Utterly Holy; Breathtaking Irreverence

November 30, 2010

After a long hiatus from writing anything at this blog, I return today with an exhibit of contrasts on the reverencing of God.

Many of you are by now aware of the professional football player who, after dropping a game-losing pass, proceeded to post the following message on his Twitter account shortly after the game ended:

I PRAISE YOU 24/7!!!!!! AND THIS HOW YOU DO ME!!!!! YOU EXPECT ME TO LEARN FROM THIS??? HOW???!!! ILL NEVER FORGET THIS!! EVER!!! THX THO…

Let those words echo slowly for a moment:

“THIS IS HOW YOU DO ME!!!!!…ILL NEVER FORGET THIS!”

That is breathtaking irreverence.

As I read that, I can only think of one scene: the seraphim in Isaiah 6 who, in the immediate presence of the God who is so utterly holy that they are compelled to cover their faces and feet with their wings, and the pillars of the doors that have the good sense to tremble at the voice of God.

Read the scene and be moved by it (Isaiah 6:1–5):

I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called to another and said:

“Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!”

And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke. And I said: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!”

Isaiah was nearly crushed under the awesome sense of the greatness of God’s glory and holiness. He felt what today is not much felt: a deep sense of reverence for God. Fear of the Lord. The knowledge and the reverence that God is holy, holy, holy, and that we are not.

When you possess a true sense of the weight of God’s holiness, the fearful transcendence of his being, reading that athlete’s words to God are jaw-dropping. Such stunning contempt for the Lord of glory by a man of dust would make even the seraphim tremble.

Now, compare that disturbingly unworthy attitude about God’s holiness with a conversation overheard this week by one of the moms in our church:

Mom, is it bad to say ‘holy cow’?

They talked amongst themselves and I listened.

Who is Holy?

God is holy.

Is anyone or anything else holy?

No.

Are cows holy then?

No.

Should we joke about things being holy, if that is something that sets God apart?

No.

That’s the fear of the Lord in the heart of a child. The kind of reverence for the Lord of Heaven and Earth that knows that men should never think of him or talk of him or talk to him as if he were anything other than holy, holy, holy.


How to make sure you never learn, grow, or keep strong friendships

January 25, 2010

I’ll give you the 4 ingredients:

Be unteachable. But convince yourself that you really are teachable and that you just don’t know very many people that know as much as you do about the matter – especially since they don’t happen to be on your preferred list of authors, speakers, teachers, mentors, etc., that you learned most of what you know from. So, listen to others with a critical ear, not a hungry mind. Because a hungry mind would mean that you still want to learn and grow, and it would also imply that you could learn something from anyone or anything no matter how far beneath you, which, of course, are impossibilities for those who have already arrived.

Be above correction. Rarely be open to the honest concern of others that you might be wrong, because, if you were wrong, you’d already know it, wouldn’t you? Dig in your heels and say (or at least think), “No, you’re wrong.” Besides, why should you listen to their concerns, when if they were teachable they’d be listening to you? How could you possibly be wrong? You’ve already considered every perspective, every fact, every possibility and come to the indisputably correct and wisest conclusion.

C.H. Spurgeon described the person characterized by these first 2 like this:

“None is so wise as the man who knows nothing. His ignorance is the mother of his impudence and the nurse of his obstinacy; and as if all wisdom were at his fingers’ ends – the Pope himself is not more infallible.”

Never say your sorry. At least not quickly. And even then only when it’s an absolute necessity (like if they demand it). Saying your sorry implies that you think you were wrong, which, of course, you rarely are. Besides, they know you really love/like them, so there’s no need to act all humble about it. They just need to get over it and not let it affect the relationship. Saying you’re sorry is for doormats who let others make them feel bad. So, put away all self-doubt and redouble your self-confidence.

