Sola Scriptura? Five “Texts” that Compete With Scripture

bereanThe Reformers cried, “Sola Scriptura!” Latin for Scripture Alone! By it, they planted the Bible at the top of the heap when it comes to ways Christians obtain truth. The Scripture texts get the final say. When Paul and Silas came to a pretty hill-town called Berea, here’s what happened: Continue reading

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Three Cheers for Vocabulary!

The surgeon says, “I have to pull out that little hangy thingy in your gut-parts that doesn’t do anything.”

The mechanic says, “I’ll have to brush off those shiny screwy ceramic thingies with the little metal tip.”

The contractor says, “I’ll just yank off those flat bumpy whatch-a-ma-call-its from the top of your house and see where it’s leaking.”

You’d be looking for a new surgeon, a new mechanic, and a new contractor. In each of these fields, we want experts. We want dedicated workers who have studied their craft and mastered it. We want a surgeon who knows the difference between an appendix and a spleen, a mechanic who knows the difference between a spark plug and a coil, and a contractor who knows the difference between a roof shingle and roof vent.

And I want a pastor who knows the difference between justification and sanctification, propitiation and redemption, the Hypostatic Union and the Mystical Union, Omniscience and Omnipotence. I want a pastor who has studied the craft and mastered it (not that you can ever master either God or Scripture, but you can be proficient in it at least). I know that some will immediately read me as saying all I care about is theological vocabulary… No. There is immeasurably more to being a pastor or church leader.

But clarity on theology is an indispensable foundation for everything else. Don’t tell me how to live unless you know deeply from Scripture what divine resources God has offered me, how they work, and how Jesus used them in his life… the soul-stirring vocabulary of the Christian faith.

In the realm of the spirit, I want to train you to become your own mechanic.

In olden days, everyone had the same Bible. We’d all read: Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, (Romans 5:1, NKJV). Immediately the preacher was forced into explaining justification… and we’d all learn it. Over the years, we’d develop a fairly sophisticated picture of justification as distinct from, yet related to, sanctification. We’d understand why Martin Luther attempted to correct his church’s theology on the doctrine, and why it mattered so enormously.

Today, however, we read in a dozen translations, some bland variation on: “having been made right by faith” and nobody needs to explain it. In fact, by obliterating the theological vocabulary, the reader isn’t even alerted to the existence of an entire theological system summed up in one word. When a mechanic says “carburetor” he calls to mind a whole piece of machinery and its interplay with the other machinery. One word conjures a vast, systematic picture.

So it is in Scripture: justified, justification, justify, just, righteous… there is an ocean of wonder to explore in this one great word.

Take the word “gospel.” It has morphed into a thousand things, mostly shallow, and mostly emotional. Yes, the gospel is good news, but it is the title for a precise theological bit of good news: that Christ died for our sins, etc (1 Cor 15:3) and that if we mess with it, then we’re to be damned (Gal 1:8,9). God help us all if “gospel” means so much that it stops meaning anything.

By losing our vocabulary, we’ve lost the riches and the wonder. We’ve lost the clarity. We’ve lost the powerful and beautiful inter-linkages that tie all of Scripture together.

We’ve also lost the subtle distinctions that protect us from heresy. After all, the early church split over a single letter: whether Jesus, in his deity, is homo-ousios (the same substance) or homoi-ousios (similar substance) with the Father. Picky? Yes! Essentially picky. Life-changingly picky. Picky the way you hope and pray your surgeon is picky. Vocabulary matters enormously.

The authors of Scripture never shied away from long sentences and big words. They developed a sophisticated vocabulary and weren’t afraid to use it.

This is not to suggest that our sermons and Bible classes become dry, academic, theological lectures. Not at all — and if you’ve heard me preach, you probably wouldn’t describe my sermons that way [I hope]. The people of God crave the deep things of God — let’s take them there, assuming we’ve taken ourselves there first. Let’s patiently build the concepts in their minds. Let’s lay out a rich feast for hungry souls. Let’s integrate deep truth into real life. Let’s go beyond the surface.

Pick up any collection of sermons from a hundred years ago and notice the dramatic contrast: ours today are painfully dumbed down. Sorry.

