Grace’s Gold Standard

One of the most frequent questions I’m asked goes something like this:  I know I’m supposed to show grace, but my teenage son just broke some rules in a major way; am I just supposed to let it slide?

Or… a teacher might hear this one:  I’m sorry I didn’t finish the assignment, but I ran out of time. Will you show me some grace and give me an extra day?

An employer might hear: Yeah, I’m late again, and I missed my sales goals again, but things aren’t going so well at home, so can you cut me some slack?

Or, from your alcoholic, mooching brother-in-law who wants to live in your spare bedroom: You talk about God’s love all the time, why won’t you show me some and let me move in?

The root question is this: what does grace look like in relationships when the other person blows it? Does grace-living require me to always let the other person off the hook?  How can I show grace when someone else acts irresponsibly, dangerously, or unprofessionally?

It’s not an easy question. There are competing values at stake. On one hand, we want to show the love, forgiveness, and grace of Christ. On the other hand, we want to maintain standards, excellence, and integrity in our family, classroom, or workplace.  How do we fit these values together?

The Golden Rule offers a perfect guideline: “Therefore, whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 7:12, NKJV).  And, “And just as you want men to do to you, you also do to them likewise.” (Luke 6:31, NKJV).

The Golden Rule presumes that we want others to treat us well. We have an innate desire (when we’re sane) that those who deal with us will act in our best interests — especially in our best long term interests. If that’s the standard we wish others would express toward us, then it’s the standard we should express toward others. Always act in the best long-term interests of others, as best as you can figure it out.

So, that son who broke your rule; what consequence will be in his best long term interests? That employee who misses meetings or deadlines or targets: is there a true alignment between their skills and their position’s needs? That student who chronically turns in papers late: will letting them slide do them any favors? Does it help them improve in the long run?

Some years ago in Chicago, I walked a difficult journey alongside a friend whose wife was about to leave him for another man. My friend was friends with “the other man”, and felt torn between anger and, as he put it, “grace.”

I said, Can’t grace be angry? Can’t grace enforce righteous, personal boundaries? If you were messing up, wouldn’t you want someone to confront you and speak the truth in love? Then apply the Golden Rule. It is acting in love and grace when you exercise your parental, or employer, or teacher, or leadership role to design or speak-forth consequences that are in the other person’s best long term interests. Showing grace isn’t for wimps. Tough-love is not an oxymoron. (Happily, that man and his wife reconciled and are now missionaries in Asia.)

How many times did Jesus get in his disciples’ face and call them out for fear, lack of faith, and general sissy-hood?  It’s a mistake to think that grace is always soft, that grace is always nice, or that grace always lets people get away with junk. Not so. Jesus, full of grace and truth, nailed his friends to the wall when they blew it. Not always; sometimes he let it go. But he saw no contradiction between acting in grace and chewing out stupidity in people who knew better. He loved his friends too much to let them wreck their lives making self-destructive or self-indulgent choices. He would not stand by silently. He would not subsidize their self-destruction or failure.

Love does not coddle people into a life of mediocrity.

Love acts in the other person’s interests even when you have to play hardball.  Yes, there are plenty of times for the soft-touch, the gentle spirit, and the hand of help or forgiveness. Most Christians know that. What they need to hear is that grace has muscle, too.

The tricky part is deciding what’s called for. When a street-person asks for money, what’s in his or her best long term interest? Healing. Deliverance. Probably the local mission or shelter.  BUT… sometimes, what’s in their best long term interest is a gift right then and there. Sometimes, they need food, or hope, or a loving touch immediately.

So what should you do?

Prayerfully follow your gut instinct, trusting God to guide you. You can’t tell the future, so sometimes you will give; other times you won’t. Sometimes you’ll give your son back the car keys, other times, you won’t. Sometimes, you’ll let your salesperson come in late a few times, other times, you’ll have to draw a line.  It’s nuanced. It’s not cut and dried. It’s heartfelt. You have to lean on the Lord.

But it’s always doing for others what you (on your best days) would hope they would do for you: show respect and love, even if it has to be tough love.

Grace has muscle. Grace is tender and tough. Here’s loves bottom line: are people who want to better their lives (and not everyone does) better off long-term because of their relationship with you?

