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  1. Covert Works Righteousness

    February 13, 2014 by Jeff Wright

    sniper6

    Works righteousness is the default setting of the human heart when it comes to religion.  Considering what Paul says in Galatians 2:16 we must beware of the danger of falling into the false religion pursuing our hearts and which, if we embrace it, will leave us condemned.

    One particularly dangerous form of works righteousness (otherwise known as legalism, self-justification, and works of the law) is the version that has attached itself to the familiar terms of Christianity.  This version camouflages itself within the vocabulary of the church, gaining entrance through subtlety rather than the rejection it would meet if it presented itself clearly.

    To help us identify these hidden pits of works righteousness I’ve collected some phrases that are presented as expressions of Christian truth but which are in fact the old, cold, condemning non-gospel of works righteousness: 1

    • Faithfulness finds favor.” (Contrast that with 2 Timothy 2:11-13)
    • Don’t expect a full-time God when you are a part time Christian.” (Contrast that with Romans 7:14-25)
    •  “Your humility determines God’s ability.” (Contrast that with Exodus 33:19 / Romans 9:15, Acts 17:24-25, and Psalm 115:3)
    •  “The faithfulness of God’s Word depends on our faithfulness to God’s Word.” (Contrast this with Isaiah 46:8–11 and 55:10-11)

     

    Remember friend, we do not live in a day when we can simply expect every building with the name church on it or every person holding a Bible while they talk to hold and proclaim the gospel.  We have to be constantly aware of those non-gospels that cloak themselves and lay in wait hoping for an opportunity to lead us away from the saving message of the finished work of Christ applied to us by grace through faith.

    Notes:

    1. Know others?  Let me know in the comments!

  2. Common Core & The Shape of Western Culture

    February 4, 2014 by Jeff Wright

    rottedapple

    Remember, culture is transmitted in large part through stories. According to Dr. Terrence Moore of Hillsdale College in Michigan Common Core is replacing the stories that have built, shaped, and nurtured Western Culture for thousands of years with “post-modern tales of cynicism and ennui.”

    Let me be clear about what I mean when I say “culture” – I’m talking about, at least in part, the way a society of men and women think, including chiefly their moral calibration.  If you take out the story of even a modern text like, for exampleTo Kill a Mockingbird and replace it with A Mother of Monsters you aren’t just swapping one text for another.  You are making a radical adjustment of worldview.

    If Dr. Moore is right, and it appears he is, Common Core isn’t just going to bring horrible scholarship to our students but will in effect attempt to re-create Western Culture in the image of something much less worthy than what it is replacing.


  3. Why I Will Not Be Celebrating Easter 2014 at the Movie Theater

    January 24, 2014 by Jeff Wright

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    Or Why I, as a Christian, will be boycotting the film Heaven is for Real.

    A few weeks ago I posted an image to my Instagram feed with the caption “I have hate in my heart.”  I did so because I do so. I hate - hate – that there is a movie adaptation of the book Heaven is for Real.  Actually, I am not that thrilled that the book exists, let alone is sold by my denomination’s bookstore (in about as many different packages as they can make a buck off of).  I am positively disgusted (although not surprised in the least) that it has been adapted in to a movie that WILL BE RELEASED THE WEEK OF GOOD FRIDAY.

    I’m sure many, if not most, who read this will think I’m looney, too harsh, or a jerk for the preceding paragraph.  Any chance you’ll hang around for me to explain?

    I’ll have to begin with the source material.  Colton is a cute kid.  What he and his family experienced is an outright tragedy and a gift of God’s kindness.  I’m thankful the Lord chose to preserve his life and restore him to his family.  God is good.

    What has happened afterwards, however, I am not thankful for.  Innocently or not (you never can tell with Christian publishing and retail), his story has become a chief diversion to the central event of the Christian faith.

    Heaven is indeed for real – but Christians don’t believe that because of some supposed experience had by Todd Burpo’s kid, Jesse Duplantis, Don Piper (if you aren’t familiar then my denomination’s bookstore, again, will be happy to make a buck educating you) or any other after-life-experience salesman.  We believe it because Christ told us:

    “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. And you know the way to where I am going.” Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you had known me, you would have known my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.”

    The existence of this book, this movie, and their combined marketing campaigns push believers to find validation (or, at minimum , confirmation) of their faith outside of the authoritative declaration of Christ.  This is necessarily a step away from the truth of God’s revelation of and in Christ toward the inward and subjective (synonyms for unreliable).  In reality this book that is lauded as so supportive of our faith ends up taking us in the opposite direction of Biblical faith.

