Monday, December 18, 2006

Treasure Christ this Christmas

A meditation on Micah 1:1-5a and Matthew 13:44.

I have seen bumper stickers and car magnets saying "Keep Christ in Christmas" all over the place. In fact, someone put one on our car without us knowing it. I have to confess...I took it off because I have never liked having any kind of bumper sticker or car magnet. That's not the point, and I'm not about to pull out a soap box on the whole "Merry Christmas vs. Happy Holidays" debate. I actually don't care for that debate...some people try to make you feel "less that Christian" if you with someone a happy holiday. "Keep Christ in Christmas," they might say. Well, as my grandmother (a.k.a. - Jo Jo) would say, "Jesus shouldn't just be celebrated one day a year. He's for every day." Amen, Jo Jo.

No, what I write today is a reminder that if we are to focus on Christ, let's not just remember him the way we remember fond Christmases gone by. Let's not just have him as part of Christmas the way we have trees and gifts and family meals. The incarnation of Christ as a baby is far too significant to just be part of a holiday tradition. So, don't just remember Christ or recognize Christ...treasure Christ this Christmas. Why? I'm glad you asked.

Why treasure Christ at Christmas?

(1) He is the God-man. Micah 5 indicates that the coming Messiah would be both God and man. We can see this in two places. First, the Messiah will be God according to verse 2b... "one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times." There is only One who can be described in this way. It is God Himself. God is eternal and existed before time, space, or any material thing was created. He alone could be described as the Ancient of days.

Second, the Messiah will be a man. In verse 3, Micah says that Israel will be abandoned "until the time when she who is in labor gives birth..." Isaiah says the same of the Messiah in his prophecy: "For unto us a child is born, to us a son is given" (9:6). From the garden, we can hear echoes of a coming Savior who would be a man, as God says that the seed of the woman (i.e.- a man) will crush the head of the serpent (Gen. 3:15).

This Messiah would be God. This Messiah would be a man. This Messiah would be the God-Man...Jesus Christ. "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God...The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us" (John 1:1, 14). Treasure Christ this Christmas because He is the God-Man promised in the Old Testament prophecy.

(2) He was born in a manger. That sounds strange, doesn't it? Treasure Christ because He was born in a manger?!? Are you sure? A manger is such a low and humble place. In fact, Micah indicates that even the town was low and humble when he says, "Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me...[a] ruler" (v. 2). First of all, Bethlehem was such an inconspicuous town that it wasn't even listed when the tribe of Judah was given its land in Joshua 15. Saying the Messiah would come from Bethlehem would be like saying a Messiah would come from Iron City, TN. Iron City? you might think. Where's Iron City? Well, that's exactly the point. It's a town of about 700's no place for such a royal birth.

However, God seems to choose obscure people and places to accomplish His work. "But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise...the weak things of the world to shame the strong...the lowly things of the world and the despised that no one may boast before him" (1 Corinthians 1:27-29). John Piper says of this truth, "God chose a stable so no innkeeper could boast, 'He chose the comfort of my inn!' God chose a manger so that no woodworker could boast, 'He chose the craftsmanship of my bed!' He chose Bethlehem so no one could boast, 'The greatness of our city constrained the divine choice!'"

This same choice of God's is observable in salvation. God did not save me or you because of our great talents or because of our wondrous character. He chooses the foolish, weak, despised, sinful people of the world to display the great glory of His salvation. When you remember the manger, don't feel sorry for Mary and Joseph...rejoice that your life was a smelly, rotten, abandoned manger into which Jesus has been born. There was nothing about you that drew God to was His grace alone that drew you to Himself. Treasure Christ because He was born in a manger.

(3) He came with a mission. There are seven pieces of this mission that Micah points to. It is an eternal mission (v. 4 - "he will stand..."). The Scripture says elsewhere that the Lord will never leave you nor forsake you, but here Micah uses the word "stand". That word means that He will remain...stand fast. When life tosses you into disease and turmoil, Jesus will stand. When you feel like you can't go on, Jesus will stand. When you sin and fail in your walk with Christ, Jesus will stand.

