My Issue With Many Pastors Today: They Do Not Lead Quiet Lives

Celebrity pastors today do not lead quiet lives.

They tweet, YouTube, Vimeo, Instagram, Vine, hob nob with celebrities and snap any publicity stunt they can with anyone of any notoriety.

How is this consistent with the Pauline command to live quiet lives? How is this consistent with Christ’s example of meekness, who frequently withdrew from crowds, instead of thrusting himself in front of them?

How does this behavior reflect the Reformation’s undoing of priestly pretense by uniting secular and sacred – thus making the ordinary and mundane holy, and pharisaical piety putrid?

How does the self-promotional flurry of modern pastors align with G.K. Chesterton’s wisdom to not promote ourself?

I already hear the excuses. They are plentiful.

Quite frankly, I am so exhausted with them, I cannot bring myself to list them.

What’s shocking though, even after you weed your way through the excuses, is the voracity at which the American Christian devours all of the self-promotion. Review the gushing comments pouring from various pastoral social media streams and you’d think these pastors are followed by Beatlemaniacs, or more relevantly, Beliebers. Staged, red carpet photo ops. Compulsory self-glossing over every activity they take throughout the week. Afore mentioned celebrity photo ops.

Undoubtedly, God’s sovereignty overrules pastoral vanity and He will save His people, regardless the level of self-admiration His so-called shepherds achieve.

However, the stark spiritual reality in play here is the human soul’s deficiency to be content coupled with its compulsory obsession to force itself to the center.

This reality should not be over looked – either by pastors admiring themselves or by their admiring patrons, for both groups will be – and, presently, are – called to admire Christ – crucified, risen and ascended – above all things, including social media fame, cool haircuts, book releases, media appearances and myriad other “successes” found in ministry today.

Paul’s admission that there were those in his day who preached for selfish gain, should defuse the shock of self-promoters existing today, however, we should no more permit pastors to excuse rampant self-promotional behavior than we should allow them to elevate themselves to rival the prominence of our incarnate, crucified, resurrected and glorified Lord.

What a Bottle of Pyssla Taught Me About the Gospel

Yesterday, my two-and-a-half-year-old daughter dumped a bottle of Pyssla all over her bedroom floor.

Before you get grossed out and think “What kind of bodily fluid is that?” hop on over to the IKEA website to see what I’m talking about.

As you can see, Pyssla is a law-of-entropy-loving toddler’s dream come true, presenting a parent’s cleanup nightmare.

Somehow, she got it off her nine-year-old brother’s shelf, carried it to her room, unscrewed the lid, then apparently morphed into a human centrifuge. With pieces still stuck in her hair, she came out of her room, looked up at me in the kitchen and said “Daddy, I had a spill.”

Usually that means she spilled a tiny bit of juice or water. But not this time. Thousands of plastic bits. It looked like Andre the Giant ate 14 boxes of magically delicious Fruit Loops on a cruise ship, in the middle of the Adriatic sea, right before a fierce ‘Nor Easter sent everyone into fits of green-faced nausea.

As patiently as I could, I told her that she needed to clean them up. She said “OK” and dove right in.

I went back to the kitchen and 30 seconds later heard her say “Daddy, I done”, which I knew wasn’t the case but I returned to check on her progress, nonetheless. She might have picked up 50 or so pieces, which, by 50, I mean 5, rounded up to the nearest half-a-hundred.

To help her focus, I suggested she pick up all the pink ones. Another return trip to the kitchen. Another 30 seconds. Another “Daddy, I done.” Another generous estimation, putting the total at 100, though, really, 10.

Then it hit me (like I wasn’t somehow aware of her inferior motor skills and paltry focusing ability to begin with): this job was too much for her. Asking her to pick up the mess she created was the right thing to do. Ultimately, she was responsible for creating it. Her brother would, undoubtedly, come home from school and blame her for breaking into his room, stealing his toys (Daddy, she does this all the time!), and throwing them all over the floor, ruining them forever and displaying absolutely no respect whatsoever for personal property rights (sheesh, elementary age sibling interaction can be so dramatic, and, yes, our kids are all required to articulate private property rights when leveling – or defending against – a stolen toy charge. At present, our daughter is the chief violator by a landslide.)

