Tuesday’s 10: Ways to Annoy a Legalist

1. Quote from The Message. “Well, The Message says…”

2. Laugh. Especially at yourself and your own weaknesses. They will not understand, assume you are carnal and therefore be very annoyed.

3. When describing what you were doing, offhandedly throw in, “I was listening to The Beastie Boys with my kids and…”

4. Compare the price of gas to the price of wine by volume. The point is not the price of either so much as to get them thinking about the cardinal sin of you knowing anything about wine except its evilness. (If they ask how you know about the price of wine, tell them you were asked to provide wine for a wedding party and you didn’t want to run out. You can do this with a smirk or straight face – either way, it’s awesome.)

5. Refer to The Message as a “translation.” This works every. single. time.

6. Act like you have never heard of Fireproof/Courageous/etc.

7. Casually use words from eastern religions. A good example would be, “That was a very Zen moment.” If you want to double down, use the previous phrase to describe a worship song. (But be careful, you might have to explain what you mean. If you can’t, just move straight into #2.)

8. Just own a copy of The Message.

9. Tell them U2 is your favorite Christian band.

10. Preach/teach/ooze grace. Love sinners and be gracious. Drives ’em nuts.

Tuesday’s 10: What I Learned From My Pastor, Bob Flayhart

Back in 1996 I was a mess. I was in a toxic relationship, had very little direction, a ridiculous amount of debt and though I was beginning to enjoy the study of theology through books, my desire to be a part of a church was disappearing. All I knew were the Baptist Churches I had grown up in. I wanted out and had no idea where to go.

One day, while sitting on my parents front porch, I was talking with my friend Ross and told him some of my frustration about church. He invited me to one he had been attending. So that Sunday, for the first time I went to a Presbyterian church. And even though the Lead Pastor did not preach that Sunday, I was hooked.

And then for years I sat under the preaching of Bob Flayhart hanging on every word. And every word was a word of grace. Grace that comforts and grace that convicts. I needed both and every Sunday it was delivered with power.

No preacher has influenced me more. And I’ve longed to give tribute to his ministry and it’s peculiar effect on me. Today is his birthday. So I want to list 10 things I’ve learned from Bob over the years. And even though much of this has helped me as a pastor, far more often I’ve needed to hear these things on a personal level – as a man, a husband and a father. Some of these come from sermons, some from the pre-marital counseling he did for us. All of it is now part of me and I wouldn’t be able to shake it loose if I wanted.

1. The Christian life is a daily waltz. 1, 2, 3…Repent, Believe, Fight…1, 2, 3…Repent, Believe, Fight. This is in the DNA of OMPC and chances are you will here it at some point during a Sunday service.

2. Cheer up! You are a lot worse off than you think you are. And the gospel is greater than you could ever imagine. I know this a Jack Millerism but whenever I hear it, I hear it in Bob’s voice. And I hear it all. the. time.

3. Even in the midst of your sin, you are still loved. This is a variation on a theme. But I remember Bob saying this once and it caused a huge paradigm shift in my thinking. The love of God for his children is that great.

4. The “doctrines of grace” are given as encouragement. They had always been an argument since I’d bought in and became a Calvinist. Bob helped me see they are there to encourage Christians that God is at work always and will save his people.

5. Our spouse is given to us for our sanctification. If it true that all things are working together for our good, then our spouse and our marriage are both working for our good. This is an enormous help when you have two people who still have to fight against sin living under the same roof.

6. Our own sin should be far more obvious than the sins of our spouse. We should see ourselves as the greater sinner because we know the ins and outs of our own hearts better than anyone. This makes us slow to accuse and quick to show grace and mercy.

7. Marriage is not 50-50…”you do your part and then I’ll do my part” is a terrible way to live and love. It’s 100-100. The husband should give his life as Christ did. The wife should give her all as the church is called to give all. Both loving the other radically.

8. Husbands are not dictator and wives are not doormats. How many times did we hear this in weddings he performed? There was a time where it was weekend after weekend. I’ve now done two weddings and I’ve said the same thing. Because it’s true.

