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The Evangelical Exchange: The Gospel for Life Coaching

The Evangelical Exchange: The Gospel for Life Coaching

I was reminded today that … well, the fastest growing churches in our land are producing guilt-ridden workaholics rather than a community of men and women who believe in Him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of [their] faith, the salvation of [their] souls!” (1 Pet. 1:9). Rather than the celebration of peace with God, I fear we promote a spiritual anxiety in people who feel like, if they are following God the way they should, their lives should be fixed by now. 

LCoachI was reminded of this tension as I read this Facebook post today. It’s from an old friend, talking about his church’s upcoming weekend services. Needless to say, the names are fictitious:

Tomorrow is going to be an epic day at our Midtown Campus! John Doe, Jim Doe and Josh Doe combining on a message about Lazarus. Jessie Doe narrating. Jen Doe communicating. Jeremy Doe leading music. Our bulletins to take notes on… they are toe tags that read: Deceased: Lazarus. Physician: Jesus. Funeral Director: Martha. Case #: John 11. We’ll be looking at overcoming obstacles, trusting for miracles, and removing entanglements. I’m so excited for how God is going to use this in my life and in the lives of others.

It sounds like quite a production. There was a day when I would have been proud to be a part of such an “epic day”.

Now, there are a few things about this enterprise that make me squirm a bit, but aren’t that big a deal. All of the terminology is strikingly not-church (campus, communicating, leading music, bulletins). Jesus being termed as “physician” (only?). Playing into our culture’s CSI-enflamed media passion for crime dramas. It’s obvious that this service has been designed with seekers in mind … so the gathering seems produced to capture the fancy of non-Christians, more than to engage its own membership in the Biblically-prescribed worship of God through Christ.

LAZWhat I find most disheartening, though, is the hermeneutic of the “message”. The story of Lazarus is a narrative story that speaks of the grandness and glory of God, the power of resurrection, and the beauty-for-ashes reality of salvation! It’s about how great God is, and how we should praise Him, be assured by Him, and believe in Him. That’s why “these things were written” (John 20:31).

But, in true contemporary Evangelical fashion (and I say this with great warmth, since I, too, have been an Evangelical for so many decades), they’ve taken this glorious story, and turned it into a self-help seminar. Jesus is the one who can help us overcome obstacles and remove entanglements … perhaps even perform a miracle if we trust in Him correctly. The “gospel” behind this version of the story is: Incorporate Jesus into your life, and He will make it run more smoothly. Your life is what matters, and Jesus is here to help.

Again, I have to admit that I would probably have taken the same tack on this passage a few years ago. That’s before I was introduced to the classical hermeneutic of “law and gospel”. Preaching the law (telling people what they should do to be pleasing to God) is a painful-yet-necessary word for those who aren’t Christians. They need to know why they should repent of their sins, and seek to be forgiven by God. But, for the truly repentant, broken soul – the Christian – what’s needed is not the law, the but comforting assuranceget to work of the gospel: God’s love overwhelms your sin, so that you are at absolute peace with God. This gospel also serves as the greatest motivator to righteous conduct.

John 11 is, as much as any passage in the New Testament, a celebration of the completed work of Jesus – the gospel! To turn this around and use this text to instruct people how they should do their faith (appropriate the life-helps offered by Jesus … not in this passage, but perhaps elsewhere) lays burdens on the lives of believers from which Jesus came to alleviate! And, as we baptize our services in the trappings of contemporary culture, affirming to our world that you aren’t supposed to be like God, but that we and God want to be just like them … we fail to tell unbelievers that what they need most is a repentant heart, not the instructions of a life coach.

I’m so thankful for those who have recently nurtured me in classical understandings of the gospel. I wish I had known these things earlier. I am genuinely sad for the lives I’ve stressed out over the years of overemphasizing “practical application” (the “so what” and “now what”). Lord, in Your mercy, hear my prayer of repentance, and continue to lead me to an authentically redemptive proclamation of the gospel.

– EO

 

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False Teaching – God’s Truth Isn’t Relative

There are so many warnings against false teaching in the scriptures.

false_360_189_90“Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves” (Matt. 7:15).

“At [the end times] many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other, and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people. Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved” (Matt. 24:10-13)

“False messiahs and false prophets will appear and perform signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect. So be on your guard” (Mark 13:22-23).