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.

Ted Haggard — Born Again Again?

tedhaggard2When my friend, Donny, invited me to visit with him and Ted Haggard, I jumped at the chance. I raced to a local hotel, and joined the conversation in progress. You can read Donny’s excellent series of articles here.

I arrived with a healthy dose of cynicism, even though my wife tells me I’m too trusting and too forgiving. Before me sat a man whose face I’d seen on the evening news, and whose story offers a moral fable to anyone willing to listen.

Emotion gushed from him.  Contrition. Anger. Sadness. Humor.  I could see why he rose to the levels of leadership he did–Ted Haggard can be a force of nature. He admits his wrongdoings, and freely talks about them.  He shared painful parts of his life that made me feel like I was treading on holy ground. Embarrassing stuff. Hypocritical stuff. Sad stuff. Vulnerable stuff.

At times I got the sense I was  viewing a stop-motion snapshot of a fast moving object. He has not finished working through his moral/sexual issues… but he’s come a long way. I’m sure his answers to Donny’s questions will be different a year from now.  He’s still moving. Still changing. Still in God’s school of redemption.

It’s not my place to tell his story… I can only tell mine.

Mine is that I believed him.  I think he’s being real. In my Inner Mess book, I talk alot about secrecy and how it feeds our guilt and shame.  Ted recounted 30 years of highly public ministry, and yet a deep secret shame that got “shouted from the rooftops.” Who can’t understand that?

Could he be faking it?  Of course. Could I be naive? Maybe. But I can’t operate under that assumption.  I don’t want to be that cynical.  I can’t see his heart. I can only take him at his word, and if I get burned, so be it.

Should there be ramifications? Yessir.  Who should inflict them?  Not me.  Probably, not you either.

Perhaps this Scripture applies:

“I am not overstating it when I say that the man who caused all the trouble hurt your entire church more than he hurt me. He was punished enough when most of you were united in your judgment against him. Now it is time to forgive him and comfort him. Otherwise he may become so discouraged that he won’t be able to recover. Now show him that you still love him.” 2 Corinthians 2:5-8, NLT.

In the movie, Notting Hill, Julia Roberts plays a famous actress, Hugh Grant a working-class bookseller.  In a famous scene, Julia’s character says, “I’m just a girl, standing in front a boy, asking him to love her.”

That scene flashed into my mind while I visited with Ted. In that moment, in that hotel lobby, he wasn’t a famous celebrity. He wasn’t a mega-church pastor. He wasn’t the leader of the nation’s evangelicals.

He was just a guy.  A messed-up guy, like me. Like all of us.  A guy who’s trying to put his life back together; trying to be true to his heart and family and God. A contrite guy reaching out for God’s healing. And the church’s acceptance. I’m just a guy, sitting in front of some brothers in Christ, asking them to love me. How can you possess an atom of compassion and say no to that spirit?

Doesn’t Christ’s Cross pay in full for every sin? Isn’t the Gospel about hope through Christ for the worst of us? And the worst parts within us?

Ted talked about his pastoral friends abandoning him. He admitted he brought it on himself, but he felt shunned. On the same day we met, I heard of another pastor who had a moral failing. I found him on Facebook, and messaged an offer of friendship, prayer, and redemption. I’ll leave the consequences to others. Could it be that we’re too quick to gang up on a brother who messes up?  I can’t say. I just know I’m going to change my ways.

I felt humbled after our meeting. Introspective. Moved.

Most of all, I felt grateful… to God… for his mercies… new every morning.

I’m glad for that.

I pray God’s best for Ted Haggard and his family.

[Donny… thank you for inviting me]

Legalism & the Fourth Source of Power

petraI started this series with a rant or two about legalism. Legalists never see themselves as legalists. That’s why Jesus was so forceful with them. I met my own legalism in an argument over — this is embarassing — Christian rock.  I was a youth pastor in urban Chicago. We had a large and effective ministry. BUT… I was in a church that frowned on Christian rock music: “There’s no such thing.”

