Thursday, April 29, 2010

Urban Legend: God Won't Give You More Than You Can Handle

Have you ever heard the saying, "God won't give us more than we can handle"? It is usually given by well-meaning people to encourage those going through trials and I do not presume to know what everyone means by it when they say it. Perhaps sometimes it is a simple platitude. Perhaps others have a well thought out theology behind it and use it as an abbreviated statement for many well founded truths.

Yet, I wonder where it comes from because as it stands it is not a complete biblical concept. It is similar to the popular saying, "God helps those who help themselves," which is also not in the Bible.

These platitudes may be well intended and may contain partial truths, but are not really very helpful. While they mention God and perhaps sustain a concept of one or more of His attributes they actually place more emphasis on man-centered and humanistic thoughts that focus on our strength rather than God's.

It is possible that the saying, "God won't give us more than we can handle," probably has its roots in 1 Corinthians 10:13, "No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, that you may be able to endure it."

However, this verse is in the context of how Israel in their trials in the wilderness succumbed to idolatry and other evil. Paul is telling the Corinthians that in trials we are often tempted to sin, but God is always faithful to give us an exit path so that we can endure the trial without sinning. The focus is not on the crass notion of our ability, but rather His enabling grace to be faithful to us and provide escape from temptation.

I think the "saying" derived from this and just took the notions of "God", "will not allow", "you are able to endure it." They leave out the fact that it is talking about temptation and sin and the notions of God's faithfulness and his provision. I think the danger is that we place confidence in man and do not realize how dependent we are upon Christ. While the statement acknowledges God it doesn't give Him all the glory.

Rather than us having some notion that we will be able to "handle" a trial we should really be encouraging people who are undergoing trials with Scriptures that stress God's power and ability and our dependence upon Him for everything. For instance,
1 Peter 5:6-7 "Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time, 7 casting all your anxiety upon Him, because He cares for you."

We need to understand that God is mighty and we need to simply humble ourselves before Him by continually casting our anxieties upon Him and watch His mighty hand work. We submit to His will and He will exalt us in His time, but the strength is all His, as is the glory.

The most encouraging thing about this verse to me is that it says, "because He cares for you." For those who have become His children through faith in Christ's work on the cross, we have a mighty God who cares deeply and passionately for us and will exercise His mighty power to prevail in our trials.

My two cents,


Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Abraham Piper's Admonition to Blog

I recently came across this article, apparently by Abraham Piper, John Piper's son on why pastors should blog. I am going to try to take his advice. Enjoy his words:

"In this article I want to convince as many pastors as possible to sit down and start a blog today. If I can’t convince them, then I want to convince churchgoers to hound their pastor until he does.

OK, all that’s overstatement, perhaps. You can still be a good pastor and not blog.

However, here’s why I think it would be good for you and your congregation if you did.

Pastors should blog…
1. …to write.
If you’re a pastor, you probably already know the value writing has for thinking. Through writing, you delve into new ideas and new insights. If you strive to write well, you will at the same time be striving to think well.

Then when you share new ideas and new insights, readers can come along with you wherever your good writing and good thinking bring you.

There is no better way to simply and quickly share your writing than by maintaining a blog. And if you’re serious about your blog, it will help you not only in your thinking, but in your discipline as well, as people begin to regularly expect quality insight from you.

2. …to teach.
Most pastors I’ve run into love to talk. Many of them laugh at themselves about how long-winded they’re sometimes tempted to be.

Enter Blog.

Here is where a pastor has an outlet for whatever he didn’t get to say on Sunday. Your blog is where you can pass on that perfect analogy you only just thought of; that hilarious yet meaningful story you couldn’t connect to your text no matter how hard you tried; that last point you skipped over even though you needed it to complete your 8-point acrostic sermon that almost spelled HUMILITY.

And more than just a catch-all for sermon spill-over, a blog is a perfect place for those 30-second nuggets of truth that come in your devotions or while you’re reading the newspaper. You may never write a full-fledged article about these brief insights or preach a whole sermon, but via your blog, your people can still learn from them just like you did.

3. …to recommend.
With every counseling session or after-service conversation, a pastor is recommending something. Sometimes it’s a book or a charity. Maybe it’s a bed-and-breakfast for that couple he can tell really needs to get away. And sometimes it’s simply Jesus.

With a blog, you can recommend something to hundreds of people instead of just a few. Some recommendations may be specific to certain people, but that seems like it would be rare. It’s more likely to be the case that if one man asks you whether you know of any good help for a pornography addiction, then dozens of other men out there also need to know, but aren’t asking.

Blog it.

Recommendation, however, is more than pointing people to helpful things. It’s a tone of voice, an overall aura that good blogs cultivate.

Blogs are not generally good places to be didactic. Rather, they’re ideal for suggesting and commending. I’ve learned, after I write, to go back and cut those lines that sound like commands or even overbearing suggestions, no matter how right they may be. Because if it’s true for my audience, it’s true for me, so why not word it in such a way that I’m the weak one, rather than them?

People want to know that their pastor knows he is an ordinary, imperfect human being. They want to know that you’re recommending things that have helped you in your own weakness. If you say, “When I struggled with weight-loss, I did such-and-such,” it will come across very differently than if you say, “Do such-and-such if you’re over-weight…”

If you use your blog to encourage people through suggesting and commending everything from local restaurants to Jesus Christ, it will complement the biblical authority that you rightly assume when you stand behind the pulpit.

