Mammon or God

Mammon is a genuine rival to God. We must choose one or the other: Mammon or God.1

The crass heresy of the prosperity doctrines and the “health and wealth gospel” is the bastard child of corrupted calling.

There are two economies—a “calling economy” as well as a “commercial economy”—and for followers of Christ the former, not the latter, is supreme.2

Yesterday I was driving and listening to a song called “When I lost my heard to you” by Hillsong. “You have my heart… hallelujah… I found your love when I lost my heart to you.”

Such simple words, but such a deep prayer. There is nothing more precious than the fact that God, our Creator, has my heart. He knows me deeply and is shaping me in ways I cannot fathom.

If I listen closely enough, and am attentive to God’s voice in my heart, I will become aware of what he is doing in my heart and what he is doing in the hearts of others. This is a bonus reward, as I need not require awareness of God’s work. I only need to trust him and the word he has given us in Scripture and in the life of Jesus. Being aware of God’s work is like a boost to my faith, and normally comes when my faith is at its weakest point; when I need a very personal reminder of God’s faithfulness.

But these words, “you have my heart” are not true when I am chasing mammon. Either I find success in being known by God and being accepted by God, or I search for success by working hard for mammon.

Hallelujah, God has not left me to chase after mammon. He has my heart and I have his acceptance. That is enough for me.

  1. Mammon, as define by Os Guinness, refers to money when it assumes an inordinate place in our lives until it becomes a personal, spiritual, god-like force that rules us. []
  2. Guinness, The Call, p.  134-35 []

What Is God’s Calling For My Life?

Note: this is a summary of a sermon I preached from Jeremiah 1. You can listen to it on the Bergen Church website.

If you have begun to follow Jesus and trust in him, you might be asking yourself, “what has God called me to do?” It’s a good question.

The typical next step when asking this question is to take a spiritual gifts or personality test to determine how God has wired you. Maybe that’s helpful, but more often than not we need to forget about those things while we think about what God has called us to. It is hard to shake this way of thinking, but we need to think less about our role in our society and more about our relationship and identity in Jesus.

Os Guinness, in his book titled The Call, defines calling as “the truth that God calls us to himself so decisively that everything we are, everything we do, and everything we have is invested with a special devotion, dynamism, and direction lived out as a response to His summons and service.” (p. 29)

He explains that there are two levels to being called by God. The first level is a general calling that is the same for all people. It is a calling by God, to fellowship with God and to live entirely for God. It is the call from Jesus to follow him and to live according to his way. It is the call to learn the teachings of Jesus and to depend on the Spirit of Jesus as we journey through life.

God is asking all people to answer his call, to live a life of complete devotion to following Jesus, and to leave the outcomes to God. Oswald Chambers says it this way: “the one aim of the call of God is the satisfaction of God, not a call to do something for him.”

Our primary call is to be in fellowship with our Creator.

But there is a second level of calling, which is more specific. The second level of calling is about what the first calling of God looks like on a daily, weekly, monthly, yearly basis.

It is, in considering who God is as completely sovereign, thinking, speaking, living, and acting entirely for God in everything we do and everywhere we go.

When we submit ourselves to the primary call to follow Jesus and be devoted to satisfaction in God, we will soon discover that the second level of calling moves forward in a way that is almost indiscernible at first, except by reflecting on the past.

Os Guinness explains that answering the call of God is “by its very nature a stepping forward to responsibility… We have heard the call, and we acknowledge and assume our responsibility. We are responsible to God, and our calling is where we exercise that responsibility.”

A stepping forward to responsibility. Hebrews 1 says, “Long ago God spoke many times and in many ways to our ancestors through the prophets. And now in these final days, he has spoken to us through his Son.”

The word of God has come to us, and we are called by God to proclaim the gospel. We have a responsibility to respond. We are witnesses to the greatest and most important truth ever proclaimed, and we have a responsibility to pass on that truth.

Each of us is called by God in a general sense to be devoted to following in the way of Jesus. But each one of us is also called in a very specific way. But it is not completely about what we do. It is about living in such a way that bears witness to the power of Jesus and the life of Jesus.

So, regardless of what you find yourself doing, ask God, how can I invite others into this fellowship I am enjoying with you? And then look for opportunities to bless others with the presence of Jesus.