9. Transparency. It’s difficult to be transparent about your own struggles and need for the gospel of grace and not turn the sermon or lesson into a confessional.  But I’d rather have the struggle for balance than not see any need for transparency at all. Bob’s transparency turns “you need to” moments into “we need to” moments.

10. Looking for grace everywhere. No matter where I am in the Scriptures. No matter what I am listening to. No matter what I am reading. No matter what I’m watching, I’ve been trained to look for stories and ideas upon which the shadow of the cross falls. Sure, it’s been invaluable as a pastor. But more so as a person on the path so often needing just a sign – even a faded, warped one – that I’m loved because of the Son.

Why I Alternately Love and Hate This Movement of Christian Manliness

“You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? Before your very eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed as crucified. I would like to learn just one thing from you: Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by believing what you heard? Are you so foolish? After beginning by means of the Spirit, are you now trying to finish by means of the flesh?” – Gal. 3:1-3

It just hit me. I know why I alternately love and hate this new movement of manliness among evangelicals and especially the YRR. At least one reason. It has taken me a while to get my head around this call to manliness. Or at least begin getting my head around it.

There is an undeniable need for grown men to stop acting like boys. And yes some of them need to toughen up a little. Sensitivity does not preclude toughness of character and spirit. Indeed the mixture of the two is strong drink we could all use.

But it’s all law. Law upon law. It is characterized by what men must do and need to do and should get busy doing. It lacks graciousness because it is a message of almost pure law.

And so I love it because deep within me is a Matt, who loves the law and longs to wield it like a weapon on others. And for some reason I even want to beat my own self up with it.

But I hate it because it is a ministry of death and destroys the spirits of those to whom it claim to be a balm. It reeks havoc on the soul. Or worse – it creates chest-thumping bullies who construct personas of toughness and manliness who look down on all who need to hear the message of manliness. I hate it because I put on this cloak of pretension and deride those who I claim to love. Even myself.

And for some reason we think the gospel of grace is the thing. Unless we are on this subject.

Tuesday’s 10: Books That Have Helped Me ‘Get’ Grace

My guess is that none ever gets grace completely. We are all on a journey of discovery and recovery. We are discovering the grand vistas of God’s grace and also seeing worlds of grace in the minutiae of life. And we are recovering what was once intended – growing young in the aging face of history.

The following books have helped me along the way. This is not meant to be a best of list or seen as definitive. These are simply books which have moved me along in this world of “un-grace” as Yancey calls it. I’m not done with this list. As a matter of fact grace is what I’m always looking for when reading – no matter the genre or author.

My hope? Some of you will find a book to help you a few steps along the way.

These are in no particluar order.

1. What’s So Amazing About Grace? by Phillip Yancey. I’ve never been able to get over this book. There are a number of stories throughout the book and this is where the strength of the book lies. It was through this work I discovered Babette’s Feast, a favorite story.

2. Putting Amazing Back Into Grace by Michael Horton. It would not be much of an overstatement to say I was a Calvinist because of this book. And the theology presented here is the theology I still hold onto for the most part. mentally I go back to this book often.

3. The God You Can Know by Dan DeHaan You’ve most likely never even heard of this one. But it changed me and was the first book I felt like I could not get enough of. And it was the first book that made me weep while reading it. It’s probably been 14 years or more since I’ve read it but it still shapes me.

4. The Prodigal God by Tim Keller. The kind of book that can change everything.

5. Gilead by Marilynne Robinson. A novel about an aged pastor learning to live out the grace he has preached. I Stayed up all night to finish once I got started. Painful and beautiful.

6. The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis. As much as I wanted to identify with Peter, as a kid I could not escape I was Edmund, in need of radical grace.

7. The Ragamuffin Gospel by Brennan Manning. This is still a relatively new one for me. I was always too reformed to even give it a try. But it came at just the right time. I was low and needed the grace that pours forth like Niagara from this book. The church…the world needs more books like this.

8. The Maytrees by Annie Dillard.  This was my introduction to Annie Dillard and she clearly understands grace more than most preachers.

9. The Complete Stories by Flannery O’Connor. I know this cheating but in every story grace and the need for it edges in sideways and is sometimes there beside you sitting uncomfortably before you even know it.

