Thursday, November 26, 2015

The Other Nine (A Thanksgiving Sermon)

Happy Thanksgiving! I pray you have a restful and enjoyable day with family and friends, and return thanks to our God, the giver of all good gifts.


“The Other Nine,”  
A Thanksgiving Sermon



(Click here to download this one as an MP3. As always, you can access many more of my sermons on the church website, www.churchlansing.com)



 .

 .

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

The Official Imaginary Soundtrack

Before I started writing novels, I wrote a few screenplays. And before that, I made a whole lot of movies in my mind. Maybe that's why I had no choice but to compile the official soundtrack of the imaginary movie of my latest book The Last Con. Here's a listing by scene. Mild spoilers, so if you haven't read it yet, go get it, read it, then check out this post. Or, better yet, get the book and read it while listening!

Also, in a sort of outdated early-aughties fashion, I'm going to tag five other authors to do this with one of their own books: Cliff Graham, Dani Pettrey, Carrie Stuart Parks, Susie Finkbeiner, and Ted Kluck. (Since Ted writes non-fiction, I guess we're talking the soundtrack of a documentary.) No need to designate a song for every single scene, and don't forget to tag some authors yourself . . .


TRACK 1 - AFTER THE OPENING SCENE IN THE CHURCH, THIS WOULD PLAY OVER THE CREDITS. Lecrae  - "The Drop"



TRACK 2 - CAGLIOSTRO, HAVING ARRIVED IN MALTA, ENTERS THE CATHEDRAL OF ST. JOHN THE BAPTIST. Gregorian - "Nothing Else Matters" (Metallica)



TRACK 3 - DANTE GOES INTO THE COUNTY JAIL. Trip Lee - "Snitch"



TRACK 4 - LEAD-IN TO THE YOUTH GROUP MEETING IN THE CLICHED YOUTH GROUP ROOM. The Newsboys -"Breakfast" 



TRACK 5 - WHEN FLETCHER IS DRIVING BACK INTO DETROIT FOR THE FIRST TIME SINCE LEAVING PRISON.  Rancid  - "Detroit"



TRACK 6 - CAGLIOSTRO'S SWANK PARTY-SLASH-SEANCE. "Crystalize" by Lindsey Stirling



TRACK 7 - THIS WOULD PLAY OVER AS FLETCHER FIRST HAS A LOOK INSIDE BELLTOWER'S MANSION.  FM Static - "Man Watcha Doin'?"



TRACK 8 - THIS WOULD PLAY AS FLETCHER AND HIS CREW RACE AWAY FROM BELLTOWER'S HOUSE AFTER THE HEIST. Steve Taylor - "Only a Ride"



TRACK 9 - LEAD-IN TO THE INNER-CITY YOUTH CENTER "He Reigns" by Kirk Franklin 



TRACK 10 - WHEN FLETCHER IS TRYING TO SLEEP IN HAPPY'S VAN. Just the beginning of "God's Great Dance Floor" by Chris Tomlin



TRACK 11 - WHEN DANTE WALKS BACK TO HIS CHURCH AND SEES THE ROBED MAN ON THE STREET CORNER. Andy Mineo - "Never Land"



TRACK 12 - AS FLETCHER AND HIS FAMILY WALK BACK TO THE SANCTUARY OF THE CHURCH AT THE END. "All That I Am" by Rend Collective



TRACK 13 - OVER THE END CREDITS.  "Don't Waste Your Life" by Lecrae
.
.
.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Re-Launch! (And Free Short Stories)

If you're looking for a quick and exciting read this week, I have two short stories on Amazon that are absolutely FREE today and tomorrow. Why now? Am I suddenly and prematurely filled with the Christmas spirit weeks before Thanksgiving like some sort of social pariah stringing lights while the neighborhood kids are still counting their candy?

No.

 Rather, it's part of my RE-LAUNCH for my novel The Last Con.

Speaking of which, if you haven't read The Last Con, the e-book is currently on sale for $2.99 (Including Kindle, Nook, iTunes, and kobo)




I know, right?

