Sunday, December 05, 2010

The 10 Commandments, Idolatry, the Gospel, and Delighting in God

I had an epiphany during Sunday School this morning. Something that hadn't "clicked" before did today. Where is the intersection between the 10 commandments, idolatry, the Gospel, and Delighting in God? Probably, John Piper answered this question in Battling Unbelief (which is a light edit of the application chapters of an earlier work Future Grace). I'll reread Battling Unbelief this week to see but for now I wanted to put down a few thoughts while they are still fresh in my mind.

Why do we sin? We sin because we believe - in the moment, fleeting as it may be - that the sin will give us lasting pleasure. Thus, each sin - as Martin Luther taught long ago and Tim Keller recently wrote - is an act of idolatry. When we sin, we invest hope in what we're doing and as such we worship, trust, and serve something in creation thinking it will bring us lasting meaning, security, fulfillment, satisfaction and pleasure. But sin can never bring us that. It might bring us momentary pleasure (Hebrews 11:25) but cannot deliver lasting happiness.

Can anything deliver lasting happiness? YES! As Augustine said long ago, "God, you have made us for
yourself, and our hearts are restless till they find their
rest in you." Sin is our trying to find rest in something other than God. However, when we believe the gospel we begin a lifestyle of turning from placing our hope in things other than God (repentance from idolatry) and instead placing it in God (faith in Jesus). As John Piper has put it well in God is the Gospel, the point of believing the gospel is not that we simply get "benefits" (great as they are!) like justification, sanctification, and eventual glorification but we get God again (1 Peter 3:18). The great war Paul writes of in Romans 7 is the war between our flesh which invests hope in created things and our renewed spirit which knows that we will be restless until we rest in God.

The 10 commandments provide a test matrix for our Christian lives and how we are doing integrating the gospel into our lives particularly as it relates to us turning from idols and delighting in God. Let me relate the commandments and delight in God briefly. I'm assuming here that how this works with the 1st commandment is obvious.

2nd commandment - if I'm delighting in God as He's revealed Himself in the Bible, I'm satisfied with how He's pictured Himself especially in Jesus and I don't need to produce an ill-fitting and necessarily distorted picture of God for my help in worship or comfort in life.

3rd commandment - if I'm delighting in God and thus in His Name that stands for all He is to me in Jesus Christ, then I can't possibly use His Name casually or callously. If God doesn't mean all that much to me I can bear to throw His Name around without much thought.

4th commandment - if I'm delighting God, resting in Him, and enjoying that I have been brought to God through the perfect life, death, resurrection, and ongoing intercession of Jesus, then I treat the Lord's Day as a gift where I get to especially spend time with God, His people, learning His Word, and doing the merciful missionary work He's called me to do as one of His children. If I don't really enjoy God, then I'll easily desire other distractions on the Lord's Day and find worship, fellowship, and service burdens rather than joys.

5th commandment - if I'm delighting in God, I'll also rejoice in the structures God built into Creation including the authority structures. This will cause me to gladly honor Father and Mother as well as the other authorities (vocational, civil and spiritual) in my life. However, if I'm secretly upset with God (instead of delighting in Him) for seeking to exercise authority over me, then I'll resist His authority and the authority of those God has placed in my life as authorities over me.

6th commandment - if I'm delighting in God, I'll also be submissive to and patient with His dealings with me as I come to know His providential will in my life. If I don't delight in God, I'll consider God unwise and I'll chafe against that which He brings to pass relationally in my life resulting in anger and perhaps even violence as far as murder.

7th commandment - if I'm delighting in God then I won't have my hopes set on sex as the solution to my sadness. However, if I believe sex will make me ultimately happy for a moment or a day, then I'll seek it even in the arms of another man's wife (or wife's husband) or virtually in pornography or romance novels.

8th commandment - if I'm delighting in God, then I don't have my hopes set on "stuff" as the solution to my unhappiness. However, if God isn't the center of my life, I'll feel empty and think that "stuff" can make me feel significant and happy and I'll go so far as to steal to get that which I think will make me joyful.

9th commandment - if I'm delighting in God, I won't seek to harm others by my speech because I won't need to bolster my self-esteem. Instead, I'll have a Biblical view of myself based on the gospel. That gospel teaches me that though I'm so bad Jesus had to come for me I'm so loved and cherished Jesus was glad to come for me. That Jesus loves and cherishes me (so I'll return to Him and love and cherish Him as He deserves!) will be enough for me and I won't need to tear others down so I can build myself up. Instead, I'll use my speech to build others up.

10th commandment - If I'm delighting in God, then I won't have my hopes set in something I don't yet have whether that is a possession, a worker, a tool, or another spouse. However, I will fall into covetousness easily if I'm not delighting in God because in my flesh I'll tend to seek something, anything, that will make me happy. Our culture is especially responsive to this idol as all advertising seeks to convince me that I'll be happy if I only have something I don't currently have.

That's the epiphany from Sunday School today. If I don't delight in God, I'll seek happiness elsewhere via idolatry expressed in sin. What is the cure for this? How do I delight in God? Tim Keller and John Piper have sought in their works to help believers regain this crucial insight from the Reformation especially as it was displayed in the Puritans. Thankfully they've put these insights into 21st century language that is a bit easier to read than the Puritans.

In short form, when I'm rehearsing the gospel to myself daily, I'm reacquainted with my sin, God's grace in Jesus, and thus God's worthiness to be worshiped, trusted, and served. Indirectly (and this is where I think I get in trouble because I don't draw this much insight into the moments when I'm tempted to sin), by preaching the gospel to myself daily, I become more and more convinced that idols and their fruit, sin (which I do because I think sinning will make me happy) can't make me happy. But this is a fight, a spiritual battle between flesh and spirit.