10. The Bruised Reed by Richard Sibbes. If you start reading the Puritans here, it just may ruin you. I’m not a Puritan hater but this is the standard in my book. A comforting book I’ve needed to read again again because of disappointment and the simple need to be reminded of God’s love for sinners.

My Struggle With Reverse Karma

“Grace,…she travels outside of karma.” – Bono

About a week ago, I realized how much I think and believe as if Karma is true. This isn’t what I want but it is the reality. Just as a man can live as if he is more important than he really is – living in spite of the reality before him – I live as if Karma is true and the principal defining, controlling reality in the Universe. My Universe anyway. With me as the center.

Something bad happens. I infer I must have done something wrong to offend God. Stuck in traffic? I probably pulled out in front of someone. Cut them off. My child is sick so I must have been horribly unkind to someone. An important email has not been returned, I most likely have yet to do the same. No one is reading my blog post today, God is paying me back for pride over the popularity of another post. Worse, I did something laudable and God is repaying me. So I look for checks in the mail.

I give lip service to grace but only have eyes for Karma.

So, all this was floating around in this head of mine along with prayers to God for belief in grace when something else struck me. I not only live as if Karma is true but I am an evangelist for what I call Reverse Karma.

Karma is believing we are getting repaid for all the good and bad we do. If we are good, we are repaid with good. If we are unkind, we are repaid in kind. Reverse Karma is different. It is the belief that something bad has happened to me so I have the right and need to be unkind to others.

I not only get in my head that if I wreck my car, it is because I was unkind but I also instinctively will be unkind with others when I wreck my car. When tragedy strikes, I will inevitably ask God why he would do such a thing and then proceed to thumb through the rolodex of my past and search for a reason why this tragedy has befallen me.

You probably do it too.

And then with the repeat of a loaded firearm I take aim and in response to the tragedy I recoil and retract with unkindness. My weapons are demanding and impatient, keeping a record of wrongs in a mental excel spreadsheet.

You probably do it too.

So here it is. I…we forget, ignore and betray the grace given in the cross and think God is always repaying us for our sins. Sins, which by the way, we cannot even imagine the number of. And then we turn around and in response to the payback, we dole out unkindness to others in word and deed. I get sick and wonder what I did to deserve it. My frustration over it all leads me to be frustrated with others.

The only thing which will cut all this off at the knees is buying into the reality of grace. Buying into a reality which is harder to see – that we are loved beyond imagination and not merely the targets for divinely wrought bolts of lightning. And buying into the call of doling out this grace – reacting to grace received with grace given.

The picture? A response to difficulty believing the God of all grace is working for our good and a desire to be good to those around us in the midst of the pain and inconvenience.

God’s Compassion for the Hurting Sinner

“…his father saw him and felt compassion…” – Luke 15:20

Sometimes it takes years of reading to see the words. Even though the story is familiar and I’ve read the book, it was very moving to see this a couple of days ago.

In the middle of preparation for a Bible Study I usually do not teach, I noticed these words for the first time. Think about it. The son has wished his father dead by asking for his inheritance early, taken off with it and spent it on prostitutes. We can only assume he was not buying them dinner and a cup of coffee. He then runs out of money and finds himself in the midst of pigs – the definitive symbol for being unclean, inside and out, for a Jew.  So he decides he would be better off as a servant of his father than in such a shameful position. With humility he heads back and his father sees him coming from a long way off (not insignificant in and of itself). And the father felt compassion for him.

You don’t feel compassion for people who are not hurting. Compassion is reserved for the hurting. You don’t feel compassion for someone with a new car. You feel compassion for those who just wrecked their car. Actually you are not as likely to feel compassion for them if they wrecked their car because they were drinking. The hurt has to be through no fault of their own.

To have compassion is to come alongside the hurting and hurt because of their hurt. The father feels compassion for the pain of the son – the son who wished him dead and squandered his money on prostitutes and now comes back to where he should have been glad to stay.

Phillip Yancey once wrote that we live in a world of “un-grace.” That statement has stuck with me for over a decade. It’s true. I’m a parent and the compassion of this father is still shocking to me. Heroic but shocking. The compassion of the Father for sinners who are hurting as a result of their sin is a shot across the bow of this world and all it’s un-grace.