Preaching Law or Preaching Grace?

Here’s the best advice I can share about preaching.  All sermons are either enabling (grace) or obligatory (law). We’re either preaching YOU CAN or YOU SHOULD (or YOU CAN’T or YOU SHOULDN’T).

Obligatory sermons pile up over the years. We wear people down and send them home feeling terrible about themselves. Soon, they’ll take it out on God. They’ll either give up or fake it. We become legalists when we decouple of duties of the Christian life from the divine power to do them.

Enabling sermons also pile up over the years. We build people up in their confidence in God. I’m not suggesting “positive thinking” sermons. I’m suggesting messages that communicate the good news of all that God has promised to do for us and be within us.  Sermons that show off all the sparkly facets of the “I can do all things through Christ” diamond.

Good, theologically rich preaching shouldn’t just inform, it should enable.  It should open your eyes to how God, by his Spirit, conforms you to Christ, even when you’re a jerk.  How God overcomes your jerkitude to reveal Christ in you. It should make you believe that God hasn’t given up on you, and that this coming week is another chance to tap into his power when you’re weary.

I want people to leave my church trusting God for greater things than when they came in.

Most of the Bible is declarative, and therefore enabling.

How come most sermons are imperative, and therefore obligatory?

Great preaching lays the bulk of obligation on God… and exhorts listeners to turn to him. Isn’t that the Bible in a nutshell?

Advertisements

Your New Year’s Resolution ARCHENEMY

Copyright 2009 Bill Giovannetti ARR

Admit it: you’ve given up making New Year’s Resolutions, or at least have flirted with it. It makes no difference. As soon as you start, you know you’re doomed. Lose weight. Read the Bible. Tithe. Love your family/spouse/kids/parents better, write the Great American Novel… You know that by the second weekend of February, it’s all over. You started with a bang, and fizzled out.

Why?

Could it be that your best intentions have an archenemy? Could it be that for every voice within you that calls you to do good, another voice whispers… “We’ll see about that!”?

Your New Year’s Resolutions have a nemesis: your flesh, a.k.a., your Inner Mess.

15 I don’t understand myself at all, for I really want to do what is right, but I don’t do it. Instead, I do the very thing I hate. (Romans 7:15, NLT).

“I want to [insert your resolutions here] but I don’t do it. Instead, I do the opposite.”

You do not understand your life until you understand the force inside you that longs for the opposite of everything good.  Your flesh crouches like a beady-eyed troll at the intersection of moral guilt and personal corruption. He spoils every party, trashes every relationship, and sabotages every advance in your life. You are messed up. But don’t take that personally — it’s universal. When Adam sinned, we all fell, teaches Romans 5.

That means your best intentions have an adversary.

The trick is learning how to not be a flesh-dominated person.

As a lifelong confirmed legalist, I hereby testify that these strategies DON’T WORK:

  1. Self punishment
  2. Self sacrifice
  3. Guilt and Shame
  4. Making excuses
  5. Covering up
  6. Trying harder, pedaling faster, determination, resolve, will-power.
  7. Denial

These strategies share the same fatal flaw: they represent attempts to solve the problem of the flesh by means of the energy of the flesh. The flesh can’t solve your flesh’s problems!

You need the power of God.

And that is exactly what Jesus brought with him when he saved you.  He brought supernatural, divine resources. He brought the Holy Spirit. Christ himself lives in you. He brought the promises of God. You have all the power you need to escape the gnarly clutches of the flesh. It is divine power, God’s own power, infused into you.

There are two secrets activating this power on a daily basis:

1. Faith. Trust Jesus Christ to live through you by his Spirit. Ask him to and he will. You received Jesus through faith, and you receive his ongoing provision through ongoing faith. You need a muscular faith. You need a mature faith.

2. Growth. Spiritual maturity, spiritual growth, discipleship… call it what you will. You need to grow up. We Christians expend so much energy solving problems and fixing dysfunctions. Most of our effort is wasted, because we’ve never addressed the problem behind the problem. The problem behind virtually every problem in your spiritual life is simple: LACK OF GROWTH. IMMATURITY IN THE LORD. If you’ve ever enjoyed the company of a well-trained dog, you’ll get this analogy: some Christians are an absolute pleasure to God. Others are annoying little puppies: beloved, but a pain the neck.

For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the first principles of the oracles of God; and you have come to need milk and not solid food. (Hebrews 5:12, NKJV).

Your resolve is only as good as your faith. Your resolve is only as certain as your growth curve. Your resolve is only as doable as your willingness to tap into divine resources allows.

Determination can only take you so far.

The gracious provision of God can take you all the way.  Christianity is always about us looking away from SELF and looking more and more to CHRIST.

