thoreau said that the mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation. If these three “faith” movies were the only gauge to what faith in God is all about, I can understand that desperation.
Perhaps it’s not possible to encompass the richness of a life found in Christ and jam it into a two hours of screen time. Filmmakers will keep trying, though. And I suspect they will keep failing.
Perhaps we don’t know what a genuinely Christian life looks like in America 2014. Certainly, a lack of models is one reason. We’ve made strange alliances with worldliness and can no longer extricate that worldliness from truth. Sometimes, we even call evil good and good evil.
The God of the Bible offers abundant life. His word speaks to all parts of human existence. He is our God both when we are kneeling in church and when we’re sitting on the john. All of life, especially the middle we can’t seem to ascribe to Him, is filled with His Life.
How we make that true and real to most of us has yet to be filmed. Or in America 2014, lived.
So Jesus answered them, “My teaching is not mine, but his who sent me. If anyone’s will is to do God’s will, he will know whether the teaching is from God or whether I am speaking on my own authority.”
—John 7:16-17 ESV
The above passage has been stirring in me all weekend. It bothers me. A lot.
Jesus had a validity issue. When He tried to teach in the temple, the learned questioned how He knew what He knew. Jesus sought to tell them, but they weren’t responsive.
We live in an age that has made the mind the arbiter of all truth. We are rabid rationalists. Even when someone tries to stick a label of “emotional” on us, it peels off soon enough.
For many people, Christianity is all in their head or it is nowhere at all.
Clever arguments, a Ph.D. in biblical hermeneutics, and an iPod filled with Ravi Zacharias podcasts are the base material needed for being an apologist for Jesus today. The person who cannot tie together every last passage is seen as not qualified to talk Bible with anyone. An inability to look at Paul’s Letter to Philemon in light of the Hebrew captivity in Egypt or to spout every last occurrence of the concept of a hardened heart or to detail the finer points of New Testament infralapsarianism proves a person is not up to the task of living as a Christian and certainly cannot be trusted to be an evangelist or teacher.
But what does Jesus say will prove His words true in a person’s life?
Doing them. Not thinking. Doing.
Perhaps the reason we live in such a godless age is not because people don’t know the words of God but because so few do them. Jesus said that if people do the things God wills through His word, the validity will be self-evident.
Imagine if our evangelism of the lost and teaching to the found consisted more of telling people, “Here are the words of Jesus. Do them and you will know Him.” Imagine if our measure of the maturity of the believer was not how many Bible passages he or she had memorized but how many he or she actually practiced in real life.
We think we must construct systems of biblical logic to make a cage that cannot be escaped, a sort of ultra-secure fortress of rationalistic thought. But Jesus said that our proof is in doing what He says. That’s how the words are justified, because they are life and truth when lived.
All this teaching yet the proof is in the doing.
What if our Sunday Schools were more about doing the words of God? Would our understanding and retention of truth improve? Jesus says it will. Do we trust Him in this?
I don’t know when the Faith migrated from all parts of the whole person to reside solely in the head, with a trickle down into the heart when we’re really “feeling it.” But Jesus Himself says that’s not the way we should be. Instead, truth is in the living out of what He says.
That’s a paradigm shift of the highest order. I hope to see more of it in my lifetime.
If I were to poll 100 people about what they most need in their lives, I don’t think peace would be in their top responses. But if I suggested peace as an answer, I think everyone would nod and agree it’s a huge need.
Peace seems so unfamiliar to people today that I think few consider it. Peace is like that wonderful, gifted, older second cousin you saw 25 years ago at a reunion. In the family, yes, but nebulously distant. Not someone you think about except when someone else reminds you of that side of the family, and then a positive memory or three comes back. Yes, now I remember. Really nice person. Would be good to see again.
What we don’t realize is how essential it is never to lose track of peace—until peace is telling in its absence. Can’t put our finger on what is out of whack, but something is not right.
More often than not, that “not right” is missing peace.
Without Jesus, there is no peace. In the silent moments of our days, the disquiet enters, and we do what we must to mute it. A million mute buttons exist, and us forever pressing the nearest one. Because the disquiet shouts to us its lack of peace. Screams that something is wrong, is off, is askew, or is missing.
Jesus, come, and be near us now.
Jesus, still our frenzy.
Jesus, quiet our distress.
Jesus, let us rest in You.
Jesus, be our peace.
