Thursday, April 26, 2012

The many faces of self-righteousness

In an excellent article here, Jerry Bridges calls self-righteousness 'Gospel Enemy #1".  I agree.  What image comes to mind when you think of a self-righteous person?  Probably a snooty Pharisee from Jesus' day who made much of the details of the law at the expense of God's grace and truth.  I've heard a lot of Christians confess sins over the years, but self-righteousness is a rare confession.  The fact of the matter is, though, that self-righteousness is much more common - and deadly - than we usually think.  It takes on as many forms as the idols in which we try to find our 'ok-ness' with God and life.  Consider some examples from the workbook, Gospel Transformation (pp. 69-70):

  • Health-righteousness
    • "You're not eating well.  I had better enforce my dietary habits on you."
  • Language-righteousness
    • "You used the word 'fortunate' and 'lucky'.  Don't you believe in the providence of God?
    • "You ended that sentence with a preposition!"
  • Holiday-righteousness
    • "How on earth can you do that?  It's Christmas!" (or Easter, etc.)
    • "We have to have turkey.  It's Thanksgiving!"
  • Entertainment-righteousness
    • "You waste a lot of time watching sitcoms.  You should watch documentaries."
    • "You're going to the 38 Special/Night Ranger concert?  I only go to Christian concerts."
  • Finance-righteousness
    • "How could you spend so much money on that?  That's bad stewardship."
  • Theological-righteousness
    • "You really believe that?  Let me give you this book by ___________."
  • Political-righteousness
    • "You voted for who?"
  • Parenting-righteousness
    • "You have such poorly behaved children.  What I suggest...."
  • Me-focused-righteousness
    • "I can't believe she said that about me!"
  • Anti-Pharisee-righteousness
    • "You are so judgmental!  Don't you believe in grace?"
Please don't misunderstand, it's very good to be health conscious, to speak clearly, to enjoy celebrations, to kick back and rest in healthy ways, to be a good steward with your money, to think biblically, to care about political responsibility, to want to help struggling parents and to love grace, but any of those good things - and many more - can insidiously become Christ-substitutes and militate against the gospel.  They can all be expressions of self-righteousness, false pathways toward self-justification which may give us a temporary sense of peace and superiority, but which ultimately diminish the glory of Christ and leave those around us feeling condemned.  We'd all do well to remember Paul's words in I Corinthians 1:31, "Let him who boasts, boast in the Lord."  Only through His righteousness will we find life and be conduits of life for others.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

What is this 'XP' position?

Last Sunday many of us gathered during the Sunday School hour to discuss the elder board's vision for future growth and restructuring. On the front end, this involves hiring a position commonly known as an Executive Pastor (XP). As we progress toward the Annual Meeting at which time the balls would be officially set in motion toward this new structure, I'd like to provide you with links to some brief documents to help you get a better feel for what we're looking for in an XP, and what he would do.

1. A good general overview of the concept of the XP can be found here.

2. A few key questions which help define the position are here.

3. A rough draft of the Trinity XP job description which a search committee may use to vet potential candidates can be read here. Please keep in mind that this document is not in its final form.

We are excited about what an Executive Pastor could offer Trinity in maximizing our ministry and helping us all optimally operate in our areas of giftedness. Feel free to leave a comment about how you believe an XP could be a help to our church and God's Kingdom.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Angry at God?

During my message on Habakkuk chapter one, I spoke about when Christians are angry at God. When is that legitimate and when is it not? Unfortunately, most of the advice on the internet on this topic is bad - really bad. One good exception is a short article written ten years ago by John Piper. You can read it here.

