Archives For love

I’m pausing briefly in my series on the pursuit of joy (check out part one, two, and three) to make this important announcement:

Seth is out of the family.  Man, I loved that kid, too.  It will be hard to lose him, sure, but he did, after all, leave the dishes half finished.  Levi is out, too.  He talked back twice yesterday.  It’s hard to kick a seven year old out of the house in Autumn, but Seth is going, too, and he’s a pretty resourceful kid.  They’ll probably cobble together lunch money with some kind of street performance involving music and dance.  They’ll do alright.  Too bad they can’t be Skogerboes anymore.  If only they had followed the rules…

This is so ridiculous that it hardly works as a metaphor… and that’s exactly why it works as a metaphor.  Let me explain…

Today in my Christian Ethics class we confronted a conceptual stumbling block that I’ve had for years concerning Christ’s imputed righteousness.  That’s fancy pants seminarian talk for “the righteousness Jesus credits to me because he has forgiven my sins.”  I have struggled to correctly understand what this means in relation to my “split personality…”  I’m a sinner.  And I’m a saint.  I’m wretched.  And I’m righteous.

This is a mystery.  But it is a stone cold reality.  Believers in Jesus – followers of Christ –  ARE righteous in God’s eyes, because of the finished work of Jesus on the cross on our behalf.  In church-ese, he has been made the propitiation for our sins, and his sacrifice on the cross 2000 years ago was the substitutionary atonement for us, redeeming us to relationship with God, and we have been clothed with Christ’s righteousness.  That means that HIS righteousness has been imputed (given) to us.  WE ARE RIGHTEOUS.

At the same time we live corrupted by sin, and like Paul, we who love the Lord are frustrated and horrified that the things we want to do we can’t do, and the things we DON’T want to do we can’t seem to let go of.  WE ARE SINNERS.

For years I have wondered how all of this works together.  I have read the passages that explain how Jesus is my Mediator (again with the church talk… so sorry) literally translated my “advocate,” like a defense attorney.  Only he’s NEVER LOST a case.  He only has ONE LINE OF DEFENSE, and it works every single time.  He stands before His Father, the Righteous Judge, and He shows the nail holes in his hands and feet.  His blood is the payment.  The debt is accounted for.  The sin is erased.  “And when God looks at me,” I’ve been told, “He doesn’t see my sin at all.  He sees Jesus’ righteousness.”

AWESOME.

So after He saved me, Jesus is basically my Elmore Smith. 

Elmore Smith was a 7’0″ center from Kentucky State University.  He played in the National Basketball Association from 1971 to 1979 as a member of the Buffalo Braves, Los Angeles Lakers, Milwaukee Bucks, and the Cleveland Cavaliers.  While racking up an impressive stack of stats as a point-maker and rebounder, what Smith is best remembered for his shot-blocking, earning him the nickname “Elmore the Rejector”. He led the league in total blocked shots in both 1974 and 1975, and holds the NBA record for most blocked shots in a game since 1973, with 17.

This is how I have seen the work of the Trinity in regards to my sin and in view of Christ’s imputed righteousness in my life:  When I sin, I grieve the Holy Spirit (my Counselor) who lives in me and continually reminds me of God’s Word, the refining Law that points me to the cross.  In heaven, I have imagined the Father (Righteous Judge), ruling in holiness and unapproachable light, sitting on His throne in perfection and purity, the unattainable standard by which I will be measured in order to gain access to heaven some day.

And then there, before the Throne of the Judge, stands “Jesus the Rejector,” my spiritual Elmore Smith, shot blocking my sins with 100% accuracy, so that the Judge behind Him will never see my imperfection.

It kinda works, right?

But there’s a problem…  My sins really do matter.  And The Trinity is in perfect communion.  And the God-head is ONE.  And the Godhead is omniscient (which is church-speak for “KNOWS EVERYTHING, past present, and future.”)

If God the Father knows all that God the Son and God the Spirit know, then it isn’t possible that my sins are “unknown” to Him.  So yes, I am righteous… the Bible says that I am.  My sins are covered by Jesus’ righteousness imputed to me.  But God knows all, and He sees that I sin.  How can I sin… and be perfectly righteous?

What really helped clarify this conundrum for me today was the understanding that this imputed righteousness is a righteousness of POSITION.  In other words, as a Christ-child, I still sin.  I need the cross everyday, and I need to turn to Jesus in repentance daily.  He is my Advocate, and His blood has covered my sin… but they are not unknown to the Father.  And yet my sins don’t affect my POSITION as a child of God.  That is Jesus’ work, not mine.

Just like my kids’ rule-breaking is not unknown to me.  Although they may think they get away with it now and again, I know.  I always know.  And I want them to do what is right.  I want them to follow the rules out of love and respect for me… out a a belief that they know I have the BEST in mind for them.  But they mess up.  They break the rules.  They sin.

Do I ask them to take responsibility when they sin?  Yes.  Do I expect them to turn and go the other way?  Yes.  But I don’t kick them out of the family.

They are still my beloved kiddos.  I will fight for them and direct them and raise them to live healthy, fulfilled lives, and when they mess up, I will forgive.  But they will always be my kids.

So it is with the righteousness of Jesus.  It is a righteousness of position.  It is placement within the family of God.  We are His beloved children.  When we mess up, He will forgive.  Does our sin matter?  You bet.  Jesus is not my Elmore Smith.  God knows it all.  But our position is not dependant upon our striving hard enough.  Our position is secure in the work Jesus has already done in our place.

Does this smack of “eternal security” to you… or to decipher for the non-church crowd… Does that mean once we’re saved we’re ALWAYS saved no matter how we live?  Absolutely not.  The Bible is clear that if we rebel hard enough, long enough, our heart for God will become a heart of stone, and we can fall away from the faith that saves.  Even children can rebel long enough – hard enough – that they become “dead to the family.”  Sometimes legal action is taken to sever family ties.  But even without any formal ceremony, family ties can be cut if the child wants out.  Sin is a dangerous flirtation with death and darkness.  Sin matters.  But if we want to be God’s children, and we live in daily repentance for our corrupt nature and misguided behavior, the righteousness of Jesus is ours.  Our standing in God’s family remains secure in Him.

Imputed righteousness.  There’s your daily dose of “church-ese” decoded for real life.


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“i used to have five boys, now i have three :: jesus is not my elmore smith” by Joshua Skogerboe is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

 

I’m wildly in love with my wife.  She’s smart, she’s quick-witted, she’s beautiful, she loves Jesus, she’s a great mom, she is discerning, she’s wise, she really loves people, she’s beautiful, she cherishes relationships, she’s not satisfied with “fine” or good enough,” she loves our kids intentionally, she’s beautiful… I can literally do this all day.

Why?  Why do lovers sing the praise of their beloved?  Because we have to, right?  We promised.  It’s our marital duty to praise our spouse.

That’s about as romantic as wet blanket.

NEVER!  I freely praise because she is worthy of it, and because my love needs to find expression.  I shout the fact that I married a miraculous woman because I take JOY in her.

This is the third post in a series.  Through a series of posts here, I want to unpack the biblical framework that undergirds my life and theology and ministry motivation.  In the first one, I established the basic proposition that we have been created to PURSUE JOY. I also laid out five key ideas that I am expanding one by one in this forum.  Then, in the second post, I discussed the first and foremost of these core ideas – namely, that God is wildly, passionately, zealously, jealously committed to the glory of His own name.  The Bible is clear that God’s highest priority is His glory, and that He alone is worthy of such adoration.  God is God-centered.  And that brings us to our second core idea, and the purpose of today’s post…

Far from being a hyperbolic cosmic ego trip,this truth is the most wildly loving foundation possible for our relationship with Him.

