anonymous said:

Hey! So can you help me with a question ? My girls youth group have been having. How can I explain to them that “secular music” is not right ? They want an exact verse that says it. But in my eyes there is no right or wrong. When we do something we have to ask if it's something that praises or is parroted by God ...

Secular just means anything not sacred. I don’t think the secular song “Happy Birthday” is a sinful song to sing. I also don’t think singing about the love someone has for their wife or daughter or tractor is bad. It’s bad when we start talking about how inappropriate this one girl in the club was and how it got us lusting after her in our heart. Or when we start talking about how much we want wealth and fame and everything for ourselves. Or how we are god of our own lives and no one can tell us what to do. 

Music itself isn’t a moral concept. It’s amoral. It’s not good or bad. But like many other amoral things, (wealth, fame, etc) it can carry or amplify a moral message. Music is holy and unholy based off of the content of the lyrics.

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Philippians 4:8

And probably the best passage for evaluating media: 

Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries, and the like; of which I tell you beforehand, just as I also told you in time past, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law. Galatians 5

My Sin Ain't So Bad: Why Do I Need The Cross?

Anonymous asked:

I sometimes don’t understand the point of the cross. I don’t feel like I did anything bad enough for Jesus to die for. Some lustful thoughts that aren’t hurting anyone, an occasional lie that (again) doesn’t have consequences…Im not a great person, but almost nothing I or any “normal” person could do seems bad enough to earn Hell, or Jesus’s death. I want to feel thankful for it, but it’s hard when it also seems kinda unfair to make Jesus (or us) go through such wrath for such small things.

 

My friend, I know exactly what you mean, and I hope you will allow me the grace to dig deep on this one and perhaps challenge our thinking together.  I won’t try to convince you that you’re so bad and sinful and evil, and I also think it’s way more complicated than that.  We’re also free to disagree here, because I know that most of us do not see eye-to-eye on this one.

Before I even look at the idea of “sin,” I think it’s way more helpful to talk about our idea of “good.”  In my entire pastoral ministry, I never had difficulty talking about “sin” to the addicts, the ex-convicts, the struggling, the criminals.  They already knew they’ve messed it up. 

My difficulty was always with very “good people,” because what could I say?  They weren’t in desperate need for correction, for a Savior.  They would hear the sermon and say, “Oh yeah, I already do all that stuff.”  Most people in general are not doing black tar heroin or punching animals.

I came to Christ very late in life, and as an atheist, I absolutely believed that everyone was capable of moral good.  I still do believe that.  My morality back then was simple: I believed we all have a common human decency, and we ought to respect each other out of dignity.  Anyone who didn’t do this was a jerk.  I didn’t want to be a jerk. I thought this was common sense.  If you needed a “God” to love people, then I thought: you’re already a terrible person.

 

When I heard about Jesus “dying for my sin,” I felt two things.  1) This is absolutely stupid, because I didn’t ask for anyone to die for me, and 2) I was aware of the wrong things I did, and so at the very least, Jesus made a pretty nice gesture.

Here’s where my logic turned into Swiss cheese: and as I’ve said before, we might not agree, and our journeys might look very different from here. 

The Bible made it clear that my self-inflation and self-comparison were merely self-righteousness.  To say, “I don’t want to be a jerk” is still a jerk-ish thing to say, because I’m instantly condemning others.  My morality for “common human decency” was rigging my heart by pride, so that my motivation was to look like a good neighbor and upstanding citizen.  I would look down on others if they were not. 

On one hand, the “fear of God” is the worst kind of motivation to be a good person, but on the other hand, the fear of lettings others down or letting myself down was an equally false motivation.  Even respecting each other out of “dignity” was grading myself on a moral paradigm of performance that would crush me or crush others.   I was tricking my behavior while never really changing on the inside.  I was using shame and guilt-trips to motivate me into morality: and we all do it.

If we’re motivated to do good to look good and get good back, then of course: none of this is very good.  We need a pure motivation, a piercing kind of goodness that doesn’t need self-inflation.