I don’t know what your situation is, but I can tell you this: You could use more peace in your life. May Jesus be that peace. May you rediscover a depth of trust in Him that helps you enter rest and find renewal and refreshing for your soul.
More than anything else, I believe the cry of the human heart is to see and know Jesus. People may not be able to come to that conclusion on their own, but when put in the right perspective, the need becomes glaring.
Sadly, people have short memories and loyalties. Some have encountered Jesus only to lose Him somehow.
Protestants lost Jesus somewhere in the 16th century and seem curiously content to have consigned Him there.
Roman Catholics lost Jesus by focusing on everything related to Christianity that ISN’T Him.
The Orthodox lost Jesus amid a clutter of artwork intended to remind people of Him, as if He is no longer anywhere else to be found.
Charismatics lost Jesus by shifting their focus to the Holy Spirit, as if Jesus isn’t the one the Spirit points to relentlessly.
Cessationists lost Jesus because they stopped listening to what the Holy Spirit was saying about Him today.
Christian bloggers lost Jesus amid a cascade of words intended to prove how doctrinally correct they are 24/7/365.
Liberal Christians lost Jesus because they picked and chose what they liked about Him and rejected the rest.
Conservative Christians lost Jesus because they were conservatives first and followers of Jesus second.
It isn’t just some Christians who seem to have lost Jesus…
Jews lost Jesus because they didn’t seem aware that they had Him in the first place.
Hindus lost Jesus amid all the other deities they seem to keep creating daily.
Muslims lost Jesus by being the Roman Catholics of the non-Christian world and getting caught up in all the religious trappings that distract from Him.
Buddhists lost Jesus because they tossed out everything.
Pagans lost Jesus because they wanted everything but Him.
Communists lost Jesus because they couldn’t stop fighting over which of them would sit on His throne.
Socialists lost Jesus because they confused Him with bureaucratic government.
Atheists lost Jesus by making all of existence out to be this tiny, tiny box into which nothing can fit except for the hubris of atheism.
Here’s the thing: Jesus isn’t lost. The world’s people are.
Jesus said to His follower Thomas, who became known for doubting, just like us:
“I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”
—John 14:6 ESV
Only Jesus knows the way—because He IS the Way. Don’t lose hold of Him. And if you don’t have that hold on Him yet, ask and believe Him for it, and know that He will never lose you.
Keith had seen Franklin Fastener, his great-great-great-grandfather’s company, through many trials in his tenure since taking over from his dad at the tender age of 30. The company made the best nuts and bolts in America. Which is why it pained Keith to think that he might have to close it down on his watch. Too little business coupled with too much competition from China. So when ConHugeCo asked for a bid on a massive project that would keep Franklin rolling in dough for another decade or more, Keith was ecstatic. He spent three months working hand in hand with ConHugeCo’s people to ensure the bidding went smoothly and the multinational got everything it asked for—both immediately and in spades. So it came as a terrible shock when the winning bid went to Shin Dao Manufacturing. Keith went home an hour later and cried for the first time in as long as he could remember.
Kendra first spotted Zach when he prayed for an elderly couple after the service. She was new to the church then, but it was impossible for her not to notice the tall, handsome, young man. Something clicked inside her when their eyes first met. It took Zach almost a year to ask her out, but when he did, she was convinced that this was finally The One. Zach was loved by many and could not be more respected. He had a job in banking and seemed to do no wrong. After a couple months of “by the book Christian dating,” Kendra thought she might finally hear the three words every gal longs for, but instead, Zach said he didn’t think that the relationship was working for him, and he walked away.
Rebecca had the house, the means, and the love of children to start a daycare in her home. Her husband, Rick, encouraged her to go for it, especially since many in their neighborhood were struggling to find good daycare. Though Rick has a solid job as a security specialist for a large computer company, he and Rebecca were planning to give her daycare income to some friends who were missionaries working in an orphanage in Uganda. But Rebecca’s elation and godly hope soon turned to despair. There would be no daycare in her home because the state would not license her. Why? Because in Rick’s youth he had been convicted of felony computer hacking before he turned his life around, and the state would not issue a daycare license if a convicted felon lived in the home.
Keith, Kendra, and Rebecca. Three burned people.