Paul validated his ministry saying, “For I have not shunned to declare to you the whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:27, NKJV). Do we declare the whole counsel of God? Or do we settle for funny stories, thin sentimentality, and relentless exhortations to duty.

Three cheers for the meat of God’s Word and the vocabulary that expresses it!

And three cheers for any preacher brave enough to teach it.

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).

 

Not About Worship

At a coffee meeting some time ago, I met with a young man who said his gifts and passions were to lead God’s people in worship. (The young man was not from my church by the way, so no guessing.) He went on to say others have told him he had “an anointing” for leading worship.

I like this guy. He is passionate. Eager. On fire. Likable. A ton of cool tattoos.

“That’s great,” I said. Then I leaned across the table and said, “Quick — give me ten attributes of God.”

He was stumped. My question came out of the blue. His eyes grew wide. He stammered a few words, and smiled. “I guess I can’t.”

“That’s okay,” I said. “Give me ten names of God and their meanings.”

Again, no dice.

“But the people who know their God shall be strong, and carry out great exploits. (Daniel 11:32b, NKJV).

You will keep him in perfect peace, Whose mind is stayed on You, Because he trusts in You. (Isaiah 26:3, NKJV).

The young man had a teachable heart, and I went on to share one of my passionate beliefs with him: WORSHIP IS NOT ABOUT WORSHIP. WORSHIP IS ABOUT GOD. 

A “worship leader” who has not made God the focus of his/her studies is like a doctor who hasn’t studied anatomy or a mechanic who doesn’t know a catalytic converter from a flux capacitor. Master the craft of music, yes. Master the craft of assembling and leading teams, and putting together a service that flows, of course. But DO NOT FAIL to devote your heart to the knowledge of God.

We will worship with our hearts, and with our understanding also. In spirit AND truth.

Dear Anointed Worship Leader: put muscle on your anointing by deep meditation and study of the names of God, the attributes of God, and the Triune Nature of God as revealed in Scripture. Please saturate your MIND and SPIRIT in a God who has graciously revealed himself on the pages of Scripture.

You are a specialist in worship; great. Now be a specialist in God. Lead God’s people into a transcendent vision of a God bigger than your current emotional state. A God whose name is exalted above the heavens. Do not expect a maturing congregation to be excited about cliches and platitudes, even if the music behind them is good. You can tell us to sit, stand, kneel, clap our hands, celebrate, and dance, but if you have not painted on the canvas of our minds a picture of a God worth dancing over, you have only succeeded in cajoling us over the mechanics of worship, while ignoring the true subject of worship, our Glorious God.

Tozer was right: what comes to our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.

What thrills the heart is the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit comprehended in their multifaceted dimensions.

  • Does the worship song declare that God is GOOD? Amen! What is the goodness of God? What does that mean? (Hint: in theology it is called BENEVOLENCE, and has a rich depth of meaning… can you lead us into that?)
  • Does the worship song declare a God who is HOLY? Amen! What is the holiness of God? What about MORAL HOLINESS? MAJESTIC HOLINESS (to use Erickson’s terms)?
  • Does the worship song call us to CONFESSION? Amen! Why? What is the biblical basis of it? What is its effect? What next?

Aren’t we supposed to love God, not only with our whole heart and body and spirit, but also with our whole MIND? When Martin Luther had the church sing, “Lord Tsabaoth his name / from age to age the same / and he must win the battle,” would that have meaning to you? Are we substituting subjective experience, and emotional highs, and “passion” for the deep things of God? I hope not. I’m all for a heartfelt response to God. Let’s just make sure it’s a response to DEEP TRUTH about God founded on Scripture. Otherwise, it risks being just manipulation.

My church is blessed to be worshipping with a worship pastor (the fantastic Tim Hawkins) and a great leadership team eager to know and grow in the knowledge of God. Teachable. Diligent in their own growth. Hungering and thirsting to grasp God in his riches and depths. I am so blessed to be worshipping with these young leaders, and our church is blessed because of them.

Let’s remember the heart of worship: worship isn’t about worship. It’s about God.