So our youth group used middle of the road music.

phariseeslegalistsThat changed when a senior challenged me. We were driving somewhere in my 1971 Plymouth Valiant. He had been to another youth group in the suburbs at Willow Creek. Their music was current, slick, rocky. Why can’t we use that music in our youth group? I said, “Because” or something brilliant like that. He asked, “Why?” I said, “It’s carnal,” or something stupid like that. He asked, “Why?” I said, “It’s worldly,” or something unfounded like that. He asked, “Why?” I said, “It’s just bad” or something deep like that. He asked, “Why?”

After the fourth or fifth “Why,” I was baffled. He Why’d me into genuine conviction over my own legalism. I asked myself, “Why? Why do I still hold back? Why do I let my church dictate these rules? Why do I embrace them?” I looked at this student and said, “You’re right.”

It felt like opening a window in a smoky room. Suddenly our youth group sounded like… uhh… Petra, DeGarmo and Key, Steve Taylor, Servant, Resurrection Band, and other bands that sound so old right now. I kissed legalism goodbye.

bondagepowerfistPartly. I’m still a Recovering Legalist. But that was my first conscious step away from it. As I wrote earlier, legalism, at its core, is substituting human power for God’s. In this case, human regulations like, “You shall not rock out,” for God’s: “All things are lawful…” and “Stand fast in the liberty…”

I won’t go off on legalism again, though you can see I’m tempted. If we are ever going to conquer legalism, we have practice twin arts of shedding our own strength and walking in God’s. I’ve already covered the first three sources of divine power in a Christian:  The Holy Spirit, the Word of God, and Christ in you.

michaelangelofather

Here is the fourth one–and it is the pinnacle: (4) UNBROKEN COMMUNION WITH THE FATHER.

This is what made Jesus so Jesus-like. He walked, talked, ate, drank, worked, and served in the presence of his Father. Jesus had unbroken fellowship with God. And don’t go getting all Gnostic on me, and saying, “Of course he had fellowship with God the Father, he was God the Son.”  Yes he was and always will be. BUT… he operated on earth AS  HUMAN using HIS OWN HUMAN POWERS. He did not employ his own powers as the Second Person of the Godhead. He restricted himself to the powers of the Third Person of the Godhead, the Holy Spirit–the same powers that are available to us today.  Says who? Says…

  • “who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” Philippians 2:6-8, NASB.

All I’m saying is that Jesus was a whole lot more like you than you’ve ever given him credit for. Same weaknesses. Same limitations. Same temptations.  FULLY HUMAN. And, through the power of the Spirit, and the Word, he maintained unbroken fellowship with God. He said…

  • “And He said to them, “Why did you seek Me? Did you not know that I must be about My Father’s business?”” Luke 2:49, NKJV.
  • ““All things have been delivered to Me by My Father, and no one knows who the Son is except the Father, and who the Father is except the Son, and the one to whom the Son wills to reveal Him.”” Luke 10:22, NKJV.
  • ““I speak what I have seen with My Father, and you do what you have seen with your father.”” John 8:38, NKJV.
  • ““At that day you will know that I am in My Father, and you in Me, and I in you.” John 14:20, NKJV.
  • ““I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser.” John 15:1, NKJV.

The great Scottish preacher, Robert Murray M’Cheyne, said, “Live near to God, and all things will appear little to you in comparison with eternal realities.”

Andrew Murray wrote, “While others still slept, He went away to pray and to renew His strength in communion with His Father. He had need of this, otherwise He would not have been ready for the new day. The holy work of delivering souls demands constant renewal through fellowship with God.”

Oswald Chambers wrote, “You will never cease to be the most amazed person on earth at what God has done for you on the inside.”

I could go on. The greatest power in our lives with Jesus is a deep bond of affection with God.  We enjoy his company. We respect his presence. We live with a feeling that we would be disloyal were we to ignore him, forget him, or act as if he weren’t present. He is my Father to provide, comfort, strengthen, guide, correct, and hang out with me.

One of my favorite childhood memories is playing catch with my dad. He’d come home from work and say, “Go get your mitt.” And then we’d play catch on the sidewalk. He taught me how to catch with two hands and how to throw with my left foot forward. Having played Triple-A ball for the Cubs in Lakeland, FL, my dad was really good at this. And he was a patient teacher.

jesusbaptismThat same relationship exists between us today and our Heavenly Father.  But we miss it.  Why? Maybe it’s because we don’t look for it. Or because we’re too distracted or immature for it. Maybe it’s because we don’t want it; we don’t want fellowship with the Father. We’d rather have a thousand other things.

