Plan For Holiness' Sake

I’m reading Proverbs 29 this morning. In the ESV, verse 18 says this:

Where there is no prophetic vision the people cast off restraint, but blessed is he who keeps the law.

I learned that verse in the King James back in the day. It reads like this:

Where there is no vision, the people perish: but he that keepeth the law, happy is he.

There is a lot of popular church work these days in the field of strategy, vision casting and leadership. Rick Warren, Andy Stanley, the whole Catalyst movement, Driscoll; they all deal heavily in vision casting, strategic planning and management and leadership systems. While proponents of these philosophies would say that they simply exist in the field of human relations much like gravity exists in physics and the leadership of the church can choose to make use of them or choose not to heed them at their peril, opponents of management philosophy that I have encountered online and in person tend to accuse “planners” of worldliness. “The church is not a business.” “God’s ways are foolishness to the world.” Stuff like that.

I tend to attempt to walk in some middle ground in this area (assuming there is some) but what struck me about Proverbs 29:18 this morning is that the vision of leadership impacts the holiness of the people under that leadership. While it’s easy to accuse planners of just wanting big churches, or money, or fame or whatever, God’s Word, at least to some extent, says that people aren’t motivated to discipline and personal holiness when they don’t have someone providing them with clear direction for the future.

I think Paul expresses this in 1 Corinthians 9:24-26 when he says:

Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable.
So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.

When I read literature about strategic planning, or am in discussion with our ministry team about vision, we typically have our eyes on evangelism (not money or fame btw). However, Proverbs 29:18 is a good reminder that the people of God need vision too, if only as motivation for their own holiness. Vision casting isn’t just about the external mission of winning souls, but the internal mission of feeding sheep.

Plan For Holiness' Sake

Predestination!, or, Blueberries Taste Better Than Strawberries, That's Why I Eat Them

I’m reading through Tell The Truth by Will Metzger for an evangelism class in school. He’s a pretty strong Calvinist, but from that position he makes a very thorough case for evangelism. I agree with much of what he says. I love the comfort and boldness that comes from an understanding that God is the one changing hearts. He is the one responsible for the outcome of our evangelism. I can share my faith and the story of Jesus freely and rest knowing that God brings the increase.

However, Metzger occasionally throws in some fairly heavy reformed theology, attempting to convince the reader to adopt it. He argues for predestination under the assumption that his readers don’t already believe it and that it’s hard to understand. Those are probably good assumptions, but the way he does it comes across rather odd sometimes. In chapter 10 he focuses almost exclusively on predestination. God saves individuals that he chooses to save based on His unknowable good pleasure.

I’m just barely beginning to kick this idea around, but why does it seem like the Calvinist doesn’t allow anyone to speculate about God’s good pleasure? It’s ok to say God’s ways are not our ways, and we can’t possibly understand, but if we throw out some possibilities for why God chooses people, we are somehow cheapening grace. A Wesleyan would argue that God chooses people because they will respond in faith. The truth is they do respond in faith. To the Calvinist though, this subjugates God’s sovereignty and free grace to the condition of the faith-choice in the person. It makes God’s will a slave to man’s. I understand that argument, but doesn’t any reasonable articulation of what could possibly be the source of God’s good pleasure subjugate his sovereignty to some factor outside of Himself, albeit a factor that He Himself has chosen?

For instance, say it was God’s good pleasure to save everyone with a taste for classical music. A love of mozart was the basis for salvation. Let’s go further and say that God implants this dormant love in the hearts of those he will save at birth. It will blossom in college and God will grant salvation to them. God chooses the criteria. In this example, God hasn’t really chosen criteria for saving people. He has simply chosen people through an affinity for classical music. The “why does God choose people” question still hasn’t been answered. The Calvinist responds “we don’t know.” That doesn’t mean that a reason doesn’t exist however. If there is no reason, if God is just throwing darts at a board full of faces, isn’t he capricious? Isn’t he just playing with souls?

I think Calvinists believe that there is a reason why some are saved and others aren’t, that’s why they use “God’s good pleasure” in the first place. When I say I choose to eat blueberries because of my good pleasure, it’s because there are characteristics of blueberries that I prefer over strawberries. I don’t choose strawberries because there are things lacking in strawberries. I choose blueberries because of the things about blueberries that I like. That’s what “my good pleasure” means. That there are reasons behind choices is implied by the statement.

