Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Drawn to Pleasure

John Piper's book, Desiring God, is great, and you should read it. It seems that Piper's favorite saying is, "God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him." This is very true.

The Lord has drawn me into the pleasure of knowing Him, and I want to help others know that same pleasure. It is what they are already seeking without knowing it. The other night as I sat down to pray, a bunch of theological issues that I had been thinking and praying about over the week prior were filling my head. I like to think about questions until I have answers; if there is an controversial issue, I feel the need to sort it out in my head so that I can both know what to think and do and help others with the same issue. But the Lord reminded me that my interaction with Him is not solely intellectual. I do not only learn knowledge from Him; I develop intimate, personal knowledge of Him through supernatural experience that surpasses understanding.

He reminded me that He wants me to take pleasure in Him. Not only that, but He wants to be my greatest pleasure of all, the object of my heart's desire. If that is not the case, the Scriptures indicate there is an extremely serious problem with me. This idea of enjoying God and being a "Christian hedonist" (a phrase coined by Piper) is not an optional rung in the ladder of Christianity, one of those steps of maturity that you might attempt someday after you've taken enough sermon notes. It's absolutely indisposable and foundational. It's equally for the newest Christians and the oldest. Don't go another step until you have hot, passionate desire.

One of the passages that God brought to my mind was I Corinthians 13:1-3. It precedes verses 4-8 which tell us that love is not just words and feelings, but action. Verses 1-3, however, contain a list of really commendable works that one could do and a declaration that those works are absolutely worthless if they are done without love. So then, what is love? This text shows us that love goes beyond feelings of fondness, and it also goes beyond our actions. It is even possible to give all your possessions to the poor and sacrifice your life for a great cause (even the cause of Christ, I speculate) and still not have love. So what does it really mean to love God if you can be a bona fide martyr who ministered to people with powerful spiritual gifts, had perfect doctrine, and led an impeccable life of service to the poor, and still not necessarily have loved God?

It seems that one attribute of real love that cannot be counterfeited is that a lover takes pleasure in that which he loves. People tend to spend their time doing what brings them the most pleasure (or what avoids the most pain, e.g. if we didn't work 40 hours a week, some painful financial consequences would follow.) This is why people don't pray much and don't read the Bible much: it gives them less pleasure than the other activities which compete for their time. Most Christians I know desire to desire Him, but they don't find it happening. They want to enjoy Him, but they just don't, and they can't figure it out. Sadly, some have resigned themselves to believing that fellowship with God was never meant to be pleasurable in the first place and so when they speak of prayer, they speak of it as a duty, an obligation that the Christian should fulfill in hope of some sort of unknown payoff in the future. And so they complete just the minimum amount of prayer, Bible study, and fellowship with the saints that it takes to avoid feeling guilty.

The built-in human desire for pleasure has, in the name of holiness, been denounced too often as a function of the base, sin nature of man. Just like the other atributes God has made us with, the desire for pleasure can produce heinous results when it is perverted, but that does not mean the original, God-given form is evil.

In fact, desire and pleasure are the two of the biggest features in the human relationship created by God to most prominently display what the relationship between Jesus and human beings ought to be: marriage. Sex is the thing that distinguishes the marriage relationship from every other type, such as father-child, mother-child, friend-friend, and brother-sister relationships. And where in nature did God choose to give human beings the most poignant experience of both the longing of desire and the mountain tops of pleasure, but in sex? Since sex is central to marriage, what does this picture in the created order tell us about God? Remember that, "...what may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse..." (Romans 1:19-20) The created order testifies loudly that loving God means desiring Him passionately and finding your highest pleasure in him.