John wrote,

  • “that which we have seen and heard we declare to you, that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ.” 1 John 1:3, NKJV.

Koinonia — shared life, shared community, shared affection, shared fun — with the Father and Jesus.

That’s power for daily living.

God’s Power for God’s People, 2

lightning“God’s work, done God’s way, will never lack God’s supply.” So said famous missionary to India, William Carey. We could also say, “God’s work, done God’s way, will never lack God’s power.”  The question on the table, however, is how do we obtain that power?

I’ve suggested there are four sources, they play together nicely, and we need to know how to use them. The previous post identifies the first two: (1) the Holy Spirit; (2) the Word of God built into our psyches.  Here are the last two:

3. CHRIST IN YOU.  This is the beautiful mystery that Christianity offers the world:  Christ in you, the hope of glory.  We are not simply following a set of guidelines, we are also following a risen Savior, who, in a mystical way, has been united with us so as to indwell us.

  • ““I in them, and You in Me; that they may be made perfect in one, and that the world may know that You have sent Me, and have loved them as You have loved Me.” John 17:23, NKJV.
  • “And if Christ is in you, the body is dead because of sin, but the Spirit is life because of righteousness.” Romans 8:10, NKJV.
  • “that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; that you, being rooted and grounded in love,” Ephesians 3:17, NKJV.

jesusshipswheelJesus came into us at the very moment of the new birth. We became one with him, in a new identity. For the rest of our lives, he will exert an inward pressure to transform our lives. The goal is to make us Christ-like, not in our personality, but in our character: love, joy, mission, goodness, courage, integrity, and so on.

Many people fear that Christ will suck their personality out of them, and make them Jesus-people robot clones. Not so. He will only add color to your personality, and dig through the mountains of crud that bury the real you. He will make you sparkle. Christ-in-you is the greatest overlooked truth in this generation of Christians.  Only Jesus can live the WWJD lifestyle, and he intends to do it again, through you.

When Christ comes in, he doesn’t come with an off switch. You can’t make him stop conforming you to Christ. You can either fight him–and go crazy–or cooperate with him–and find your life.

You might say, “If Christ is in me, he’s not doing a very good job.” I’ve felt that way too.  How do you get things moving with Christ’s indwelling power?

  • ““I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.” Galatians 2:20, NKJV.

christicon“I live by faith,” said Paul. We should too. It is faith, not magic, not super-piety, not cosmic karma, that makes the difference. Simple trust that when I need Jesus to work, he will. A repeated turning from my own power to Christ’s power. You exchange your power for Christ’s power.

I wrote about The Grace Script in chapter 15 of the Inner Mess book.  As often as you catch yourself doing God’s work by your own strength, you need to recenter yourself on Christ.  You say two words to Jesus: Oops! and Okay!

  • Oops, Lord… I’ve been working in my own strength, and I’m frustrated. I’m scared I can’t succeed. I’m smudging your glory. I’m blowing it…
  • Okay, Jesus… I need your love, your strength, your wisdom here.  So as I go forward, I’ll trust you (faith).

That is what Jesus meant when he told us to “abide in him.” He could have just as easily said, “Confide him him.”

The cool thing is that when you trust/confide/put faith in Jesus — who lives in you now that you’re saved — he NEVER disappoints you.  He never fails you or lets you down. His power immediately goes to work in your present-tense situation.  He works through you, in you, around you. He is there.

And, this is the most important truth… a genuine, bona fide paradox…

His power works in you no matter how you feel.

Because there is no official feeling of the power of God. He works in your weakness, right?

  • “And He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.” 2 Corinthians 12:9, NKJV.

fireworksNotice… the power of Christ rests on you when you feel like crap. Quit looking for fireworks. Quit doubting God because you didn’t feel fireworks.  Even if you feel weak, scared, confused, or doubting… step forward in FAITH, and trust that Christ is at work in you, through you, and around you. He NEVER disappoints.

That moment of faith is your shining moment, especially when you feel at your worst.

It is your glory.

It is Christ in you, the hope of glory. (Col 1:27).

