Saturday, October 27, 2007

Appreciating God's Sovereign Grace

God's Grace TrophiesIn my ministry at the local Rescue Mission working with men and women in the New Life Disciple program, I've recently had the privilege to get to know a man named Brian. Brian is much like many of the others that pass through the mission and the program - coming out of a life of drugs, crime, alcohol, you name it. Brian, who is in his late 30's, is an exceptionally bright guy who is really thinking as we study the Word together and asking great questions. He is what I refer to as one of God's "Grace Trophies" - a person who has been radically transformed, both inside and out, eternally and completely, by God's sovereign grace. People who knew Brian before he trusted Christ cannot believe he's the same person now. And the truth is that he isn't the same person - he's been recreated in Christ Jesus, by the Spirit, by the Gospel.

As we've been studying these aspects of the identity of the believer in Christ, Brian has been understanding the reality of his depravity and total inability to please God before he was born again. In fact, yesterday as we were studying the ramifications of being reconciled to God through faith in Christ, and the resulting freedom from the condemnation for sin that we all have brought upon ourselves, Brian asked me about election. He said he had heard of this doctrine and knew that there were some who are vehemently opposed to it, but that it really seemed to make sense to him. In his reading of the Bible, with no pre-conceived teaching or other notions, Brian had come to the conclusion that apart from Christ he was a spiritually dead and rebellious sinner, worthy of God's righteous and just wrath, and that on his own he would never have responded to the Gospel. Brian understood that the life he had been living before coming to Jesus Christ was simply the outward expression of his inward state of spiritual lifelessness. And that it could only have been by God's grace in choosing him, regenerating him and imparting the life and righteousness of Christ to him that he actually did come to Jesus in faith.

I find this over and over again as I work with these disciples, these people who have lived the depths of the depravity that all of us possess in our natural state. They understand clearly that they were dead in their sin, that they were totally unable to respond to God, not even wanting to. They have no problem with the Biblical truth that it was God alone who chose them for His own, who redeemed them from their sin, who declared them righteous in His sight and brought them to faith in Jesus. And they revel in that knowledge. They have no pride, only glorious praise to God that He indeed does show sovereign grace to the likes of them.

And at the same time, I find those people who have the biggest problem with these Biblical truths and doctrines of God's sovereign grace are those who have been in the church for some period of time. I rarely encounter anyone at the Rescue Mission that will argue with me or disagree with what the Bible says about these doctrines, but I constantly have these responses from churched people when I am teaching there. I find the people that seem to be the least receptive to really examining the passages in the Word that refer to God's choosing of us as His people are those who have sat under a variety of Christian teaching for some time. So what does this say about the general bent of today's teaching in most our evangelical Christianity? Obviously that it is Arminian at best, and more likely semi-Pelagian. And that's just those that have actually formed some opinion on the matter. Far more prevalent are those that have never struggled with these hard truths or thought seriously about the source of their salvation. They've simply gone along with the "make a decision" and "accept Jesus" language that pervades our Christian-ese these days.

But when I see those like Brian, who have been snatched from the fire by the sovereign grace of Jesus Christ and are now living as a new redeemed creation and understanding that it is all of God, I am joyful. It is a great joy to see God at work, and to see His relentless gracious purposes recognized and appreciated. To see Him creating Grace Trophies for His glory, that truly do give Him the glory He alone deserves.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Your Best Life...When?

Saw a list last week of the largest and fastest growing churches in America today. Not surprisingly, leading the pack was Lakewood Church in Houston. With a total attendance of 47,000 people, no wonder they had to buy the former Compaq Center to have space for this crowd. Annual operating budget for this mega-ministry business is around $73 million. Obviously Joel Osteen, the leader of Lakewood, is doing something right to attract these hordes. Maybe it's the squeaky-clean and ultra-brite smiling look he has on the front page of all of his books, like Your Best Life Now and Become a Better You.

So here are a few brief excerpts from Your Best Life Now. Read them and think about what kind of message it is that is being preached and taught that is attracting these thronging crowds and dollars.

"Don't sit back passively, hey I'm just looking out for your own happiness when I say, "You do your part and God will do his. Sure we have our faults, but the good news is God loves us anyway."

"If you will simply obey his commands he will change things in your favor. God is keeping a record of every good deed that you have ever done. In your time of need because of your generosity God will move heaven and earth to make sure that you are taken care of."

Joel OsteenSo what is the gospel according to Joel-O? Distill down this positive and affirming message to it's basics and what do you have? Well, it looks to me to be pure and unadulterated legalism and works righteousness. We do the best we can and God will do the best He can. Hey, we're all OK even when we mess up because after all, He loves us! We just have to do all the right stuff, give to all the right places, and God will overlook all the bad stuff we've done and we'll be just okey-doke with Him. We do our part, and God will be obliged to do his. Life is good!!

Sounds so great, so warm and fuzzy, doesn't it? But somehow the whole issue of sin is overlooked here. Somehow the fact that the Bible tells us that we are far from OK with God is not part of Osteen's message. Somehow the truth that we are completely and utterly unrighteous and that all the best things we can do, all of our best attempts at obedience and generosity are nothing but putrid undergarments in God's nostrils is overlooked. The reality that we are all truly the objects of God's just and righteous anger and wrath towards sin just isn't in toothy Joel's gospel.

Truth is there is no good news in Osteen's good news. There's simply a veiled legalism that puts people into further bondage to laws and sin. And that further keeps them from seeing their true spiritual and eternal state and understanding their need for a true Savior.