So, where are you? What are you supposed to do if you realize that you don't currently find your greatest pleasure in God? You want to want Him, and you wish you could enjoy Him. You may have found a replacement for the ecstasy of God's presence such as the pleasure of learning intellectual truths about God or service or ministry. These pursuits are good, but do not use them as a substitute for the incomparable rapture of the fire of God's presence. Realize that the situation in which you find yourself is not off the beaten path; it is not uncommon to human beings. In fact, I think it is, in a way, the central struggle for every person - the struggle to walk in faith. Hebrews 11:1 says, "Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen." I don't think I would be taking too great a liberty with the text to replace the word 'seen' with either the word 'felt' or the word 'experienced.' Just like Abraham waiting for his ninety-year-old wife to bear him son, you have been promised that in God are greater pleasures than you can imagine (I Peter 1:8, Psalm 16:11, and 37:4), but at this point, you haven't experienced it. In fact, your experience so far tells you that the opposite is true. Like Abraham, you may have begun to doubt that such an incredible, impossible thing could actually be true and so you have launched your own effort to satisfy your craving for pleasure in God with the pleasure of ministry or service or learning or other good pursuits.

If you can just get the smallest spark of faith in your heart that your greatest joy in this life can be dwelling in God's presence, a mustard seed of faith that God will answer you in such a manner when you seek His face (read Psalm 27), then go someplace alone and ask God for it! Pray and meditate on His Word in faith that He will change your heart and supernaturally reveal Himself to you as you seek Him. "But without faith, it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him." (Hebrews 11:6) Do it today, and keep doing it; He will meet you there.

Sunday, April 24, 2005

Another McLaren Post

I know this blog is supposed to be about evangelism - this is related. There's just so much wrong with Brian McLaren's teaching, and he's such a central figure in the emergent church movement that it merits refutation. I posted the following as a comment to an entry on 'one mo blog.'...

In my finding out about the emergent church, it seems that it is necessarily postmodern in philosophy and that Brian McLaren is the main spokesperson. Just want to state my assumptions here. There is something very wrong with blurring the lines of truth and deciding to take your cues from something other than the Lord Himself, chiefly and authoritatively through Scripture. Postmoderism is in direct conflict with the Word of God. The postmodernism I am attacking here is the one that it seems (from reading A.G.O. and his open letter to Chuck Colson) McLaren has been carried away with. It affirms that there is absolute truth but is extremely skeptical of anyone's claim to know that truth. But the Holy Spirit reveals the truth to us in spite of any linguistic, cultural, demonic, perspectivistic, or emotional barriers in our lives. This is absolutely clear from reading, in context, 1 John 2:20-21, Heb. 8:8-11, Jeremiah 31:31-34, John 8:32, Matthew 15:1-9, and the fact that God has commanded us to teach His commandments across cultures using human language.

McLaren's humility is false. A lot of his charm comes from his constant statements of self-skepticism, which are only evidence that his teaching is not anointed by God but rather by academia. Did Jesus, or any of the prophets, or any of the apostles, or the early church leaders demonstrate their humility by prefacing their declarations of truth (which in some cases subsequently sealed their fate as martyrs) with comments like "some of what I'm saying is wrong, I just don't know which part it is."? That is not humility at all, because humility means having an accurate (not deprecated) view of oneself and of God. An accurate view will cause one to fall on His face in speechless awe at the wonder of God and yet have the boldness to enter His presence through confidence in the work of the cross and inequivocally declare the truth to the lost of the world who so desparately need it instead of this double-speak. Why is McLaren publishing books if by his own confession he is writing partly in error? Because he thinks that good ideas are the best you can get, that you can't really, finally understand the truth and then subsequently communicate it without introducing error. This is why he refuses to acknowledge the authority of the Bible:

