Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Chapter 1 of The World-Tilting Gospel, by Dan Phillips

In the first chapter, we see that in order to have a "real, dynamic" relationship with God that is "going somewhere", we need to know who God is and who we are.  After putting forth a list of questions about God and another about ourselves, Dan asks the natural questions that come to mind, "But where do we start?  With knowledge of God, or of ourselves?"  And he does well to mention that even John Calvin struggled with this same thing when he states that "Calvin confesses that 'which one precedes and brings forth the other is not easy to discern.'"  Also included is a good excerpt from Institutes of the Christian Religion (which I also highly recommend) that gets a bit deeper into the issue and gets us to really think about how we should evaluate ourselves.  From there, we are taken to the thought of how self-awareness comes to us first and that babies don't really think about the glory of God (Dan adds some good humor here - he makes it really easy to read).  However, the point is made that "while self-awareness comes first in time, surely the knowledge of God comes first in importance."  And also of importance is how we view "ourselves as we stand before God" and that this "is inextricably interwoven with our view of God."  So Dan shows us how it is important to know ourselves and to know God and that we have to have a right view of ourselves before God to really have a right view of God.

Now Dan takes us through some of the "Wrong Answers and the Damage They Cause".  It is sections like these that really make me appreciate this book because Dan really takes on the philosophies of the modern church culture (that really just seep their way in from the world) and shows why they are problematic.  In particular, he covers the following unbiblical worldviews:
  1. God is "the Grand Rubber Stamp in the Sky".  Basically God loves us and wants for us what we want for us.  No talk of being saved from our sinful desires and the punishment from our sinfulness.
  2. Sin has not killed us, but has "disabled", "hurt", and "wounded" us.  The unredeemed sinner "still brings something positive to the equation."  And without the help of the unredeemed sinner, God's work is ineffective. 
  3. Sin has rendered us "spiritually helpless", but we have it in us to bring ourselves to Christ.  Sinners need to empty themselves and become "kind of like a living puppet" because we need to "wait for God to take control".
Dan uses some characters to develop these worldviews and show the implications of such thoughts.  Again, he makes it very easy to read, all the while working through the deep thoughts we need to when we consider differing worldviews.  This is important because we need to be able to see how these don't line up with Scripture and how this affects people with these worldviews.  We also need to be able to counter these worldviews and can not properly do so without working through them as Dan does here.

So now that Dan has laid out these three characters and their worldviews, he makes the point that they all "have something in common with the world.  The world insists that we must 'listen to our hearts'".  He shows what appeals this has to each of the characters and where this thinking directs them.  And then he blows that all apart by stating that "God's view is exactly opposed to the world's - and here starts the tilting."  The clear point is made from the Bible that our hearts can not be trusted and that we can't even know our own hearts (Jeremiah 17:9).  He also shows what the Bible means when it refers to the heart, which is also at odds with worldly thinking.  Dan does a great job of working through the exegesis of Jeremiah 17:9 and adds a couple of good graphics to show what our hearts are biblically and how they have been affected by sin and how "the heart sees what it wants to see...self-diagnosis is hopeless."  He even uses a wonderful (although scary) analogy of self-diagnosis from his own life and how if he had gone by his own diagnosis of his condition, "you'd not be reading this book." (Yikes!)

And to wrap up the chapter, Dan once again makes the point that we need "A Whole-Bible View".  He shows that we need to look at the fact that Jesus used all of Scripture during His ministry and even said that "not the smalles part of it could be nullified."  This is important because a lot of folks like to pretend that we only need to worry about the New Testament.  But Dan makes it clear that "to understand Jesus, we must begin where His thiking begins: not with John 3:16, but with Genesis 1:1, and on through all that follows."  To which I give a hearty amen. 