How can this be?  Even the Bible tells us that “God is love,” (1 John 4:8) and that “love seeks not its own.” (1 Corinthians 13:5)  And we know intuitively that self-centeredness is antithetical to love, which “seeks the good of others.” (1 Corinthians 10:24).  So how can God, who IS love, be so God-focused?  And how does this fit with our childhood songs and Sunday School lessons that all seemed to shout “Jesus loves me, this I know?”

First of all, we must be honest.  We must recognize the quiet rebellion alive in our questions.  God alone is God.  He is devastatingly magnificent, wholly righteous, sovereign in power, and incomparable in every field.  God is God.  We are not.  Who are we to question the motivation of the God who holds the breadth of the universe between His fingers?  As God reminded Job, “Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth?”  He then spends two chapters posing a series of rhetorical questions to Job (and to us) about where we stood as he created the firey stars and the farthest reaches of the universe and knit together the largest and smallest of creatures out of nothing with sheer willpower and His mighty Word.

And so we walk humbly before this power, and we question Him with trembling.

The truth is, we ask these questions of God about the tension of love and vanity because we have reduced Him in our mind’s eye to the size of you and me.  When any other human being seeks his or her own adulation, it turns us off.  We like strength, we will celebrate valor, we showcase generosity.  But we don’t like it when we see someone blowing their own horn and calling for worship.  Why?  Because we are ALL flawed.  Humanity is a messy jumble.  No one is worthy of the kind adoration and devotion that our heart is wired to give.  No one on the planet.

Have you put God in that box?  If all the languages of the world were employed, and the sky was parchment, and everyone on earth wrote their praises to God without rest for eternity, we would not be able to adequately ascribe to God the depth of His worth and the excellencies of His great character, to say nothing of the praise of His grace and the awe-striking gift of redemption in Jesus Christ.  God actually IS WORTHY of non-stop, ever-flowing, ever-increasing praise and honor. Worthy is the Lamb who was slain to receive honor and power and glory and praise.

We cannot and must not find in God’s pursuit of His own praise even a shred of hypocricy or a vapor of the charge vanity.  God calls for what He alone is worthy of.  God is worthy to be praised.

So… alright then.  If you were able to jump that hurdle, we may agree that God is worthy of highest honor.  But how does this translate into such great news for US?  How does God’s incessant pursuit of His own glory become “the most wildly loving foundation possible for our relationship with Him?”

John Piper’s Desiring God helped me connect the dots here.  He writes of the struggle within theologian and author C.S. Lewis to reconcile the loving nature of God with the overwhelming tide of calls to praise Him written into God’s Word… by God Himself.  And then, for Lewis, came the lightbulb moment…

The most obvious fact about praise, whether of God or anything, strangely escaped me. I thought of it in terms of compliment, approval, giving of honor. I had never noticed that all enjoyment spontaneously overflows in praise, unless sometimes we bring shyness in to check it. The world rings with praise: lovers praising their mistresses, readers their favorite poets, walkers praising the countryside, players praising their favorite games, praise of weather, wines, dishes, actors, horses, colleges, countries, historical personages, children, flowers, mountains, rare stamps, rare beetles, even sometimes politicians and scholars. My whole more general difficulty with the praise of God depended on my obsurdly denying to us, as regards the supremely valuable, what we delight to do–even what we cannot help doing–with regard to everything else we value.

And then, as Piper points out, here comes the key sentences:

I think we delight to praise what we enjoy because the joy is not complete until it is expressed. It is not out of compliment that lovers keep on telling one another how beautiful they are. The delight is incomplete until it is expressed.

YES!  That’s it!  I want to climb on the roof of our Seminary housing units and shout to the students walking by that my wife has captured my heart because expressing my joy in her brings my delight in her to consumation.  Delight unexpressed is incomplete.

This is truly genius Design at work.

In God’s pursuit of glory comes His demand for our praise, and our created desire to worship… something.  In Him alone is our thirst satisfied.  In praising that which is MOST praiseworthy are we most DEEPLY satisfied, and the genius of this design is that the expressing of this praise brings us the most soul-satisfying PLEASURE in the universe.  In fact, the joy that both awakens and satisfies our most primal need in life finds its voice in our fervent worship of the ONE who is worthy of it.  GENIUS.  We are satisfied in Him – He is glorified in us.  He delights in our praise – we delight in Him.  He receives glory – we find JOY.

Further, God proves the profound depths of His love for us in bringing us the most wildly extravagant gift possible.  It is not only wildly extravagant, it is truly the pinnacle gift – the best and highest possible gift to His children.

God gives us Himself.

May all honor and glory be lavished on Him.  May my life ring with it.  Even in typing this now, my heart is full – I’m full of JOY in Him, and I revel in His goodness and His love.  Less of me God, and more of you!

And thank you for Amy.  She’s so much more than I deserve.  It’s my joy to praise You for her and to praise You with her.

The primacy of God’s glory makes everything about Him… not about me.  THAT is truly the best of news, because it is a proclamation of freedom.  Profound freedom.  We’ll dive into that next time in “pursue joy part four.”  I’d love to hear your thoughts about this.  Refine my thinking.  God bless you, and may you find soul-shaking JOY in Him alone.

Click here to read part one  >>  “god wants to wreck your life”

Click here to read part two  >>  “carly simon, jesus loves me, and the supremacy of god”

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“i’m shouting from the roof :: pursue joy :: part 3” by Joshua Skogerboe is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

You know what drives me nuts?  I mean just frothy lipped, make-it-stop, face twitching crazy?

Carly Simon’s 1972 hit, “You’re so Vain.”

Yes.  I recognize it has been thirty years.  What’s that you say?  Let it go?

I can’t go for that. No how. No can do.

Lo, these thirty years later I am still plagued by an inner dialogue that will not let me rest.  And yet somehow, inexplicably, the rest of the world seems to allow “You’re So Vain” to stand at #72 on the Billboard “best songs of all time” list.  How can this be?  Carly, why do you vex me so?

Does no one realize that her chorus foists a premise into pop culture that is nonsensical?? I want to tear my ears off.  Go with me here…

“You’re so vain… I bet you think this song is about you. You’re so vain… I bet you think this song is about you. Don’t you? Don’t you? Don’t you?”

[pause]

DOES THIS NOT BOTHER YOU GOOD PEOPLE?  If the dude thinks the song is about him… which CLEARLY it IS… does that not make him factually correct??  Not so much vain as just… RIGHT?  Are you with me here?!

You’re so vain… *insert deep soul-weary sigh here*  I can’t handle it.

Why on earth am I bringing up Carly Simon you ask?

Because we need a reboot.  The Church needs a do-over. (In the circles I run in we call this repentance.)  We somehow have become enslaved by the idea that the point of all this Christianity business is to get us reconnected to God… to get us saved… to give our life meaning.  And it is… but it’s not.

“You’re so vain… I bet you think this faith is about you. Don’t you? Don’t you? Don’t you?”