Be easily offended. Keep your pride and personal insecurities so close to the surface that you are able to quickly react to others with the assumption that they meant to do you wrong. And never question whether you’re right to make this assumption. Use words, actions, or body language that make it clear that you feel annoyed, insulted, or wounded, and that you expect them to apologize. Never consider exercising the option to not be offended, or to show love by overlooking the matter. You’re an important person, with legitimate rights and expectations, and they’d better treat you with respect!

Protecting these four traits in your life, and not allowing anyone or anything to make you more teachable, correctable, quick to apologize, or slow to be offended, is a good recipe for poisoning humility and love at the roots, and killing the vine of fulfilling, lasting relationships with the excuse that it’s always their fault, rarely yours.

Of course if you want to grow, learn, love, and flourish in your marriage and friendships, then begin with some self-examination, some confession of your own sins and tendencies to act in the ways listed above, and then with the strength-giving grace of Christ, repent.


How the news coverage of Tiger Wood’s adultery illustrates some not-so-randomly-connected truth

January 11, 2010

I know that this has become “old news” already, but I’ve been trying not to waste the lessons of the scandal from a few weeks ago. I have prayed for the Lord to soften my own heart and be sanctified by the news of the sin of another. I have no stones to throw, except at myself. In all honesty I can say that I am the most sinful man I know.

That humbles me, and the way that Tiger Wood’s sins have been put so publicly on display has put the fear of the Lord in me even more deeply. Who would want any of his own sins exposed the way Tiger’s have been? That’s humbling and frightening and sanctifying.

There are some things illustrated in this scandal that have been on my mind and in my prayers:

1. Americans still view adultery as wrong. I am glad to see this reaction by the public. Frankly, I was surprised that the world still cared about the commitments involved in the marriage covenant.

2. A beautiful wife does not equal a happy life. Other ways of expressing this principle: Wealth does not equal having-it-all-together (too often it undermines it!). Outward luxuries do not carry the power to produce inner fulfillment – only the love of Christ toward us carries that power for us.

3. Self-discipline in one area does not guarantee it in all areas. There are too many professional athletes to mention that illustrate this truth all too well (Michael Phelps, Magic Johnson, Wilt Chamberlain, etc.). If you give all your effort to being good at some particular outward skill, chances are you may be neglecting other important areas of your inner life and character.

4. Be sure your sin will find you out. Be afraid – enough to not sin. A carefully crafted and controlled public image of yourself cannot conceal the truth about you indefinitely, no matter how good at it you are. What you are before God is what you really are.

5. We are all too voyeuristic about celebrity scandals – grocery store magazines, news sites, news shows – it’s been everywhere all the time. It’s too much. But it’s there because the public loves to know. May this scandal make us wiser than before about our own lives, and find our cravings for celebrity gossip lessening.

6. We should pray that God would humble him and bring him to genuine repentance and faith in Jesus Christ the Savior. I’ve been praying this for Tiger Woods. And it looks like I’m not the only one.


Do I think that movies like Avatar are too pagan for Christians to watch?

January 7, 2010

Someone emailed me with that question this week. I’m posting our exchange here in the hope that you’ll find my answer helpful.

Pastor Scott,

I, too, am a recovering fundamentalist. So I really have enjoyed your web sites and the focus of your church. I would like your take on a topic that has me in some hot water with some friends…. The movie Avatar.

How do you address blatantly pagan entertainment such as “Avatar” which, apart from its pantheistic theme, is a fun, exciting, interesting movie? Why should a believer waste his/her time with this? How, in light of Phil 4:8 and Romans 14:23 can a believer ingest a movie like this “in faith”? I do believe some things might be fine for one person and not fine for another (Rom 14). But with movies like this – which I place in the same category as pornography – I find it hard to see how it’s a good thing for anyone to partake of.

What do you think? How do you counsel your people, if asked, about such a film that finds itself in the cross hairs of not just fundies, but also folks like Mark Driscoll.

Resting in peace because of what He has done, (name withheld)

My answer:

Thanks for your email. I’ll try to answer you helpfully.