    Interesting, isn’t it, that the one time in Scripture where someone is granted a trip to heaven from which they return to earth that person is expressly told not to discuss what he witnessed and heard.  That establishes a precedent, doesn’t it?  Why, then, would Burpo, Duplantis, Piper, etc get license to tell what Paul said cannot be told and speak that which Scripture says man may not utter?  Doesn’t it seem more likely that they didn’t?  I believe so, strongly.

    Finally, this whole idea of “a confirming witness” coming from these books doesn’t just erode our confidence in the revelation of Christ.  It also, and not subtly, undercuts our appreciation of the resurrection of Christ as the singular confirming event in our faith.  Paul makes it clear in 1 Corinthians 15:1-20 that the resurrection, alone, validates the claims of Christ and our belief in them through the word firstfruits in vs. 20.  This is a technical term referring to the first products of the ripening harvest that guarantee more of the same kind to come in the future; Paul’s usage indicates that since Christ has been raised all who believe in Him will be raised as well.

    It is this final point that so antagonizes me about the film, specifically its release date.  Whether or not you celebrate Easter and despite it’s connection to ancient pagan holidays Western Christians have historically associated that holiday with the celebration of the resurrection.  What we will have is a move away from a historic celebration of the actual historical event which is central to the faith known as Christianity to an innovative, unreliable, marketing-driven counterfeit! 1 To have this unhelpful, distractionary, subversive, and unbiblical narrative released at this time is (at best) a cash-grab aimed at a Christian community far too ready to pay for their deception as long as it comes in “Christian” packaging.

    *Edit* One other point that I intended to make but failed to include in the original draft which my friend Terry reminded me of is addressed to those who think Heaven is For Real might be useful to provoke faith in those who read or watch: that possibility specifically ignores what the Bible says about how faith is birthed in an unbelieving heart.  It is through hearing the gospel that faith comes (Romans 10:17).  The story of Christ’s righteous life, sacrificial death, and triumphant resurrection is that which has the power of God to save (1 Corinthians 1:17-31) – not the stories of afterlife-experience hucksters.  As a matter of fact, this notion of a story about a regular person dying and returning being seedbed for faith is specifically contrary to Jesus’ own words in Luke 16:19-31 – “If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, [ i.e. the testimony of Scripture] neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.” *Edit*

    So what’s the take-away?  Do I think you are a bad person (or bad Christian) if you read, enjoyed, or recommended Heaven is for Real?  Do I think everyone has to agree with me or feel as strongly as I do about these things?

    No, across the board.

    What I’d like for you to do after reading this post is to make a fresh commitment to be a thinking Christian, to never take off the lenses of discernment no matter what your eyes are aimed at, and to cherish the Word of God and the Resurrection of Christ above every substitute that presents itself.

    As for that Wednesday before Good Friday and Easter?  I hope that you have a chance to spend it in a local church, with believers you live with and love, celebrating the greatest thing that ever happened to us – that greatest events in history – and which gives us the fullness of our confidence.

    Notes:

    1. Or, just as bad, a syncretistic mingling of the two.

  4. Happy Birthday to Huldrych Zwingli

    January 1, 2014 by Jeff Wright

    HuldrychZwingli

    530 years ago today in Wildhaus, Switzerland was born Huldrych (sometimes written as Ulrich) Zwingli, perhaps the most under-appreciated of the Magisterial Reformers. 1   Zwingli is simply fascinating – he arrived at many of the same conclusions as Martin Luther independently (and perhaps in advance) of Luther, out of his movement comes the best of Anabaptism, and his life ends on the battlefield.

    Dr. Jim West of Zwinglius Redivivus has written a wonderful introduction to Zwingli for this New Years Day and I recommend it highly.  Dr.  West’s blog would be an excellent for anyone whose appetite for learning more about Zwingli is whetted by his introduction.

    I recommend spending some of your time today learning about this captivating, helpful, and neglected Christian leader.

    Notes:

    1. Personally, I consider it an out-and-out shame that so few contemporary Christians are familiar with Zwingli.

  5. Always Christmas and Never Winter

    December 27, 2013 by Jeff Wright

    I hope that this Christmas season was phenomenal for each and everyone reading this post.  I hope you deeply and thankfully celebrated the miraculous (even that word seems somehow lacking doesn’t it?) Incarnation of the one true God with a church body you are fully committed to and that is likewise fully committed to you.  I hope you were able to enjoy the company of dear family and friends in merry conversation, recreation, and feasting.  I hope you were able to worship in song, hearing of the Word, giving, serving and hospitality the God who ultimately defined self-sacrificing by coming to be God with us.