Some of us are simply “bad” because we fall into being very “good.”  Trying to escape your life by thrills is just as toxic as trying to elevate yourself by self-will.

In Colossians 2, Paul doesn’t call out the obvious bad things that we do.  He says that our drive to be good people is a “deceptive philosophy.”  It’s a sort of inner-flagellation with an “appearance of wisdom” and “self-worship” and “false humility,” and it “lacks any value to restrain sensual indulgence.”  In other words: the only reason we’re good is so we don’t look bad, and it’s bad when that’s your only reason to be good.

 

The problem isn’t so much that I’m a “bad person,” but that I need healing from my selfishness.  We can do good, but it’s always for the wrong reasons.  I’m in constant seeking of approval and affirmation by my actions; I long for a love to tell me “You’re okay, you did great.”  We yearn to hear, “Well done.”  We want to be both fully known and fully loved, and until we get to Jesus and the love of his cross, we’re still in this desperate sin-filled race of validation.

Now it’s true that many of us might not do many wrong things.  But our capacity for evil also runs way deeper than we think.  No one is so bad that they’re beyond redemption, but no one is so good that they’re beyond corruption.  This is the plotline of nearly every successful movie and TV show, from Breaking Bad to The Dark Knight to Rugrats.

I look at the genocide in Iraq, or the pyramid schemes of CEOs, or the 27 million slaves in the world: and I think, I’m definitely not as bad as the perpetrators of these crimes.  I could never do what they did.

Then I think of myself in the same situation.  I think, What if I had grown up with the same temptations, upbringing, cultural “values,” and corrupted ideologies as the oppressors?  Would I be any better than them?  Would I really be so much more sophisticated than the worst people in the world?

What if I was Adam or Eve in that Garden?  How long before I would also rip the fruit off the tree?

You’ve heard of the Stanley Milgram Experiment.  It’s quite famous for answering the question, How could these Nazi “doctors” exterminate so many people but go home to kiss their family?  In other words, Did the Nazis simply follow orders?  And as far as the experiment goes: it appears that most people are willing to electrocute someone against their screams, so long as we’re told to by an authority figure to keep pressing the button.  Sixty-five percent of them kept going even when the subjects “died.”

Do you remember the old Twilight Zone episode called “The Monsters Are Due On Maple Street”?  Hang with me here.  This small town has its power shut off at random, and all the townspeople blame each other and start looting and setting fires and eventually kill someone.  The surprise ending **spoilers** is that aliens were controlling the power to see how humans would react if you just shut off a few lights. 

At the end, the aliens say this:

First Alien: Understand the procedure now? Just stop a few of their machines and radios and telephones and lawn mowers, throw them into darkness for a few hours, and then sit back and watch the pattern.
Second Alien: And this pattern is always the same?
First Alien: With few variations. They pick the most dangerous enemy they can find, and it’s themselves. All we need do is sit back and watch.

And the narrator says this:

The tools of conquest do not necessarily come with bombs and explosions and fallout. There are weapons that are simply thoughts, attitudes, prejudices, to be found only in the minds of men.

I know it’s just a TV show.  But read the news long enough: and you’ll find people just like you and me, who never did a very wrong thing their whole lives, get thrown into a crazy situation and suddenly become the monsters on Maple Street.

 

All that to say: Each of us are capable of the worst atrocities imaginable, given the proper conflicts and resources and time.  It only takes the quiet bubble of a suburban Westernized neighborhood to truly fool ourselves into thinking we’re “good people.”  When you take away your roof, your toys, and your laws: we all become the enemy.

The only reason you probably haven’t killed your boss when you’re mad at him is because of the police.  It’s also a lot of work to buy a shovel and dig a hole.  The only reason you haven’t looted your local Walmart or punched your ex-boyfriend is because you’ve restrained yourself with societal norms. 

Is that true goodness?  Because in a post-apocalyptic world of zombies, we’re all the Governor.  None of us are Rick.  None of us are even as good as Carl. 

