How Interstate 70 in Colorado Reminds Me of My Father’s Care

As I type this, I am home about three hours after an overnight to a place in the Rockies—Glenwood Springs.  That’s hot springs, by the way.  This trip was scheduled months ago for my mother-in-law’s trip to Colorado, and also for her birthday (and a significant one at that).  Yet, due to some family matters, my mother-in-law could not come, but also my wife had to fly back to Kentucky to be with her family.  It was a no-brainer.

So, what about the trip?  I put in a call to cancel it, but my wife, mother-in-law, and four kiddos talked me out of it.

So, once church was over and our people left to their respective Labor Day weekends, we piled in the Honda, dropped off the dog at a church member’s, dropped Hannah’s bird off at another member’s and off we went.

In God’s gracious providence, I’m so glad we did.  The last few weeks have been quite frantic from a number of angles—more so than usual.  And those weeks made life at the house simply about getting things done.  “Homework done?”  “Shower done?”  “Did you brush your teeth?  All of them?”  “Done picking up your Legos?” (Hey, when there’s lots to accomplish, grammar flies out the window, right?)   Thank our Heavenly Father for a backyard and a soccer ball, else we’d be up a tree—all work and no play.

But we swam, played mini golf, at some fun cuisine, watched The Hobbit, walked around a neat little city.  What a treat!  Vacations are about being with people you’re with every day, but getting to know them all over again.  God has blessed me with four incredible children.

And the best part was yet to come.

Interstate 70 in the Rockies is a windy, up-and-down venture that would be awful if it weren’t for the majestic scenery.  Every turn brought about another wrinkle in the creative work of a God who knows beauty.

And then I began to realize something—certain turns in life over the past few weeks would certainly be ranging from pretty good to down right rough if it weren’t for the majestic providence of my caring Father.

In Romans 8:26-30, Paul writes:

26 Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. 27 And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because[a] the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. 28 And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good,[b] for those who are called according to his purpose. 29 For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. 30 And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.

We are weak.  We suffer due to the curse of sin in the world!  We all long for the redemption of our bodies, for what went wrong in the Garden by the first Adam to be remedied in that great City by the Second Adam (Romans 5:12-21; Revelation 21-22).  But in the meantime, God’s Spirit helps us in our weakness.  We don’t always pray rightly, but the Spirit intercedes to give us what is right according to the will of God.  Then that precious Romans 8:28 comes in—for Christians, God is working all things for our good.  Why?

Christians are called by the Spirit to salvation (John 3:3-7; John 6:60-66).  His work even before we came on the scene was to make His elect in the image of His Son!  Foreknown, predestined, called, justified, glorified—worked out before the foundation of the world with the end being as if it were already secured.  We may not understand this, accept this, like this, or believe this is the method, but there it is.  God is working all things for our good so that we will be conformed to the image of His Son.

Every turn on I-70 showed me more of God’s beauty.

Every turn in my Christian walk shows me more of God’s beauty.

He’s working all things for my good and His glory—not because I’m any good, but because He chose me by His grace and in spite of my sin!

Indeed!

Is Jesus Really Enough? Looking at the Promi$e$ of the Pro$perity Go$pel

Next Wednesday, I’ll be flying to Trinidad & Tobago to lead a conference on the prosperity gospel. Here’s a portion of how it will begin on Friday, September 5 at the Mt. Beulah Evangelical Baptist Church in Point Fortin, Trinidad. Please pray that the Spirit would move to help all understand the true trajectory of the gospel!

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I’m so thankful to be with you here today. This stands as my tenth time to Trinidad and Tobago—the first in 1995-6 over a Christmas break during seminary when we spent two weeks teaching music. I then came back when I pastored Boone’s Creek Baptist Church in Lexington, KY back in 2004. Then came 2005 (construction), 2006 (leader conference), 2007 (more construction), 2009, 2011, 2012 (Pastor Roddie’s 25th), 2013 (marriage conference), and now this time—preaching and teaching on the most controversial topic thus far.

I find myself ashamed at some of the things that my country that I love has exported around the world. I turn on the television here and I see the filth of the programming you have from Hollywood—be it TV programming or movies. I feel the need to apologize to all of you, but I’m just one person.