    As I am writing these words before Christmas in a post to be published after Christmas I suppose I hope these things for myself as well.

    I am certain, however, that if the Lord allows my mortal life to persist beyond Christmas Day I will also greet December 26th thoroughly glad to have the season past us.

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    Those readers who know me personally know that I describe myself as full of bah-humbuggery in the days leading up to Christmas.  The reason for this is that the days leading up to Christmas start so much earlier every year.  As the title of this post says, in corruption of Lewis’ famous line from The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, in our world it appears it will soon be always Christmas and never winter.  I believe this year I saw Christmas decorations and advertisements before I saw the first Halloween pumpkin.  I say with almost no hyperbole whatsoever that I suspect we shall soon spend Labor Day doing our Christmas shopping.  I may live long enough, if the good Lord allows, to see Christmas connect with the sweltering heat of mid-summer and fireworks of patriotic holidays.

    What wonder I feel at the thought of Christmas has a hard time keeping its head above the deluge of cultural Christianity, so obviously far from any connection to the birth of the only Savior.  Is not what we call Christmas in these days of the West in fact an offering to the false god Mammon?

    I agree with C.S. Lewis here fully:  It [the pressure of gift-giving] gives on the whole much more pain than pleasure. You have only to stay over Christmas with a family who seriously try to ‘keep’ it (in its third, or commercial, aspect) in order to see that the thing is a nightmare. Long before December 25th everyone is worn out — physically worn out by weeks of daily struggle in overcrowded shops, mentally worn out by the effort to remember all the right recipients and to think out suitable gifts for them. They are in no trim for merry-making; much less (if they should want to) to take part in a religious act. They look far more as if there had been a long illness in the house.

    And is there a god of sentimentality?  If so he, she, or it is well represented in these days as well 1.

    These combined streams of commercialism and sappy sentimentality added to the 90 days of Christmas advertisements combine to leave me a Christmas burn out long before December 25th arrives.

    What is the answer?  I’m not sure.  I’ve joked that I’m going to consider celebrating Christmas on January 6th as part of the most historic tradition.  That, of course, is only a joke.  I am, however, not joking when I say Christmas is distressing in my personal orbit and I would love to hear how you who are less Scroogish than I manage to maintain your sanity during and affection for this [seemingly] perpetual season.

    Notes:

    1. If so I imagine Christmas Shoes would be the chief liturgical item involved in the false worship.

  6. O Little Town of Bethlehem + How Deep the Father’s Love (Randy Wilder Mashup)

    December 23, 2013 by Jeff Wright

    Leading up to Christmas last year Bro. Randy had wanted to lead our church in singing a combination of the songs O Little Town of Bethlehem and How Deep the Father’s Love.  To our great sorrow he was never able to lead Midway in singing this piece.  Randy was a friend and fellow servant of the gospel.  I and our church miss him terribly.

    This year our worship team led our congregation in singing the arrangement that Randy had envisioned.  I’m posting it here in the spirit of hope this Christmas – hope that because of what God did in Christ’s righteous life, death on the cross, and victorious resurrection the pain of death and loss won’t be the final chapter to the story of our lives.

    If you are interested you can find a longer version of this video (in HD) where the song is introduced by Randy’s friend and co-laborer Daniel Lowhorn HERE.


  7. Learning How to Endure and Serve After the Loss of a Loved One

    December 17, 2013 by Jeff Wright

    It’s been a year since the church I serve lost a dear, dear brother in Christ. We’ve carried on but we’ve certainly not moved on. His oldest daughter has written down her reflections on the past year and what she’s learned. I commend it to your reading – first as an example of enduring faith in trial, second as counsel on how to serve those for whom the Lord has chosen a bitter providence. You can find it here.

    MissYou


  8. What Is Paul Saying in 1 Timothy 2:9-15?

    December 13, 2013 by Jeff Wright

    Assuming the good Lord wills it I will be preaching from 1 Timothy 2:9-15 this coming Sunday at Midway Baptist Church.  As a bit of a teaser for the message I thought I would share a paraphrase of the passage I wrote.