We’re all two steps away from utter chaos. 

The world is pretty crazy, but maybe we should be astonished that it’s not even as terrible as it could be. 

I know who I really am inside.  I’m a wretched, wicked, twisted up rebel.  I’ve only been good out of self-righteous motives, to prove I’m good: which means I’ve never done any good on my own.  None of us are truly altruistic at the core. 

Yet such deep sin points to a deep need for a correction of the universe.  How could we know things are very wrong unless there must be a very right?  Why do we feel anguish at injustice unless we knew of justice?  I’m sure a philosopher or psychologist or very witty blogger could beat me here point-by-point.  I’ve heard them all, and frankly, I’m jaded by all the debating.  I’ve lived long enough to know that we all love to justify ourselves to death, to get what we want, at the expense of each other.  And this is more reason and not less to believe that a righteousness must be outside us, beyond us, supernatural, not from this world, but breaking in, in order to bring healing to a busted up people.  

Jesus had to bear the curse of the hostility of a broken world, for all we could do and have done.  And though he had to die for the depth of our sin, he was glad to die for the death of our sin: because he loves us.

I choose to believe, with my weak little faith, that the righteousness we need comes from Jesus.  It’s out of his own self-initiated, one-way, just-because love, and he expects nothing back: which is the only way our hearts could be big enough to do the same.  I believe, in the end, that the cross cuts us down to our true size and exposes our great need.  But there in the cross, we also have a Great Savior, who does not say, "Look what you did to me," but instead, "Look what I’ve done for you."  This is the only kind of grace that will wreck my sin and bring me back to who I was meant to be.

— J.S.

My Thoughts on Predestination and Election

Anonymous asked you:

Do you believe in predestination? I’d like to hear your opinion because I’ve heard a lot about it lately and wanted to gain some insight on it!

I do believe in predestination. However, it is not the Calvinistic/Reformed view of predestination that has almost become synonymous with the term. Predestination is a biblical term, not a Calvinistic term. Those who hold the Bible to be authoritative have to do something with predestination, because it is in the text. This is true for all related terms, such as election, foreknowledge, etc. I’m not any sort of authority on this, but this is just some stuff I have concluded in my research and study on this topic.

So, this is what I do with the texts. When I tell people that I’m not a Calvinist, they automatically assume that I have to be an Arminian. But I don’t see either ways to be the most in line with a sound hermeneutic and exegesis of the biblical passages that deal with it. The main problem that I find with both is that they make predestination an individualistic idea. 

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Does Prayer Even Do Anything? Doesn't Stuff Happen Anyway?

peterpencomplex asked:

hi pastor j- i think your blog is AWESOME, but i didn’t have enough room to explain myself. just wanted to say i think you should keep being completely 100% honest/real, because that’s how everyone else knows their walk of faith is not in vain. wanted to ask you about prayer. why do i pray? am i the only one that feels like i am closing my eyes and whispering into a vast darkness of nothingness? why is God so insistent on prayer, yet I don’t see anything changing? (matthew 7).

seeking-a-revival asked:

When we pray for someone I know that our prayers alone cannot change them but when we see prayers answered God has listened and His spirit has helped the person we prayed for? I am not sure what to think when I see a prayer get answered no matter who or how many prayed for a specific cause.

 

Hey my friends: May I first please commend you because you both actually care about your prayer-life.  When people tell me, “The least we can do is pray,” I always think, "That’s the most we can do."

But I also know that prayer is extremely, ridiculously, awfully difficult.  Whenever a preacher starts with his guilt-trip — “When was the last time you really prayed, huh?” — I immediately feel like crap.  I’ve never heard anyone say, “Man I got that prayer thing on lock.”  I haven’t met a single person who’s fully confident in the art and results of prayer.

Mostly we feel icky about this because —

1) We feel too guilty to pray.  We’re not sure God wants to hear us after we looked at porn / cussed out my parents / gossiped for two hours / punched that guy in the ear.