Also, in the spirit of Re-Launch, I will be giving away some books TONIGHT at 8 PM amongst various other virtual shenanigans at my Last Con Virtual Flash-Mob (read: Facebook online event that I didn't create in advance). Because Facebook "online events" never seem sad at all

The theme is danger, but also the theme is my book The Last Con.



Click any of these graphics, or really click anything at all to be taken to the event page.


Friday, October 30, 2015

Read Something Scary This Halloween

or 

Read Something Gospel-Centered This Reformation Day 

Either way . . . you can get Playing Saint as a paperback, ebook, or largeprint hardcover by clicking here.

.

"It's Halloweeeeeeeen." -Capt. Raymond Holt


.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Porn & Worship?



Yeah, it's a click-bait title, but it's not really misleading.

This is another article I wrote for The Blazing Center, which has pretty much become my favorite website over the last year or so. It's the brainchild of Stephen Altrogge (an author and songwriter who's got songs in our new church hymnal!) and Barnabas Piper (John Piper's son, who has written some great books, including the newly released Help My Unbelief). I'm planning on contributing  regularly to the site, because it is awesome.



Remember the “worship wars” of the Eighties-and-Nineties? Churches were split over whether they should start a “contemporary service” or perhaps jump into the deep end and “go contemporary” altogether. People got mad . . . like, mad. Christians turned on each other over whether we should keep singing “Sweet Beulah Land” with the organ or start awkwardly clapping along with an acoustic guitar while sort of half-knee-bouncing our way through some “Songs from the Loft.”

I was one of the few to spend time in both trenches in this particular skirmish. Full disclosure: in college, I was in a Christian rock band called “Dead Ostrich.” Yes, I know it’s a stupid name. No, I didn’t choose it. It meant something about rejecting ignorance and apathy or . . . something. Anyway, we had a song that touched on the worship wars. The lyrics included these gems:
There you sit with your hands in your pockets
Afraid to show a little emotion.
Your friends may not approve
Your family may not approve
Your preacher might not approve[1]
But I guess it’s up to you

REFRAIN
You really make me sick
You’re such a typical Baptist

Aside: we gave a copy of our CD to Rob Bell (yes, that Rob Bell) and sat in his living room while he explained that, while he really liked the song “Typical Baptist,” we shouldn’t play it at our concerts if we were trying to reach the lost for Christ. Life is weird.


Dead Ostrich

Anyway.

A few short years later, as the nineties and the worship wars wound down, I—hip-deep in cage-stage Calvinism—did a one-eighty on the topic. My reason for abandoning my college angst in favor of a premature middle age grumpiness was again rooted in emotions. Having embraced a full-on Sola Scriptura stance as well as affirming the total depravity of man, I just didn’t trust them anymore. Extreme emotions threatened to get between God’s Word and me and gum up the works. Better to stick with dusty, albeit doctrinally sound, songs that would engage my mind but little else.

In the ensuing 15-20 years, my personal pendulum has, of course, swung back from the extreme position once again. I found myself having what could be described as “emotional experiences” while worshiping God, and being almost embarrassed about it. With more study, discipleship, and maturity, I’ve come to embrace emotional worship (along with those dusty hymns), while still being on guard against some of the aspects of emotionalism that caused Calvin and Luther to scowl beneath those weird aviator-slash-scholar caps they always wore. (Note to self: get one of those caps.)


Allow me then to offer four reasons to be a little leery of emotionalism in worship and one big reason not to be . . .


CLICK HERE to read the rest of the article . . .


Monday, September 21, 2015

Improving on God's Plan

I wrote the following for The Blazing Center.


Joshua: Okay, everybody quiet down. It’s time to start this elders meeting.

[Din of talking continues among the seventy elders]

Joshua: Seriously, shut it!

[A beat]

Joshua: Alright, then. So tomorrow begins our big siege of Jer— . . .  Seriously, Jehoiarib? I see you passing that note. Stop it. Put it down. No, not in front of Tola; put it . . . You know what? Give it to me. It’s mine now. I keep.
[Note is handed down comically long line of elders, to Joshua who reads it, frowns with, like, a sort of old-lady frown if that makes sense, and then crumples it up.]