"That oft quoted passage in second Timothy doesn't say, All Scripture is inspired by God and is authoritative, it says that Scripture is inspired and useful - useful to teach, rebuke, correct, instruct us to live justly, and equip us for our mission as the people of God. That's a very different job description than we moderns want to give it. We want it to be God's encyclopedia, God's rule book, God's scientific text, God's easy-steps instruction book, God's little book of morals for all occasions. The only people in Jesus' day who would have had anything close to these expectations of the Bible would have been the Scribes and Pharisees. Right?"(p.52, The Story We Find Ourselves In)
McLaren voices many insightful criticisms of the church, but don't let agreement with his criticisms draw you into agreement with his propositions. The thing that really makes me angry is that He doesn't point to Jesus Himself as the solution to the church's problems, but rather to the worldly shift from modernity to postmodernity. I want to shout when I read McLaren's stuff, "Look at Jesus! Gaze on His beauty and let Him supernaturally touch you! Seek His face until He fills your heart with fiery passionate love for Him!" My heart is groaning with love for our Lord Jesus and absolute hatred for the lies of postmodernity concerning the truth.

Saturday, April 23, 2005

Expose Brian McLaren

Ok, everybody, I've got to warn you in the strongest terms: do not heed the teaching of Brian McLaren. Here is a good review of McLaren's book, The Story We Find Ourselves In, written by Barney Coombs at Salt and Light Ministries. There are plenty of dangerous teachings out there, but this one needs more attention, because so many Christians are being carried away with his teaching. Here are a few quotes from that book which Coombs compiled; If you don't understand why these statements are grossly in error, then post a comment, and I will answer your question:

“Well, I’m wondering whether you have an infallible text…” (p.50)

“The Bible contains history….but lacks the modern concern for factual accuracy, corroborating evidence, and absolute certainty.” (p.56)

“That oft quoted passage in second Timothy doesn’t say, ‘All Scripture is inspired by God and is authoritative,’ it says that Scripture is inspired and useful—useful to teach, rebuke, correct, instruct us to live justly, and equip us for our mission as the people of God. That’s a very different job description than we moderns want to give it. We want it to be God’s encyclopedia, God’s rule book, God’s scientific text, God’s easy-steps instruction book, God’s little book of morals for all occasions. The only people in Jesus’ day who would have had anything close to these expectations of the Bible would have been the Scribes and Pharisees. Right?” (p.52)

“Old notions of truth and knowledge are being deconstructed. But we don’t need to get into all that vocabulary. The old notions are being questioned”…and “new understandings of truth and knowledge that might improve on them haven’t been fully developed yet.” (p.61)

“Truth means more than factual accuracy.” “My goal in life is to help people love God and to know Jesus, not to hate the Buddha or disrespect Muhammad.” (p.60) “I’d have to say the world is better off having these religions than having no religions at all, or just one, even if it were ours.” (p.63)

“I’m not against systematic theologies. I’m beginning to see them as an artifact of worship from the modern era, no less sincere or magnificent than medieval cathedrals – in fact you could call them modern conceptual cathedrals” (p.24). Neo goes on to say, “I believe that the modern version of Christianity that you have learned from your parents, your Sunday school teachers, and even your campus ministries is destined to be a medieval cathedral. It’s over, or almost over.”

“In a post modern world we disabuse ourselves of the myth that theory precedes practice” (p.162).

Servant Evangelism

Kande Wilson from the Cincinnati Vineyard has a good blog called the Outreach Chick Blog. This post from it is about some of the experiences of her church doing servant evangelism in Cincinnati.

Friday, April 22, 2005

Preaching Hell to Postmodern People

In contrast to the errors of Brian McLaren and the postmodern/emerging church movement that seeks to minimize the doctrine of eternal condemnation and salvation in favor of a challenging-sounding, works-based philosophy, there is some great wisdom out there for preaching the gospel in a totally faithful, Spirit-led way that will make sense to postmodern people. Thanks to my friend Nathan Fleischaker for directing me to this wonderful article by Tim Keller, pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City. Read this article!!! Here's a snippet to whet your appetite:

"The gospel certainly is not less than the understanding of truths and principles, but it is infinitely more. The essence of salvation is knowing a Person (John 17:3). As with knowing any person, there is repenting and weeping and rejoicing and encountering. The gospel calls us to a wildly passionate, intimate love relationship with Jesus Christ, and calls that 'the core of true salvation.' "

