Subtraction stories

13 Jul

“…if someone tells you that he or she has converted to unbelief because of science, don’t believe them. Because what’s usually captured the person is not scientific evidence per se, but the form of science: ‘Even where the conclusions of science seem to be doing the work of conversion, it is very often not the detailed findings so much as the form.’ Indeed, the ‘appeal of scientific materialism is not so much the cogency of its detailed findings as that of the underlying epistemological stance, and that for ethical reasons. It is seen as the stance of maturity, of courage, of manliness, over against childish fears and sentimentality.’ But you can also understand how on the retelling, the convert to unbelief will want to give the impression that it was scientific evidence that was doing the work. Converts to unbelief always tell subtraction stories.

And the belief such persons have converted from has usually been an immature, Sunday schoolish faith that could easily be toppled. So while such converts to unbelief tell themselves stories about ‘growing up’ and ‘facing reality’ – and thus paint belief as essentially immature and childish – their ‘testimony’ betrays the simplistic shape of the faith they’ve abandoned. ‘If our faith has remained at the stage of the immature images, then the story that materialism equals maturity can seem plausible.’ But in fact their conversion to unbelief was also conversion to a new faith…”

James K.A. Smith, How (Not) To Be Secular, p.76,77.

Sin and the local church, part 3

12 Jul

In Matthew 18, Jesus gives us some steps which we must follow as church members when we personally know another member of the church is disobeying God’s Word and isn’t doing anything about it.

In this post, we’ll just look at step number one.

You go to him, and tell him his fault, between you and him alone.

The whole verse,

“If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother.”

Now you can see obviously the goal is to gain your brother.  If we think back to the story of the sheep who wanders, the goal is not to go find that sheep, and then make fun of it for leaving the flock, or just to like beat it up, and leave it there, lost.

The goal is to get the sheep back where it’s supposed to be.

And that’s got be driving us, to even talk to other believers about their sin.

Before we go, we’ve got to be, why do I want to even do this? What am I hoping to get out of this? Because honestly sometimes what we want to get out of it for that other person to acknowledge that we are awesome and they are not.

We want humiliation.

We want pay back.

And given the way God loves that other believer, we don’t have a right to that.

At all.

It’s got to be a sincere desire for that person’s good that drives us. And really, that’s why we do it the way Jesus says here and go alone.

In other words, if someone sins you don’t go and talk to a million different people about it. Did you see what he did? Let me tell you about what kind of sinner he is. Instead, you want to keep the knowledge of that person’s sin as small as possible.

You don’t want everybody knowing about it.

Because you love them, you want to actually protect his reputation, not damage it.

And maybe I can say, so you can get a feel for how important this is, if you have ever been confronted about your sin, you know how hard it is to believe that the person who is confronting you, loves you.

It is weird.

But when someone comes and tells you you are sinning against them, there’s something in most of us, that’s like, hey, this person must really hate me.

And that’s crazy.

Can I say that’s crazy?

If someone confronts you and you automatically say they told me this because they hate me, that’s crazy, because confronting someone like this, is a demonstration of love.

But still, that’s the way we are.

So often.

Which means if you are going to someone and you know they are most likely going to be tempted to think you don’t love them, because you are talking to them about their sin, you want to do whatever you can to prove to them that it has nothing to do with you not liking them, or anything silly like that and it’s going to be very hard for you to prove that if they know that before you came to them to talk to them about their sin, you told all kinds of other people about what they did.


You know your brother’s sinned.

And you’ve examined your own heart, you are clear on what the Scripture teaches, then it’s your responsibility to pray, and to go.

To them.


And tell him his fault.

Not talking about with all kinds of other people first.

Jesus says.

Now you’ll notice, Jesus doesn’t add a lot of commentary about how you do that. He just says do that.

Open your mouth and show them what they have done wrong.

That’s what he says.

But maybe we can throw in some other passages of Scripture to help us know how you do that. The big one from Galatians 6, again, which says, you have to go and tell him his fault in a spirit of gentleness.