4. …to interact.
There are a lot of ways for a pastor to keep his finger on the pulse of his people. A blog is by no means necessary in this regard. However, it does add a helpful new way to stay abreast of people’s opinions and questions.

Who knows what sermon series might arise after a pastor hears some surprising feedback about one of his 30-second-nuggets-of-truth?

5. …to develop an eye for what is meaningful.
For good or ill, most committed bloggers live with the constant question in their mind: Is this bloggable? This could become a neurosis, but I’ll put a positive spin on it: It nurtures a habit of looking for insight and wisdom and value in every situation, no matter how mundane.

If you live life looking for what is worthwhile in every little thing, you will see more of what God has to teach you. And the more he teaches you, the more you can teach others. As you begin to be inspired and to collect ideas, you will find that the new things you’ve seen and learned enrich far more of your life than just your blog.

6. …to be known.
This is where I see the greatest advantage for blogging pastors.

Your people hear you teach a lot; it’s probably the main way that most of them know you. You preach on Sundays, teach on Wednesdays, give messages at weddings, funerals, youth events, retreats, etc.

This is good—it’s your job. But it’s not all you are. Not that you need to be told this, but you are far more than your ideas. Ideas are a crucial part of your identity, but still just a part.

You’re a husband and a father. You’re some people’s friend and other people’s enemy. Maybe you love the Nittany Lions. Maybe you hate fruity salad. Maybe you struggle to pray. Maybe listening to the kids’ choir last weekend was—to your surprise—the most moving worship experience you’ve ever had.

These are the things that make you the man that leads your church. They’re the windows into your personality that perhaps stay shuttered when you’re teaching the Bible. Sometimes your people need to look in—not all the way in, and not into every room—but your people need some access to you as a person. A blog is one way to help them.

You can’t be everybody’s friend, and keeping a blog is not a way of pretending that you can. It’s simply a way for your people to know you as a human being, even if you can’t know them back. This is valuable, not because you’re so extraordinary, but because leadership is more than the words you say. If you practice the kind of holiness that your people expect of you, then your life itself opened before them is good leadership—even when you fail.

For most of you, anything you post online will only be a small piece in the grand scheme of your pastoral leadership. But if you can maintain a blog that is both compelling and personal, it can be an important small piece.

It will give you access to your people’s minds and hearts in a unique way by giving them a chance to know you as a well-rounded person. You will no longer be only a preacher and a teacher, but also a guy who had a hard time putting together a swing-set for his kids last weekend. People will open up for you as you open up like this for them. Letting people catch an honest glimpse of your life will add authenticity to your teaching and depth to your ministry."

Friday, April 16, 2010

Loving Jennifer Knapp

This week I noticed that former Christian Music Artist Jennifer Knapp has announced in interviews that she is a homosexual, yet she also maintains that she is still a Christian. This raises the issue that the church today is going to increasingly be confronted with this. In her interview she says that she remains unconvinced at the often-cited Bible verses condemning homosexuality. It also indicates that she does not attend church.

It is good for those of us in evangelical churches to consider what we will do when faced with a professing brother or sister in our lives that would have her views and circumstances. How do we best love her and minister from a Gospel and Christ centered perspective. How do we maintain a commitment to the truthfulness of God's word and biblical authority, yet seek to demonstrate the love of Christ?

I appreciate Bob Stith's comments:

"What I would want to say to Jennifer and others who may be facing her dilemma in the Christian church is that God really does have a sexual standard," Stith said. "It is based on His creative intent which is made clear in both the Old and New Testament. He did not put forth this standard to enslave us but rather to free us. When God prohibits something He always has something better for us. Unfortunately that concept is often lost in both the church and the world today. All of us are inclined to trust our own instincts and desires more than the revealed will of God. Whatever our desires may be and however right and/or powerful they may seem, God's desires for us must always take precedence. That may not bring immediate gratification but both for us and the Kingdom eternal the ultimate pay-off will be far greater."

The Scriptures seem to be very clear that God does not condone homosexuality (1 Cor 6:9-11; Lev 18:22; 20:13; Romans 1:26-27). So, it would appear that Jennifer Knapp is a professing sister who has been caught in a tresspass. Galatians 6:1 says "Brothers (sisters), if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him (or her) in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted."

This verse reminds us that as believers we belong to a family that should be watching out for, loving and caring for one another. We should have the kind of relationships where we are close enough to know what is going on in each other's lives. When we see our brother or sister sinning we should care enough to come alongside and give loving confrontation. It is interesting how sin is described like a trap or perhaps how the victim is likened to the prey of a ferocious animal. We should have pity and compassion for one caught by sin. 2 Timothy 2:24-26 describes someone who opposes the truth as having been caught by Satan to do his will and needing God to grant them repentance so that they will come to their senses. We are commanded to gently instruct such a one.

There are exhortations for every one of us in Gal 6:1. Besides being commanded to be brotherly in this way we recognize that we need to be spiritual. According to the context I believe that means we need to be walking in, led by, and living by the Spirit so that we too do not fulfill the desires of the flesh, but rather produce the fruit of the Spirit which fulfills the law of love. We have to humbly look at our own lives and deal with our own sin.

With these concepts of gentleness, love, humility, and prayer we can approach our brothers and sisters as family and perhaps they will be restored so that one day they can restore us. If not, then Christ has wisely designed a loving church restoration process in Matt 18:15-17. I pray that Jennifer Knapp has such people in her life.