Happy New Year!
Bill

For more about escaping a flesh dominated life, check out my book: How to Keep Your Inner Mess from Trashing Your Outer World. It’s an ideal topic to begin the New Year, with the best part of you in the driver’s seat.

How To Fix America

You don’t have to be Amish to believe the American trajectory is dramatically awry. We’re flirting with disaster in every major category: money, sexuality, family, morals, marriage, sanctify of life, privacy, freedom of speech, freedom of religion. Our inalienable rights don’t seem so inalienable these days. High debt, high divorce, shrinking equity… okay, now I’m officially depressed.

I would like to go on record to say THERE IS NO POLITICAL ANSWER to what ails our land.

Please don’t get me wrong. I believe in the political process; I have strong views. Followers of Jesus should be salt and light. That means voting. That means exercising our freedoms in the public sphere. That means speaking up and getting involved. God calls some Christ-followers to political careers. I support you and applaud you.

I just don’t believe that you will fix what’s wrong with our land. You’re part of the solution, but you’re not foundational to it. Republican, Democrat, Libertarian, or Green. God bless you, but my hope is NOT in you.

Blessed is the nation, God promises, WHOSE GOD IS THE LORD (Ps. 33:12).

So we have to ask how to flesh that out. How do we live day by day respecting the Lordship and Leadership of our Great God? How do we bring down the blessing of God?

The church is the hope of America.

The church, fulfilling her divine mandate: making disciples. The church, bringing honor to Jesus’ name. The church, teaching her people to walk in biblical holiness. The church, bringing  light to the nations and  healing to the world.

In Leviticus 26, God promises increasingly severe discipline for his nation when it departs from God’s ways.  This discipline culminates in NATIONAL DISINTEGRATION. Is that possible for America? What do you think? Other republics have disintegrated from within… Here’s the warning:

38 You shall perish among the nations, and the land of your enemies shall eat you up. 39 And those of you who are left shall waste away in their iniquity in your enemies’ lands; also in their fathers’ iniquities, which are with them, they shall waste away. (Leviticus 26:38, 39, NKJV).

Here’s my hunch: we’ve coasted for over 200 years on the blessings of our founders… and maybe some periodic spasms of godliness. We’ve rested on past laurels in terms of: Freedom. Liberty. Property Rights. Judeo-Christian ethics.

Now, however, we’ve lost momentum. We’ve come to a screeching halt. Our blessings from the past are over.

We’re on our own.

What will it take to restore our land?

1. Repentance

40 ‘But if they confess their iniquity and the iniquity of their fathers, with their unfaithfulness in which they were unfaithful to Me, and that they also have walked contrary to Me, (Leviticus 26:40, NKJV).

2. Jesus followers like me and you walking in GRACE-ORIENTED HOLINESS

14 “if My people who are called by My name will humble themselves, and pray and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land. (2 Chronicles 7:14, NKJV).

Grace-oriented holiness is the crying need of our day. Legalism will not bring down the blessing of God! We need holiness by grace.

I wrote the Inner Mess book (hey, why not buy a few copies?, click HERE) precisely because I think we’ve grown weak in holiness. We’ve transmogrified life with God into a grueling, white-knuckled, legalistic DUTY.  The post-salvation Christian life has devolved into something WE DO BY OUR POWER…  when all along, a life that pleases God must flow from HIS POWER…  Christ in you, the hope of glory.

God never expects the world to act redeemed. He does, however, expect the church to act redeemed. We, in the CHURCH, are the key. We are the answer. We are the hope of America. We are the hope of the world.

A few houses ago, I lived in a subdivision that required a green lawn within the first year of moving in. I had an odd-shaped, triangular, CORNER lot with a super-long 10′ wide parkway (that’s the grassy space between the street and the sidewalk; mine was all dirt). So, I tilled and seeded the parkway.

That’s when the worst DROUGHT in a decade hit. Ha ha, God. I bought what seemed like miles of garden hose, and a robotic sprinkler that crawled across the super-long, skinny area.

My little sprinkler ran night and day. For weeks. I got maybe 10% germination, and a wimpy, gnarly lawn. I simply could not put down enough water fast enough to activate the life of the seed.

Then God sent the rain. God did in a day what I couldn’t do in weeks of sweat and labor.

So it will be when God restores the United States of America. Not our activity, not our programs, not our strategies, not our declarations — even at their best — can turn the tide. But God can… in a heartbeat.

Lord, revive your church!

In the first two Great Awakenings in America, God reversed generations of social and financial ills. Those revivals radically altered the direction of our nation.

My prayer is that God will do it again.

Child of God… it’s your patriotic duty to keep maturing in God and his Word. Grow deep. Grow strong. Reach out in his love… in that order. 18 but grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To Him be the glory both now and forever. Amen. (2 Peter 3:18, NKJV).

