Tuesday, December 30

Two Essentials for Successful Praying

1 Peter 3:7 & 4:7--
Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered. And, The end of all things is at hand; therefore be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers. 

Here are two verses in 1 Peter which attach successful praying to right ethical behavior. In the first instance, men are urged to love their wives with consideration so that their prayers would not be hindered. In other words, their devotion to God falls in direct line with their attitude toward their wives. What is particularly striking here is the fact that prayer is used as a sort of leverage to accomplish this. It's as if Peter (under Spirit guidance) assumes his readers pray, and that they will want to pray successfully! That's really amazing given the current climate in the churches today in terms of their desire for prayer. Would this type of inducement win the ear of today's Christian man? Would they care? 

The second verse urges upon us a sober mind and self-discipline in order to pray. Again, effective praying is the end goal. So, we must ensure that we remain in the right frame of mind in order to be effective. Matthew Henry said, 

"The right ordering of the body is of great use to promote the good of the soul. When the appetites and inclinations of the body are restrained and governed by God’s word and true reason, and the interests of the body are submitted to the interests and necessities of the soul, then it is not the soul’s enemy, but its friend and helper." 

He is on to something. The body and the soul are intimately connected. In a day when irresponsibility has achieved artistic status, it is timely to read these verses. Again, I ask the question: How would this directive be received today? Would successful praying rank high enough in most church-goers' minds to prompt humble application of discipline and spiritual sobriety in order to do it?

These two Scriptures apparently moved Peter's hearers. More importantly, do they move us today? Most assuredly they need to. By God's grace make this your aim this new year. 

Monday, December 29

My First Spurgeon Sermon!

The year was 1970. I was in my freshman year at Bob Jones University in Greenville, S.C. I had occasion to join what was termed, "Prayer Band," an after dinner meeting in the classroom building to pray for missionaries. Each group was dedicated to a certain continent or country. I chose Europe, mainly because my future brother-in-law, Tom Coffman attended. And though I visited others, for four and a half years I stayed with this group. 

In the course of a meeting, someone usually led a brief devotional related to prayer, then we took 3 x 5 cards of missionaries and prayed through them for the remainder of the time. When I was first asked to speak, I thought, "I should check out the bookstore and see if there are any resources that might be of help." It was then that I first became aware of Charles Haddon Spurgeon, specifically his "Twelve Sermons on Prayer." And, Oh, what a treasure I found!

I remember the first sermon I read was from Psalm 147:9, "He giveth his ravens to eat." 
First, I was amazed that he chose such a text for the subject of prayer. An eighteen year old, I wasn't used to hearing sermons preached on such obscure texts. (Or, I couldn't remember having heard any). But this was a legitimate application which glorified the richness of God's Word. That I am sure is true.
Second, from this inauspicious text, Spurgeon wove the most wonderfully moving call to Christians to trust in a God who, if he will feed these birds (who hardly care for their own) will certainly feed or hear our prayers! I was honestly astonished. I felt as though I had entered into another world, which though it had obviously existed before, seemed to have newly emerged right there under my very nose! I knew nothing of Spurgeon until that day--at least, not that I can recollect. 
Third, that was a watershed moment in my life, for it introduced me to the "Prince of Preachers" who was to continue having a profound effect upon me for the rest of my life. So common were this man's words upon my lips that even in seminary, my classmates used to jokingly refer to me as "Spurgeon." That's what the reading of new writers can do. Not every time, of course. But once in a while, you stumble onto a great treasure--in this case, one that has cultivated a lifetime of spiritual nourishment. That was (I can't believe it) 38 years ago! In the course of obeying God in prayer, I was introduced to this giant of the faith. That's often how God works, isn't it? He leads us as we are walking with him along the way. And many of the benefits we derive were neither the subjects of our prayers, nor were we able to anticipate them. God is so good!

Sunday, December 28

There's WONDER in "Wonderful"

There is an exciting anticipation comprised in the word "Wonder," especially as it is connected with divinity in the Bible, particularly during the Christmas season. And his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor (Isaiah 9:6). Observe two truths arising from this text:

First, according to E. J. Young (late professor of Westminster Seminary) the literal term is "wonder." That it occurs first imparts emphasis. So, not only is the Messiah wonderful, but he is himself a Wonder, inside and out, through and through. The idea of “wonder” is used in Psalm 78:12, where it refers to the works of God, In the sight of their fathers he performed wonders in the land of Egypt, . . . Here the same word is used to describe the miracles God performed in Egypt, dividing the Red Sea, the pillars of cloud and fire, and water from a rock in the desert. These are some of God’s wonders. The word refers to what God has done and not to the work of man.

