Shooting Ourselves in the Foot

We often love to shoot ourselves in the foot. Unintentionally, of course.

We often say that Bible knowledge can lead to pride so we kind of tell one another that too much study of God’s Word is counterproductive to our spiritual health. It makes a person proud, they say. It’s useless knowledge, others argue.

Then we stumble over verses like Colossians 1:9–10 and we eat our words in embarrassment. Paul told the believers in Colossae that the way to stay solid in your Christian faith is to actually become filled with knowledge in all spiritual wisdom and understanding. That’s a lot of heavy words. Putting together knowledge, wisdom, and understanding in one sentence is mind-boggling enough for our taste. But Paul is not yet done; he was just getting started. He said that knowledge should fill us, the same way that you fill a tank with water. Why?

Because having that kind of knowledge is the only way to ever walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, to live a life that is pleasing to him, to bear fruit (in evangelism and in character), to be strengthened, and to develop a thankful heart. In other words, being filled with the knowledge of God is the way to thrive and flourish as a believer. Everything we ever want to become as Christians is tied to how much we know God, and that knowledge springs from our Bible readings.

Sounds too academic and too cerebral, I know, but this is God’s ordained way for us to grow. Knowing God is knowing God’s Word, the Bible. There is no escaping it. Much of our spiritual growth boils down to a lot of Bible reading and prayer. Even obedience is simply a fruit of knowing God. Either we admit that, or we continue shooting ourselves in the foot.

Theology and Missions

Christopher J.H. Wright on the The Mission of God’s People:

“Theology, it seems is all about God. It rummages around in what (mostly dead) people have thought and written about God, God’s character and actions, God’s relationship to the world, to human society, God’s involvement in the past, present and future, and the like. Mission, in happy contrast, is all about us the living, and what we believe we are supposed to be doing in the world.

“So, in mutual suspicion, theologians may not relish their theories being muddled by facts on the ground and the challenging questions thrown up by the messiness of practical mission. Practitioners of mission, in quick riposte, may not wish to see their urgent commitment to getting on with the job Christ entrusted to us delayed by indulgent navel-gazing about obscure long words ending in -ology.

“And so the dangerous result is that theology proceeds without missional input or output, while mission proceeds without theological guidance or evaluation.

“There should be no theology that that does not relate to the mission of the church – either by being generated out of the church’s mission or by inspiring and shaping it. And there should be no mission of the church carried on without deep theological roots in the soil of the Bible.

No theology without missional impact; no mission without theological foundations.”

What Are We Becoming?

Eugene Peterson. Run With Horses: The Quest for Life At Its Best. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press. 2009

One of the supreme tasks of the faith community is to announce to us early and clearly the kind of life into which we can grow, to help us set our sights on what it means to be a human being. Not one of us, at this moment, is complete. In another hour, another day, we will have changed. We are in the process of becoming either less or more. There are a million chemical and electrical interchanges going on in each of us this very moment. There are intricate moral decisions and spiritual transactions taking place. What are we becoming? Less or more?

Cheap Grace is the Mortal Enemy of the Church

Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Discipleship. Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2003.

Cheap grace is the mortal enemy of our church. Our struggle for today is for costly grace… Cheap grace means grace as bargain-basement goods, cut-rate forgiveness, cut-rate comfort, cut-rate sacrament; grace as the church’s inexhaustible pantry, from which it is doled out by careless hands without hesitation or limit. It is grace without a price, without costs.

Cheap grace is preaching forgiveness without repentance; it is baptism without the discipline of community; it is the Lord’s Supper without confession of sin; it is absolution without personal confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without the living, incarnate Jesus Christ.

Costly grace is the hidden treasure in the field, for the sake of which people go and sell with joy everything they have. It is the costly pearl, for whose price the merchant sells all that he has; it is Christ’s sovereignty, for the sale of which you tear out an eye if it causes you to stumble. It is the call of Jesus Christ which causes a disciple to leave his nets and follow him.

Costly grace is the gospel which must be sought again and again, the gift which has to be asked for, the door at which one has to knock.

It is costly, because it calls to discipleship; it is grace because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ. It is costly, because it costs people their lives; it is grace because it thereby makes them live. It is costly, because it condemns sin; it is grace because it justifies the sinner. Above all, grace is costly, because it was costly to God, because it costs God the life of God’s Son—”you were bought with a price”—and because nothing can be cheap to us which is costly to God. Above all, it is grace because the life of God’s Son was not too costly for God to give in order to make us live. God did, indeed, give him up for us. Costly grace is the incarnation of God.

Finding Dory and the Gospel for the Lost Fish

Like Dory we have wandered away from home. Like Dory we have forgotten who we were. Like Dory we were separated from the Father. And like Dory we don’t know how to get back home.

For sure Disney did not intend for Finding Dory to bear some religious undertones but the language and imagery of the movie unwittingly deliver poignant pictures of the gospel story. They resonate with us because we recognize that we really are the real Dorys (and Nemos) of the world. Like Dory we have wandered away and have forgotten our home. Like Nemo we were lost and we needed rescuing.

