Sunday, June 27, 2010

The Fear of God vs. The Fear of Man

The fear of man lays a snare, but whoever trusts in the LORD is safe (Proverbs 29:25).

I noticed recently that many of the psalms I have been reading and memorizing speak of the blessing of fearing God: "Who is the man who fears the Lord? Him will he instruct in the way that he should choose. His soul shall abide in well-being, and his offspring shall inherit the land. The friendship of the Lord is for those who fear him, and he makes known to them his covenant" (Psalm 34:12-14).

The biggest reason we do not fear the Lord is because we too often fear man more. A few years ago I was both humbled and helped in this by reading Ed Welch's book When People Are Big and God Is Small. A recent post by Justin Taylor reminded me again of its value, and so I am posting the book's basic premise for others. Ed begins by writing: “Fear of man is such a part of our human fabric that we should check for pulse if someone denies it.” Here are the steps to fighting the fear of man that he lays out in his book.
Step 1: Recognize that the fear of man is a major theme both in the Bible and in your own life.

Step 2: Identify where your fear of man has been intensified by people in your past.

Step 3: Identify where your fear of man has been intensified by the assumptions of the world.

Step 4: Understand and grow in the fear of the Lord. The person who fears God will fear nothing else.

Step 5: Examine where your desires have been too big. When we fear people, people are big, our desires are even bigger, and God is small.

Step 6: Rejoice that God has covered your shame, protected you from danger, and accepted you. He has filled you with love.

Step 7: Need other people less, love other people more. Out of obedience to Christ, and as a response to his love toward you, pursue others in love.
Out of my distress I called on the Lord; the Lord answered me and set me free. The Lord is on my side; I will not fear. What can man do to me? The Lord is on my side as my helper; I shall look in triumph on those who hate me. It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in man. It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in princes. (Psalm 118:5-9)

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Praying for One Another

"Pray for one another . . ." (James 5:16).

Friday, June 11, 2010

Grace-driven Effort or Drifting From Holiness

Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you. Only let us hold true to what we have attained. (Philippians 3:12-16)

from For the Love of God by D.A. Carson volume 2, Jan. 23 entry:
One of the most striking evidences of sinful human nature lies in the universal propensity for downward drift. In other words, it takes thought, resolve, energy, and effort to bring about reform.

In the grace of God, sometimes human beings display such virtues. But where such virtues are absent, the drift is invariably toward compromise, comfort, indiscipline, sliding disobedience and decay that advances, sometimes at a crawl and sometimes at a gallop, across generations.

People do not drift toward holiness. Apart from grace-driven effort, people do not gravitate toward godliness, prayer, and obedience to Scripture, faith, and delight in the Lord.

We drift toward compromise and call it tolerance;
we drift toward disobedience and call it freedom;
we drift toward superstition and call it faith.

We cherish the indiscipline of lost self-control and call it relaxation;
we slouch toward prayerlessness and delude ourselves into thinking we have escaped legalism;
we slide toward godlessness and convince ourselves we have been liberated.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

The Dangerous Gospel of Spirituality

He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has put eternity into man’s heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end. (Ecclesiastes 3:11)

Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me." (Matthew 16:24)

If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed. (Galatians 1:9)

Are there dangers in being 'spiritual but not religious'? by John Blake

It's a trendy phrase people often use to describe their belief that they don't need organized religion to live a life of faith. But for Jesuit priest James Martin, the phrase also hints at something else: egotism. "Being spiritual but not religious can lead to complacency and self-centeredness," says Martin, an editor at America, a national Catholic magazine based in New York City. "If it's just you and God in your room, and a religious community makes no demands on you, why help the poor?" Religious debates erupt over everything from doctrine to fashion. Martin has jumped into a running debate over the "I'm spiritual but not religious" phrase.
The "I'm spiritual but not religious" community is growing so much that one pastor compared it to a movement. In a 2009 survey by the research firm LifeWay Christian Resources, 72 percent of millennials (18- to 29-year-olds) said they're "more spiritual than religious." The phrase is now so commonplace that it's spawned its own acronym ("I'm SBNR") and Facebook page:

But what exactly does being "spiritual but not religious" mean, and could there be hidden dangers in living such a life? Heather Cariou, a New York City-based author who calls herself spiritual instead of religious, doesn't think so. She's adopted a spirituality that blends Buddhism, Judaism and other beliefs. "I don't need to define myself to any community by putting myself in a box labeled Baptist, or Catholic, or Muslim," she says. "When I die, I believe all my accounting will be done to God, and that when I enter the eternal realm, I will not walk though a door with a label on it."