For some reason though, the Calvinist can’t have anyone listing the reasons behind God’s choices, because that somehow lessens God. Scripture however is pretty clear that God is looking for faith in people. I believe that God has known who will possess that faith since before time began. He has chosen us from before the foundation of the world. I don’t think that makes Him any less sovereign. If anything, it makes Him more sovereign. He is discriminating in His choosing based on solid criteria that He Himself has come up with. Saying that God gives us the faith and then chooses us doesn’t protect God’s sovereignty, it just pushes His real reason for choosing people farther back and forces us to either speculate about what that reason could be, or in the case of Metzger, just say we don’t know any glory in His grace anyway.

I think we should definitely glory in His grace, but when we ask the question, “why does God save people,” scripture tells us that it’s because they have faith in Him. To ignore that solid reason in favor of some unknown one deeper in the mind of God (not that there aren’t many things deep in the mind of God that we can’t know) seems a little forced.

So, that’s my little soteriology rant today. Thank you for joining me.

Predestination!, or, Blueberries Taste Better Than Strawberries, That's Why I Eat Them

Sacrifice For The Good Of Mankind!, or, Paper Is Easy, Brains Are Better

I’ve decided to give up two personal conveniences for the good of others and the betterment of myself. Both of these conveniences have to do with my public work during Sunday gatherings at church.

I’m giving up capo’d chord charts.

When I lead music from the guitar, I often use a capo. It allows a guitar player to use the most appropriate and best sounding voicings (or chord shapes) in the best keys for congregational singing. There are several problems with this though. First, no one else in the band plays with a capo. My chord sheets says “G” but everyone else’s says “B.” That makes it more challenging for me to communicate. I have to transpose as I speak to my team, which, for some reason, doesn’t always work right. Secondly, I have on more than one occasion placed my capo on the wrong fret of my guitar. I then played all the right chord shapes in the wrong key. Again, the rest of the band doesn’t have this and consequently has no idea where I am and cannot play with me. As a solution, I have decided to just memorize the shapes in each capo’d position and play with charts that are labeled for the absolute key.

What this allows me to do is both communicate with the band easily (because we are reading the same chart) and increase my ability to play the correct chords wherever I am capo’d without having to rely on the transposed chart. They can understand me, I become a better player.

I’m giving up sermon notes. 

I am taking a preaching class this semester and in one of the textbooks the author strongly encourages his readers to get rid of sermon notes. He does not advocate memorizing the sermon, but simply memorizing the outline. I usually preach with an outline about a page and a half long. I was given the opportunity to open up Kroc Church’s study of the book of Galatians and got to preach for the last two weeks through chapter 1. I did not use notes either time. It was a lot of fun.

This practice has done two things for we so far. First, it allows me to keep better eye contact with the congregation while I am preaching. I have noticed an immediate difference in my ability to read the congregation. Secondly, it forces me to write a simple outline. If I’m going to memorize it, it can’t be 8 points with 3 subpoints each. It has to be simple. Hopefully a simple outline is easier to communicate to the congregation.

So there you have it. Two ways I’m trying to become better at what I do. Hopefully these steps won’t come back to bite me one day in a horrible wrong key/forgotten outline mishap. Perish the thought.

Sacrifice For The Good Of Mankind!, or, Paper Is Easy, Brains Are Better

My Faith Is Not Important Enough To Concern You With, or, True > Happy

The Oatmeal recently published a comic called “How To Suck At Your Religion.” (warning, offensive language) There are a lot of things that I would take issue with in it and several points that he makes that I would agree with. There are a lot of caricatures of religious ideas, particularly Christian ones, that are unfair critiques. I have one big issue with his conclusion though, and it’s an issue that I find increasingly common. He says,

Does your religion inspire you to help people? Does it make you happier? Does it help you cope with the fact that you are a bag of meat sitting on a rock in outer space and that some day you will die and you are completely powerless, helpless and insignificant in the wake of this beautiful cosmic ****storm we call existence? Does it help with that? Yes? Excellent! Carry on with your religion!*

*Just keep it too your ******** self.

I think that’s totally lame. What I take from that paragraph is that religious/faith based/metaphysical/philosophical aspects of my worldview are only as good as they make me feel and help me to cope. If they do that, then they are great (but not worth sharing). If they don’t, then they aren’t. On top of that, they are completely subjective (see his comparison to a child’s favorite color).

Now, I understand that he holds that view. From following his work, I would guess he’s at least somewhat of a secularist/naturalist/materialist. My problem is that the view that my religious beliefs are just subjective preference, like my favorite ice cream, is incredibly hard for me to find valuable.

