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Posts Tagged ‘Matt Chandler’

Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need. (Heb. 4:16)

I recently watched a sermon by Matt Chandler that has caught me in some interesting tensions.  In his sermon, Chandler offers a “test” by which one can know that they have really grasped the Gospel (my words, not his; and to be fair, the following loosely paraphrases his point, which was not the main point of his message).  The test boils down to this:  Do you approach God any differently on a good day versus a bad day?

Consider the bad day:  You wake in the morning with a complaining, ungrateful heart, skip your morning devotions, back slide into one of your recurring sin patterns, wimp out when you feel like you should share with the stranger sitting next to you on the bus, and short change your family in favor of watching the Bruins game, eventually falling asleep discouraged and convicted by your sin.  In every regard, you blow it.  Now, consider the good day:  Your morning is marked by a powerful encounter with God through His Word, you meet a friend in need and bring them encouragement and truth to help them through their hard time, you lead that stranger on the bus to Christ and plan to meet them at church that week, and you skip the Bruins game to finish your translation work for the sermon series in Hebrews, but only after you’ve spent another hour in deep, soul-satisfying prayer, and have given a month’s pay to a missionary couple heading to Bhutan.  In every regard, you “nail it” (to use Chandler’s language).

After either of these days, do you approach the Lord in prayer with any more or less confidence that He hears you?  Loves you?  Delights in you?  The short way of presenting this “test” might be: “How does your performance affect your posture to God?”  If you get the Gospel, Chandler says, it doesn’t.  You know that it is not by your righteousness that you have God’s ear, but by Christ’s, and you know that your righteous works “are as filthy rags” anyway, so on either day, you are equally confident and aware of God’s love, acceptance and attention.

On the surface, I like this “test.”   I think it illustrates the point of being saved by grace through faith quite clearly.  While I do take it as a mere illustration (i.e., not a systematic, precise, delicately nuanced description of our lives in Christ), it leaves me dealing with all sorts of tensions, some of which are quite  illuminating.  To throw out two:

(1)  Confidence and humility.  While we may approach God with confidence (on the basis of what Jesus has done for us), scripture testifies that we must also do so humbly (e.g., Lk.18:9-14, 1 Pet. 5:6, and about a million other places).  I think this is a tension for me because I’m not used to being confident without being prideful, or at best, confidence is often the slippery slope that leads me to pride.  Perhaps the reason here is that my confidence is often misplaced.  After all, one usually has a basis for one’s confidence.  Mine too often falls on my own ability or performance.  Don’t blink, because we’re right back at the Gospel again:  It’s about Jesus; who He is and what He’s done, not me.

(2)  Pleasure and displeasure.  Certainly God does not delight in my sin.  Yet, even though I still sin, in Christ, I’m white as snow.  So God takes pleasure in me as I’m in Christ, yet displeasure when I sin (which is quite often).  This tension can probably be filed in the (bulging) “already/not yet” folder, but for now it leaves me in an interesting place:  Do I not feel guilt and shame when I sin?  Am I not overjoyed when I experience victory over my sin?  So how could my good and bad days look the same with respect to my posture towards God?  Here, I think my tendency is to confuse emotions with reality.  I can feel ashamed and guilty as I approach God on my bad day, yet I remember that in reality I’m free of all guilt and shame.  I can feel joyous on my good day, yet I remember that in reality I’ve nothing good in myself; it’s all thanks to God.

Here are two examples of how the gospel changes everything.  To point (1), Confidence and humility can co-exist because the confidence is placed in someone other than ourselves.  For point (2), our standing before God doesn’t require us to trivialize sin, nor does it require us to exalt ourselves.   We can be simultaneously sorrowful (“I’m a sinner!  Forgive me!”) and joyful (“Praise be to God that I’m forgiven!”), or, joyful (“I spent my entire day helping the poor!”) and humble (“Thank you God for giving me a heart for the poor!”)

In all, I’d say Chandler’s “test” probably does require plenty of explanation and refining if we want to carry it beyond illustrative purposes; It’s certainly not meant to answer the question of one’s personal salvation (i.e., “I failed the test!  I must not be saved!”).  But as a point of meditation, or a question to ask yourself, it can be helpful, revealing, convicting and encouraging all at once, much like the Gospel itself.

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Whenever I encounter a new (to me) interpretation of a familiar passage of Scripture, I’m generally skeptical of its validity.  I hope that this reticence is due less to my arrogance and more to my understanding that “there is nothing new under the sun.”  That doesn’t mean I’m not open to hearing it out, because something may be new to me but not actually new, but I’ve studied enough to know that novel ideas are generally bad ideas when it comes to biblical interpretation.

