Letters from Polycarp to the Church in Ephesus. Chapter III

“These things, brethren, I write to you concerning righteousness, not because I take anything upon myself, but because ye have invited me to do so. For neither I, nor any other such one, can come up to the wisdom of the blessed and glorified Paul. He, when among you, accurately and stedfastly taught the word of truth in the presence of those who were then alive. And when absent from you, he wrote you a letter. which, if you carefully study, you will find to be the means of building you up in that faith which has been given you, and which, being followed by hope, and preceded by love towards God, and Christ, and our neighbour, “is the mother of us all. For if any one be inwardly possessed of these graces, he hath fulfilled the command of righteousness, since he that hath love is far from all sin”

John Piper quote

“The ultimate good of the gospel is seeing and savoring the beauty and value of God. God’s wrath and our sin obstruct that vision and that pleasure. You can’t see and savor God as supremely satisfying while you are full of rebellion against Him and He is full of wrath against you. The removal of this wrath and this rebellion is what the gospel is for. The ultimate aim of the gospel is the display of God’s glory and the removal of every obstacle to our seeing it and savoring it as our highest treasure. “Behold Your God!” is the most gracious command and the best gift of the gospel. If we do not see Him and savor Him as our greatest fortune, we have not obeyed or believed the gospel.”
— John Piper (God Is the Gospel: Meditations on God’s Love as the Gift of Himself”

The Seeker-Sensitive, Purpose Driven Church

It is no longer fashionable to label oneself a Christian in certain circles, and instead all the cool kids are calling themselves Christ-followers. I don’t believe this is a bad thing in and of itself, but when you mingle this with the typical purpose-driven, seeker-sensitive, “your best life now” sort of thing, what you get is a whole new animal altogether. I’m talking about the effects of Saddleback, Willowcreek, Granger, Lakewood, NewSpring, Elevation, Fellowship Church, LCBC, South Hills, Fellowship of the Woodlands, Mosaic, The Orchard, and National Community. Suddenly being a Christ follower isn’t about being a man who’s been redeemed by the blood of the Lamb for all of his sins. A Christian isn’t someone who’s been born again and loves Christ and the Father, has been crucified with Christ so they might no longer be enslaved to sin, and who strives imperfectly to follow the commands of Christ, walk in sound doctrine, revel in God’s grace,  and share the hope and love and the reality of their sanctification and justification to all men in the hopes that they too might get saved.

Nope. We have a new definition now. Taking a cue from Chris Rosebrough, If I were an unbeliever and I attended these churches and listened to all their sermons week after week, how would I define the term “Christ Follower”? I think it’s pretty obvious. It would be  “Someone who has made the decision to be an emotionally well adjusted self-actualized risk taking leader who knows his purpose, lives a ‘no regrets’ life of significance, has overcome his fears, enjoys a healthy marriage with better than average sex, is an attentive parent, is celebrating recovery from all his hurts, habits and hang ups, practices Biblical stress relief techniques, is financially free from consumer debt, fosters emotionally healthy relationships with his peers, attends a weekly life group, volunteers regularly at church, tithes off the gross and has taken at least one humanitarian aid trip to a third world nation”.

Based upon this summarized definition,we can only conclude that the world is full of people who can fit this definition but who’ve never repented of their sins and trusted in Christ alone for the forgiveness of their sins. This definition could easily apply to Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses. In fact, it could apply to Emergent Heretics, Unitarians, Muslims and practising Jews. Tragically, the “Jesus” that is presented in the sermons that promote this definition of being a Christ Follower isn’t the Savior of the world who died on the cross for the sins of the world and calls all nations to repentance of their sins and the forgiveness of sins won by Christ on the Cross. Instead, the “Jesus” that is presented in these sermons is a “life coach”, a training buddy and the supreme example of an emotionally well adjusted risk taking leader who lived the ultimate life of significance and purpose. This purpose-driven “Jesus” is there to help you achieve what he achieved and invites you to follow his examples and methods so that you can be Christlike too.