I believe that Jesus of Nazareth is who the Bible says that he is. I believe He is the Son of God and that after being brutally murdered in the early 1st century AD he physically rose from the dead 3 days later. There is good, historical, forensic science based evidence for this. I also believe that I have encountered Him, alive, not physically, but spiritually. He has changed my life. If I didn’t believe in this objective reality, I wouldn’t be a Christian. I would stop being a Christian. I’m a Christian because I know with reasonable certainty what happened in the past and I know what I have experienced.

No one else has to believe that, but it seems that the Oatmeal’s position is just a polite way of saying “you go ahead and be crazy, just don’t bother me with it.” If not arrogant, that’s just poorly thought out as far as an argument goes. Anyone that boils faith claims down to subjective self-help maxims isn’t taking faith seriously. Either you don’t think your worldview is faith based (it is) or you don’t care enough about reality outside of your daily rhythms and routines to formulate a coherent philosophy of life (you should).

Religious claims are a big deal. They are a big deal for the Christian, the Muslim, the Buddhist, the Atheist/Agnostic and every other adherent of every other belief system in the world. Refute them, argue for the superiority of yours, demonstrate how your worldview best represents reality, but don’t dismiss them. That’s not reasonable.

Now I know the Oatmeal is a cartoonist, and his medium is limited. If I had to guess I would guess that I would thoroughly enjoy a cup of coffee with him. But this cartoon represents an idea that is pervasive among the non-religious and the mildly-religious: what you believe doesn’t really matter as long as it makes you happy and you don’t “bother” anyone else with it.

What you believe about the world really does matter. What matters most about it is whether or not its true. Believe what you believe because its true, not because it makes you happy. Take the time and do the work to figure out what’s true. Just don’t kill people. He got that part right.


My Faith Is Not Important Enough To Concern You With, or, True > Happy

Summer Membership Class, or, Doctrine Is More Fun Than Getting Rained On

I started a new session of the Kroc Church Membership class on Sunday. I typically set up the class to run for 6 weeks in 2-hour segments. Since it’s summer and no one wants to have 6 of their summer afternoons (or whatever passes for summer afternoons in North Idaho) taken up by doctrine and philosophy (except me of course) I am abbreviating the class to 3 weeks of 3-hour sessions.

Sunday’s class went rather well, if I do say so myself. We got through the Our People documentary and the first 4 doctrines. I had to go quickly through some of the finer points, and gave a bit of scripture to take as homework instead of looking it up and discussing it in class, but I think it went pretty smoothly.

It’s a small class this time, only 8, but I think it will be a good one. Lots of interest in what we are doing and a desire to be involved. Truthfully, I’m not interested in making members and soldiers that simply want to get a certificate or say that they are connected to our church. I want people who are excited about the mission of God and want to get their hands dirty with the work of the ministry. I don’t think this class will disappoint. There are several staff represented, a couple from my Community Group, and a few others that have been in the process of checking us out for awhile. It’s a good group.

It’s interesting, but I think there is something to be said for having membership classes more often during the year. The last class I taught was in the late winter, February/March. Since it’s July, any momentum and excitement for membership that we could have generated from the Spring enrollment is gone. We will enroll new members and soldiers from this class some time in August, and then the next class will be in September. I am planning on doing 2 classes this fall, almost back to back, to further capitalize on our congregation seeing the new recruits and the enrollment prompting others to sign up. It’s quite a bit of work teaching two sessions in a semester (back to the six week per session format as well) but I think there will be considerable fruit from it. Whether people become Salvationists or not, the knowledge of who we are and what we believe in invaluable if someone wants to be connected to our ministry. All I have to do now is raise up someone else to teach the classes so that I don’t have too all the time!

Summer Membership Class, or, Doctrine Is More Fun Than Getting Rained On

My Faith Is Not An Adjective, or, When's Your iPad's Spiritual Birthday?

I really don’t like the concept of “Christian” things. I’m not the first person to notice this, but the word Christian is a noun. It’s a noun, that over the centuries, has meant “one who follows Christ” more or less. It’s a word for people. People who have given their allegiance to Jesus, the Christ, or savior, of the world. There are a couple things that drive me crazy about the label “Christian,” whether it’s music, movies, art, literature, or, as of today, home electronics. One reason is that the word has become a marketing term. If we put “Christian” in front of it, there is a whole demographic that will just rush out to buy it. Is it good? Can it compete in the marketplace of ideas? It doesn’t matter, it’s a Christian thing.

Another reason I really dislike the adjective is that it gives a wrong impression of the definition of the word. To the outside world, Christian should mean:

a person or group of people, set apart for Jesus Christ, dedicated to serving Him through loving others and sharing His message of freedom from sin and death and restoration as subjects of His wonderful kingdom by grace through repentance and faith.

