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The dealers are running the rehab

Have you ever heard someone say, “The mental patients are running the asylum”?  What does it mean?  Simply stated, it means that the place being run is crazy.  The exact wrong people are in charge.

In the case of some contemporary American Evangelicalism, the statement needs a slight alteration; the dealers are running the rehab.

Years ago I had the honor of serving as a high school diploma instructor in a live-in rehab facility.  Many of the staff were former addicts who had gone through the program and had a full recovery.  They understood the addicts’ minds better than a person who has not struggled with addiction.  It was quite an education for me.  In that circumstance, they were the right people to run the rehabilitation facility.

The adjusted statement doesn’t read, ‘The former addicts (or, ‘recovering addicts’) are running the rehab’; it is the dealers who are in charge.

The question is, what is the addiction?  What kind of crack are they on?

Gerhard Forde explains in detail that many are addicted to works.  They are addicted to following the law to make themselves right before God.  His book, On Being a Theologian of the Cross is short but foundational.

Romans 7:12 states,

“So the law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good.”

There can be no doubt that God’s law reflects His divine Holiness and perfection.  It is critical that church leaders use the law in the church.  Synonyms for law are; command, demand, and expectation in the biblical context.  More to the point: these are God’s commands, demands and expectations for you to live a holy righteous and good life.

Many gravitate to the law because in a society which is morally degrading, it offers an objective standard to prove one’s mental  soundness (“I’m not crazy, the world is crazy!).  That is quite understandable.

Others have taken it a step further.  They believe that the law is not just a standard of goodness that we can observe, but that the Christian life is all about following the law.  “I have to prove my faith somehow, so I will use the scripture as my personal moral code for living.  This way, God will have to accept me.”

Now, the confusion sets in.  You might have “received Christ”, or “made Him your personal Lord and Savior”, but after this, it’s time for chores.  It’s time to sanctify yourself.  It’s as if God made you holy to start with, and then you got dirty again.  You have to find a way to get clean and stay clean.

The insidious nature of this belief lies in the faith one places in one’s own efforts to keep clean.  In other words, a person starts with the good news of forgiveness in Jesus Christ, but is then bound to keep the demands, commands and expectations of the Law.

Some find comfort in something so predictable.  The Law operates on the principle, “If you do this, (then) you will live”.  But, if you understand the nature of language, the prior statement is called a conditional statement.  It is conditioned on your behavior.  It infantilizes the user.  But that is not the life God has for you.

Perhaps the user wants to be a child.  They want to have a rewards and punishments chart.  They want to re-live their childhood.

Some of the ‘some’ become leaders (dealers) in the church.  They consider the Law to be good news.  They want others to hear this good news of living by conditional behavior to appear righteous before God.  They expend amazing, and even, admirable effort at the study of Scripture.

All the while, they are in the business of making more crack addicts.  Many in the seats come to hear “what their itching ears long to hear”.  They want to hear that they can do something about their failing marriages, repetitive sinning or their depression.

So the dealers direct them to a self-improvement program based on law-keeping.  They tell themselves and others, “You got yourself into this mess, now you can get yourself out” (with a little help from Jesus).  “Give it a spin, see if it works”.

Church leaders can only be aware of the outward behavior of the church members, because that’s all they can see.  In fact, this environment produces victims and victimizers

All the while, they bind the consciences (i.e., victimizing) of those who are already troubled with sin.  Momentary successes encourage the users to continue using.  And, if they fall, they add another layer of ‘accountability’ to get back on track.  The increasing demands and deepening guilt over failing brings on hopelessness for those of sensitive conscience.

But that is not the life God has for you.

Instead, He sends His Only Begotten Son to rescue you.  He has come to rescue you from the demands, commands and expectations of the law.  He comes to fully fulfill all of the law on your behalf.

Beyond this, He becomes your sin.  He becomes all of that failing.  He becomes all of that self-idolatry.  He becomes the repetitive sinning.  And He received His Father’s eternal punishment for all of it.  As far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us (Psalm 103:12). 

Jesus, Himself said, “I am the Way the Truth and the Life“.  He is the sum and content of the Christian life.  You live by His continued faithfulness to you.  You do not live by your continued faithfulness to uphold the law.

Anyhow, why would you want to?  It’s requirements are not just demands for the hands, but demands for the heart.  It’s only a great way to find out that you are a hypocrite!  The good news is that the Savior came for hypocrites!