This is poisonous. This seeker-driven / purpose-driven definition of what it means to be a Christ Follower is fatally flawed and I fear that there will be many people who appear before the judgement seat of Christ saying, “Lord, Lord, we were emotionally well adjusted self-actualized leaders who lived a life of significance and purpose, took risks, enjoyed healthy sex lives in our marriages, celebrated recovery, tithed, volunteered at church and helped dig fresh water wells in Africa” and Jesus will say to them “Depart from me, I never knew you!”

Fair warning.

John Piper Quote

“”The critical question for our generation—and for every generation—
is this: If you could have heaven, with no sickness, and with all the
friends you ever had on earth, and all the food you ever liked, and
all the leisure activities you ever enjoyed, and all the natural beauties
you ever saw, all the physical pleasures you ever tasted, and no
human conflict or any natural disasters, could you be satisfied with
heaven, if Christ were not there? ”
— John Piper (God Is the Gospel: Meditations on God’s Love as the Gift of Himself)

Meditations on Forgiveness

There is a parable in Matthew 18 which tells of a man who owed 10,000 talents [a talent was about 20 years wage] to the king. He was unable to ever repay it, and so falling on his knees before the master he begged for mercy. Because the master had pity on the man, he forgave him his debt. A short time later, the same man who had just been forgiven much came across a man who owed him 100 denarii. [a denarii was a days wage for a labourer]. Despite just having his own insurmountable debts paid for, he was unwilling to show mercy and grace and demanded that the man pay back the 100 denarii. Word of this eventually got back to the master, and that servant who had just been forgiven much but refused to forgive the other was deemed wicked, and was thrown in jail.

I think about this parable often when I am struggling to forgive others. I don’t have a huge list of people who have offended me or who have hurt me, but I find myself keeping tabs more often than I would like. For some people, I have harboured unforgiveness  in my heart for years. For others, it is a fleeting moment of resentment and bitterness. I know I should forgive them and move on, but some times something inside me just don’t let it go. That something, is sin. As a believer, sometimes I am able to step back and examine my life my motives and I am amazed at how foolish I can be, especially when I look to that parable.  Through that process I’m learning that I’m holding unto unforgiveness because ultimately, and this is the wild thing- I think I’m better than God.

God has forgiven me so much. He has forgiven not only the 10,000 talents I owe, but the daily accruals that I find myself with. Day after day after day I offended God. I committed atrocious sins against him. On an hourly basis I committed cosmic treason against a holy and righteous God. Not only in the past and in bygone years, but in the present. Tomorrow, even though the Lord has forgiven all the sin and wickedness in my life, past present and future, and has given me his Holy Spirit and the joy of having Christ’s righteousness, I will throw that back in his face. In my ingratitude and selfishness  I’ll sin against him again. And yet he washes me. And cleanses me. And doesn’t hold my sins against him.  He removes them from the East to the West, and will not pour his wrath against me because he is such a good and gracious Savior.

And yet if someone hurts me, says a cruel word about me, or offends me in some way – that’s bad. That is terrible! How dare they?!  I’ll grip that offence tightly and refuse to forgive. When someone sins against me, suddenly I’m wound up with anger and surging, poisonous resentment, and in my righteous, justified anger [or so I believe] I’ll hold that dear to my heart, and I’ll probably tell everyone how hurt I am about it and I’ll look for solidarity so that others can share in my disappointment and offence. Not just little offences, but even when people commit terrible sins against me which shatter my world and which crush my spirit and which leave me bleeding and broken- those ones are just clung to tighter.

And the only reason I do that, ultimately, is because I think I’m better than God. That’s the truth. I think people’s sins against me are worse than my sins against God. I think that an imperfect sinner sinning against me, a fellow imperfect sinner is more terrible than me sinning against an achingly and infinitely holy and pure God. I don’t lose it and have meltdowns when I sin against God, and yet when someone does that to me all of a sudden I care?! That’s wicked of me! I demand my pound of flesh without remembering that God took his pound from his son on my behalf, and it wasn’t just the pound but the whole body of skin bones and blood.  I demand my 100 denarii from others while still basking in the glow and grace of having my 10,000 talents forgiven.