“I urge you, brothers and sisters, to watch out for those who cause divisions and put obstacles in your way that are contrary to the teaching you have learned. Keep away from them. For such people are not serving our Lord Christ, but their own appetites. By smooth talk and flattery they deceive the minds of naive people” (Rom. 16:17-18).

“Such people are false apostles, deceitful workers, masquerading as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light. It is not surprising, then, if his servants also masquerade as servants of righteousness (2 Cor. 11:13-15).

Timothy, guard what has been entrusted to your care. Turn away from godless chatter and the opposing ideas of what is falsely called knowledge, which some have professed and in so doing have departed from the faith (1 Tim. 6:20-21).

“Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth. Avoid godless chatter, because those who indulge in it will become more and more ungodly. Their teaching will spread like gangrene. Among them are Hymenaeus and Philetus, who have departed from the truth (2 Tim. 2:15-18)

“The Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful. Opponents must be gently instructed, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth, and that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will” (2 Tim. 2:24-26).

ear tickleIn the presence of God and of Christ Jesus … I give you this charge: Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction. For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth” (2 Tim. 4:1-4)

“There were also false prophets among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you. They will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the sovereign Lord who bought them—bringing swift destruction on themselves. Many will follow their depraved conduct and will bring the way of truth into disrepute. In their greed these teachers will exploit you with fabricated stories. Their condemnation has long been hanging over them, and their destruction has not been sleeping” (2 Peter 2:1-3).

Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God” (1 John 4:1-3). 

This is “a thing”. A big thing! We can tell, because it’s repeated over and over in scripture. It’s like the incessant nature of gravitational pull – for some reason (I would say the fall), we have this inclination to drift from the pure truths laid out by Christ. And the consequences are fatal.

Pillar and FoundationOur cities, littered with denominational church institutions of numerous stripes, stands as a testimony to this reality in our day. Clearly, all “truths” are not created equal. In a culture where truth is relative, and everyone’s truth “ought to be honored”, it may be politically incorrect to insist on doctrinal purity … but it is no less important, and perhaps never more urgent. Churches need to be more effective at being the “pillar and foundation of the truth” in our world (1 Tim. 3:15). But individual believers also need to be relentlessly thorough in their knowledge about God. 

(To be continued…)

-EO

 

 

 

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Merry Christmas from EO

They wake up suddenly in the night
There is light
And figures dancing in the sky
Clothed in more colours than the world can contain

And all the silences of the night
Leap in song
Like that of a river cascading
from the wild mountain to the slow human plain

Gloria! Gloria in the highest!

A child’s cry sounds from far away
It’s almost day
And in the brown-air town away below
Three travelers reap a star harvest
and then go on their way again

Gloria! Gloria in the highest!

– B. Cockburn

 

 
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Posted by on December 25, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

Cow Great Thou Art?

Read Amos 4:1-6

Okay, this is a funny passage to me. I grew up in Santa Barbara, California – a hive of the rich, privileged and pretentious. When I first heard this passage about the “cows of Bashan…who say to your husbands, ‘Bring me a drink!”, I thought surely Amos was talking about my town, not Samaria!

Seriously, the politically correct image painted by Amos must have been incredibly offensive to the self-absorbed Samaritan elite, who were “crushing” the needy through their methods of financial gain. Referring to them as cows was a direct reference to the quality of beef being produced in the region. Like cattle, these unsuspecting socialites will be herded out of town by meat hooks … and, there will be so many exiles that they’ll run out of big hooks, and have to resort to little fish hooks at the last.

After describing this human cattle drive, Amos gets very sarcastic. A paraphrase of verses 4 and 5 might read, “Go ahead. Keep worshiping the way you have been – sacrifices, tithes, offerings … you love it. But in God’s eyes, it’s just sin after sin after sin. And you don’t even see it.”

Image result for "john phillips" "Exploring the Minor Prophets"Some profound thoughts from John Phillips’ commentary: “The Israelites were deluded by the national religion, which had been born of apostasy. Every animal sacrificed on the false altars at Bethel and Gilgal was an affront to God. All false religion is an offense to God, especially when its devotees are so duped that they think they are pleasing Him. With their rites and rules. The Israelites thought they were secure in the favor of heaven because of their religious observances, so Amos tried to jolt them with sarcasm, urging them to sacrifice more and more.”

Image result for sunday best attireThe United States is a land of incredible opulence. It’s also a country where many, many people have every confidence in their religious observance. Yet, our faith communities are full of racial intolerance, economic class divisions, and indebtedness. I wonder how much of what happens in churches across the land is an affront to God.

