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Daniel of Doulogos Name:Daniel
Home: Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada
About Me: I used to believe that evolution was reasonable, that homosexuality was genetic, and that people became Christians because they couldn't deal with the 'reality' that this life was all there was. I used to believe, that if there was a heaven - I could get there by being good - and I used to think I was more or less a good person. I was wrong on all counts. One day I finally had my eyes opened and I saw that I was not going to go to heaven, but that I was certainly going to suffer the wrath of God for all my sin. I saw myself as a treasonous rebel at heart - I hated God for creating me just to send me to Hell - and I was wretched beyond my own comprehension. Into this spiritual vacuum Jesus Christ came and he opened my understanding - delivering me from God's wrath into God's grace. I was "saved" as an adult, and now my life is hid in Christ. I am by no means sinless, but by God's grace I am a repenting believer - a born again Christian.
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Daniel's posts are almost always pastoral and God centered. I appreciate and am challenged by them frequently. He has a great sense of humor as well.
- Marc Heinrich

His posts are either funny or challenging. He is very friendly and nice.
- Rose Cole

[He has] good posts, both the serious like this one, and the humorous like yesterday. [He is] the reason that I have restrained myself from making Canadian jokes in my posts.
- C-Train

This post contains nothing that is of any use to me. What were you thinking? Anyway, it's probably the best I've read all day.
- David Kjos

Daniel, nicely done and much more original than Frank the Turk.
- Jonathan Moorhead

There are some people who are smart, deep, or funny. There are not very many people that are all 3. Daniel is one of those people. His opinion, insight and humor have kept me coming back to his blog since I first visited earlier this year.
- Carla Rolfe
 
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Friday, March 25, 2011
What kind of Christians are we trying to be?
Can I be open and shamelessly honest with you, dear Internet reader?

I started my faith ignorant of the bible, but I was granted a hunger for truth, and began to read the scriptures over and over again in a strength that felt all my own, but was certainly God's grace at work in me. With each reading of the bible I became more certain of some things, and less certain of others. I began to challenge beliefs I had picked up in my early life - things I heard on television, or that others had said with enough authority that I took their word as truth, but things which ultimately scripture refuted. As many errors as my eyes were opened to see, these I set aside without remorse, in my passionate pursuit of the truth.

In a short while I became one of those rare Christians who actually had read the whole bible, and then, later, and rarer still, one who had read the whole bible more than once, then more than twice, then more than a dozen times, and so on. I refused to agree with scripture the way that some agree with a software license - you know, where you don't bother reading any of it, scroll to the bottom, and check off the "I agree" box in order to install or run your program? I had enough grace working in me that I was delivered out of being that kind of Christian.

Then again I was delivered from being the sort of Christian who reads the bible once and forever after regards it as a reference manual, to be consulted, but never read through, except rarely, for recreational purposes, or to follow along in sermons on Sunday. They might crack it open in moments of "need" and then only to the psalms and the gospels to give them a temporary spiritual "shot in the arm". No, I ventured into that (dishearteningly) rare realm of actually reading the bible over and over and over again. Not because I thought myself a better Christian for doing so, or because I wanted to have something to brag about - rather because I was hungry for it, ashamed of my ignorance, and the more I read it, the more convinced I was that God's word was my lifeline to God Himself - correcting me, leading me, assuring me. How could I follow Christ and ignore His word?

As I mentioned earlier, In studying the scriptures, many false notions I had picked up in my ignorance came to light, and were set aside. There were things that I had always thought were in the bible, that were (in fact) quite absent - and again there were things in scripture I had never imagined to find, but there they were plain as day. I found that there were many things that I had been told about Christianity, or had seen on television, or had believed for whatever reason - that scripture plainly denied, so that I wondered how on earth anyone could have propogated such errors. Than again there were things in scripture so profound and beautiful that I could not understand why these things weren't being shouted daily from rooftops everywhere - things that I had never heard anyone mention before in my life.

Even in the fellowship of other believers I found that many of the things "we" did as a congregation were not biblical, but were being done because that was the local tradition. I was perplexed to find more than a few of the traditions that were followed by this congregation or that congregation were not merely absent from scripture, but were even contrary to what Christ instructed. So it was that I came to see how few Christians there were that actually knew, from scripture, how to be Christians, or how to "do" church. It isn't like I ever made a conscious decision to compare what I saw in the church with what I read in scripture, rather at some point I became aware that there were only a precious few people I knew who (themselves) knew enough of the scriptures to reason from them on matters of Christian conduct.

It has been my experience, my burning desire since the day I came to Christ, to live a life that is pleasing to God. This desire was the fuel that burned in me, driving me to read and learn from the scriptures - not so that I could sit around and learnedly discuss what I had just read amongst some group of Christian elitist, nor was it to hear my own voice speaking the things of God with some academic authority (to the praise of men no less!), rather it was in order that I might find that seemingly elusive way to live in the one and only way God that God intends His children to live. That is why I read the scriptures, why I prayed, why I obeyed - in order that through these things I might know the peace that supasses understanding.