Joshua: [to Jehoiarib] You know, just because I’m a super-spy-slash-mighty-warrior who hides in the homes of high-end prostitutes, escapes out windows, slaughters the enemy, and is basically the James Bond of the Ancient Near East doesn’t mean I don’t have feelings, man. Comments like this [slightly hefts crumpled note] still hurt.

Jehoiarib:  [Studying his feet, mumbling] Sorry.

Joshua: So anyway, I’ve gotten the plan for the attack, direct from Adonai, and it is incredible. He is obviously going to do something huge and miraculous in our midst!
[General din of anticipation, which sort of sounds like some people saying “murmur murmur” under their breath while others say “watermelon, watermelon”, also under their breath]

Joshua: You all know that Jericho is straitly shut up because of the children of Israel; none go in and none come out. But God has given the city and their king and their hardest-core warriors into our hands. Here’s the plan: all the men of war in Israel will surround the city at once . . .

Read the rest of the article here.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Podcasts! Everywhere!

You may not be aware that I host a weekly podcast, together with prolific author Ted Kluck, called the Gut Check Podcast. It's a niche-of-a-niche humor type thing, in which we also talk about publishing (including promoting our own books) and skype in with a motley crew of regulars (some famous) to discuss whatever happens to be on our minds that day.

Without any research (not even googling), I'm going to assume that we made podcast history when Ted and I played a double-header with NYT bestselling novelist Cliff Graham. Cliff has been on our show before (and by "show," I mean two guys talking into USB microphones), but what made this unique is that, immediately after recording the Gut Check Podcast with Cliff as a guest, we proceeded to record Cliff's Good Battle Podcast with us as the guests. I know—groundbreaking.

Here are the links:
The Gut Check Podcast, Episode 24 - The Cliff Graham Episode  
The Good Battle Podcast, Episode 18 - Zachary Bartels & Ted Kluck


In addition, I was happy to pop up in Noah Filipiak's “Behind the Curtain Ministry Podcast” recently. We talked about self-promotion as it relates to writing and to being a Christian.

You can find that link here:
 Behind the Curtain Episode 7



.

Friday, September 4, 2015

I'm Just Like Jesus, They Tell Me...

My son and I just finished the Gospel of Luke. Ideally, we read a few chapters of the Bible together every night, but it's actually more like three to four times a week. Still, we've made it through three
books of the Bible now. He loved the story of Jesus and he remembers details I would never expect a seven-year-old to retain. He loved the post-resurrection appearances of Jesus so much (especially the road to Emmaus) that he has opted to read John next and get the story of our Savior from another angle.

So, anyway.

A new Christian bookstore opened today in an outdoor mall near our house, so he and I went to check it out. As most authors are wont to do, I wandered by the fiction aisle and was pleased to see that they had a couple copies of The Last Con and one copy of Playing Saint. Just then, an employee happened by and said, "Can I help you find anything?"

Thinking I'd be clever or cute or something, I said, "Have you ever read either of these books?"

"No, I don't believe I have," she replied.

"They're amazing," I quipped, planning of course to aw-shucksingly reveal that I had written them after building them up to a ridiculous degree.

"Amazing? Really?"

"Oh, yes," I said. "Maybe even brilliant."

"What is?" called another clerk asked from behind the counter.

"These two," clerk #1 said, carrying my books over to her.

At this point, my son called me over to look at some comic books we don't yet have. (Aside: Kingstone Bible Comics are the money!) I kind of forgot about the whole shameless self-promotion thing until we got up to the counter and saw my books sitting there.

"Thanks for the recommendation," the clerk said. "I'm going to pass it on to my husband."

In a little too deep to come clean directly I just nodded and expectantly handed her my debit card, which, incidentally, bears my name. She didn't notice.

As we left the store, my son says, "Huh. You're kind of like Jesus."

"How?" I asked.

"You know, pretending to be someone else."

Yeah. That's one way to look at it.