Second, “wonder” refers to something, or, in God’s case, someone, who is incomprehensible to man. In Judges 13:18, the angel of the Lord asks Gideon, “Why are you asking what is my name, since it is Wonderful,” or secret? Essentially, this is an OT form of Jesus incarnate. Similarly, Jacob asked him, "Please tell me your name." But he said, "Why is it that you ask my name?" (Genesis 32:29). This wasn’t just an angel, but God himself! Ouch!! Wonder, then means that he surpasses human thought and power. So, while the Christ child seems so approachable (Immanuel-"God with us"), we do well to remember that he is also transcendent (above us, beyond us). Rudolph Otto named this aspect of God, numinous, or the "Wholly Other." Indeed, mystery surrounds God and we must be careful not to allow our knowledge of him to degrade into that which is too pedestrian. 

A right stance for us to take, then, with regard to God is to repeat with David, "Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high; I cannot attain it" (Psalm 139:6). Peer over the fence at God's awesomeness, and in shocked silence, behold the Lamb! Charles Wesley got it right when he penned "Hark, the Herald Angels Sing." In his original version he wrote:
Veiled in flesh, the Godhead see,
Hail the incarnate deity!
Pleased as man with men to appear,
Jesus! Our Immanuel here!

Now display thy saving power,
Ruined nature now restore;
Now in mystic union join
Thine to ours, and ours to thine.
Enter into this glorious place, unearned by man--true, but not un-enjoyed!

Saturday, December 27

Prayer Is More Than Praying

I thought of entitling this, "Don't Ruin Prayer By Praying." But I thought better of it, not because it isn't what I meant to say, but because it comes at my subject from a too negative point of view. Still, there is truth enough in the alternate title to mention it.

I woke up this Christmas morning with a certain glee, a warm contentedness connected to, though not necessarily dependent on the holiday. It was because I was walking with Jesus. There was a certain joy attending my morning. Do you ever have such a satisfied sense of God's presence that you don't want it to go away? No one was up yet (I habitually am up well before the household). So, as I began to align myself to a new day, assembling the typical tools--Bible, laptop and books--it became apparent none of these would immediately reinforce this sense of communion with God. Still, two ideas converged to assist in my appreciation of this evidently subjective state.

First, as I routinely prepared Christmas Blend (Starbucks) coffee, my mind kept ruminating on likely subjects for intercession. It seemed that with such a clear and blessed sense upon me, I should put people or issues into my prayers as petitions. Now, there is certainly a need for such prayers, no doubt. Scripture clearly commands it. What happened was a sort of "knee-jerk" reaction. I found no compelling reason to add anything to this time of communion. Rather, I felt that I should just enjoy "walking" with God. It was a pleasant occasion, if puzzling.

Second, about this time another thing happened which furnished my reflection with clarity. My son-in-law, Jay, in his routine, came downstairs for coffee and "devo's." It was in our interchange that "flesh" was added to the bare bones of my initial musings. Upon asking what he was reading, he informed me it was Ben Patterson's Deepening Your Conversation With God, subtitled, "Learning to Love to Pray." He loved it having devoured it more quickly than his usual pace. One particular quotation he shared from his reading provided me some explanation,
"Perhaps one reason God delays his answers to our prayers is because he knows we need to be with him far more than we need the things we ask of him. . . . But we can say that as we prayed long and hard, we found something that we may not have been looking for when we began to pray, something better than the thing we asked of God. We found his incomparable presence. The praying can often be greater than the things we prayed for."
In my case, I had found the "something better" before I started praying. But the principle applies just the same. Here, in a serendipitous sort of way, a confluence of experience and a "chance" quotation combined to solidify what had come to me on Christmas morn, what I trust will at times be the experience of all believers. I don't want to elbow God aside while I insist on forcing a request on him when I stand in the fulfilling position of enjoying his love. God grant us the patience and wisdom to rest in God's immense love when we're involved in this glorious pilgrimage of faith.