2) We’re self-conscious about it.  We’re not sure how long, or what words, or if we’re doing it right, or if we’re truly sincere.

3) And of course: We secretly wonder if it even works.

 

So here’s one thing I know about prayer.

It’s totally natural to doubt and wonder if prayer is working.

At times I think God just does what He wants: so why should I pray?

At times I think the world will spin without me if I stop praying: so why should I pray?

Very often it feels like I’m chucking coins into the dark: so why should I pray?

At times I’m so distracted and distraught and intermittent during prayer, I don’t think God will hear that one.  Or maybe all that stuff about “unconfessed sin” or “not enough faith” is really true.  Or God didn’t answer a big one and I’m done with Him. So why, oh why, should I pray?

 

You see: Jesus taught his disciples to pray in a way that we’re participating in God’s story.   Let’s consider that in the Lord’s Prayer, there are several direct petitions, most remarkably, Your will be done on earth as it is in Heaven.

God wouldn’t challenge us to ask for things unless the turning of our hearts in His direction actually changes a part of the universe.

I know it sounds like a drunken power-trip. But in other words: Jesus is telling us that when we pray, that somehow this touches upon the heart of the Creator so that the very fabric of reality is moved and shifted and infinitely rippling in incalculable motion, so that we are active participants within the narrative of God.  None of us are bystanders or spectators, ever.

When we ask God to do something: even the very act of asking Him has caused a chain reaction.  It’s already moved you.  And sometimes, like a divine tower crane, God intervenes into history and orchestrates things for your good and for His glory. 

It’s by God’s very own grace and love and mercy that He gives us the opportunity to re-write a part of His narrative.  Just think of how crazy that is.  I don’t mean to give you a swole ego here.  I’m just saying: even this knowledge that God hears us should already change the way we pray.  It puts us in the right perspective, in reverence, with gratitude, because He hears you and me, little fragile squishy meaty bony fist-shaking people with our desperate daily worries and concerns.  He hears us.  The God who can smush galaxies with His thumbnail also has His ear on your heart.

When we don’t pray, it could be that by sheer grace, God just answers a prayer we forgot to pray for, to demonstrate He hears us anyway. 

It could be that He knows what we wanted before we get a chance to tell Him. 

It could be that by sheer grace, God withholds what we wanted, not because He has “something better in store,” but simply because you already have Him

 

In the end, asking “does prayer work” is probably the wrong question.  If I asked, “Does marriage work?” or “Does love work?” — we’ve suddenly diminished these things into mechanical institutions. 

Here’s an example.  Sometimes I feel like I’ve wasted a day when I don’t do enough, because to me, a productive day is about accomplishing a to-do list.  Most days I feel horrible because I haven’t done all that I set out to do.  Yet: If all I care about is “doing,” but I don’t ask “Why am I even doing this?” — then everything becomes a blunt tool for me to fulfill my daily agenda.  I’m taking the essence out of beauty and replacing it with function.  It’s making a living, but not a life.

Every time I ask, “Does prayer work?” — well, I’ve sort of turned prayer into a pragmatic savior.  It’s a good question, but it’s incomplete and only gives half the picture. 

Jesus taught us that prayer begins with, Our Father.  This is important.  This is the space in which rich, vibrant, heart-pulsing intimacy happens.  And when we can rest in Our Father just long enough, then I don’t think we’ll be too disappointed when our prayers don’t “serve” us. We trust that He’s already served us by His Son, who has opened the throne-room to the King who who heals our busted hearts.  This is the ultimate answered prayer that we didn’t even know we were looking for: but He answered anyway.

And it’s only a King-healed heart by the work of Christ that can actually appreciate and appropriately manage the physical provisions that God does give us.  Imagine if you got everything you wanted this very second.  Imagine instantly getting all the fame, the money, and the power in the world.  I would die.  So would you.  When I see a celebrity meltdown and say, “I would be way smarter with all that money,” that’s a terrible over-estimation.  God wants us to be a certain people so that we can do with His earthly blessings.  You’ve seen what happens when we get this out of order.  So it’s definitely okay to ask for things, but prayer is primarily about getting the character of Christ by osmosis.