This Advent, might Amos get the attention of us and our herds? Quick, before He gets out the hooks…

– EO

 
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Posted by on December 9, 2015 in Advent 2015, Amos, Uncategorized

 

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We Have Agreed to Meet…

First Saturday of Advent

Read Amos 3:1-3

“Hear this word that the Lord has spoken against you, O people of Israel, against the whole family that I brought up out of the land of Egypt: ‘You only have I known of all the families of the earth; therefore, I will punish you for all your iniquities.  Do two walk together, unless they have agreed to meet?…”

During Advent, we long for the coming of Christ – which will bring, once and for all, the complete and final abolishment of sin. But what is “sin”? And how do we know about it?

According to the truths of the Bible, sin entered the world with Adam and Eve. Since then, not only has everyone sinned (except for Jesus), but everyone has been sinful – stained by an inescapable inner propensity to sin.

God has chosen to let the human race know of their predicament of being sinful sinners. He did this by choosing a single nation to work with: Israel. He would give them the Law, which would describe God’s expectations on the race – expectations that they would soon find out that they can’t meet. The whole world would be able to understand God, His heart, His truth, and His plan, through his interaction with this chosen people.

In today’s passage, Amos refers to this special relationship and agenda God has with Israel. He has already mentioned their history together in 2:9-11 (“It was I who destroyed the Amorite before them…it was I who brought you up out of the land of Egypt…I raised up prophets…Is it not indeed so, O people of Israel?”). Now, he reminds them of their uniqueness: “You only have I known of all the families of the earth; therefore I will punish you for all your iniquities.” It’s not that the whole world was innocent, and Israel guilty…obviously not. But Israel has a different sort of relationship with God than others. “Do two walk together, unless they have agreed to meet?” God and Israel had met, and have been bound together by covenant. God holds them to a different standard than the other nations –  not a higher standard, but a clearer, revealed standard. To those with the Law, the consequences of sin must follow … thoroughly, and relentlessly.
At Jesus’ first advent, he was the fulfillment of the law –he lived the life God demands of every human being. Then, when he died and rose again, he conquered the powers of sin and death! True, we still sin, and we still die. But, eternally, the sins we commit and the deaths we experience will leave no permanent scars. We’ve been saved!

And while Amos’ Israel was chosen to model for the world God’s relationship to mankind, Christians have been chosen to model new, eternity-ready lives, lived in the Spirit. A gospel paraphrase of Amos’ words, for the church, could read, “You only have I known of all the people of the earth; therefore, I will forgive you for all your iniquities.  Do two walk together, unless they have agreed to meet?…”

We walk together with Christ. We’ve agreed to meet. Maranatha!

– EO

 
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Posted by on December 5, 2015 in Advent 2015, Amos, Uncategorized

 

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Snapshot of a Decaying Culture

Advent Friday 1

Read: Amos 2:6-16

Today, Amos, the Judean bumpkin, turns to his primary audience: the northern Kingdom of Israel. God is not pleased with them, and it is Amos’ job to tell them so. Israel had grown confident in its prosperity, its politics, and its spirituality. But God sees things quite differently. What was going so wrong?

(By the way…do you love your country? If so, are you even open to critical assessments of your country? How about when they come from a representative of your bitter rival across the border? And when they meddle with some of your dearest values?)

Economics: Like the U.S. Christmas shopping season, buying and selling had become paramount for the Israelites. They were vigorously richpoorchasing after their gift lists (precious metals, shoes, clothing, wine). And their minivans were full (v. 13). This may have seemed innocent enough … except that the upper class had become rich at the expense of the poor. They had “sold” them, “trampled” them, “pushed” them, “fined” them. They didn’t do these things literally, but were victimizing the poor through their selfish economic policies. But, hey, it’s a free market right? Aren’t they entitled to whatever prosperity they can engineer for themselves? If the poor want things to be better, they should just work hard and work the system like the rich, right?

Social Issues: Standards of appropriate sexual conduct were unraveling. The parameters of “family” were being redefined based on gratifying desires of the flesh. And the people didn’t realize that their conduct was a slap in God’s face. But we should be free to “love who we want”, right? If I feel like doing something, who is this “God” to tell me how to live?

worldly-christiansSpiritual Things: Worldly standards had crept into their faith, and they had taken to dabbling in all kinds of disparate religious practices. Their spiritual gatherings looked like Happy Hour. And they simply didn’t want to be bothered by the traditional truths of the faith that was supposed to identify them. “You command the prophets, saying, ‘You shall not prophesy!’” Enough of this God-talk, especially if it cramps our style. We’re free to choose whatever faith we want (they all point to the same God, right?). We like what we like. And we prefer a faith community that makes us feel good (is that a cab or a merlot?).