May God cause us to treasure the gospel, turn from idols (and their fruit, sin), and as result gladly keep His commands because we delight in Him.

Pastors Should Read Leadership Books

I have a confession to make ... I've learned more about team dynamics (and thus team leadership) from reading Pat Lencioni's Five Dysfunctions of a Team than anything written from a Christian perspective. And I'm not embarrassed. I've also recommended that book countless times to other pastors and shared my teaching notes of how I found the principles to actually have Biblical/gospel roots (not that this was the author's intention but he does wisely observe reality). By the way, I'm also happy to share those notes with you if you're curious.

Why do I share this confession? I find a great disconnect in pastors and ministries who are serious about Biblical exposition and that emphasize the ordinary means of grace. This disconnect is between "spiritual" things (like learning that is derived from the Bible and books written by Christians) and "pagan" wisdom. I'm happy to see a leadership book by a seasoned pastor like John MacArthur. However, this is an arena where plundering the well-meaning pagans can be useful.

While we may decry using "business" principles in church work (and I'd be on that band wagon!) the reality we face is a world where some of the smartest people (by God's common grace) are not on our Leadership Team at church. Instead, God chose to invest leadership smarts in people who don't yet know Jesus and don't have His glory in mind. But that doesn't make them any less useful when their insights are used rightly within a Biblical framework.

An illustration may help you understand what I mean. I'm a dedicated Biblical counselor in the CCEF tradition. However, that doesn't mean that sometimes the OBSERVATIONS that traditional psychologists and psychiatrists make aren't helpful. Sometimes - to our shame - they are better observers of human actions and the shaping influences of peoples lives than we are. This is the same vein in which I think an author like Pat Lencioni is exceptionally helpful. He's an astute observer of people and how they relate together in a team, in an organization, and how they react to leadership.

In the Five Dysfunctions of a Team Lencioni helps you understand that a team cannot function if the members don't trust each other. I know, not rocket science. But when was the last time you were in a meeting where everyone did trust each other? What happens when they do? How would you take a group that doesn't trust each other and help them begin to? How would you do that Biblically with the gospel and not just pragmatically (i.e. if you guys can't trust each other, these meetings are always going to be painful and we're not going to get anything done)? These are important questions and it is in the answer to these questions that real spiritual leadership is exerted.

To me, this kind of reading helps me understand the distortions of the gospel in the hearts of those I'm trying to lead. It's not that Lencioni can point me towards a Biblical solution, but he can help me understand the problem acutely. And understanding the problem accurately is at least 50% of the solution.

So as to not leave the reader hanging, let me give you a bit of sense as to how I've worked through the trust issue with my Leadership Team. From a Biblical standpoint none of us are trustworthy. We are depraved and unworthy of trust by anyone including ourselves. That especially applies to pastors who often think everyone should simply accept their wisdom and expect to be looked up to as "the authority". When we're trusting ourselves we are terribly insecure people who must either hold our opinions to ourselves (to protect our fragile egos) or we must display them strongly so as to make sure things go our way (and our fragile egos can be bolstered by winning).

So what can lead us forward? We must grapple with our inherent lack of trustworthiness and that of our team members. When we can own that we can begin trusting not based on past performance (good = "I can trust you" or bad = "I can't trust you") or present agreement with "my side" but based on the fact that the same Spirit of God that is at work in me is also at work in the one I'm finding hard to trust. This is a gospel answer to trust issues on a Christian Leadership Team.

When a team is growing in grasping the gospel, then they'll be growing in trust for each other. They'll find it easier to express their fears, concerns, disagreements, and quibbles because they know they aren't accepted with God or their team members based on performance but based on grace. That is, they aren't trying to gain their own security by how a particular conversation goes because they are already secure in Jesus. The practical effect of this is that "politicking" is unneeded. A back channel of communication is unneeded. Real conversations take place in meetings where everyone expresses and is heard and respected. Unsurprisingly, meetings like this produce better Biblical decisions. These decisions are well informed and wise because the all the members of the Leadership Team bring the riches of their wisdom unabashedly to the table.

This is one illustration of how a writer, who isn't writing from a Biblical viewpoint, helped me think through trust, an issue that faces every team. I think this is the virtue of reading books on leadership. God gave lots of people including some unbelievers great leadership insight that we ought to plunder placing those insights in a Biblical framework of spiritual leadership.

Thus, in my humble opinion, pastors should read books on leadership.

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Can A Song Saying One Thing Prove Its Opposite?

My Ph D (in some kind of aesthetics which will be funny momentarily!) -seeking friend JK posted a link in FB today to this song. If you can't laugh at it, something is wrong with you.

But after laughing you should muse a bit about this song and your reaction to it. Think of all the uniquely human - created in God's image - aspects to our experience of that song. Harmony, synchrony, and the creation and appreciation of humor are all things animals don't do. If - as atheists say - we are simply the product of matter, time, and chance then the song could not have been created.

One author is known to say, the penguins in Antarctica are not judging their friends dives into the the water or their style in catching fish. Appreciation of another's creation is a shadow of us appreciating the Creator who made us and all things.

Atheists may want a song but even their yearning for a song and enjoyment of this song reveals a yearning for something far greater, a yearning for the God who made them creative and humor enjoying. Indeed a song saying one thing can prove its opposite.