I was in the gas station today. There was more diversity there than in any church I’ve been to. Perhaps if the church supplied more fuel then more people would thirst after it as their cars thirst to be satiated as the week draws to a close and the tank drops toward E.
Explosion, radical, risky, insane … Where are the ordinary Christians? One of the problems I have is to join the latest craze without thinking it through. Why does Biblical evangelism have to involve an explosion? Why does Biblical faith have to be radical? Why do I have to risk as a Christian? Why does God’s gracious, saving sovereignty have to be insane?
I think these words, and many like them, appeal to the worldliness of Christians. A Christian is not exploding with evangelism, radically obeying by faith, etc. A Christian is obeying the Bible and therefore pleasing God. Continue reading
O Lord, if You weren’t working with me to make me more humble, what else would You help me with?
If your church struggles with finances, how should you fund your church? As I contemplate this I thought I would write my thoughts down. And why not here? I’m also hoping to gain some insight from any who may read this. I’ll add my email address to the about page (there’s also twitter @joshuacottrell or facebook.com/joshua.e.cottrell).
Although this is the first time I’m writing about it, I’ve thought about these questions before. My previous church, before I moved away to go to seminary, had a large stake in fund raising for the church. I’ve heard of some churches using government funding to keep their doors open or fund their own activities. Others use private funding from a corporation to start ministries. Initially I can only think of areas where I disagree.
Here are my initial disagreements: 1) the money was not given in order to glorify God; 2) God does not receive all the glory; 3) unbelievers are supporting the church; 4) organizations outside the church try to restrict and conform the way the money is spent.
First, the money does not come from donations given for the glory of God. When a corporation or group or even para-church ministry receives money, they receive it because they are selling a product or people agree with their particular topic/interest. They do not receive the money so it can glorify God in the same way the church does. On top of that the money comes from a group which has not been established as a church. They have another purpose than going into all nations, preaching the gospel, baptizing, and making disciples (Matthew 28:18-20).
Second, even if the church prospers from the money given, the company or organization or group can claim some of the credit because it financed, or helped finance the venture. God does not receive all* the glory, which He normally would when church members give gifts, tithes, and offerings to the work of God the church is doing. God is the reason believers gave their money and God is the one they desire to see glorified with their money all because they know God, through Jesus Christ, is building the church.
Third, although this is the case for only some donations/gifts, those who do not believe in Jesus as the Christ of the Bible are supporting the work of the church. When any money is gathered from those who do not believe in Christ, it diminishes the statement of our confidence in Jesus to build His church (Matthew 16:18). If Christ is building His church it is not through the “obedience” of unbelievers to give to His work but the obedience of believers to give not only their money freely but their whole lives to Him.
Fourth, when doing a fund-raiser God is not the sole object of satisfaction. This point is especially true when considering fund-raising via the sale of items or raffles. The people, no matter who they are, do not freely donate the money. They receive something in exchange for it, which diminishes the worthiness of God to be given gifts freely, out of gratitude not persuasion.
Fifth, when outside money comes into the church from the government or other state-sponsored entity it often comes with restrictions to what environment or message or interactions can be presented by those receiving the money.
Lastly, I think we have a great example of this in the New Testament. Third John 7 reads, “For they have gone out for the sake of the name, accepting nothing from the Gentiles.” The task of these traveling preachers is to glorify “the name,” God’s name. They are not acting as individuals but have been sent by John’s church. And they have not accepted anything from the Gentiles (unbelievers). This must mean that they were actually offered support from the unbelievers. They did not accept it. You cannot refuse something you were never offered. But they do not accept the offer of the unbelievers. And John uses this to encourage us. He longs for us to support the work of the church, us the members of the church. Whether it is through hospitality, as with Gaius in 3 John, or with our gifts, fruits, service, and money. All belongs to God and He has given us every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places. Praise God for He is worthy to receive more and more from us and faithful to be entrusted with our future even if we give up everything!
*In the end, of course, God receives glory for everything but our interest is to glorify Him now through our proclamation of His faithfulness to save and His worthiness to be obeyed.
We had a congregational meeting tonight. We have them once a month. They range from redundant and idiosyncratic to troubling to exciting.
One passage that is often taken without context is Matthew 18:20, “For where two or three are gathered in My name, there am I among them.” Often it is taken as a promise that even if an unsuccessful church event is held, God is still there.
While that’s true, Christ Jesus is there when you are alone as well. And by the grace of God the Holy Spirit indwells even you! So what’s the significance of Matthew 18:20?