What are some of the most precious names and attributes of God to you? What is Scripture saying to you lately about who God is? I’d love to read your comment…

Be Alone, It Won’t Kill You…

Sometimes I run into a great piece of writing that is so true, so beautiful, and so real I want to share it with you. I did not write the piece below, but it touches me deep inside. It was written by my friend, Kenny Howard. Kenny sent it to me in response to an article I posted on Facebook. I share his response with his permission:

The original article that triggered this response is here: “The End of Solitude.” It’s a great read. Here’s Kenny’s Response:

Great article on being alone. It came to me at the same time when I was looking up a way to disable the wifi on my 10 year old’s Ipod Touch. Stupid me thought that he would actually use it to listen to music! Nope. It is like a crack addiction and he brings it into the bathroom with him. This was a “gift” from grandpa for Christmas and it has been taken away for periods of time and has been the root of bad moods for him as well. I’d like to throw the thing in the trash. I know this is the modern age and that is how kids communicate, but what happened to books? My kids live 3 blocks from a lush green wooded paradise, yet they have never set foot in it! “Go climb a tree, skin your knee, break an arm, I don’t care, just go be a BOY!!!” Why? Why USE your imagination and build a treefort when imagination comes to me free of charge or effort right over my handheld device 24/7? I found out today how to disable the majority of his usage for this time-robbing device.
You’re old like me so I can use this phrase: When I was young… we lived in a canyon that held all sorts of boyhood mystery and we LIVED in the creek that ran through it. We’d dam it up, build a ropeswing, poke sticks at dead, stinky animals, race stick-boats down the creek, swim in it when it was summertime and the list was endless because we had the TIME and the IMAGINATION. Today children have neither. They are never alone and they never get to know themselves or become comfortable in their own skin. They expect to be entertained around the clock because there is always a screen of one sort or another that will provide entertainment. My wife likes the fact that he can text her on this device and thus stay in touch, but beyond that feature I find these and other such devices pure and simple robbery of the childhood experience.

I have a computer in the office at work and have gotten rid of the one at home; don’t miss it and have more time for my family, more time to read, more time to play with my dogs, go for a walk, work out, play my guitar, etc. I found out that FB is another addiction and I soon found myself with way too many “friends” that I would never invite over for dinner who needed to share with me every intimate detail of their lives and I in turn became the voyeur who had to read all of this useless trivia in order to “keep up”! Screw that. I probably hurt some feelings, but it was out of control so I pruned my friend list from over 200 to somewhere around 30 which is a more accurate count of my true friends. If we’re such good friends, then why don’t we know each other’s email adresses which is all FB is in the first place; another way to email someone.

I am comfortable in my own skin. I know my skin. I know my strengths and more importantly, my weaknesses. I lived alone for YEARS before I met my wife and knew she was the one. No one does this anymore. What’s wrong with being alone? How can you ever know yourself if you never spend time with yourself? How can you ever be in a healthy relationship and expect someone else to know you? They say good counseling hurts. Living alone will also show your warts and this is important information to know. Getting in touch with your human weaknesses will allow you to work on those weaknesses and to someday become a better person, father, husband, neighbor, etc. I hear people talk after they break-up with someone and swear that they will not date anyone else for at least a year as they want to focus on themselves and just be alone. GREAT! Never happens. We have become relationship tree monkeys who swing from one relationship to another as we are so terrified of “being alone”. These people will never find “the one” if they are constantly settling for whoever comes along because when the phone call of destiny finally rings, their line will be busy with mediocrity…

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.)

God’s Power For God’s People

jesusphariseesI’m continuing the rant I began a few days ago… so if you like this one, scroll down and read about the posts on Revival and on Legalism…

The essence of legalism is substituting human power for God’s power; human ability for divine ability. This is arrogance, whether we intended it or not. That’s why Jesus denounced the Pharisees:

  • “Jesus answered and said to them, “You are mistaken, not knowing the Scriptures nor the power of God.” Matthew 22:29, NKJV.
  • “But He said, “The things which are impossible with men are possible with God.”” Luke 18:27, NKJV.

