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.

What Am I Doing to Fix the Church?

I was asked yesterday on Twitter, “what are you doing to fix the church?”

(As if arguing against wrong premises isn’t on the approved work list of modern evangelicalism.)

My answer (not on Twitter, but here and now)?


The church has been undone by an abundance of zealous doers.

The problem is, if my observation of church service is correct, too much of the doing stems from the faulty notion of reciprocal obligation (God was obliged to do so much for me, I must now repay what He has done), which brings a burden on the one hand, and possibly Matthew 7-esque judgement on the other.

The bigger problem, is that hard work stemming from wrong springs, actually maligns God.

It makes Him out to be a lonely, needy, co-dependent, insufficient being, who desperately needs enough people to enlist in His cause if He is to have any chance of accomplishing His goals.

Come on, people.

Open up your Bible and read Job 38-40. Or Psalm 115:3. Or Romans 9. Don’t hit me up on Twitter with passages from James. I’m well aware of “be ye doers of the word and not just hearers.”

The problem with the modern church is that too many are not even hearers. They are not listening to the beautiful song of sovereign grace, but rather the hackneyed karaoke of a thousand amped up, risk taking, uneducated hipsters getting rich selling their new and improved to-do lists.

Where has all the rest gone?

“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” – Eph. 2:8-9

“It’s not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the Lord” (and no that does not apply to church growth you Calvary Chapelites, but the miraculous work of regeneration.) – Zech. 4:6

“So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, for whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from his.” – Heb. 4:9-10

“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” – Matt. 11:28-30

To further illustrate the point, consider the following quote by Dr. Martyn Llyod Jones:

“Scripture, in dealing with the Christian, always emphasizes first what he is, before it begins to speak of what he does.”

Not enough Christians know who they are.

They’re operating on faulty intel that says they must appease a moody, vengeful, fickle guy-in-the-sky with their fervent effort, and climb the evangelical corporate ladder, by out-serving the guy sitting in the pew next to them.

So what am I doing to fix the church? Well, besides nothing, first, I’m doing my darnedest to ensure I’m in the faith, by believing correct things about God. Second, my wife and I are busting our keisters to avoid creating 4 more, man worshiping, do crazed clones in our children. Third, I’m fighting to trust everyday that God’s wise providence has placed me where He desires and, therefore, is “fixing the church” via the truth of Acts 17:29 and 1 Corinthians 10:31. Fourth, I’m fighting for less egomaniacal secularization in the church by laboring (insufficiently, I fear) to convey right thinking about God and man.

So I suppose I’m doing my best to hear, while at the same time trusting that better hearing supernaturally results in better and more doing.