Don’t answer that.  Yet.  Because you may be picking up my vibe here. (It’s kinda hard to miss my vibe, let’s be honest.)  You probably know that the “right answer” here is something like… “No.  It’s not ALL about me.  Or US, I mean.  I’m supposed to say it’s not about us – it’s all about Him, right?  God wants us to praise Him, too, right?  He wants us to thank Him… because He died for us – to save us.  He came to give us life to the full, right?  Because God is love, and He loves us SO MUCH, right?  Jesus loves me, this I know…”

So we should definitely say “thank you.”  Because He has done so much for us.  For us.  For us.

You know what?  I believe all of that is true, too.  “Greater love has no one than this: that He lay down his life for his friends.”  At night, when little Ezra is curled up in his blankets and I’m laying on His bunk in the dark I hear his little voice say… “Jesus?”  I know what he wants.  And then I sing with him just like my Mom and Dad sang with me… “Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so…”

Kids need to know that in their very core.  JESUS LOVES US.  This we KNOW.  But there is even better news… News that becomes foundational in a spiritual life spent in the pursuit of JOY.  We never get to the stanza that fleshes out the deepest love and highest pursuit of God.  And it’s not us…  We get stuck sometimes in a Carly Simon world somehow where the highest and deepest and most profound message to the lost and the curious is “Jesus loves you.”  And He does… but maybe at some point we need to write a new stanza.  Graduate from the tippy cup to theological meat.  How about this…

“Jesus loves God more than me, so He died to set me free, dead in sin I could not praise, brought to life this hymn I’ll raise:  God loves His great name! We’re made for His fame!  We bow and He reigns!  The Bible tells me soooo…”

Last week I began this exploration of a theological construct that affirms (even demands) that we revel in a shameless pursuit of JOY.  Read part one here.  Far from being a selfish pursuit, I’m building a scriptural case that the pursuit of JOY is ultimately the most selfless… the only truly selfless option.  Moreover, God wired you do long for JOY, and He commands you to go hard after it.

As we began I listed a series of interconnected precepts, all of which I believe are soundly backed by the truth of God’s Word.  After all, if I’m just making this stuff up, it will have no lasting impact.  It will be a giant pep fest… a waste of time.  But our faith is built upon ONE normative standard: the truth of the inerrant inspired Word of God.  So these propositions build upon each other and resonate together because they are true to the Word.  If you think my understanding needs shaping, I’ll heartily welcome correction along the way.  But I promised to unpack these ideas one post at a time, so today we begin with number one… with the assertion of primary importance… with the assertion that at the HEART of the heart of God is His desire to be GLORIFIED.  To know what faith is all about and answer the “why am I here?” questions of life, it makes sense to start with the One who IS, and who always has been, before we were, and will always be.

The rest of this post will simply be a list of verses that point to the primacy of GOD’S GLORY as the motivation for GOD’S STORY.  His story of redemption is all about HIM.  My next post will talk about what great news this is.  But I need to make the case first.  If you’re skeptical, that’s OK.  Maybe you’re thinking “God is love, and love is selfless, and this sounds like a ginormous EGO TRIP and that doesn’t sound like the God I know…”  I’m just asking you to pray, and then read this list.  And then see what God is revealing about His first love.  I think this is an accurate place to start:

(1)  God is wildly, passionately, zealously, jealously committed to the glory of His own name.

 

Scriptural Basis for the Supreme Value of God

 

Isaiah 42:8

“I am the LORD:  that is my name!  I will not give my glory to another or my praise to idols.”

 

Isaiah 44:6

This is what the LORD says — Israel’s King and Redeemer, the LORD Almighty:  “I am the first and the last; apart from me there is no God.”

 

Isaiah 45:5

“I am the LORD, and there is no other; apart from me there is no God.”

 

Isaiah 45:18

For this is what the LORD says — He who created the heavens, He is God;  He who fashioned and made the earth, He founded it; He did not create it to be empty, but formed it to be inhabited — He says:  “I am the LORD, and there is no other.”

 

Psalm 135:6

The LORD does whatever pleases Him, in the heavens and on the earth, in the seas and all their depths.

 

Before there were people:

 Psalm 90:1-2

Lord, You have been our dwelling place throughout all generations.  Before the mountains were born or you brought forth the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting, You are God.

God’s purpose for creation:

 Psalm 19:1

The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of His hands.

 

Psalm 96:11

Let the heavens rejoice, let the earth be glad; let the sea resound, and all that is in it; let the fields be jubilant, and everything in them.  Then all the trees of the forest will sing for joy; they will sing before the Lord…

God’s reason for creating people:

Isaiah 43:6-7

“Bring my sons from afar and my daughters from the ends of the earth — everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made,”

 

Isaiah 43:20-21

“I provide water in the desert and streams in the wasteland, to give drink to my people, my chosen, the people I formed for myself that they may proclaim my praise.”

 

God’s purpose in delivering His people from bondage in Egypt:

 Exodus 8:1

Then the LORD said to Moses, “Go to Pharaoh and say to him, ‘This is what the LORD says:  Let my people go, so that they may worship me.'”

 

Isaiah 63:11-14

Where is He who brought them through the sea, with the shepherd of his flock?  Where is He who set His Holy Spirit among them, who sent His glorious arm of power to be at Moses’ right hand, who divided the waters before them, to gain for Himself everlasting renown, who led them through the depths?  …they were given rest by the Spirit of the LORD.  This is how you guided Your people to make for Yourself a glorious name.

 

Psalm 106:7-8

When our fathers were in Egypt, they gave no thought to Your miracles; they did not remember Your many kindnesses, and they rebelled by the sea, the Red Sea.  Yet He saved them for His name’s sake, to make His mighty power known.

 

The purpose of God’s mercy (in light of Israel’s repeated rebellion):

Ezekiel 36:20-23

And whenever they went among the nations they profaned my holy name, for it was said of them, ‘These are the LORD’s people, and yet they leave His land.’  I had concern for my holy name, which the house of Israel profaned among the nations where they had gone.  Therefore say to the House of Israel, ‘This is what the Sovereign LORD says:  It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am going to do these things, but for the sake of my holy name, which you have profaned among the nations where you have gone.  I will show the holiness of my great name, which has been profaned among the nations, the name you have profaned among them.  Then the nations will know that I am the LORD, declares the Sovereign LORD, when I show myself holy through you before their eyes.

 

Psalm 79:9

Help us, O God our Savior, for the glory of Your name; deliver us and forgive our sins for Your name’s sake.

 

Jeremiah 14:7

Although our sins testify against us, O LORD, do something for the sake of Your name.  For our backsliding is great; we have sinned against You.

 

I Samuel 12:22

For the sake of His great name the LORD will not reject His people, because the LORD was pleased to make you his own.

 

God’s purpose in Jesus’ birth:

 Luke 2:14

“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom His favor rests.”

 

Jesus’ primary reason for coming to earth:

Romans 15:8-9

“…Christ became a servant to the Jews on behalf of God’s truth, to confirm the promises made to the Patriarchs, so that the Gentiles may glorify God for His mercy…”

 

Jesus’ decision to go to the cross:

Luke 17:1

Jesus… Looked toward heaven and prayed:  “Father, the time has come.  Glorify You Son, that Your Son may glorify You.”

