Monday, July 19, 2010

Ambition: Virtue or Vice?

Rescuing AmbitionJust finished Dave Harvey's new book,  Rescuing Ambition. Ambition is a word freighted with negative connotations. It was the downfall of Satan, Adam, King Saul, Judas, and many other biblical characters. We usually put it in the same bucket with pride, lust, selfishness, etc. However, Harvey makes the point that God created us to be ambitious, but our ambition was to be for his glory. Sin twisted and perverted this noble virtue into something exceedingly ugly, selfish, and unattractive.

Selfish ambition is responsible for most church splits, many failed marriages, and human conflict. The point of Harvey's book is that, for Christians at least, it doesn't have to be this way. The first three chapters examine ambition through the lens of creation, fall, and redemption. Chapters four through eleven dissect how the Holy Spirit works in the life of each believer to transform our ambition from something inherently selfish and evil into a humble, unselfish, virtue that labors hard for the glory of God and the success of the local church.

I recommend this book. I wish every Christian would read it, especially aspiring leaders. Unselfish ambition is desperately needed in each local congregation. I think you will find Rescuing Ambition a great aid to that end.

Whether you have read this book or not, give us your thoughts on ambition. 

Thursday, July 15, 2010

The Deep Secrets of Satan

Revelation opens with a message to seven churches. The fourth church, the one in the center, is Thyatira. Thyatira's position in the seven indicates that God's message to her is heart and soul of his message to all the churches.

The church at Thyatira is in trouble. They have "tolerated the woman, Jezebel, who call herself a prophetess and is teaching and seducing my servants to practice sexual immorality and to eat food sacrificed to idols" (Rev. 2:20). The Holy Spirit threatens them with severe judgment if they do not repent and concludes by identifying Jezebel with "the deep things of Satan" (Vs 24).

The passage is a metaphor that points back to Israel's ancient history. Jezebel, the wife of Ahab, seventh king of Israel, was notoriously wicked. She was not a Jew. She grew up a worshipper of Baal. She embodied several profound corruptions.

First, she overthrew God's creation order. She dominated her husband, Ahab. She was the first feminist in biblical history.

Second, she introduced Israel to Baal worship. The adherents of Baal worshiped with sexual immorality. They worshiped with ritual cult prostitution in temples consecrated to Baal. He also encouraged sexual perversion. Baal encouraged sex role confusion. Males acted feminine and females masculine. Baal worship also involved infanticide, the offering of infants as living sacrifices.

Western culture looks like ancient Israel during the days of Jezebel. The same deceiving spirits have reappeared in more sophisticated, modern guise.  With Satan's "deep secrets" he is destroying first the family, then the church, and last the culture that leans on the church for strength and stability. The legitimization of homosexuality, the abuses of feminism, the divorce culture, transgender confusion, and the promotion of abortion all point to the sins of Jezebel and the god she worshiped, what Revelation calls the "deep secrets of Satan."

How should we respond? With repentance. God judged Jezebel  with violence. In fulfillment of prophecy she was thrown from an upper story window and eaten by dogs. All of her descendants were put to the sword. This should motivate us to repent of our sins, the sins of our fathers, and the sins of our culture. Turn from the "deep secrets of Satan," recognize their destructive nature, and put your hope in the living God.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Individualism: Godly or Selfish?

Frank doesn't want to attend church this Sunday. He is tired, so he sleeps in. Although he is a member church, he doesn't see a need to push himself. Its all about me and my comfort. Suzette doesn't visit her aged parents because it is depressing. She would rather go to the beach with her friends. So, she ignores her parents.

When the Church Was a Family: Recapturing Jesus' Vision for Authentic Christian CommunityFrank and Suzette are expressing their individualism, however it is a radical departure from the individualism promoted in the Bible.

Biblical individualism is a strength."God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them" (Gen. 1:27). This text is foundational to Western Culture. From it we get good individualism, the idea that all  human life is sacred. Neither State nor individual can destroy it at whim. Protecting the individual is one important function of the law. The U.S. constitution and bill of rights exist, amongst other things, to protect the rights of the individual.

However, the individualism championed by the Bible is "unselfish" individualism.Whether family, church, or state, it lives and dies for the success of the larger social unit. The best example of unselfish individualism occurs in sports. We honor the athlete who subordinates his glory and success for the good of the team.If it is best for the team that a talented quarterback play in the offensive line, then the quarterback takes the demotion. It is all about the team. This is the individualism championed by the Bible.It is unselfish. It puts the welfare of the group before its own interests. 

But there is a new individualism. Its roots are the 18th century Enlightenment, specifically the philosophers Voltaire and Rousseau. It is selfish to the core. It subordinates the success of the group to the selfish claims of the solitary individual. This is the air 21st century Americans breath. It is North America summed up, and it is the enemy of all that God wants to accomplish in and through his people. In a recent Christianity Today article, Joseph Hellerman summed up the contents of his new book, When the Church Was a Family: Recapturing Jesus' Vision for Authentic Christian Community with these words. “Jesus’ early followers were convinced that the group comes first—that I as an individual will become all God wants me to be only when I begin to view my goals, desires, and relational needs as secondary to what God is doing through his people, the local church. The group, not the individual, took priority in a believer’s life in the early church.”[1]

This "selfish individualism" is what motivates the Franks and Suzettes of our churches. They join blind to their  "me first" attitude, an attitude that is deadly to life in the local church. Lets ask God for grace to repent, for unless we do, church and family will suffer profoundly.

[1] Joseph H. Hellerman, ”A Family Affair,” Christianity Today, May 2010, pg 44