Some things were more difficult than others. How I grappled with the idea of walking in the Spirit for instance! What on earth (or in heaven above) could "walking in the Spirit" possibly mean? How does one go about walking in the Spirit? Here there is a fellow who says that it means to live sinlessly by finally and utterly surrendering the flesh to the will of God. Here another says that it means that the Holy Spirit is talking to you all the time, but that you just aren't listening, because you haven't developed spiritual ears to hear yet - another says that you have to obey every passing intuition that crosses your mind, for that is how God speaks, through gut feelings and intuition, and failure to follow every flitty though means you risk offending God. Still another hears voices, and another has dreams, all are trying to walk in the Spirit, but they are all doing different things. And so there was a lot of misinformation out there to wade through.

Like everyone else, and certainly like some of you reading this today - I was tossed to and fro, as it were, by the doctrines of men. I tried to achieve sinless perfection, I listened for voices and spiritual urges, I tried suppressionism, and legal adherence, and in trying out as many as seemed momentarily plausible I found that utter failure was the primary thread that ran through all these.

You know, I hope you can appreciate what I am saying. I knew the word of God, and I wanted to keep it perfectly, but I didn't know how to do that consistently.

It came to me one day, as I was meditating on the nature of my desire ("to be pleasing to God") that it was actually a fools errand that I was on.

The fact is, that I am already pleasing to God, not because of my obedience, but because I am in Christ. Do not the scriptures teach that God bestows grace on us in Christ according to the kind intention of God's will (cf.Ephesians 1:5-6)? God Himself predestined us to adoption as sons through Christ this in opposition to the idea of brokering some kind of adoption through ourselves or our own righteousness. When God redeemed us, He was redeeming what scripture describes as His own possession. Until I understood that redemption was the buying back of God's own property - that is, until I understood that God wanted me because I was His already, I didn't really understand redemption properly.

I began to ask myself, what kind of Christian I really wanted to be? Should I set aside whatever knowledge scripture imparted in order to try and be pleasing to God apart from the way outlined in the scriptures? How can a person please God? The answer is they cannot. That is why it is so important to wrap your mind around the fact that Christ has already pleased God.

God sent Christ to redeem those whom God had predestined to adoption as sons. I am the recipient of that same grace - a grace that cannot be appropriated by me or anyone else, but was (and had to be) bestowed upon me, in the mind of God, before there ever was an earth for man to walk upon. It is a grace that God delivered to me directly through Christ. In the wake of this, I ask myself, am I going to be the kind of Christian that is so focused on trying to please God in what I do, that I forget that the basis of my relationship with God is Christ (and not myself or what I do)?

That is a rubber-meets-the-road kind of meditation.

I think there comes a time in every faith where we have to ask some hard questions: am I being the Christian God has called me to be? Am I really abiding in Christ, or am I actually abiding in self? Am I really living the crucified life, or am I just conforming my life to a set of lifeless Christianized habits? Is what I do as a Christian drawing me nearer to Christ each day, or am I just becoming more church-y? Does attending all the meetings, reading the bible, and praying dutifully really draw me nearer to Christ, or am I doing all those things and still finding myself exactly as far away from Christ in my affections as ever I was? What am I resting in? Am I resting at all, and if I am, am I resting in my own (eventually) failing efforts? Is my rest really in Christ or is it in something else - something that is unwittingly displacing my rest in Christ?

Here is what I want to get at today. The reason our faith is supposed to be all about Jesus is because true faith really -is- all about Jesus.

My faith must be for Jesus, in Jesus, and coming to me through Jesus. I cannot draw near to God without drawing near to Christ. Unless my faith is decidedly aimed at knowing Christ, my faith is actually running amok.

Listen: Christianity is not about conforming myself properly to the one and only correct tradition; Christianity is about knowing Jesus. If our obedience is not driven by the desire to draw near to Christ - then our obedience serves no one but ourselves - it remains worldly, carnal, and inevitably fruitless. On judgment day, God isn't going to care one lick about how many rules the believer managed to keep. God is not going to be impressed, even if I have somehow managed to muster profound obedience because such obedience cannot bring reward, it only reveals the areas in my life where there was actually loss - for any obedience to God that is done for any other reason than to draw near to Christ (in order that we may know Him) - is corrupt, flawed, and worthless obedience. It missed the point, and there is no reward for corruption.

I don't know how many ways I should say this - but Christianity is all about drawing near to God in Christ. If that isn't behind whatever you are doing, then whatever it is you are doing is (in fact) a waste of your time - and how much greater a tragedy that is (or will be), if in doing what you do you think that you're doing just fine.