Monday, December 22

High View of God Essential!

A. W. Tozer (1898-1963) is well worth reading, perhaps we should say, even obligatory reading. At least two of his approximately 50 books should make every Christian's "Top Ten" list, viz., The Pursuit of God, and The Knowledge of the Holy. I have found myself as a minister turning to Knowledge of the Holy over and over. Here are a few quotable paragraphs from the first chapter, Why We Must Think Rightly About God
The history of mankind will probably show that no people has ever risen above its religion, and man’s spiritual history will positively demonstrate that no religion has ever been greater than its idea of God. Worship is pure or base as the worshiper entertains high or low thoughts of God. . . .
For this reason the gravest question before the Church is always God Himself, and the most portentous fact about any man is not what he at a given time may say or do, but what he in his deep heart conceives God to be like. . . . 
A High View of God is the Sine Qua Non of True Christianity.
A right conception of God is basic not only to systematic theology but to practical Christian living as well. It is to worship what the foundation is to the temple; where it is inadequate or out of plumb the whole structure must sooner or later collapse. I believe there is scarcely an error in doctrine or a failure in applying Christian ethics that cannot be traced finally to imperfect and ignoble thoughts about God.
A Poignant Warning Issued 50 Years Ago!
It is my opinion that the Christian conception of God current in these middle years of the twentieth century is so decadent as to be utterly beneath the dignity of the Most High God and actually to constitute for professed believers something amounting to a moral calamity.
The Inevitable Consequence of a Low View of God--
Perverted notions about God soon rot the religion in which they appear. The long career of Israel demonstrates this clearly enough, and the history of the Church confirms it. So necessary to the Church is a lofty concept of God that when that concept in any measure declines, the Church with her worship and her moral standards declines along with it. The first step down for any church is taken when it surrenders its high opinion of God.
A Clarion Call to the Church
The heaviest obligation lying upon the Christian Church today is to purify and elevate her concept of God until it is once more worthy of Him - and of her. In all her prayers and labors this should have first place. We do the greatest service to the next generation of Christians by passing on to them undimmed and undiminished that noble concept of God which we received from our Hebrew and Christian fathers of generations past. This will prove of greater value to them than anything that art or science can devise.
Can you understand why I think Tozer's words are vital for today? He sounded out then what he saw as a calamity, but which time has revealed to have become utterly catastrophic.

Friday, December 19

Praying Men At a Premium!

It is easier to talk about prayer than it is to pray. Yet it is necessary to talk about it. Still, it is better to do both. This did E. M. Bounds (1835-1913), who wrote 8 books on prayer, all of which are convicting. But it is a necessary conviction. If you don't have it, there is a wonderful collection of his works all under one cover for an unbelievably low price! It's a great gift item! Or, you can read him online.

The following excerpts come from The Weapon of Prayer, Chapter 6 - "Praying Men Are at a Premium." 

No insistence in the Bible is more pressing than the injunction it lays upon men to pray. . . .

Languid praying, without heart or strength, with neither fire nor tenacity, defeats its own avowed purpose. The prophet of olden times laments that in a day which needed strenuous praying there was no one who “stirred up himself to take hold of God” [Isaiah 64:7]. Christ charges us “not to faint” in our praying [Luke 18:1]. Laxity and indifference are great hindrances to prayer, both to the practice of praying and the process of receiving; it requires a brave, strong, fearless and insistent spirit to engage in successful prayer. . . . 

These days of ours have sore need of a generation of praying men, a band of men and women through whom God can bring His great and His greatest movements more fully into the world. The Lord our God is not straitened [i.e., restricted] within Himself, but He is straitened in us, by reason of our little faith and weak praying. A breed of Christian is greatly needed who will seek tirelessly after God,—who will give Him no rest, day and night, until He hearken to their cry. The times demand praying men who are all athirst for God’s glory, who are broad and unselfish in their desires, quenchless for God, who seek Him late and early, and who will give themselves no rest until the whole earth be filled with His glory.

Wednesday, December 17

WARNING--Serious Thought Under Attack!

