Archive for February, 2009

My Call to STR on “Gospel of the Kingdom”

Saturday, February 21st, 2009

I called in to the show Stand to Reason recently, to ask a question about the meaning of “the gospel of the kingdom” in Matthew 4:23, 9:35, and 24:14.  It was prompted by some comments made by a guest speaker at the Monday-night class at my church.  He said that the gospel is more than justification & sin management, and pointed to the phrase “the gospel of the kingdom”.  As he expanded on that, I agreed with what he was meant, but I was hesitant about the phrasing.  I was hesitant about actually saying, “The gospel is about more than justification.”  I know there’s something right about that, but something seemed wrong, too.  I had to think it through… What can we say is the focus of the gospel?

Note:  I was sensitized to this question by Mark Dever’s message the Together for the Gospel 2008 conference, “Improving the Gospel: Exercises in Unbiblical Theology“.  It’s a great mp3.

I really appreciated Greg Koukl’s response to my question.  He did a great job of giving a balanced answer.  If you’re interested, you can listen to the mp3.  (Go to ~25:00.  It lasts about 20 minutes.)

Listen to the call.

I’ll just add one comment:  I am amazed at how often I said “uh” or “um” during that call.  My parents have told me that I do this, after some of my phone conversations with them.  Now I’ve heard a recording.  Yikes!  I’ll have to keep working on that.

There’s (not) a Virus on NPR’s Website! <– Whoops, false alarm.

Monday, February 16th, 2009

<Deleted>

Cancel this warning.  I was getting a virus warning from AVG Free about NPR’s website.  But it turns out that it’s a false alarm–AVG fixed it with their most recent virus definitions.

Ironies: “Free-thinker”

Monday, February 16th, 2009

Atheists & agnostics sometimes use the phrase “free-thinker” or “free-thinking” as a better label for their position.

In other words, to be a free-thinker, you have to come to the same conclusions that they do.

Money & Stewardship

Monday, February 16th, 2009

At Hope Chapel, we’re in the middle of a sermon series on stewardship.  Last week I wrote the discussion notes for the small groups, and led the discussion at my own group. (Here are the notes, which include a link to the SNL skit Don’t Buy Stuff, in the icebreaker section.)

In the discussion, we articulated some things I wanted to pass on:

  1. It’s not about identifying a minimum that you can give back to God, and then keep the rest for your own use.
  2. It’s not about asceticism–never buying nice things.
  3. “Where there is no revelation, the people cast off restraint; but blessed is he who keeps the law.” (Prov. 29:18)
  4. How often do we really look to the Old Testament for guidance on money?  (Should we be paying more attention to the OT laws on interest, loans, etc?)
  5. The OT points toward an expanded sense of generosity.
  6. “God loves a cheerful giver.”
  7. We should live lifestyles of openness and generosity.
  8. There isn’t a New Testament requirement of a 10% tithe.  (Though it functions as a fair benchmark or starting place.)
  9. We should start with examining our hearts in how we use our money, more than any one particular spending habit.  In what spirit or with what vision are we acting?  (But fruit does tend to show the heart.)
  10. We should view our money as a gift from God, to be used & stewarded.  We are stewards of all our money, not just what we give to our church.

One thing in particular:

We sometimes talk about our offerings as “giving back to God”.  But that can start to sound like we’re keeping the rest for ourselves.  If we want to start thinking of all of our money as God’s money, then I think it would be helpful to talk about it another way.

I want to view my tithe as devoting some of my money to the particular purpose of supporting my congregation.  Hopefully, I will be giving all of my money to God, using it for his purposes—including the money I spend on food, clothes, and entertainment.  This requires living a lifestyle of walking in the Spirit—where everything is part of your walk with God.  Even entertainment, if it is received with thanksgiving, where it gladdens the heart.  A lifestyle of thoughtful consideration and intentional, budgeted spending.  A lifestyle of understanding God’s will—trying to be like Christ.  A lifestyle of enjoying the things God has created.  A lifestyle of generosity.