Part of the television programming that is troublesome does not simply come from secular Hollywood. This programming comes with all the language and practices that make what they say seem very Christian—but in reality, it’s just very American, very human, but with all the earmarks of Christianity. It sounds like the gospel—but is it?

In Paul’s letter to the Galatians, he opens not with a word of commendation but one of exasperation.

“I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel–not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ” (Galatians 1:6-7).

Some in Galatia felt there was another ‘good news’–a better good news–than the one Paul gave them—one grounded by God’s calling “in the grace of Christ.” Was Paul being arrogant—was his gospel the only gospel? No, read this again: they were deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ. This gospel was not only given by Christ, but was certainly Christ himself (see Mark 1:1). He was sufficient and still is! They preached that there existed another legitimate way to be right with the Father and fit for heaven. These Judaizers’ ‘gospel’ was Christ-plus. In this case, it was Christ-plus-law of Moses, that is, counting on one’s own works of righteousness.

I submit to you that there moves a gospel among us that many hold dear as a way to the Father, a way that not only brings righteousness, but serves as an indicator of our righteousness and the blessings of God therein. It is a ‘gospel’ that’s a Christ-plus–but the plus is that of health, wealth, and prosperity, also known as the prosperity gospel.

The prosperity gospel says that in your obedience to him, he will bless you and favor you with good health, an abundance of finances, and prosperity here in this life. The converse follows: if you are not blessed materially, physically, and prosperously, then that means there is a lack of faith somewhere. So, you need more faith, more trust, and God will bring a corresponding blessing.

Did I say God will? Let me use another verb: God must.

The problem could be in how you think, in what you speak, or a number of other different levels.

At the core of this problem is the issue of whether Jesus–His promises, His person, His pathway–is sufficient. Is He really enough? In the biblical record, all the people of God were promised were His presence, and that he would supply their needs (spiritually and, yes, physically). But for Westerners, that’s not enough–He should supply what we want, in abundance, and in our timing. Else, God isn’t faithful. Has Christ supplied us enough? Do we see him as enough?

The Danger of Sensationalistic Preaching

Recently, I’ve grown fascinated with John Broadus, most know for being one of the founding members and later a president of my alma mater, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky.  He’s also known for penning one of the greatest preaching manuals in our nation’s history, A Treatise on the Preparation and Delivery of Sermons (hardcover | Kindle ). 

One of the warnings he gave his students was on the danger of sensationalistic preaching, that is, preaching that strictly appeals to the emotions of the listener rather than to the mind.  Beecher Johnson, contributor to John Broadus: A Living Legacy, defines this as

… using any means to gain the ear of, or have an effect on, the audience that does not honor the sacred nature of God and the things of God or ensure singular focus on the spiritual and theological message of God in the text (216).

In the mid to late 1800’s to even now, preaching that is rooted in emotion rather than revelation of Scripture fails to honor God and will fail to change lives in any substantial way.

In that same book, Steven Lawson gives a warning to churches today:

Pressure to produce bottom-line results has led many ministries to sacrifice the centrality of biblical preaching on the altar of man-centered pragmatism.  A new way of “doing” church is emerging.  In this radical paradigmatic shift, exposition is being replaced with entertainment, preaching with performances, doctrine with drama, and theology with theatrics (Famine in the Land, p. 25, quoted in A Living Legacy, p. 213). 

Pray for preachers of the gospel, that they rely on the testimony of Scripture rather that the shifting sands of sensationalism.  That’s what the world and the church most needs. 

What is the Biggest Hindrance in Prayer Life and Corporate Life?

I’m convinced convinced that one of the biggest hindrances of personal prayer life in the corporate life of the church is the religion of common sense, which is what the dictionary defines as: “good sense and sound judgment in practical matters.”  In this definition, we see the adjectives of good and sound.  So, based on common, conventional wisdom, decisions are made based on personal experience and the experiences of the collective herd.

Yet, while God certainly gives the knowledge that can fuel common sense, to be sure, God often has a way of leading that stands outside of the conventions of common sense.

Oswald Chambers puts it this way:

Faith in active opposition to common sense is mistaken enthusiasm and narrow-mindedness, and common sense in opposition to faith demonstrates a mistaken reliance on reason as the basis for truth. The life of faith brings the two of these into the proper relationship. Common sense and faith are as different from each other as the natural life is from the spiritual, and as impulsiveness is from inspiration. Nothing that Jesus Christ ever said is common sense, but is revelation sense, and is complete, whereas common sense falls short. Yet faith must be tested and tried before it becomes real in your life.