BJ Gallagher, a Huffington Post blogger who writes about spirituality, says she's SBNR because organized religion inevitably degenerates into tussles over power, ego and money. Gallagher tells a parable to illustrate her point: "God and the devil were walking down a path one day when God spotted something sparkling by the side of the path. He picked it up and held it in the palm of his hand. "Ah, Truth," he said. "Here, give it to me," the devil said. "I'll organize it."

Gallagher says there's nothing wrong with people blending insights from different faith traditions to create what she calls a "Burger King Spirituality -- have it your way." She disputes the notion that spiritual people shun being accountable to a community. "Twelve-step people have a brilliant spiritual community that avoids all the pitfalls of organized religion," says Gallagher, author of "The Best Way Out is Always Through." "Each recovering addict has a 'god of our own understanding,' and there are no priests or intermediaries between you and your god. It's a spiritual community that works.''

Nazli Ekim, who works in public relations in New York City, says calling herself spiritual instead of religious is her way of taking responsibility for herself. Ekim was born in a Muslim family and raised in Istanbul, Turkey. She prayed to Allah every night, until she was 13 and had to take religion classes in high school.Then one day, she says she had to take charge of her own beliefs.
"I had this revelation that I bow to no one, and I've been spiritually a much happier person," says Ekim, who describers herself now as a Taoist, a religious practice from ancient China that emphasizes the unity of humanity and the universe. "I make my own mistakes and take responsibility for them. I've lied, cheated, hurt people -- sometimes on purpose. Did I ever think I will burn in hell for all eternity? I didn't. Did I feel bad and made up for my mistakes? I certainly did, but not out of fear of God."

The debate over being spiritual rather than religious is not just about semantics. It's about survival. Numerous surveys show the number of Americans who do not identify themselves as religious has been increasing and likely will continue to grow. A 2008 survey conducted by Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut, dubbed these Americans who don't identify with any religion as "Nones."

Seminaries, churches, mosques and other institutions will struggle for survival if they don't somehow convince future generations that being religious isn't so bad after all, religion scholars warn. Jennifer Walters, dean of religious life at Smith College in Massachusetts, says there's a lot of good in old-time religion. Religious communities excel at caring for members in difficult times, encouraging members to serve others and teaching religious practices that have been tested and wrestled with for centuries, Walters says. "Hymn-singing, forms of prayer and worship, teachings about social justice and forgiveness -- all these things are valuable elements of religious wisdom," Walters says. "Piecing it together by yourself can be done, but with great difficulty."

Being a spiritual Lone Ranger fits the tenor of our times, says June-Ann Greeley, a theology and philosophy professor. "Religion demands that we accord to human existence some absolutes and eternal truths, and in a post-modern culture, that becomes all but impossible," says Greeley, who teaches at Sacred Heart University in Connecticut. It's much easier for "spiritual" people to go on "spiritual walkabouts," Greeley says. "People seem not to have the time nor the energy or interest to delve deeply into any one faith or religious tradition," Greeley says. "So they move through, collecting ideas and practices and tenets that most appeal to the self, but making no connections to groups or communities."

Being spiritual instead of religious may sound sophisticated, but the choice may ultimately come down to pettiness, says Martin, the Jesuit priest, who writes about the phrase in his book, "The Jesuit Guide to (Almost Everything)." "Religion is hard," he says. "Sometimes it's just too much work. People don't feel like it. I have better things to do with my time. It's plain old laziness."

from - June 4, 2010

Saturday, June 5, 2010

The Perfection of Grace

“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." (2 Corinthians 12:9)

Baseball’s transcendent moment
by Warren Cole Smith

Even if you don’t follow baseball, you may have heard the story.