Man, that’s hard.  But it’s got to be a joyful thing, if we can stop clinging to…well, to other ways of living.  What better life could there be?

Homosexuality & Hypocrisy Pt 4.5: P.S. On Dealing with Stereotypes

Saturday, February 14th, 2009

I had a couple more thoughts to add to my last entry on dealing with stereotypes.

1.) The best place for talking about stereotypes.

I said:

And the best way to defend ourselves is not to have to.  For our message and our lives to be so clear and so well-known, that we never have to try to defend ourselves.

The idea there is that we’re inoculating people against the stereotypes.  (When they’re not true, anyway.)

But that has a major exception:  People who don’t know us at all.  People whose perceptions are formed by what they see on TV or read on the internet.  And something about those venues seems to propagate stereotypes.  For instance, “Christians being Christ-like” isn’t likely to make the news.  (Even Fox News.)  What’s more likely to make the news is when a prominent Christian sticks his foot in his mouth.  And then there’s the Internet, where what sticks out are the flame wars and loudmouths.

That’s probably the best situation for pointing out the stereotypes, assuming we can do it without whining–when we’re dealing with people who just don’t know conservative Christians.  (Inoculation works better to prevent stereotypes, than to cure stereotypes.)

Still, though—as much as possible, I want to fix the stereotypes simply by being clearly Christ-like and Christ-honoring in our words and deeds, pointing to Him and the truth He taught.

2.) “Bad” stereotypes that aren’t really bad.

Sometimes, the “bad” stereotypes are true—but they’re not actually bad!  That happens in two ways:

  1. Christ offended a lot of people.  If we’re doing everything exactly right, and communicating Him well, then He’s going to offend them through us.  Sometimes.  (And other times, His goodness & love overwhelms.)
  2. Misunderstood or poorly-done truths.  Take evangelism.  We’re stereotyped as being into “proselytism”.  Which is true. (Depending on your definition of “proselytism”.)  But sometimes, the”bad” stereotype comes from evangelism done poorly.  Or evangelism misunderstood.  (What if people see evangelism as, “Join my religious club” instead of “Know and understand Christ, and the stunning grace of what he has done”?  What if they see televangelists inviting people to receive Jesus and send in their money?)

So the answer here is pretty much the same.  Speak and live clearly.  And make sure that if people are offended, they are being offended by Christ–not by us.

Further Reading

Summer White, And Then I Got Punched In The Worldview

Summer White is the daughter of Dr. James R. White, of Alpha & Omega Ministries.  She recently blogged about an experience at her college, dealing with stereotypes. You might check it out–how well do you think she handled it?

Dan Kimball, They Like Jesus, But Not the Church

Dan Kimball comes from the more conservative wing of the Emerging Church.  The title is pretty expressive.  I liked this book, though I’m not claiming it’s perfect.  (It’s been a while since I read it, so I don’t clearly recall what there might be to criticize.)  It’s worth reading, especially if you keep in mind a couple things: (1) The “Jesus” people often like is a watered-down Jesus—a pop Jesus who only ever says nice things, except when he’s cutting down religious conservatives.  (2) When Kimball talks about areas where people “like Jesus but not the Church”, he is not saying that the church is necessarily doing something wrong there.  He does advocate correcting misunderstandings.

Update: Here’s the entire series:
Homosexuality & Hypocrisy Pt 1: Slogans & the Gospel
Homosexuality & Hypocrisy Pt 2: The Gospel in Romans
Homosexuality & Hypocrisy Pt 3: Hypocrisy, Stereotyping, and the Gospel
Homosexuality & Hypocrisy Pt 4: Dealing with Stereotypes
Homosexuality & Hypocrisy Pt 4.5: P.S. On Dealing with Stereotypes

Homosexuality & Hypocrisy Pt 4: Dealing with Stereotypes

Tuesday, February 10th, 2009

In the previous entry from this series, I mentioned stereotypes—in this case, how conservatives are stereotyped as narrow-minded, as selfish, as hateful, or as smug, Pharisaical, self-righteous  judgmental jerks.  So… What do we do with that?  How should we respond? (Edit: I’ll say up front that sometimes the stereotypes are true. And I should add that this would apply to dealing with any kind of stereotype–including conservative stereotypes about liberals.)