When relying on common sense, we rely less on faith in trust.  Instead of relying on what God sees, we confine ourselves to only what we can see and know and experience. Yet, all of us are touched by sin and the fall–“all have sinned and come short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).  Therefore, we must pursue the glory of God in all our decisions, not operating by fear, but by faith in the promises that Christ gave His church.

Common sense is helpful.  Yet, let’s not use it in place of prayer and the pursuit of Christ and His Will.

(ADDENDUM:  After writing this post, I can across another post with some interesting memes of a ‘Common Sense Jesus.’  Thoughts?)

The Bumper Sticker Theology of Coexist: Is This Possible? Yes and No.

I see these bumper stickers proudly stuck on vehicles all across this great country of ours.  “Coexist”–a desire for tolerance of all religions in this country.  

This piece of art was designed by Piotr Mlodozeniec, whose basic coexistence design uses three symbols that stand for Islam, Judaism, and Christianity.  Thus, each of the letters represent a different religion or philosophy:

C – The symbol of Islam

O – The peace symbol or pagan/Wiccan pentacle.

E – The male/female symbol, recognizing the equality of each.

X – The Star of David and represents Judaism.

I – The symbol for Wiccan

S – The symbol for Chinese yin-yang.

T – The cross is used to represent Christianity.

Granted, the challenge of communicating everything you wish to communicate on a 12 inch bumper sticker is asking too much.  Interpretation is in the heart of the beholder.  

But if tolerance be the issue, we certainly understand that the need for clarity of this definition.  

Does tolerating someone mean being willing to agree to disagree, all the while making the case for the veracity of their philosophy?  

Or does tolerance mean that everyone is right–even if two philosophies or religions are diametrically opposed to one another in means and ends? 

As fellow citizens of our country, and as fellow imagebearers of God (Genesis 1:26-27), I happily coexist with my neighbors who hold to different beliefs that I do.  But how I long to recapture in our society the original meaning of tolerance: sharing your views, sharing how you believe the other is right/wrong, and still being friends or at least civil to one another.  

Each of the philosophies outlined in this bumper stickers may certainly coexist, at least in a democratic society.  But to say they must coexist because each are inherently correct?  Given the differences in starting point, means to salvation, and the end results–we must remain intellectually honest and say without hesitation that this argument is weak with little foundation.

So when you see this bumper sticker, what comes across your mind?

What Does The Lord Require of You? (Hint: Harder Work Won’t Work)

Anytime we join a group or any sort, requirements are put forth in order to identify and remain with that group.  We sign contracts, make agreements, give our word in various manners.  Gang members have signs and ways they wear their clothing to show loyalty and identity.

In religion, this is no different.  The Buddhists have their Eightfold Path (know the truth, say nothing to hurt others, practice meditation, control your thoughts, resist evil, free your mind of evil, work for the good of others, and respect life), the Muslims have their Five Pillars (Shahada, Prayer, giving charity, fasting, and pilgrimage to Mecca).

On the Mormon website, we see how one’s sins are atoned for.  This is from the LDS website:

Through the Atonement, we all can be forgiven of our sins; we can become clean before God. To receive this enabling power, we must obey the gospel of Jesus Christ, which includes having faith in Him, repenting of our sins, being baptized, receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost, and trying to follow the teachings of Jesus Christ for the rest of our lives

In Moroni 10:32 of the Book of Mormon:

Yea, come unto Christ, and be perfected in him, and deny yourselves of all ungodliness; and if ye shall deny yourselves of all ungodliness, and love God with all your might, mind and strength, then is his grace sufficient for you, that by his grace ye may be perfect in Christ; and if by the grace of God ye are perfect in Christ, ye can in nowise deny the power of God. “

In each of these previous examples, we see what you must do in order to obtain righteousness before God.

  • “… we can become clean before God. To receive this enabling power, we must obey the gospel of Jesus Christ.”
  • “...if ye shall deny yourselves of all ungodliness, and love God with all your might, mind and strength, then is his grace sufficient for you, that by his grace ye may be perfect in Christ.”