But when my friend Lacey came up to me some time ago and mentioned a new take on Luke 21:1-4 that she had heard in a Matt Chandler sermon (date: 8/9/09), I’ll admit I was intrigued.  Let me give you the verses (TNIV):

As Jesus looked up, he saw the rich putting their gifts into the temple treasury.  He also saw a poor widow put in two very small copper coins, “Truly I tell you, ” he said, “this poor widow has put in more than all the others.  All these people gave their gifts out of their wealth; but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.”

These verses are generally taken as praising the woman for her sacrificial giving.  If you’ve been in church long enough, you’ve heard it preached that way quite a few times.  I’d venture to guess that many a building campaigns have been helped by preaching this passage.

Chandler, however, offered a different take on it.  Rather than praising the widow for her giving, Jesus was actually lamenting that she gave (note: the word “praise” doesn’t show up here).  If you read the passages immediately before and after this one, you’ll see that Jesus denounces the teachers of the law in part because “they devour widows’ houses and for a show make lengthy prayers” (20:47) and then goes on to predict the destruction of the Temple in chapter 21- the same Temple the woman was supporting with her offering.  Chandler argues that given the surrounding context, Jesus couldn’t have been praising the woman for giving her money to the very Temple he was denouncing.  Instead, he was lamenting.  I don’t remember if Chandler specified if Jesus was upset at her or upset at the Temple authorities for bilking this woman out of what little money she had, though my guess is the latter.

Chandler likens this passage to the televangelists who guilt old ladies into giving up their retirement checks to fund their lavish lifestyle- surely a practice Jesus detests.  (Side note: whether or not his exegesis is right, I’m loving Chandler’s hermeneutics here.)

What do I make of this?  To be honest, I’m not sure.  I’m a huge fan of reading passages in light of the surrounding context.  You can see an earlier post here of how I think the biblical writers can use narrative to make their point rather than stating things explicitly.  So Chandler has that going for him here.  But, I think literary context could possibly work the other way, too.  Is it possible that what we have here is actually a juxtaposition (one of my favorite words in studying the Bible, by the way)?  Is it possible that Jesus is purposely contrasting the widow’s sacrificial life with the greed of the teachers of the law?

Let me address a couple other points Chandler uses in his favor.  One, he states that in Luke’s gospel, when Jesus commends someone for a righteous act, he follows it up with a statement like “go and do likewise” or something along those lines (see the Good Samaritan).  Such a statement is missing here, which Chandler claims works in favor of his interpretation.  However, that isn’t entirely true.  The story of Zacchaeus (Luke 19:1-10) is one example where Jesus praises someone’s action without telling others to do the same.

Two, while it’s true that Jesus declares the impending destruction of the Temple, he also commanded a man healed of leprosy to go tell the priest and make the proper sacrifices (5:14).  As far as the widow is concerned, the Temple is the place where the righteous go and worship.  The Temple had not been destroyed; Jesus had not died and risen from the dead.  Shoot- even Paul went to the Temple and even intended to make an offering (before he was arrested) in Acts 21:26.

After listening to the sermon I popped open some commentaries to see what they had to say.  I only own 1 Luke commentary, but I own a few on Mark, who records this same story in Mark 12:41-44 along with the same surrounding passages.  None of the commentators took the interpretation that Chandler did.  That doesn’t mean he’s wrong, of course, because commentators are capable of rehashing traditional but wrong exegesis, perhaps especially prone in a case like this where the interpretation seems “obvious”.  It does make me wonder what sources Chandler used, though (side note: I’d love it if pastors shared this kind of information once in a while; I wonder if he ever has).

So, I’m not convinced.   Yet.  I’ll admit that Chandler has successfully convinced me that his interpretation is possible, if not plausible.  The immediate context does lend him support, though as I noted above I think it could (perhaps not ‘should’) be understood differently.  I’d be very interested to hear what others have to say about this, so feel free to leave any comments you might have.  I may very well be missing something that a different set of eyes might pick up.

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I just finished listening to Matt Chandler’s sermon from the 2009 Desiring God Conference (you can download the sermon here).  I found his story of how he ended up pastoring The Village Church in Dallas funny and fascinating, particularly his transformation from anger towards evangelicals to pastoring a church in the middle of the evangelical Bible belt.  I found this quote to be particularly powerful:

In December of 2002, despite my anger towards evangelicals, I became the pastor of a church of evangelicals in what Christianity Today called ‘the center of the evangelical world’.  And despite the fact that my heart had always burned for the prodigal, God sent me to the older brother.  … And I’ll tell you when all of it hit heavy on my heart is sitting in those testimony videos, sitting in those baptism services, and who I had seen to be my enemy and be an enemy of the gospel, had actually been a casualty of religion.

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