Pastor… it’s your patriotic duty to teach and preach and lead for maturity, and to create a tribe deep and strong in God’s grace, and God’s Word. 32 “So now, brethren, I commend you to God and to the word of His grace, which is able to build you up and give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified. (Acts 20:32, NKJV).

Church… it’s your patriotic duty to be the people of God. That’s how we will bless the world. That’s how we will bless the God who loved us, and gave himself up for us.

And that’s how God will bless America once again.

The Truest Motivator

crossceltic.jpg“For the love of Christ compels us…” (2 Corinthians 5:14).

I sat on a church board as an inexperienced 20-something. It was a big board, with over twenty men. All were older, most were grandfathers.

In one meeting we were discussing the need for more volunteers. One gentleman, a pillar in the church, asserted, “Our people should be serving Christ because it’s their duty!”

This is true. But how far will “duty” get you? Would I rather have my kids clean their rooms out of duty (which is fine if that’s all I’ve got) or out of a higher motive? Can duty really mobilize a church?

Yes. Temporarily. But the motivation fizzles as soon as you face hardship, or as soon as another, competing duty, interferes. That requires leadership to flog the church with more duty…

Doing your duty is a lousy motivation for the people of God.

When that elderly gentlemen spoke up at the board meeting, I was too timid to respond. I know, hard to believe, right? But I was younger… and they were, uh, venerable.

I don’t think I qualify for the venerable label, but I wish I had said, “Yes, but more importantly, we serve God out of love.”

The love of Christ compels us. His love for us. His love in us. His love through us. Do I buy flowers for my wife out of duty or love? Which would SHE prefer?

There is nothing more urgent than that God’s people rest deeply assured in the love of God. But there’s a HUGE problem, and it’s so subtle we don’t recognize it.

Most people today would say, “God loves me.” Even the rookie-est of Christ followers will say, “Jesus loves me.” A child can add, “This I know, for the Bible tells me so.” The love of God has been proclaimed so widely, that it’s pretty much the only thing people believe about God these days. And therein lies the fatal flaw.

Divine love, divorced from divine justice, is shaky, wimpy, and meaningless. In fact, it isn’t even love. It’s leniency, and leniency is a weakness that never motivated anybody to behave well longer than a week.

By failing to instruct the church in the dimensions of God’s love… by failing to teach the doctrines of propitiation, justification, expiation, and divine wrath, we have invented a love more worthy of Strawberry Shortcake than of the Lion of the Tribe of Judah.

If God is merely love, his love is not amazing. He’s just one more of many loving persons in my life. The biggest one perhaps, but his love isn’t special enough to motivate a lifetime of reciprocal service and sacrificial love. When God points to the lever that pries our heart from selfishness to service, that lever is the mercies of God (Rom. 12:1).

Not duty.

God’s love for me had to justify itself in the face of God’s wrath against me. The process by which that happened  required the shed blood of Jesus on the Cross of Calvary. We pastors must firmly establish the indispensable link between Christ’s Cross and God’s love. Without that link, love is wimpy. But with that link, God’s love is fierce, mighty, permanent and amazing.

You cannot plumb the depths of God’s love without doctrine, without theology. You cannot explore its dimensions, or appreciate its manifold angles. You cannot be secure in His love without fathoming the mind-boggling lengths God went to to satisfy his holiness. And you won’t serve God faithfully, for a lifetime, without knowing the love of God which passes knowledge.

When the Enemy calls God’s love into question (his favorite tactic), then a thousand arguments from Scripture must rise up from within to shout him down.  We desperately need the meat of the Word.

If God’s love doesn’t compel you, you don’t know God’s love.

Pastor’s Priority One

peter-preachingNow in those days, when the number of the disciples was multiplying, there arose a complaint against the Hebrews by the Hellenists, because their widows were neglected in the daily distribution. Then the twelve summoned the multitude of the disciples and said, “It is not desirable that we should leave the word of God and serve tables. “Therefore, brethren, seek out from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business; “but we will give ourselves continually to prayer and to the ministry of the word.” And the saying pleased the whole multitude. And they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit, and Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolas, a proselyte from Antioch, whom they set before the apostles; and when they had prayed, they laid hands on them. Then the word of God spread, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests were obedient to the faith. (Acts 6:1-7, NKJV).

Pastoral marching orders, clear as good, Italian crystal.

2447-apostle-paul-preaching-on-the-ruins-giovanni-paolo-panniniI wonder how many pastors in America would state their priorities as prayer and the ministry of the Word. I can’t say I achieve these priorities all the time, but I lean into them. I strive for them. I do my best to prioritize time for prayer and study in the Word.