For Micah, one of the key passages in this book is Micah 6:1-8, specifically verses 6-8.  Let’s stand and read this together.

“With what shall I come before the Lord,
    and bow myself before God on high?
Shall I come before him with burnt offerings,
    with calves a year old?
Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams,
    with ten thousands of rivers of oil?
Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression,
    the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?”
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?

In this passage, we see what the Lord requires of us.  This seems to pile on more commands in order for God to receive us–but this is not the case.  We must understand at the beginning why this question would arise in the first place.

Like at so many other times in Israel’s history, they obediently observed all the worship practices prescribed by Yahweh, but was He pleased?  Again, the issue of going through the motions in times of worship, and failing to take what they’ve learned of God and apply it to their lives is not an issue that simple stayed in the days of Micah.  Sadly, every generation of believers and those who identify with His people do this very same thing.

Yet, we must ask ourselves these questions, look at what is happening in Micah’s context, and then look at what can be done to rightly approach our Lord God. And it puts forth a question again: what does the Lord require of us? Why is this question so important?

In verse 6, this question of how to approach the Lord must not be scooted over.  At the end of the day, as the apostle Paul notes,
we must all stand before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what  he has done in  the body, whether good or evil (2 Corinthians  5:10).  Every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father (Philippians 2:9-11).

So the questions continue:  Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old?   Was this prescribed in the OT for atoning for sins?  Yes-if the motive is right.

But even with this, God gives clues that the outward offering of sacrifices would not be sufficient.  In 1 Samuel 15, King Saul disobeyed the Lord’s command in his dealing with the Amalekites, and Samuel the prophet came to inform Saul that God’s hand was taken away from his kingship.  He did not obey fully.  When Samuel saw the sacrifices offered, even in the midst of Saul’s obedience, he cried out:

Has the LORD great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of  the LORD? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to listen than the fat of rams.  For rebellion is as the sin of divination, and presumption as iniquity and idolatry(1 Samuel 15:22-23).

To presume upon the Lord what is right and what is wrong in our lives, without consulting and obeying what he says is sin.  You are not worshiping the God of heaven and earth, but worshiping another that may seem like God to you.

So they began to conclude:  what if I thousands of rams and ten thousand rivers of oil?    No!  Doing more, and offering more sacrifices will not work.  Harder work will not work when it comes to our relationship and how we approach the living God in worship!

How about this: I give my firstborn for my sin!  No!  No! No!  Harder work won’t work.

John Calvin in his commentary says:

They see that they whom God convicts and their own conscience condemns, cannot rest in safety. Hence they wish to discharge their duty towards God as a matter of necessity; but at the same time they seek some fictitious modes of reconciliation, as though it were enough to flatter God, as though he could be pacified like a child with some frivolous trifles.

We all fall into this trap, don’t we?  Men, when you’re married and your actions have displeased your wife, what do you do?  Wash the car?  Vacuum?  Flowers? You can do all those things, but if the actions and the heart do not change, what will all those things do?

You can come to church more, sing songs loudly, join teams, do missions work, give generously–but harder work won’t work when it comes to approaching our Lord.  Again, these do not prove your love so God will love you.  We do this because God has shown His love to us.

9 Marks Journal for Summer 2014 is Out: Biblical Theology

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The most recent 9Marks Journal is out, and looks tremendous: Biblical Theology: Guardian & Guide of the Church.  Here’s an introduction:

Churches, as much as ever, need to know who they are, where they come from, who their ancestors are. Are we not children of Abraham? Doesn’t our family tree include Moses and David, Rahab and Ruth? Are we not all adopted heirs and coheirs with Christ? Sons of the divine king?

Biblical theology is not just about reading the Bible rightly, though it begins there. It serves to guard and guide the local church. It maintains the right message, defines the task of the messenger, identifies imposters, tells us what we do when we gather, and sets the trajectory of our mission. It answers the question, Who are we, as the church in the world?

Those are some of the topics this issue of the Journal will explore. The goal here is not so much to trace out the Bible’s storyline, but to show how knowing that storyline locates the identity and work of the church in the grand sweep of history.

Click here to read online or to download in various formats of your choosing.  I think I’ll download it for Kindle right now.