I have a few thoughts—an overarching perspective, and then a list of miscellaneous points.

It’s going to involve a combination of words & actions.  Words to point out the stereotyping, words to communicate what we mean & believe, and actions in keeping with what we say.  I’m not precisely sure what the balance should be between them, but I suspect it should and lean toward latter two.   (“They’re stereotyping us” isn’t an inherently interesting or helpful subject.  Talking about Christ, the Gospel, and the Scriptures is—along with acting like Christ.)

And the best way to defend ourselves is not to have to.  For our message and our lives to be so clear and so well-known, that we never have to try to defend ourselves.  For people to be so familiar with us that they know who we are.  For us to be so pervasively, consistently Christ-like, clearly communicating the Gospel, that we cannot be unjustly stereotyped.

And of course, that assumes that the stereotypes are unjust.  Which isn’t always the case!  (We all live out stereotypes, sometimes.)

Thoughts to ponder:

  1. How often is there truth in the stereotypes?  How often are there real negative experiences behind people’s bad perceptions of Christianity and/or conservatives?  How compelling will such people find it when we simply insist that we’re not really like that?  (Counter-thought: How often are people oversensitive about their past experience? How often do they use it as an excuse to broadbrush?)
  2. Talking about the stereotypes is limited in its usefulness.  “They’re stereotyping us” is helpful if done right, but we have to be careful that it doesn’t become complaining or whining.  After all…if the stereotypes are true, we’ll spend a lot more time & energy decrying “them dang lib’rals & the lib’ral media” than we’ll spend talking about Christ and bearing fruit in service & love.
  3. It will be hypocritical for us to complain about the stereotypes, if we don’t do a good job of cleaning house, seeking to be above reproach.  I don’t know if actions speak louder than words, but they’re sure important for backing them up.  (Along those lines, see the previous entry on service.)
  4. We need to be clear that we truly see ourselves as fellow sinners in need of a savior. We need to be clear that the Gospel is not, “Become a church-goer—be better, like us.” That the Gospel is what Christ did for us—the gift of redemption, received by simple, humble, repentant, God-seeking faith.
  5. We need to act like we speak. To be humble & loving.  To soak in the spirit of Phil. 2:1-18.  That means heart transformation–we need to pray for God to change our hearts to be more like Christ.  So that we will do justly, and love mercy, and walk humbly.
  6. We all need to watch our own tendencies to stereotype & categorize.

Update: I added a “Part 4.5” to my series, with a couple more thoughts on dealing with stereotypes.

Update: Here’s the entire series:

Homosexuality & Hypocrisy Pt 1: Slogans & the Gospel
Homosexuality & Hypocrisy Pt 2: The Gospel in Romans
Homosexuality & Hypocrisy Pt 3: Hypocrisy, Stereotyping, and the Gospel
Homosexuality & Hypocrisy Pt 4: Dealing with Stereotypes
Homosexuality & Hypocrisy Pt 4.5: P.S. On Dealing with Stereotypes

Christians & Community Service, from The White Horse Inn

Saturday, February 7th, 2009

There was some great stuff in this week’s episode of one of my radio shows—The White Horse Inn—concerning Christians, local church programs, and community service.  I’ll start with the quote, add some comments, and then mention a bit about the show itself, for anyone who’s interested.

You can listen, or read my transcription.  The quote is from  The Foolishness of God, starting at timestamp ~25:30.  (Note: If you’re reading this entry from The Future, it might be a broken link.)  In context, they’re talking about the church itself doing outreach programs in the community.  Should that be the mission of the local church?  (I’ve added some bold to the key portions.)