 

God’s reason for sending His son to the cross:

Romans 3:25

“God presented Him (Jesus) as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in His blood.  He did this to demonstrate his justice, because in His forbearance He had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished…”


Jesus’ resurrection from the dead and ascension to heaven:

Philippians 2:9-11

Therefore God exalted Him to the highest place and gave Him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

 

Jesus will come again in power to consummate His mission on earth:

 II Thessalonians 2:9-10

Those who do not obey the gospel will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction and exclusion from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His might, when He comes on that day to be glorified in His saints and to be marveled at in all who have believed…

 

The Church exists for God’s glory:

I Peter 2:9

But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His wonderful light.

 

God’s glory is the point of missions:

Isaiah 66:19

“I will set a sign among them, and I will send some of those who survive to the nations… to the distant islands that have not heard of my fame or seen my glory.  They will proclaim my glory among the nations.”

 

This is the God-ordained destiny of every nation:

Psalm 86:9

All the nations You have made will come and worship before You, O Lord; they will bring glory to Your name.

 

We have a purpose for living:

Matthew 5:16

(Jesus said) “Let your light so shine before men that they will see your good deeds and praise (glorify) your Father in heaven.”

 

In our praying:

Matthew 6:9

(Jesus said) This, then, is how you should pray:  “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name…”

 

The reason we are forgiven:

I John 2:12

I write to you, dear children, because your sins have been forgiven on account of His name.

 

At the end of time:

 Revelation 5:11-13

Then I looked and heard the voice of many angels, numbering thousands upon thousands, and ten thousand times ten thousand.  They encircled the throne and the living creatures and the elders.  In a loud voice they sang:  “Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise!”  Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all that is in them singing :  “To Him who sits on throne and to the Lamb be praise and honor and glory and power, forever and ever!”  The four living creatures said, “Amen,” and the elders fell down and worshipped.

 

In summary, Paul wrote:

Colossians 3:17

And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.

 

I Corinthians 10:31

“…whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.”

 

This becomes the heart of the Church:

Psalm 115:1

Not to us, O LORD, not to us but to your name be the glory, because of Your love and faithfulness.

 

———————————————————————————

The first precept under-girding this call to pursue JOY is this:  God is wildly, passionately, zealously, jealously committed to the glory of His own name.

Discuss… 


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“carly simon, jesus loves me, and the supremacy of god :: pursue joy :: part 2” by Joshua Skogerboe is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

 

Should the culture around our church influence the culture inside our church?  And if so, how much is too much?

The late, great Robert E. Webber, in his book Ancient-Future Worship, says the following:

Anyone who travels and visits churches will see that “program,” “theme,” and “creative” are the most dominant words of worship planning that force leaders toward designing culturally driven worship.  My concern is that culturally driven worship will nurture a culturally formed spiritual life.

Whoa doggie.  That right there is loaded.  I agree with Robert Webber.  And I don’t.  Let me es’splain…

Culturally driven worship?  What does that mean?

This reminds me of the false dichotomy that has often been leveled against “seeker sensitive” churches that are simply trying to remove unnecessary “churchy” barriers for people who don’t usually attend church.  Calling those churches “seeker-driven” ministries insinuates that thinking about how an outsider might feel coming into church equates to making the comfort and retention of the non-church-goer the HIGHEST priority.  Perhaps Dr. Webber intended to word this as strongly as he did, but I think describing the approach of most contemporary evangelical churches as “culturally sensitive” worship may be closer to the mark.

While I wouldn’t ever condone a ministry model that put people-pleasing above Biblical truth, I think the criticism of “seeker-sensitivity” often is unfair and counterproductive.  In its truest sense, I believe EVERY SINGE CHURCH should be “seeker-sensitive,” or in Webberian terminology, “culturally sensitive,” to the degree that we make our churches a place that welcomes sinners to hear the whole truth of God’s Word.  (1) God loves us and He created us to enjoy relationship with Him.  (2) Our sin has broken that relationship and we deserve eternal punishment and separation from Him.  (3) Jesus died on the cross to pay our penalty so that we could enjoy that redeemed relationship with God He created us for in the first place.  And (4) He’s coming again in victory to judge all of mankind and establish a new heaven and a new earth.  All to His glory.

I want people – anybody – who is willing to walk through the doors of our church to hear that message.  I don’t want unnecessary churchiness to shot block the Gospel.  I’ll encourage every church I serve to be unashamedly “culturally sensitive…”  But that isn’t what Webber is warning us of.  He’s warning of a worship ministry model that is “culturally driven.”

Dr. Webber says that a focus on program (service planning), theme (communication strategy) and creativity (artistic storytelling and response) will inevitably lead to “culturally driven worship.”  And that in turn, our worship services/experiences will inevitably lead to a “culturally driven spiritual life.”

Robert Webber is wise.  There is great danger in letting the culture drive worship service planning (i.e. “programming”) to the degree that we out-plan the Holy Spirit or creatively mask the simple and pure teaching of the Word of God with creative storytelling and culturally relevant analogies.

To that degree, I agree with Dr. Webber.  It is possible for contemporary churches to reflect our culture to the degree that there is hardly any difference between a “church event” and any given Thursday night at Buffalo Wild Wings.  Maybe less swearing…

If the contemporary church leans into contemporary communication models and reflects cultural trends to the neglect of clear preaching of the Word of God and the traditional pillars of the local church (prayer, confession of sin, confession of faith, reverence, etc.), people’s spiritual lives WILL be shaped in the image of the culture, where religion is personal and relative, compartmentalized, comfortable.

Not with a fox…  One example:  Some contemporary ministries seem to have been called to reach out to the “hot young and trendy” mission field.  Sunday morning and evening worship events are led by Ambercrombie and Fitch.  And I understand that the 20-something hottiesneed to hear the Gospel, too, so we ought to present a foxy female vocalist and guitar playing Zac Efron with skinny jeans to reach them.  Makes sense.  But what if someone came in to our church dirty, broken and smelling bad?  How quick would we be – any of us – to befriend them and warmly welcome them to come again… or to come over for dinner?  Culture is about image.  The Church is about love.

Not wearing sox…  I remember the day one of my great friends and fellow worship team members came to the evening service at our national youth convention to play guitar wearing a t-shirt sporting the old-timey image of a service attendant holding a fuel spout with a smile and a dialogue bubble proudly displaying the words, “I’ve got gas!”  While his choice of apparel certainly reflected the Junior High culture we were steeped in that week, it was perhaps not the best choice to promote the deep reverence we hoped to model as we led the students into the throne room of the King of Angels.  My point has little to do with fashion.  It’s about reverence.  Depending on your culture, worship leading in shorts, flip-flops and print T’s may fit like a glove.  But remember that what we do is a high and holy calling.  We usher the local body of Christ into His presence, to be transformed by the renewing of their mind, and to interact with the Holy Spirit and the Holy Word.  Too many casual references to pop culture, edgy jokes, coarse language (and yes, some ministries use off-color language to reflect their “authenticity” and “cultural relevance”), movie clips, or fill-in-the-blank can keep people comfortably “stuck” in the cultural paradigm they walked out of when they entered our church.  Culture is about looking like we fit in.  Church is about becoming set apart.

Not in a box…  Some churches are admittedly “variety junkies” when it comes to worship programming.  As they run with a theme each week, they pour their best creative juice into the planning bucket and mix it up until something attention-grabbing, something arresting, something MEMORABLE rises to the top.  I’ll admit… I love it.  In my perfect ministry world, I would forever work with a team of creative programmers who would craft memorable, God-honoring worship-inspiring moments that teach God’s truth and allow room for the church to respond.  This leaves a congregation with a “what will church be like THIS week?” intrigue, and if it is handled well – and led by the Spirit – this can help keep people from “rote religious hoop jumping.”