And He will sort out the hypocrites who are dealing the crack of Good Works to display one’s holiness before God.

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What is your operating system?

Christianity is about truth.  In fact, it is based on the one who says of Himself, “I am the way, the truth and the life”.  But, if you visit a number of churches from different denominations and under different leaders, you will find that they can vary widely in their services.  Some are more “comfortable” while others are more “churchy”.

If you look further into the church you are visiting, you might find a ‘statement of faith’ for the church.  It may even be posted on the back of the bulletin you received at the door.  That statement of faith can tell you a lot.

Otherwise, if you spend more time at the church, getting to know people as they get to know you, you will find out what operating system is functioning at that church.  It’s a little like the difference between your android phone and an I-phone©.  Although the apps might be the same, something is different about them.  As you become more familiar with each one, you can explain the advantages and disadvantages of each phone.

So it is when you become more familiar with a church.

Most people are just interested in the ‘Apps’; the kids programs, bible studies, how they serve in the community, and what the Sunday service is like.  As long as the church has it ‘all together’, and has a lot of people in your age group, it’s the right place to go.

It would take a bad experience or two to shake the regular attender from the church they attend.

Yet, there are others who have been affected by what lies underneath the ‘apps’.  Somehow, the operating system is the cause of disturbance.

The good news is that there are only two operating systems in Christianity.  Both claim to be Christianity, but one of them is a forgery; a counterfeit.

How can one tell them apart?  If both of them mention God and sin, Death and life, devils and angels, what is the difference?

The work of Jesus Christ dying on a cross for your sin and mine is the difference.  If that is not spoken every Sunday, if it is only assumed and never proclaimed, then the church you are in has a counterfeit theology.  The operating system is bad.

The Apostle Paul wrote in First Corinthians,

22For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, 23but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles … (1 Cor, 1:22-23)

That proclamation is the heart of the difference.  If Christ is not central to what the church proclaims on Sunday, Monday, Tuesday and every other day of the week, then what are they proclaiming?

They have only one option.  It doesn’t matter if they are conservative or liberal.  They will proclaim that you need to do something, because, ultimately, Christianity might begin with Christ’s work, but that work is left unfinished.  You must complete it with great human effort.

That effort could be expressed in good moral behavior or in social activism.  Either way, the self becomes the idol.

And that is just why we needed to have an intervention.  No matter what we touch, human  nature moves us to fill in what is lacking or to fix what is broken.  What this operating system is really doing is putting the self back in charge.  It is stealing glory from the crucified God.

The operating system Paul writes about is better.  He is going to tell us that God saw how addicted you are to yourself.  How you continue to make an effort to fulfill God’s commands and demands but are unable to produce the love that He expects.  He is going to tell you that Jesus Christ is the only way, truth and life there is.

Life is not found in adding patches to a corrupt operating system.  It is found in blowing up the operating system and replacing it with Jesus Christ alone.

Jesus alone came to fulfill the Law (Matthew 5:17, Romans 10:4).  If He fulfilled it, what is left to do?  As He said Himself from the cross, ‘It is FINISHED’.  What could you possibly add to the epic work of an epic savior?

There is nothing left to do.  And, by the way, you are done, too.

Unsustainable Christianity

We live in a time of distractions, conflict and anxiety.  The world seems to be getting crazier!  And with that, some are in search of something that can tangibly help them to survive.

For years, this was the church.  It was a ‘safe space’ for people to go when they needed support, identity and community.  They could find there what they couldn’t get from their jobs, their gyms or their professional associations.

How times have changed!  Now, Mark Zuckerberg believes that Facebook  will replace churches.  For many, it probably has.

Yet, there are others who were raised in the church.  They have never known anything else.  Perhaps they have gone ‘church shopping’ occasionally, but they remain faithful attendees.

Most of these follow along, never questioning whether or not the church is actually teaching Christian truth.  They only change churches if they move to a new job.  They seem blissfully unaware of the impact of their church’s teachings.

Pairing this down further, there is a group of church members who are very aware of the impact of their church’s teachings.  They live in a state of constant awareness of their sins.  They are fed a steady diet of ‘biblical steps’ to overcome their shortcomings, only to find themselves coming up short.

They feel defeated.  they feel ‘less than’.  They feel … condemned.