This is exactly our redemption story. The Father sent Jesus to seek and save the lost. No wonder the story feels so familiar and at home with us.

Accidental World Changer

October 31, 1517, Martin Luther nailed a document on the door of the church in Wittenberg to protest the excesses of the church. His immediate concern at that time was the selling of indulgences to finance St. Peter’s Basilica and the Sistine Chapel in Rome. Michelangelo’s genius didn’t come cheap.

He simply wanted a theological discussion; what he got was the rocking of the political and ecclesiastical structures of Europe, the splitting of the church, and history’s epic moving forward from medieval times to modern times.

The story of the Reformation shows us the power of God’s providence in the history of the world. While we go about our everyday lives doing business as usual, making decisions for the day, God could be swinging the hinges of history forward. Who would have thought that posting church-related concerns on a church door would go on to shake the seats of power in Europe? Who would have thought that the agenda intended for discussion among priests would propel the world out of the Dark Ages?

Our ordinary days matter. In the hands of the Almighty God, our seemingly boring jobs could be world-changing.

Love is a Double-Sided Coin

“Love is not only expressed by words of affirmation and appreciation, it can also come in the form of a rebuke. Love is a double-sided coin.

“Love is looking in your spouse’s eyes and saying, “You mean the world to me. I wouldn’t want to go on without you.” But, love could also be a protective warning. When a friend is about to engage in adultery, the loving thing to do would be to say, “STOP! Don’t do it!”— even if it means losing your friendship over it.”

Micah Fries and Robby Gallaty, Exalting Jesus in Zephaniah, Haggai, and Malachi Commentary

Malachi on Modern Preachers

Malachi’s words for Old Testament priests could very well be a warning for modern preachers who talk more about pop psychology and prosperity gospel more than the Word of God:

“For the lips of a priest should guard knowledge, and people should seek instruction from his mouth, because he is the messenger of the LORD of Hosts.

You, on the other hand, have turned from the way. You have caused many to stumble by your instruction. You have violated the covenant of Levi,” says the LORD of Hosts. “So I in turn have made you despised and humiliated before all the people because you are not keeping My ways but are showing partiality in your instruction.” (Malachi 2:7-9)

Fire in the Bones

Charles Spurgeon on preaching the gospel:

If a man be truly called of God to the ministry, I will defy him to withhold himself from it. A man who has really within him the inspiration of the Holy Ghost calling him to preach cannot help it. He must preach. As fire within the bones, so will that influence be until it blazes forth. Friends may check him, foes criticise him, despisers sneer at him, the man is indomitable; he must preach if he has the call of heaven. All earth might forsake him; but he would preach to the barren mountain-tops. If he has the call of heaven, if he has no congregation, he would preach to the rippling waterfalls, and let the brooks hear his voice. He could not be silent.

Charles H. Spurgeon, The New Park Street Pulpit (Spurgeon Sermon Collection; Accordance electronic ed. 2 vols.; Altamonte Springs: OakTree Software, 2004), n.p.

God in a Time of Audio Visuals

God didn’t show his face to Moses because he knew humanity would be tempted to make visual representations of His face. He spoke and gave written words instead. The fact that God revealed himself through speaking and writing should give us a pause. We live in a time of audio visuals. We are tempted to think that the effectivity of the gospel lies in slick PowerPoint presentations and cutting edge video clips. The Bible tells us otherwise. God came to us through the spoken and written Word. No matter how technologically advanced we are, the medium by which God reveals himself to us is still through Bible reading and listening to sermons.

Many would say this is boring and primitive but this is actually where the second commandment makes more sense. God— the concept of God, the attributes of God, and the nature of God— can never be truly depicted with our lame visual aids. Our artistic expressions will never suffice. This is the reason why our concept of God has to rise higher than mere pictures and arts and videos. To know him, we need to go to the Word, and this Word-based intimation of God requires the highest order of thinking. This means that the posture of knowing God is that of hard work and concentrated effort, not laid back and slouchy.

Where Were You?

John Stott:

Herod and Pilate, Gentiles and Jews had together conspired against Jesus (Acts 4:27). More important still, we ourselves are also guilty. If we were in their place, we would have done what they did. Indeed, we have done it. For whenever we turn away from Christ, we are crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting him to public disgrace (Heb 6:6). We too sacrifice Jesus to our greed like Judas, to our envy like the priests, to our ambition like Pilate. ‘Were you there when they crucified my Lord?’ the old negro spiritual asks. And we must answer, ‘Yes, we were there.’ Not as spectators only but as participants, guilty participants, plotting, scheming, betraying, bargaining, and handing him over to be crucified. We may try to wash our hands of responsibility like Pilate. But our attempt will be as futile as his. For there is blood in our hands. Before we can begin to see the cross as something done for us (leading us to faith and worship), we have to see it as something done by us (leading us to repentance). Indeed, ‘only the man who is prepared to own his share in the guilt of the cross’, wrote Canon Peter Green, ‘may claim his share in its grace’.