“Many pray for the power of God. More every year. Those prayers sound powerful, sincere, godly, and without ulterior motive. Hidden under such prayer and fervor, however, are ambition, a craving for fame, the desire to be considered a spiritual giant. The person who prays such a prayer may not even know it, but dark motives and desires are in his heart…in your heart.

Even as people pray these prayers, they are hollow inside. There is little internal spiritual growth. Prayer for power is the quick and short way, circumnavigating internal growth. There is a vast difference between the outward clothing of the Spirit’s power and the inward filling of the Spirit’s life. In the first, despite the power, the hidden man of the heart may remain unchanged. In the latter, that monster is dealt with.

(Edwards, Gene. A Tale of Three Kings: A Study in Brokenness. 1980. Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale. 1992. 40-41.)

Inward Power vs Outward Power

Lookout Points

One door closes and another opens. The way is always forward not backward even if it seems like I moved to the side. That being said, there are moments when the way provides lookout points to assess where I’ve been and where I’m headed. I have come to view these lookout moments as pauses or breaks in the action. The hustle and bustle of life has a way of swallowing them up. When the way provides breaks in the action, wisdom demands that I respond in kind. It’s so very important to recognize where I’ve been, where I am, and where I’m going. Someone once said that the unexamined life is not worth living. I agree with that assessment wholeheartedly.

I’m not suggesting that introspection is the ticket. Maybe I’m splitting hairs a bit, but my gut tells me that there’s a difference between introspection and reflection. The former requires that I look inward for the answer while the latter searches outward. The tagline to The X-Files show has some basis in reality: “the truth is out there.” When I scan the horizon at this current lookout point, what do I see? One thing I realize is that my view seems partially obstructed by my finite condition. Some of the path is perceptible, but some of it isn’t. When I glance behind me, the view is clear. I see the dark and shadowy patches as well as the lush ones and those moments that were somewhere in the middle.

Now, the way forward seems more or less visible to the naked eye; however, I can’t help noticing that I’m looking for higher ground in order to get a better view. From where I stand, I see what I am able to see. I want to see more, to know more. Way off in the distance, I see the final destination. It’s a glorious sight, and my heart yearns for it. There’s still much more of the journey that remains. I know that as I keep moving forward, the moments between here and there become clearer. Each step requires faith in my Lord because this fuels hope and perseverance during the rough and tumble moments. Faith is also the sight needed for perceiving people, places, and things along the way. Without it, I’m a blind man ambling along the way oblivious to moments of blessing and danger.

Not only does faith in Jesus give me sight, but his word lights up the way that I walk (Psalm 119:105). What I find ironic about this is that the journey is real and takes place on this physical earth; however, the only way that I can truly navigate it requires that I have spiritual or unseen things in my possession like faith in him and the indwelling presence of his Spirit. Both of these grant me the ability to make sense of his word in order to apply it to my life. If I don’t have faith in Christ and the indwelling presence of his Spirit, I’m a blind man on the way. It doesn’t matter how clear the path is, or how bright and sunny the weather is, a blind man is blind. It was a wonderfully, gracious and merciful act on the Lord’s part to enable me to see. The journey demands it.

There are many things I could say about the spiritually dangerous view known as the prosperity gospel or the health and wealth gospel. Rather than spew my thoughts, I decided to share an excerpt from an opinion piece published in The New York Times this past Valentine’s Day Weekend. The author is Kate Bowler, who is a Biblical scholar at Duke University, who spent nearly a decade researching prosperity preachers, their teachings, and their churches for her book titled, “Blessed: A History of the American Prosperity Gospel,” which was published in 2013. Ms. Bowler’s words are honest, loving, and trenchant. Kudos to her and may the Lord continue to lead and embolden her to speak his truth.

“The prosperity gospel has taken a religion based on the contemplation of a dying man and stripped it of its call to surrender all. Perhaps worse, it has replaced Christian faith with the most painful forms of certainty. The movement has perfected a rarefied form of America’s addiction to self-rule, which denies much of our humanity: our fragile bodies, our finitude, our need to stare down our deaths (at least once in a while) and be filled with dread and wonder. At some point, we must say to ourselves, I’m going to need to let go.

“CANCER has kicked down the walls of my life. I cannot be certain I will walk my son to his elementary school someday or subject his love interests to cheerful scrutiny. I struggle to buy books for academic projects I fear I can’t finish for a perfect job I may be unable to keep. I have surrendered my favorite manifestoes about having it all, managing work-life balance and maximizing my potential. I cannot help but remind my best friend that if my husband remarries everyone will need to simmer down on talking about how special I was in front of her. (And then I go on and on about how this is an impossible task given my many delightful qualities. Let’s list them. …) Cancer requires that I stumble around in the debris of dreams I thought I was entitled to and plans I didn’t realize I had made.

“But cancer has also ushered in new ways of being alive. Even when I am this distant from Canadian family and friends, everything feels as if it is painted in bright colors. In my vulnerability, I am seeing my world without the Instagrammed filter of breezy certainties and perfectible moments. I can’t help noticing the brittleness of the walls that keep most people fed, sheltered and whole. I find myself returning to the same thoughts again and again: Life is so beautiful. Life is so hard.”

