Should Christians Love Themselves?

woman hugging herselfLet’s face it. We live in a narcissistic, selfie-absorbed culture. It’s all about me – my thoughts, my dreams, my fulfillment, etc. However, Christians operate under a different paradigm. We are not our own; we’ve been brought with a price. I confess that whenever I see someone who claims Christianity also adopt an “I love me” attitude, I question if they really understand what Christianity is all about.

But then I consider Jesus greatest command, to love the Lord with all your heart, soul, and mind and love your neighbor as yourself. (Matt 22:37-39)

Hmmm, love your neighbor as yourself.

In the book The Kingdom of God, a compilation of essays on various aspects of the kingdom of God, Dr. Anthony Bradley offers a good perspective in his essay “The Kindgom Today.” He states,

To ‘love your neighbor as yourself’ demands that we love ourselves well. To love oneself well is to do what is necessary to sustain one’s life and to fulfill one’s responsibility to preserve one’s human dignity, holiness, chastity, property, and reputation and to bring glory to God the Creator.

While this may seem like a narcissistic self-love kind of thing, Bradley puts this love in perspective. Well ordered love flows from God and should be the parameter by which Christians consider what it means to truly love. It is only through the lens of how God has loved us that we can love well, as John states, “we love him because he first loved us.” (1 John 4:19). This affects the application of God’s kingdom work now in which we humans serve as the instrument. Continue reading

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Hearing God Speak

Last week was a bit of a milestone. I picked up the bound copy of my master’s thesis. The following is a modified version of an article I wrote for my church’s newsletter recently explaining my thesis topic:

Deere and SamraIf you’ve been following this blog for some time, you know that I recently graduated from Dallas Seminary with a ThM Degree. However, graduation was delayed due to delays in my thesis completion and approval. Despite the struggles, it was worth the endeavor because I wrote on a topic that I believe deserves addressing in our contemporary evangelical environment. The title of the thesis is “God Already Spoke: A Response to Extra-Scriptural Divine Speech.” I interact with three books that encourage hearing the voice of God outside of Scripture. These books are Surprised by the Voice of God by Jack Deere, God Told Me by Jim Samra and Jesus Calling by Sarah Young.  I refute the premise these authors promote that God needs to tell us more about himself or his requirements for us than what has already been communicated through Scripture.

I have been immersed in this topic for some time. Having spent much of my earlier Christian life in Charismatic type churches, there was always the expectation that God needed to provide additional information through some kind of direct speech, rather through a “prophet” or a voice we hear in our heads. The underlying presumption is that Scripture is insufficient to hear the voice of God and we need something more.

My journey towards discovering God’s voice through Scripture and its sufficiency began in 2006 when a friend challenged me on how I was reading the Bible. Like many today, I read it in a very fragmented fashion, which served as a springboard to hear the voice of God outside of Scripture. But this way also subjects divine speech to inconsistent methodology. I was re-oriented with a framework of how the 66 books should be taken as a whole.  Over time, I discovered the beauty and sufficiency of the redemptive-historical narrative of Scripture that provides a wonderful picture of God’s communication to us. Continue reading

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On Loving the Body…even when we think it doesn’t look right

At the end of 6 1/2 years of seminary in Dallas, I can tell you that I look a bit different than when I started.  I put on quite a bit of weight, more than I am comfortable with. There are certain parts that just flat out embarrass me, which is why I try to take pictures from certain angles. These are the parts that have really been impacted by the weight gain, like my middle section. I hate what it looks like and long to be back to a certain weight. I want my body to look a certain way, at a certain size and it just doesn’t.

megachurch_2Well, if you are a Christian and reading this I think you know where I’m going with this analogy. If you are committed to a particular church model/structure/paradigm, we might find that there are those practices that are out of step with Scriptural faithfulness. When I consider my very eclectic doctrinal journey through varying church paradigms, I confess to having a two-fold reaction. On one hand, I cringe at some of the stuff I’ve been exposed to and foundation for abusive tendencies. On the other hand, through that journey, I’ve been privileged with the example of so many who sincerely love the Lord and want the best for His church, even if I thought the methods were not supported by Scripture.