So Dan will be leading us to look back to the beginning in the next chapter so that we can see how everything started and how we got to where we are today.  I hope that you are all encouraged to read along through the book.  I'm trying to put just enough there to get you interested in the text because Dan did a wonderful job of putting together a book that is witty and conversational, while still deep and probing deep into ourselves and into Scripture.  It has made me laugh, think, and examine myself to see where my world needs some tilting.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Preface/Intro to The World-Tilting Gospel, by Dan Phillips

I am reading a wonderful book by blogger Dan Phillips (see his blog here) (also team-blogger here) and wanted to share my thoughts on it in hopes that others may read the book and pass it along or suggest it to others.  I originally intended to put all my thoughts together and write one review for the whole book, but I've been taking so many notes that I thought it might be best to just review sections of the book at a time.  The book is titled The World-Tilting Gospel, and in it Dan takes aim at the problems that exist in "today's church scene".  This is a book that I feel is long overdue to give some perspective from a biblical worldview and counter much of the pop culture stream of thought that is present in churches today.  So without further ado, let me get into reviewing the preface and introduction.

The preface starts with a mention of the inspiration for the book coming from a message that David Wells delivered at the Founder's Conference in June of 2007.  Wells basically made the point that God has laid out the truth in the Bible and that the biblical worldview "is the way God has taught us in his Word to view the world."  From there, Dan gets to the heart of the problem in the modern evangelical scene when he says, "Folks have signed on without any real grasp of the gospel in all its fullness and power."  He says that people see the gospel as the "ticket 'in'" and as "beginner's material".  We basically take that initial step and get our way in and "move on to something else."  I wholeheartedly agree with this assessment and really appreciate how he lays everything out here from the get-go.  In fact, reading the preface just made me want to tear right on through the book, but at a pace where I could really enjoy every little bit.  He even lays out an outline in bullet points in the preface to show the issues that he is going to cover in the book. These are things like who we are, who God is, what kind of world we live in...things that most people don't really understand, but that I believe all true Christians should have a good knowledge of.  So he has given us a good idea of what to expect as we slip through the pages...have your Bibles handy as you read, though, because Dan does a great job of referencing the Bible as he lays out the truths of the Gospel.

As he moves into the introduction, Dan lays out some key contrasts between the church scene today and the New Testament times.  In order to do so, he takes us back to Thessalonica in Acts 17 when Jason and some of his friends were dragged off in front of the city officials.  The charge against him was that he took in some people who "turned the world upside down".   Dan asks the question, "How did they do it?" and then lays out the contrasts for us to see.  They didn't have all of the tools that the church-growth movement utilizes, yet they were highly effective in their work.  So let's look at some of the areas of difference that Dan lays out:
  • The source of material for preaching
  • Why people became Christians
  • Knowledge of sin, what is needed, and what God has done.
  • The biblical worldview involved with the church 
  • The connection between obedience and belief
  • Making Jesus the issue
We then read of the barriers that exist as Dan lays out a section titled "Barrier Busting".  He makes a good point that "many people who regard themselves as Christians are utterly clueless about the most fundamental truths.  They don't understand what God says about the human condition."  The text also lays out some of the main problems that arise from the bad teaching that exists in today's church scene and makes the point that the Gospel truly does bring good news to people who have been adversely affected by bad teaching.  As we read further, we see that we need "A Whole-Bible Gospel" and not the empty calories that the modern church-growth movement offers.  Dan lays out the four parts of his presentation and the "crescendo" that he has titled "Culmination: Putting It All Together".  He gives a few notes for how to approach reading the book and recommends a few preparations (I would follow them so that you can be fully enriched by the reading of the book).

I will say that I have read through to the middle of the second part (I'm in Chapter 5) and going back and reading these notes from the Preface/Introduction and typing this have made me appreciate the book a bit more.  I like they way it is laid out and how Dan takes the time to lay the foundation and build carefully upon it each step of the way.  And as he does so, he keeps you interested as he develops ideas from Scripture and throws in some good humor along the way.  I highly recommend the book just based upon reading about half of it so far...in fact, I'd say it would be a great book for nominal and immature Christians to get them thinking about what the Bible really says it means to be a Christian.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