Believe me, there are a thousand alternatives that clamor for attention. I know, I’m easily distrac— oooh… something shiny…

Scripture supports these priorities for those in a pastoral position:

Let the elders who rule well be counted worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in the word and doctrine. (1 Timothy 5:17, NKJV).

Hey, do you support your pastor’s study time in the word and doctrine? Do you encourage your pastor to be a person of the Book?  Do you encourage your pastor to shut the door and meet with God in prayer and Scripture?  And do you want a pastor who labors in the Word and DOCTRINE?

Because you can’t have it all. There are no omni-competent Superpastors, though, I know, you’re telling me I come close.  Even peterpreachingthe apostles had to choose… ‘It is not desirable that we LEAVE the Word of God…” See that? In order to administrate the Widow’s Dinner, they’d have to LEAVE the Word of God. They couldn’t do both, and neither can today’s pastors.

In my seminary days, I was taught a rule of thumb for preaching, and you won’t believe it, but here is yesterday’s standard:

ONE HOUR IN THE STUDY FOR EVERY MINUTE IN THE PULPIT.

Think about that. Generations of preachers abided by that rule of thumb… So a 40 minute sermon took, uhhhh, 40 HOURS of study time.  No kidding. I told you you wouldn’t believe it! But that’s what it takes to produce the life-nourishing messages of days gone by.

No, I don’t spend that much time (you might say, “It shows.” but that would be mean).  But I strive to give my best and most time to studying God’s Word, because I want to lay out a feast for you and pray for you and be one of those guys who “labors in the Word and doctrine!” I just wonder if most churches consider that guy worthy of DOUBLE HONOR… My hunch is most churches resent that guy for not being a “people person” and not doing the works of ministry.

The number one way I LOVE YOU IS BY FEEDING YOU GOD’S WORD. That’s mainly how I express my love for the Body of Christ. It’s my love language. It’s a privilege and I’m grateful. It’s not my only way, because I am deeply involved in people and life too.  But, what good am I as a pastor if I can’t bring the DEEP THINGS OF GOD’S WORD, and the WHOLE COUNSEL OF GOD, and the SOLID FOOD OF SCRIPTURE to bear on the deep issues of real-world life.

Without Scriptural depth, I might as well be Oprah.

I think my pastoral marching orders are clear. Priority One: devote myself continually to prayer and the ministry of the Word. Simple.

I’m blessed to have a church that wants me to keep first things first. I’m not saying it’s ALL study time… Because I spend large amounts of time doing other things too… but I’m just writing this, at 2:47 a.m., to ask you to support your pastor, whatever your church, when your pastor shuts the door, and devotes large chunks of time to prayer and the ministry of the Word. To make that time available to God, he/she has to make it unavailable to you. Are you okay with that? Are you willing to receive ministry from the BODY?

One hour in the study for every minute in the pulpit… wow! Talk about discipline for the pastor and solid food for the people of God!

This focus on prayer and the Word is the desperate need of the church today. We need revival, and God blesses his Word.

  • If you instruct the brethren in these things, you will be a good minister of Jesus Christ, nourished in the words of faith and of the good doctrine which you have carefully followed. (1 Timothy 4:6, NKJV).
  • Take heed to yourself and to the doctrine. Continue in them, for in doing this you will save both yourself and those who hear you. (1 Timothy 4:16, NKJV).
  • Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching. (2 Timothy 4:2, NKJV).

Here are my latest sermons. I hope you find them well-studied road maps for the terrain of your real life journey.

P.S… sorry for the long blog break, I was swamped for a while!

How to Handle a Legalist

phariseeslegalistsI am loving the discussion in the comment section on the previous blog (scroll down and read it if you’re interested).

I’d like to add some fuel the fire.

SITUATION: Titus, a pagan Gentile, has turned to Jesus Christ. He is on the fast track to leadership in the church…

COMPLICATION: …but he isn’t circumcised. Most people don’t care, but some do. The “Judaistic agitators” make a big deal about Titus’ status.  If he’s going to be a leader in the church of the Messiah Jesus, he ought to at least be circumcised, right?

CAVING IN: In the interests of peace and love, a lot of Christ-followers were going along with the pro-circumcision agitators.  “Why not get circumcised and we’ll all just get along.”

HECK NO!: Enter Paul, with fire in his belly:

“And this occurred because of false brethren secretly brought in (who came in by stealth to spy out our liberty which we have in Christ Jesus, that they might bring us into bondage), to whom we did not yield submission even for an hour, that the truth of the gospel might continue with you.” Galatians 2:4, 5, NKJV.

MORAL OF THE STORY:  In my humble interpretation of Scripture, we are commanded to defer to younger believers who might bruise their conscience or might slip into sin by copying our liberty.  We yield to our truly weaker (i.e., younger, newer-in-the-Lord) brother and sister.