The Christianity they have been taught has placed so many burdens on their conscience that they live a life full of ‘quiet desperation’ and guilt.  Living this way is unsustainable.  The person implodes from the inner turmoil they face on a daily basis.  They are tortured prisoners living in a personal dungeon.

The good news is that this is not Christianity at all!  It is a piss-poor replacement of Jesus Christ with works.  If we spoke in Old Testament terms, it is a golden calf; an idol which leads to the worshipping the effort of the self.

If your interest has been piqued, read on!  And may Christ lead us to pastures and streams flowing with His Grace.

Amen

Millennial addiction II

In the first article by the same name, I elucidated some of the psychological factors contributing to millennial addiction.  My goal, then, for this article, is to show how Scripture can re-orient the addict.

As with all addictions, the addict needs to ‘bottom out’.  That is, the addict has to come to an end of themselves.  The mania and fervor that was fueled but anxious prophecies of a world coming to its end have to fizzle out in the mind of the ‘true believer’.  Until this happens, you cannot speak reasonably to such an addict.  In the martial art of Aikido, the defender continues the movement of the attacker while moving out of the way.  They lead the aggressor deeper into their aggression and the aggressor feels the consequences of that aggression.

If you follow and lead the addict deeper into their mania, you might be able to show them the depth of their irrationality.  I am not sure if this course of action will yield the ‘bottoming out’ that loved ones seek for the addict.

Truly, the addict needs an intervention.

That is just why Jesus came.

In every instance where Paul or any of the other apostles write about ‘the End’, it is to encourage congregations who were undergoing the most violent forms of persecution.  To talk about the end is really to talk about the beginning of a new and better life.  Even the terrifying images seen in the book of Revelation are not ‘ends’ in themselves, but they point to the vicious attacks by Satan and his minions which are overcome by Jesus Christ in His victory.

As my friend Rev. Garry Seefeldt once stated, “[in the end] Jesus wins!”  If there is any good news in the millennial madness message, it is that!

Additionally, like ancient Israel who was reminded of the great works of God on their behalf in the escape from Egypt (read the Psalms which refer to this), we are to be reminded not of the future, but of the past.  The past is ground zero for God’s intervention.

That intervention was the cross of Jesus Christ.  The Son of God will come to judge the living and the dead.  That is a sobering truth.  However, that same future judge was judged on the cross of crucifixion for all of your sin.  God the Father was pleased to crush Him.

The judgement you deserve has been given over to another before you were born.  Jesus Christ is your justification before God.

So, when someone attempts to make an emotional appeal calling for your repentance, you can simple point to the cross and say “Jesus is my repentance, He who knew no sin became sin on my behalf”.

Additionally, these emotional appeals are attempts to throw a person off balance.  The disturbed conscience will look to the same person for relief.  Unfortunately, this is rarely a true repentance.  True repentance is the fruit of one hearing God’s word, correctly divided by Law (God’s demands and expectations) and Gospel (God’s free forgiveness given through Jesus Christ), born out of faith.  Emotional appeals are simply efforts at emotional manipulation.  Only God’s Word, rightly proclaimed can set the prisoners free.

Matthew 24:36 states:

‘But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.’

And, Jesus tells us not to worry,

“Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” – Matt. 6:34

John writes,

28I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand. 29My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand. 30I and the Father are one.” -John 10

Look backward my friends.  Don’t get caught up in the hysteria of the hysterical, the mania of maniacs or the fanaticism of fanatics.  They are ever looking forward to a day of destruction.  We can look back and say that day of destruction came at the cross where Christ DEFEATED sin, death and the devil.

Rest in the total, complete forgiveness given to you through Jesus’ death.  Rest in the true goodness earned for you as a robe which He placed on you in His resurrection.  Rest in these words spoken by Jesus at the cross, IT IS FINISHED!  No one can snatch you out of those nail-pierced hands.  Jesus says to you now, “I got you!”

Now, may the peace of God which transcends all understanding guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord,

Amen

The millennial addiction

Have you been reading about this prediction that September 23rd will be the end?  So many people have jumped on board this bus that I saw a sign hanging over the freeway this afternoon telling me “Jesus is coming soon”.

Rather than analyze the veracity of the prophetic message, I have become curious about why people so easily fall for end-times date setting.