Then Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times. “Therefore the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his servants. When he began to settle, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents. And since he could not pay, his master ordered him to be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and payment to be made. So the servant fell on his knees, imploring him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ And out of pity for him, the master of that servant released him and forgave him the debt. But when that same servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii, and seizing him, he began to choke him, saying, ‘Pay what you owe.’ So his fellow servant fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ He refused and went and put him in prison until he should pay the debt. When his fellow servants saw what had taken place, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their master all that had taken place. Then his master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’ And in anger his master delivered him to the jailers, until he should pay all his debt. So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.”
—Matthew 18:21-35 ESV
We know well this passage about the unjust steward who received forgiveness for his massive debt but would not forgive another for a much smaller one. My pastor preached on it yesterday and talked about forgiving those who sin against you as a bedrock discipline for true disciples.
I wondered about those cases when no sin is involved, though. That comes up often enough to merit some discussion. In fact, I discussed these same cases with three friends after the service.
In the examples above, ConHugeCo simply chose another winner for their bid, while Zach decided that his relationship with Kelly was not going to lead to marriage. Keith and Kelly felt the brunt of those decisions, and ultimately felt terrible and suffered for the decisions, but again, no one sinned, so by the Bible’s standard, there was nothing or no one to forgive. In Rebecca’s situation, Rick had been forgiven years ago. And the state was just abiding by its own laws in an attempt to protect children.
In these three cases, each person feels wronged. But is forgiveness merited? And to whom?
What do you think? Why?
Yesterday, I switched the wallpaper on my computer. It shows lighthouses now.
I didn’t know a computer desktop wallpaper could be prophetic, but this morning, while praying, God showed me something, and when I looked up, I saw the lighthouse on the screen.
I am fully convinced that we as a Church are running out of time to get things right. We haven’t reached the end yet, but it’s nearer than ever.
We Christians in America have put ourselves in a place where we are like toddlers splashing in the water’s edge at the beach. Oh, look! A starfish. Oh, over there! A sand dollar. The water is warm. Mom waves to us. Look how clear the sky is. The water comes up to our knees.
That’s how we may think of shallow water.
But while that may be a comforting place for the small, it’s disastrous for anything larger—like the American Church.
I didn’t set out to think about lighthouses. It was only after prayer that the lighthouse made sense.
The Bible says that “deep calls to deep.” Out in the deep is where the unknown lurks. The deep is off limits to anyone but the experienced. The line of transition from the toddler splashing in the shallows to the salt-encrusted face of the grizzled sea captain extends from the shore to that great emptiness that stretches from horizon to horizon, where the land goes missing, and all points of reference vanish.
We use the lighthouse as a symbol of Christ guiding us home, but that’s a mistake. The lighthouse exists to warns of the shallows, to force us to head out to deeper water. The real danger is not in the great emptiness out at sea, it’s from being dashed to pieces in the shallows when the conditions turn against us.
As a Body of Christian Believers, the American Church needs to steer away from the shallows. We’ve been in them for far too long. We see them as safety, but that’s where the rocks are, and when the surf rises, and the winds along with them, the shallows are the most dangerous place to be.
God wants us deeper. We have to move away from our natural home on land. We must familiarize ourselves with the denizens of the deep in their natural environment and know their sonorous callings. We must become comfortable navigating by the stars and their dim, often difficult to read, guidance. We must see the lighthouse not as an inviting light, but as a warning to drive us to the real place of safety, even if that place doesn’t look safe on the surface.
Church, we must move out of the shallows. We must learn to navigate the ocean and its depths. We must know how to be at peace, even when no land is in sight. The times demand it.
In closing, this came to mind:
Many Christians are talking about what it means to be radical for Jesus. You’re either caught in the hellbound grip of the comfortable American Dream, or you give it all up to follow the Lord and therefore gain eternal life as a true disciple.
Alex and Bree are a young couple who read David Platt’s book Radical and decided they could no longer live the complacent hipster lifestyle they’d adopted. They sold their townhouse, quit their jobs as a videogame designer and a florist, and moved to Uganda, where they now serve as missionaries, working in an orphanage.
Rob and Tiffani, on the other hand, go to the same church as Alex and Bree once did. Tiffani works as a paralegal but is saving money to attend law school one day. After work, she holds down a second job as a waitress at an upscale restaurant, where Rob is one of the cooks and has a small vested interest in the restaurant as a limited partner. Both spend most of their day working, collapsing into bed at 10 p.m. each night. Neither has much time for church activities, but they are there in the seats every Sunday morning.