The down-side, or danger, of a free-flowing “out of the box” worship planning paradigm is that congregations lose the many benefits of liturgy and the life-grounding repetition of the truth communicated through the corporate worship structure. Important traditional elements of the service, such as corporate confession of faith or time for personal confession, can get lost in the creative flow.  Variety for entertainment’s sake has limited value.  We mustn’t sacrifice age-old core functions of God’s church in our thirst to do something new. Culture is all about variety for the sake of entertainment.  When the Church embraces variety, it must be for the sake of more potent communication (or celebration) of God’s truth.

So should I worry that so many churches want to program their services creatively around a theme… or not?

Again, I agree with Robert Webber… and I don’t.  Look at his quote again.  In his estimation, the words “programming,” “theme,” and “creative” were the most dominant words in worship planning for many churches.  In a ministry where that is truly the case, I may agree with him.  There is danger in that ministry stepping past cultural sensitivity into culture-driven worship models… and that does run the grave danger of promoting spiritual life shaped more by cultural norms than by the transforming power of the counter-cultural Word of God.

Perhaps the most dominant words shaping our local church worship experiences ought to be JESUS, love, sin, forgiveness, brokenness, healing, wrath, grace, truth, and surrender.  It is the SUBSTANCE of our worship that must be dominant, not the METHOD.  It is the essence, not the form.

However, this is a babies and bathwater situation.  I plead with the Church to THINK as they program services.  To communicate truth with a thought-through focus that will resonate after the benediction.  To unleash their deepest and most beautiful creative efforts to speak the truth and celebrate the story of God.

Let’s look at the culture, but not look like it.  Let’s invite the culture in and redeem it.  Let’s creatively program services around a theme in a culturally sensitive paradigm that is driven not by cultural trends, but by the call of Jesus to go and make disciples… led by the Word and the Spirit.


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“culturally driven worship? :: not with a fox, not wearing sox, not in a box” by Joshua Skogerboe is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

So we were having a… discussion. Do you have those?  All married people have them, I suppose.  You know, our marriage would be just about perfect if I wasn’t in it.  🙂  I thought for sure I was right this time. Just one time…

But no.  As it turns out, I wasn’t right this time. In fact, after I had said my piece, Amy quietly reminded me of a few of my idiosyncracies – my own personality quirks – that transcend rational thought.  It was one of these quirks that had started all of this in the first place.

This was one of those times.  She had, through no fault of her own, stumbled unwittingly into my irrational headspace.  And therin lay the impetus for the aforementioned discussion.  I had to concede, when faced with actual facts instead of my own irrational emotional personality quirks, that – doggone it – she had a point.

And no… I’m not going into the details.  Let your imagination run rampant.  I’ll never tell.

Suffice it to say, she was dead on about a few of my personality quirks.  I didn’t see myself as an unusually quirky person… but oh yes.  I let my quirk flag fly more often than I realize. And the glory of it is, people who love me roll with it, and love me anyway.  And that is a gift.

Today, my message is this…  Most likely you have your own set of irrational quirks.  Guaranteed, the people you love have their own, as well.  My advice:  instead of butting heads against those quirks, and as long as they are not causing the rest of the family undue stress, I’m encouraging you to roll with it.  Go ahead and enable those quirks.  Yep, I’m talking full-on quirktastic co-dependancy.

Because real, powerful, life-affirming love means “who you are… I love.” And there’s plenty of time for “who you are becoming… I love, too.”  But an open discussion of personal quirks within a home or among roommates or close friends seems  like good juju to me.  Get ’em out there in the open.  Respect the quirks, baby!

Example: My mom, God bless her, is a top-calliber cook/home-maker/guest-entertainer.  People love to come to her home for meals, conversation, and good coffee.  It was a great home to grow up in.  But the kitchen is MOM’s domain.  You do not mess with the kitchen.  I repeat: you DO NOT MESS with the kitchen.  Every detail matters.  Case in point, when we load the dishwasher, knives go point down, but all other silverware must go eating-end-up, so that as the water rinses off the utinsels it runs DOWN the handle, away from the eating end.  That, right there, is a grade-A quirk, in my book. But here’s the deal… this is Mom’s passion.  The kitchen is HER arena, and she uses it to love and serve people.  And she’s great at it.  And we love her for it.  So, you know how we express our thanks and love back to momma?

We put the knives pointy-side down and the other utensils eaty-side up.

I don’t know that it makes a lick of difference, but my Mom wants it that way, so…  good times.

So, in the spirit of transparency and personal confession (which is good for the soul, I’m told – and makes for more interesting reading), here is a short list of some of my identified quirks.  Again, these may not seem rational to you, but that’s not the point.  The point is, they seem not only rational but downright IMPORTANT to me… at the time. Of course, it is also therapeutic to be self-aware enough that I can identify when my personal quirk is taking over rationality in my inter-personal interactions.  Therefore, here’s a short list from the inner-mind of Joshua Skogerboe:

(1) When beginning to do laundry (which isn’t often – Amy has to shoulder this one most of the time), I must scour the house for every piece of dirty clothes.  Like the random sock that ends up under the boy’s bed.  The baseball shirt that got wet in the rain and then hung up in the closet when mom and dad weren’t looking.  The PJ’s that my seven-year-old took off while in bed and which now are stuffed under his covers instead of in his drawer or the dirty clothes basket.  Before I begin, I want to get EVERYTHING together so it can be properly sorted into piles before the process begins.  I know it’s borderline OCD.  I know.  And we have five rowdy boys who, unless herded with a cattle prod, tend to shed their clothes in a moving explosion of laundry, leaving a trail behind them.  So my quirk sometimes needs to take backseat to reason to keep that laundry train a’ movin’.

(2)  We must eat hot food. This increases exponentially (a) when I cook it, or (b) if I have cooked it upon the grill, or especially (c) if the meal involves eggs or toast.  This is peculiar to me in a frighteningly irrational way when it comes to eggs and toast.  I would prefer the toast to jump hot out of the toaster into my mouth before it cools in any way.  This way I can savor the toasty crunch of the golden brown outer shell and still enjoy the soft core…  Mmmmm, toast.  But let’s say I put bread into the toaster and get sidetracked with another task, allowing the bread to pop up and sit in said toaster for more than 14 seconds.  No good.  Bad juju. The toast must be thrown out.  I know.  Starving kids in China.  Consumerism run amok.  I’m evil and wasteful and bad.  But dude… you GOTTA eat fresh toast.  And that is all.

(3) When the family is going to watch a movie, there must be no extraneous shuffling about or donning of jammies or last minute drinks of juice while the previews run.  No how. The trailers are sacred nuggets of extra enjoyment BEFORE the actual movie gets started, and I’m not about to concede this moment of extra goodness.  Now you kids SIT DOWN and CLOSE YOUR YAPPING MAWS and I mean NOW!  We’re going to have some FUN around here, or ELSE!  Keep on talkin’… that’s it.  I don’t care if you have to pee.  WE ARE HAVING FUN RIGHT NOW or, so help me,  I’m going to send you to your room for the week with nothing but gruel and  cold toast!  …wait. Did I say that out loud?  Sorry.  Quirk alert.