But back to my point about the gospel. I could have flown into a frenzy, demanding she clean it up, even when she wasn’t capable of completing the required command. I could have said, “Aw, look how cute you are. You tried really hard and were really sincere in your attempt. Even though you didn’t fulfill the requirement of putting the pieces back in the container, you tried really hard, and really meant it so I’ll just subjectively pretend you did it.”

Or I could have done, what I ultimately ended up doing, in a split second, knee jerk response to the spontaneous thought “I have a chance to demonstrate the gospel to my daughter right now.” So I sat down beside her, and told her the job was too big for her, in fact, it was impossible for her, and that I was going to clean up the mess, in its entirety, for her. (I don’t know how to convey this without a hint of pretentious shmuckness so please forgive me if a faint scent of over-spirituality begins to drift in.)

As I was cleaning up the pieces, I explained to her that what daddy was doing for her was similar to what God did for me, specifically, in sending Jesus to keep the Law on my behalf.

Amazingly, her face began to shine, tears welled up in her eyes, and she asked if she could ask Jesus into her heart. TOTALLY kidding, but that would have been an awesome story. Actually, no it wouldn’t have been, as it would mean all the catechising of trusting Jesus’ blood and righteousness alone by hiding in Him, so to speak, as sin-bearer and law-keeper, would be for naught. I would be terrified if my kids asked Jesus into their heart absent any meaningful context, other than feeling spiritual or praying the prayer.

No, it went more like “What’s law-keeper mean, daddy?” followed by complete toddler nonsense “Can you put me in the oven (her pretend little girl one) and cook me?” which always leads to more incoherent little kid “conversations” which are about as easy to follow as a single ping pong ball in the Powerball/Lotto tumbling machine.

I have no idea if she will remember the incident or what I told her. I also have no idea if she will be remotely interested in believing the message of grace found in the reformed, historically redemptive view of the gospel.

What I do know, is that the little exchange helped me see God’s mercy towards me in a new light, which, ultimately, I believe, will make me more thoughtful, patient and loving with my children – even the ones who are perfecting the art of grifting before their third birthday. And, hopefully, it will prove to provide my children with a meaningful and substantive framework with which to approach their faith as they grow older – one which is rooted in the solid foundation of solo fide and not the tumultuous sea of subjective emotions and experiences which are plaguing the church today.

Mini-Messiahs

Yesterday our pastor quoted the popular words attributed to D.L. Moody (though they might have originated from a guy named Henry Varley.)

Those words, in case you’ve forgotten them or have not heard them before, are, “The world has yet to see what God can do with and for and through and in and by the man who is fully and wholly consecrated to Him.”

As he quoted these words, I felt an instant burst or youthful, zealous desires swell within my chest, almost like my inner teenager was told I couldn’t do something and I was determined to prove the powers that be wrong. But, just as quickly as the desires swelled, they popped and stopped short.

Not because, as our pastor proposed, I was overcome with guilt or laziness, but because, for some reason, and for the first time that I can recall upon hearing those words, I was overcome with the thought, “That just sounds terribly amiss.”

I sat there for a moment, trying to digest this new indigestive response I was having to this popular motivational quote. After a few moments, I leaned over to my wife and whispered, “I think that Moody quote is wrong, because Christ is that man.”

The more I’ve thought about this over the last day, the more I am becoming convinced the Moody quote has led to dangerous, unintended consequences. Hence the title of this post.

In the fifteen years I have been a Christian, I have heard that Moody quote several dozen times. The response seems to always be the same, inspiring in the hearts of individuals sentiment similar to mine – “I want to be that man” – or Moody’s – “I will try my utmost to be that man.”