When I look at the people who fanatically hold to such views, I see the same kind of myopic obsession common to addicts.  The hidden message they received gives them a feeling similar to a ‘high’, since they are the ones who ‘get it’.  They feel that they are a member of a select group who has figured out what no one in human history has gotten right before.

And, they are out to ‘evangelize’ you.

Of course, this is nothing new to Americans.  Since our inception, we have been a nation of ‘outsiders’ who ‘got it’ when no one else did.  Zeal is the hallmark of the American spirit, even if it is without knowledge.

This is why Americans are so susceptible to Revivalism.  They get caught up in the emotional arguments and never think to evaluate them critically.  They behave like lemmings when it comes to apocalyptic prophecy.

The use of hyperbole in these adventures in apocalypse fuels the imagination and generates alarm in the hearers.  The resulting behavior is called ‘alarmism’; it can also be called hysteria.

And, hysteria causes certain processes to ignite in the brain.  The hormones get involved.  The heart starts racing in both panic and excitement.  The stimulative effect acts as a ‘high’ to the participant.

That participant is known as a fanatic.  This type of person will not listen to counter-arguments which may undermine their doctrine.  They are caught up in the fervor and try to catch up other people in the same fervor they are experiencing.

The reptilian brain has been awakened, and they don’t want it to go back to sleep.

So, it doesn’t matter if September 23rd is really ‘The End’.  These followers will simply glide over to the next date-setting event, citing the tragic news in the newspapers and fanatically proclaim that ‘something’ is going to happen.

To the participant, it is good news, no matter how irrational it appears to others.  The last thing they want is for you to burst their bubble.

What they really want is to continue as End-times addicts.  They need to score the next hit, so they can continue to experience the high of being an ‘insider’.

Lord, have mercy.

Taking back the reins

reins… fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.  – Hebrews 12:2 (NASB)

Jesus has many titles.  Among them are Savior, Son of God, Son of Man, and Redeemer.  Those titles which imply rescue are deeply valued by those who recognize their need.

Yet, Jesus is also called author and perfecter.  These titles link Jesus as the Son of God to His role as Creator.  What is interesting here is the titles are not in relation to physical creation, but the creation and perfection of faith.

The statement in Hebrews is profound.  It means that Jesus didn’t just save a person at some point in their past.  It means that the saving work was just the beginning point of the ongoing work of Jesus in the believer.

Almost every Christian theology I have studied falls apart in light of this.  Why?  Because these theologies maintain that Jesus has saved you, but now it’s your turn to work out this salvation.  Yes, you were saved by grace, but now you are sanctified by your own will and effort.

So, the individual is led to believe that they must ‘take the reins’ of living the Christian life in order to fulfill what God has called them to.  And God has called them to ‘moral living’.  It appears in different forms in different denominations, but the end result is the same; the yoke of law is placed squarely on the individual’s shoulders.

Does this sound familiar?

Gerhard Forde described this as the theology of the Old Adam.  You see, people want to take responsibility for some aspect of their spirituality growth.  They want to be in charge of something.  Passivity is bad, activity is good.  Yet, that’s not how you received Christ.  And Paul writes, ‘Just as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him’ (Colossians 2:6).

Instead, the Old Adam wants to take back the reins.  He wants to be in charge of his own sanctification.  He wants to defend that part of himself that can do something.

And, by the way, that theology is a great way to control people.  The more moral law you have, the more people act morally.  The key word is act.  So many believe they are ‘pulling it off’ when they have simply traded in their gross sins (drinking, smoking, and womanizing) for internal sins (self-righteousness based on their ‘good behavior’).

Martin Luther (not King Jr.) wrote that Christ had to die, not just for our sin, not just for our good works, but for our best works!  That, even our worship is touched with sin.  Where does that lead you?  Definitely not to the self.  He has removed that safe-haven.

Like Hebrews 12:2, all of this leads you to despair of the self in sanctifying effort.  Christ will receive the glory for both your salvation and the perfecting of your faith.

You are God’s problem.  Since He was able to rescue you from Sin and Death, then He is more than dependable when is comes to the perfection of your faith.  He is faithful to complete the work He has set out to do … in you.

For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus. – Philippians 1:6

Peace and mercy,

Pastor John

 

Under lock and key

padlock     Toward the end of his life, Martin Luther was asked by his friends what they should publish of his works.  He told them that they should throw all of it on the rubbish pile save for two; the Small Catechism and the Bondage of the Will.