God doesn’t stutter: “the weapons of our warfare are not carnal,” yet how many of Christ’s followers seek to do God’s work in their own strength (2 Cor 10:4)! Millions of Christians try very hard every day to do God’s work in unaided human power. The weapons of their warfare ARE carnal. Unfortunately, well meaning pastors like me encourage this insanity.

We desperately need the power of God.

How do we obtain it? What are the sources of divine power in the life of God’s people?  Here are four sources of God’s power, and please note that they all play together nicely… actually, omitting even one makes you a bedraggled pilgrim.

dove1. THE FILLING OF THE HOLY SPIRIT.  Regardless of your theology on how this happens, we must be filled with the Spirit. Hasn’t God been super-clear that good works done for him, apart from his Spirit, are meaningless?

  • “‘Not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit,’ Says the LORD of hosts.” Zechariah 4:6, NKJV.

Notice that little word “not.” In the original Hebrew it means exactly what it means in the English: “NOT!” We will not do the work of God by human might or power. Do you believe that?  Does Bono believe that? Does the new generation of emerging pastors believe that? Do Christian activists believe that? Do I believe that? Do I really believe the word “not” at the beginning of Zech 4:6? How about this one: “Unless the LORD builds the house, They labor in vain who build it; Unless the LORD guards the city, The watchman stays awake in vain.” Psalms 127:1, NKJV. How much of our work is in vain!

pentecost1Because we have not asked for the filling of God’s Spirit.  In my theology–and I’m not going to be a stickler here–God’s Spirit fills us when we ask him to, when we trust him to.  I’ll save that teaching for another time (Luke 11:13; Rom 15:13; Eph 1:17). Your theology may be different; that’s fine. Even so…

We need to return to the power of the Holy Spirit, a moment-by-moment sense of trust and dependency on Him. When we walk in the Spirit, we honor God. He provides his supernatural and spiritual power to do what must be done in every given circumstance.

No matter how we feel!

But the Spirit does not work in isolation. He uses a specific weapon in our hearts to wield his power:

2. THE WORD OF GOD, BUILT INTO OUR PSYCHE.  We often view the Bible as simply a “how-to” manual. It is that, but it is far more. The Bible is not simply a collection of data-bytes for us to think about. When we ingest the Bible, we don’t just get information, we also get POWER.

  • “For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.” Hebrews 4:12, NKJV.
  • ““Now the parable is this: The seed is the word of God.” Luke 8:11, NKJV.
  • “So shall My word be that goes forth from My mouth; It shall not return to Me void, But it shall accomplish what I please, And it shall prosper in the thing for which I sent it.” Isaiah 55:11, NKJV.
  • ““Is not My word like a fire?” says the LORD, “And like a hammer that breaks the rock in pieces?” Jeremiah 23:29, NKJV.
  • “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek.” Romans 1:16, NKJV.

biblestudy2Over time, God’s Word rewires our spiritual hard drives. God’s Word, built into us, radiates divine power into our lives. It produces a Christ-like spine, upholding all that is good and right in us.

This is why it is so important to learn “the whole counsel of God.” As a kid, I memorized this verse in Awana…. if only our churches would really believe its message:

  • “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.” 2 Timothy 3:16, 17, NKJV.

Notice that you can’t have the underlined part without the doctrine, reproof, correction, and instruction in righteousness first. But isn’t that exactly what we are doing?

Compare the Biblical content of today’s sermons with sermons of past generations. Today we have sermonettes for Christianettes. Back then, they had red meat. They had  spiritual muscle. The revivals that swept America always followed biblical reformations that swept the church.

swordspiritwordWhy isn’t the Spirit enough?  Because the “sword of the Spirit” is the Word of God. Every Christian has the Spirit (indwelling), but not every Christian has the Word. You have disarmed the Spirit, so to speak, if you have not grown in God’s Word. You are powerless in the fight.

The Bible is the backbone of the church; without God’s Word sounding from pulpits across the land, the church loses ground. So do Christians.

Next post: Two more power sources.

