What We Say to God When we Sin

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I am convinced if we realized all the things we were saying to God when se sin, we’d turn to God more and we’d sin less. There’s a lot of overlap between these statements, but hopefully these will help you better understand the deceitfulness of sin. We see these statements all reflected in the very first sin (Genesis 3), and they’re equally true of our own temptations today.

“I know better than you.” 
We redefine what is sinful and what isn’t sinful… while sexuality is the obvious example today, it’s far from the only example. Do you copy music or watch pirated movies online? Do you login to someone else’s Netflix or Spotify so you don’t need to pay for services you are receiving. The Bible calls this stealing, and that’s a sin. When we do this, we are justifying our sin by telling God that we have better judgment about right and wrong.

“I don’t trust you. You Don’t care about me.” 
One of the devil’s earliest tricks is to attack our trust in God. The serpent led Adam and Eve to question God’s goodness, and this still happens to us. When we trust that someone else is wiser than we are and they truly care for us, then we’re likely to take their advice… especially when we’re not sure what to do. And yet, in times like that, we are often tempted towards mistrust rather than trust when it comes to God, because temptation relies on driving a wedge of mistrust between us and God.

“I’m happier without you.”
Temptation is tempting because it looks good and promises happiness. If we believe that sin is more exciting than godliness, then we will obviously be more drawn to sinfulness. But if we believe that God truly satisfies our longing for joy and pleasure and happiness then we’d be able to stare temptation in the face and say, “You have nothing for me but cheap thrills and I want more than that.”

Reconsider how you view sin and how you view God. Do you believe that God’s Word is truth, that He truly loves you and and that rich and lasting joy is found through intimacy with God? As the Francis Chan video below says: “God is better.”

So how do we fight sin and overcome temptation? I’ve written two articles that address those questions, you can read them here:

What is the Fear of the LORD?

What is the fear of the LORD? This is something many of us have heard about in church or read in the Bible, but it remains an abstract thought that we can’t clearly explain.

If “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge” (Proverbs 1:7), then it’s an important thing for us to understand what that means. Easton’s Bible Dictionary describes the fear of the LORD this way,

It is a fear conjoined with love and hope, and is therefore not a slavish dread,
but rather filial reverence.”
(Easton Bible Dictionary)

So it’s not a fearful dread that creates distance. Instead, it’s a fear build on love and hope that draws near to God in worship, humility, and obedience. These are the three keys to understanding what the Bible means by “the fear of the LORD.”

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How Busyness Chokes out Faith

When I was interviewing for my current position as a youth pastor someone asked me, “What do you think is the greatest challenge facing teenagers today?”

It’s a great question. I remember giving some answer about postmodernism and the challenge of living in a relativistic culture. Blah blah blah. I’m sure my answer was brilliant… but let me take another crack at it.

busyness
Busyness. Without a doubt, I’d answer, “Busyness.” And I’m not alone.

The Barna Research Group and Youth Specialties have conducted a “State of Youth Ministry” and found that 74% of youth pastors say teen busyness is the main obstacle to ministry while only 11% of parents claim their teenagers are too busy.

Let that sink in. 89% of parents are ok with their teenager’s busyness but only 26% of youth pastors agree. I think that qualifies as a discussion point between youth pastors and parents!

As a youth pastor, you can guess where I fall, but I think it would be helpful to clarify why busyness is so spiritually dangerous that so many church leaders point to it as the primary challenge they face in their ministries. (note: this is not a unique challenge to those of us who serve in youth ministry… teenagers have learned it from someone!)

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What’s the Difference Between a D.Min and Ph.D?

Trevin Wax has recently offered his counsel for those considering a Ph.D. I really appreciated his post, because it’s something I’ve prayed about many times. In the end, I opted to pursue a D.Min. in “Ministry to Emerging Generations” through Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, which I completed in January of 2014. I had known that I would pursue a doctorate of some kind for a few years, but I was torn between Ph.D and D.Min.

Version 2There was a long time where I didn’t consider a D.Min a “real” doctorate and looked down on it as an imposter doctorate… something people get when they want the title “Dr” but they aren’t smart enough to get a Ph.D. Obviously, my opinion has changed.

My hope is that this post will help clarify the differences between a Ph.D and a D.Min while offering what I wish I had known going into the program. Continue reading

What’s the Difference Between Roman Catholic and Protestant Christianity?

My wife is a teacher and has been asked many many times how she’s married to a priest. We live in New England, I am Irish, and I work in a church… therefore it’s natural for people to assume we are Catholic.