God's Sovereignty on Display in Acts 12 - And in Our Lives

As I was reading through the middle of Acts last week, I got to Acts 12 and the account of Peter's arrest and deliverance from prison by an angel.  As we start reading in Chapter 12, we notice that "Herod the king laid hands on some who belonged to the church in order to mistreat them.  And he had James the brother of John put to death with a sword." (v. 1-2)  Herod Agrippa I was looking to gain favor with the Jews and these actions would have greatly pleased the Jewish community.  Seeing the results, he doubles down and arrests Peter as well.  We see, though, that "it was during the days of Unleavened Bread." (v.3)  So this is done during the holy days just after the Passover.  Thus, Herod decides he will keep Peter locked up until after all of the obervations of Passover and the Unleavened Bread are complete (v.4).  This allow time for the church to pray fervently for Peter (v.5) and God answers that prayer in magnificent fashion, delivering Peter on the very night that Herod intended to bring him out and kill him before the Jews (v.6-11).  After the iron city gate mysteriously opens by itself (this is the gate to keep bad people out!), Peter goes to a house where the believers are praying for him and they don't believe it is him at first...but eventually they let him in and he has to calm them down so they don't cause any commotion and bring attention to themselves (v. 12-17).  Clearly we see that God worked to deliver Peter from prison and display His glory.  I'm sure that most of you have read this story before...I have read it many times and have enjoyed it greatly...but when I read it this time, something stood out.

Maybe many of you have already made note of this, but the thing that really stood out in my mind was that this all happened during the time of Passover/Unleavened Bread.  Herod was no stranger to the religious activites of the Jews and surely understood the importance of this observance.  Just back in the gospel accounts, we read that the Jewish leaders did not want to kill Jesus during the Passover observance and also saw that they had to have the bodies removed before the Sabbath when they did crucify Him.  I personally believe that this is a wonderful demonstration of the sovereignty of God because I don't think Herod really wanted to wait to kill Peter...he surely didn't seem to hesitate in killing James.  And while God could have delivered Peter even if Harod had acted more quickly, this extra time allowed for the saints in the city to pray for Peter's release and see how God works to answer faithful prayer.  Surely these saints would have been bolstered to pray more fervently and know that God hears them when they saw God act in this instance. 

When I mentioned this to my sweet and wonderful wife, she reminded me of how often we overlook how God works everything out for the good of His elect.  The drought we're enduring here in Texas...He's working that out for my good and the good of other believers here.  All of the ungodly laws and the worldly society that we see around us today...God is working out all of that for our good.  The love we feel from our families every day when we wake up with them, come home to them, and go to bed...He works all of that out for our good.  First and foremost for His glory, but also for our good.  And it is all wrapped up in His holiness, which humbles me because I get to enjoy His holiness while still dealing with my sin. 

So let me encourage all of you to see God's sovereignty in everything.  Every time you read the Bible, look for it because it is there.  Just the fact that we are reading His Word and being edified by it shows His sovereignty in our lives.  Enjoy and relish the opportunity to realize and live in His holiness and glory on display...I guarantee it will bring you joy every day.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Loving Others As We Love Ourselves

I'm sure that you've heard people often talk about The Golden Rule - "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you."  This comes from Luke 6:31, where Jesus said "Treat others the same way you want them to treat you." (NASB)  Of course, Jesus takes this even further when he says that the second great commandment is "'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.'" (Matthew 22:39, Mark 12:31...He also confirmed this in Luke 10:27-28)  And then He takes it even further when He says, "'This is My commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you.'" (John 15:12)  So I think it is pretty clear that we're supposed to love others just as much as we love ourselves and then we need to love other Christians in the same way that Christ loves us.  Of course, it is hard to say who is a Christian and who isn't, so a lot of discernment is required with that part.  Now, I am guessing that no Christian really has a problem with the concept of this type of love, but I'd say that the application part is pretty difficult (at least for me it is).  So what is it that keeps us from being able to love others as we love ourselves and how can we do a better job at it? 

I propose that the following would be a good start:
  • Focus on Jesus
  • Examine ourselves
  • Confess and repent
  • Focus on others
  • Serve
  • Pray and read Scripture
I am not suggesting that this is a complete list by any means, but I think that if we work through these as a cycle, we'll find that loving others will become more natural.  I've certainly found that to be true for me whenever I follow these steps.  So let's take a closer look and see what this looks like.