Trey Pearson and Sexual Orientation as Identity

I’m responding to an article posted on the 614columbus website about Trey Pearson, a musician in the Christian Rock band Everyday Sunday. The article is focused on Trey’s recent coming out as gay. The entire article is incredibly helpful and insightful to me. It reveals the struggles of someone who has lived with same-sex attraction as a Christian. It explains how difficult we have made it as the church for people who struggle with what has historically been viewed as a particularly ugly sin.

I sympathize with Trey, and I am disappointed that he did not find the freedom to talk to someone about his struggles until just recently. The church should be a place where we can be open about our struggles. We should be a place where judgment is rare and grace is common.

I want to address an important theme in the article about Trey Pearson, and throughout our society as it is shifting to be more accepting of alternative lifestyles.

The theme is homosexuality as an identity. I was listening to news radio the other day and heard that Justin Trudeau will be the first Prime Minister to participate in a Pride Parade, and how this marks a dramatic change in Canadian culture. I read and hear about the celebration of the LGBTQ community and how we are crossing over into a new era of acceptance.

I am saddened by this. I am saddened because we are celebrating a part of humanity that is so very broken. It is not broken because we have rejected those with alternative sexual orientation or lifestyles. It is not broken because of the fact that many do struggle with sexual identity.

It is broken because we have put such an emphasis on our sexual orientation and expression. I am saddened because we are celebrating the fact that we have completely lost sight of what sex and romantic intimacy is meant to express between two people.

Trey Pearson, in the article mentioned above, said this: “Despite our best efforts, however, I have come to accept that there is nothing that is going to change who I am.” He is referring to his marriage and any attempt at being a good husband and lover for his wife.

That statement from Trey broke my heart. It breaks my heart just as much as it breaks my heart knowing how the church has failed to be a safe place for him to be open about his orientation. The church has failed Trey not only by making him feel guilty about his orientation. The church has also failed to tell him that his marriage is not dependant on his sexual relationship with his wife. The church has failed to teach him that being a husband–being human–is far larger than sex.

Not long ago someone asked me for my opinion on public washrooms becoming gender-neutral in our country and in the United States. She was concerned that it would cause problems and wanted to know what I thought would be a better option.

I said, we have a much larger problem. Our problem is that we think our identity can be reduced to our sexual orientation. We think we have to distinguish ourselves as straight, homosexual, bisexual, transgendered, etc.

I said, this problem would go away if we saw ourselves and each person as unique not because of their sexual orientation, but because they have been made by a very creative and loving Father, who has filled each of us with characteristics, personalities, desires and passions that are meant to reflect his infinitely deep character and imagination.

I believe that we need to stop this nonsense of celebrating the freedom to express our sexual identity and orientation.

I don’t have much to say about whether or not God made Trey Pearson to have same-sex attraction. I honestly don’t know and frankly don’t really care too much about that. It’s a reality he faces every day. But I don’t think the issue is same-sex attraction. I think his issue is that we have made such a big deal about it being a source of identity.

By identifying himself as a homosexual, Trey is limiting and reducing his uniqueness to sexual orientation, and that is the greatest tragedy in this entire issue. I don’t blame Trey, I blame the church. We have failed to disciple people like Trey in the true Way of Jesus. As a pastor, I want to be part of the solution by standing on the truth that, for Christian people, sex does not give us our identity. Jesus Christ does.

Practice What You Preach

You have heard the saying. Practice what you preach! We say it to someone we are judging as hypocritical. Someone who is telling people to behave a certain way, even though the person doing the telling does not behave that way.

I was thinking about that this morning while working on my sermon for this coming Sunday. I often think, when I’m preparing a message, “is this something I am practicing in my life?”

I ask that question not because I think I should only preach about things I’ve mastered. If I did that, I would not have much to offer in terms of content for messages.

But, I ask that question because the content needs to be something people can practice. The content needs to be approachable. The hearers need to be able to pick it up and observe it, play with it, experiment with it.

The saying, practice what you preach, should maybe be re-written: preach what can be practiced. The content of my sermon needs to direct people to a way of living that has more to do with a posture, an attitude, a daily acknowledgment that none of us can actually practice what we preach.