I’ve been pondering your question, as well as the appropriateness of entertainment such as Avatar for Christians, since it presents a portrayal of openly pagan elements. This really is an oft-raised question about the point at which it is appropriate to deem something “too pagan” for Christian consumption.

It seems to me that the question is one of degrees. Paganism has infected a great deal of today’s entertainment, so much so, that it is difficult to even notice it anymore, because it has become so common, and we’ve become so used to it, that we’ve become immune to it (which is a good thing).

For example, you could conceivably create a scale with TV programs and movies that use magic such as Bewitched or I Dream of Genie or Mary Poppins on one end of the scale, then you could move further up the scale from those lighter-fare shows (to which most people are immune to the paganism, and are thankfully able to be uninfluenced by the superstitions in them), to those programs containing a bit darker magic such as Star Wars or Harry Potter or even movies such as Avatar, which contains open praying to a goddess.

Honestly, different people would place these shows/movies on different points on the scale, depending on their sensitivity to such things, and the perceived blatancy of the movie’s attempt to influence the viewer to embrace ideas or practices clearly contrary to Scriptural teaching.

I know some people that condemn Bewitched and Genie, and even Disney’s Snow White and Aladdin, as being “too pagan” and therefore unfit for Christian viewing, whereas others I know actually came out of the theater after watching Avatar with a list of things in the movie that caused them to have moments of worship to Christ. They said things like:

“If the imagined world of Avatar is that astounding and beautiful and awe-inspiring, then what must the new heavens and new earth be like?”

“If a mere man can imagine that kind of beautiful world, then surely God has put eternity in our hearts, and what God has imagined, and will one day create, will be even more spectacular than anything man can imagine! God is beyond comprehension and full of glory!”

Also, Avatar was really nothing more than a future-looking take on the very well-known religion of the American Indian that most American school children are aware of (or used to be): a people primitive in weaponry, but skilled hunters with a sense of brotherhood with the animals, and communal worship of the “Great Spirit”, in Avatar’s case this was the goddess Eywa – who was strikingly similar to the American Indian concept of an all-emcompassing deity that is one with nature. It was all somewhat panentheistic. Pagan? Yes. More so than something we’d see in a cowboy and Indian movie? Not any more than ones I’ve seen in my day. Do the prayers to Eywa in the movie bother me? Yes, just like Luke using the force or Indians chanting and dancing for rain around a fire. But, I do not feel that my allegiance to Christ is threatened by those things, and can appreciate the imaginative value of the movie as an enriching experience, much like I can with Narnia and Lord of the Rings.

So, in my view, it is a question of degrees: where does it go on the scale of an acceptable vs. unacceptable portrayal of paganism? To what degree is it harmful to the souls of the viewers, or to the consciences of the Christians? (the latter is a question which falls within the scope of Romans 14). For this reason, I am unpersuaded by the comparison of this kind of exposure to pagan religious practices with exposure to pornography.

Being exposed to greater or lesser degrees of pagan religious practices can be withstood by possessing greater faith in the truth of Christ. But there are no degrees of exposure to pornography for which there is no defilement. Pornography does not call for an embrace of faith like false religion does, it lures one to indulgence of man’s carnal nature through lust. This is why a Christian can travel to an Islamic or Buddhist or Hindu nation and observe their worship in the streets and be unmoved by it, but cannot enter a strip club and be unaffected. There is a difference.

I know that that’s not a simplistic answer, but I hope that it gives you at least some helpful insight. Thanks for giving me the opportunity to think out loud with you. These are good questions to wrestle with. Keep thinking through how to practice your faith in Christ. May God be glorified in us!

Blessings,

Scott Kay


I said, “America is not a Christian nation”, but here’s a clarification

August 31, 2009

In my sermon this past Sunday, I said this:

America is not a Christian nation. In fact, there’s never been any such thing as a Christian nation. There has been a Jewish nation, which was a theocracy. But never has there ever been anything like that since then. America has never been in a covenant with God like Israel was. We’re not a theocracy. In that regard, we are more akin to Babylon as a nation than to Israel.