.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Why Baptists Should Use the S-Word (This Week's Sermon)

To many, it’s a dirty word. But when we understand it correctly, even we Baptists may start using it. This week’s sermon was delivered on a joyous day when we observed both Baptism and Holy Communion and is about what both sacraments mean to us as Christians and as a church.


“Living Pictures,”  
A Sermon on the Sacraments


(Click here to download this one as an MP3. As always, you can access many more of my sermons on the church website, www.churchlansing.com)

 .

 .

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Autographed Book Sale

I've got a couple big boxes of books in my closet, making it hard to reach my vast assortment of ties, most of which I don't where anymore because they're kind of '90s, but will still never get rid of. Anyway.

In the interest of getting books out of my way and into the hands of readers, I'm offering a limited number of signed copies of the following:

The Last Con - $11

Playing Saint - $11

42 Months Dry - $10

The Christian Gentleman’s Smoking Companion - $9


If you're someone I see regularly, knock $3 postage off the price and I'll just hand it to you. Also, feel free to tell me who to sign it to or even what to write. You can Paypal me below.

 


Book
Inscription

 

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Family Fiction Double-Edged

When Playing Saint came out, I was super-jazzed that Family Fiction Edge put me on the cover of their October issue. Well, they were among the first to interview me about the new book as well. Click the pages below to see the full issue.




Monday, July 13, 2015

Hello, Carol


So here's some good timing: as I mentioned in an earlier post, Playing Saint was a finalist for the Inspy blogger awards for Christian fiction. Well, I found out on 6/28 that Ted Dekker had clinched that award. But on 6/29, the ACFW announced the finalists for the Carol Awards (according to the website, "recognition for the best Christian fiction published by traditional publishing houses in the previous calendar year"). I'm a finalist in the "Debut Novel" category.

What's fun about these awards is that they're given out at a gala at the end of the ACFW conference. I'm up against two other finalists, so my odds are decent, but I’m already practicing my “I’m happy for the winner” smile-clap-combo.


Wednesday, July 8, 2015

You Mad Bro? (This Week's Sermons)

Gideon’s 300 now attack the enemy and route them by God’s mighty power. And yet, instead of celebrating and praising the Lord, some Israelites are angry, jealous, and bitter, wanting to start trouble within God’s chosen people. In this week's sermons, we talk about being used by God for great things, giving him alone the glory, and how to deal with difficult people who are intent on making trouble and discord.

Sermon on Judges 7:15-25,
“Role Reversal”

(Click here to download this sermon as an MP3.)
 .

Sermon on Judges 8:1-3,
“You Mad, Bro?”
 



(Click here to download this one as an MP3. As always, you can access many more of my sermons on the church website, www.churchlansing.com)

 .

 .

Allow Me to Read to You

The Last Con came out yesterday. If you're wondering whether you should buy it, you totally should. You can read the back cover copy here and read some excerpts here and here.

However, maybe you don't feel like reading right now. In that case, just click PLAY below, sit back, and let me read to you. Just...just click the thing and listen. Don't make it weird.

Click here to buy it.

Monday, July 6, 2015

Launch Party!


 So my newest book The Last Con comes out tomorrow!  And what better way to launch a new book than with a party? (The answer, to quote Nigel Tufnel, is "None.") Really, it's more of a “book event,” in that the logistical setup involves rows of chairs and a podium in the front, but still. And what better place for a book launch party than the newly renovated Baker Book House in Grand Rapids, Michigan? That's a no-brainer. Right in the cradle of Christian publishing in the Midwest, flanked by a coffee bar and a great selection of music, you can't do better.  And is there a more biblical date/time than 7/7 at 7 PM? Negatory!

If you're going to be in the area tomorrow night, come on by for a book release event. I'll be teaching you a little bit about the ways of the con man, giving some stuff away, signing books, and even providing cake.

So be there. No, I'm serious; be there.

 

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Reasons to Attend Church this Summer



Summer’s here! The sun is out, the beach is calling, and our drinks are suddenly equipped with tiny umbrellas, which—let’s face it—aren’t going to do the drink any good if it starts raining, because they’re made out of tissue paper. Another summer trend that does no good is the downturn in church attendance that every congregation sees when the weather smiles on us.