That leads me to the point I’m trying to get to. If I am supposed to preach what can be practiced, my preaching needs to be more about our dependance on the grace of God and less on our performance.

Of course, the life of a follower of Jesus includes obedience. But, biblical hypocrisy is not about failure to perform. It’s about claiming to be righteous based on our performance. Failure to practice what we preach happens not when we fail to measure up to the message. Rather, it happens when we preach about a righteousness that can be earned.

Preaching what can be practiced is about preaching a message of righteousness through trusting in the sacrifice and resurrection life of Jesus.

The Easter Message I Didn’t Preach

Last Sunday I was scheduled to preach, so I prepared a short Resurrection Sunday message. But then I became ill and was unable to preach that sermon. So, I thought, I may as well share what I prepared here.

Hebrews 13:20-21:
Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, equip you with everything good that you may do his will, working in us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.

What is this passage?

It is primarily a prayer of blessing, a benediction, for those who have faith in Jesus Christ. The author is closing his book with a prayer that can be easily memorized and is packed full of deep theology, information about the identity and work of God, Jesus and the blessings we receive when we believe in Jesus.

There are two parts to this passage that I want to examine: 1. God raised Jesus from the dead 2. God equips us through Jesus to do his will

God raised Jesus from the dead

Verse 20 can be paraphrased this way: The God of peace, through the blood of the eternal covenant, brought again from the dead Jesus Christ who is the great shepherd of the sheep. Or: By the blood of the eternal covenant God raised Jesus from the dead.

The resurrection of Jesus is central to Christian faith and the Abrahamic blessing, passed on to those who would come after him for thousands of years. The resurrection of Jesus is the fulfillment of the promise and blessing of God through Abraham. Here is a brief history on that promise and blessing.

Recorded in Genesis 12, God made a promise to make Abraham’s descendants into a great nation, to bless the world through him. This promise, called a covenant, was passed down to his son and grandson, Isaac and Jacob. Jacob and his family moved to Egypt to find refuge during a severe famine. While in Egypt, Jacob’s descendants became a large nation called Israel, and were driven to slavery by Pharaoh. There they lived under oppression of slavery for 400 years.

The Israelites cried out to God for relief from slavery, so God rescued them with Moses as their leader, as God’s representative to His people. Moses led them out into the wilderness East of Egypt, and brought them to a mountain called Sinai. There God told the Israelites about his plan. He gave them instructions on how to live as a nation, and asked them to enter into a covenant with Him as their God.

They agreed to the terms of the covenant and God told them he would bless them as long as they were obedient. But if they were disobedient, the blessings would turn into curses. With God as their guide, the Israelites began to make their way to a land promised by God to be their inheritance, a gift for God’s people.

Along the way, the Israelites repeatedly broke the terms of their covenant with God. Due to disobedience, God increased the time it took to get to the promised land from three weeks to forty years, so that the generation that grew up in Egypt, and were prone to complaining and desiring to go back to slavery in Egypt, would all be dead before entering the land.

When the time came to enter the promised land, Israel renewed their commitment to live within the covenant between them and God, and God promised them success in conquering the land as long as they obeyed his instructions.

The nation of Israel entered the land and after some initial success, they once again became disobedient to God. The temptations of this new land was more attractive to them than obedience to God. They began worshipping other gods and behaving in a way that brought shame and dishonour to the covenant that God established.

This pattern continued for hundreds of years as Israel struggled to stay together as a nation. All throughout the history of the nation of Israel, God raised up leaders—judges, prophets, kings—to represent God to the nation, and most of them failed to lead with integrity and obedience to God.

One prophet, named Jeremiah, was given the following words from God regarding his plans for his people. This prophecy was recorded in Jeremiah 31 and in Hebrews 8:

The day is coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the people of Israel and Judah. This covenant will not be like the one I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand and led them out of the land of Egypt. They did not remain faithful to my covenant, so I turned my back on them, says the Lord. But this is the new covenant I will make with the people of Israel on that day, says the Lord: I will put my laws in their minds, and I will write them on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. For everyone, from the least to the greatest, will know me already. And I will forgive their wickedness, and I will never again remember their sins.