Gone are the days where Catholics and Protestants banish one another as inherently nonChristian, but we’ve also begun to overlook the legitimate differences in ways that are a bit worrisome. I know some Roman Catholics whom I consider true believers; and I’ve know some Protestants whose faith I question. Contrary to popular opinion, the Pope is not the main difference between the two. Ironically, there are normal Catholics whom I believe are “saved” even while the Pope is not.

The Five Sola’s of the Reformation serve as a good reminder about the foundational differences between the Roman Catholic Church and the Protestant Churches; especially since the issues the Reformers protested have not changed. These are not presented with anything other than a desire to clarify the difference between Roman Catholic Christianity and Protestant Christianity – there is no desire to spread judgment or animosity.

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Four Motifs for Sharing the Gospel

The gospel is the greatest news and it is the Christian’s honor to announce it to all people everywhere… if only it was that easy. So often, we simply don’t know how to “bring it up” or deal with the rejection.

As we read through the book of Acts, we see how the apostles preached and applied the gospel in their ministries and there’s much to learn. I am particularly fond of Paul’s example in Acts 17 where he’s in Athens, the academic and philosophical center of the Roman Empire.

Christians today can learn from Paul’s example, discerning which “Gospel Motif” connects with the people to whom he is ministering, and then using that motif to lead them towards the gospel.

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God is Not Fair

Fairness has become one of the gold-standards of American culture. Everyone is equal. For anyone to receive preference is akin to discrimination and will surely bring a lawsuit. In many ways, this is good and entirely appropriate for any free society.

Fairness doesn’t mean everyone gets the same thing. It means you get what you deserve. This is our default theology. For those of us who are more melancholy, we live with guilt and gloom we cannot escape, because we have a more negative view of ourselves and the world. Others have a go-get-’em mentality and always see the positive side of things, and they live with the expectation that since they’ve never been arrested they’re all-good in God’s eyes.

But there are some ways in which fairness is unhealthy. Because love isn’t fair: it prefers the beloved over and above all others. I think my kids are cuter than your kids are. I’m sorry, but I just do. And I assume you think your kids are cuter than mine. Because that’s what love does. It’s not fair, but it’s good.

God is love. And God is not fair. But he is good, and he is just.

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Is “Forgive and Forget” Biblical?

We’ve all been hurt. We’ve all been forgiven. We’ve all needed to be forgiven. But some hurts are simply too difficult to truly forget.

“Forgive and forget” sounds good advice until you’re the one hearing it. Then, when it’s personal and when the hurt is deep, it seems like you’re expected to do something impossible. And for the Christian, it begs the question: Is “forgive and forget” biblical?

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Suffering and the Problem of Evil

Today marks the 15th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorism attack on New York City and the Pentagon. In the midst of such commemorations, it’s important to ask ourselves (and to allow others to ask) hard questions. The Problem of Evil is among the most difficult topics to address.

Traditionally, the problem of evil is stated in three sentences, of which one supposedly cannot be true:

Suffering exists in the world

God is sovereign and in control of the world

God is good and loving.

Even some Christians attempt to “let God off the hook” by minimizing the pain of suffering. Hope gives strength to endure, but it does not mean suffering isn’t painful. Minimizing the legitimacy of suffering as a cause for doubt is intellectually dishonest and emotionally callous.

Yet, some defend God’s goodness by saying that he would stop all suffering and pain if he could. They determine any number of reasons why God can’t, but in the end, he would stop it if he could but he can’t. This version of God is kind and gentle, but powerless to save and unworthy of reverent worship.

Another response upholds God’s holiness but seems to minimize his compassion for the people who endure such suffering and pain. This God is holy and worthy of worship, but he is difficult to love.

One of the best Christian responses to the problem of evil comes through Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers. At this point in the book/movie, all hope seems lost as the Dark Lord Sauron is growing in power and hope seems to be fading in Frodo and his team’s quest to destroy the ring of power. As Frodo is overwhelmed by the impossibility of success, he has the following dialogue with his friend and compatriot, Sam:

(I know you’re probably tempted to skip over this video. Don’t. It’s 2:30 long, and brilliant. If you’re somewhere public so you can’t listen, read the text HERE and watch it later, this scene is really just that good.) 

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How I Changed My Mind on the Doctrine of Election

When I was a freshman in college, I remember the first time someone asked what I believed about the doctrine of Election. It was my friend Julie, and we were in Introduction to the New Testament. Honestly, I needed her to explain what Election meant before I could even tell her if I agreed or disagreed with it.

All I knew about John Calvin was from high school Social Studies class saying that he believed God created some people for Heaven and some people for Hell. That sounded pretty unbiblical to me, and everyone in class thought that was pretty terrible, so I agreed with them. Why would anyone like this Calvin guy?