Alex and Bree versus Rob and Tiffani. Which couple is truly radical for Jesus?
What if you knew that Rob and Tiffani are the major dollar donors that make it possible for Alex and Bree to stay in Uganda? What if you knew that Tiffani works her second job solely to ensure that money keeps going to Alex and Bree?
Who is radical for Jesus now?
I don’t know about you, but I’m bored with facile arguments from within the Christian community. Most of the situations we set up to illustrate “Bible truths” are so disconnected from most people’s lives as to be utterly useless. No one can argue against them because they are so simplistic and obvious.
But people’s lives are not so easily measured. And what folks do with those lives is more complex than the simplistic bins we want to file them in.
I think that one reason that Christianity is suffering some losses in the United States is that smart people can see through the oversimplifications we sometimes hold out as “truth” on Sunday mornings. We attempt to take Scripture and shoehorn it into our perception of “genuine Christian living” only to find out that result leaves something to be desired—at least it does for those folks who think hard about implications.
The problem is that not enough Christian leaders think about implications. Doesn’t matter what the topic is, they stay on the surface and then try to sell their biblical solution as the only way.
In the case of Rob and Tiffani, I think a lot of Christian leaders who ascribe to the new radicalism would condemn them as not being radical enough. But what those leaders never consider is how folks like Rob and Tiffani are the ones who make it possible for others to pursue the kind of radical faith that the leaders hold up as necessary. Such is true in a lot of cases. People living a supposedly “self-centered, American Dream life” wind up funding big chunks of ministry because of the fact they ARE living according to the system. Take away the Robs and Tiffanis of the world, and you get a lot fewer Alexes and Brees as a result.
It’s not just that illustration I raise, either. Thousands of other cases exist that don’t fit our facile arguments of what genuine discipleship and commitment look like in real life.
More than ever, we need Christian leaders who go deeper. Not just deeper in Jesus, but deeper into the complex problems that face modern America.
Because I have to say that we are doing a terrible job communicating the essence of real discipleship to real people. Our answers are too simpleminded and not well considered. Living for Jesus doesn’t just mean handing out food to the homeless. Sometimes it means tackling entire systems of thought and redeeming them in Jesus name. Sadly, because we avoid the tougher problems in favor of the easy ones, our efforts are a figurative Band-Aid on a severed limb, and we pat ourselves on the back for what we label “radical ministry.”
Church, we have to do better. And doing better is going to ask more of us. And what is asked of us is going to be more complex than what we’re hearing from the pulpit on Sundays IF Christian leaders start examining what goes on beneath the veneer of real discipleship.
What is the radical Christian life? It’s not always the Alex and Bree response. Sometimes, it’s asking the harder question and then doing something about it.
“‘And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams…’”
—Acts 2:17 ESV
I’ve come to the melancholy realization that youth is departing and old age arriving. Gray is the new cast of my hair. And are those…jowls?
At such times, I find comfort in the Scriptures, but even there resides the lament of the aging. Abraham and Zechariah leap to mind, with their “but” responses in light of God’s revelation. “Too old, God. Dried up. Useless for your task.”
Except it wasn’t true, was it?
I also recall the prophet Joel’s statement from God regarding old men dreaming, and Peter’s use of the prophet’s pronouncement as an anchor for the New Covenant.
The young men get the sexier, more startling revelation: visions. The future. The pressing need. The warning. A guy walks into the room and proclaims he had a vision, and everyone perks up. Being called a visionary is a positive that sets one apart from the greater mass of humanity.
Not so the dreamer, though. Get called a dreamer, and it’s a knock. Out of touch. Tilting at windmills. Fantasies. Won’t come to much. Anyone can dream. Nope, nothing special at all.
Old men, the ones with gray hair and jowls, dream.
Hey, I may not be 21 anymore, but I’m not ready for a porch-based rocking chair yet.
God gives dreams to old men because young men can’t handle them as well. Here’s the truth about dreams and why the older, wiser man (or woman) receives them:
1. Unlike visions, dreams pose puzzling questions older people are more experienced to answer.
Both visions and dreams can be strange. The Bible is filled with bizarre imagery that people receive in dreams and visions. The difference is that God tends to narrate visions as they happen. Dreams don’t get that same explanation. There’s no hand-holding or convenient running commentary in a dream.