On the surface, it sounds fine and probably innocent enough. But considering that Christ was (and is) that man, and considering that besides Jesus, that man or woman will never exist (assuming you hold proper views on the depravity of man), those words move from the fine/innocent category to the bad/dangerous category real quickly.

Come to think of it, I have never heard anyone make even the slightest mention that Christ was/is the man Moody desires and exhorts us to be in his famous quote. (A quick google search turned up no mentions of this important counterpoint either.)

Yet these words by Moody are used at conferences and retreats and missions training and church services hundreds, if not thousands, of times every year in American Christianity.

I am not attempting to be vitriolic with this post. Nor am I questioning the good intent of the pastors/leaders/speakers who quote these words. I do, however, believe that a serious theological error is being committed by omitting the declaration that Christ is the man Moody speaks of when referencing Moody’s quote. As a result, I also believe a tremendous disservice is being done to the saints by stoking improper motivation in them as they pursue sanctification.

To quote Luther in his Lectures on Romans:

“Since the saints are always conscious of their sin, and seek righteousness from God in accordance with His mercy, they are always reckoned as righteous by God (semper quoque iusti a deo reputantur).

Thus in their own eyes, and as a matter of fact, they are unrighteous. But God reckons them as righteous on account of their confession of their sin.

In fact, they are sinners; however, they are righteous by the reckoning of a merciful God (Re vera peccatores, sed reputatione miserentis Dei iusti). Without knowing it, they are righteous; knowing it, they are unrighteous. They are sinners in fact, but righteous in hope (peccatores in re, iusti autem in spe)…

…Now is this man perfectly righteous? No. But he is at one and the same time a sinner and a righteous person (simul iustus et peccator). He is a sinner in fact, but a righteous person by the sure reckoning and promise of God that he will continue to deliver him from sin until he has completely cured him. And so he is totally healthy in hope, but a sinner in fact (sanus perfecte est in spe, in re autem peccator).

He has the beginning of righteousness, and so always continues more and more to seek it, while realizing that he is always unrighteous.“

Some might charge me with semantics, but, I see two greatly important points lacking in Moody’s quote, as well as its quoting. First, the fact that we, the saints, are righteous because God declares us to be, the declaration based upon Christ’s gracious and meritorious work – not upon our variable and fluctuating ability to achieve “full and whole consecration” to the Lord. Second, the fact the saints, as Luther says, “will always be unrighteous.”

I don’t know why popular evangelicalism is hesitant to embrace this dichotomy but I do believe that it (righteousness resulting from God’s declaration coupled with us yet remaining unrighteous) provides the ideal ground for pursuing sanctification, for it acknowledges the full and whole consecration of our Lord Jesus as well as the full depravity of our own selves, both of which seem to be not only the starting point for saving faith, but also the beginning of the miraculous work of sanctification that the Lord has promised to work in us for His glory and our joy.

As such, have we not a better chance of attaining the desired sanctification by resting in these truths, than by pursuing a pseudo-sanctification driven by a pep talk, lots of will power, and the carrot that we are to strive for something (full and whole consecration) that only the Messiah could (and did) attain?

I believe we do. So to answer Moody afresh, “Why, yes, sir, the world has seen what God can do through the man you exhort us to be and it is a wonderfully effectual, wrath assuaging, sin forgiving, life injecting thing He has done!”

Here’s to resting in all the spectacular work God the Father accomplished “with and for and through and in and by” Christ, for His glory, and our earthly and eternal benefit! May we live in light of this spectacular work, and not go astray, in a vain pursuit of trying to become mini messiahs.

I Do Not Receive Grace Well

It could be tennis or home school or the stack of chips on my shoulder from growing up poor or exploits in entrepreneurship or rugged American individualism, but there is a part of me that recoils and rebels at grace.

Nowhere was this more viscerally, practically, and spiritually played out than in the month of December.

December was a month of incredibly visible grace in our lives. Kindness after generosity after more kindness followed by yet more generosity, flooded our experiences – four noteworthy ones to be exact – throughout the last month of 2010.