What we suffer from today is not just an information explosion, but a conflagration! "Google," for all the wonder it offers, can simply overwhelm the user. There is seemingly no end to all the legitimate trails down which we may head in an effort to tap just about any subject. But that is part of our problem isn't it? We may easily amass far more than we can reasonably comprehend. And we end up sacrificing depth of meaning on the altar of endless searching. 

Indeed, how fragile has become serious thoughtHow quickly does it succumb to "sound bite" trivia or classroom banter. We may even read something substantial only to find it dissipate into the mist of footnote qualification. Qualification is important, but more critically, we must ask, "Did it mean anything to us?" We eventually lose the ability to recognize the truly significant. What good were truth were it not to impact us? In this information age, granted we see more but it seems our eyes of discernment have grown fuzzy, and our minds become anesthetized to truth's implications. 

The believer has a built-in spiritual GPS system, namely, the Spirit who guides them into all truth (John 16:13). Believers rely on the Spirit to give them, as it were, "tunnel-vision" for the vital. Further, Proverbs teaches that "the upright gives thought to his ways" (21:29b). In other words, he takes what he hears and ponders it's meaning in order to put it into practice. "He does not say, What would I do? What have I a mind to? and that will I have; but, What should I do? What does God require of me? What is duty? What is prudence? What is for edification?" (Matthew Henry). It is easy to take what one hears and downgrade it to the arena of opinion, thus, in effect nullifying any responsibility to interact with the truth. Often Jesus would close out his teachings with a call to serious consideration, "He who has ears to hear, let him hear."


I fear that not only I, but many today will hunt down so many web sites that we will be like a plane in a holding pattern awaiting a place to land. If we don't take care, we'll run out of fuel and plummet to earth. Only God has perfect knowledge and the perfect ability to sort it out immediately. Everyone else must be selective!

1. Be quiet. Don't feel as though you have to have radio or TV running all the time. Being "still" is the prescriptive way God gives us so that we may "know that He is God" (Ps. 46:10).

2. Read Scripture at a slower pace, taking time to pause, ponder and reflect on what it means. In other words, meditate.

3. Seek out deeper meaning, for God is a great God. The old railroad warning sign applies here: WATCH, LOOK, AND LISTEN!

4. In short, discipline yourself to read carefully. There are those who rightly advise us not to make a habit of reading many books superficially, but fewer books deeply.  

Monday, December 15

A Sober Call to the Unconverted-Spurgeon

Some of the greatest evangelists of the past have been pastors. And a great number of them were reformed in doctrine. C. H. Spurgeon (1834-1892) is one of the more popular of these. The following is one of his many sober calls to those who have heard but not believed in Jesus Christ. It is from the sermon: "Man Humbled, God Exalted" Vol. 59). 

I will say but a few sentences, but let them be caught by your ears, and seized by your hearts. In this house tonight there are some of you who are not reconciled to God by the death of his Son. You have never humbled yourselves, and taken the Lord’s Christ to be your only hope. Now, mark this: if you will not come down by grace, you must and shall come down by judgment. You will be humbled, sinner, if not to penitence, then to remorse: if not to hopeful conversion, to hopeless despair. Every high look shall be brought down in the day when he shall sit upon the great white throne, and call the quick and the dead to judgment. “Rocks! hide us!  Mountains! fall upon us! Hide us from the face of him that sitteth on the throne!” Who said that? Why, the very man who once said, “Lord, I thank thee that I am not as other men are” Yes, sirs, and the very man who once said, “Who is the Lord that I should obey him?” he it is who now cries, “Hide me, hide me from the accusing face.”

Behold, ye despisers, wonder and perish! If you will not be humbled at the cross you shall be humbled at the throne of judgment. If mercy wins you not, judgment shall subdue you. If you will not bend, you shall break. He who will not melt in the fires of love shall be consumed in the furnace of wrath. Oh! my hearer, what a dread alternative is this! “Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and ye perish from the way when his wrath is kindled but a little! Blessed are all they that put their trust in him!” There is a wonderful power in humiliation. Ahab humbled himself, and though it was not with a saving humility, yet the curse did not fall upon him as it would have done. Even in a natural humiliation there may be some withdrawal of temporal chastisement, but if the Lord shall give you true brokenness of heart, remember it is written, “A broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise.” There is not one word in the Bible against a humble soul. There is not one curse against a sinner who feels his need and comes empty-handed. Come, poor needy one, poor helpless one; thou ruined stoner, without any hope of thyself; thou bankrupt sinner, come.

