This is the week…please pray!

Hey all,

Terry Glaspey, the Acquisitions Editor at Harvest House, is planning to present my proposal the publication committee this week, so I should know very soon if Harvest will offer to publish “Radically Normal.” He reiterated that if they pass, he will help me find another publisher.

Please pray that God guide them and his will be done!

Josh

Wishing you a merry Radically Normal Christmas!

I am convinced that one of the most important ways to have a Biblical, God-honoring Christmas is to have a lot of fun. [1]

Really. Stick with me for while I explain.

On one hand, it is normal (as in “the ‘normal’ tendency to undervalue God”) for Christmas to be all about celebrating: Food, drink, presents, more drinks, and a staggering credit card to show for it.

On the other hand, it is radical (as in the “‘radical” tendency to undervalue this life”) to make Christmas only about Jesus. Am I the only Christian who gets nervous every time I hear someone say “Let’s put Christ back in Christmas”? I worry that “they” won’t be happy until Christmas is nothing but Christ.

In contrast to that, it is radically normal for Christmas to so thoroughly intertwine celebration and Jesus that we don’t know where one ends and the other begins. Nor do we care.

Buried in all of the OT laws about what not to eat and how to deal with mildew in your house are instructions on how to have a great party. For instance:

And Nehemiah, who was the governor, and Ezra the priest and scribe, and the Levites who taught the people said to all the people, “This day is holy to the LORD your God; do not mourn or weep.” For all the people wept as they heard the words of the Law. Then he said to them, “Go your way. Eat the fat and drink sweet wine and send portions to anyone who has nothing ready, for this day is holy to our Lord. And do not be grieved, for the joy of the LORD is your strength.” (Nehemiah 8:9-10 ESV)

“This is holy day,” God says, “so have a great time! Have some prime rib, break out the port!” This theme is repeated again and again: Festival after festival, holy day after holy day, are filled with celebration. We have 10 legal holiday and 4 non-legal ones; Israel had 28. It makes one wonder, why does God command so many parties?

First, who doesn’t want their kids to have fun? The best part of parenting is not making them do their chores or disciplining them. It is when those things are done and we get to play with them or watch them play with each other.

Second, the festivals were designed to associate joy with God. Because joy comes from God, happiness, in its own right, is God-honoring and has the power to draw us to God. This is how I see it: God knows that we cannot fathom the eternal joy of himself, so he gives us earthly joy not as a substitute, but as sample. A good Christmas celebration will be a good sample of joy in God.

Sadly, most people think that God is dull and Satan fun, but a good radically normal Christmas will dispel that notion.

It is a damnable heresy that removes tangible joy from our faith. In our day and age, Satan has led more people astray with this nonsense than better defended doctrines. If people don’t find it in God and his channels, they will go elsewhere.

There is a lot more to be said about this subject (in fact I will be preaching about it on Sunday), but I say all this wish you a truly merry Christmas!

 


[1] This is an abbreviated version of my Christmas sermon: http://bit.ly/tgmv181

Book update

Has it really been a month since my last post? My goal is bi-weekly, but life happens, doesn’t it?

In this case, life has included being a pastor, making a lot of lattes, enjoying being husband and father more than I ever have, AND working on Radically Normal (I have dropped “The” and “Christian” from the title, made it too long). I am just about done preaching through the main ideas of the book , which has forced me to keep the material more practical than theoretical.

You can read or listen to the sermons on my church’s website: www.tgcconline.com.

Along with that, I have been working on a book proposal and learning about the industry. Turns out, publishers and agents don’t really want to be sent completed manuscripts, they want a proposal, which provides them with the gist of the book as well as some sample chapters.

So here is the current plan: I am taking two weeks of vacation (from the church, not Starbucks) at the end of the year to complete the book proposal, then I will start looking for an agent. At the same time, I will also work on building my “platform,” getting my name out there in the internet world.

If you have any connections or suggestions in this process, I am all ears!

Josh

What the Bible REALLY says about alcohol…

When my book is published, I am fairly certain that the chapter “Drinking to the glory of God” will be the most controversial. It may be what requires me to self-publish! But I also believe it will be one of the most important because so little Biblically sound things have been written on the topic. That is my opinion of course, but I wrote this little post to show the Biblical research I have done on the Bible’s attitude on alcohol, in its own words.

The Study Itself

I began by doing a search on every place where the words beer and wine (and any other synonym I could find for alcohol) occured. I ended up with 215 verses. I then notated each verse. The main thing I looked at was the Bible’s basic attitude (“Biblical Stance”) towards it, using a scale from 2 to -2. Obviously this was slightly subjective, but I think I applied it fairly.