BUT WE SHOULD NOT BUDGE AN INCH FOR LEGALISTS WHO AREN’T TEMPTED, AND JUST WANT TO CONTROL US.

RATIONALE: To quote Paul, the truth of the gospel is at stake!  Don’t yield to legalists. Don’t waste your breathe, your time, your emotion, your energy.  Tell them to go wind their hair buns and leave you alone.  In Christian love.

Sorry for shouting.

Legalism Revisited (Guest Blogger)

innerphariseeI have great readers and an amazing circle of friends, both in the real world and the virtual world. I received via email this outstanding description of legalism, and share it with permission… I know you’ll enjoy it.

Thoughts on Legalism

by Mike P, Atlanta, GA

Legalism speaks the language of “must, should, and ought”; creating rules and regulations that create bondage and rob freedom.

Legalism is man’s attempt to flowchart the work of the Trinity so that by replicating the steps, we demand specific results without submissive hearts.  Box God up, package him, place him up high on the shelf where we can ignore him while feeling righteous.  This makes it OK to get away from God.

Legalism attempts to polish the exterior that others see without concern for the interior; like polishing a cow chip.  Despite the appearance, the aroma remains constant.

Legalism allows men to justify ignoring the unexpected activity of God

Paul speaks of this in Romans 7:25b that “I myself… am… in the sinful nature a slave to the law of sin.”  Legalism tries to breathe ‘spirit’ life into the ‘sinful nature’ instead of allowing it to die by crucifixion.  It feeds the ‘sin bacteria’ instead of sterilizing it, creating a whole new deadlier strain than existed before.  Legalism permutates sin into hardly recognizable new deadly strains of selfishness and self-righteousness that propel us further from the health-giving, life-sustaining presence of God.phariseeslegalists

What is the opposite of a legalist?  No single word comes to mind (or would it be a Label?)

Instead, I recognize the times in my own experience where legalism has been apparent.

My legalistic prayers sounded well-phrased and mentally stimulating soas to evoke men’s admiration; authentic praying desired only to carry me into the intimate, passionate presence of heaven (and when in corporate situations, served the Holy Spirit’s purpose as an usher to others, seating them into that intimate circle).

Studying the Bible legalistically was for competitive achievement proving my greater knowledge and position – “See what I know!” was my cry.  And my knowledge became my power to tell others what they should do, ought to do, must do if they wanted God’s/my approval and if they wanted to achieve God’s/my lofty position.  Legalism allowed me to look at truth without allowing truth to look into me.

Tithing – now there was a painful act for me as a legalist.  It can’t be perfect unless it’s off the gross instead of the net.  And it must include EVERY monetary resource.  Frankly, I often had to grit my teeth while writing that check.  Nowadays it’s not God’s 10% – he owns it all!  Now writing the check IS an act of worship – joyously given to his pleasure, in amounts small and large.  The act of worship supersedes the placement of the decimal or other considerations.  I just want to know his smile.

In truth, legalistic thinking dominated much of my early religious AND spiritual life.  As a child growing up in church, legalism took away many alternatives by applying restrictive measures that created a barren place.  Eventually I was so sick of the religious that had I not met Jesus (instead of hearing about Jesus), I would have dismissed true church.  Legalism leached all minerals from the soil of my soul and left only self-righteous nothingness; empty and hollow living that held no joy or pain or much-of-any feeling.  But for all that I sure looked good!  The patterns of legalism lingered well after I met Jesus, too.  Legalism raised the ‘expectation’ bar further in how perfect I was to be and how to judge others where they lacked.  “Work it out for Jesus!”

Eventually the barrenness of legalism was for me a planter for seeds of bitterness.  After taking root, these manifested themselves as anger against God.  Only after a decade of wallowing in sin like a fool did I profoundly experience grace.  From the vantage point of freedom it is easy to look back across at legalism and refuse to return to that hellish prison.  But how to free the others?  That question remains.

The Bible’s Top Ten Worst Verses

masthead_452_100Ship of Fools just released the results of its survey: What is the Bible’s worst verse? They asked readers to contribute verses and then conducted online polling to determine the worst.  Here’s how they phrased it:

We want you to tell us: which sacred text makes you reach for the red pen? Which hallowed verse makes you laugh for all the wrong reasons? Which blessed passage leaves you groaning with embarrassment? Which piece of holy writ troubles you at night, but at least keeps you awake in sermons?

The survey’s results were just reported in the excellent newletter from the Evangelical Alliance, a British organization.  Here are the Top Ten worst Bible verses, according to this online poll.  As I’ll discuss below, THEY MISSED THE WORST BIBLE VERSE OF ALL!!!!!!!! (sorry for shouting and exclaiming).