Love is the Result of Spiritual Maturity

Love is the result of spiritual maturity.  It is an after-effect.  It is not, therefore, an action that we can simply urge our church people to go out and do. “Hey church, be more loving.” It’s like saying, “Hey, two-year-old, quit drooling.” Self-centeredness goes hand in hand with immaturity.

The root problem of the Christian witness in our culture today is NOT that we are sending unloving Christians into the world, though that may be the case.  It is that we are sending immature Christians into the world.  Because very few churches have a coherent philosophy of how to mature the saints for the works of the ministry.  Very few have a well-articulated theology of sanctification or discipleship.  And so we have ill-equipped, but emotionally pumped, spiritual children trying to do a grown-up’s work.  And, to the ultra-sensitive world, it smells fishy.

Have you given thought lately to the Love Chapter?

“But when that which is perfect has come, then that which is in part will be done away.” 1Co 13:10.

What is meant by that which is “perfect”?  There is only one valid option, if you ask me.  Take out the word “perfect” and stick in the words “spiritually mature” and the whole passage makes sense.  By they way, the same Greek word is translated mature in both other uses in this book (2:6; 14:20).  So why not here?

Paul is saying that when spiritual maturity comes, spiritual incompleteness goes away.  Because love is the RESULT of spiritual maturity.  Now, Paul describes the changes that occur as a Christian grows mature and deep in the Lord.

“When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things.” 1Co 13:11.

The first result is A SHIFT FROM CHILDISHNESS TO ADULTHOOD.  Yet, how few Christians and churches have the patience for this long process.  The American Church has become afflicted with a bad case of instant gratification.  Get saved, and get busy.  It used to be Get saved, Grow up, then Get busy.

“For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face. . .” 1Co 13:12.

The second result is A SHIFT FROM SELF-ABSORPTION TO CONCERN FOR OTHERS.  When you’re looking into a mirror, who are you looking at?  Yourself.  And that is the focus of an immature person.  But when maturity comes–and ONLY when maturity comes–do we possess the emotional/spiritual capacity to practice true love.  That’s when see “face to face”–that’s when I’m looking at you, not just at myself all the time.

“…Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known.” 1Co 13:12.

The third result is A SHIFT FROM SUPERFICIALITY TO TRANSPARENCY.  Or as Paul puts it, knowing in part (superficiality) to knowing just as I am known (transparency).  Immature Christians are too fragile to be real and authentic.  They cover up, wear masks, and pretend to be better than they are.  And really, it’s hard to do otherwise–because in immaturity, we tie our worth to our production, not to our status in Christ.

“And now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love.” 1Co 13:13.

It’s the greatest because it’s the last quality formed.  What’s the bottom line?  If you want to love like Jesus loved you have to reproduce what Jesus had in his soul in your soul.  And that means growing in wisdom and stature till you become a mature man or woman in Christ.

Same thing, different book:  Col 3:14 But above all these things put on love, which is the bond of perfection.  TRANSLATION:  After all these other qualities are formed in your life, you will be able to demonstrate love, the relational glue that only comes from MATURITY (perfection).

I’m not making it up.  It’s in the Bible.

The urgent need of the church today is that Christians will be deeply rooted and grounded in the faith and that we will sink deep roots before we spread wide branches.

What do you think?

Spirit or Flesh: How do you know?

mountainmeditation.jpegIn my recent blog on legalism (scroll down to see it) Sherri asked, “How do you know if you’re walking in the flesh or the Spirit?” (in essence).

I’d like to tackle that question today.

The wounderful* fundamentalist church in which I was reared placed too much focus on motives (*not a misspelling). “Check your motives. Check your heart. Have a clean heart.” Continue reading

Legalism for the 21st Century

oldswimwear.jpegIn the 18th century it was showing any skin, sabbath breaking, or failing to wear a hat in public (men).

In the 19th century the church added going to the (live) theater and playing cards.

In the 20th century it was dancing, drinking, movies, tattoos, and piercings.

In the 21st century, all that stuff is okay. But legalism still thrives under a different guise. The church has rightly shed its archaic taboos. Thank God. But we’ve substituted a different legalism. Not a legalism of rules, but a a legalism way more depressing and harder to spot. Continue reading