First, we need to focus on Jesus.  He is the perfect One and before we can really do a thorough self-examination, we need to look at the standard that we are measured against.  Jesus is God.  I mention this because to really understand how He loves us we need to think about the fact that He is self-existent.  That means that He has always been and does not depend upon anything or anyone for anything.  So He doesn't need anything from us...He made us, so how could He need anything from us?  Also, we need to think about the fact that He was worshipped in heaven by angels for thousands of years before He humbled Himself and became a baby, grew up to a full age without ever commiting a sin (even in thought), and then took on the wrath of God in our place so that our sins might be forgiven.  Our sovereign Lord experienced all of the following in order to serve us: exhaustion, hunger, thirst, pain, being spat upon, being ridiculed, beaten with a staff, scourged, crucified.  He even made a point of washing the disciples feet (the dirtiest, lowliest job in those times) before the Last Supper in order to provide an example of how they should serve each other and others.  I can't stress enough how we need to wrap our heads around the fact that Jesus created us...He rules over us...He sustains us.  So do you have all that in your mind?  Now keep all of that in your mind and then think about how He became one of us in every way except for our sin nature and how He endured so much derision and persecution (unto death) at the hands of those He created, rules over, and sustains.  I don't think that we have any better picture of what true love is than this.  Once we have this in mind, we have a solid foundation to build upon.

That foundation will do us no good, however, if we do not examine ourselves in light of the true love that Jesus shows towards us.  We can easily recognize that Jesus' love is amazing and wonderful. However, if we just take that and try to run with it without examining ourselves in light of Who Jesus is, we're going to find it quite difficult to reflect that kind of love towards others.  That is because we are sinful.  Sin is what separates man from God and we have to recognize that before we can accept that Jesus indeed did die for us on the cross.  This is the beauty of the Gospel...we have sinned against God and He came and paid the penalty for us so that we can be redeemed and spend eternity with Him.  There is no other way.  That sin nature we have doesn't go away when we're saved, either.  And so we still need to examine ourselves after being saved so that we can put off the old and put on the new (as Paul said in Ephesians 4).  If we don't do this, then it is likely that we'll be hindered (by our sin) from being able to love others as we love ourselves and as Jesus loved us.  Think about it...let's say that I'm having some problems with pride.  How hard is it going to be for me to serve another sinner with this type of love?  Won't my natural tendency be to look down upon their sin and feed my pride?  Similar problems could arise if I have problems with gossip, lust, jealousy, etc.  Any type of sin will take the focus off of loving others and bring it back to loving ourselves.  So we need to examine ourselves and also ask God to examine our hearts and point out areas where sin is causing probems for us before we can move forward towards loveing others as ourselves.

And to move forward from there, we then need to confess and repent of our sin.  Just identifying the sin won't do anything for us.  If I notice that I have to keep replacing the brake pads on my car because I tailgate and slam on my brakes, that is just one step towards fixing the problem.  If I don't stop tailgating and slamming on the brakes, do you think I've really made any progress?  No, because while I have identified the problem, I haven't dealt with it.  And I don't think that many people would sympathize with me about my problems with brake pads in this case.  Strangely though, many Christians like to talk about how hard it is to turn away from certain sins and sympathize with one another instead of encouraging one another to do so.  Don't get me wrong...we should share in each other's sorrows and not be walking around looking down at each other.  We do need to be mortifying our own sins and trying to build each other up to do so in their own lives as well, though.  In fact, I've found that God usually puts us in places to help others who are struggling with sins that we have had to repent of and mortify in our own lives so that we can help and encourage them to do so.  I mention this because that might mean that there are those that we are in contact with that can help and encourage us to repent of and mortify the particular sins we are struggling with.  And let's face it, we can use all the help that God provides us with to help us repent of our sins.

And once we have repented of our own sinfulness, it is so much easier to love ourselves in the same way that we love ourselves.  This is especially true when we realize that we love ourselves in spite of all the filthiness of the sin in our own hearts.  I mean, who sees our sin any more closely than we do?  And once we see that Jesus has forgiven us of all that filthiness, it makes it a whole lot easier to look at others and see the love of Jesus in their lives.  We should be looking at other people and seeing the grace of God working in their lives.  And we need to take the time to tell them that we see God working through them.  The more that we take the time to identify how God is working through others and tell them that we see it, the more this will become habitual for us.  We will just start looking at others and loving them instead of always looking to judge them.  (A brief side note: We must not forget that part of this love does involve correction when it is necessary, but it is correction from a fellow Christian trying to help and not looking down at others.  We can't fall into the trap of the love of the world that is more than happy to let people live in sin for the sake of "comfort".  This is really no more than self-love in that it prevents a person from having to deal with the reactions of friends who might be offended by the truth.)  And when we are reflecting the love of God towards others that enables us to be effective in ministering to each other.