SHIP OF FOOLS’ WORST VERSES IN THE BIBLE

  1. The ban on women teaching in church (1 Timothy 2:12)
  2. Samuel’s instruction to ‘totally destroy’ the Amalekites (1 Samuel 15:3)
  3. Moses’ command ‘Do not allow a sorceress to live.’ (Exodus 22:18)
  4. The ending of Psalm 137 ‘Happy are those who seize your infants and dash them against the rocks’
  5. The gang rape and murder of a concubine (Judges 19:25-28)
  6. The condemnation of homosexuality (Romans 1:27)
  7. Jephthah’s vow which led to his daughter being sacrificed (Judges 11)
  8. God’s instruction to Abraham to sacrifice Isaac (Genesis 22:2)
  9. The instruction that wives submit to their husbands (Ephesians 5:22)
  10. The instruction that slaves submit to their masters (1 Peter 2:18)

As I said, they missed the TRULY WORST verse in the Bible, which I’ll get to soon. The incentive for this poll seems to be a desire to make the Bible palatable to our larger culture. This, surely, is a good thing… or is it? As the website says,

[The Bible] doesn’t have to be a textbook of infallible information and unbreakable laws to be God’s book. And it doesn’t have to be one big pile of lies and atrocity just because it has its dodgy bits.

Interesting. It doesn’t have to be “infallible” and its laws don’t have to be “unbreakable” to make it God’s book. Uhhhh… meaning the Bible is God’s book of potential errors and optional suggestions?

If the Bible has errors in it, would somebody kindly tell me where they are, because I’m banking my life on this book. Ditto for the “breakable laws.” Which ones? I’d like to know so I can teach my children which of God’s laws are mutable. Same for the “dodgy bits” which, if my dictionary defines British English correctly, means “dishonest or unreliable.”

So, the motive for the poll seems to be as follows: Let’s be good chaps, and ‘fess up to the dishonest and unreliable parts of the Bible, so that our unbelieving friends will know that we’re good chaps and feel better both about us and about the Bible, and perhaps give it another look, now that we’ve abandoned the brittle assumption that God’s Word is infallible and his laws are unbreakable.

God help us!

Yes, let’s VOTE on which parts of the Bible must be uprooted in order to make it palatable for society. Let’s create a Bible for the masses — a Bible edited under the principle of MAJORITY RULES.

Right. All it would say is, “God is love” and even that would be questioned.

I’m not suggesting that these verses and others pose no problems. I’m not suggesting they make me feel good, or seem right by my standards. I’m not suggesting that the poll is inappropriate — it’s important for us to know where the offenses lie so that we might be better equipped to evangelize. In context, most of these verses do not represent God advocating anything, or if they do, he’s just going  with some then-cultural norms.  (Check out the excellent analysis at the Evangelical Alliance).

Regardless of what these difficult verses are saying, the poll has a built-in dishonesty, because it omitted the WORST BIBLE VERSE OF ALL TIME… (you have to click “read the rest…” to get the big reveal).  Here it is… Continue reading

Fundamental #5: The Return of Christ

preacher repentAs a high school sophomore, I never thought I’d see my junior year. I remember wondering why I should even bother with homework. An evangelist named Jack had blown through Chicago at the McCormick Place Exhibition hall. My Sunday School Class went.  Jack and his accordian playing wife told us that Jesus was going to come within the next few months… it was that imminent.  So I disinvested from my future. If you haven’t had a similar experience, you don’t know Jack.

Can you understand why I’m cynical about date-setters? We had a guy (not from our church) put leaflets on all the cars in our church parking lot, setting a date for the 2nd coming of Christ. He had all kinds of complicated calculations based on Bible verses.  Well, his date came and went, and no Rapture. No nothing.  A month later, he put out new leaflets with pretty much the same calculations and a different date.

That’s how to stay in business!

I guess Jesus meant it when he said no one knows the hour. Truth is, no one knows the era.  I’m good with that.  Maybe morning, maybe noon, maybe evening, and maybe soon… Jesus is coming again.   Live as if you’re going to live a hundred years, but be prepared to meet Jesus tomorrow.

I came of age in The Late Great Planet Earth era. A perennial best seller.  The Left Behind series still sells tens of thousands of books every month.  Christians sure love their prophecy!

I believe in the second coming of Christ. I believe that coming will be literal — he will come to earth in a body, just as he ascended to heaven in a body. In that coming, Jesus will bring world history to its fitting and ordained conclusion.

The return of Christ gives history a beginning, a middle, and an end. Without it, the world and its inhabitants float along till the sun burns out, in random streams of poopiness.  Meaningless.