“‘Tis perfect poverty alone,

That sets our soul at large;

While we can call one mite our own,

We have no full discharge.”

When we have done with self, and with all self's hopes, and projects, and plans, and trust only in the finished work of Jesus, then may we rejoice, for we are saved, and save eternally.

Sunday, December 14

Colson: I know what Illinois governor feels like now

CNN Politics.com ran this article highlighting Chuck Colson upon his reception of the Presidential Citizen's Medal. What follows centered on what really is most important in this life of pseudo power in politics and life. 

Editor's note: Charles W. Colson, a former aide to President Nixon, is the founder of Prison Fellowship, the world's largest Christian outreach to prisoners. President Bush this week acknowledged Colson's work among prisoners, awarding him the Presidential Citizens Medal. Colson was imprisoned for obstruction of justice in the attempt to smear Daniel Ellsberg, who disclosed the secret history of the Vietnam War known as the Pentagon Papers.

Ex-Nixon aide Charles W. Colson says pride undermines the spirit and is the source of political corruption.

Ex-Nixon aide Charles W. Colson says pride undermines the spirit and is the source of political corruption.

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- If anyone knows how Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich feels right now, I do.

On Tuesday, the governor was arrested in a glare of publicity and charged with going on "a corruption crime spree," as U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald described it -- including alleged attempts to sell President-elect Barack Obama's Senate seat.

Some 35 years ago that ugly glare of publicity was focused on me as I was charged with a Watergate-related crime, subsequently convicted and sent to prison. The governor hasn't been convicted and is entitled to the presumption of innocence.

In the wake of Blagojevich's arrest, many Americans are left wondering once again how intelligent people can do such stupid things -- especially when they've achieved the pinnacle of power.

The answer comes down to pride.

At the height of Watergate, a dear friend of mine, Tom Phillips, then CEO of Raytheon, invited me to his home. As we sat in his kitchen, Tom read to me a chapter on pride from a little book by C.S. Lewis titled "Mere Christianity."

Lewis wrote, "There is one vice of which no man in the world is free. ... The vice I am talking about is Pride or Self-conceit. .... Pride leads to every other vice. ... A proud man is always looking down on things and people: and, of course, as long as you are looking down, you cannot see something that is above you. ... Pride is a spiritual cancer: it eats up the very possibility of love, or contentment, or even common sense."

Tom -- who told me about Jesus Christ that night -- didn't know I was in utter despair over Watergate, watching the president I'd worked for flounder in office. I'd learned I might become a target of the investigation. In short, my world was collapsing.

That night I sat in a darkened driveway and in a flood of tears called out to God. I didn't know what to say; I just knew I needed Christ. At that moment God took the White House "hatchet man" and turned me into a new creation.

I went on to serve seven months in prison. As lonely and demeaning as that experience was, I have never regretted it. I can honestly agree with Alexander Solzhenitsyn, who wrote from the gulag, "Bless you, prison, bless you for being in my life, for there, lying on the rotting prison straw, I came to realize that the object of life is not prosperity, as we are made to believe, but the maturing of the human soul."

Which brings me to a second reason for Blagojevich's fall: the culture of self.

Like me, Blagojevich grew up in a culture that taught the great goal of life was material success, power and influence. I grew up during the Great Depression; I thought if a smart guy like me earned a law degree and accumulated academic honors, they would enable me to find power, fulfillment and meaning in life.

I made a lot of money in my law practice and accepted a White House job. But by then, I had became very self-righteous; I was absolutely certain that no one could corrupt me. All my investments went into a blind trust. Whenever someone gave me a gift, I immediately turned it over to my chauffeur. And yet I ended up going to prison.

I now realize that every human being has an infinite capacity for self-rationalization and self-delusion. Those who serve in public life are faced with enormous peer pressure and don't always take time to stop and think carefully about what they're doing.

Sometimes -- absorbed in accumulating political power -- they're not interested in stopping to think. But as I learned firsthand, self-obsession destroys character. It has to.

Tragically, America is continuing to rear its young to become not only self-obsessed, but obsessed with personal power. Quaint-sounding virtues such as courage, honesty and prudence -- historically considered the elements of character -- are no match for a society in which the exaltation and gratification of self becomes the overriding goal of life.

