Tuesday, June 17, 2014

5 Things Christians Should Start Saying

Recently, I've seen a lot of good literature and an equal amount of terrible literature in the blogosphere (I admit, I was just looking for a reason to use "blogosphere" in a sentence). Considering the age range of my peers, a lot of the articles that they post and re-post on the profiles of their social media accounts have to do with Christian dating, courtship, and marriage. Solid. That's an area that definitely needs a lot of reflection and redefinition. I also see a lot of blog posts about modern worship and church body behaviors. Great. I'm really excited to see a generation that wants to make sure they're doing things in the right way.

However, throughout a lot of these blogs, there's an air of cynicism and jadedness that I see in the world of online writing (to which I am often a contributor, I must admit). People have grown up being surrounded with bad examples of Christian living, and they seek to condemn some obviously bad practices and habits. Here are some article titles and links, so you get the feeling of what I'm talking about:

I want to start off by saying that I agree. Christians rely on cliches and overused phrases much too often. But the advice can leave us in a tough spot, because, while we are being told what not to do, we are never given wisdom on what we should do.  I am a firm believer that the Christian life consists not only of throwing off vice, but pursuing virtue.
"So flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart." (2 Timothy 2, emphasis added)
Paul tells Timothy not only to run away from the evil, but to run to the good. Being told what not to say begs the question, "What should we be saying?" So, in an effort to approach things like every blog on the entire stinking internet does nowadays, I'm going to make my own list - a list of stuff Christians should say.

"Heaven is not a place for those who are afraid of hell; it’s a place for those who love God."
This is actually a quote from Matt Chandler's Explicit Gospel, but the point made here is invaluable. Our culture is saturated with this idea that salvation simply serves the purpose of fire insurance. The truth of the matter is that heaven is for those who made the choice to pursue and love Christ while here on this earth. It will be a place to celebrate the love of God for eternity, and if you didn't enjoy doing that here, it won't be your thing millennia from now.

"I don't pretend to understand what you're going through, but I serve a God Who does."
When people are broken and hurting, they're looking for someone who understands and can sympathize with their struggle, but it does no good for a well-meaning Christian to tell them, "I know your pain," if they've never experienced the matter that they are wrestling with. However, relating things back to a God Who experienced every kind of pain imaginable by taking on the sins of the world lets them know that they are not alone in their suffering, and that, rather than looking to you for comfort, they will find the pinnacle of comfort in the arms of Christ.

"You were worth the ultimate sacrifice."
Despite our culture's madly desperate attempts to teach our youth that they have worth, our society's children and adults are drowning in an inability to see their value because of the people who treat them like the dust beneath their soles. Telling someone the truth means little unless it is proved with action, and people will continue to believe they are worth nothing when that is all they've experienced, no matter how many megaphones and commercials we shout self-affirmation from. The ultimate proof of God's belief in our worth was in His death. No lie can disprove the truth that you are worth the Calvary Road.

"You are not a good person."
Sometimes, we try to prove our worth by qualifying it with saying that we are all, in our heart of hearts, good people. Bologna. Anyone with a truly critical eye can recognize that, at the depths of our souls, we desire only evil. One of the most freeing things is to come to terms with the fact that we aren't good, we've never been good, we can never be good, and that there was Someone Who died so that our non-goodness could be forgiven and we could be made right with God.

"Will you forgive me?"
It's hard to apologize. It's probably one of the most difficult things that could ever be done in the context of human relationships. It requires humility and vulnerability. However, one cannot stop at simply saying, "I'm sorry." I realize that this is, in and of itself, ridiculously hard. But when you ask someone to forgive you, you let go of any I'm-sorry-but (fill in the blank). It lets the other person know that the decision for peace in your relationship belongs to them. It is total and complete vulnerability, and it shows that you are serious about your contrition, and aren't simply doing it because you know you probably should.

This is by no means a comprehensive list of things we should be saying, but it's a start. This world has enough stop-doing-this. We need some start-doing-this. Go ahead, find some of your own!

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

The Confidence of Sonship

Once again, I sat in the chairs near Chapel by The Lake - my home away from home butted up against the waters of the intracoastal. Dear reader, I know I've bored you with speaking of this place many times, so I'll spare you details as to the setting.

I sat there and saw a mother and her daughter gather next to the intracoastal wall, probably to have lunch or something of that nature. Shortly after seeing them, I saw another man approach. He was wearing green surgical scrubs - the kind you see high-fallutin' surgeons wear. Granted, anyone can wear surgical scrubs and make themselves look like a doctor (this is coming from the guy who, as a student, had patients think I was a doctor simply because I was the only male in the room). However, this man was giving off surgeon-y vibes. Y'know, the kind of person you wouldn't freak out at if you saw a scalpel in their pocket.

As he walked up to his family, the daughter saw him, took off running from her mother, and jumped into her dad's arms.