Here are some Scriptures for your perusal: Job 19:25,26; Mt 16:27,28; 23:39; 24:1-51; 25:1-13,19,31-46; 26:64; Mr 8:38; 9:1; 13:1-37; 14:62; Lu 9:26,27; 12:37-40; 17:22-37; 18:8; 19:12,13,15; 21:5-36; Joh 14:3,18,28,29; Ac 1:11; 3:20,21; 1Co 1:7,8; 4:5; 11:26; 15:23; Php 3:20,21; 4:5; Col 3:4; 1Th 1:10; 2:19; 3:13; 4:15-17; 5:2,3,23; 2Th 1:7-10; 2:1-3,5,8; 3:5; 1Ti 6:14,15; 2Ti 4:1,8; Tit 2:13; Heb 9:28; Jas 5:7-9; 1Pe 1:7,13; 4:13; 5:4; 2Pe 1:16; 3:3,4,8-14; 1Jo 2:28; 3:2; Jude 1:14,15; Re 1:7; 3:11; 16:15; 22:12,20 (click “more” below to see them all printed out for your meditation).

The return of Christ throws a monkey wrench into our actuarial tables of doom. You might figure an 80-100 year life span… BUT… the return of Jesus can cut that down till this afternoo…

Be ready. I believe in the Immanent Return of Christ.  There is no way to take the Bible at face value and deny Christ’s return.  That’s why it’s such a fundamental belief… it is the only fitting denouement of the story that is Jesus. To deny the second coming is to deny the authority and/or clarity of Scriptures.

““And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also.” John 14:3, NKJV.

“who also said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand gazing up into heaven? This same Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will so come in like manner as you saw Him go into heaven.”” Acts 1:11, NKJV.

Part of that complex of end-time  events will be a final evaluation for believers in Jesus. This is hugely important, and we neglect it.  The shape of your eternity depends on the shape of your ternity… er… your time on earth.  Your decisions in this life determine the level of reward and blessing you experience in eternity. We won’t be equal in heaven.  I posted on that a long time ago… click (Jesus, the Great unEqualizer, 3 parts).

Honestly now, does anyone want me to review the millenarian and rapture positions?  Show of hands please.  Anyone? Anyone?

No one?  Great.  Let’s skip it.

Let’s just look to heaven… our redemption draws nigh.

Okay… okay..  Sign up for the Wiseguys! Newsletter… I’m going to send out an 8 page lesson on the pre-trib, pre-mil end times scenario.  It’ll go out on Monday, so sign up today.  Don’t get all excited about debating, because… forget-about-it…

Here are all those Bible verses, from Nave’s Topical Bible, about the 2nd coming….

Continue reading

Fundamental #4: Christ’s Resurrection

jesus2.jpgI believe in the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. I believe it literally happened. He rose again, in his body, and presented himself alive to the world. Christ’s literal, bodily resurrection has always been a central article of historic, biblical Christianity. It’s one of those dividing lines. Some doctrines leave a lot of latitude. Reasonable Christians, reasonably interpreting the Bible, can disagree, and still be faithful to God, Jesus, and the Scriptures.

Other doctrines, like these fundamentals, are non-negotiable. We won’t hate those who disagree. We won’t slander, gossip, or act in any unloving way. But we will disagree, and though we can be friends, we can’t have the deep fellowship of co-followers of Jesus — followers who are “like minded” and “of one mind” on the definitional stuff about Christianity (Phil. 2:2). “In essentials, unity!” declared Augustine. And the resurrection is an essential. I have a zero tolerance policy for diversity on this one, sorry. We take our stand on a literal, physical, bodily resurrection of Jesus from the dead.

jesuswalkingonwatercartdotcomYou might ask, “Is there any other kind of resurrection?”

That’s just the problem. Some, within the church, now assert that Jesus rose spiritually, but not bodily, from the dead. They say his resurrection was a spiritual, psychological event for his followers, who then  enhanced the story when they wrote our Scriptures. It didn’t matter, the argument goes, that Jesus’ body lay rotting in the grave. What mattered was that his followers felt him to be alive in their hearts, and they preserved that feeling in the stories (myths)  they wrote down.

Taking the lead in this spiritual resurrection theory is a group calling itself the Jesus Seminar. A group of scholars founded by Marcus Borg and popularized by John Dominic Crossan and Elaine Pagels and others have done their best to preach the gospel that Jesus didn’t rise from the dead, and that if we knew where to look, we just might find his bones.

The seeds of this denial are as old as doubting Thomas. Our generation saw the publication of The Myth of God Incarnate (1977), a small booklet urging a “demythologized” Jesus upon the world. Remove the supernatural. Uproot the miraculous. Overturn the unscientific. Extirpate the narrow-minded. Edit out those things in Scripture which are unworthy of Scripture, and we will come to a kernel of truth, the original truth of Jesus, minus the barnacles of mythology that have grown on him over the centuries.

