Contrary to a life of enforced austerity and the absence of pleasure, the denial of self is actually the means to true pleasure (joy) as one abides in Christ and discovers a new freedom from which one can truly enjoy life and the many and abundant gifts of God. How tragic that we resist the call of God because we foolishly listen to our deluded selves, believing that increased devotion will leave us in a lesser state, when in fact it is the path to unspeakable joy and enduring peace.
The pursuit of accurate self-knowledge is an essential starting point in modern Christian discipleship. I believe this is made more so in our day due to the overwhelming disposition of our culture toward always making people feel good about themselves. Additionally, the increasingly secular milieu of the nation obscures any meaningful comparison to the one to whom there is no comparison: Jesus Christ. By emphasizing only the eternal benefits coupled with an inaccurate understanding of oneself, the gospel may end up being received and understood as nothing more than an addendum to already well-lived life. In other words, “I’m really okay, but I know I need Jesus to get into heaven.”
So, how do we express the gospel of the kingdom beyond its modern reductionist version? You know, the detached consumer-oriented, drive-by evangelism that often relies on tracts and rote presentations—often between strangers.
Perhaps the best way to understand the goal of the kingdom and why Jesus came to earth is to recall more precisely what sin has ruined. In Genesis 3 we see a succession of four fundamental relationships that experience a break from God’s good design and intent. These four relationships are the building blocks for all human activity. Thus the effects of the fall extend far beyond the severance of man’s personal relationship with God...
Today when evangelicals speak of the gospel, they almost always mean, simply, the personal plan of salvation. This is generally limited to an activity in which we present people with some facts about Jesus, ask them to agree with these facts, and if they do, instruct them to invite him into their lives or pray the sinner’s prayer. Once they do this, we tell them, “You are saved!” We’ve heard this version of the gospel so many times that we don’t even bother to question it—we simply accept it as “the gospel.” However, when we put aside our culturally induced conceptions and study the scriptures, we discover...
It appears, based on some of the reactions to last week’s commentary, that we need to further explore the subject of the gospel of the kingdom. Let’s face it: what we believe about Jesus’ mission—why he came to earth—is an essential starting point in discipleship. The slightest deviation at the beginning can result in dramatic differences in our conclusions, in much the same way that starting a few degrees off course can lead you far from your intended destination.
It is all too evident that biblical discipleship is either absent or woefully inadequate to producing any tangible fruit, much less real freedom in Christ. Thus too many within the body are mired in sin management rather than freedom from it, while others remain shackled by past wounds and sinful choices, and far too many are discouraged by the elusiveness of peace that Christ promised. There are a number of reasons why I think we have come to neglect disciple making. Foremost may be...
This past week, my mother-in-law passed from this life to the next. Compounding the grief associated with her passing is the absence of our oldest son as he is halfway around the world serving in the Marine Corps. These events serve to remind me that this life is both brief and fleeting—that everything eventually changes and that any small measure of peace and security we derive from this life is never final. There is a melancholy that accompanies this realization, a sadness that reminds me what my sin has done to God’s good creation. It is during such a season that I am compelled to look beyond this world to Christ alone for my hope and comfort.
Personally, I am delighted to see that the alarming shift toward European-style socialism has suffered some measure of arrest. Americans, in large majority, appear committed to the constitutional idea of limited government (at least for the moment). However, the results also reveal the very limited and temporal nature of politics.
This is the conclusion to my series, "Changing Culture: A Study in Cultural Engagement." Here, we come to our third and final example of cultural engagement: the early Christian church and its triumph over the pagan culture of Rome. Once imperial power was discredited by the superior life and ethic of the Christian community, the church would build upon its newfound cultural credibility and eventually ascend to the heights of cultural power and influence. And, Western civilization would become the most successful civilization in history.
The second example in our study of cultural engagement is the legalization of abortion. The legalization of abortion did not emerge out of a vacuum nor did it appear as a sudden and unexpected contrast to established values. Roe v. Wade was the inevitable consequence of incremental cultural changes that began with the eighteenth-century Enlightenment. The Enlightenment would, among other things, give birth to the “autonomous self.” Modern man would seek to exalt himself above God, leading to sexual anarchy and removing all impediments to unfettered sexual expression.