Friday, April 13, 2012

The anatomy of holiness

If you ask ten Christians for advice on how to keep yourself experientially holy on a daily basis, you'll probably get eleven answers. Everybody has their own 'list' of what to do or not do for accountability. In my opinion, a better alternative is what Kevin DeYoung calls 'the anatomy of holiness.' Try this 'anatomical' self-evaluation out the next time you want to assess your own holiness:

  • Is my mind is filled with the knowledge of God and fixed on what is good?
  • Are my eyes turned away from sensuality and do they shudder at the sight of evil?
  • Is my mouth telling the truth and refusing to gossip, slander, or speak what is coarse or obscene?
  • Is my spirit earnest, steadfast, and gentle?
  • Is my soul resting and rejoicing in Jesus?
  • Are my muscles toiling and striving after Christlike virtue?
  • Is my heart full of joy instead of hopelessness, patience instead of irritability, kindness instead of anger, and humility instead of pride, thankfulness instead of envy?
  • Are my sexual organs are pure, being reserved for the privacy of marriage between one man and one woman?
  • Are my feet moving toward the lowly and away from senseless conflict, divisions, and wild parties?
  • Are my hands quick to help those in need and ready to fold in prayer?

When I lose track of what holiness is actually about, I try to scan down the body from head to toe and remember what God desires from me. And just as importantly, I need to remember who Christ is and is making me to become.

Great advice!

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

How free are we?

One of the most vexing questions in Christianity regards our choices. How free are we to choose Christ and new life? This question has been a point of contentious debate in the church for centuries, but it really need not cause us consternation when we understand how free we are (or are not). The folks at lend insight into this question through the following quote:

Most of us would like to think that we are free to make any choice possible

in any given situation, but if you think about it, you'll quickly recognize

that even the choices you thought you were free to make were limited

by your pre-existing nature (your inclinations, desires, likes and dislikes).

Have you ever cleaned out your closet and discarded an ugly shirt, tie or

dress that was given to you as a gift? Why did you throw it away? Every day,

as you decided what to wear, you were free to choose that article of clothing,

but you never did. Your nature (in this case, your taste in clothing) restrained

your choice. In order to understand what the Bible teaches about "free will",

we need to distinguish between two concepts of freedom:

"Libertarian" Free Will: This view of "free will" maintains that humans have the ability to choose

anything, even when this choice might be contrary to our nature (our inclinations, desires, likes

and dislikes). We might call this "Unfettered Free Will".

"Compatibilist" Free Will: This view of "free will" maintains that humans have the ability to choose

something, but this ability is restrained by our pre-existing nature (our inclinations, desires, likes

and dislikes). We might call this "God-Fettered Free Will".

Our practical experience tells us that we don't make choices that are completely unfettered (unrestrained)

by our nature. Many of us would never choose to order an anchovy pizza. Many of us would never choose

to purchase a pink car. Many of us would never choose to cut our hair in a "mullet" hairstyle. Our natures

(our inclinations, desires, likes and dislikes) restrain us. The Bible recognizes that God is sovereign and

that humans are fallen and restrained by a nature that inclines us toward evil and toward the denial of

God's existence (Jer 13:23, Mark 7:21-22, Rom 3:9-12, Rom 8:6-8). The Bible also teaches, however,

that humans have the freedom and ability to choose the things of God, including the salvation offered

through Jesus Christ (Joshua 24:15, John 7:17, John 7:37-39).

So, how do we, as fallen humans inclined to deny God, have the ability to choose God? Well it appears

that God (in His sovereignty) works at the level of our 'nature' rather than at the level of our 'choices'. God

changes our hearts first, so we have the freedom to choose something we would never have chosen before

(because our nature prevented us from doing so). You and I then have the freedom to choose within our new

nature, and we are, of course, responsible for those free will choices.

John 6:65
He went on to say, 'This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless the Father has enabled him.'

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Redeeming culture

During tomorrow's message I'm going to be mentioning a documentary about the Amish which PBS aired back in February. Who of us living in the midst of our frenetically-paced society filled with technological distractions doesn't admire the discipline of the Amish to retain an unhurried way of life marked by a deep sense of community? We have some much needed lessons to learn from them.