Ahhh.  I feel better. Not so much for my confession of irrationality but for the fact that many of you now, surely, are nodding your heads in silent approval.  Darn right you get every piece of laundry. No doubt eggs and toast must be consumed within seconds of leaving their implement of cookery.  Doggone straight the DVD trailers on family movie night are sacred and must be enjoyed silently or else.  Can I get an AMEN?!

OK, your turn… confession is good for you.  Besides, we want to laugh at you.  Or WITH you, I mean.  What are YOUR quirks?


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“let your quirk flag fly :: of trousers, toast, and trailers” by Joshua Skogerboe is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

I was mowing the lawn and listening to a message from Rob Bell.  I remember the spot. I was between those two pine trees in our yard where it is hard to twist the mower into the right position without scratching up your elbows on the branches.  I remember it, I think, because sometimes when you hear something significant that grabs your attention and rings your proverbial bell (no pun intended), the moment is preserved like a snapshot.  I had to stand still for a moment.  The implications were deep and far reaching. With the muted hum of the mower fighting for my attention behind the earbuds of my iPod, Rob’s words rang in my head, and my heart began to swell in resonnance…

“The Church is not called to be the moral police of the world.”

I think… I think this is right.  I really do.  I think not only is is right, it is important.  In fact, I think the evangelical Church has often hurt the cause of sharing the gospel and loving people well because we’re too busy judging those who aren’t even on the team.

Let this idea ring in your mind a bit.  You – your church – are not called to pour out judgment on the unbelieving world.  How does that make you feel? Are you nodding your head in agreement?  Are you concerned – blood pressure rising – because this sounds like cheap-grace pandering to the lowest common moral denominator?  Or option three… you honestly don’t know what to think. Should the church proclaim the high moral values that the Bible makes clear, or do we save the moral judgments for the pulpit on Sunday morning?  Or… is there another way?

Just take note of how you feel. “The Church is not called to be the moral police of the world.”

If you have a problem with Rob Bell, get in line.  Thousands of blog posts and articles have and will continue to examine Pastor Bell’s theological positions with regard to orthodox Christian beliefs.  This is not one of those posts.  This isn’t about the man.  It’s about the idea.  “The Church is not called to be the moral police of the world.”

Why does this matter?  Because the world is broken. People are hurting.  Marriages are stressed, and as people who are far from God try to find peace through relationships, chemicals, distractions, and financial sucess, they often realize that in their core… when it’s quiet… something is still unsettled.  God wired us with a conscience and with a need for peace that can only be met by the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ.

So many people are wounded, lost, scared, and faking it. They need God’s love, and they already know they don’t measure up.  They know this isn’t working.

So this becomes a discussion of church methodology, and personal evangelism, and just how we ought to relate to our coworkers and fellow soccer moms and little league dads and neighbors.  I believe that grace and love, in and because of Jesus, has more life-changing power than moralizing and finger-pointing.  If you want to assure that your gay neighbor will never set foot inside the doors of your church, just treat him with contempt.  If you want to be sure that the twenty-something administrastive assistant in the cubicle around the corner from you who just moved in with her boyfriend feels unwelcome to come to your church, be sure to offer your unsolicited opinion about shacking up.

Now before you think I’m a conflict-avoider who is advocating a jello-for-backbone approach to morality and culture, let me be clear:  I’m a huge fan of living out your convictions with clarity and integrity.  I’m not saying we should have no discernable values. On the contrary.  I am saying that I agree with Rob Bell here in that just BECAUSE we have strong moral guidelines – Biblical guidelines – we are not necessarily called to FOIST those moral guidelines on those who are not yet a part of the Kingdom of God through a relationship with Jesus.

Real-life parallel: Isaac, our 10-year-old, made the Texas Rangers this year.  Plymouth, MN, Little League style.  His coach is a man’s man, a leader, and is all about developing disciplined young men of character who also happen to be outstanding ball players.

Games start at 6PM.  Players need to be on the field at 5:10PM.  Players who arrive at 5:12… sit.  This is about Team values.  It’s about being there when you’re told to be there.  It’s about discipline.

As a Seminary student coming into the end of a crazy busy year, I haven’t been able to stay through every 2-hour game this season.  Often I come in half way through the 3rd inning to cheer on the team.  Never once has the coach chewed me out for lacking the proper degree of passion for the game or for having the wrong priorities.  Why? Because I’m not on the Team.  Now, I don’t enjoy the benefits of the Team either.  If I jogged out to second base some game-day afternoon, expecting to cover the infield for the boys, Coach would have some direct words for me, I’m sure.  But neither does he hold me accountable to the Team rules.  When coach yells “Hustle!” between innings as the boys take their positions, he’s talking to the Team, not to me.

Too simple?  I mean when we talk about morality and spiritual guidelines, aren’t there ETERNAL consequences on the line?

Yes.  There are eternal souls at stake. So we better get this right.  In fact, Paul clarifies in 1 Corinthians 5 that not only are we not to judge the unbelievers we rub shoulders with, we ought to intentionally build relationships with them.  THAT is the Biblical plan.  No bullhorns.  Relationships. No contempt. Love. We are not the world’s moral police.

Save your judgement for those inside the church who call themselves “brothers,” but refuse to live by the Word and the Spirit.  There is a place for judgement – within the relational family of the local congregation, where we sharpen each other in love, with humility, and with the goal of redemption.  Look at 1 Corinthians 5:12-13…

“For what have I to do with judging outsiders?  Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge?  God judges those outside.”

We can’t expect those who aren’t children of God to live like they are.  If we do, we risk alienating wounded, broken, hurting people who are searching for peace and don’t know how to find it.

It is true that Peter’s message in Acts to the unbelieving crowd in Jerusalem pulled no punches.  “You killed God.  Repent…” he said.  And it is also true that many spirit-led, Christ-honoring revivals have been sparked by the clear message, “Repent, for the Kingdom of God is near.”  I know this is true, and I don’t discount that God uses clear Law and Gospel preaching even to reach the hearts of strangers and outsiders who have never thought they would set foot in the door of a church.  Sometimes, the Spirit leads, and the Law must be preached.

But I’m not talking about revival meetings and street-preaching miracles here.  I’m talking about Thursday afternoon. I’m talking about work tomorrow.  I’m talking about that guy who waits tables with you and is far more open about his personal romantic expoits than you’d ever want him to be.  Those people don’t need policemen to fix them first.  They need to be introduced to Jesus now – while they are yet sinners – because Jesus is pursuing relationship with them now.  As long as it is called Today.

The Word and the Spirit will do their refining work on the hearts of those who are on the Team.  But let’s not hold the crowd outside the fence to the Team standard.  Let’s invite them onto the Team first.

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“players, coaches, and dads :: a christian guide to finger-pointing” by Joshua Skogerboe is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

It was like a punch in the gut.

I couldn’t breathe.  I just sat in the pew next to her with my jaw clenched.  There were eternal consequences here, I thought.  I couldn’t belive this was happening.  I could feel her retreating from the church – retreating from Jesus.

He was a potential candidate for the now vacant Senior Pastor position in the church where I served as the Worship and Arts director.  He was being seriously considered for a call, and this was his day to preach.

She was a relative of a relative.  Visiting our church.  She NEVER went to church.  But this was her day. Prayers, the Spirit, and circumstance brought her here.  Could have been the most important day in her life, and she didn’t even know it.  She was wounded, hurting, lost.  She needed Jesus.  She needed “Come to me, all who are weary…”

He was a jerk.