And another, Ephesians 4, says speak the truth in love.

Which means.

It’s more than just going and saying the right thing, you also need to say it with the right attitude, and that can be hard when you are talking to someone else about their sin. So don’t just go in there, with your fingers pointing and your mouth rolling, instead, you know, make it your goal to talk to this person about their sin in a way that makes it clear.

A couple things.



You don’t think you are better than them.

The way you speak.

They should know you know you are a sinner.

Saved by grace.



That your authority is not you and your preferences but the Word of God.

This is not you trying to impose your will on them.

This is about what God wants.

You should almost be able to just read a verse and show them your concern, and they should be able to understand how it connects to their lives, from a simple explanation of what the text means.


It should be clear.

You love them.

And if they are going to know that.

You actually have to tell them.

Even with Paul when he was talking to people who he knew were a mess, if they were believers, he would find a million different ways to encourage them, and when your confronting someone about their sin, you need to find specific ways to express with your mouth how for them, you actually are.

It’s not just about their sin.

It’s that.

You really truly want their best.

And then four.


You understand it’s hard for sin to be pointed out.


I think sometimes we are unrealistic. You know how it is when someone confronts you and you are sinning. If you are not expecting it. It usually hits you by surprise and your first instinct is to defend yourself.

Now, that’s not a good instinct.

We shouldn’t do that.

If someone confronts us, we should want to listen and learn. But, that’s incredibly hard for most of us, and so if you go in there and you talk to someone about their sin, and the first time you do that they don’t seem to be listening, they are mostly defending themselves, while that’s disappointing, you should be careful not to give up on them, right away.


Be patient and give them some time to process. And then, maybe go back and hear how they think.

A great way to go about it.


Is to begin by laying out your concerns and asking if you are understanding things correctly, like, is this right, what do you think, because you might actually be misunderstanding what is going on and since you are talking to another believer, who has the Holy Spirit, you want to at least give them the opportunity to help you understand a little better how they are thinking.



No matter how sure you are about the problem you think you are seeing in that other person’s life.

You still could be wrong, and you are going to make it hard for them to listen, if they don’t see that you are at least aware of that.

And I mean.

That’s the goal.

Not just for you to say what you want to say.


For them to actually listen.

And if it’s clear they have sinned, I think listen means, that they actually repent. That’s why you are talking to them.


They see it as sin, they recognize that it is serious, and they acknowledge with their mouths that they have sinned, they ask for forgiveness from you and from God, and from anyone else they’ve sinned against, and that you help them, think about how they can change their behavior.

That’s what it means to have gained your brother.

And at that point.

If they respond like that.

It’s pretty much done.

I guess, if it’s a life-dominating kind of sin, and it seems like one that would be difficult to overcome without some help, you might encourage them to get some counseling or something, but besides, that, it’s over, the process ends.

But if they don’t listen to you.

Jesus goes on.

The process continues.

You are not done, if they are defending themselves and making excuses.

Sometimes, obviously, you’ll go and speak to someone about a sin, and they’ll flat out deny that it ever happened.


That’s honestly.


But I think if someone’s unwilling to admit they even done what you are talking about, your responsibility is to warn them and to wait, because there is not much more you can do than that.

If you think they are lying.

It’s hard to do much more than talk to them, pray, continue to love them, and trust that the truth will come out.

But, the person, though, who acknowledges they’ve done what you said, and yet, they are minimizing it, and making excuses, and getting angry at you, and maybe even threatening you because you brought it up.

That is the person you have to continue to pursue.



Reasonable Faith

7 Jul

It takes a lot of faith to believe you have the ability to figure out what is true based solely on your own personal evaluation of the evidence.

In other words, if someone acts like some people take things by faith and others don’t, they aren’t really being honest. While there are many definitions of faith, one simple definition, is taking something as true on the basis of the testimony of others, and the fact is, we all do that and we do that all the time.

The question is not whether we rely not the testimony of others, the question is, whose testimony are we willing to trust?