Paul didn't say that that the longing of his heart was to find some way to obey God. Paul mourned over his sin, even as every soul made righteous does - but Paul's longing was to know Christ. It was this desire to know Christ that drove Paul to obey? The certainty that disobedience took you off the path of knowing our Lord, provoked obedience in Paul. It was not fear that kept Paul, but love. He knew that that one cannot ascend the holy hill (that is, draw near to God) with impure hands, and so he pursued holiness (obedience) - in order to draw near to God - in order to know Christ more intimately.

If you have forgotten these things, or never understood them - look into the word of God again and see if this is not so. My heart's desire for myself, my wife, my children, my church, and for you dear reader, is that you would know the Lord, and in knowing Him, know the peace that surpasses understanding. In Him are all the promises yea and amen. In Him is our life hid. In Him, in Him, in Him.

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posted by Daniel @ 7:54 AM   2 comment(s)
Thursday, March 24, 2011
Gone To Be With His Saviour
Friends of ours have just lost their terminally ill child, Joel. He suffered through Peroxisomal Biogenesis Disorder (a disorder that fits somewhere in the Zellweger Spectrum) - which is a "mouthful" of a way to say that his soul was chosen by our Lord for a broken body and a difficult and short life.

His parents are wonderful, Christ honouring folks who have spent the last few years caring for, and profoundly loving, this fragile bundle of joy. I have more than once marvelled at their strength to bear what most of us would consider the most horrible sort of thing a person must bear: the certain knowledge that their little boy would suffer often, and eventually, and all too soon, succumb to the disorder.

Joel's life brought joy into this world - more joy than sorrow. He is with the Lord this morning, and not just free from pain, but in fullness of joy. He is with the Lord!

If you are inclined to pray, pray that our local body has the opportunity to minister to this family. Pray for Joel's parents, that they have the strength of certainty in the Lord, and that Christ's love would saturate their hearts and minds. Pray that they experience that peace which defies understanding, and comes from resting in Christ. Pray also for those local believers here who are uncertain about how they can minister to, or express their love for, this family.
posted by Daniel @ 6:17 AM   0 comment(s)
Wednesday, March 16, 2011
Stop acting like you've lost your muse.
Have you ever heard the sermon where you are told that you have to love the unlovable? I want to share something about that today.

It is easy to love my children, my spouse, and my friends, and by easy, I mean that I have an affection for them that motivates me. I don't have to work up this affection, nor do I have to work to draw it from some place within me in order to bring it out. It is just there, and it makes showing affection for these people natural and easy.

But my affections are necessarily limited. I don't know everyone that there is, and so when I try to love people in the world, I cannot draw that love out of some pre-existing personal affection I have for them.

It should come as no shock then that many of the "love the unlovable" sermons you will likely hear these days end up being about finding the right muse. The reason you aren't loving the unlovable (I am speaking as though I am preaching one of these sermons) is because you don't spend enough time with, or prayer on, such people. If you pray for them every day, and make an effort to spend time with them - they will become people that you care about - and loving them will become easier and more natural. In other words the reason you do not love is because you are not investing yourself in other people.

I have a serious problem with that sort of psycho-babble. First, it isn't biblical. God no where instructs us to foster affection in order to motivate love. That is just a human-o-centric crutch that many hold up to justify to themselves their own disobedience. I can't love my neighbor, they say, because the love isn't there. "Why isn't the love there?", asks the preacher who is about to answer his own question, "because you are not doing the work that fosters it."

Do you understand what is being suggested? It is easy for you to love your family, therefore, in order to make the command to love others easy, you need to do whatever it takes to make loving someone else easy also. In other words, you have to learn some trick that will make the yoke of loving others as light and easy as loving your family - and the best way to do that is by investing yourself in someone whom you don't presently show a lot of affection for.

Here is the thing though: the love I have, even for my family, is insufficient. How many times have I failed to love them with a perfect love? How many times has some selfishness in me trumped the love I ought to be expressing to them? Frankly, when I stop to think about it, I know that I could spend the rest of my life trying to love "properly" those who I already love the most - and I would never succeed. The very people who are easiest to love are loved insufficiently and -dare I say it- corruptly.

The notion then, that I should foster a better affection in order to make the command to love others more palatable not only contradicts, but in some congregations, supplants the biblical instruction. Listen: it is great that you find it easy to show affection for your family - but that affection is never going to be sufficient for you to love them the way Christ commands you to. How much less when you are trying to foster a similar, but ultimately lesser affection? How much less, I say, when this plan is being put forward as the way to make God's commands doable? Hello Pharisee? Have you found some way to make God's commands doable in the strength of your own flesh?

I contend therefore that the way to love others is not to try to make loving them easier. You can't even love those in your family with a perfect love, so trying to foster a better imperfect love for the "unlovable" is futile. Even if you do manage to make showing affection for someone you previously weren't "loving" - all you have done is found some muse by which you imagine you can do what God commands more easily. But I tell you that if God were satisfied with such buffoonery, He would have sent you a better muse instead of His Son.