I’m going to make a crazy suggestion here: you should attend church every Lord’s Day this summer if at all possible.  Are you traveling? You can probably find a church where you’re going. Got overnight company? I bet your home church would love to have them as guests!

Why do I bang this drum so much/so hard? Not because it’s a hobby horse I like to ride (well, not just because of that, anyway), but because the Bible emphasizes it.

Here are just a few (read: just a bunch) of the biblical reasons that Christians should attend church weekly:

It's a gesture of love toward God – Sure, we can love God wherever we are. And I can love my wife while we’re sitting on the couch binge-watching Friends on Netflix. But I still like to go to the trouble of getting a sitter and taking her out for a special night as one way of showing I love her. And this shouldn’t be just on our anniversary and Valentine’s Day. In the same way, if we truly love our Creator and Savior, we will not grumble about how difficult it is to get up, get ready, and head to His house to spend some special time with him in the midst of his people. 

Lift up your hands in the sanctuary, and bless the LORD. Psalm 134:2

It honors the Lord's Day. When you read all those Old Testament rules about how to keep the Sabbath, it’s easy to see it as a big chore. But that shouldn’t even begin to color how we Christians view the Lord’s Day!  You know why it’s called "The Lord’s Day" in the New Testament? Because it’s the day Jesus rose from the dead! This is not a chore, but a reminder that JESUS IS ALIVE!
We just celebrated two birthdays in my house and, as Jerry Seinfeld pointed out, we were basically congratulating each other for still being alive . . . which, I suppose, is impressive in its own way. But it would be more impressive if the birthday boy used to be dead and is now alive. And even more worthy of celebration if he died for you and me! Jesus rose from the grave for us. Let’s rise from the bed for Him.
 
 Because it is a sacrifice! The worship of God has involved sacrifice from the earliest chapters of Genesis. Today, we need not bring God the choicest of our flocks to kill on an altar, but we do honor him by bringing the choicest of our time and energy. As the author of Hebrews writes in chapter 13, “Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name.” 
“But I need a day with nothing scheduled, to decompress” is a common refrain among frazzled Christians. “ Or the kids do. They're just so busy...” As we overfill our lives—cramming every minute with an activity, or work, or racing from one thing to the next—if we let church go to the wayside to compensate, we're assuming (and teaching, if we have children) that the one thing that matters least is God! If your life is too full, perhaps it’s time to re-anchor the most important things at the center and lose some of those add-ons. God is worthy of our time and attention. 

Because we are forgetful.  When asked why he preached the Gospel every week, Martin Luther answered, “Because you forget every week.” Hearing the message that you are forgiven—spoken out loud to the elect with biblical authority—is a must for Christians, as is living the life of forgiveness together with others. 

It is a public affirmation of your commitment to Christ. The New Testament puts much emphasis on our affirming our devotion to Christ publicly (e.g., Luke 12:8). When we blow off worship for worldly comforts and pursuits, we are testifying that there’s nothing different about us.   

I will tell of your name to my brothers;
in the midst of the congregation I will praise you. Psalm 22:22   

To keep us from becoming spiritually isolated.  God told Adam, “It is not good for man to be alone.” That’s still true. Throughout the Scriptures, the idea of spiritually lone-wolfing it is roundly condemned. Why would we try and serve God, grow in grace and knowledge, and worship him in spirit and in truth all alone like a hermit, when we have the congregation of saints?    
Whoever isolates himself seeks his own desire; he breaks out against all sound judgment. Proverbs 18:1

Because Jesus did. In Luke 14:6, we learn that it was Jesus’ custom to gather together weekly with believers. And it’s a good custom for us as well. (Hey, look! Here's a sermon I preached on the topic!)

Because  Jesus assumed you would. It’s as if Jesus is giving us the benefit of the doubt that we wouldn’t waste the spiritual treasures we have in the local church when he seems to assume we’ll be involved in congregational life and worship (Matt 18:17, Rev 1:10-11).