    And now to put women in their place: enough with all the money being wasted on clothes and such!  Can’t they be content with being beautiful in a way that doesn’t cost anything instead of spending so much time and money on their hair and on jewelry?  Rather than spending all that time on shopping and spending and getting ready let them actually do something good for a change.  As a matter of fact, that’s just what God wants!  And can they please stop with all the chattering?  I’ll tell you this, I don’t put up with a woman who gets out of line; I make them submit – make them sit there quietly and listen.  God knew what He was doing when He put Adam first.  You remember, don’t you, that it was a woman who got us in to this mess in the first place?  If only a man had been around when that snake got to talking… Anyway, remind them that their only hope is doing what they were built to do – make babies (if, you know, they also stay in line while they do it).

    If you want to find out how I use the  paraphrase you’ll have to listen to the sermon.  Come see us!  Corporate Worship begins at 10:45am. 1

    Notes:

    1. Alright, alright… I realize some of you live too far away or are members of another church so coming won’t be possible.  I’ll update, assuming I can remember and that you care enough to return and read/listen, with a link to the manuscript and sermon audio here once they are available.

  9. C.S. Lewis on the Afterlife and Real Humanity

    December 4, 2013 by Jeff Wright

    Note: I take Lewis’ reference here to “complete manhood” to be synonymous with “complete humanity”, not merely a reference to the masculine.

    To enter heaven is to become more human than you ever succeeded in being on earth; to enter hell is to be banished from humanity. What is cast (or casts itself) into hell is not a man: it is “remains.” To be a complete man means to have the passions obedient to the will and the will offered to God: to have been a man – to be an ex-man or “damned ghost” – would presumably mean to consist of a will utterly centered in its self and passions utterly uncontrolled by the will.

    - C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain 


  10. What We Do With Santa

    December 3, 2013 by Jeff Wright

    SantaJuxtiposition

    As this Christmas approaches my children are 4 years, 2 years, and 9 months old.  That puts us smack dab in the middle of  the question about what to do with Santa.

    To Santa or Not to Santa? – A Personal Reflection

    If that isn’t a question you are familiar with let me explain: some of us Christians have wrestled with what to do with the figure of Santa when it comes to how we will celebrate Christmas in our households. 1  To be quite honest, how to handle Santa wasn’t a question for me until handful of years back.  In the midst of a conversation with a group of relatives about when it was we came realize we had spent our earliest years believing in a figure that… well… we no longer did (trying to put this delicately in the event that some reader’s child climbs onto mom or dad’s computer).

    In that conversation one of the relatives noted that after he came to a better understanding about Santa’s existence the first thought that followed was “Have mom and dad deceived me about any other unseen persons?”

    That exchanged triggered something like an alarm in my mind.  Initially my concern didn’t center on the ramifications on belief in an unseen God or a resurrected Christ who we can’t lay eyes on.  No, in that moment, my trouble was whether or not I could stand the thought that my child could ever come to realize that I had intentionally deceived them – even if that deception served to allow them a great deal of pleasure for an extended amount of time.

    From there my mind leapt to broader implication (such as I hinted at before).  Would my child, realizing I had given wrong instruction about the existence of a mythological figure (for that is just what Santa is for our age) conclude that I had also misled him about the existence of the Christian God (who is spirit and does not have a body like men) or a resurrected and reigning God-Man who had not been seen on the planet earth for approximately 2000 years?

    Where I settled is this: whether or not disillusionment about Santa ever led my children to question the true myths (I’m drawing on C.S. Lewis here if that isn’t clear) it seemed inescapable to me that the process of positing Santa to my child then allowing that illusion, as it must, to be dissipated would only,  at the very least I should say, serve to – even if only subtly – undermine the credibility of authority in the eyes of my child and this particularly on the existence of the supernatural.

    I’m sure you can imagine why I, as a Christian, would find that prospect horrifyingly dangerous to my child.  We believe that God is the ultimate authority from whom all other authorities derive and model their own smaller authorities.  Be it government or parent, we reflect on a smaller scale God’s own authority.  And if God is an authority then authority, at it’s core, must be a good thing.  And I, as a lesser authority, must strive to portray the authority I have been given in the life of my child as a good, life-giving, thing. 2

    As a matter of fact I trust that my child will have plenty reason to distrust authority arising not only from his (or her) experience of corrupt authority in this world but also from his own rebel heart.  This native tendency to distrust authority, which my child will receive from my own heart, leads him away from the good of authority into the danger of further rebellion.  I do not want to add to this tendency even one gram.  After discussion with my wife the issue was settled: we would not raise our children to believe that Santa was “real” in the sense that we, as their parents, or the roof over their heads, or the law of gravity, or God’s person, was real.