Ken Jones: “I’ve mentioned this before, but I have people that will ask me, because of where my church is located [in the inner city], ‘What kind of programs do you have in your church?’ [...] A few years ago, when they were having mayoral elections in the city of Compton, and again the question would come up, ‘What is your church doing?’  And I happened to notice that we had, I think, four block club presidents in our church, [...] and the person that was the moderator for the mayoral debates was a member of our church.  None of these things were done as programs or outreach from the church, but it was individuals who were members of our congregation, making the contribution to the city of Compton, as residents of the city of Compton, not as representatives of Greater Union Baptist Church.

[...]

Mike Horton: “And don’t you think, to put the best construction on it, that a lot of people when they’re doing this, they’re not saying, ‘I want our church to get the credit for this, I want it to be on the news that we did some great thing,’ but rather, ‘When a cup of cold water is being offered, I want it to be offered in the name of the Gospel.’  And in actual fact that motive is perfectly understandable, and the Church does have a diaconal, charitable role to play, but that really we should be telling people, ‘Look–certainly do that in your neighborhood, offer a cold cup of water in the name of Christ, certainly care for your brothers and sisters who are suffering in the body of Christ. But be concerned about people out there who are not just a mission field to you, but who deserve your neighborliness, your love and your friendship, just because they are bone of your bone and flesh of your flesh.  They are fellow human beings, God made them in His image.  And you can work side-by-side in the Peace Corp or in Red Cross, you don’t need to start your own evangelical world relief organization.  There are plenty of them out there already where you’re not raising money again to duplicate another bureacracy.  Go be a part of those things, and you’ll be working side-by-side with non-Christians in those volunteer organizations in a way that not only gives you an opportunity to do good to the people you’re serving, but also to explain to your non-Christian co-workers why you’re doing what you’re doing.’

Things I love about this episode:

  1. They express evangelical concerns about “social gospel“–concern that our works of service will end up replacing the gospel instead of adorning the gospel.
  2. They express the idea that proclaiming the Gospel is the primary mission of the Church.
  3. But they avoid the pendulum swing.  They don’t jettison community service.  On the contrary.
  4. They manage to challenge the evangelical tendency to serve & “love” people because we see them as a mission field.  “No, love these people because they deserve it as fellow human beings.”
  5. The message is, Get out there and be involved!

There’s more to be said–for instance, I doubt that “evangelical world relief organizations” are necessarily bad! But in general, these thoughts seem to be an important part of a mature approach.

The White Horse Inn ”is a nationally syndicated radio talk show hosted by Michael Horton, Rod Rosenbladt, Kim Riddlebarger and Ken Jones. On the air since 1990, the show features a regular roundtable discussion of Christian theology and apologetics.”  (About the hosts.)  The theme of the show in 2008 was “Christless Christianity”.  The theme of 2009 is “Christ in a Post-Christian Culture”.  They also publish a bi-weekly magazine called Modern Reformation.

Ben Stein on Financial Crisis, 1979 vs. 2009

Thursday, February 5th, 2009

This is a rather good perspective on the financial crisis.  Add a dash of the Sermon on the Mount, let simmer, and serve.

Thirty Years Ago, by Ben Stein

Homosexuality & Hypocrisy Pt 3: Hypocrisy, Stereotyping, and the Gospel

Monday, February 2nd, 2009

Pt 1:  Slogans & the Gospel

Pt 2: The Gospel in Romans

Paul said in Romans 2, “you have no excuse, O man, every one of you who judges. For in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, practice the very same things.“  He’s talking about hypocrisy–doing what you criticize in other people.

Recently I’ve become increasingly aware of how often and how easily we fall into that.  With the best of intentions, we can wind up being hypocritical in practically everything.  It just slips in under our radar.

Examples

1.) Charity Police

In a post from October, I said:

If you read many blogs on the internet, you will find people who speak very uncharitably–they’re constantly unnecessarily harsh in tone and unreasonable in how they interpret others.  You will also find people who are obsessed with accusing others of being uncharitable.  You can call them charity police.  And those guys can be some of the least charitable people around–accusing others of uncharity at the drop of a hat or the slightest hint of language that isn’t excessively polite.  Majorly unreasonable & oversensitive.