Instead, because of the adjectival usage of the word, it comes across as:

Nice, wholesome and bland versions of real culture, dumbed down for those people that don’t want to interact with the world at large.

Is that harsh? Yeah. Are there examples where “Christian” things are not any of those things? Probably. But by and large, the average person sees an article about the “Edifi” and sees a second-rate Kindle Fire with limited functions and applications for people that are what, too afraid to buy a real Kindle Fire? It’s either that, or Christian Family stores, the makers of Edifi, are just trying to capitalize on a captive audience. I’m not sure which is worse.

I don’t wear Christian clothes. I’m not sitting on a Christian couch. I didn’t have Christian coffee for breakfast.

I am a Christian. I love and follow Jesus Christ. I want others to be Christians. Christians are people. Christian is a people word. Christians need to use it as a people word.

Update! Gizmodo has an article on the Edifi.  Notice how the default assumption is mockery. Best comments?:
 Does the Tablet come with the 10 commandments etched on the back?
It comes with five of them. The other five are on another tablet.
My Faith Is Not An Adjective, or, When's Your iPad's Spiritual Birthday?

OIA, it is the way, or, No Golden Plates, No Circumcision

When I was in Bible College, I was taught the OIA method of Bible Study: Observation, Interpretation, Application. First you look at the text. What does it say? You can answer a lot of questions about a passage just by reading it carefully and making notes about the concepts that the author is communicating. Secondly, What does it mean? The interpretation of a passage is singular. The author had a specific thing in mind when he wrote the sentences and, based on what you observe from the text, you need to make a judgment about the interpretation. Since there is only one, it’s helpful at this point to see what other, much smarter people have said about the passage in the past. My guess is that you and I are not discovering an interpretation that 2000 years of the church missed. Third, What does it mean to me? Interpretation is one, but application is many. There are often several different ways to apply the one meaning of a text to yourself, your family, your church, our culture, etc.

All that introduction to say, I think we confuse interpretation and application sometimes. On the one hand, we make many interpretations. This happens especially in a small group setting when you read something and one person says that the passage means one thing and another person says that the passage means a complete opposite thing and everyone nods in agreement. Two completely opposite interpretations cannot both be true.

The other error, the one that I find myself looking at more often lately, is that we are firm on the one interpretation, but we are also firm on the one application. We do not allow a text to have more than one application* because we like a single application the best. Here’s a for instance in Galatians 1:8:

But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed.

We are beginning a study in the book of Galatians next week at Kroc Church, and I get to teach on that verse. So, what immediately comes to mind when I read that verse? Mormons. We live just north of major Mormon country here in North Idaho, and the Latter-Day Saints have a large presence here. My pastor growing up was somewhat of an expert on the cults, and whenever the Mormons came up, we heard this verse. You see, according to the Mormon faith, Joseph Smith was visited by an angel named Moroni and shown the location of some golden plates that he needed to translate into the Book of Mormon. So, an angel from heaven preached a different gospel to him.

Don’t get me wrong, that’s a great application. Mormonism is a false gospel no matter how it came into existence, but if a so-called “angel” delivered it to Joseph Smith, that’s a superb application of this verse. However, Galatians 1:8 was in the Bible 1800 years before Joseph Smith, so how was it applied then? If I connect the application of this verse so tightly to Mormonism that I don’t allow for other applications, I will miss a lot, specifically because I’m not Mormon!

Throughout the book of Galatians, Paul isn’t teaching against Mormonism, he’s teaching against legalism and license. He goes back and forth showing that a failure to trust God results in either an assumption that the cross of Christ isn’t enough (leading me to add works-based righteousness to the gospel) or that God doesn’t have my best interests at heart (leading me to disregard the commands of God because I think they are burdensome). The false gospel that is being preached to the Galatians is that they need to be circumcised in order to be Christians.

When I read Galatians 1:8 and only see a proof-text against Mormonism, the verse becomes meaningless to me. But, if I hold to the interpretation (that there is only one gospel and we need to reject all false ones) and can freely apply it to my context (where I hear many false gospels through people, media and culture all the time), then all of a sudden Galatians 1:8 is relevant to me and the situations that I find myself in.

So, interpretation, one. Application, many. Observe, Interpret, Apply. Learn it, live it, love it. And if an angel shows up on your bed tonight, just make sure you ask some probing questions.

*That’s not to say that every application is valid. Applications need to be firmly grounded in the observations and interpretation of the text. 
OIA, it is the way, or, No Golden Plates, No Circumcision