The way to love others is to stop satisfying your own desires, that is, to set them aside, and (as an act of worship) do what God commands. You will not desire, nor will you ever desire (in your flesh) to love the unlovable. But you can deny that flesh, and allow the Spirit to do what God would have you do through you. This surrendering of self to the will of God is an act of worship - that is, your obedience is an act of exalting God. This is what it means to crucify yourself or to die daily, as Paul writes - it is the Christian "way" that we read about in scripture, that has been supplanted by religion.

Can I be forthright and frank? Of course I can, it's my blog. If you find it difficult to obey God, and are looking for some way to make it easier - what you are doing is setting the Christian way aside, and trying to find some other way to be a Christian. There is only one way to live as a Christian, and that way requires you to take up your cross - which is a metaphor for denying yourself the things that you want to do, and instead obeying the commands of God as an act of worship.

These are spiritual truths, and by that I mean, you will not really understand them unless or until God opens your understanding. But you can understand this: the problem is not that you haven't got the right motivation - the reason you are not obedient is not because you haven't found the right motivation, it is because you are trying to "spiritualize" your walk in the flesh.

Hear this: That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is Spirit - Pagans are not walking in the Spirit when they love their children, spouse, or friends; neither are you. Thus the advice to try and foster a similar love for the unlovable is (for all the smoke and mirrors) actually just a call to find the "bestest" way to walk in the flesh. Your problem isn't that you lack the right motivation - it is that you are trying to find the best way to make the flesh "act" spiritually.

Christians are not called to act spiritually, they are called to be spiritual. Since there is nothing in our flesh that is in and of it self spiritual, we are commanded to walk in the Spirit - a Spirit who is both with us but also foreign to us. We cannot walk in obedience to the Spirit while we are doing the will of our flesh, so to walk in the Spirit we must deny the desires of our flesh. Everyone who is born of Christ is -able- to do this because the Holy Spirit who is in us, not only enables us to do so, but yearns for us to do it - a yearning that we share as our own - a yearning that runs contrary to the yearnings of our mortal frame.

You see, we want to gratify both the yearnings of our flesh, and the yearnings of the Spirit, and that is why people invent crazy schemes like trying to find the right motivation for obedience. They refuse to surrender control of their life to God, refuse to deny their flesh the right to do as it pleases - but mitigate this failure, by trying to find someway to please God without setting the flesh aside - to find a way to make their flesh pleasing to God - but those who are in the flesh, or so the scriptures teach - cannot please God.

The solution is, as I have been saying, to stop trying to please God in your flesh. Stop trying to find some way to motivate your flesh to act spiritual. Even if you do find some way to motivate your flesh - you will be doing nothing spiritual - you will just be deceiving yourself into thinking that you have finally found a way to obey God in your flesh. No: the solution is to decide today whom you will serve - your flesh, or God.

Do you want to love the unlovable? No, you don't. God wants to. The only way God can do that in you is to do it through you when you get out of His way - that is, when you set aside your own desires, and present yourself to God as a willing servant.

I am not saying you are going to be perfect in this, you won't but this is what it means to walk in the Spirit, and as you learn to do so, you will find your love for God exploding. Godly desires will well up unclogged within. It is good stuff - real joy, real peace. The flesh wants none of it, but it is waiting for everyone who walks in the Spirit.

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posted by Daniel @ 7:28 AM   0 comment(s)
Sunday, March 06, 2011
The Rational Response.
Doctor to two patients addicted to the same poison, one is rational, the other irrational: This is a bottle of slow acting poison. It's effects are cumulative - every drop you drink will destroy you a little, an effect that cannot be reversed - there is no way to restore the damage done. Likewise there is no way to build up an immunity to its effects over time. Each drop you ingest brings you one drop closer to an easily avoidable, but otherwise utterly certain death.

Irrational Patient: Yes. I believe that is all true. I have put this all upon a scale and weighed it and have decided that even though it is killing me, and will eventually and more or less swiftly bring me to an easily avoidable death, yet I am going to ignore all that because I like the taste of this poison.

Rational Patient: I know that what you have said is true doctor. It is madness to consume (even a single drop of) poison if that same poison will do irreparable damage, and ushers in a waiting and certain death. I too like the taste of this poison, but I see now, having weighed the thing in my thoughts, that the reason I am destroying myself is because the it is the nature of this poison - the pleasure of it - that provokes me to slay myself by it. How can I continue to consume the thing that not only is killing me, but makes me a willing helper in its murder of me?

Clearly I am not really talking about a doctor and two patients. I am talking about the nature power of sin.

Sin's power is that it produces death in us. I described it metaphorically above, because I think doing so highlights the points I want to make understood today. The power of sin is that we want to indulge it. That's sin's power. That is what is meant when the author of scripture says that sin produces death in us. He is talking about the manner in which sin manifests itself within us. Or said another way, he is talking about the nature of our fallenness - the way in which our "fallenness" manifests itself or works. If we didn't want to indulge in sin, sin would have no power over us. The fact that we want to sin - even though we know it is death to do so, tells us that it is sin that is provoking this irrational response in us.