Which leads us into serving.  We are each given a set of spiritual gifts when we are saved.  And the purpose of these gifts is to build each other up by serving one another.  We should be looking for ways that we are capable of serving others and to use the gifts which God has provided us with in order to serve.  That could range from bringing people to church who need a ride to cooking meals for people who are in need or who are sick to teaching children or adults in the church.  It might involve doing some work on the churc or helping do some work on other people's homes.  Maybe you can help to biblically counsel (with proper training) people at your church.  Older women are supposed to help teach the younger women about Christian living as a woman (Titus 2).  You can be a greeter, sing, play instruments, help clean up the church after services, or maybe just hold open the doors for others.  And we should all be welcoming to people as they visit church or a Bible study (just think about how you feel as the new person in any group).  These are all ways that we can serve and reflect the love of Jesus towards others.  Remember that He said that He came to serve and not to be served...and He is the standard that we are supposed to measure ourselves against.

Which brings me to my last point in how we can go about loving others as we do ourselves...reading Scripture and praying.  Now I know a lot of people will jump on me for putting this last on the list.  And I can't say that I'd blame anybody for doing so.  The reason I did, though, is because this will lead back into the beginning of the cycle of these steps and I think that is most important.  We need to be continually doing all of these things so that we don't wind up in the ditches on either side.  In fact, I'd suggest that we can't really focus on Jesus without prayerfully reading Scripture and meditating upon what we have read.  And the reason that we need to come back to this is because we are continually being perfected.  We can only do this by reading Scripture to get a better understanding of what God says through the Bible and how to apply it.  We need to be getting a better understanding of Jesus and examining ourselves for areas of sin to confess and repent of.  And then we can be equipped to love and serve others better and better over the course of our lives.  We can not do any of this by our own power, though, and that is why we must pray.  We need to pray and meditate upon what we read so that the Holy Spirit will interpret Scripture and equip us to apply it properly. 

I hope that we are all encouraged to do these things and to love one another as we do ourselves.  As we look to Jesus and see how great He is we will also see how short we fall.  Yet the beauty of the Gospel is that Jesus has already paid the price for our sins.  Once we see these sins, we need to confess them and repent of them so that we can look at how God is working in the lives of those around us instead of becoming self-righteous.  This will help us to  reflect the love of God towards others and serve them better.  And we need to be coming back to Scripture to renew our minds and help us focus again on the work of Jesus.  May God break us of our pride and help us to love and serve one another the way that Jesus has shown us his love and service.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Double Talk from Abortion Groups and Politicians

So, I saw this article this morning and thought to myself, "Hmmm, that's interesting.  The same people who don't want Planned Parenthood centers to be referred to as just abortion clinics wants pregnancy centers, specifically Christian ones, 'to make clear that the center does not perform abortions or make referrals for them.'" These are the words of Dennis Herrera, a lawyer from San Francisco, in a letter he wrote to the chief executive of a Christian pregnancy center there.  I wonder if he also would require Planned Parenthood and other abortion providers to come clean about their propaganda. 

I remember when the defunding of Planned Parenthood was such a big issue, that everybody was putting forth messages like this, where people are making all of these grand claims about how Planned Parenthood provides all of these great medical services for people.  They didn't really want to talk much about abortion, though.  And I'm sure that they don't want to get into talking about how much money they make from abortions and how that really levels out the precentages of the services they offer.  Here is a good article that outlines a bit of the truth behind the numbers.

And as for propaganda, I'm sure that the good people at Planned Parenthood explain all of the complications and repercussions of killing the baby inside of the mother.  I'm sure that they show the mothers the sonogram and explain the development and growth of the baby, as explained here.  Oh, yeah...that's right...they don't have to show the sonagram and all of that stuff.  In fact, here are some real stories about some women's experiences with Planned Parenthood.  Sounds like they give full disclosure to the women before they come in for services, doesn't it.

I wish that the people initiating this lawsuit would just come clean and say that they don't like that these pregnancy centers are Christian.  That is what this is all about...whether God owns us and makes all of the rules that we are supposed to abide by or we are independent agents with no responsibility to anybody but ourselves.  That is the same question that lies at the heart of abortion to begin with, isn't it?