The guy on the bench

I was on my way to Quizno's for lunch yesterday, planning to have a tasty sub and then sit down to do the class reading for the next day and go over my research data. I passed a guy on a sidewalk bench with a sign out asking for money. I don't usually give people money for fear of misuse, but this was a perfect opportunity. "Do you want a sandwich?" I asked, and he said he would. I sat down next to him and we both dug into our sandwiches; I was pretty hungry. We started talking about random stuff, and a high school girl came up and asked the homeless guy for a cigarette, a request which he did not grant. I pointed out that she was too young to smoke and asked her if her parents let her smoke, to which she replied that she was 18 (riiiigggghhhht...) I was hoping to have an opportunity to speak some conviction to her, but she got on the bus and left.

I and the homeless guy sat for a long while talking about things. After he brought up religion and the fact that he grew up a Baptist in Texas, I asked him what he thought and learned that he pretty much stuck with his Baptist beliefs, but it was evident from other parts of his story that he justified certain immoral behaviors even though he knew what the Bible said about them. He just made excuses.

Now, he could have been giving me a story, but I don't think he was. I am fairly preceptive about fables, since I've talked to a number of homeless or disturbed people. This guy was all there, very much in control. After a while, I finally learned that he had been in prison for 13 years on a murder charge. Living in a bad neighborhood in Dallas, his stepdaughter was offered drugs several times by local hoodlums. He warned them never to offer her drugs again, but they flaunted his threat. So after it happened again, he picked up a firearm, walked down on the street, and shot and killed as many as he could, 3 of 7, laid down the weapon, and waited for the police. Remorseless, he was sentenced to over two hundred years in prison and spent 13 years in solitary confinement until he was finally granted a retrial, had his sentence reduced, and was released. Wow.

So, he can't really stand to sleep indoors anymore or to be around too many people. After all that lonely time, he's pretty much a loner now, too. If he has enough supplies, he'll just stay at his campsite for days on end. And sometimes he has to walk out of church early, because he just can't take being in the big room with so many people anymore. He has everything he needs: some clothes, a bike (with all necessary tools in a handy zipper bag attached to the bike), a helmet, and a backpack.

This guy needs a friend, so I will try to be one and continue to share with him. Although he professes Christ, he was unrepentant about his crime. Pray for this guy.

Friday, April 15, 2005

Brian McLaren Danger/ Review of "A Generous Orthodoxy"

I've been researching the "Emergent Church" for about a month. The biggest figure in this movement is Brian McLaren, and his teaching is unbiblical and dangerous. But before I start on McLaren, let me say that lack of definition and central agreement is a hallmark of the emerging church and so everything by that name cannot necessarily be lumped together. Some people may mean something different and might not be straying from the Bible. To some, "emergent" just means being more relevant to culture. If you want a quick understanding of McLaren’s error, read his paper submitted to an evangelism roundtable at the Billy Graham Center at Wheaton College and the strong response of Duane Litfin, president of Wheaton. I read his book, "A Generous Orthodoxy," and it makes me want to hurl.

The best lies are mixed with truth. The more truth mixed in, the more effective the lie. In his book, McLaren spends most of his time criticizing the current state of the church, and almost all of his criticisms are insightful and need to be heard. I spent 85% of my reading time nodding my head, because his criticism was apt. This is what hooks most people; most of the praise I hear for McLaren lauds his assessment of the current state and blithely opens itself to his remedies. What sickens me is the ungodly solutions he proposes which basically are to compromise conservative theology with liberal, labeling propositional truth claims as "modern" instead of biblical.