  • 2: Clearly positive view of alcohol. Includes when it is described as a blessing from God (Deut. 7:13), its removal marks a removal of God’s blessings (Deut. 28:39) or it is given as a sacrifice for God – if God approves of it, it must be pretty good (Exo. 29:40).
  • 1: Neutral but somewhat positive view of it (Gen 14:18).
  • 0: Neutral or “Not Applicable.” Includes when it is used as an analogy for something else (Gen. 49:12).
  • -1 Neutral but somewhat negative view of it (Gen 39:32ff) or when it is part of a Nazarite vow, hence it is fasted from for a period of time (Num. 6:3).
  • -2 Clearly negative view of alcohol (Prov. 20:9). By and large this is when is being misused (more on that later).

At the same time, I also looked at some other elements of interest (labeled “2nd Data” for lack of a better title):

  • A: Used as an allegory or in a non-literal sense (37x).
  • B: Seen as a blessing from God (25x).
  • BR: Shown as an example of a blessing of God’s removed (13x).
  • S: Given as a sacrifice to God (22x).
  • D: Drunkenness or actions directly related to (23x).

Finally, I noted whether the issue was alcohol itself or misuse thereof (“Misuse” this was notated with a “0” for “no” and a “1” for “yes”). This assumed that is was possible to use alcohol properly, but given that God himself directed its use (such as with his sacrifice), that seemed a safe assumption.

Conclusions

In order to get a true sense of what the Bible thinks about alcohol itself, I decided I needed to remove the places where it was being used as an analogy for something else and the places where it is being misused (drunkenness, for instance is something the Bible clearly condemns; there is no need to research that). That left 135 references, which broke down thus:

  • Clearly positive (2): 65x (48%)
  • Neutral, but positive (1): 27x (20%)
  • Neutral (0): 21x (16%)
  • Neutral, but negative (-1): 18x (13%)
  • Clearly negative (-2): 4x (3%)

These results, as well as having studied all of these passages and the specific nature of the -1 and -2’s leads me to this conclusion: The Bible is overwhelmingly positive about alcohol when it is used as intended. Or as I say in my sermon:

“It is radically normal to view alcohol as a blessing when used to God’s glory but a curse when misused.”

Of course that leads to the question “How can we drink to God’s glory?” For that, I encourage you to listen to the sermon, or else wait for the book to come out!

 

In case you are interested, here is the Beer and Wine Study. If you don’t have Excel, you can download a viewer from Microsoft here. This is a rough draft so I apologize for the spelling and grammatical errors.

About my upcoming book, “The Radically Normal Christian: God Shouldn’t Be Your Only Happiness”

Growing up in the church, many of us had an impression that if we were really spiritual, we would be perfectly happy celebrating Christmas simply reading the Nativity story in an undecorated room – no tree, gifts, or special dinner (shouldn’t that money be given to the poor anyway?). [1]

This is unmitigated nonsense. It’s driven by (among other things) an appalling ignorance of the normal, godly life promoted in the Old Testament. In this book I attempt to correct the modern (and by modern, I mean “for the past 1,800 years”) Christian tendency to undervalue the things of this life and the happiness God planned for us to enjoy here. At the same time, I remind us that God is the source of joy and any attempt to find complete happiness here will ultimately be unsatisfying.

I talk about being “radically normal” because, speaking broadly, Christians can be divided into two groups, Stoic Christians and Indulgent Christians:

Indulgent Christian tend to appear worldly, caring more about being happy now than pleasing God.

Stoic Christians tend to appear very spiritual, placing their emphasis on God, heaven, and spiritual happiness.

Indulgent Christians look very normal to the rest of the world.

Stoic Christians look very radical and for that reason Indulgent Christians tend to idealize them, even though they don’t have any real intentions of being one of them.

The difference between Stoic and Indulgent and between Radical and Normal largely comes down to the question, “What makes you happy?” Is your happiness in eternal things or temporary things? But that is not an either/or question; neither Stoic nor Indulgent Christianity is Biblical.

Without realizing it, we have allowed our ideas of mature Christianity to be more influenced by Greek philosophy than Biblical perspectives.[2] For instance, the church began to devalue sex early on; it was just so physical, too close to ungodly lusts. By the 4th century, St. Augustine spoke highly of married couples who practiced abstinence within marriage (“True love waits, and waits, and waits…”). Believe it or not, the medieval church basically said it was okay to have sex with your wife, but not okay to want to have sex with her.[3]

We scoff at this view of sex, and rightly so, because all of that is clearly unbiblical: Compare it to the Song of Solomon which unashamedly delights in sexual desire. Fortunately, the modern church is correcting its low view of sex. But here is the question of the hour: What other God-given earthly joys do we still undervalue or even forbid?  A good meal? A glass of wine? A competitive football game? A relaxing vacation?