What is the point of experience in life? To apply it. Old folks dream because they have the life experience to make sense of the imagery in dreams without annotations for what they see. God trusts the elders who have walked with Him for years to understand more readily because they know the character of God. They understand life in ways the inexperienced don’t. God entrusts dreams to those who can call upon a storehouse of knowledge or who have the walk with God down pat and can more readily tap into His supernatural wisdom.
2. Dreams bring older folks—and those around them who will listen—peace by taking the community back to the past and to the familiar.
In our youth, we sought out our elders to reassure us and lend their wisdom to us when we were troubled and uncertain. Unlike visions that often show disturbing, confusing images, dreams are associated more with a peaceful repose. Dreams are a sanctuary, a nocturnal sanctum. In dreams, we may see unusual combinations of people, places, and things, but they are usually already known. The past lives on in dreams. We recall the good times. What is lost or gone is alive and present again, and we can find comfort in knowing that nothing good is lost forever in God’s economy.
Dreams are the means by which the elderly help others recall the good times. When times aren’t good, the old folks serve as the community well to bring refreshment to others through their dreams.
That noted, being old also brings the burden of having seen too much. Dreams are not a mind bleach, but they do temper all the horrors and sadness that come with accumulated wisdom and life experience. Dreams reframe the good times that are past by bringing them, again, into the present as a balm.
3. Dreams help us recall anew what once worked well.
We tend to forget past solutions. Even wise, old folks. A seasoned mind is a bit more cluttered, and like a closet filled to the ceiling with life’s accumulations, wading through that mess to find the dojigger that does that one thing we need to do right this second…well, it can seem a daunting task.
Dreams allow experienced folks to cut through life’s clutter. They help reconnect with the past and what worked once so we can reuse that once-buried truth again. Because there really is nothing new under the sun.
4. Dreams allow seniors to recast the past and what is already known to form new solutions.
You know what they say about deep waters. Because the well of a life lived long with God is deep, the raw materials for new solutions may exist, just unseen.
Dreams are God’s way of remolding those raw materials of the past into new realities. Yes, the young men may see in their visions what is yet to be, but through dreams their elders can see the truths of the past combine in new ways to make something just as fresh and exciting.
Aren’t dreams intriguing when they bring together the disparate elements of life into one, impossible tableau? In a dream, what does it mean when a deceased parent, your soon-to-be born grandchild, and an old boss from a summer job three dozen years ago show up at your dream breakfast table and chat about life? What may God be saying through that impossible encounter? And how may that help others?
5. Dreams can also reveal the future and alert us.
To the one God has given much, much is expected. A life rich in God-given experience is a bank from which the banker invests in himself and others. Visions aren’t the only means of seeing what is to come. Dreams also are revelatory—only they don’t come with as many footnotes. God expects the person made wise with experience to fill in the annotations that aren’t there. Visions are for the raw. Dreams are for the already tested.
One of the most visited posts on Cerulean Sanctum is “God Speaks Through Dreams.” It’s so highly ranked because it’s one of the most heavily Googled. People are looking to make sense of their dreams. And people wonder if God is talking to them in those dreams.
If you are older, know that your dreams matter. God has something to say to you who are experienced with life, and He can do it through your dreams.
You matter to God’s Kingdom. Your dreams, your experiences with life and all its joys and sorrows have value to yourself and to others. Visions from the young may look great on the surface, but there is a surpassing value in dreams that give relevance to the seasoned saint, because God needs the service of everyone.
12 Years a Slave won Best Picture at the 2014 Academy Awards.
I did not see the film. In fact, in a stunning case of cultural cluelessness, I’d not even heard of it before it won.
That said, I’m not surprised at its win. In fact, it may not have been possible for any other film to take home Oscar.
I wish I could find the link to the article, but several months ago I read an enlightening post concerning Hollywood’s rather banal decent into repetitive storylines. Slate had an insightful look at the Save the Cat phenomenon and how it has rendered all plots the same (“Save the Movie!“), but this gone-missing article struck a bigger nerve.
The contention is that movies today lack a touchstone for the American script—not a movie script, but the ongoing dialog we Americans maintain that defines our core beliefs as Americans.
Core beliefs? Can you even HAVE core beliefs today?