Because the early Church did. And not just an hour a week. They seem to have been gathering together each Lord’s Day for a more formal service and gathering for fellowship in homes pretty much every day! (See I Cor 16:2, I Cor 1:2 Acts 2:42, I Tim 3:15)

Because we need to be spiritually strengthened. For a while, people were following Jesus because they heard it meant “free food!” (Remember how he fed thousands with just five loaves and two fish?)  Instead, Jesus offered himself as true food and drink. People were freaked out by this, but Jesus held fast in teaching that our flesh longs for one kind of food, but we deeply need another kind.

 So Jesus said to the Twelve, "Do you want to go away as well?"  68 Simon Peter answered him, "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life,  69 and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God." John 6:67-69


Because Christ is present in a special way. Yes, God is omnipresent, and yet the Old Testament presents Him as present in a special (and frightening) way within the Holy of Holies in the temple. In the New Testament, God is present in a special (and comforting) way in the gathering of the saints. Not only in the Lord's Supper (I Cor 10:16), but in every aspect of our worship together. 

For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them." Matthew 18:20 (note that the context of Matthew 18 assumes an organized church with leadership and even discipline)


It provides fellowship with other believers… all kinds of believers, not only those who are just like us. Our society has become incredibly segmented. Church is one of the few places where five generations still gather together. Titus 2:1-5 assumes that, in the context of the church, older men and women will be teaching younger men and women how to lead honorable and godly lives. This fellowship also teaches us to love those who are different from us. Sure, I could get together with a few friends at a coffee shop and discuss spiritual things (and that would be great!), but according to Jesus, “even the pagans” greet and share life with their close circle of friends. We are called to a higher fellowship.

It supercharges our prayers.  Okay, maybe that’s a little sensational a wording, but our prayers do have multiplied strength when we gather together. Again, God’s plan is for us to work together in love.
 
Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. - Matthew 18:19  

So that the church can bless you.  Ephesians 4:11-12 tells us that God gave us the gifts and offices of the church to equip us! Hebrews 10 tells us that a main reason for gathering together regularly is to “spur one another on toward love and good deeds.” Gather with the saints and receive the words of life. Share your needs and be encouraged and prayed for! Know that you are not alone! 

So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ. Romans 10:17   


So that you can bless others.  Is everything great in your life right now? Maybe you’re not feeling a pressing need to be blessed? That's spectac! But it's not going great for someone else! When we aren’t involved in our local church, we rob others of the gifts we bring to the table. Not to mention that we fulfill the new commandment primarily as we gather together. (John 15:12, 13:35—the way the world will know we are His is by how we Christians love one another.) We grow best when we grow together!  

From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work. Ephesians 4:16  


God has commanded it.  Yeah, I saved this one for last. While Jesus assumed we’d gather together for worship, prayer, and encouragement, by the time Hebrews was written, some were apparently slipping. Hebrews 10:25 reads, “Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” This was not something new, for God’s people have been setting aside one day a week for rest and a holy gathering since Moses, and before. (Leviticus 23:3a). We know God would have us gather together. I often hear people who don't attend church more than a couple times a year say, “Yeah, I know I should,” with a shrug.  But knowing we should doesn't make it better. In fact, whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin. - James 4:17  

As we enjoy God’s wonderful gifts this summer, may we remember that he has given us the gift of the Lord’s Day and the gift of the Church, the Body of Christ. Let us open that gift with gladness each week, and gather together to bless and be blessed!

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Off By One Degree...

There’s an old sermon illustration about an airplane leaving New York for some island destination hundreds or thousands of miles away. Only there’s something wrong with the aircraft’s navigation system and it winds up being off by one degree. Needless to say, when the pilot has logged the planned flight (or thinks he has), he looks all around and cannot see his destination anywhere because he has missed the mark by a considerable number of miles. It’s all open sea, and the pilot is in trouble.