Sin and the local church, part 2

7 Jul



What do we do when someone in the church sins?

I guess, it would be easy if we were unbelievers. We could just ignore them or we might attack them.

But we are not.

We know sin is too serious for us to ignore and believers are too dearly loved by God to attack.

Which is why Jesus lays down a four step process for us to follow in Matthew 18.

He says, “If your brother sins against you.”

This is the context.

Notice, Jesus says.


So, he’s talking about someone who is a believer.

Obviously, unbelievers are going to sin against you. You should expect that. But this basic process Jesus’ is explaining isn’t so much applying to those relationships, which is part of why we have church membership, again, because it just makes this easier, because we are like, is this person a Christian. They’ve been recognized as a brother or sister by the church. So this is now what, I need to do.

Second, he says.


That tells us he’s not talking about preference either, which unfortunately, this is what most of us get most upset about.

When people do things we don’t like.

It’s not because we opened our Bibles and found a verse that says what they are doing is disobedient to God or anything but just because, they are doing things differently than us. We are like that person didn’t smile when they greeted me and that’s so rude so I need to do Matthew 18.


This process that Jesus is telling us here isn’t for stuff like that.

It is for actual violations of God’s law, and you know, if you are going to follow this process here, you better be able to put your finger right on a verse, in the Bible, and be able to explain how what’s happening in disobedience to that.

That’s a place to start when you think someone sins against you.

Otherwise you know what.

Get over it.

Because, that’s how you should respond to stuff people do, that isn’t sin.

Some of us are so judgmental, and so we are so sure, that we know how everyone is supposed to act, and why they do what they do, and it’s just pride, and so if they don’t measure up to our standard, we are like, their judge, jury, and executioner, and I am saying, that’s now how love acts.

If I love you.

I am going to be willing to have you step on my toes, you know.

And maybe after a while, if you keep stepping on my toes, I will say, hey, you know, that’s not my favorite, you stepping on my toes like that, but if you keep doing it anyway, and it’s not really a violation of anything in God’s Word anywhere.

It’s just you being you.

I put up with it.

I maybe get shoes with steel toes, you know.

But that’s the way love acts, when it comes to personal preferences.

It suffers long.

This process Jesus is giving is about how you respond when another person who is a believer actually clearly and objectively disobeys God’s Word. Not just bothers you.

A little.

And I might even add, I think what Jesus is talking about mostly, is stuff we can see outwardly.

With our eyes.

If I think you said something that to me sounds like you were being proud, I might come to you, and lovingly ask you, are you struggling with being proud, but ultimately, if you say, no, I don’t think so, that’s pretty much where it has to end, except for maybe prayer because I can’t see into your heart.

I am not God.

I can’t read your motives.

And so, if someone if I am going to pursue this process, Jesus is laying out, and go to someone to confront them, and they ask me, what did they do that was wrong.

I can’t just say, I feel like you were maybe a little bit unkind.


This is not for stuff you feel.

This whole process is for actual, outward, we can all agree, violations of God’s standard.

Laid out in this book.

The Bible.

Then third.

Jesus says against you.

“If your brother sins against you.”

And I am just trying to set the stage, so we can look at what to do. But the against you can maybe throw us off, a bit.

Because, maybe, we might wonder, does that, mean that if someone in the church is in a pattern of sin and we know it, but their sin is not directly against us, that Jesus is saying, we don’t have to do anything about it?


Say you know they are committing adultery.

And you are like, well, I am not their wife. So, it’s not technically, against me.

Does that mean, I can just let it go?

It doesn’t.


For one thing.

Galatians 6.

This isn’t the only passage about confronting sin. And Galatians is pretty clear. “Brothers, if anyone is caught in a transgression,” not just a transgression against us, here, he says, just caught in a transgression, “you who are spiritual, (or spirit-filled) should restore him in a spirit of gentleness.”

Which means, if someone is stuck in a sin that we know about and they are part of this church.

We have a responsibility.

But actually, I think even Matthew 18 assumes that as well. There’s more than one way for someone to sin against us.