Without Christ, there can be no rational response to sin's dominion over us. When the Apostle Paul writes to the Romans about being in enslaved to sin, he is writing about being unable to escape sin's power (it makes you want to sin). Fear of the consequences may give us pause, but the hunger to sin eventually overcomes every fear, and drives us, at length, to sin again. Every motive we conjure to suppress sin's desires to hold out against them, whether for the sake of appearances, for fear of consequences, or even for the false hope of self mastery - all (without exception) fall short. We sin the very moment exhaustion overtakes us. That is what it means to be fallen. That is what it means that there is none righteous, not even one. No one is born into this fallen world, that does not experience this, and none can escape it.

So when I say that without Christ there is no rational response to sin's dominion over us, I am drawing a line between what we are able to do in ourselves and what we are able to do when we are in Christ. In Christ we are able, not only to see sin's dominion, but to be free from it. Free in this sense - though we will still want to sin - there will be an alien desire within us to please God rather than our self. Sin is, after all, rebellion against God. Instead of saying, "not sinning" we say, "not rebelling" - it means the same. If we say, "not sinning" we tend to think of just not breaking a set of rules. But rebellion resides in our hearts first can be there even when our hands are idle. It isn't what we do that damns us, it is what we are that damns us. What we do is just the outflow of what we are. This is the foundational truth that our Lord laid out when he said that the mouth speaks out of the heart's treasure. The problem isn't the mouth, it's the heart.

But Christ is Israel's new heart - the one God promised to give to Israel. When you become a Christian, you are put into Christ, who was an Israelite according to the flesh. You are grafted into the olive tree that is the Israel of God - so that the new heart of Israel, becomes your new heart also - that being Christ. Out of this Heart, to continue the metaphor, flows the ability to respond to sin in a rational way - that is, to turn away from it, and towards God.

To repent is to be reconciled to God. We become reconciled to God when we stop rebelling against His rightful rule over us. The rational response to sin is repentance. But no man can repent unless God grants it. That is how profoundly inescapable the fall of mankind truly is - no man can come to Christ (ie. repent) unless the Father draws him. Thus there can be no faith where there is no desire to be reconciled to God - for why would a man who hates God, and wants only to satisfy his own desires, have anything to do with God? There is no room for such a man to trust in God to save him, because he doesn't want to be reconciled to God - he cannot want that (that is the nature of his sinful predicament) - he only wants to avoid condemnation. He is God's enemy, and like a leopard, is unable to change his spots.

When God draws a person to Christ, and grants them the repentance that ends in faith, they are baptized in (ie. put into) the Holy Spirit by Christ Himself - it is the Spirit, the very presence of the Holy Spirit, that makes possible the only rational response to sin. The only rational response to sin (rebellion) is an obedience that flows into the hands from the new Heart. We have access to the new Heart (Christ) through the Holy Spirit who is in every believer. Thus every genuine believer has been set free from sin's bondage - that is, set free from sin's power - the power being that we so want to sin, that we eventually do. Now we have a new desire - a desire to please God in obedience - a desire that is foreign to our old nature - foreign to the old self, or old man (as Paul writes).

It isn't complicated, but it can be confusing if we are expecting something different. If we expect that we are suddenly supposed to be immune to temptations, or free from sinful desires - then we will be fairly perplexed about why we keep on having the "same old" desires - and why we keep giving into them. We do this because we have a habit of doing this. There was a time when we could do nothing else. So we continue to walk the old roads, except now we do so with a crushing guilt, and a real concern about the legitimacy of our faith. The problem here is that we don't understand that Christ sets us free in order that we have a genuine option to obey Him. Like having a new pair of shoes - you didn't have the option to wear them until you possessed them, and now that you do have new shoes, you still wear your old ones because they are more comfortable. The work of the Spirit is to make your old shoes uncomfortable, and your new shoes more comfortable.

Thus, the whole of sanctification can be summed up with the thought that God is doing a work in you by which you hate your sin more and more, and by which you have a real option every moment to obey God - so that you increasingly obey God, even as you increasingly hate sin. You will ever feel increasingly loathsome over your sin, but also strive more and more to root out every false way within yourself. You will struggle with prayer - because you will no longer be satisfied with lip-service. You will struggle with heart attitudes, because you know that they define you more than what your outward behaviour shows. You will loathe your many failures, and cherish the Lord's mercy and grace all the more. This is the work of the Spirit in you. Conforming you into someone who wants to obey God - or said another way - progressively causing you to partake of God's own desires - for it is God working in you to produce this will in you, to drive you to obey from your heart - it is a work that requires the putting to death of the old ways - the deeds of the body - a painful work, but with much precious fruit. People think that the refiner's fire is some painful experience that a few believers go through - but I tell you that your failures, your suffering because you want to be righteous and find yourself lacking - the horribly sloooooow progress of sanctification in your life that causes you often to despair - this -is- God refining you, this is the refiner's fire. It is not some passing problem, some temporary valley you walk through - it is the life you are in, and you will not step out of that fire in this lifetime.