     If Luther’s wishes had been followed, the world would have been robbed of the rich treasure that comprise Luther’s music, commentaries and defenses of the Evangelical faith.  Yet, one has to wonder about the two works Luther placed above all of those.

The Bondage of the Will was written as a response in open dialogue with one of the greatest humanist minds, Desiderius Erasmus.  Erasmus argued for the “divine spark” concept in regards to salvation.  Luther argued that man has no free will in regards to salvation and that man has ‘apparent free-will’ in regards to things ‘below him’  So, it is said that Luther’s book “out-Calvins Calvin”.  In other words, Luther’s argument strengthens the concept of Election and irresistible grace, two important components of Reformed Christianity.

The human will is in bondage to sin, and cannot free itself.  However, this bondage takes different forms.  It is not as if people who commit gross sins (immorality) are the only sinners.  Luther asserted that it was those who committed internal sins who were the greater sinners, noting the opposition of the religious elites toward Jesus (some of the Pharisees) as well as their treatment of poor sinners (those who were societal rejects).

And so we come to pastoral practice.  The landscape of American Christianity has an abundance of concerns that are distilled into the preaching on Sunday morning (or, evening or once-a-month).  It is there that you can most clearly understand the doctrine of a church.  It is there that you can hear the approach to theology as well as the application of that theology to the life of Christians.  It’s not just what is said, it is also how it is delivered.

What I find most concerning in American Christianity is the final portion of the sermon.  The pastor has just spent the majority of the sermon explaining a passage of scripture.  He/she has also tried to put it into words that the congregation can relate to.  But, in the end, there are those inevitable ‘applications’.  How are they to be worked out in our lives?

It is actually the moment our flesh looks forward to the most.  The thing we can do.  The thing we can aspire to.  The thing we can evaluate ourselves and others by.  It is where ‘the rubber meets the road’.

A great author of Christian books, R.C. Sproul wrote a book entitled Pleasing God.  Now here is where it gets personal (or ‘bloggy’ if you prefer).  I read this book as I was escaping the theology of Lordship salvation.  R.C. does such a wonderful job giving examples of people in each chapter, then following it up with scriptural points in Law and Gospel.  If he just let the Gospel be the last part of each chapter, the impact on the bound conscience would have been greater.

Unfortunately, he added a few lines at the end of each chapter that were part of the Reformed ‘guilt-grace-gratitude’ model.  In other words, he left you with a little law to follow.

Fortunately, for me, I merely ignored those last few sentences and basked in the light of the clear Gospel clearly proclaimed.  It set me on a new foundation and set me free in Christ.  I never looked back 21 years later.

The binding of Christian conscience is the most damaging aspect of American Christian preaching.  Despite having peerless doctrine, a preacher can undo all of the good work that Christ is working in the lives of His people when the sermon ends with law.

Don’t think that I am picking on R.C. only.  Much worse than that are those who confuse the Law (demands, commands and expectations of God) with Gospel (the purely free and radically alien gift of forgiveness and righteousness earned for you by Christ alone).  I would take a Sproul any day over a John MacArthur.

Binding Christian conscience does not produce righteousness.  It is simply the replacing of ‘impossible demands’ with ‘applicable’ moral and behavioral expectations.  To the troubled conscience this serves to place them under the yoke of slavery they just escaped when you gave them the good news.

It happens in every denomination, every Sunday, everywhere.  Millions of Christians who are not living in the radical freedom and blessing that Christ has won for them.  What  a tragedy!  “If the Son sets you free, you are free indeed!”  But the preaching leads one back to his/her own vomit.  It leads them back to their flesh to be ‘sanctified’.  The karmic cycle of spiritual death is perpetuated, and the Christian is left in burden, fear, anxiety and despair.  The assurance that Hebrews 11:1 is lost.

May God have mercy on us.  May He remind you that you are a new creation in Jesus Christ.  May you recall your baptism where your flesh was drowned and you were resurrected a new woman or a new man.  May God the Father keep you in the Gospel of His son who has already sanctified you.  Any remaining work is His to do.  Jesus Christ, after all, is the ‘author and perfector of [your] faith’.  He is your sanctification, justification, righteousness, living forgiveness and life.  He is the key to unlock your bound heart.

Christ have mercy.

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