The first such act involved someone in our church giving us a gift which we, unquestionably, could not afford. I suppose, theoretically, we could possibly, at some point in the future, afford the gift. But at this stage of our lives, not a chance.

To my dismay, the first reaction in my heart upon receiving the gift was anger. Followed by jealousy. Then covetousness and rivalry. Thoughts ran through my head of “I want to be able to provide this for my family. I do not want to have to rely on someone else to provide it.”

Not to get all mystic, but the Lord kept me up that night, slowly but surely delivering the knock out blow to my stubbornness, with the words (so to speak) “THAT’S the point.” In other words, that’s grace.

Modern evangelicals have heard the mercy/grace distinction definitions so much I think we’ve become calloused to the humility involved in receiving both. I know I have.

When we go through difficult times, I think we, or at least I, try to recapture something comforting in the past. Oftentimes, I have mistakenly concluded the current difficulty is directly attributable to some wrong turn or detour I took in the past. While that analogy can be true – as played out in Pilgrim’s Progress when Christian leaves his scroll behind and must endure a sorrowful journey to retrieve it – I have slowly concluded that current difficulty is not always the result of past mistakes.

In other words, current challenges do not mean that I understood rightly before, got my wires mixed up, and need to uncross the wires to return to a right understanding. In my current circumstances, what I have discovered is that my understanding of God’s grace has always been deficient. I have always had a debtor’s ethic firmly entrenched in the core of my being. I have had my own agenda which I have insisted on forcing upon the Lord (one of the Poisonous Premises I am working on, namely, that if we do X, God will invariably do Y) and I have firmly believed that the Lord will find my effort noteworthy.

I can’t help wondering if, perhaps, this is what Solomon was getting at when he said “Don’t say within your heart, “why were the old days better?” Because they were most likely not. In my case, I am realizing this is true. How could they have been better if instead of receiving grace I repelled it?

I mentioned tennis and home school and a stack of chips on my shoulder and entrepreneurship and American individualism…but even without those, to quote Spurgeon, “the natural legality of my heart” must “insist I have something to do with my salvation.”

The Lord has been bending His bow and aiming His arrows at my pride for sometime – on this issue specifically.

Perhaps this helps describe my abhorrence of money making, debtor’s ethic promoting pastorpreneurs.

Meaning…the popular interpretation of Matthew 7:3-5, that what we see in other people is often the biggest in our lives. As I have railed against works based, Jesus plus, merit oriented “gospel” it is because I have been staring down the same railroad plank in my own soul for several years.

Initiative and ambition and competitiveness and separating myself from the pack have all colored my interpretation of grace.

So far, this realization has not deterred my desire to argue against popular evangelicalism, but it seems to have calmed and steadied it. For those interested, I have been working on a thorough article entitled “Mark Driscoll Sounds An Awful Lot Like the Devil” which compares one of his sermon transcripts to an alliteration of the charges the devil brings against Christians, as told in the artful and illustrious words of Charles Spurgeon.

The similarities are chilling.

I am still greatly opposed to such men who would distort the gospel, whether with works or for profit, but I sense the opposition is beginning to stem from a restful acceptance of grace and not an inward rebellion against it.

I am interested to see how this motivational shift will impact my days going forward. Just a few weeks in and I can say the yoke has been easier and the burden much lighter and I sense that is a very good thing.

Three Words That Are Changing My Life

It is no secret that I detest many aspects of modern evangelicalism.

I am certain the five years spent interning and working at a mega-church, during the very early stages of my faith, contributed to this passionate hatred for much of the institution.

For those of you who haven’t worked at a church, or who have had the fortune of working at one where ego and programs and profit do not reign, the best way I have come to describe it, is to draw the analogy to trash and trash men and dumps.

We all have trash in our house. Old vegetables. Empty cereal boxes. Dirty diapers. The two melting, partially liquefied, bell peppers that somehow got buried in the back of the fruit drawer, only to be discovered after setting out on a quest to find the answer to “What’s that smell?!”