It is POWER.

Okay… so I baited and switched you.  There is one more source of power, and I’ll post that one next time.

The Insanity and Bliss blog is featuring the Inner Mess book today!  So cool. Kim, the author, interviewed me and is giving away TWO FREE BOOKS.  So check out her blog today…  I’m really honored to be featured on her blog.   (She’s posting at noon, her time, so if it’s not up yet, please check again.)

What brings revival?

fire1animTwo posts ago, I suggested that the problems that face America are spiritual problems. They require spiritual solutions. We can’t fix our country through political, economic, environmental, or social means. We need God. This requires REVIVAL… an outpouring of God’s power on the Church that then spills into the broader culture, bringing down the blessing of God on our land.

You can check out that post here.

This raised a great question from one commenter:  Aside from prayer is there anything we can do to bring about revival?

That’s today’s topic… and it’s a dicey one.  Because there are two major contradictory viewpoints.  Here goes:

1. REVIVAL IS THE PREDICTABLE OUTCOME OF GOD’S PEOPLE TURNING TO HIM WITH FASTING, PRAYER, AND REPENTANCE.

finneyAn early American evangelist named Charles Finney popularized this view. Finney travelled the length and breadth of this country in the mid-1800’s, and saw hundreds of thousands of conversions. Research showed that an astounding 80% of his converts remained true to the Lord years later… compare that to the great D.L. Moody, (and pretty much every other evangelist)  who saw a 70% drop-off in the first year.  Finney’s ability to screw the gospel into a hearer’s soul was legendary.

In his Lectures on Revival, Finney, trained as a lawyer, and a convinced Arminian (critics call him a Pelagian) argued that revivals were the predictable outcomes of “means.” When God’s people used the means, God’s Spirit sent the revival.

This made revivals predictable. It also made them dependent on the church’s actions.

To draw down a revival, the church must come to God in humility, brokenness, sincerity, and repentance. We must repent of our lukewarmeness. Christians must first restore their first Love of Jesus, and then seek God to revive the church and transform the world.  The church must pray, pray, pray for revival.  Ministers must unite for prayer. Christians must gather for prayer. If God’s people will do this fervently, God will most definitely send revival.

It’s hard to argue with Finney’s results… he was instrumental in leading the Second Great Awakening, the revival that made America an essentially Christianized nation.

But a large camp of dedicated Christians disagrees with Finney.

2. REVIVAL IS THE SOVEREIGN BESTOWAL OF GOD, WHERE AND WHEN HE SEES FIT.

Our more Calvinistic friends land here. We can neither call down a revival, nor predict when one will occur. The energy level of the church cannot be maintained at fever-pitch for a long time without becoming manipulative.

lloyd-jonesOne of my favorite authors, D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, advocated this position. He lived with a heartfelt longing for revival. His book, Revival, is a classic, and has really shaped my views.

The cool thing is that Lloyd-Jones, a staunch Calvinist, still advocated the “use of means.” The church cannot create revival or call down revival or predict revival. But we could prepare for revival, and seek it with all our hearts.

G. Campell Morgan, Lloyd-Jones predecessor, taught, We cannot organize revival, but we can set our sails to catch the wind from Heaven when God chooses to blow upon His people once again.

This is where I land. I believe that a revival is a sovereign bestowal of God. The books of 1 and 2 Chronicles, in the Bible, repeat numerous stories from other books in the Bible.  But there’s a slant on what stories get repeated and what stories get left out.  The slant is REVIVAL.  The books chronicle the moments of Revival among the Jews.

In every case, there was a sudden, spontaneous return to God by large numbers of lapsed believers. In every case, there was a highlighting of the importance of the Word. Righteousness and justice were restored. Holiness returned. Love prevailed.

The Book of Acts chronicles revival in the early church. What else can you call it when 3,000 people come the Lord in one sermon?

The timing was the Lord’s alone. But the people were busy preparing their hearts.

What can we do? Set our sails. Pray. Seek God’s face THROUGH HIS WORD. Turn away from our own power, and use the power of God. Turn away from legalism, and restore the message of Grace.  Above all, spotlight Jesus.  Proclaim and gossip and live the gospel of “Christ Crucified.”