But be encouraged - for just as Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego stood in the furnace unscathed, so you also, for all the light and heat are spiritually unscathed - for your life, the one that matters, is hid in Christ, so entirely secure and safe that all your failure cannot undo it.

Take encouragement then, Christian - beloved of God, chosen, and placed into the Holy Spirit by Jesus personally - and this as your own personal guarantee that He will not leave or forsake you, and that He will finish the work He began in you.

For today however, and every day - you have the power of Christ to obey, which is your rational response - your reasonable act of worship.

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posted by Daniel @ 6:25 AM   1 comment(s)
Friday, March 04, 2011
I am finally an internet "somebody"!
I posted a brief article on the Trinity over at the New Calvinist Gadfly blog (where I am a member in "okay" standing).

If you haven't been following the new blog, you should check it out, I love the other guys who are writing, and it's all good stuff.

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posted by Daniel @ 8:53 AM   3 comment(s)
Hebrews 3:13
But encourage one another day after day, as long as it is still called "Today," so that none of you will be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. - Hebrews 3:13 [NASB]


The author of the book of Hebrews is talking about encouraging one another in the faith - in particular, encouraging one another to persevere in the faith.

When I think of encouragement, I sometimes picture a coach who pushes his team harder than they would have pushed themselves - and gets more from them than they would have given had they been left to their own devices. He provokes them to greater effort by interceding in those moments when they would settle for less than their very best. He pushes them out of the "comfort zone" and into that excruciating badland where only grit and determination can keep you moving forward. He encourages them be positively reinforcing the thought that they can do it if they just continue the course - if they just keep from giving up.

I can also picture the tender mother with the small child who is just learning how to speak. Here she is listening to the babe make a noise, there is the smile and squeals of joy, the mother imitates the child, and they go back and forth until the little one begins to imitate the mother - and what a show of smiles and hugs when the little one does! She is overwhelmed by the mother's outlandish show of love and support and so is provoked, even in her tender age, to pursue such adoration by making the noises that provoke it.

I can also imagine the father who has just watched his son strike out and lose the ball game. He sees his younger self in that boy who can't make it off the field fast enough - the tears welling up in his face as he is close enough now to look into Dad's eyes. This small "failure" eats the father's soul as easily as it devours the joy in the boy - and into this the father begins to apply words of comfort, as dressings on a wound. He reminds his son that it is the pitcher's job to strike out batter's and that several other boys have struck out today. He tells the son that he knows how it feels, and that the best thing for it is an ice cream - and isn't it hot out today anyway? "Don't let it get you down son," he says, "Don't let it beat you - you're better than that."

But I don't think any of these examples fits the picture of encouragement the author of Hebrews intends. This encouragement is not the encouragement to clench your teeth, put your head down, and just keep going when you feel like your a Christian failure. It is neither a doting and exaggerated celebration of every spiritually insignificant event we see in others, nor is it merely a timely empathy, and comforting words.

These sorts of things motivate us through our desires - through our emotions. They depend upon manipulating the essence of our fallen nature. Don't get me wrong, I -want- to be comforted when I fail, but such a desire is not a spiritual thing - it is a desire that rises straight out of my pride, and my demand to be loved and respected by everyone all the time. If I need to push past my comfort zone, I may well be motivated to do so with words that cater to the glory of my own success. Yes, -I- can do it; it won't be easy, but when I am done I can say I did something a lesser man would have given up on. The stroking of an ego can carry a person far beyond their comfort zone. Again, I love to hear how great I am - who doesn't? But that only reinforces that sinfully profound contentment we all have with our own bad selves.

No, I think the encouragement the author of Hebrews is talking about is not a worldly encouragement - not something that depends upon, and caters to our mortal frame. It isn't a message of persevere because you're so awesome, or persevere because you can do it, or persevere because we all fall off the horse and must get back on. The encouragement I think the author is talking about is an encouragement that only God can give.

Do you feel like your faith is crippled? Do you feel like you have been in a downward spiral in your faith? Are you burdened by the weight of your own indifference to obedience? You know you should obey all the time, and find yourself more disobedient than obedient - and the guilt of your failure is suffocating you? I want to offer you encouragement today, but it isn't the encouragement the world offers - in fact I am not even offering it to you, I am just telling you about it, and if you are encouraged, you will be encouraged by God. I don't say that to sound sappy or to come off as humble by painting myself as just a mere servant. I say that because Paul writes in Romans 15 that it is "God who gives perseverance and encouragement" to the saints. So what I am about to write, will encourage you only if God Himself gives you that encouragement by opening your heart to it. If you are encouraged to persevere therefore, understand who it was who was encouraging you - and marvel at it.