If Blagojevich is guilty, the best thing that could happen to him is to be tried and convicted. He's going to have to reach rock bottom -- just as I did -- before he will be able to escape his own prison of pride, self-delusion and self-righteousness. But that's a transformation we can never accomplish on our own. I can vouch for the fact that human pride is simply too strong.

Lewis was right: Pride is a spiritual cancer. And the only cure, for any of us, is to stop looking down and to look up. The cure can only be brought about in someone who has come to realize that the will and power to do good and not evil comes from God alone.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Charles W. Colson. 

Friday, December 12

Christian One Liners-Humor w/ a Twist!

I wish I could credit the compiler of the following. I can't. For now, just enjoy them!

1.    Don't let your worries get the best of you, remember, Moses started out as a basket case.

2.    Many folks want to serve God, but only as advisers

3.    It is easier to preach ten sermons than it is to live one

4.    The good Lord didn't create anything without a purpose, but mosquitoes come close.

5.    When you get to your wit's end, you'll find God lives there.

6.    Opportunity may knock once, but temptation bangs on your front door forever

7.    If the church wants a better pastor, it only needs to pray for the one it has.

8.    Peace starts with a smile.

9.    We were called to be witnesses, not lawyers or judges

10.Be ye fishers of men. You catch them - He'll clean them.

11.Coincidence is when God chooses to remain anonymous.

12.Don't put a question mark where God put a period.

13.God doesn't call the qualified, He qualifies the called.

14.God grades on the cross, not the curve.

15.God promises a safe landing, not a calm passage.

16.He who angers you, controls you!

17.If God is your Copilot -- swap seats!

18.Prayer: Don't give God instructions -- just report for duty!

19.The task ahead of us is never as great as the Power behind us.

20.The Will of God will never take you to where the Grace of God will not protect you.

21.You can tell how big a person is by what it takes to discourage him.


Thursday, December 11

Spirituality: Counter-Cultural (Part 3)

Part 3--This final section (of my post) of the Eugene Peterson interview poses the question about reaching different people groups. Remember, this interview took place in 2005. 

What if we were to frame this not in terms of needs but relevance? Many Christians hope to speak to generation X or Y or postmoderns, or some subgroup, like cowboys or bikers—people for whom the typical church seems irrelevant.

When you start tailoring the gospel to the culture, whether it's a youth culture, a generation culture or any other kind of culture, you have taken the guts out of the gospel. The gospel of Jesus Christ is not the kingdom of this world. It's a different kingdom.

My son Eric organized a new church six years ago. The Presbyterians have kind of a boot camp for new church pastors where you learn what you're supposed to do. So Eric went. One of the teachers there said he shouldn't put on a robe and a stole: "You get out there and you meet this generation where they are."

So Eric, being a good student and wanting to please his peers, didn't wear a robe. His church started meeting in a high-school auditorium. He started out by wearing a business suit every Sunday. But when the first Sunday of Advent rolled around, and they were going to have Communion, he told me, "Dad, I just couldn't do it. So I put my robe on."

Their neighbors, Joel and his wife, attended his church. Joel was the stereotype of the person the new church development was designed for—suburban, middle management, never been to church, totally secular. Eric figured he was coming because they were neighbors, or because he liked him. After that Advent service, he asked Joel what he thought of his wearing a robe.

He said, "It made an impression. My wife and I talked about it. I think what we're really looking for is sacred space. We both think we found it."

I think relevance is a crock. I don't think people care a whole lot about what kind of music you have or how you shape the service. They want a place where God is taken seriously, where they're taken seriously, where there is no manipulation of their emotions or their consumer needs.

Why did we get captured by this advertising, publicity mindset? I think it's destroying our church.

Wednesday, December 10

Spirituality: Ordinary Every Day Love (Part 2)

Part 2. Real spirituality is lived in a real world by real faith. It is superior to any methodology. Please read the following interview from Christianity Today with Eugene Peterson. The interviewer, Mark Galli queries:

You make spirituality sound so mundane.