If Dirty Jobs is reliable, there are two ways to deal with trash. Incinerate it or pile/recycle it. Bear with me here, because I’m trying to draw an analogy between sanitation services and the gospel, which, to be honest, is a shaky proposition at best, but…

…in this perhaps ill-advised analogy, the gospel is the incinerator, everything else – programs, to-do lists, for sale resources – a landfill or recycling program.

So every week, we produce internal, emotional, spiritual trash (we produce good things too, so don’t get distracted by thinking I’m ignoring the good), which, we can have continuously incinerated by the gospel, (i.e. the finished work of Christ upon the cross), or we can spend our time devising ways to make it smell better or look prettier.

In my experience, as well as my post-mega church observations, far too many players in modern evangelicalism take the latter approach. Worse yet, many even devise their own trash dispensing guidelines, while, even worse yet, some repackage the trash itself and try to resell it. So resources to combat lust are often comprised of the same material that constituted the original lust.

To draw upon a common Puritan tactic, namely, the-loosely-related-hanging-by-a-thread-of-context-proof-text, “The strength of sin is the law.”

To be clear, the presence of trash is not what has stoked my intense lividity towards the players and institution. No, it is the widespread refusal to consistently direct people’s trash towards the incinerating power of the gospel.

Perhaps the economics of our spiritual trash is equivalent to the economics of incinerating or recycling physical trash. Incinerate the trash and it’s gone, never to return. But, recycle it, and repackage it, then recycle it again, and so on, well, there is big money to be made there.

So there is my analogy. If it has holes, well, as I said to begin, trying to make the gospel analagous to landfills might be a bit foolhardy.

So what of the three words that are changing my life?

You will find them in 2 Corinthians 3. Almost as an afterthought.

“We are not peddlers of God’s word, like so many, but…”

In other words, there were numerous landfill operators in Paul’s day. With those three words, “like so many”, he acknowledges their existence, but quickly moves on to the much better thing – Christ and His gospel.

And so I have become convinced over the last several weeks, that Paul didn’t spend the majority of his time fighting the peddlers, but making sure people knew of the incinerator. It may sound fatalistic or full of resignation, but it has brought a peace to my soul which has been absent for several years.

I would like to think most occupational ministers know there is an incinerator. And maybe even, some, at one point, believed in its power and usefulness. But, the more they, and their colleagues, protect and promote their institution and resources, the more their affinity to lucre crowds out their remembrance of the gospel.

So instead of camping out at the landfill, complaining and bemoaning the stench, for the first time ever, I am deciding to move far, far away from the landfill and establish a house that is next door to the incinerator. In doing so, I am in no way condoning their programs, but simply acknowledging their existence before flat out ignoring them.

Got trash? Take it to the cross and have it disappear forever. Don’t like the simplicity of that approach? Well, good luck making those gooey bell peppers pass as suitable nutrition.

The Ignis Fatuus Gospel

Evangelicals across America are in hard pursuit of blessing from God.

The carrot of expanding our boundaries (a la Prayer of Jabez), the hopes of wrapping our arms around material gains via pursuing a better you, and the vain spectacle of pastorpreneurs all living hipster lives, adorned with the latest expensive tech gear, pimped out kitchens, and exotic getaways, all work in unison to deceive us normal “lay” schleps that God must have something bigger and better in store, than what our boring, normal, consistent, small footprint hindered lives currently reveal.

And damned if we won’t serve hard enough and buy enough books and download enough teaching series to finally unlock the dastardly difficult combination that our fearless leaders have so miraculously cracked.

For the thousands (millions?) who have accepted that premise, they are living more as slaves in the profit making machine of mega-church, than children adopted into the family of God.

Sure it’s guised in the seemingly impregnable proposition of building God’s kingdom, and shrouded in disarming 501(c)(3) wrapping paper, but, first, when did legal paperwork ever restrain the boiling corruption of man’s heart, and second, when did building God’s kingdom become so selfishly superficial?