A photo by Alex Siale. unsplash.com/photos/qH36EgNjPJY

As I sat under the spectrum of Bible/Theology professors, some of whom were Arminian and some who were Reformed, I was drawn again and again to wrestle with the simple text of Scripture.

“I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion.” (Exodus 33:19)

“No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day.” (John 6:44)

“You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide…” (John 15:16)

“But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, “Why have you made me like this?” Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use? What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory” (Romans 9:20-23)

“Even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved.” (Ephesians 1:4-6)

What would I do with these passages? I didn’t really want to believe them. I wanted to mix them up and explain them away. But that would mean I’m explaining away a ton of passages which seem pretty clear and direct… and that didn’t seem right or honest.

At the same time, the Bible talks a lot about our responsibility and freedom to choose:

 “Now therefore fear the Lord and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness. Put away the gods that your fathers served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord. And if it is evil in your eyes to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your fathers served in the region beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” (Joshua 24:14-15)

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)

“For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 3:23-24)

“This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” (1 Timothy 2:4)

“The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.” (2 Peter 3:9)

 

Rather than going into the details of what I currently believe about the particulars of Election, here are three general truths I’ve learned which have greatly shaped my Christian life.

Be Faithful to Scripture, Not Your Theological Grid: Embrace the Mystery
It’s so tempting to read and study theological systems and simply fall into them comfortably. Resist theological comfort. Stick to what the Bible teaches. If there’s a theological system that persuades you because it handles the whole counsel of God with greater faithfulness than any other system you’ve found, then great… follow that theological grid completely. But there are some times when grids draw conclusions in order to be logically consistent, not because the Bible clearly teaches that conclusion.

There are all sorts of versions of Arminianism as well as Calvinism. For sure, there’s a strong temptation to be so internally consistent within There is even a growing identify for Reformed Arminians, whose soteriology is a blend of both theological traditions (Roger Olsen, here’s looking at you).

Does God choose? Yes.
Do I choose? Yes.
Is that a contradiction? No… it’s a mystery. 

We need to avoid the temptation to ignore or distort Scripture from correcting our theology. Instead, we need to correct our theology to square with good biblical exegesis. Theology flows from Scripture.

God’s Sovereignty is Greater Than My Freedom
I’ve come across so many Reformed folk who are so focused on divine election they balk at any mention of human freedom. At the same time, I’ve met way too many arminians who talk/preach as if people willingly choose God apart from His sovereign call. God’s sovereignty doesn’t erase my freedom. My freedom doesn’t overpower God’s sovereignty. My freedom finds its strength through submission to the sovereignty of God.

The Bible repeatedly proclaims the holiness, sovereignty, and faithfulness of God. It also keeps reminding us of the sinfulness and faithlessness of God’s people. And yet, God continually rescues and saves his people. It seems far more biblical to err on the side of trusting God.

If there’s anything my ongoing war against sin teaches me, it’s that I would never choose God if it was completely up to me. I love Jesus and have assurance of salvation, and yet I continue to give in to temptation often enough that I should realize my salvation is completely the work of God, and whatever faith I have comes from Him. I am free and responsible before God. But all the glory for salvation and holiness goes to God.

Election Demands Humility
Where I had always believed the doctrine of Election promoted pride, I came to realize the opposite is true. This should be obvious. Unfortunately, it’s not.

God did not choose the elect because they were better or more worthy. Because I know that anything good in me is the result of God’s initiative, then what could I possibly boast about? There is no room for pride. God did not choose the elect because they were worthy, but because he chooses the foolish to shame the wise, so that his power might be put on full display.

“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.” (Ephesians 2:8-9)

“But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God.” (1 Corinthians 1:27-29)

When we discuss the Doctrines of Grace, Election, Sovereignty, Freedom, or whatever else you want to call it… may we all remember these principles:

  1. The Bible is God’s Word. Theology helps us explain what the Bible teaches, but only when it’s the servant of Scripture. Keep the discussion about the text of Scripture as you disagree with others about theology. Also, when you keep the conversation centered around the Word of God then you (should) be less likely to speak disrespectfully to each other.
  2. Put God first. This is a priority everyone can agree on at the practical level of what it means to live theologically. In everything we do, we must put God first. I am persuaded that salvation from the very start to the very fulfillment is the work of God. Still, we have work to do, and both the power and motivation for that work come from God.
  3. Kill your pride. Pride should have nothing to do with these conversations. Stop being proud that you’re theologically right and the other people are wrong. Stop taking more credit than you deserve (this applies to everyone).