I can’t do that anymore. I don’t have a right to not forgive others. I don’t have a right to hold that over them. I don’t have a right to refuse to lay down my pride and hurt feelings while at the same time I’m enjoying that very forgiveness from God. Because when I do that I minimize the grace of God and the gospel, and that’s not something that I ever want to do that. I want to have the gospel always in view, right in front of me.  I don’t want to belittle it, I want to magnify it. Christ’s death on the cross took away my shame and guilt and my slavery to sin, and has forgiven me all my trespasses. That death for me and my sins took away any right to harbour the sins of others, and I don’t ever want to forget it.

Where have all the “Christians” gone?

As one who holds to the Doctrines of Grace, I’m often amazed at the number of people in my past who once professed to be Christians, and who have since repudiated the faith. We all know people like this- those who came to Church, or youth groups, or bible studies, and who sang the songs and raised their hands. These are the ones who went to all the conferences, thrived in the cliques, and who we watched become overwrought with intense emotional and spiritual experiences. And yet despite all this, we also watched as after a while they drifted away. We watched as they once upheld something to be honest and earnest,  and now consider the whole thing to be a brief season of madness and childishness. I’m not just talking about a few isolated events or people, as everyone knows someone like that, but when I survey the spectrum of acquaintances and friends throughout my childhood, it’s just about everyone.  It’s not just a person here or a person there, but rather whole youth groups. Whole drama groups. Whole bible studies. And most recently, whole families.

Yeah,  it seems that it’s whole families who have bitten the dust. Because I don’t believe in this modern contrivance of the so-called Carnal-Christian, nor do I hold to a man-centred faith where the only thing standing between eternity in heaven and eternity in hell is the own curiosity and will of a man, we surmise that these were false converts. What a hard, painful, cutting truth. These were people who dabbled in spiritual mysteries, and perhaps on some level believed it, but these people were never actually born-again or regenerated. Most of them were probably sincere, and yet when Christianity is devolved into morality-based deism, then that becomes the basis for a Christian identity, and then that became the basis for a loss of Christian fidelity.

Lately I’ve been catching up with people, and I ask them how goes their soul, and there’s nothing there. I ask them where they’re at in their faith, and they tell me that they’re no longer into that, as if being broken and blown again by the blood and grace and mercy and salvation of Christ  is something that you can just get in and out of.  Where did they go? When I was younger I would have sworn that they would have retained their zeal and would be fantastically Godly and humble men and women, and instead they are practising atheists, agnostics, or plainly in denial of what it takes to be a follower of the Way. More often than not, they simply believe in God and believe that since they are good people they are going to heaven because Christ died for them, though don’t you dare ask them what that means or how it was accomplished.

Looking back I can see some of the signs, though I wonder why no one else did. Or if they did, why no one bothered to tell us. I guess that’s what happens when you’re fed a diet of the milk and spiritual highs that come with emotional worship, but someone must have known. Why didn’t they talk to us when we were 14, 15, 16 years old? Why didn’t they lay out the truth of the gospel, instead of just thinking that in our rebellion and obviously unchanged hearts  we were just backsliding but give us a bit of room to think and breathe and we’d stay in the church forever? I don’t get it. Maybe if we would have been confronted with the reality of our sinful nature and our need for a Savior every day- much gospel because we sin much- then maybe that would have been enough. Maybe if that had been the case you wouldn’t have a whole generation of youth groups losing their faith after high school. I guess Christ was attractive enough to hang out with, but not worthy enough to make Lord and Savior. In any case, I miss these people. And I don’t pray for them nearly enough. God break them and give them repentance and faith to believe in you and worship you forever.

“Listen! A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seed fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured it. Other seed fell on rocky ground, where it did not have much soil, and immediately it sprang up, since it had no depth of soil. And when the sun rose, it was scorched, and since it had no root, it withered away. Other seed fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked it, and it yielded no grain” Mark 4:3-7