Stephen Olford wrote, Revival is ultimately Christ Himself, seen, felt, heard, living, active, moving in and through His body on earth.”

What can we do? Set our sails. Pray. Seek God’s face THROUGH HIS WORD. Turn away from our own power, and use the power of God. Turn away from legalism, and restore the message of Grace.  Above all, spotlight Jesus.  Proclaim and gossip and live the gospel of “Christ Crucified.”

Lloyd-Jones wrote, “The church has her ordinary days and her extraordinary days. And most of them are ordinary.”

bonnke3He went on to say that it is in the ordinary days–when there is no revival, when the light seems dim, when the heavens seem closed to our prayers, and when we feel no special touch from God–it is in the ordinary days that we need to be found FAITHFUL. Plugging away at maturity in the Lord. Growing deep in the Word, growing strong in prayer, growing joyfully sacrificial in service, growing generous in lifestyle. In the ordinary days, we plow the fields, and break up the hard ground, so that the seeds of revival can take root and blossom at God’s appointed time. In the ordinary days, we walk with Jesus, and lay up great spiritual strength for trials ahead.

We can’t rely in hype. We can’t rely on getting psyched up.  We can only rely on the supernatural divine resources made available by God’s Spirit through God’s Word–perfect resources for every adversity and opportunity–and seek God to revive his people.

Click here for some cool quotes on revival.

Click here for some excellent missions and evangelism quotes.

A Word to Preachers

But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellence of the power may be of God and not of us. (2 Corinthians 4:7, NKJV).

It will be my privilege to teach a preaching class next semester, so I’ve been thinking a lot about the deeper levels of preaching.  To me, it is the highest, most glorious calling a person can have.  I magnify the office–meaning, I make a big deal about the task and position of preaching.

Aside from personal qualifications of a genuine life with God and a thick hide, it seems to me that you can’t preach well, and certainly not for the long haul, without two indispensable qualities.  Okay, there are dozens of indispensable qualities, but here are the two I’m thinking about today:

1.  A theological system.  Preaching isn’t just about communicating, it’s about communicating “something.” Back in my youth pastor days, a guest speaker came to my church.  I’m a pretty positive guy (though years in ministry can peck that out of you), so afterwards, I commented that the speaker might have been light on content, but he was very eloquent.  My friend, Terry, shot back, “Yeah.  So he said nothing… well.”  He said nothing well.  

Have a theology, and let that shine through your preaching.

Indulge me while I quote one of my favorite authors, the incomparable Dorothy Sayers (friend of C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and the Inklings)…

“It is a lie to say that doctrine does not matter; it matters enormously. It is fatal to let poeple suppose that Christianity is only a mode of feeling; it is vitally necessary to insist that it is first and foremost a rational explanation of the universe.”

“It is hopeless to offer Christianity as a vaguely idealist aspiration of a simple and consoling kind; it is, on the contrary, a hard, tough, exacting, and complex doctrine, steeped in a drastic and uncompromising realism.”

“If the average person is to be interested in Christ at all, it is the doctrine that will provide the interest. The trouble is that, in nine cases out of ten, he or she has never been offered the doctrine. What has been offered is a set of technical theological terms that nobody has taken the trouble to translate into language relevant to ordinary life.”

Can I get an Amen?

The problem, of course, is choosing which theological system to stick with.  I grew up Dispensational and Fundamentalist.  Today I would call myself Evangelical, though that word is going the way of Fundamentalist–I don’t know what word will replace it, not yet at least.  You can be Reformed, Arminian, Calvinist, Pentecostal, Charismatic… about a half dozen Protestant, Evangelical categories.

I say, pick one.  God works through all of them (when they uphold the authority of Scripture).  There are godly followers of Jesus in all of them. There are great biblical scholars in all of them. Pick a system and master it. Learn it.  Be able to defend it. Know its authors, its proponents.  Know its alternatives and where you differ from other systems. Own it.  Be it.  Feel it.  Live it.  

You’re the preacher, master your content.

And when you preach, let it shape your preaching.  Preaching is like chipping a sculpture out of a giant block of marble, and you only get one hammer blow per week… the rest of the week, you polish and clean and soothe where you chipped.  It takes years.  Unless you work from a master blueprint in your mind, you will undo tomorrow what you have done today.  Your theological system keeps you from driving your hearers crazy with inconsistencies, whether subtle or grand.