It is one thing to preach the Law in all of it’s sterness to awaken the souls of the complacent and pierce the hearts of the defiant IN ORDER THAT they might receive the life-giving Gospel truth: Jesus has already paid our penalty, we have hope, it is finished.  It is another thing to revel in the preaching of the Law.  To wield it like a clumsy weapon, clubbing the saints and the searching alike.  As if guilt were a better indicator of healthy spiritual life than love.

I realized early in the message she would never come here again.  Truth be told, I had decided early in the message that if he took the call, I would not come here again, either.  But now I felt hope slipping away and angry walls being built, brick by brick.  He was railing. Railing against those who would defile their body with tattoos. Spit in the face of God by piercing their bodies, His temple.  Those who would wear their sin proudly like a badge of honor in their dark clothing and Doc Martin boots and heavy eye make-up.  How shameful they were. How disgusting their vanity and rebellion must look to God.

She shifted uncomfortably, uncrossing her legs to lower her Doc Martins under the pew.  Her plaid flannel sleeves weren’t long enough to cover the ink spilling down her forearm and onto her wrist.  She was ashamed.  Then she was angry. Then she was gone.

I have never – NEVER – forgotten the lesson of that day, but I’ve never written about it.  Here I am in a Lutheran Seminary, learning how to divide all of scripture into two distinct categories:  LAW and GOSPEL.  God has given us the Law to kill our self-reliance and to point us to the cross.  And as a fifth (sixth… more than that?) generation Lutheran, I’ve been taught that the Gospel without the Law is cheap grace.  People need to be confronted with their sin before they are ready to receive the Gospel.  True conversion involves repentance. We die to self before we are reborn.

But…

That “but” has big implications.  I have feared pushing against centuries of Lutheran orthodoxy and thousands of Spirit-led theologians who would warn me that in this regard, there are no “buts.”  Law, then Gospel.  LAW, then Gospel.

But…

Sometimes, people already know they are broken. Sometimes, people are aware that they don’t measure up. Sometimes people come to church expecting God to view them the way this clumsy, angry, mean-spirited preacher viewed them.  And to them Jesus says, “Come…”

Why is this? It is because He created us to be in a relationship with Himself, for His glory and our enjoyment.  It is not unholy or selfish to seek to enjoy God.  He crafted us with a longing to be satisfied.  And NOTHING satisfies like the enjoyment of God Himself.  As we express that enjoyment in worship, thanksgiving, service, obedience, and praise, God gets glory.  And the two great longings in the universe are simultaneously met.  Man hungers to be satisfied, God desires to be glorified.  And God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him.

So I look at the great God-story of the Bible.  And I see how it all points to Jesus.  And I believe it is the GREATEST truth in all of time – and that people everywhere need to hear it.  And I look at the beginning of the story.  And I see God there, “In the beginning…”  And I see the beginning of man.  And I notice something important…

Adam was created in God’s image, bearing His likeness in a personality and a desire for relationship… and God said it was very good. They walked together in the garden and had face-to-face relationship.  It was very good.  And this is the relationship mankind was created to have with God.  This was God’s intent from the start, and it is His desire now.

And all of this is solidified before Genesis chapter 3.

Why is it we start out as preachers and street evangelists, wielding our bullhorns and pointing our fingers from the pulpits, and we start at Genesis chapter 3?

“She took of its fruit and ate, and she gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate.”

Tragedy.  Horror.  Shame.  Separation.  Judgment.  Brokenness.  Pain.  Death.

It is true.  Because of that day, and because of all of the days between then and now that man has spent serving himself instead of our gracious creator God, everybody takes their first breath on earth as a sinner.  Disconnected from that “walk in the Garden… and it was very good” relationship.  We are hopelessly broken and unable to make our way back to God.  And that is why Jesus’ death on the cross is the centerpoint of history.  And that is why people need Jesus – to be rescued from themselves.  And that is why well-meaning evangelicals swing their clubs of condemnation.  They want people who don’t even realize they need saving to be saved. So the Law must do its heart-breaking work.  To break up the hard-packed earth of the hearts of men, so that the Gospel seed might take root and grow and bear much fruit.

But…

Sometimes people are broken and they know it already.  Must we always skip over the first two chapters of Genesis?  Must it always be LAW, then Gospel?

The message I have heard for so many years often sounds like this… (1)  You are a sinner. Your sin is ugly, and it separates you from God.  There is nothing you can do to avoid eternal judgment.  You are condemned by your sin. (2)  Jesus came to pay the price for that sin. On the cross, your sin was crucified with Him.  When he rose from the dead, He announced once and for all that forgiveness has triumphed.  Because of Jesus, we are forgiven, and we can be with Him in heaven forever.

You know what?  This isn’t the whole story. I submit that when we LEAD with the LAW, we beat up already wounded souls.  Not every time.  But often. Way too often.  I propose proclaiming a message, over a lifetime of biblical preaching, that looks more like this:

(1)  God loves you.  He created you for a purpose. God is zealously pursuing a relationship with you, and He will rejoice over you when you turn to Him.  This is what we are here for.  To enjoy the love of God.  God is a pursuing God, and you are made in His image.  He wants to restore you to your created purpose.

(2)  Sin mucked it all up. God is Holy and can’t be around sin.  He is righteousness, and He cannot tolerate sin.  Therefore, your sin separates you from Him, and nothing you can do can change that.  You will never be “good enough” for God.

(3) In light of Genesis 1 & 2 – in light of your created purpose – God made a way to redeem your soul.  Jesus death on the cross was payment for your sin.  Repent of your selfishness and self-reliance.  God has been pursuing you because He longs to be in relationship with you.  Jesus is the answer.  There is hope for even you.

Evangelicals will face judgment for the souls they have driven away from God with their clumsy handling of the Law.

Yes, the proud need to be broken.  But not by us.  By the truth of the Word and the work of the Holy Spirit.  And not all who hear us preach believe they don’t need God in their life.  Some come to hear because they simply have no idea how to find Him.  Some come to hear because they already consider themselves a screw-up.  Those people need to hear Jesus call, “Come, all you who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest…”  And they need to know God is pursuing them.

Some of you are clenching your jaw right now.  You feel this is dangerous ground, and that I stand at the precipice of a slippery slope.  We cannot soften the full weight of the Law.  We cannot compromise. We cannot settle for “gospel-light” just because it’s what people want to hear.

I submit that your uncomfortability may come from the evangelical culture you have been steeped in.  What I am saying is rooted in scripture. God created us as deeply valued sons, born with a purpose first.  THEN sin broke the ideal.  First God created and it was very good.  THEN sin separated us from Him.  Some people will reject God because the church FIRST reflects His judgment rather than His love.  I believe more souls will be willing to hear the truth of their sin and their need for Jesus if they FIRST hear the truth that God loves them, considers them deeply valuable, and that he is pursuing a restored relationship with them out of his zealous love for us.

It’s not all about us.  It’s about Him. And when more souls are saved, and more hearts are set free and restored to their created purpose, God receives more glory.  He loved first.  It has been this way since Genesis 1 and 2.  Not just since the 3rd chapter, when we stood condemned by our sin.

So back to that day in the church pew, with my jaw clenched, and the tat-covered, lip-pierced girl sitting next to me…

I wonder what would have happened that day if the message surprised her, instead of confirming her suspicions.  “Yep, I am rotten.  Yep, the church is all about making sure I know that.  Yep, I thought this would be uncomfortable.  No way am I coming back to hear this stuff again.”