But I could have said more. I didn’t due to time constraints, and because I plan to say more about it as I preach through Daniel.

Here’s what I was driving at with that comment.

I know that, unlike Babylon, America is unique in that it was founded on many principles that derive directly from Scripture. Biblical principles and concepts abound in the founding documents, which have been woven into the fabric of our American government and culture. Yet, it is without question that those principles that have influenced American life and though for so long have been eroding at alarming rates in the past number of decades. The trajectory toward increased secularism is just that: a movement away from the Christian concepts, practices, and principles that have undergirded and permeated our American society.

And yes, this concerns me greatly. Yes, there is much more that Christian individuals should be doing to influence government, society, and our culture to retard this trajectory. The operative word here is Christian individuals, not Christian churches.

Christians are citizens of two kingdoms simultaneously, and so should participate in both for the sake of the good of others and the glory of God. But the responsibility of the church is to minister the Gospel, not seek to run a government. That is the realm of individuals. And I believe that it would be a good, God-glorifying thing if more Christian individuals were involved in these matters than there are at present.

On the other hand, the church is to serve a prophetic function in the world, not a civil one. The church proclaims the good news of the Kingdom of God, but individual Christian citizens of the kingdom of man are free to influence government, culture, and society for the sake of maximizing the effectiveness of the preaching of the Gospel of the kingdom of God by the church. The church’s task is simple and clear: to minister the Word and the ordinances – to preach the Gospel, not to promote political agendas, politicians, or parties. The church’s function is prophetic, not political.

This would mean that while the church does have a responsibility to preach on abortion, homosexuality, marriage, murder, theft, stealing, etc. (because the Scriptures directly address each one of those issues), the Scriptures do not promote any one political agenda, and therefore the church shouldn’t either.

Furthermore, pastors need to be careful not to blur the lines between what Scripture says, and what even the pastor thinks is the best political agenda. As a pastor, when I speak behind the pulpit (that is, in a prophetic role) I am to speak where the Bible speaks, and be silent where it is silent. The pulpit is not the place for expressing my personal opinions or political persuasions.

Now, to be honest, I am a political junkie, and love to talk politics in private. But I do not have the freedom to impose my political persuasions on those whom I pastor, when I stand to preach or when I counsel those who come to me for Biblical guidance. I must keep my heavenly charge in clear view: preach the Word. And Christian individuals must recognize that the function of the church is not to play politics or try to create a “Christian nation,” it is to preach the Gospel.

If Christian individuals want to be more involved in politics, then there is great freedom from Scripture to do so, and there is a great motivation from the second greatest commandment to do so, because serving your neighbors in positions of authority can be a good way to “love your neighbor as yourself.” And if anyone should be loving their neighbors, it’s Christians! But Christians shouldn’t confuse their function as an individual seeking to serve and influence government and the culture through political involvement, with the function of the church to proclaim the good news to all men. Politics isn’t for that, pulpits are. Ultimately, the goal is not a “Christian nation,” but a nation filled with Christians.


I often feel like Spurgeon did about his preaching

August 3, 2009

That is, to get to stand and preach Christ each week is a privilege beyond description, but I often feel terribly inadequate for the task. This makes me deeply appreciative for your prayers for me as I stand each week to preach. I couldn’t have expressed this struggle any better:

It is a long time since I preached a sermon that I was satisfied with. I scarcely remember ever having done so. You do not know, for you cannot hear my groans when I go home, Sunday after Sunday, and wish that I could learn to preach somehow or other—wish that I could discover the way to touch your hearts and your consciences, for I seem to myself to be just like the fire when it needs stirring—the coals have got black when I want them to flame forth!