Our first example of cultural engagement is Prohibition, which lasted from 1920 to 1933. The prohibition movement, which actually started in the 1840s, suffered a brief respite during the Civil War and was revived in 1869 with the creation of the Prohibition Party. However, it was the establishment of the Woman's Christian Temperance Union in 1873 that would mobilize its constituents—primarily the Protestant church—to achieve Prohibition in 1920. This was‚ in effect‚ the beginning of the culture war as we have come to know it.
Changing from the culture of death to a culture of life. This is really an audacious statement when you think about it and yet we talk of changing the culture all the time, as if this is an easy thing to do. Of course, as Christians, we do desire to see the culture reflect values and beliefs that represent the kingdom and honor Christ. However, when we speak this way we are speaking in terms that reflect an inadequate understanding of culture‚ what it is and how it is formed. The fact is, culture is a far more complex phenomenon‚ especially our culture today with its extraordinary contest and synthesis of ideas, values, and worldviews.
It is said that the test of true ignorance is our inability to recognize our own ignorance. (Or, in the words of Forrest Gump, “Stupid is as stupid does.”) According to the latest Pew Research, it seems that American Christians not only lack basis knowledge essential to the Christian faith, they also don't seem to know what they don't know. As a result, the once robust historic Christian faith is being lost to "pop" Christianity, which has no serious theological distinctives and which none seem required.
For the past several weeks I have been attempting to outline a Christian response to Islam, Muslims, and the politically contentious issue of the “Ground Zero” mosque. I think—given the many critical responses to my series—that we easily embrace the love of neighbor in theory but struggle when it comes to actual practice, especially when that “neighbor” represents a social, cultural, or political offense. What I have heard repeatedly is concession to the biblical admonitions to love our neighbor followed by “but…” when it comes to Muslims.
The “Ground-Zero Mosque” is a highly politicized issue, one in which Christians—speaking publicly as Christians—would be wise to avoid because ours is not a political enterprise. The mission of the church is to facilitate and proclaim the gospel of the kingdom, the good news of peace and reconciliation. If those behind the Cordoba Initiative are determined to proceed with the construction of this mosque, despite the overwhelming sentiment of their neighbors, then they will no doubt bear the consequences of their “witness.” Let us not compromise ours by descending into a politicized war of words that centers on our rights.
Islam is more than mere religion in the recently secularized Western sense—i.e., private beliefs that are largely irrelevant to public life. In contrast, Islam is an all-encompassing socio-political-religious ideology in which more radicalized Muslims emphasize jihad and the more troubling social/justice positions that to them are consistent with a faithful rendering of the Koran. When taken to these extremes, this interpretation of Islam promotes violence and conquest as legitimate means of faithful expression. Under this rendering, jihad is to Islam what evangelism is to Christianity. Conversely, there are those within the Islamic faith who vehemently oppose what they say is a perverted interpretation of the Koran. Which interpretation is correct?
First, let me just say that to assert “Christianly” thoughts on the topics of Islam, Muslims, and the Ground-Zero mosque is by no means to suggest that this is the authoritative biblical view on these matters. Merely, mine is an earnest attempt to filter these subjects through the lens of a consciously Christian worldview in hopes of finding that way which may be most pleasing to God, both for myself and the church at large.
Okay, I knew it was going to happen. I even prefaced last week’s commentary on public education by granting the fact that “this is a dicey issue that can get you into a lot of trouble....” However, my appeal was couched in terms of inviting examination of the issue from a thoughtful Christian perspective and “wrestling” with the answers—honestly and intelligently—because our faith demands self-examination when it comes to our engagement with the world. The reaction was disappointing. My concern is not so much with the fact that some folks assumed a different view of the topic but with the manner and content of their disagreement.
I am frequently asked for my thoughts on “public education.” Granted this is a dicey issue that can get you into a lot of trouble very quickly. However, the question is legitimate, given education’s enormous role in shaping our children; thus, as Christians, we have no choice but to wrestle with the answers, even if we don’t like them...