Here then is your encouragement. Right now, Christ is sitting at the right hand of the Father, interceding for you (cf. Romans 8:34). Does that sound stale? Is it not encouraging enough? Hear then the conversation in heaven on your behalf:

Father - I know this one is failing. I know this one is losing confidence in Me - I know this one is spiraling down - a failure... but Father, look to what I have done for this one - this ransomed sinner -must- -not- -fall-. See my wounds? The name of this ransomed sinner is written on my palms - did you not give this one to me? Is this one not my bride? What you have made one, will you now allow that to be torn asunder? Forgive, strengthen, and preserve this one.

I don't pretend to know what the intercession of Christ looks like, or sounds like - but I do know what Christ has done for me, and what He has done all who are truly His. He will not let even one of us fall - His finished work on Calvary demands satisfaction.

Thus, our encouragement is not to persevere because if we do it'll be awesome. Our encouragement is that everything which burdens us now cannot hinder the finished work of Christ. It is the devil's work to burden you thus - and how he rejoices to see you stumble beneath it - but I tell you, Christ's work will. Not. Fail. No matter your emotions, no matter your burden - Christ will not fail you. When Paul writes to Timothy, "If we are faithless, He remains faithful, for He cannot deny Himself." (cf. 2 Timothy 2:13) he means that even when our trust in God wanes, he remains faithful - that is, that his trustworthiness does not wax and wane according to our own trustworthiness - but remains unchanged, unshakable, even in the wake of our own "faith" failures.

Be encouraged then, that you serve a God who is faithful to you. Don't let yourself be only superficially comforted by the passing thought that God will sustain you because He is faithful: drink this truth into your soul. Think long hours about who God is. Don't let God remain a benign but vague notion in your thinking - meditate on God as often as you can. He is faithful. Meditate on the work Christ is doing daily (even moment by moment) on your behalf - talk to yourself about what it is Jesus has done, and is presently doing for you. Pray and thank God, pray and plead, pray and pray and pray - and if you aren't doing it already, read the bible as often as you can, for as long as you can.

The encouragement that comes from God is not a warm fuzzy feeling, it is the certainty of what He is doing and what He has done. We love Him, John writes, because He first loved us. We will never believe God's love if we constantly ignore it. Think about what God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit are doing in your life. Don't stop thinking about it.
posted by Daniel @ 8:53 AM   0 comment(s)
Thursday, March 03, 2011
1071: Youth Ministry?
The first ministry I was ever officially involved in was a youth ministry. I loved it, though at first it terrified me. Yet through that ministry I saw several young adults mature in both body and faith, and I will always have a paternal concern for those whom I had the profound privilege to minister to. I love those kids - even though most of them are married and have their own families now.

Notwithstanding, "Youth Ministry" is entirely bunk.

Let me qualify that a little. To start with I believe that when a child enters into puberty, he or she is entering into adulthood. I am not suggesting that the newly pubescent person is mature, or fully an adult. I only point out that such a person is no longer a child. Historically it was puberty, and not necessarily one's age that determined when, say, a young man entered into a trade. It was then that he began to have real, adult, responsibilities, and with these responsibilities real, adult consequences. I am convinced that one of the greatest social failures of our age is that we routinely and artificially postpone adulthood putting off adult responsibility until our young adults are fully mature.

Adults are designed to bear responsibility, yet we routinely deny our young adults adult responsibilities on the grounds that they are still "children". Thus in the formative years of adulthood these same are inundated with the message that they are not fit to be responsible until they reach a certain age. By the time society finally recognizes these adults as such, they will have already spent years being forced to remain perpetual children. The time when these ought to have been growing confident in their new maturity has been replaced with the psychologically shunting message that they are too immature to take responsibility for themselves. Couple this crippling mindset to the fact that our public schools are preaching self esteem to them from the cradle, and who will wonder that each generation is more immature and narcissistic than the last?

So the first reason I think youth ministry is bunk is because I don't recognize the notion of "youth" as valid. Post-pubescent people are adults (albeit young adults) who should be being ministered to no differently than we minister to any other adult. If there is no such thing as a youth, then there is no room for a youth specific ministry.

The second reason is more important and relevant than the first. If it is clear that the notion of a youth ministry is demographically invalid, how much more is the notion spiritually artificial?

The Holy Spirit did not lead anyone to write anything in scripture about separating the body of Christ into age groups, and ministering to these age groups individually and even differently than we would minister to any other group. In my home family worship is informal, when we break bread together as a family, I will often bring up some passage in scripture and discuss it with the family. I direct questions at my children: what does that passage mean? How are we to live in the light of this verse? We don't sit there for three hours pouring over the scriptures together every night, but we do discuss the reality of God in our lives and how scripture forms that reality. It isn't limited to the supper table either. I speak of these things when we rise up, when we sit down, when we walk about - whenver I can in fact. I am not perfect in it, but I am not ignoring this ministry either.

