A Magic Talisman

The Super Bowl this Sunday should be a great game between the Niners and the Ravens. I’m a lifelong Niners fan, so I hope my team pulls it out!

The interesting part of this for me has been watching the controversy surrounding Ray Lewis. Ray made a bunch of remarks about how the Ravens playoff run was God’s blessing on them and more recently about how no weapon formed against him shall prosper. This kind of stuff is pretty common in Christian circles in America today. Ray basically has said that he loves Jesus, and God has told him that his team is God’s favorite and they have God’s blessing.

raiders-of-the-lost-ark-1981That brings me to my devotions earlier in the week. I was reading 1 Samuel 4:1-11 and this common American Christian approach to God’s blessing and success hit me in the face. In that episode, Israel went to war against the Philistines. At first the Philistines defeat the Israelites and kill 4,000 soldiers. But then the Israelites have an idea and go get the Ark of the Covenant from its place in Shiloh. When it shows up in camp the Israelites shout for joy and the Philistines quake because the God of Israel is suddenly in camp. This God defeated the Egyptians and surely can defeat the Philistines. The Philistines even believe it!

As the narrative progresses, though, things change. The Israelites think that the presence of the Ark guarantees that God is on their side, but in reality the Philistines deal Israel a terrible defeat and kill 30,000 soldiers, scattering the rest. Not only that, but the Ark is captured by the Philistines! What a terrible defeat to Israel and a disrespect to God. If you read 1 Samuel 5 it’s clear that God can protect His Ark whenever he wants to (He kills a lot of Philistines and gives them tumors!), but for the Israelites having the presence of the Ark did not serve as a magic talisman of protection against defeat. They couldn’t use their God as a tool for military victory. That’s just not how it works!

This same thing seems to apply in our lives, as exemplified in the stories of Ray Lewis saying that God would not let his team be defeated. Maybe that’s so, but having a Psalm written on your shirt or a Jesus fish on your car is certainly no proof against evil. (Please oh please, Lord, may my Philistine 49ers teach the Ravens a lesson in humility!:) ) That’s not to call Lewis out personally; he’s just repeating what he’s been taught and what is very common in prosperity preaching in America today. God wants you to be rich and successful, to win the Super Bowl or get the contract or the girl. Anyone who is not with you in that is the enemy and therefore God’s enemy.

No.

A football game is not a moral issue. It is not good vs. evil. It is not God’s team vs. Satan’s team. It’s two talented football teams playing a game to see who is better for 60 minutes on that day. It’s competitive, it’s intense, there is a lot of money and prestige on the line, but God doesn’t really care who wins I don’t think. And putting God’s character on the line to come through with a Ravens victory runs afoul of Exodus 20:7 I do believe.

That’s the lesson in the 1981 classic “Raiders of the Lost Ark.” The Germans thought that the Ark was a powerful weapon, but it protected itself from them. (or, more accurately, God protected it from them…just like in 1 Samuel 5!) God is not a magic incantation to bring success. He is not a weapon to be used, but the Lord God Almighty of the universe to be worshiped!

So please, think before you equate your success with God’s success. Think before you say that someone else interviewing for a job you want can’t have it because “no weapon formed against me shall prosper.” If victory in the world is God’s mark of success, then a lot of people we look up to failed. The Apostle Paul comes to mind, who died in jail. Moses, who wasn’t allowed to enter the Promised Land because of his failure. The Apostle Peter was crucified for following Jesus. Even Jesus, whose mission it was to come and lose the ultimate battle on our behalf. Only through that loss (which He despised [Hebrews 12:2]) brought ultimate victory and vindication, and only then before God and not people. Same with Paul and Peter and Moses and many others.

Don’t use God as a magic talisman. Instead entrust Him with the outcomes and worship Him no matter if you get to play in the Super Bowl or get the first pick in next year’s draft.

Refreshing Grace: The First book from Biblical Framework Press!

RefreshingGraceFrontCoverOnlyHave you ever wondered how God can be in control of everything and still allow people to have free will? I think that for many Christians, this is a real conundrum. Sure, there have been “fights” between Calvinists and Arminians over this issue for 500 years; Calvinists argue that God is great and in control, and Arminians counter that God is good and offers salvation to all.

 

For many Christians, though, neither answer is sufficient because God says both in His Word. But how can both be true?  Well, this week I published a new book titled Refreshing Grace. This book takes a new approach to this often emotionally charged issue and explains the issue, and a fresh biblical solution to it, in an understandable way.

 

If you’re interested in the issue of God’s sovereign control and our free will in salvation, my prayer is that Refreshing Grace will help you understand the issue with more clarity and passionately pursue Christ with that new knowledge.

 

The book is available on Amazon.com in paperback as well as on Kindle.

 

Amazon.com paperback edition.

 

Amazon.com Kindle Edition.

Gabriel, God’s “PR Man”

Have you ever wondered what it would have been like to be there with Joseph and Mary at Christmas? Every Christmas and Easter I preach in the first person as a character from the biblical accounts of those events.  This Christmas I preached as the angel Gabriel.  If you’re interested in it, here it is in all its goofy glory.

In a first-person message, the intent is to see a familiar story with fresh eyes and bring the importance and the truth of it to the hearers in a new way.  I would love your feedback on this sermon!