If I could but say in the pulpit what I feel in my study, or if I could but get out of my mouth what I have tried to get into my own soul, then I think I should preach, indeed, and move your souls! Yet perhaps God will use our weakness, and we may use it with ourselves, to stir us up to greater strength.

(Good Earnests of Great Success, Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, Vol. 14, Sermon #802, p. 176)

Thanks to my good friend Rob Murphey for pointing me to this.


What I would have said about the Lord’s Supper if I’d had time…

July 29, 2009

After last Sunday’s sermon (Removing the Obstacles of Legalism from Taking the Lord’s Supper), I’ve been amazed at how many people have shared with me how they have struggled with taking the Lord’s Supper. The guilt, the unworthiness, even the fear and dread of taking it. On the one hand, I’m glad that people take it so seriously, but on the other hand, I’m convicted by how many of those serious-minded worshippers I’ve had a part in discouraging in the act of taking. I pray that Sunday’s message will be a tool for bringing a whole lot of grace-induced liberation to hearts bound by condemnation.

My heart is still rejoicing to hear of the burdens that were lifted. Praise the Lord!!

Some have asked about who then is to be “fenced” away from the Lord’s Table. The short answer is this: those who are unrepentant about sin should not partake, since, THAT is a state of rebellion, or as Luther said, a lack of DESIRE to receive the grace given in the ordinance.

So, we should fence the table from 3 kinds of people: unbelievers, the unrepentant and the self-righteous. Everyone else is invited to come.

Luther had really good pastoral advice in his Larger Catechism. I had planned to use this in the sermon, but simply ran out of time. I wanted to find a way to share it with you so I’m posting it here. This is really good, so I’m giving you all of it.

Notice specifically the distinction in who should and shouldn’t come to the Lord’s Table in the first few paragraphs (paragraphs 2-4 in particular). Luther’s use of the term “desire” is the key here. (underlines and bracketed comments are mine)

Luther in the Larger Catechism:

But if you say: How if I feel that I am not prepared? Answer: That is also my scruple, especially from the old way under the Pope, in which a person tortured himself to be so perfectly pure that God could not find the least blemish in us. [This is a Catholic approach to the Lord’s Supper!] On this account we became so timid that every one was instantly thrown into consternation and said to himself: Alas! you are unworthy!

But if you are to regard how good and pure you are, and labor to have no compunctions, you must never approach.

We must, therefore, make a distinction here among men. For those who are wanton and dissolute [deliberately intend to continue in sin] must be told to stay away; for they are not prepared to receive forgiveness of sin, since they do not desire it and do not wish to be godly.

But the others, who are not such callous and wicked people, and desire to be godly, must not absent themselves, even though otherwise they be feeble and full of infirmities… For no one will make such progress that he will not retain many daily infirmities in flesh and blood.

Therefore such people must learn that it is the highest art to know that our Sacrament does not depend upon our worthiness. For we are not baptized because we are worthy and holy, [or] …because we are pure and without sin, but the contrary, because we are poor miserable men, and just because we are unworthy; …

But whoever would gladly obtain grace and consolation should impel himself, and allow no one to frighten him away, but say: I, indeed, would like to be worthy; but I come, not upon any worthiness, but upon Thy Word, because Thou hast commanded it, as one who would gladly be Thy disciple, no matter what becomes of my worthiness.

But this is difficult; for we always have this obstacle and hindrance to encounter, that we look more upon ourselves than upon the Word and lips of Christ.

We must never regard the Sacrament as something injurious from which we had better flee, but as a pure, wholesome, comforting remedy imparting salvation and comfort, which will cure you and give you life both in soul and body. …

those who are sensible of their weakness, desire to be rid of it and long for help, should regard and use it only as a precious antidote against the poison which they have in them. For here in the Sacrament you are to receive from the lips of Christ forgiveness of sin, which contains and brings with it the grace of God and the Spirit with all His gifts, protection, shelter, and power against death and the devil and all misfortune.


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