The article contended we were at a point in our history as a nation that we can no longer agree on shared values and core beliefs beyond some very general ones, milquetoast values that make for boring movies. We saw Man of Steel at the box office this summer, but what we didn’t see was much truth, justice, and the American Way on display. Wouldn’t want someone watching to get riled that a pro-America Superman places the Man of Steel into the imperialistic oppressor category.
Let’s be frank here: About the only shared value we Americans have left is a distaste for oppression. While in an earlier age that might have meant us fighting some tyrannical, overseas dictator or championing the cause of the poor, today it means something less noble: Don’t oppress me by questioning whatever it is I want to do to gratify myself.
By choosing a film about slavery as Best Picture, the Academy recasts the worst of oppressions and shoehorns it into the modern expression. I mean, what kind of barbarian could possibly endorse the oppression of a fellow human being as expressed in Civil War-era American slavery? Now fast-forward that to America 2014 and witness how easily we slide from championing freedom from slavery to demanding freedom from all moral constraints.
Who is the new oppressor? The one who questions same-sex marriage. The one who questions abortion. The one who questions…
See, to be an oppressor today, to be the villain in a modern movie plotline, all one must do is question another person’s desire (now called “a right”) to do ____________.
The questions the supposed oppressor is asking may be worthwhile on the surface, but their worth is now trumped by any implications of inherent oppression. Carte blanche has never been more acceptable, at least when the self-satisfiers are in charge.
Movies are boring today because we have seen our American script became a one-note message. Worse, even that one-note message of opposing oppression lacks the depth and wisdom it once possessed. Today, it is all about self-gratification. Any constraint that prevents self-gratification has been deemed oppression. And we all know who the new oppressors are—at least as they’ve been tagged by the ones making up the new definitions.
So, if you’re reading this and nodding your head, how does it feel to be the new oppressor?
“Alright, Mr. DeMille, I’m ready for my close-up.”
This feed is from Cerulean Sanctum (http://ceruleansanctum.com), a blog by Dan Edelen that covers issues facing the American Church.
Rights, Oppression, and the Death of the Shared Societal Script
I’m not one to scream persecution. I think too many Christians in the West do so whenever they don’t get their way. The local school district won’t remove Catcher in the Rye from the middle school bookshelves, and some Christian parent pulls out the persecution card and sues.
Meanwhile, in some parts of the Middle East, they cut off your head.
Doesn’t seem quite the same.
But cultural and societal persecution is coming quickly to the West. You can’t have a socialist government without curbs on religious freedom. One day you can call sin sin, and the next you get tossed in jail for the same. People who keep crying for a nanny state can’t fathom what gets lost in the mix. Or else they can and just don’t care.
Which is how I ended up reading about the UK homosexual, millionaire couple who sued the Church of England for refusing to marrying them in a church wedding.
Expect to see more of that. It’s no longer about rights but about breaking the back of the Church, which was the agenda all along. Besides, the cool, hip sinners have already moved onto demanding polyamory rights. Slippery slope may be a logical fallacy, but it’s a societal reality.
I write all that as the setup, because this post is not about text but subtext. But then this is Cerulean Sanctum, and it’s usually about reading between the lines.
The uproar in the UK lawsuit is only partially about the Church being legally compelled to marry homosexuals. It’s only partially about the reality that the Church of England took “tithes” from those men for years and sort of looked the other way while doing so.
Instead, I want to talk about the Holy Spirit and this situation.
We Christians believe that the Holy Spirit indwells each Christian believer. That’s bedrock doctrine. By definition, the indwelt believer IS the Church.
If we know that these two men have sat Sunday after Sunday in a supposedly genuine Christian church comprised of self-labeled Christian believers, how is it that the Holy Spirit has had no effect on them at all?
“Whoa, Dan, how can you be so sure the Holy Spirit has not worked on them?” Well, I think a lawsuit against the church/Church they’ve claimed to attend for years to compel it to do something it has believed for 2,000+ years is wrong is a pretty good indicator.
This leads to two troubling issues:
1. Many sects within the Christian Church believe the Holy Spirit cannot be resisted ultimately.
2. If these men are surrounded by self-proclaimed Spirit-filled Christians every Sunday for years, yet there is no change in their lives, it must be considered that the people surrounding them each Sunday actually do not have the Holy Spirit living in them.
The two issues go hand in hand.
Regarding the first, I have always struggled with the concept taught in some church sects that the Holy Spirit cannot be resisted when He chooses not to be resisted.