Ahemmmm.  Exactly who sits in judgment on these doctrines? Who gets to decide what is unworthy of Jesus? of Scripture?

[Here’s a paragraph from my upcoming book, Four Letter Words. Subscribe to the email newsletter and I’ll let you know when it’s out.]

Thomas Jefferson gave this bandwagon a shove. He stitched together his own Bible by literally using scissors to cut out verses from the gospels that were miraculous or “unworthy” of Jesus. He said that the true history and sayings of Jesus shined out from the false, “like diamonds on a dung heap.” He left the “nonsense” behind, and pasted up a 48-page Bible. It told the story of Jesus from his birth (minus angels and a virginal mother) to his burial (minus a resurrection).

Every Easter and every Christmas, the major TV networks trot out “scholars” to talk about the beauties of an “Easter message” without a resurrection, and a “Christmas spirit” without an divine incarnation. You should know that most of these scholars are members of the Jesus Seminar.

Not to demonize these people, just to disagree with them. And to know where they’re coming from:  a naturalistic premise.

Premises are everything.

pantokratorIf we believe that there is a God who transcends the created order, and is at liberty to intervene in that order… if we believe he can — and does and has and will — temporarily suspend the laws of physics and nature to effect what we call a miracle… then it makes perfect sense to believe the simple story that Christ rose from the dead. Indeed, we must press further and say with the Apostle Paul…

“And if Christ is not risen, then our preaching is empty and your faith is also empty.” 1 Corinthians 15:14, NKJV.

“And if Christ is not risen, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins!” 1 Corinthians 15:17, NKJV.

It all depends on your premise. Supernaturalistic or naturalistic/materialistic.

The Jesus Seminar people operate from a materialistic premise, i.e., all that happens is explainable by science, physics, or psychology. Such scholars are essentially Deist, or perhaps Atheist, or maybe even Buddhist (indifferent) in their thinking about God. In any event, God does not intervene in the laws of nature… and so the miracles of the Bible must be explained away in scientific terms. All things are made of energy and matter (hence the term, materialist), and whatever laws govern energy and matter governed the resurrection of Jesus.  His body decayed. His soul dissipated into nothingness when his brain ceased functioning. All that remains are our memories of his teaching and love and personality and spirituality… and through those memories we keep him alive forever… a spiritualistic kind of resurrection.

That faith, says Paul, is in vain. I agree.

No resurrection, no salvation. No salvation, no sin to save us from and/or no holy God to condemn that sin. Deny the literal resurrection, and the whole cloth of Christianity unravels. Deny the resurrection (which ONLY God can do) and you invent a salvation not worthy of the name (something ONLY humans can do). Deny the resurrection, and our faith is in vain.

For anyone who has ever been bitten by the Jesus Seminar bug, might I recommend a wonderful little innoculation I stumbled upon some years ago.  Written in response to The Myth of God Incarnate, this booklet is called The Truth of God Incarnate, and it’s worth finding (click here). Edited by Michael Green, this book wonderfully answers the objections of the first book, and leaves the reader with a great appreciation for the Scriptural premise that God reigns on high and that he reaches his hands into the affairs of earth.

I love G.K. Chesterton’s comments on the result of materialistic premises:

Now it is the charge against the main deductions of the materialist that, right or wrong, they gradually destroy his humanity; I do not mean only kindness, I mean hope, courage, poetry, initiative, all that is human. For instance, when materialism leads men to complete fatalism (as it generally does), it is quite idle to pretend that it is in any sense a liberating force. It is absurd to say that you are especially advancing freedom when you only use free thought to destroy free will. The determinists come to bind , not to loose . They may well call their law the “chain” of causation. It is the worst chain that ever fettered a human being.

Yes, Jesus lives within my heart. Yes, I keep alive the memories of his words and life as described in Scripture. And yes, his resurrection is spiritual… but that’s not all. It is also literal, physical, and bodily. In a body, Jesus died. In a body, Jesus was buried. In a body, Jesus rose again. In a body, he ascended to heaven. In a body, he sat down at the right hand of God. In a body, he will come again.

The body of the God-man is an essential part of his humanness. To deny him a body in his resurection is to deny his humanity, post-Calvary. It is to deny the exaltation of one of our own to the throne of the cosmos. To deny Jesus a future is to deny all humanity a future. To deny Jesus an afterlife is to deny me an afterlife. Don’t sugar coat this denial with platitudes about Jesus’ love  and wonderful teachings, and how he inspires hope, and how his message (once we’ve skimmed off the supernaturalistic dross) contributes to the moral improvement of mankind. Don’t give me neo-Gnosticism. I’ve read the DaVinci Code, and guess what…IT’S FICTION.

Give me that old time religion. Christ died. Christ is risen. Christ is coming again.

jesuspower