I came across this post a while back, What if a Presbyterian minister gave a good, old-fashioned altar call? Now that I am in a Presbyterian church, I can’t imagine this ever happening. Just mentioning altar calls (and other forms of experientially oriented “worship” tactics) reminds me of the many years of emotional manipulation I observed. But I was sobered by the balance of the article; Continue reading

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Man-handling Man-centered Theology

people cut outsI often hear this distinction being made typically by conservative Christians, God-centered vs. man-centered. Whenever I see it articulated, I get the sense that it is often communicated to distinguish between Christian faith and practice that is shaped based on the desires of man vs. what God wants and has communicated to us.

Now I do affirm God-centered theology. I strenuously insist that God’s self-revelation though the Incarnate and written word must inform our theology. When deciphering the character and nature of God, his actions and requirements, his ultimate revelation through the Son, and redemptive history it behooves us to approach his Word with the greatest humility. Surely that will mean confronting some aspects that are uncomfortable. But it helps to remember that He is God; we are not.

So I sympathize with the decrying of man-centered theology if that means theology that is shaped by man to accommodate man’s creation of God and the Christian faith in his or her own image. However, I think we can go too far and cut man out of the picture all together. God-centered does not mean man nothingness. Continue reading

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Preaching the Gospel on Sundays

I came across this quote recently on Facebook

The church, when it’s not seduced by consumerist spirituality, is in the business of cultivating ordinary Christians, people who are united to Christ by faith and are in it for the long haul, like people in a good marriage. It transforms people, not by giving them life-changing experiences but by repetition, continually telling the story of Christ so that people may hear and take hold of him by faith. For we do not just receive Christ by faith once at the beginning of our Christian lives and then go on to do the real work of transformation through our good works. We keep needing Christ the way hungry people need bread, and we keep receiving him whenever we hear the gospel preached and believe it. So what transforms us over the long haul is not one or two great life-changing sermons (although these can be helpful from time to time) but the repeated teaching and preaching of Christ, Sunday after Sunday, so that we never cease receiving him into our hearts. -Phillip Cary, Good News for Anxious Christians

One comment to this was worth noting

So I have a serious question – if I am to take literally what this writer says, I have one of two pictures that I know are not just my imagination; the first picture is the literal Sunday after Sunday presentation of the good news message. I have met many Christian refugees over the years and I seriously mean many, who simply could not endure their church after years and years of hearing essentially the same gospel message Sunday after Sunday. And while I certainly understand personal responsibility of the Christian to study the Word, the obvious and stark reality of that is that it rarely happens to any significant degree. And since the Pastor’s primary duty I believe is proclamation of the Word meaning the whole counsel of God’s Word meaning 66 books of the Bible you either get what I have already described week after week with Christians drying on the vine or you get a sound bite gospel message quickly and shabbily tacked on at the end of each message doing the wonder of the good news a disservice.

On the road to Emmaus when Jesus wanted his disciples to know who he was The text said something rather profound:

“Then beginning with Moses and with all the prophets, He explained to them the things concerning Himself in ALL the Scriptures.” (Luke 24:27 NASB) Would it be totally unfair to assert that what the writer “seems” to be advocating may be part and parcel of the profound ignorance of the Scriptures in the church at large? Or am I pushing what he means too far?

pupit w bibleI think he’s on to something and why I can’t beat the drum loud enough about Christ-centered preaching. Sadly, it took a long time and a lot of exposure to all kinds of sermons before I actually realized what makes a sermon, Christ-centered. Just because you mention Jesus, does not mean he is at the center of the message. I’ve sat under all kinds of preaching. The topical sermon with made-up theology based on some innovative “spiritual” insight and cherry-picked, out-of-context verses. Continue reading

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