Monday, September 15, 2014

No Putrid Message, Please

Kerry and Chris Shook's Be The Message updates the old cliche, "Preach the Gospel--if necessary, use words." Let's talk about that idea from a Biblical perspective. I'll refer to several Scriptures, so please click the links; quoting so many of them directly in one blog post might put me in danger of violating the ESV copyright permission. But we need to examine the Shooks' premise in light of what the Word of God teaches.

I agree that a person's behavior, in general,  demonstrates his true beliefs.  James 2:14-26 indeed maintains that  "faith without works is dead." Jesus Himself warned that He will reject those who call Him Lord while actively disobeying His commandments (Matthew 7:21-27). The Shooks must be commended, therefore, for their desire to address the obvious disconnect between what evangelicals profess to believe and how we actually live. The non-Christian world sees our hypocrisy, and uses it as an excuse to reject Christ.

That said, our good behavior, in and of itself, can only (at best) lead people to ask us about the Lord (1 Peter 3:15). Of course, we should remember the broader context of this verse. 1 Peter 3:8-22 offers guidelines to Christians in the midst of suffering for their commitment to  Christ. The First Century believers to whom Peter originally wrote amazed their critics by clinging to Jesus when simply renouncing Him would have liberated them from persecution. They did far more than live good lives. They proclaimed Christ in an empire that made such proclamations punishable by death.

Their potential martyrdom went far beyond "right living." Good behavior certainly reflects God's standards for personal holiness, but without accompanying words about the grace of God that transforms a sinner, such good behavior degenerates into self-righteous morality that the Lord considers putrid (see Isaiah 64:6).

Rather than "being the message" by presuming that our actions will magically attract people to the Gospel, let's actually open our mouths and tell people the Gospel. The Word of God, not our morality, has the power to kindle saving faith!
14 How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? 15 And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” 16 But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?” 17 So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ. ~~Romans 10:14-17 (ESV)

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Precious Moments Of Spiritual Sanity

In my saner moments, I realize that I contributed nothing to my salvation. Oh, I used to love telling people how "I" accepted Jesus, completely ignoring passages like Ephesians 2:1-10 (that passage teaches that I was dead in my sins until the Lord gave me faith to receive His saving grace). But in my precious moments of spiritual sanity, the Lord allows me to understand that I owe my salvation completely to Him. Therefore, I scratch my head in bewilderment, baffled but deeply grateful that He chose to save me.

The hymn writer Isaac Watts, back in 1707, wrote about the awe (hence his word, "aweful") he felt at being invited into the Lord's house. Listen to his lyrics of gratitude, and let them draw you into a saner moment of worship.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Redirecting The Message

During a typical day, I'll read several blog posts, some of which I'll post on Twitter and Facebook. Usually, these posts kick-start my own thoughts, and I'll blog my responses and additional thoughts, hopefully doing more than simply regurgitating what I've read. For the most part, I believe I've benefited from the information and perspectives of other Christian bloggers. They sharpen my understanding of Scripture, and sometimes help me see more clearly why various trends in evangelical circles disturb me.

Today, however, I want to comment on a new fad that just begins to position itself on the spiritual horizon. Full disclosure: an off-handed remark Mike Abendroth made on Tuesday's episode of No Compromise Radio alerted me to the book that most likely will spawn this fad throughout evangelical churches, so I can't claim to be the first to recognize the coming bandwagon. But my fellow bloggers, as far as I know, have yet to discover this little aberration.

Pastor Kerry Shook and his wife Chris have co-authored a book called Be The Message. The premise, which sounds Biblical enough, promotes finding integrity between what we claim to believe and our day-to-day behavior. Okay, I can get behind that. Far too many professing Christians blaspheme the Lord's Name by continuing to live in rebellion against His commands.