“Welcome to Jamaica! Er . . . wait.”
I thought I might do a little simple math here to flesh this story out, but it turns out the math is anything but simple. Apparently, to figure out how far off one would be from the intended destination, you must divide the original angle by two, take the sine of the result, multiply that by the distance traveled, then multiply the result by two. So, yeah, I’m not going to do that. I had calculus in 1995, but I don’t remember what a sine is. Let’s just agree that if your course was off by one degree, you wouldn’t get where you were trying to go. And the further away your destination, the greater the error. And so, if you were trying to arrive somewhere a thousand miles away, you’d be further off than if you were only traveling a hundred miles. And if you were hoping to land somewhere infinity miles away . . .

Yet, despite this common sense/advanced math, this is exactly how we tend to arrive at an understanding of God. We point ourselves in his general direction (usually, like, up), nuance our flight path based on where we expect him to be, and put the petal to the metal. This continues to be the most popular way for people to try and encounter their Creator. And it’s even popular in the Church. This is what we call natural theology—starting with man and extrapolating our way up to God. It’s enduring and popular, partially because it assumes that God is basically like us. I often hear people say things like, “I just can’t believe in a God who would ___” or “If I were God, I would never ___.”

The world especially loves this approach. Problem is, it’s ridiculous on every level. I mean, in an attempt to discover the mind and character of an infinite, eternal, omnipresent God, I start with me and my values and preferences, which are largely determined by the rather arbitrary variables of where and when I happen to live? Think about how many sins of fifty years ago are now considered okay, or even worthy of celebration. Or how many criminal acts in one country are vanguards of freedom and free-thought in another, even today. When we set our divine-navigation systems from the ground up, they are calibrated largely based on what little speck we happen to inhabit in the vastness of space and time. And then, based on that set of circumstances and my own personal proclivities, I make my way up infinity miles and there I find “God,” who just happens to be the best version of me I can imagine (again, based on the shifting sand of my particular mind in my particular time and place).

This is foolishness to the Nth degree. You and I would never board a plane if the pilot were using this approach, even for a flight of a couple hundred miles. And yet, not only in the world, but in the Church, this is standard practice. The result is a god who changes with our own whims and our society’s values (rather than a God who is unchanging, who can help us establish our own desires and our communal values), and looks increasingly like a hype-man and enabler for human kind.

...and a good hype man is hard to find.
Sounds kind of hopeless, doesn’t it? I mean, how could we ever hope to know God if we can’t start with what we find in our own sinful hearts and work our way up to him? Well, that’s the good news! Instead of us lamely trying to grope our way up to him in the dark (which is impossible, Rom 10:6), he came down to us, shining as light in the darkness. He came to reveal God to us directly. This is the only way we can truly know him, his character, his will, or his plan. And yet our culture continues at every turn to insist that we dictate upward to God what he should be, what he should command, what he should value, what he should think—and continues to mock those who cling to God’s self-revelation, rooted in his coming down. They don’t even mind that this would make God the most fickle, indecisive, unprincipled, spineless follower to ever exist. They’re just happy that it comforts them with false assurance that God is indeed most concerned with affirming fallen men and women—not saving them, and certainly not demanding that they deny themselves and take up a cross..

Yes, God is an ever-changing being by this way of thinking, even bleeding into the church visible. Sure, we acknowledge that God has revealed himself, but then we accept the parts of his revelation that we like and bounce back up the stuff that doesn’t work for us, along with orders on how he needs to adjust to meet our felt needs and conform to our sophisticated sensibilities. As we waffle back and forth, condemning A and affirming B (or vice versa), we think we can upload these preferences back to God, sort of updating his firmware.

We all have this tendency within us, to re-make God in our image, instead of pleading with him to remake us in his. When we find this in ourselves—when we find ourselves thinking, “God wouldn’t do that or say that or command that because I wouldn’t,” where we tend to subconsciously think of God as growing and evolving with usrepent and abandon those thoughts. Such a god would not be worth knowing and certainly not worth following, as he would himself be a follower. In fact, he would be our creation, not the other way around.

Let us recommit to knowing God on his terms, listening and obeying, and trusting an infinite God’s navigation system to be infinitely more accurate than ours.

.
.