The really short version of this story is that God wants to establish a kingdom of people under his rule, a people who will worship him and honour him. A people who will love one another and enjoy the benefits and blessings of being a part of God’s kingdom.
But, thousands of years of history have shown that humanity is hopeless in our efforts to be the sort of people God requires. We, having the darkness of sin in our hearts, reject obedience to God in exchange for the pleasures found in creation.

God has never broke his promises. He has kept his covenant. The old covenant was for God’s people to live in the land promised to them under his rule, kept pure and holy through the sacrificial system and through his laws. But the nation of Israel was unable to keep their end of the covenant. And so, through Jesus, God has established a new covenant.

This new covenant still includes laws and sacrifice. It still requires God’s people to be pure and holy. But there is an important difference. And the difference between the old and the new covenants rests in the death and the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Jesus was conceived by God’s Spirit, and was born as a human but also as God. He was not born with the sinful nature as we are, yet he lived with the limitations of humanity, including temptation, pain, sorrow and death.

Jesus obeyed God’s laws and kept the old covenant perfectly. He showed us how God has always wanted his people to live. But he came not only to show us how to live, but to offer himself as a sacrifice, an offering to God for the sins of all humanity. His blood was shed and his body was broken to pay for our sins.

God did this because he knew that humans would never be able to keep a covenant with him. We would never be able to purify ourselves and live a holy life. And so, God has not only kept his end of the covenant, but he, through Jesus, has also kept our end of the covenant! We can become God’s holy people merely through accepting an invitation by God. This was accomplished through the death and resurrection of Jesus. God did this. He raised Jesus from the dead. He did it for us.

Because he is raised from the dead, Jesus is not only the sacrifice for our sins which purify us, but he has also become our eternal shepherd priest, someone who takes care of us and teaches us and equips us.

God equips us to do his will

This leads us to the second verse in this passage:
May the God of peace… equip you with everything good that you may do his will, working in us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever.

Through Jesus Christ, we are being equipped to behave like the sort of people who are ruled by God. It is important to keep in mind the order here: first, we are made holy and pure by the death of Jesus. Then, we are given what we need by God through Jesus, who was raised from death.

We become citizens of the kingdom of God when we accept the free invitation of God. Then we begin to act as people who belong to this kingdom. This is important for those of us who know what a wreck we are. Jesus was killed and was raised from the dead so that you and I can freely receive forgiveness from God, be purified and cleansed, be made into a new person, be given new life, be given eternal hope and unending joy, even, and ESPECIALLY if your life is a complete disaster!

God will receive you as his child, make you into a new person and give you a new heart with new desires and as you continue in your relationship with him, he will teach you, take care of you, equip you, and guide you as you seek to live as his child.
If this is new to you, if this is for the first time good news to you, and if your heart has been stirred as you’ve been reading this, I encourage you to respond in prayer.

Thank God for keeping his end of the covenant for thousands of years, even though humanity has failed him. Thank God that he has never changed his standard of holiness, that he is completely worthy of our worship. Thank God that he has provided a way for us to be his people even through our failures. Thank God that he will forgive us through Jesus and that he will equip us to live as people who belong to his kingdom. Ask God to transform your life and to give you a heart that seeks him.

Book Review: The Name of God is Mercy by Pope Francis

The Name of God is Mercy by Pope Francis (Book Cover)Pope Francis has made his mark as a man of compassion and mercy, spending time with prisoners, outcasts, and those who may have unfortunately been considered enemies of the Christian church. In his short book, The Name of God is Mercy, Pope Francis describes what should be the hallmark of Christian people.

In a clear and concise manner, Pope Francis describes mercy as the primary attribute of God. He sounds a call to all Christians to be “an oasis of mercy,” a people dedicated to acts of love and kindness. It is unfortunate that the Christian church has a history of being judgmental and rigid, turning away those who are searching for mercy and forgiveness in the name of holiness.

If Christians around the world would heed the plea of Pope Francis, we would see a dramatic shift in how those who are hurting, in poverty, homeless, hungry, mourning, grieving are cared for. Even for those who do not claim Jesus as their Lord, no one can deny the high need for mercy in the world today. Read this book and learn how the name of God truly is mercy.