The point is that Jesus is there with the congregation when it makes decisions. Matthew 18:20 completes an unpopular section where church discipline is commanded (Matthew 18:15-20). So, Jesus is there with authority in these difficult decisions about turning a church member over to Satan (1 Timothy 1:18-20). And that ensures us that other congregational decisions are made with confidence that Christ is there working His will out through His fallible and continually erring people.
So the next time you or I participate in a congregational meeting, whether you voice your vote for or against (or even abstain?), do so with confidence that the Lord is working His will. And when you get voted against and it passes, put your heart into the Lord’s work and do what you didn’t think you wanted to because your Lord Jesus was there, sovereign and glorious as ever!
I have noticed lately that I search around for validation or encouragement to a sinful degree. We had an absolutely positive business meeting last night at church. Though we had a lot to talk about it turned out great. Afterward what did I want? Validation for the ‘importance of my role’. I sought discussion on the topic that I might find compliments. I’ve found myself doing this before too.
I mention it because of a simple rule: all sin has its core in unbelief. If I fully believed passages such as Philippians 1:6, “And I am sure of this, that He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” then I would be confident that I had nothing to boast about it my accomplishments but could only boast in Christ, His work and His work in me through His Holy Spirit. Also I would find encouragement from this verse promising that God truly is working in me (Philippians 2:12-13 too).
Now to be clear, the sinful part is not the need for encouragement. One of the things the church is called to do is encourage (Hebrews 10:23-25). But to avoid sin we must not desire encouragement above our desire to see Christ glorified for His work on the cross, His resurrection, His mediation in heaven for us, and the work of the Holy Spirit in us which is the only thing that causes any good to be done by us.
So let us truly take hold of God’s Word in faith to fight and rid ourselves of unbelief.
Check out this street preaching group and follow @LawGrace to see some of the front lines we need to be participating in: http://www.twitvid.com/E955E
The man on the chair and the two beside him (along with the video operator) are the street preaching group. There is a “heckler” they call “Goad” (as is “goading you on”) who by God’s providence gathers more people through his confrontation and antics (he’s the one moving around most in the video).
I have a tight schedule so I might need to be more brief with these next chapters. In this chapter looms the appearance of Young’s god, who appears as a woman. I struggled with my view on this. Could God appear as a woman? Would God appear as a woman? Is it wrong to cast God as a woman? It all came down to four things: 1) the note in chapter 5; 2) Philip’s request in John 14:8; 3) impossible sight of the Father; and, 4) the second commandment in Leviticus 10:1-3.
First, Young writes that Mack tells his friend Willie, “I guess part of me would like to believe that God would care enough about me to send a note”. Then later he laments to himself, “To think that I hoped God might actually care enough to send me a note!” The best we can say here for Mack is that maybe he’s an unbeliever acting like an unbeliever. The words I quoted are some of the most ungrateful words I can think of. God, who has sent His very Son Jesus, who has given Him over to suffering, who has punished His own Son for the sins of a rebellious people, this mere man Mack compares such evident love to the arrival of a note. And the disgust inherent in Mack’s ingratitude gives us insight into the other two things.
Second, John 14:8-9 reads, “Philip said to Him, ‘Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Have I been so long with you, and yet you have not come to know Me, Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father; how can you say, “Show us the Father”?’” Jesus is obviously offended that Philip would want to see the Father because the Father is in Jesus. If you see Jesus you have seen the Father. This should have been enough for Young. If any revelation was actually needed beyond comforting Mack with his Bible then only Jesus should have showed. Instead we have the blasphemous creation of papa and the lesser-spirit. Jesus would have been equally disappointed if Young had asked Him to show us the Father.
Third, not only is there no need to see the Father but it is impossible. Consider Exodus 33:20, John 6:46, and 1 John 4:12 on this subject. We can see that death would result from seeing God, who Jesus specifies as the Father and John confirms still that no one had seen Him. Jesus was incarnated to be seen, in part. The Father’s holiness is not shielded like that of the Son. Mack would have died in the presence of the Father or Young has stolen the holiness of the Father so Mack could tolerate it.
Fourth, the second commandment reads, “You shall not make for yourself an idol, or any likeness of what is in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the water under the earth” (Exodus 20:4). An interesting application of this occurs in Leviticus 10:1-3 which reads,
Now Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, took their respective firepans, and after putting fire in them, placed incense on it and offered strange fire before the LORD, which He had not commanded them. And fire came out from the presence of the LORD and consumed them, and they died before the LORD. Then Moses said to Aaron, “It is what the LORD spoke, saying,
‘By those who come near Me I will be treated as holy,
And before all the people I will be honored.’”