First, we know that the Holy Spirit CAN be resisted:
“You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you always resist the Holy Spirit. As your fathers did, so do you….”
—Acts 7:51 ESV
The Christian martyr Stephen made that accusation while filled with the Holy Spirit moments before he was stoned to death. Given that, I think we can assume the theology is right on the mark.
Later in the New Testament, we read this:
The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.
—2 Peter 3:9 ESV
I’ve never found a satisfying response in light of 2 Peter from those Christian sects that say the Holy Spirit cannot be resisted ultimately. God desires that all should reach repentance. What part of all is debatable here? We know that not all do reach repentance. What then does that mean in light of Acts 7:51?
If a homosexual couple can spend years within a church filled with believers who have the Holy Spirit in them, should it not be assumed that the Holy Spirit is wherever those believers are? You would think. So, what would it mean if these two men, surrounded by hundreds filled with an irresistible Person of the Trinity, do not eventually surrender to that irresistible Person?
Doesn’t one begin to wonder if that supposedly Spirit-filled crowd is in fact housing the Holy Spirit at all?
That is the issue that troubles me most.
Every Sunday we have many who sit amid supposedly Spirit-filled people and hear a supposedly Spirit-filled presentation of the Spirit-filled Gospel delivered by a supposedly Spirit-filled leader within the church and the Church, and yet they seem to resist that supposedly Spirit-filled assault with little or no effort.
Does that compute to you?
It doesn’t to me. When we look at how remarkably the Church grew in its undoubtedly Spirit-filled nascence and compare that with today, something must be off. We can talk about the fact that the bloom is off the rose with regard to the Christian faith, and that it’s not a new phenomenon to people, so its novelty isn’t there anymore, but the Holy Spirit is the same, isn’t He?
How then can people sit in our churches for years upon years and NOT be changed by encountering the Spirit in His fullness?
We like to point to all sorts of causes, but we’re loathe to hold up a mirror and note that the pointed finger may be pointing back at us.
Can a homosexual couple in a congregation of truly Spirit-filled believers successfully resist the Holy Spirit forever? And if they can, what does that say about the truth of that local church containing genuine Spirit-filled believers?
Worse, can anyone in a congregation of truly Spirit-filled believers successfully resist the Holy Spirit forever?
Something to think about.
This feed is from Cerulean Sanctum (http://ceruleansanctum.com), a blog by Dan Edelen that covers issues facing the American Church.
No Holy Spirit, No Church
This seems unbelievable to me, given that grace is one of the bedrock distinctives of the Christian faith. When we talk about freeing people from their locked chains, grace is the key in that lock.
But beyond the grace that God gives that allows us entrance to eternal life when we die, what does grace look like in the everyday life of the Christian and the Church?
Grace can’t be for the future alone. What does grace look like now?
I confess that I remain unclear on grace for the present. Part of that is because I see the American Church continuing to add to people’s burdens. The great hope of the Christian faith that we we used to sing about in our old hymns was how grace allowed us to lay our burdens down. But today, I wonder if what we do is substitute a different set of burdens. What grace is there for the mom who is juggling four young kids and a job and yet her pastor says she’s not doing enough for the Kingdom because she can’t find a way to squeeze in teaching Sunday School or going out to feed the poor?
Jesus said this:
Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
—Matthew 11:28-30 ESV
What does that look like in the life of the average American Christian today? Are we living by grace? Or are we simply finding ways to sanctify burdens?
In addressing another aspect of grace, I wonder what grace today looks like in the lives of Christians who fail. And not just for moral failures but for people who fail in other ways. What grace exist for the student who went to college, found it harder than expected, and dropped out? What grace exists for the person who is bad with household finances? Where is the grace for the businessman who starts his dream business (or dream ministry), only to watch it fail?
One of the strange trends I see in Christian nonfiction books is an over-reliance on stories of success, as if these stories are always reproducible, even if the underlying conditions that made them possible don’t exist elsewhere. More than anything, I’d like to read real stories of real Christians who failed, how they received grace in the aftermath, and how their churches channeled that grace to them. Don’t we all need to know how grace works when we fail in those ways too?
What are your thoughts on grace, its availability, and what it should look like in the everyday life of the Church?
This feed is from Cerulean Sanctum (http://ceruleansanctum.com), a blog by Dan Edelen that covers issues facing the American Church.
We Need a Whole Lot More Grace