I don't want to suggest that those of us who are following Jesus don't have any fun, that there's no joy, no exuberance, no ecstasy. They're just not what the consumer thinks they are. When we advertise the gospel in terms of the world's values, we lie to people. We lie to them, because this is a new life. It involves following Jesus. It involves the Cross. It involves death, an acceptable sacrifice. We give up our lives. 

The Gospel of Mark is so graphic this way. The first half of the Gospel is Jesus showing people how to live. He's healing everybody. Then right in the middle, he shifts. He starts showing people how to die: "Now that you've got a life, I'm going to show you how to give it up." That's the whole spiritual life. It's learning how to die. And as you learn how to die, you start losing all your illusions, and you start being capable now of true intimacy and love.

It involves a kind of learned passivity, so that our primary mode of relationship is receiving, submitting, instead of giving and getting and doing. We don't do that very well. We're trained to be assertive, to get, to apply, or to consume and to perform.

Repentance, dying to self, submission—these are not very attractive hooks to draw people into the faith.

I think the minute you put the issue that way you're in trouble. Because then we join the consumer world, and everything then becomes product designed to give you something. We don't need something more. We don't need something better. We're after life. We're learning how to live.

I think people are fed up with consumer approaches, even though they're addicted to them. But if we cast the evangel in terms of benefits, we're setting people up for disappointment. We're telling them lies.

This is not the way our Scriptures are written. This is not the way Jesus came among us. It's not the way Paul preached. Where do we get all this stuff? We have a textbook. We have these Scriptures and most of the time they're saying, "You're going the wrong way. Turn around. The culture is poisoning."

Do we realize how almost exactly the Baal culture of Canaan is reproduced in American church culture? Baal religion is about what makes you feel good. Baal worship is a total immersion in what I can get out of it. And of course, it was incredibly successful. The Baal priests could gather crowds that outnumbered followers of Yahweh 20 to 1. There was sex, there was excitement, there was music, there was ecstasy, there was dance. "We got girls over here, friends. We got statues, girls, and festivals." This was great stuff. And what did the Hebrews have to offer in response? The Word. What's the Word? Well, Hebrews had festivals, at least!

Still, the one big hook or benefit to Christian faith is salvation, no? "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved." Is this not something we can use to legitimately attract listeners?

It's the biggest word we have—salvation, being saved. We are saved from a way of life in which there was no resurrection. And we're being saved from ourselves. One way to define spiritual life is getting so tired and fed up with yourself you go on to something better, which is following Jesus.

But the minute we start advertising the faith in terms of benefits, we're just exacerbating the self problem. "With Christ, you're better, stronger, more likeable, you enjoy some ecstasy." But it's just more self. Instead, we want to get people bored with themselves so they can start looking at Jesus. 

We've all met a certain type of spiritual person. She's a wonderful person. She loves the Lord. She prays and reads the Bible all the time. But all she thinks about is herself. She's not a selfish person. But she's always at the center of everything she's doing. "How can I witness better? How can I do this better? How can I take care of this person's problem better?" It's me, me, me disguised in a way that is difficult to see because her spiritual talk disarms us.

So how should we visualize the Christian life?

In church last Sunday, there was a couple in front of us with two bratty kids. Two pews behind us there was another couple with their two bratty kids making a lot of noise. This is mostly an older congregation. So these people are set in their ways. Their kids have been gone a long time. And so it wasn't a very nice service; it was just not very good worship. But afterwards I saw half a dozen of these elderly people come up and put their arms around the mother, touch the kids, sympathize with her. They could have been irritated.

Now why do people go to a church like that when they can go to a church that has a nursery, is air conditioned, and all the rest? Well, because they're Lutherans. They don't mind being miserable! Norwegian Lutherans!

And this same church recently welcomed a young woman with a baby and a three-year-old boy. The children were baptized a few weeks ago. But there was no man with her. She's never married; each of the kids has a different father. She shows up at church and wants her children baptized. She's a Christian and wants to follow in the Christian way. So a couple from the church acted as godparents. Now there are three or four couples in the church who every Sunday try to get together with her.

Now, where is the "joy" in that church? These are dour Norwegians! But there's a lot of joy. There's an abundant life going, but it's not abundant in the way a non-Christian would think. I think there's a lot more going on in churches like this; they're just totally anticultural. They're full of joy and faithfulness and obedience and care. But you sure wouldn't know it by reading the literature of church growth, would you?