I mean, seriously, folks, you cannot convince me, no matter how hard you try, that God saves people in order that they may pursue Him for the very same things they craved before He saved them.

That makes absolutely no sense, whatsoever.

Butcher the beautiful tapestry of rest and redemption all you want, hacking out things you don’t like, stapling in things you do, splicing it all together with shoddy craftsmanship, and you cannot escape the reality that “the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride in possessions – are not from the Father, but from the world.” (1 John 2:16)

And, still, material gain is inextricably linked to the modern notion of blessing.

And, still, even further, there is no want of pastorpreneurs eager to sell their latest books, conference tickets (note: every SINGLE letter is a link), pilgrimages, and teaching series helping us apprehend these lofty gifts.

And, so, I ask this question. Does the modern notion of blessing present any danger to the Christian or is it simply a harmless variation of interpretation?

More pointedly, if we buy this dangerous con, are we perilously close to realizing the distinct possibility of not entering His rest?

To answer the question as succinctly as possible, I submit the modern pursuit of blessing plows headfirst into the biblical pillar that, in Christ, God has already blessed us. It was His intent in Genesis (and before). It marks His actions from cover to cover. So, then, the fight of faith is not wrestling with, “will God help me pay my electric bill or give me the means for an iPad” but believing He has already fully delivered on His Old Testament promise to adopt people into the family of God, regardless of their financial standing in life (or any other standing for that matter.) There is no extra, phantom blessing floating in the sky. We have it. It is finished.

To avoid an excess of boring academia, consider these links (this one and this one) for starters.

It would appear then, that our hard pursuit of material blessing, reveals an abundance of unbelieving hearts, rather than the refined, sanctified desires pastorpreneurs claim to ignite and stoke via their continuous stream of for sale resources.

I suppose if your approach to Scripture force fits several thousand year old promises of cattle, and fields, and houses into sweet rides, private jets, vacations on Marco island, McMansions, and six figure salaries (note that John MacArthur pulled down $400,000 for working 20 hours a week on page 7 of tax return), rather than symbols foreshadowing the Blessing, then you have little (if any) problem with the modern definition of blessing.

But I would be careful. Especially when considered in conjunction with the “broad and many, narrow and few” imagery of Matthew 7:13-14, James warning of asking amiss, Jesus’ warning in Matthew 7:21 that “many will say to Him, Lord, Lord”, Peter’s rebuke of Simon for trying to buy the power of God in Acts 8, and finally, the sobering text of Hebrews 3:19 that states “because of unbelief they did not enter His rest.”

Granted, I don’t have any letters after my name, no honorary doctorates from unaccredited academic institutions, or a mega-church with thousands of congregants to point to. But I also don’t have any skin in the game. Well, other than an acute desire to avoid all the winding paths pastorpreneurs are fervidly carving out of the hillside next to the Celestial Road (see Pilgrim’s Progress if you’re drawing a blank here.)

Sorry, fellas, your lavish lifestyles, shallow interpretations, constant stream of purchasable goods, and repetitive emphasis on numerical growth are not doing anything to convince me otherwise.

To quote Thomas Paine, “(Christianity) has set up a religion of pomp and revenue, in pretended imitation of a person whose life was humility and poverty.” And, so, I exhort real Christians to cease buying tools to obtain mesmerizing ignis fatuus blessing, and trust that God has, in Christ, already blessed you with everything you need.

To the critic, who protests, “But God does care about whether one can pay his or her electric bill”, yes, He absolutely does care for the smallest detail of the Christian’s life. However, here is a simple remedy to paying the bill. First, stop buying all the celebrity pastors’ resources and you’ll have more money for the electric bill. Second, that’s what the church is supposed to be doing! Helping widows and orphans and those in need to pay their electric bills. I implore you to stop siphoning your cash to greedy pastorpreneurs and seek out more beneficial ways to disperse your donations – either by directly meeting physical needs, or by contributing to meet the needs of the few organizations that actually believe the gospel.