I don’t want us to adopt the indulgent values of our world, nor do I want us to be so stoic that we can’t enjoy God’s good gifts nor relate to the world around us. Instead, I believe the Bible calls us to be Radically Normal. We look normal, yet scratch below the surface and we are radical:

We enjoy possessions and the things of this life, yet they do not posses us.

Food and drink bring real joy, yet we don’t use them to fill a void.

We excel at our jobs and are ambitious, yet they are not our identity.

Our family and friends are central parts of our life, yet they stand in distant second to our loyalty to God.

Ever the preacher at heart, my book won’t float in the theological stratosphere, it is deeply practical. The core of the book is five key principles which I explore in the context of the everyday things of life (such as owning stuff, being weird for Jesus, our entertainment, and having a “secular” job). The principles are:

  1. God wants us to be (mostly) normal.
  2. The Old Testament tends to addresses temporal, earthly things and the New Testament eternal, spiritual things. If we don’t read them both, our faith will be unbalanced.
  3. God wants us to enjoy this life as much as possible without being distracted from him and the next life.
  4. God’s commands are meant to lead to joy, not misery.
  5. This world is temporary but not meaningless. God will renew creation, not destroy it, so what we do here matters.

It is my hope that when my book is completed, it will profoundly change how you look at this life and the next, and that you will be left deeply enjoying both more. In the end, The Radically Normal Christian will be a guide to deep and lasting happiness.


[1] Granted I’ve never heard this taught by anyone per se, yet whenever I give this example I see many knowing nods. Why? Because we were taught that the more spiritual and less materialistic Christmas was, the better. This is true, to an extent, but we were never given a “cap.” When was Christmas spiritual enough? It must be (I reasoned) when all unspiritual things were removed.

[2] We don’t realize how deeply our faith has been influenced by the Early Church Fathers, for good and bad. The Fathers were in turn deeply influenced by Greek philosophy, specifically Neo-Platonism. In contrast with the profound earthiness of the Bible, especially the Old Testament, Neo-Platonism devalued this world as a shadow and overemphasized the next as real.

[3] Case-in-point: In the Canterbury Tales, the pious wife all but apologizes for having sex with her husband, but the adulterous couple has a great time. If you want some light bedtime reading, the Word Biblical Commentary’s “Song of Songs” edition has some great material on the church’s view of sex up until the modern era.

What is “radically normal”?

Radically normal – what does that mean? It’s an idea that has been stewing in my head for a little while.

My mother tells me that when I was three I said the “sinner’s prayer” at a puppet show. I don’t remember that but as long as I can remember, I was a Christian. Not in the “I am a Christian because my parents are” sense; I decided from a young age that my life was going to be all about radically following Jesus. I was motivated by a quote that also inspired D. L. Moody “The world has yet to see what God can do with a man fully consecrated to him. By God’s help, I aim to be that man.” It was like a challenge – I too would be that man (I don’t think my motives were quite as pure as Moody’s, but that’s a different story).

One thing worried me though: The examples I saw of “radical Christians” were (there is no other word for it) weird. It was like social awkwardness was a hallmark of genuine devotion to Jesus. One man (who I will call Jim) stands out in my memory. He as a street preacher and always talked about God. Always. “How are you?” would be answered with “Blessed.” In my preteen days, Jim became my ideal of the radical Christianity I was striving for, so I did jail ministry and street preaching with him. Frankly, I did not enjoy my time with Jim but I thought that was because I wasn’t spiritual enough. Somehow or another Jim faded out of my life (I think we moved), but internal struggled continued: I want to be a radical Christian, so (I thought) I’d have to be more like Jim, no matter how much I don’t like it. I just hoped I’d enjoy it more when I got there.

A couple of years later I heard that Jim had left his wife and several children and run off with another woman. Call me a bad person, but in a strange way I was relieved by the news. Yes, I felt bad for his family, but this was the first indication that “hyper-spirituality” (what useful phrase!) was not necessarily a good indicator of godliness. Fifteen years of pastoral ministry has taught me that it’s actually a really bad sign. The net result was that I no longer thought that radically Christianity required weirdness, but I still didn’t know what it looked like.

For the past several years, I have been coming to the conclusion that a life radically devoted to God looks surprisingly normal from outside, yet scratch the surface and you find a life that is radically different in its motives, foundations, and what empowers it.

In this blog I hope to explore that idea a bit, in addiction the reading notes for The Gathering’s journey through the Bible.

One more thing: I would love to have you “Like” my Facebook page for “Radically Normal” http://on.fb.me/radnorm or follow it on Twitter @radicallynormal.