 

My friends, a last word. I know it hurts when God doesn’t answer a prayer.  I know that very often, prayer can be a mystery, and we constantly second-guess ourselves, and we’ll feel powerless.  I want to humbly ask that you continue to talk with God regardless of what’s happening around you: because He’s there, regardless of what’s happening around you.  I want to ask that you soak in His grace before His gifts.  I want to ask that you trust Him, that even if He’s not working a miracle you can see right now, that He’s possibly working a much bigger miracle in you and the people around you, and even if nothing else changes, you will.  As corny and cliche as it sounds: I want to ask that you would approach Him as a child sits on his Father’s lap, to both ask for things and to bask in Him. 

— J.S.

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Do you want to know if God exists? New Mormon Message on a true story of struggle and doubt.

This is who you are...

Let’s tell the truth, Christianity is really simple to understand. I mean yes, people can sometimes make it complicated, but only when they’re screwing it up. Otherwise, it’s simple. Grace is a simple concept a small child can understand, the same goes for salvation, baptism, and the virgin birth.

Sure, you can use fancy Latin words for points of doctrine, Sola Scriptura (if it ain’t in the Bible, then it ain’t kosher), or Sola Fides (we’re saved by faith, and not by any good deeds), but the ideas are dirt simple. I took a confirmation class when I was 13, and I haven’t learned anything new about good doctrine since.

To be sure, the implications of grace (for example) are deep, vast, and worthy of marveling over, but tellingly we don’t do much of that. Last time I checked, I noticed a lot of Christians spending time meditating on how limited grace might be. Because if we accepted grace, and all these other utterly simple points of doctrine in their simplicity, then we’d have to finally live by them.

As long as we can throw up our hands and proclaim, “who’s to say?”, then we don’t have to do anything. The jury is still out. We’ll see. Did the Apostles do this kind of endless questioning? No. By contrast, Paul often used the phrase “I am convinced”.

Christianity is simple. Really. Super simple. But LIVING it… now, that is complicated. Once we finish philosophizing about it, and playing with it, then it’s time to live it out. Practically. In the real world. 

I told you that, to tell you this: I’m betting that you’re reading these words precisely because you want to live out your Christianity in an authentic way. You’re reading these words because you’ve stepped out, and you want to hear from those who have done the same. I just want to hold a mirror up to you, and let you adjust to this new awareness of yourself. 

You haven’t become more saved, or less of a sinner, but you are suddenly becoming a useful tool in the Master’s hands. 

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Prayer for Non-Believers

O Lord, have mercy on the non-believers of the world, the numbers of people who walk in the darkness of the shadow of the valley of death.

Have pity on abandoned sinners, on the malicious, on outcasts, on the fallen and the depraved. Have mercy on the dying and especially those who have none to pray for them.

With all the fervour of thy Sacred Heart, my Jesus, pray and beseech thy Heavenly Father for the conversion of all sinners, and for the perseverance in thy grace of all the just. Amen.

coreykeeton said:

What do you think about being baptized more than once?

I think if someone has rededicated their life to Christ that it’s fine to get baptised again. Baptism is a statement of intent. A declaration of the new life inside the believer. 

Also, if someone had no clue what was going on when they were first baptised, I think it’s fine to get baptised again as well. Jesus was over 30 when He got baptised. For those of you that haven’t read the story, it was at that moment that the Spirit of God descended onto Him and there was a voice from heaven that said, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.”

I believe the person being baptised needs to be aware of what they are doing. It’s a profound moment.

A quick (or maybe not so quick) word on some thoughts I have. My brother in Christ, Ian, said some things that I wanted to touch on (which I approached him privately to discuss these things more directly and one-on-one). I respect him, and so this is not at all a bash at him. I was simply troubled by some of his conclusions and thoughts and wanted to address them.

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