Radical Grace

If you know me, you know that I don’t really enjoy it when we try to “church it up” and play nice when life gets messy.  The God we serve specializes in messy!  Jesus makes “church people” uncomfortable in the Gospels with His radical message of grace.  We feel like people have to clean themselves up before they are worthy of God’s love or forgiveness.  Or, if we want to church it up, we say that they have to allow God to clean them up because that sounds like we’re not doing anything and God’s doing everything, passing that off for grace.  We supposedly know if we have grace because we’re doing enough work. Wait, what?

Well, that’s not how God works.  His radical grace is not offered in response to our promise to clean ourselves up or our efforts to do so, but instead is offered because of His great love for us because of the perfect faithfulness of Christ.  This is perhaps most clearly seen in the episode of the woman caught in adultery in John 7:53-8:11, a passage I got to proclaim from the pulpit a couple of weeks ago.  Please, if you have some time, listen to the way Jesus treats people in sin:

http://westgreenway.com/Sermons/MP3/11-08-21.mp3

No commendation, but no condemnation.  Jesus offers radical grace, grace so overwhelming that our minds have a hard time with it.  We live in a culture and in a time when the motto “you get what you pay for” is practically our mantra.  We look skeptically at anyone who offers us something for free, assuming it has a “hook” in it or some ulterior motive.  But the message of Jesus is a grace so big and so consuming that it encompasses the worst we have to offer.  It offends those who believe that we must act a certain way to prove to others that we have God’s grace, but Jesus makes a specialty of offending people who focus on style over substance.

We like to make the old “bait and switch” in theological circles; we begin by proclaiming to people that “the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord,” (Romans 6:23).  That’s all well and good until someone doesn’t conform to our expectations of what their Christian walk should be; then we start questioning whether they were really saved to begin with.  In so doing, we rob people of the joy of unconditional love from God that He has promised them:

“For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38–39, ESV)

God doesn’t love us or accept us because we clean ourselves up.  He loves us because Christ, the one who is perfect, obeyed in our place so that we who are wretched and poor and destitute can be made clean by His sacrifice on our behalf.  His sacrifice is so big that even those who we don’t see God working on them from the outside, if they have trusted Christ then we know that He is working on them on the inside, in His timing and in His way.  And yeah, that crazy and radical love should change us from the inside out.  But making it a requirement of that love is turning God’s plan on its head and making it performance based instead of grace based.

For me, I can’t handle performance-based love.  Telling me that if God loved me enough to die for me, and if I were converted to Christ, and if eternal life dwelt within me, then I must act a certain way in a certain timeframe or I never experienced God’s love, makes the whole thing a contract.  If you do this, I will do that.  God’s love looks like 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)

It is, to “church it up” a little, an unconditional covenant.  God said that by faith and not by works we are saved. (Eph 2:8-9) That is an unconditional promise.  And even if we louse it up badly, He loves us and seeks our restoration. (the parable of the prodigal son in Luke 15 comes to mind)  That’s unconditional love, and in that environment our faith can be nurtured and grown to the place where we can see God not only in our hearts but in our lives.

So which is it in your life? Have you experienced performance-based spirituality, or grace-based spirituality? How have they affected your vision of who God is, who you are, and how they interrelate?

A Fair (and Fun!) Fight

Hey all, sorry I have been scarce.  It’s been hectic finishing up the semester at ACU and transitioning to two worship services at WG.  Thanks for your patience as I dropped off the face of the blogosphere.

This morning I had a great time that really encouraged me in Christ that I thought I would share.  If you’ve had much exposure to the Lordship Salvation controversy you are well aware that it can be a contentious and nasty argument at times.  When it is pursued as a means of telling who is “in” and who is “out,” it is never fun.

Today, though, I had a very different experience.  I had three friends come over to my office to discuss this issue.  One is a pastor and seminarian, one graduates from seminary in a few weeks, and the third is studying the Bible at ACU.  So the table had some people with a background in the text.  More than that, everyone had a position on the topic that they came to the table with!

The cool thing, for me, was that at the end of the day I left energized.  Now, for some it may have not been that way, but in the midst of the discussion we tried to be thoughtful and polite.  We tried not to set the other side up as a caricature but to really consider what they were saying.  We went through the case of Judas, and 1 John 3:6-10, and James 2:21-24, and 2 Timothy 2:11-13.  We considered what each text said and how each side understood it.  We looked at the Greek text when appropriate and did some impromptu word studies (thank you, Logos!).

At the end of the day, we realized that despite some differences we had a lot more in common than we originally thought.  And more than that, we realized that there is a big difference between being an “evangelical” and being a “fundamentalist,” which I would define as a Christian who believes that anyone who deviates from their doctrinal conviction in non-essential areas (inspiration and inerrancy of Scripture, full humanity and full deity of Jesus, Trinity, and salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone) is a heretic and headed to hell.  Thankfully we had no fundamentalists in the room, only evangelicals!

The discussion was spirited but cordial; it was passionate but grounded in John 13:35.  And that really encouraged me, because it showed me again that we can have unity in diversity within the bounds of historic, orthodox Christianity.  Yay!

So today I am encouraged by my brothers and sisters in Christ who don’t shrink from a good “argument” and do it with class.  So much thanks to Drew, Sean, and Kristin for a fun morning, and let’s do it again.

How about you?  When we get together next, are you in?  Can you handle the requirements?  Do you do this, or do you run from these discussions?