Yet Kerry Shook's blog skews the Biblical teaching, making human behavior, rather than the grace of God, central in the Christian's witness. Rather than proclaiming the Gospel that the shed blood of Jesus provides the only atonement for human depravity, Shook and his wife maintain a focus on how we can exemplify Christlike lives. Consider this excerpt from his September 10, 2014 blog post:
We will never really experience all those good things we have in Christ until we live the message we believe. God is calling His people to be the message, to live the sermon, so the world, that is sick of hearing sermons, may see a sermon lived out! How can we be the message? How do we experience the power of genuine faith at work in and through our everyday lives? If I am going to be the message I must ask and answer some tough questions and be honest with myself.
The emphasis elevates us, not Christ. The message showcases our works when it ought to declare His  gracious strength in the face of our weakness. Certainly, the Holy Spirit inspired the apostle Paul to consider his frailties to best display the power of Christ:
So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 10 For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong. ~~2 Corinthians 12:7-10 (ESV)
My fellow bloggers will soon be writing their own critiques of Be The Message, and I eagerly anticipate their comments. Because most evangelicals will, predictably, rush to this latest "Christian" craze, we'll need to remind people that the real message is in Jesus alone.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Stop Looking For Joseph's Pants

This video came to me through Naomi's Table Google+ group this morning, and I knew I wanted to share it here. I completely agree that Christians need to stop rummaging around for Joseph's pants. Of course, you won't understand the allusion to Joseph's pants unless you watch the video. On that note, I'll commend you to R.C. Sproul:

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

My Good Day Sampling Three Centuries

As the Green Line conductor helped us off the trolley at the Museum of Fine Arts  stop yesterday morning, he said, "Have a good day!" I wanted to reply cheerfully, "Of course I'll have a good day...I'm going to the Museum!" As I see it, a day of enjoying beautiful art can't avoid being wonderful.

Once in the Museum, we noticed that a  free guided tour of the Art Of The Americas wing would start shortly. My long-time readers know, at this point, how much I love guided tours, and you also know that my husband spoils me rotten when it  comes to to things of this nature. Since we have declared September as our vacation month, I particularly felt that we should do something a little differently, so taking a tour offered a  perfect plan!
Our docent

Although John took several photographs during the tour (as well as taking excellent notes), I've decided against commenting on every piece the docent showed us. (After all, being on vacation extends to my blogging activities.) I will, therefore, discuss three pieces that I liked. Happily, I liked one from the 18th Century, one from the 19th and one from the 20th, so I can give a good representation of the tour without wading through too many details.

The Puritans of the 18th Century, while they didn't frown on painting entirely, tended to channel their artistic energies toward carpentry so that they created beautiful furniture. This stunning bookcase and desk demonstrates the Rhode Island love of the sea through its shell design:
Look closer, and you'll see a concave/convex pattern in the panels and drawers. I can't resist speculating that the pattern intentionally mimics the undulation of ocean waves, although our docent never said as much. Examine this detail (blurry only because the Museum can't permit flash photography) and see what you think of my theory.
Moving to the mid-19th Century, our docent introduced us to Fitz Henry Lane's painting, entitled Boston Harbor. Painted between 1850 and 1855, this portrayal of Boston Harbor at sunset gives the viewer a feeling of tranquility.
But Lane's sunset serves as a metaphor of the end of the clipper ship era. In the lower right corner of the painting, barely visible unless you look for  it, a small steamboat encroaches on the harbor to signal the coming of the Industrial Revolution. I've made a detail of the painting's corner, circling the steamboat with red.
If you still can't see it, click this link from the Museum of Fine Arts page on Lane.

The tour concluded with one of my favorite 20th Century paintings, Georgia O'Keefe's 1927 White Rose With  Larkspur  No. 2. I love the piece even more knowing that it hung over her bed until she gave it to the Museum in the 1950s.
The Green Line conductor quite probably tells most of his passengers to have a good day, meaning it sincerely each time. He has no idea,  however, what a fantastically good day I really had. Then again, I always have a wonderful day exploring the Museum of Fine Arts.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Reflecting On A Novel

Emily Of New Moon by Lucy Maud Montgomery tells the  story of  an orphaned girl forced to live with her two maiden aunts. Emily has a passion for writing. To her, it's as essential as breathing. I  believe my mom gave me this book, when I first developed an interest in writing, hoping I would cultivate a similar attitude toward writing.

As I reread the book this summer, I felt saddened that writing, though enjoyable, has always been a pursuit I could take or leave. I appreciate having the ability, certainly, and accept that I can best serve the Lord through crafting words into sentences and paragraphs. But I just don't share Emily's intrinsic need to write. And my lack of fire somehow makes me feel ashamed.


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