On Wednesday, Detroit Tigers journeyman pitcher Armando Galarraga—whose 21-18 career record is hardly spectacular—was one out away from that rarest of baseball achievements: the so-called “perfect game.” Twenty-seven batters up and 27 down. It has been done only 20 times in major league baseball history.

Galarraga had retired 26 batters when the Cleveland Indians’ Jason Donald stepped into the batter’s box. Donald then sliced a grounder to the right side of the infield, forcing first baseman Miguel Cabrera to field the ball. Cabrera threw the ball to Galarraga, who ran over to cover first. Everyone in the ballpark knew Donald was out by a half step. Everyone except umpire Jim Joyce. Joyce called Donald safe. The blown call ended Galarraga’s bid for major league baseball’s 21st perfect game.

Detroit manager Jim Leyland leapt out of the dugout to protest, but—as all baseball fans know—the gesture was nothing more than theater: The only thing rarer than a perfect game is a reversed call. Jason Donald remained on first. Galarraga composed himself and disposed of the next batter. Twenty-eight up, 27 down. Galarraga ended up one out shy of the record book. In the 24 hours following that blown call, there has been much second-guessing. Should baseball commissioner Bud Selig overturn the umpire’s call? He said he would not. Should there be instant replays employed in baseball, as there are in football?

Purists—or perhaps just those who understand baseball—say no. Why? Because it diminishes the human element in this most human of sports. Baseball—unlike football and basketball—is played by men who look like the rest of us. They are not 7 feet tall. They do not weigh 300 pounds. Part of the myth of baseball is that an ordinary man, if he works hard enough, if he has enough heart, if he studies the game deeply, can play the game as well as the man with extraordinary natural gifts, as well as any man alive, perhaps as well as any man who has ever lived. The grand slam home run. The perfect game. These are achievements that—while limited and fleeting—cannot be improved upon. And when the umpire yells, “Play Ball,” the possibility of that perfection is within reach of all 18 men on the field, and they all know it. Will a million things have to go right to achieve that moment of transcendence? Of course, but one in a million times, they all do go right, and for that bright and shining moment baseball provides us with a glimpse of the good, the beautiful, and the true unlike anything seen in other sports.

But there are other moments in which we can glimpse that transcendence, and in the 24 hours following Jim Joyce’s blown call, we got to see not just one but several of them, and they were moments the inhuman precision of the instant replay camera would have stolen from us. The first one came immediately after the game, when Galarraga celebrated his team’s win, brushing aside questions about the blown call by observing humbly and thankfully (and truthfully) that this was the best game he had pitched in his career. No blame. No recriminations. Just character and grace. We saw one from umpire Jim Joyce, too. He watched a replay immediately after the game and quickly admitted he had blown the call. No excuses. He immediately, emotionally, and publicly apologized to Galarraga. Again: character and grace.

The next day came perhaps the best moment of all: Joyce was scheduled to be the umpire behind the plate. It is the duty of each team to bring the starting lineup out to the home plate umpire. Usually the manager or a coach or the team captain performs the duty. On this day, Galarraga himself emerged from the Detroit dugout. He shook hands with Joyce, who was so choked up he could not speak. With head bowed, Joyce accepted the lineup card. And with his lip trembling, he gently touched Galarraga on the arm. There were a few boos from the watching crowd, but there were also a lot of cheers. It was a very human moment. A very baseball moment.

As for Galarraga’s bid for the record book, don’t despair. After all, how many of the 20 pitchers who have pitched perfect games can you name? There’s Don Larsen’s in the 1956 World Series, the only perfect game ever pitched in World Series play. And—for a while—a few folk might be able to tell you the names of the pitchers who have made 2010 the only season in history to produce two perfect games. Their names will soon fade, though, as have all the others. But the story of Galarraga and Joyce will, I predict, be told as long as the game is played, perhaps even as long as we imperfect human beings strive for and occasionally achieve moments of transcendence. And that’s why I love baseball.

Posted on - June 4, 2010