    What Do We Do Now?

    This conviction actually put us in a greater dilemma – moved from the proverbial frying pan to the fire.  You see, my wife and I are the sort who delight in good fancy.  If you will allow me to steal from Tolkien, we see myth (really, good story wedded to imagination) as a good thing – lies yes, but “lies breathed through silver.” 3  Thus we don’t naturally land, like Dana Carvey’s Saturday Night Live character The Church Lady, believing Santa to be a deceptive anagram for Satan.

    We like for children to enjoy the delight of a delightful story; we want their youngest years to be filled with wonderful naivety and joyous pretend.  I would be incredibly reluctant to deprive them of this experience unless I was forced. Would it be more or less evil to take the fun of Santa from my children than it would be to allow the later consequences to them that I mentioned above?  Is one somehow less monstrous if you deny a treat before it can be tasted, even before one is allowed to know the treat exists, than one who snatches it away after pleasure has been taken from it?

    This of course doesn’t even touch on the societal horrors our decision raised – I nearly have cold sweats when I imagine receiving the news that my child has informed the nursery, or Sunday School class, or 1st Graders that they have all been living a lie.  No, that is not the kind of sharing that I want my family to be part of.  Could it, however, be avoided?

    Then Let Us Pretend – And Allow Others Their Pretend As Well

    Eventually a solution settled in on my mind that I find acceptable. 4

    You see, my children already delight in playing pretend.  As I mention, this is something my wife and I hope to encourage as much as possible.  This Halloween came with a real treasure for us – my son received a bag full of costumes from an older boy who had outgrown them.  Thus he added to his Buzz Lightyear costume that of Spiderman, Superman, The Flash, and (as crown) Batman! 5  My daughter, in like fashion, has enough tiaras and twirly-dresses to outfit an army of princesses (or, said another way, almost the right amount).  It seems entirely natural – at least to the mind of my wife and I – to extend this delight in playing pretend to the season of Christmas and the person of Santa.

    Our family has settled in that we will discuss, imagine, and even interact with (in the form of a tray of cookies and milk lain out) Santa in this season.  We will do so in the full knowledge that we are doing this in a way just like my son dressing up as Batman or my daughter as Snow White.  And, just as they do with Batman and Snow White, my children will delight in the game and put it away to be resumed again, as a game, when the time is right.  I pray this will protect them first from the kind of disillusionment that might wound their faith in Christ and second from the harshness of a world already suffering from far too little sweet pretend.

    I realize that we have an obligation to those outside our household so we regularly remind our children that it is for the mommies and daddies of our friends to decide how their families will think about Santa and that we talk about him only as a family within our house.  This may not avoid the difficulty I have imagined; my daughter’s tongue may slip – the Kindergarten class might be scandalized despite our best efforts.  Still I hope nonetheless – in the same way a parent hopes that words heard at home by little ears which were spoken in anger over a smashed finger  might not make their way to broadcast outside the home.

    Is it enough?  Is it right?  I can only say that from where I stand it satisfies my wife and I.  Time will tell how, if at all, the strategy holds up and wins success. 6

    - – - – - – - – - – - -

    For further reading: a friend of Facebook suggested Mark Driscoll‘s post What We Tell Our Kids about Santa.

    Notes:

    1. Might I also take a moment to note that none of what I will write in my explanation is an indictment or anyone who thinks or practices differently than I?  I offer this merely as a record of my thought which serves to illustrate the dilemma.
    2. This bit is not germane to my discussion here so I mention it in foot-note: if you are unfamiliar with the Christian idea of earthly authority derived from the Heavenly Authority let me encourage you.  The reason you have so hated corruption and incompetence in the authorities you have encountered is, at least partially, because you natively sense that they should be better – specifically, they should better reflect the wisdom, integrity, and care found in God’s exercise of authority.
    3. This phrase, given to Lewis which turned out to be instrumental in his conversion is preserved in Tolkien’s On Fairy Stories which I really do recommend you read.
    4. Feel free to diagree!  This is why blogs have comment sections and why that section on my blog remains open.
    5. I might should mention that I first came to delight in mythology through the medium of comic books and hope my child will have that opportunity as well.
    6. I have hit on no solution for the problem of the well-intentioned questions in the vein of “What is Santa bringing you?” or “Did Santa bring you lots of presents?”  Currently I think it best to train my child to respond “We have been very blessed” but it smacks of disingenuity to me.  If you have a better alternative I would love to hear it.