So Aaron, therefore, kept silent.
Nadab and Abihu die because they have worshiped the Lord by altering/perverting what He described as proper worship. The second commandment is against this, against worship of God by altering/perverting the forms of worship He has given – idolatry. This is what Young is doing – attaching an incarnation (and gender) to the Father and the Holy Spirit which God has not done or authorized or commanded or permitted.
So for these four reasons we begin our discovery of a false trinity in The Shack: 1) an insult to Jesus’ work; 2) an insult to Jesus’ deity; 3) a less-holy father; and, 4) creating idols by adding humanity to the Father and Holy Spirit (which Young shows here and tells us of it later).
This chapter describes The Great Sadness which weighs down much of the book. To properly critique this book we have to keep in mind the overwhelming shock and sadness of the main character’s daughter being kidnapped and murdered. During these times our minds our saturated with sin. Our sinful nature tries to dominate and Satan has an easier time tempting than usual (this is why I recommended practicing trust in God’s sovereignty a few chapters ago).
There are two major parts of this chapter that will take our attention. The first is prayer. The second is the Bible. Young intersperses the tragedy of Missy’s death (Mack’s daughter) with the prayers that Mack and others pray. One prayer of Mack emphasizes our own need to pray in times of desperation and stress. It is another great area to practice, praying always so we always default to praying in every circumstance, not just tragedy but also in times of joy – praising God for His good providence in all situations. Another time Mack shows his dependence on God by praying. This is always a commendable aspect of our prayers, telling God we are very familiar with the fact that He is good and sovereign and in control and we are not any of those things.
Second, Young offers some degrading remarks on the Bible. One reads, “Nobody wanted God in a box, just in a book [the Bible]“. First, The Shack is a book. So Young is elevating his book over the Bible. What Young is trying to argue for is direct communication with God. Seeing that he confronts the Bible, he’s trying to argue for revelation from God (not to Him in prayer) that is equal to the Bible. There are so many problems with this. First of these problems is that the Bible says it is sufficient for us, “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17). So the Bible is profitable for all these things, with a purpose “so that” we are quipped for “every” good work. In other words we don’t need direct communication from God in order to make sure we know what good works to do and how to do them. We need the Bible. Second, the Bible does not tell us of any other tool we have that can equip us for every good work. Third, the Bible itself speaks of God beyond His activities in the Bible. Passages like Psalm 115:3 tell us that God does whatever He wants. There’s no greater un-boxing or un-booking God than that. Fourth, there are very, very few people who have ever received direct revelation from God – like roughly 40 who wrote the Bible and a few who were prophets or prophetesses that received revelation through dreams or visions or the equivalent. Of billions of people that have been born through history hardly any have been given direct revelation outside the Bible. Most of those that claim it will contradict the Bible. The Bible calls those people false prophets.
So did God send Mack this note that Mack received? The Bible doesn’t eliminate God’s ability to use the mail. But there are two things. One, this god will prove not to be the God of the Bible. Second, didn’t this god violate US federal law by tampering with the mail?
This is a relatively plain chapter. Young does very little different. It seems to be mostly character development and plot enhancement. At one point Young is looking through Mack’s eyes at a sleeping Missy. He describes her as innocent.
Rightly understood there is nothing wrong with one person/human acknowledging the innocence of another. We should be excited when we see justice done in a courtroom, for instance. Those who are guilty of breaking human laws deserve punishment and those who have not should be declared innocent.
The same is not true in God’s courtroom. Romans 5:19 reads, “For as through the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, even so through the obedience of the One the many will be made righteous”. We can see that since Adam’s first sin none of us were innocent but all became sinners. Romans 3:12 reads, “All have turned aside, together they have become useless; there is none who does good, there is not even one”. Not only were we born sinners but we continue in sin throughout our lives. Finally we have Isaiah 64:6b reads, “And all our righteous deeds are like a filthy garment”. Even our good works are stained by sin and unworthy before God.
This becomes important as Young continues into the book. He presses this innocence and even assumes it in important sections where God’s holiness and justice are questioned because Young assumes humanity’s innocence before God. We’re not though. We have a corrupted innocence. We are in no way innocent before God and therefore must depend on the obedience of Jesus Christ for the actual good works He did and surrender ourselves to Him, repenting of our sins and trusting in His death for sinners.