(Kate Bowler, “Death, The Prosperity Gospel, and Me,” New York Times, 13 Feb 2016)

Kate Bowler on Mortality and The Prosperity Gospel

“Religion in our time has been captured by the tourist mindset…, a visit to an attractive site to be made when we have adequate leisure. For some it is a weekly jaunt to church; for others, occasional visits to special services. Some, with a bent for religious entertainment and sacred diversion, plan their lives around special events like retreats, rallies, and conferences. We go to see a new personality, to hear a new truth, to get a new experience and so somehow expand our otherwise humdrum lives. The religious life is defined as the newest and the latest: Zen, faith healing, human potential, parapsychology, successful living, choreography in the chancel, Armageddon. We’ll try anything — until something else comes along.”

 

(Eugene H. Peterson, A Long Obedience in the Same Direction, p 16, 2000)

 

The Tourist Mindset of Today’s Religion

“The idea of cultivation and exercise, so dear to the saints of old, has now no place in our total religious picture. It is too slow, too common. We now demand glamour and fast flowing dramatic action. A generation of Christians reared among push buttons and automatic machines is impatient of slower and less direct methods of reaching their goals. We have been trying to apply machine-age methods to our relations with God. We read our chapter, have our short devotions and rush away, hoping to make up for our deep inward bankruptcy by attending another gospel meeting or listening to another thrilling story told by a religious adventurer lately returned from afar.”

 

(A. W. Tozer, The Pursuit of God, p 69, 1982 – Tozer Legacy Edition; original pub date, 1948)

Cultivating Faith vs Instant Faith

Flawed in Deep Ways

Back in September, I wrote an entry on my blog after a period of silence. This particular post comes after losing myself inside of a black hole. I am not engaging in any social media fast or the like. Instead I have been buried underneath the rigors of seminary education. Greek is not easy, but neither is Hermeneutics. When you mix together these classes, it becomes quite clear that ministerial training transcends the academic aspect. There is a larger issue at stake: faithfulness to God.

With each passing day, I sense the gravity of the call. For example, the following text in James 3:1 speaks volumes: “Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness” (ESV). If this is not plain speaking, then I do not know what plain speaking is or looks like. When I think about how Moses hesitated with becoming Israel’s leader, or how Gideon resisted the Lord’s call, I find myself in good company. I sympathize with Jonah, who boarded a ship for Tarshish rather than bring God’s message to Nineveh.

Now, the responses of Moses, Gideon, and Jonah raise some interesting points. All three men refuse to pretend before the Lord. It is true that Jonah’s response is flagrantly disobedient; however, he is honest about it. This leads to to the next point. Moses, Gideon, and Jonah have a deep enough relationship with the Lord, which allows them to be honest. These men do not hide their reluctance to respond to the Lord’s call. At the risk of pressing this point too far, it seems to me that expressing reluctance to God’s call is a good sign. The last time I checked, I didn’t see myriads of people clamoring together in order to be one of the Chief Shepherd’s under-shepherds (1 Peter 5:1-5, ESV).

One last point to make is that Moses, Gideon, and Jonah were far from perfect in their obedience. Moses failed to enter the Promised Land because he let his temper get the best of him. Gideon made an ephod, which ensnared the people of Israel and his family in idolatry. Lastly, Jonah wallowed in anger toward the Lord for his deliverance of the Ninevites. All three men were flawed in deep ways, yet the Lord of heaven and earth used them to accomplish his redemptive purposes and plans. I need to remember that the Lord has not called me to perform perfectly, but to obey him. This includes owning up to any wrong words and actions.

What astonishes me even more is that the Lord knows all about my imperfections. He is aware of the ways that I can and will fail him. Still, his invitation to join him remains constant and sure. The Lord delights in using me, but I have my doubts. He is the one who encourages me in the midst of my unbelief. When I am weak, he is strong. When I can’t or won’t pray, His Spirit groans with words too deep to express. He lights my way in the dark. The Lord deserves all of the credit. Will Judgment Day be joyous? I’m sure it will, but there are no easy outs. On that day, I will face the music for how I have shepherded the Lord’s people.

“The growth of ignorance in the Church is the logical and inevitable result of the false notion that Christianity is a life and not also a doctrine; if Christianity is not a doctrine then of course teaching is not necessary to Christianity.  But whatever be the causes for the growth of ignorance in the Church, the evil must be remedied.  It must be remedied primarily by the renewal of Christian education in the family, but also by the use of whatever other educational agencies the Church can find.  Christian education is the chief business of the hour for every earnest Christian man. Christianity cannot subsist unless men know what Christianity is; and the fair and logical thing is to learn what Christianity is, not from its opponents, but from those who themselves are Christians.”

 

(J. Gresham Machen, Christianity and Liberalism, “The Church,” Chpt. VII, p 149, 1923, new ed. 2009)

The Growing Ignorance of Christianity by Christians