What would have happened if she would have heard how valuable she is to God?  That there is hope for her, and that she has been created by a God who knows her personally with all of her failings and rebellion, and still pursues her.

Tomorrow (Friday, May 13), a number of Christians on Twitter will be using the hashtag #4Giveness to connect with those outside of the church who have been pushed away from God by His people.  If this post resonnates with you, read this from my friend Chris Goforth, and join us tomorrow.

Too often the people of God have beaten people up with the Law as if WE don’t need it anymore, and it is meant to be applied as judgment to the sinners “out there.”  Too often we have stiff-armed people, making the gospel difficult to reach by way of a long trail of guilt and shame.  Jesus says “Come…” It is simple.  It is very good.

It is time to tell people that God is loving God who is pursuing them.

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‘we don’t need to beat up the broken and stiff arm sinners :: can i still be a lutheran?” by Joshua Skogerboe is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

 

“I know I’m right. And no, this isn’t an issue of excess pride.  Scripture is clear.  And yet, here you are, expressing what you think is a valid opinion to the contrary.  No.  Having a favorite ice cream flavor… THAT is an opinion.  But this is in the Bible.  This is indisputable.  I’m right about this right here.

Pick your favorite hot button theological issue.  Or your strongest opinnion on church methodology.  You know you’ve got one.  Everybody’s got one.  Now, stir up some of that internal tension… just picture your most vocal adversary on this issue and instert yourself into a conversation wherein you use the paragraph above.  Got it?

Good.  Now I’m sure you can rustle up your favorite verses that back up your point of view. Go ahead… access the memory banks.  Take your sword from its scabbord.  Good.  Now are you ready to defend your ground? Steel yourself for conflict.  Jude 1:3 tells us to contend for the faith.  This is that moment.  Are you up to the task?

Good.

You are now in the right frame of mind to read this post.  I’m talking to you right now.

“A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.”  (Proverbs 15:1)

 

“If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.”  (Romans 12:18)

 

“I pray that they will all be one, just as you and I are one–as you are in me, Father, and I am in you. And may they be in us so that the world will believe you sent me.” (John 17:21)

 

“Remind them of these things, and charge them before God not to quarrel about words, which does no good, but only ruins the hearers.”  (2 Timothy 2:14)

 

“And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome, but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth…”  (2 Timothy 2:24-25)

A few months ago now, I saw a contentious theological discussion on Facebook in which someone made the comment, “Truth at all costs.”  Really?  At all costs?  Like the eternal soul of your opponent?  All costs?  I immediately thought back to something a mentor of mine once said at a worship leadership conference…

“Sometimes I can just be SO RIGHT that I roll right over people… with the authority of the Lord.  That crushes love.  LOVE is the first commandment, not ‘thou shalt be right for my name’s sake.'”

I had this clever blog post all planned out. But I think it would better if you just read those verses above one more time.  That’s really all I want to say.  Yes, I belive in absolute truth, and I believe in living with strong convictions, and I know there is a time to confront and a time to contend.  But without love, we’re just a clanging gong.

Nobody wants to listen to a clanging gong.

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“go therefore into the world and whack your gong” by Joshua Skogerboe is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

You can’t show someone the gospel with a sandwich…

BAM. Here we go.  I’m stirring the pot. Somewhere out there, one of you is sick of the church giving lip service to love. You read that first line and just winced a little bit. In fact, this is the epitome of the gospel to you… loving people in Jesus name. Feeding the hungry. Hands-on love of the broken and wounded and penniless and hopeless. After all, Jesus talked about the least of these, right? And faith without works is dead, right? And the greatest commandment is “love God,” and we do that best by loving people, RIGHT? You remember this quote attributed to St. Francis of Assisi: “Preach the Gospel at all times and when necessary, use words.”

It’s a great line.  Someone out there has written this quote in your journal, and it has changed your life.  The way you think about the Gospel and what you’re here for has been forever changed.  Praise God that you are hungry to serve Him and love people.  I mean that.  So don’t let this dampen the fire of your love…

Francis of Assisi was wrong.

Look at 1 Corinthians 15:1-4.  Paul reminds us (because we tend to forget) EXACTLY what the clear, unadulterated Gospel message is… the one Paul would give his life for:  (1) Jesus died for our sins. (2) He was buried. (3) He was raised on the third day.

That’s it. It’s a clear message.  No sandwiches involved.  Love and service are a natural and healthy RESPONSE to the Gospel, but can never be mistaken for the message itself.  Jesus penal substitutionary atonement for our sin, and His victory over death in the Resurrection are the heart of the Gospel.  It is a message that must be PROCLAIMED… it cannot be shown.

You can show His love.  You can show your love for Him.  You can show the world a different way to live, and you can give yourself away in love and service to others.

But you are not sharing the Gospel unless you proclaim it. You’ve got to tell people who Jesus is and what He has done, because THAT is what has the power to save souls.

If we do not proclaim the clear message that our only hope is faith alone by grace alone in Christ alone, then Christ ceases to be our substitutionary atonement and becomes merely our example.  Is it possible that the people we serve will misunderstand the heart of our faith?  That when we sign on to the Christian faith, we are obligated to earn back favor with God?  I see it on bumper stickers and church bulletin boards…  Christ died for you – are you living for Him?  WWJD?  Serve like Jesus.  Love like Jesus.  Live like Jesus.
It is an impossible standard.  Instead we must serve, love, and live BECAUSE of Jesus.
For those of you who are sick of watching hurting people suffer because the Church talks the talk but doesn’t walk the walk, I empathize deeply with your holy discontent.  However, we cannot SUBSTITUTE walking the walk for talking the talk.  Maybe we ought to start with the walk… but we must talk, too.
Over the past several years the Emergent conversation has been reexamining Christian faith, and what it means to be a Christ follower… and what it means to be saved.  Somehow definitions that have for centuries been bedrock biblical truths have become mired in conjecture and postmodern equivocation.  Some now see salvation as something we work out and experience here on earth by serving the needy and the poor, caring for others, caring for the environment, etc.
The Emergent redefinition of salvation fundamentally wrecks the Gospel, because it takes away the gift and replaces it with an obligation.  The Gospel through this lens is a transfer from grace received to something we do.  Galatians 5:1 reminds us:
“For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.”
I believe we experience salvation here and now, too.  But it is in and through the finished work of Jesus, who died for our sins, was buried, and rose again.  I believe we are called to love and serve the hurting and needy, to be good stewards of the earth, and to give our lives away in Jesus’ name.  But it is all a response.
Because HE loved us, make those sandwiches.  Feed the hungry ones.  But you can’t show someone the Gospel with a sandwich.  Love ’em, and then tell ’em WHY.
Our friend Francis of Assisi was off the mark.
We proclaim the Gospel.
Then we live in light of it.
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“francis of assisi was wrong :: use words” by Joshua Skogerboe is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

This is a poem and a sermon and a reminder and a painting and a song and a promise…

Love means dying, and being reborn. Before her, I stayed out of the minefields and I ran from the storms. But this new life with Amy is something else. Don’t give up on me, Amy. When the shadowlands come, I’ll remind you whose you are, and I’ll ask for God’s help to be who I am.

I’m in love with my girl, and I thank God. Everyday.