Like the definition of the emergent church, postmodernism is a hard thing to nail down, but I think I have some insights. McLaren vigorously refutes the idea that postmodernism denies absolute truth. If you read his letter to Colson and A Generous Orthodoxy, you will see that McLaren believes the postmodern myth that although there may be absolute truth, we can't claim that we know it absolutely. He writes (p. 286) , “In Christian theology, this anti-emergent thinking is expressed in systematic theologies that claim (overtly, covertly, or unconsciously) to have final orthodoxy nailed down, freeze-dried, and shrink-wrapped forever.” Jesus said, however, "You shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free." To deny the believer's supernatural enlightening and knowledge of the truth denies one of the fundamental aspects of the New Covenant. The writer of Hebrews 10:16 quotes Jeremiah 31:33, "But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put My law in their minds, and write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. No more shall every man teach his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, 'Know the Lord,' for they all shall know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them, says the Lord." If he were to remain consistent with his claims, McLaren would certainly take issue with the "modernism" of the analytical, dichotomistic thinking that the apostle John displays when he wrote, "But you have an anointing from the Holy One, and you know all things. I have not written to you because you do not know the truth, but because you know it, and that no lie is of the truth." We are not subject to the same sea of doubt that the postmodern philosophers allow to bully them into hopelessness about accurately communicating truth across cultures using human language, because we have the Holy Spirit, God Himself, who gives us the knowledge. If God is for us, who can be against us? Yes, we as Christians claim boldly to have exactly what the world thinks laughable and ridiculous; we know and communicate through the power of the Spirit the eternal and absolute (but not exhaustive) truth about who God is and who we are. Thank God, He has given us the answer.

There are too many troubling errors in McLaren's teaching to report here, but the most glaring of them is probably this, from p.260 of A Generous Orthodoxy: "I must add, though, that I don't believe making disciples must equal making adherents to the Christian religion. It may be advisable in many (not all!) circumstances to help people become followers of Jesus and remain within their Buddhist, Hindu, or Jewish contexts." This is in direct contradiction to 1 Corinthians 6:14-18, "...what communion has light with darkness?"

Ok, now for the bottom line. The church has problems that stem from following human solutions and guidance instead of seeking the supernatural experience of God's power, guided by every jot and letter of His Word. McLaren's academic, futile, and dangerous errors are more of the same and will not yield lasting good fruit. You want to be relevant to the post-modern culture? You have to see Him and know Him. If you've fallen into relying on five-point methods and your own human actions, including prayer and Bible study, then repent. Prayer alone changes nothing, but when God hears prayer, He intervenes to save us and reveal Himself. Bible study without a heart that cries to understand God experientially as a father, lover, and friend will yield nothing but religiosity, futility of thought, and pride, just like it did for the Pharisees. Transitioning from modern to postmodern in order to be more palatable to the world is a just another junky human idea contrary to Romans 12.

Saturday, April 09, 2005

Take Action: Pray, Write, and Give

Remember the prisoners as if chained with them - those who are mistreated - since you yourselves are in the body also. (Hebrews 13:3)

On the right hand side of this web page, you will find links of various types; one category is labeled "take action." In this post, I'd like to highlight one of the organizations whose website is linked there. Voice of the Martyrs publishes information about the persecution of Christians worldwide. I encourage you to browse their website and sign up on their email list. I signed up and regularly receive notices about Christians in foreign countries who have been falsely accused and arrested for their faith in Jesus. VoM provides easy links in their emails that allow you to send a letter of encouragement to that brother or sister in his own language and also to lobby government officials to release them.

Right now, their top story is about a church in Khambay, Pakistan that was attacked during its Easter services. Four armed persons opened fire during the service, killing one and wounding six.

Take time to pray for this congregation and other specific Christians you can learn about through VoM. By understanding the sacrifice that some of our brethren are making in order to follow Christ, we will be emboldened to sacrifice what we have as well - money, social position, reputation, safety, security, and more - in order to spread the gospel. And by praying for them and sending letters to them in prison, we can ease their burdens. I encourage you not to forget them.