Imagine then the absurdity of trying to model the ministry I do in my home after the typical model employed by many churches. When I rise up in the morning I take one and only oen child aside and minister to him with puppets and pizza, and with the older twins, I can take them together to a show, because they are close enough in age, and minister to them over a soda after a show, perhaps the others I find some other novel, age-specific way to share the reality of God with the because, God forbid I speak to them all at once! That would be nuts, and we all know it. Why then do we do that in the church?

Stop and smell the roses for a second.

Did you not notice that God created the concept of family? We didn't have to have families you know. God could have created us so that we grew from trees, and lived alone our whole lives. He could have planted each of us on our own earth, living our lives entirely alone, or perhaps as the sole caretaker of that planet.

Consider that God has gone out of His way to not only create families, but to paint all things concerning Himself in the hues of family. God is the Father, Jesus is the Son - the church is the spouse, who themselves are adopted into God's family. Did not our Lord ask, "Who is My mother and who are My brothers?" We do well to take instruction from his answer: Behold My mother and My brothers! For whoever does the will of My Father who is in heaven, he is My brother and sister and mother. It is the Lord who said, "Permit the children to come to Me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these." When Christ ministered, He ministered to crowds that included children. Did not our Lord feed the masses with bread and fish that a child had on hand?

It is clear froms scripture that our Lord in His ministry, ministered to whole families, and not just the men, or the women, or the elderly, or the young? Is God's way flawed? Can we improve on it? If we minister according to some other model, what does that say about our opinion of God's way?

I want to make sure then, that you won't misunderstand my second reason for rejecting the notion of youth ministry: It isn't only that I find no support for it in scripture, rather it is that I find an abundance of support against the idea.

The notion isn't merely unbiblical - it is contra-biblical. If it isn't in scripture, and scripture gives us a better way, why do we do it? Well, to answer that, we shoud ask where the notion of segregated teaching comes from.

That that introduces the third reason why I reject the notion of youth ministries in particular, and all age segregation in general: Age segregation was invented by people, not God. To be sure, it finds its origin in recent times (the past 100 years) where the public school system used it to solve problems that do not exist in the church.

In recent decades, the aping of this practice has become not only vogue, but almost univerally accepted in the church. Somewhere, someone with a pragmatic mindset decided to apply what seemed to be working in the secular world to the church, and voila! Churches adopted age segregation en masse. Sure, the invention of Sunday school helped that along - but you get the idea.

Do you not know this?: Youth ministry is failing.

Oh I don't doubt that there are pockets of success here and there, but the latest statistics I hear quoted are that between 70% - 88% young Christians fall away from their faith in the first year of college. These numbers are not shrinking, by the way, they are growing. By and large, targeting youth for segregated ministry isn't helping the problem - it may even be part of the problem. If God designed us to learn one way (in the family setting), and we insist on setting that aside in favor of our own inventions - can we really be surprised when our invention isn't as effective as God's design?

I propose, reader, that if you are farming out the godly instruction of those young adults (who are presently maturing under your paternal care) to some youth group, that you are failing your son(s) and/or daughter(s). I contend that time spent socializing and eating pizza with other young adults does absolutely nothing to encourage young adults to draw near to God, and if God is injected into such a social program, He becomes the excuse, rather than the reason for getting together.

That isn't to say that people who are ministering in "youth" groups are all bent on corrupting the young adults you relinquish to their care. When I was running a "youth" group it was all bible and worship - no pizza, no "events" no flimshaw. The studies were deep, biblical, and purposeful. Yet for all that, I think these young adults would have spent their time better in a study where they were not a demographic peer group. We did things like travel to other churches to attend their prayer meetings, and pray with their congregation. We took our bible studies on the road, so that these young adults were being instructed in the presence and company of other families in our congregation - and this because I was already certain that youth groups were flawed in their artificiality. Whatever things I implemented to try and reign in the beast, I still feel it was too little, too late.

So while this post necessarily poo-poohs youth groups in general, my goal is not to point at your youth group and say that you are bad because you have one, or because you send your own "youth" to one. It is to give you pause, wherever you happen to be in the spectrum. Is this something that we are doing because we have always done this, or is this something God really intends us to do. Is this just the standard bovine-headed, checkbox mentality, that amounts to empty busy work because we believe that we should be doing something for our "youth" (just like the other five churches on our street), or this something God has told us to do?

My concern is not that there is some ministry that targets young adults in the world. It is that such a targeting is goes beyond the concept of "unnecessary" and into the realm of "counter-productive". God's way is good and perfect. It cannot be improved upon. If Christ did not segregate the church into groups, then guess what? Doing so is worse than doing it Christ's way. The question then is, if we know this doesn't work (look at the statistics), and we know this isn't biblical, and we know that the biblical model is that whole families be ministered to together - why oh why do we try to "improve" on that, if we know that we cannot improve on God's way?

Think about it. I dare you.

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posted by Daniel @ 9:36 AM   5 comment(s)
 
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