On the other hand, while watching the documentary I was struck by how in their pursuit to retain their non-technological lifestyle, they are denying the creational commission God gave us in Genesis 1:26-28 to harness the earth (all its resources) for our maximal blessing and God's greater glory. In one segment we see two Amish men shovel snow off a very long driveway. There is dignity in such work, but there is also dignity in the inventiveness God gave man to create labor-saving machines like snow-blowers (which have led me into spontaneous worship on more than one occasion).

Of course, too much accommodation to 'progress' and technology can lead to man-centered pride and the creation of a self-determining society which lives only for comfort and discards God. How, then, are we to maintain a balance between living out our commission to be on the forefront of creating culture while not allowing the culture we create to become our god? Using Calvin and Luther as models, theologian Michael Horton wisely says this:

"The Reformers avoided two tendencies: on the hand, to confuse the two kingdoms [the kingdom of God and the kingdom of man] (Rome's mistake) and, on the other hand, to divorce the two kingdoms and reject any Christian involvement in the kingdom of culture (the Anabaptist [Amish] mistake). Instead, they insisted that Christians should be involved in the world. They should neither seek to escape it, like the monks, whose lives were often more 'worldly' than the world, nor seek to rule it, like the popes, whose own houses were not in order.

Every believer is a 'priest' before God, and each person (believer and unbeliever) has been given a vocation of calling, by virtue of creation, to participate some way in culture. We are social beings, created to enjoy each other's company, whether Christian or non-Christian. Redemption does not change our participation in culture; rather, it changes us and therefore, the character of our involvement.

Separation from the world is not physical, according to the Reformers; rather, it is a matter of divorcing our dependence on the things of this world; its vanity and rejection or perversion of things heavenly. Luther and Calvin said that the calling of the public official was one of the noblest, inasmuch as it serves society well."

- Michael Horton, Beyond Culture Wars, p. 180.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

True worship

In a few days we'll be celebrating Jesus' resurrection from the dead here at Trinity, as will tens of thousands of other churches around the world. For many congregations, Sunday will be an opportunity to create a worship performance to dazzle the senses. I've been thinking and reading recently about worship - true worship as Jesus Himself defines it.

Though the Bible strongly emphasizes the importance of gathering together weekly in order to remember the gospel through the preaching of the Word, prayer, fellowship and the sacraments (Acts 20:7, Hebrews 10:24-25, I Corinthians 11:17-34, I Timothy 4:13-15, 2 Timothy 4:1-2, Revelation 1:10), true worship in the Bible rarely has anything to do with a worship service. Rather, it has everything to do with the Object of our worship at any given time or place.

Jesus makes clear in His encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well in John 4 that worship which is biblical must center on His pleasure, not ours. "But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship Him." (John 4:23-24)

Pastor Scotty Smith rightly remarks on Jesus' comment, "Though it has become an accepted part of our contemporary worship-speak, only God has the right to say, 'Awesome worship!' or 'I didn't really get anything out of the worship today.' After all, He's the Evaluator of worship, not us. That we experience joy and pleasure in the worship of God is appropriate and a profound privilege; but it is God's pleasure that we are to be most concerned about." (Restoring Broken Things, p. 166).

When I was a child, I loved Easter Sunday service because of all the pageantry and traditions. I loved singing the same, traditional songs every year accompanied by remarkable musicians, a large choir and a brass ensemble. I loved the sight and smell of Easter lilies and stained glass and a vaulted ceiling and everyone dressed to the 'nines'. These are the elements which made for 'great Easter worship' for me as a child. What will make it great worship for you this Sunday? In fact, what will make for great worship for you this afternoon or evening or tomorrow when you're far away from church? Gathering weekly to remember Christ's resurrection is important, but let's not forget that 'worship' in the Bible most often has nothing to do with music and gatherings. 'Worship' most often equals obedience to God's commands flowing from a heart that's been captivated by Christ's grace. That's what the woman at the well discovered in Jesus, and she didn't have to wait around until Sunday to become the kind of worshiper our Father is seeking.