Trying to Earn God’s Favor is Silly…

…because you don’t have to.

After all, if I needed to earn God’s favor why did Jesus have to die?

I was amazed to hear that the woman who waited on my table yesterday said “I pray for everyone I meet.” I asked her how she did that and she said, “I just bless everyone–God bless you, and God bless you, and God bless you…”

I asked her, “do you know how that works?” “How what works,” she asked.

I said, “What I mean is, do you know how God blesses people?” She said, “He blesses people when we do good.” Which seemed to me to undermine the whole idea of asking God to bless someone if it requires them to be doing good in the first place.

The point is this: God doesn’t bless anyone just because someone asks for it. Blessing comes from God in and through Jesus Christ alone. As I said, if I needed to earn God’s favor, Jesus didn’t have to die. All other ground (as the hymn says) is “sinking sand.” Or, to put it another way, all other ground is the basis for cursing, not blessing. Continue reading

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Pastoral Care: Calvin’s Geneva and Lessons for Today

The word “pastor” contrary to popular opinion does not mean “preacher,” but “shepherd.” That’s partly why renaissance artists use the phrase, “pastoral” to describe a grassy meadow in a valley on a warm summer afternoon. That’s where shepherds do their work.

This may help explain why so many “pastors” are confused about their job description: we call them one thing, but expect something else from them. In my own experience, everything from corporate savvy to public speaking skills make the list. Of course these things are not insignificant.

But it is also true that rarely do we find a church looking for a shepherd. Such a man is one who has a heart for the sheep of Christ’s pasture and who seeks to lead them, under the watchcare of the Chief Shepherd, and by His power and Spirit, to the waters of eternal life.

There was no such confusion in Calvin’s Geneva, however. Continue reading

Do Not Awaken Love Before Its Time: Waiting and the Dating Game

I’ve been preaching through the Song of Solomon at the church where I pastor and through this work, my faith is being strengthened in the character of our wonderful God.

In my study, a key phrase for grasping the message of the whole book, as it turns out, is from Song of Songs 2:7, which says, in effect, “do not awaken love before its time.”

In the Song of Songs, this intriguing saying of the Shulamite woman precedes a situation in which she tells her Shepherd-King and husband-to-be to come back later–that the timing of his request (“come away with me, my love, my beautiful one!) isn’t quite right! He’s ready, and she’s not.

I can’t think of any more helpful counsel than this for young people who are pursuing dating relationships today. As I’ve both seen and experienced it, nothing is more frustrating and even heartbreaking bout the dating process than this matter of what appears to be “wrong timing.”

You know what this is like: “She’s interested in me; I’m not into her”; and a month later, I’m interested in her, but she’s not interested in me.”

In this essay, I want to sketch out seven thoughts regarding the “problem” of imperfect timing and the tension it can create in dating. My hope is to offer some encouragement to those who desire to honor God with this aspect of their lives, something that’s increasingly difficult in an age and in a generation where it seems like “anything goes.” Continue reading