We should be gracious with each other in addressing their mistakes–including mistakes of style.  And we shouldn’t be too quick to assume the worst.

Charity police can be the least charitable people on the internet.

2.) Liberals & stereotyping.

(Note: Everyone does this kind of thing, but there’s an extra element of hypocrisy when self-professed liberal people do it.)

As a general simplification:  The Liberal Ideal includes being open-minded & tolerant.

So it’s particularly unfortunate when a self-described liberal broadbrushes conservatives–as narrow-minded, as selfish, as hateful, or as smug, Pharisaical, self-righteous  judgmental jerks.  When a liberal thinks in stereotypes, seeing us through the filter of their preconceived ideas about us–without engaging & exploring & knowing us.

It’s frustrating being pigeonholed by someone who tells you how open-minded they are.

(I think the Prop 8 Musical is a good example of this.  More about that in…Uh, I think it’ll be Pt 5.  And I think my next entry will discuss what our response should be to this kind of stereotyping.)

Underlying Problems & Solutions

In a general sense, this happens because we’re messed-up, sinful people.  Even in our attempts to be good or identify good, we get twisted around.  And the solution will involve prayer, and humility, and being graceful toward each other when we screw up like this.  But I want to try to be a little more specific.

Problem #1: A comfortable lack of introspection

We start to rest on our laurels.  To be comfortable.  We form an image of ourselves, and live in the image, unaware of whether we’re living up to it.  We stop examining ourselves for consistency.  We begin to live without integrity.

If you haven’t yet, listen to the mp3 of Carson talking about integrity–our struggle when we see that who we are on in the inside isn’t the same as who we try to be on the outside.  Here’s the mp3.  Go to 1:05:20, and listen for about 4.5 minutes.

So, accept that you’re going to be a hypocrite sometimes.  Commit to finding out where it’s happening.  Commit to the struggle.  Keep examining yourself against the principles you claim to follow.  Work out your salvation with fear and trembling, and commit to the humility of Christ.

Problem #2:  Keeping score vs. the Gospel

The more we compete & try to keep score—winning arguments, or proving our worth—the more likely we are to form lying images in our minds.  The more we think that our salvation depends on keeping the rules & being “good people”, the more likely we are to cling to a positive image of ourselves.  And the less likely we are to probe our own life & heart, to find the inconsistencies.

If we live in a place of freedom—knowing that our hope is based on what Christ did—then it becomes easier to admit the problems, to look for more failures, and ask for grace from God to help us change.

And our lives proceed from our hearts.  So when we pray for change, we have to pray for a change of heart.  It means looking more to the life of Jesus, and falling in love with what we see.  The change grows from the longing that God gives us to see his goodness, and taste it in our own lives.  The change grows from the belief that it will be worth it to change, even when it’s hard & involves sacrifice.  “He who loses his life for my sake will find it.”

And the change will come from God’s strength & goodness, not ours.  “For it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” (Phil 2:13)  I started this series from Romans 1-2; when we get to Romans 7, we find Paul talking about this kind of struggle with inconsistency.  And in Romans 8, we find the words of blessed assurance that if we are in Christ, we will be made more like him–that he will be the firstborn of many brothers.  He searches our hearts, and knows what is there, which should be scary–but he is bending all of history, everything in our lives, to change us.

“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.  And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.  And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.  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.  And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.”  (Rom. 8:26-30)

————-
Update:
Here’s the entire series:
Homosexuality & Hypocrisy Pt 1: Slogans & the Gospel
Homosexuality & Hypocrisy Pt 2: The Gospel in Romans
Homosexuality & Hypocrisy Pt 3: Hypocrisy, Stereotyping, and the Gospel
Homosexuality & Hypocrisy Pt 4: Dealing with Stereotypes
Homosexuality & Hypocrisy Pt 4.5: P.S. On Dealing with Stereotypes