Above all, when you preach, preach your “system” with passion, but stay charitable toward those in other systems.  The Lord knows we Christians have enough intra-mural fighting going on… don’t add to it. God uses every system that upholds the supreme authority of Scripture for faith and practice.  Pick a theological system, and tweak it if you must–it keeps you from reinventing the wheel.  

The second indispensable quality is like the first:

2. A viewpoint on sanctification.  Sanctification answers the question of HOW can I be a WWJD person? How can I do what Jesus would do?  By what power?  What is the process by which God conforms me to the image of Christ?  How does a person become more and more Christlike?

If you can’t answer those questions, don’t preach. 

Your flock gathers discouraged and weary from the weekly grind.  They long to know the power of Jesus in their lives.  Not another set of techniques to fix their budget or to ease hunger in Africa–though these are crucial.  First and foremost they wonder how to live like Jesus.  And you have to tell them.  You have to disciple them.  Or else their campaigns to fix the world’s problems will come across as just another failed Crusade. 

Because preaching should contribute to sanctification. It should both motivate and contribute to your hearers’ spiritual growth.  Jesus prayed, “Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth.” (John 17:17, NKJV).

Paul said, “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).

We create endless frustration in the church of Jesus when we spout mutually contradictory fragments of an ill-formed view on sanctification.  So one week, your listeners hear you say that you need to walk in the Spirit, or be filled with the Spirit, or else they can’t please God.  And two weeks later, you’re telling them to tough it out and subdue their ungodly passions… and you never put that together with walking in the Spirit, and show how the two fit together.  You drive your listeners crazy… and not only that,  you make them give up on the WWJD ideal.  They’re so frustrated they think it’s impossible.

J.I. Packer’s book, Keep in Step With the Spirit, outlines and critiques four or five views on Sanctification.  I would describe mine as a modified-Keswick view.  Then there is the Augustinian view (which Packer supports), and the Charismatic view.  There are several views on the biblical path to holiness.  Once again, I say pick one.  Know it.  Master it.  Read its literature. Make a biblical case for it. Play nice with other views…

And let that view of sanctification shape every sermon you preach.  This is the only way to build a coherent view of life with Jesus in the minds of your hearers.

It is an act of love and kindness not to confuse your flock.  Don’t lead them south one week and north the next.  They’ll get seasick.  Mark out a course… theologically and practologically, and steer a steady course.  

For many, many years.

And don’t hesitate to change your mind, and say so, when God’s Word brings you around to my way of thinking!!!

Sanctification, What is It?

For Steve, since you asked.. 🙂

1. TERMS: Let’s start by recognizing that in some contexts, it is synonymous with salvation. But that’s not the norm. In most contexts, the idea of sanctification occupies the time/space between your salvation and your death. The words in both Greek and Hebrew mean “to make holy.”

What is it, and how does it happen? Continue reading

The Eagle Has Landed

lunarmod.jpegI sent my completed manuscript for How to Keep Your Inner Mess from Trashing Your Outer World to the publisher on Sunday afternoon.  Thank you to everybody who prayed, encouraged, and helped along the way.  Here are tons of ultra-fascinating details:

Continue reading

Which came first?

gaffin.gifQuote of the week:

“But church history has made all too evident that the apparently inevitable outcome of such an emphasis [he means an emphasis on self-sanctification] is the rise of moralism, the reintroduction into the Christian life of a refined works-principle, more or less divorced from the faith that justifies and eventually leaving no room for that faith. What is resolutely rejected at the front door of justification comes in through the back door of sanctification and takes over the whole house.”

The writer: Richard B. Gaffin, Jr, Professor of Biblical and Systematic Theology, Westminster Theological Seminary, Philadelphia, USA

The article: Redemption and Resurrection: An exercise in biblical-systematic theology

Say What?:

For the first half of my Christian life, I would say that we are saved by faith and made holy by works. Justification (a right standing with God) is by grace through faith. It is God’s work. Sanctification (a holy life) is by my works.

Gaffin is trying to point out that I would have been dead wrong–and I say amen. Continue reading