One way someone can sin against us is pretty obvious, they just step up and slap us in the face or lie to us, or something like that, but there’s another way someone can sin against us, as well.

It is more indirect.

As a church, we are a family. In other words, we are connected.

And so what happens do you think, if someone is a member of this church, and they are going out night after night, and getting absolutely drop dead, drunk?

It impacts us.

We go out as a church, to witness, and what do people who know him, say?

They say why would I listen to the gospel you guys are preaching, when this person who is part of your church is spending most of his life, wasted?

I don’t want anything to do with that.

And so, in a sense, their sin, even though, it’s not directly against us, they are not thinking how do I sin against this guy, I’ll get drunk, but it’s still against us.

It impact us.

And, as a result, we have a responsibility to do something about it, as members of this church, if we know about it.

“If your brother sins against you.”

Maybe, actually, the way the against you here does help us, is that it tells us Jesus is talking about sins, that are basically private.


This process is not so much for sins that are done out there in the open.

If someone is sinning in a way that is so obvious that the whole church knows about it, while some of the principles here, might apply, the basic process is going to look a little bit different.


The four steps Jesus gives us which we’ll begin to look at in the next post are intended to help us know what to do as church members when we personally know that another member of the church is disobeying God’s Word and isn’t doing anything about it.



Doubting one’s doubts

6 Jul

“Of course, to some degree, the war between belief and unbelief exists in microcosm inside every believer. We should remember, as Plantinga says, that ‘believers are constantly beset by doubts, disquietude, spiritual difficult, and turmoil…It never goes that well with us, and it often goes a good deal worse. There is an unbeliever within the breast of every Christian.’

Often however, the cause of our doubts isn’t what you might think. It isn’t necessarily the strength of the arguments that rattles us, but the way they resonate with the unbeliever in each of us (what the Bible calls the ‘old self…’) Yet more often than not, if we look closely at the atheist’s arguments, we find that there is little substance. Seeing this can change the argument’s frequency and therefore break its spell.”

Mitch Stokes, “A Shot of Faith to the Head”

The ultimate stamp of approval

27 Jun

If we have God’s stamp of approval, why do we long for the approval of men?

Certainly, it isn’t wrong to appreciate being appreciated but when we become so easily discouraged when we don’t seem to be receiving it, at least not as lavishly as we might like, something is most definitely not quite right.

After all, what more could we want than to have the Creator of the Universe, look at us, and say holy, blameless, above reproach? The angels draws might drop as they hear God express His love for us, and certainly our hearts should find assurance in this. If God is for us, who can be against us? And He’s proven how for us He is, by sending His Son to die in our place.

Let’s honor Him by appreciating that even more than we appreciate being appreciated by men.



Being Loved

21 Jun

Being loved.

Is there anything better than knowing you are truly loved?

As believers, we are not just loved by anyone, however. We know we are loved by God Himself.

“In love,” Paul says, “He predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ.” (Eph.1:4b.)

To feel the force of that you might even say out loud, “I am loved by God from before the beginning of the universe.”

You can find other ways to say it as well, which might draw out the shock of it even more.

“The One who created everything I see has a deep affection for me.”


“The most important and powerful and good and wise and beautiful Being who has ever existed or who ever will exist, cares intensely for me.”

How do I know?

“He told me.”

“He proved it to me by giving me absolutely every spiritual good that He could give.”

“He chose me.”

“He is changing me.”

“He made me His child.”

“He united me to His Son.”

“He made the absolutely greatest sacrifice for me.”

“He forgave me.”

“He rescued me from the punishment I deserved.”

“He has revealed His most important secrets to me.”

“He has a plan that stretches on into forever for me.”

“He has promised an inheritance to me.”

“He has given His Spirit to me.”

“He has changed me.”

“He is presently working in me.”

“He has given a family to me.”

“He allows me to speak to Him at anytime and He listens to me.”

“He has raised up men to share the truth with me.”

“He is using me.”

“He has promised to show kindness towards me for all eternity.”


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