"Your Best Life Now." An apt title for followers of Smilin' Joel's false gospel. Because they really are living their best life now. All they have to look forward to in eternity is a forever in punishment for the sin that Joel never told them about. Because he wanted to be positive.


I am pooped out tonight. I preached this morning at Shell Creek Baptist, and then also taught Sunday School. I have to say that I think this was the best time I've preached there, I could really sense God at work, and I was much more relaxed while preaching. Lots of very real and good comments afterward, including multiple ones from the Rev. Effa. A sweet old fellow who was the previous pastor of the church and has been in ministry longer than I've been alive. He told me several times how he was glad to hear that I'm supportive of Mike as he pursues preparation for ministry, since his dad was against him going into ministry and wanted him to farm. Consequently it was really hard for him going through Bible college without his fathers support. I can't imagine.

Also had a great time with the folks in Sunday School, teaching on God's omnipresence. It really was a lot of fun now that I've gotten to know some of the people, and feel like we've developed kind of a rapport. When I mentioned that this was the last time I'm scheduled to preach or teach, I had several people tell me that they hoped that wasn't the case and that I'd be back. I hope so as well, I have really developed a love for these folks.

Anyway, once again I am worn out after doing this kind of ministry. Even after taking an extra-long pastoral nap. I guess that goes with the territory. Or maybe it's because Matt and I spent much of the afternoon and evening watching some really classic movies we picked up at the cheapo DVD bin at Wal-Mart. Like Rambo - First Blood, Parts 1 and 2. And Nacho Libre. Yeah, strange mix. Hope I don't have nightmares.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

What's the Gospel?

I serve on the board of a gospel rescue mission ministry, and recently this board held a retreat to do some planning and the like. One of the items on our agenda was to discuss and come to a consensus definition of the Gospel. Given that we want the mission to stay centered and focused on the Gospel for now and into the future, and the fact that we as directors come from a diverse mix of Christian backgrounds, this seemed to be a good exercise. And since I am all about the Gospel of Jesus Christ and as much clarity as possible regarding that Gospel, I was looking forward to this discussion. In preparation, I put together a summary of what seemed to be a good bullet-point definition based on the introduction to Mark Dever's The Deliberate Church. Here's the summary:

  • God is our holy Creator and righteous Judge. He created us to glorify Him and enjoy Him forever.
  • But we have all sinned, both in Adam as our representative head, and in our own individual actions. (Romans 5:12, Romans 3:23)
  • We therefore deserve death – spiritual separation from God in hell. (Romans 6:23, Ephesians 2:3)
  • We are in fact already spiritually stillborn, helpless in our sins. (Psalm 51:5, Romans 5:6-8, Ephesians 2:1)
  • We are in need of God to impart spiritual life to us. (John 3:3)
  • But God sent His Son Jesus Christ, fully God and fully man. (Philippians 2:5-11)
  • Christ was sent to die the death that we deserved, and He raised Him up for our justification, proving that He was God’s Son. (Romans 1:4, Romans 5:1)
  • If we would have Christ’s perfect righteousness credited to us, and the penalty for our sin credited to Him, we must repent of our sin and believer in Jesus Christ for salvation. (2 Corinthians 5:21, Mark 1:14-15)
  • This is the only true Gospel. (Galatians 1:6-9)
  • This is the Gospel we are commanded to preach. (2 Timothy 4:2)
Pretty simple, right? Basic stuff that anyone who is serving as director of a Gospel-based Christian ministry should affirm or at least have a grasp on, right? Well, I was sadly disappointed. To cut to the chase, no one in the room could give a succinct and clear delineation of the Gospel. In fact, it was obvious they didn't even want to try. A couple asked, "Why are we doing this?" One threw out the statement that "Jesus is Lord" and said that was all that needed to be said. Then he added John 3:16. When I pushed a little harder, things degraded into some confused doctrinal arguments, ranging from a debate on the preservation of the saints to the need for true repentance and a changed life ("So do we lose our free will when we come to Christ?"). We finally agreed that we needed to move on to other things.

Now please don't misunderstand, I love these brothers and sisters in Christ. I have known several of them for years. I do not mean to malign or discredit them. But at the same time, I was appalled at the utter lack of doctrinal understanding and thought that a group of supposedly mature believers in Christ had regarding such core tenets of what they believe. On the one hand, I had to rebuke myself a bit for expecting too much from a para-church ministry leadership group like this. After all, this was not the elders of a church. But what does this say about what these people bring to the table in the ministries of their own respective churches? All of them are leaders of some sort in their churches, one is a senior pastor and the other is pastoring a church plant. I have to wonder - if they aren't building their churches and their ministries on the clear and solid truth of the Gospel, then what are they building them on?

Blogroll please...

Wow. I feel just like good ol' Naven Johnson (aka Steve Martin) in that classic movie "The Jerk", who got all excited when the new phone books came out and his name was in it. "I'm somebody!" he kept shouting. Well me too, as this blog has been added to the august and rarefied list on the Team Pyro site. Yes, I am a Friend of Sinners, and have been recognized as such by the Pyromaniacs. Please, hold the applause. No, really, it was nothing.

Seriously, the Team Pyro blog is one of the few that I read on a regular basis. Meaty topics, interesting and sometimes diverse comment threads and discussions, and lots of interaction if you want it. So stop reading this drivel and go there. Read them. Think and grow.