Through Amos, God essentially says, “Remember me? You were lost, and I saved you! All those impossible victories I gave you? And this unlikely prosperity you now enjoy … you know that was my gift to you, right? I established you as an upstart colony! The land, the freedom, the spiritual revival … Is it not indeed so, O people of Israel?”

They had forgotten, and gone astray. What will be God’s response?

Very interesting. Not an invasion. Not economic collapse. Not a pestilence. Instead, God promises internal decay. Israel will lose its strength, its speed, is skills, their heart.

When I look at life in our contemporary, post-Christian, western culture, I get very pessimistic. We’re off the rails just like the Israel of Amos’ prophecies. We too have some bumpkin voices crying in our wildernesses. But those shouts are growing fewer and fainter. And our godlessness increases with incredible brashness.

Is there any chance we’ll listen to the Amos among us? Advent would be the ideal season to do so.

– EO

 
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Posted by on December 4, 2015 in Advent 2015, Amos, Uncategorized

 

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Truth, Action and Defying Gravity

Advent Thursday 1

Amos 2:4-5:  “Thus says the Lord: For three transgressions of Judah, and for four, I will not revoke the punishment; because they have rejected the law of the Lord, and have not kept His statutes, but they have been led astray by the same lies after which their ancestors walked. So I will send a fire on Judah, and it shall devour the strongholds of Jerusalem.”

Before Amos gets to the primary target of his challenging prophecies (the northern nation of Israel), he has a word for his own land and people, the southern kingdom of Judah. His people believed themselves to be spiritually exceptional, the keepers the truest truths, the practitioners of the most correct ways of worship.

His brief word hits them right in their pride: You, Judah, have rejected the word of God, and have rejected its direction for your lives. So you, too, will suffer consequences for your faithlessness.

Image result for "bold preaching"This gets me. It hits close to home. Now, I know that everyone thinks their version of the truth is right. Otherwise, they wouldn’t believe it. I, too, think I believe in true things, especially when it comes to the things of faith. I describe my beliefs in rich terms like “historically orthodox,” “conservative,” and “historically/grammatically correct.” When comparing my theology to others, I refer to those guys as the ones who have slipped and strayed. How I’d hate to hear God say to me, “Bill, you’ve rejected my truth, and have not followed my precepts.” Ouch.

The first count: Judah’s belief has been corrupted. They’ve rejected God’s revealed laws, and have fallen for “the same lies” that mankind has bought for generations. Same old same old. As the proverb says, “There’s a way that seems right to a man, but that way leads to death” (Prov. 14:12). Human, uninspired thinking always sinks from the gravitational pull of this “way that seems right”. Like Judah, we are all vulnerable to these well-worn lies … but we have to, in essence, defy gravity. To do this, we have to remain disciplined being taught and trained by the truth. Judah slipped. So do I.

The second count: Not only had Judah’s doctrine slipped, but their actions had, too. They believed wrongly, and therefore acted wrongly. Interesting … in our relativistic 21st century culture, we are charged to not only let people believe what they want, but to honor their beliefs. But the word tells us that not all beliefs are true, and that, if our world wants to live well, we need to believe well.Beliefs don’t stay put between our ears. Conduct necessarily follows. Led astray by lies, we then fail to keep statutes. We may want freedom of thought, but no one wants lawlessness.

Every Sunday at our church we are obliged by the liturgy to recite a classical creed – either the Apostle’s or the Nicene. These are ancient, brief summaries of our foundational beliefs. Sometimes the group readings seem perfunctory. Some find them awkward. But, especially during Advent, I find the exercise vital! I must be tethered to the truth! If I’m to do the scriptures, I have to believe them correctly. And when Jesus comes, I want Him to find me embracing His laws, and keeping them!

He’s coming. Revelation 19:13 says He will be “clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and the name by which he is called is The Word of God.” Do you believe this Word? Do you do this Word? Are you ready for this Word?

– EO

 
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Posted by on December 3, 2015 in Advent 2015, Uncategorized

 

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