Let's get something straight. If I were to run up to this guy and try to jump into his arms, I'd probably find that scalpel in my spleen before I got the chance to even think it. Even if one of his colleagues or trusted friends were to try the same thing, it would just come off unnatural and pretty creepy. The man is a surgeon. And one does not treat someone of such high status with that kind of irreverence and creepiness. For almost anyone else, the only appropriate response to greeting this man includes the use of titles, firm handshakes, and honor (especially cuz he was Asian [white boy said whaaaaa?]).
"Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need." (Hebrews 4)
One does not simply approach the Creator of the universe; the Maker of all that is with anything less than strict use of titles, firmly bowed knees, and deep honor.

That is, unless, you are His child.

See, sons and daughters are in a special position - they get to skip the formalities. Notice, I did not say that they were able to skip the honor. Rather, they are able to skip the handshakes and offering of gifts and simply run straight into their Father's arms.

When we are broken by sin, the temptation for us as believers is to recognize the judgment and wrath of God without having a proper view of His grace and forgiveness. This establishes a heart-wrenching, cold-shouldered distance between us and this Judge of a God. However, in these depths of desperation, the soul cannot bear the weight of formalities, and must be given the freedom to run into the tight and warm embrace of a kind Father.

And so, this is what has been described as the Scandal of Grace - that we are adopted, made right with God, and allowed to boldly approach Him in a way no one else is allowed to because of His ultimate sacrifice. These are the privileges of being made a part of the family of God. Will you today run into the arms of your Father, or will you continue to believe that He only holds judgment for you?

In the words of the poet Gethsemane: "More than a Judge, my God is a Lover."

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Hipster Resolutions

So, I understand that ministry majors and the layman Christian who is passionate about the Scriptures have recently been getting a little absorbed in ancient theologians and the writings of great believers who are now long dead. I think there are pro's and con's to this movement of looking to the past for great theology and substance of truth:

Pro: Some of these men (think Jonathan Edwards, Martin Luther, St. Augustine, Charles Spurgeon, John Owens, C.S. Lewis, etc) wrote and thought about some of the most profound truths that mankind has ever been able to stumble upon.

Con: We tend to pedestal-ize these men to a position they cannot deserve. The truths they wrote about were not the result of their own brilliance, but were outworkings of the unchanging truths found in the same Bible available to all mankind.

Pro: Though these men were great, we see that they wrestled with the same faith-shaking issues we do: depression, doubt, sin, and heartache. In this, we can find hope for ourselves that God's grace works powerfully in weak men.

Con: I feel that much of the desire to quote old literature and respect old men is a result of our generation's hipster-driven love for the oh-so-vintage-retro. The problem with this is that, more often than not, our love for this type of literature is more a matter of intellectual "I-quoted-John-Calvin-before-he-was-cool" pride than it is a realization of the profound nature of what these men discussed. We seek witty quips to share over coffee rather than weighty truths to cry over when praying through despair.

Pro: These men were driven in their pursuit of holiness and the presence of God. Many of them had a solid grasp of the gravity of sin and of the greatness of God, and I'm stoked to hear our generation read about men who were serious about righteousness in a culture where everything slides.

Con: We make it out as if these men lived in an age where everything was better than it is now. We think that theologians of the past contributed towards a "golden age" of the church. The reality is that they had a ton of problems, too, but they were just different ones than we have now.

That being said, I've come to love one particular work of literature written by a 19-year-old Jonathan Edwards, a great preacher of old who is known for a sermon called, "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God." The work that I speak of is simply called, "The Resolutions of Jonathan Edwards," which is simply a collection of decisions that Edwards made when he was young in the faith. We find decisions like these:

#37: "Resolved, to inquire every night, as I am going to bed, wherein I have been negligent, what sin I have committed, and wherein I have denied myself: also at the end of every week, month and year."


#52: "Resolved, that I will live just so as I can think I shall wish I had done, supposing I live to old age."


#56: "Resolved, never to give over, nor in the least to slacken my fight with my corruptions, however unsuccessful I may be."

There are 70 of these resolutions. Some of them are a bit strange, and perhaps unbiblical, ("Resolved, never to speak anything that is ridiculous, sportive, or matter of laughter on the Lord’s day.") but they reflect something crucial to the walk of faith.
"If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth." (Colossians 3, emphasis added)
We are commanded to set our minds on matters of the divine, heavenly order. And what else does "setting your mind" mean than to willfully make a decision to pursue holiness in a grace-driven way, to make conviction-minded choices that will lead us more near holiness, and to be intentional about honoring God with purposeful resolutions that will make us more like Him?

Colossians 3 goes on to say that we are to

"Put to death therefore what is earthly in you..."

One does not put something to death by making kinda-sorta wishy-washy choices. This act of killing must be willful, persistent, vigilant, and intentional. And so I end with one last resolution:

"Resolved, to live with all my might, while I do live."