It is a providing mission (v. 4 - "he will...shepherd his flock"). Feeding the flock was a main responsibility of the shepherd, and Jesus Christ is the good shepherd. He has laid down His life for the that you might live. He will not abandon you in your time of need. He will provide all that you need according to His glorious riches.

It is a consistent mission (v. 4 - "in the strength of the Lord" and "in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God"). People will let you down. Your spouse will let you down. Your pastor will let you down. People may be cold when you need warmth. Your spouse may forget something that was critical to remember. Your pastor may be unavailable at the moment you need him. Jesus will not do any of these. Our Messiah shepherds us in the strength of the Lord and in the majesty of His name. He will never forget you...He is near you when you are brokenhearted... He is never unavailable to those who cry out in faith to Him. He is our consistent Messiah.

It is a secure mission (v. 4 - "they will live securely"). When you belong to this Messiah, Jesus Christ, you are secure. You see, your salvation and eternal life are not based on your character. It is based on the character of God. Jesus says, "I shall lose none of all that [the Father] has given me" (John 6:39). He also says, "No one can snatch [My sheep] out of My Father's hand" (John 10:29). Salvation is not about a prayer prayed, a baptism observed, or a membership card filled is about our lives being saved from the miry pit of sin, death, and hell by a God who will in no way cast us out.

It is a worldwide mission (v. 4 - "for then his greatness will reach to the ends of the earth"). This Messiah would not be an Israeli king only. He would be the King over all kings. No matter their color or nation, He is the King over all. All kings...white, black, Asian, Hispanic, mixed race, American, German, Kenyan, Chinese, Korean, subject to the King of kings. All men, women, boys, and girls will either bow their knee in faith during this life, or they will bow their knee in condemnation in the life to come. This is why it is so critical that men and women are sharing the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ all over the world. This is why international missions is so critical. The Messiah's mission is's not a white America mission. It is an "every tribe, language, people, and nation" mission.

It is a peaceful mission (v.5 - "he will be their peace"). There is a political aspect to the peace about which Micah speaks. However, our Messiah brings us peace with God. "Therefore, having been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ" (Romans 5:1). As sinners, we are enemies of God, but through the glorious salvation of Christ, we have been reconciled to our God and now live at peace with Him.

Finally, it is a forgiveness mission (read 7:18-19). Forgiveness comes from God alone, even the Pharisees knew this. Jesus Christ came as the God-man to glorify our great God through the forgiveness and salvation of sinners. Who will be forgiven? Notice the word "remnant." All will not be forgiven...only a portion. How do you know who that portion is? Romans 5:1 tells us... "justified through faith." Only those that have been justified through faith in Christ live in a peaceful, forgiven relationship with God.

These seven things (and more) mark the grandeur of our Messiah's mission. It is an eternal, providing, consistent, secure, worldwide, peaceful mission of forgiveness.

So, treasure Christ this Christmas! Why? Because He is the God-man, He was born in a manger, and He came with an amazing seek and to save that which was lost.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Epistolary Evangelism

If you have been keeping up with recent posts, you noticed that I have mentioned Robert Murray McCheyne, a Scottish pastor who lived and ministered in the 19th century. After heart palpitations took him from the pulpit to the sickbed, McCheyne wrote letters to minister to his church, other pastors, friends, and even the lost. On March 20, 1840, McCheyne was burdened with someone mentioned as being in need of salvation. From his sickbed, he wrote this letter. I'll make at least one comment afterward. For now, just read his words to a stranger:

"I don't even know your name, but I think I know something of the state of your soul. Your friend has been with me, and told me a little of your mind; and I write a few lines just to bid you to look to Jesus and live. Look at Numbers 21:9, and you will see your disease and your remedy. You have been bitten by the great serpent. The poison of sin is through and through your whole heart, but Christ has been lifted up on the cross that you may look and live. Now, do not look so long and so harassingly at your own heart and feelings. What will you find there but the bite of the serpent? You were shapen in iniquity, and the whole of your natural life has been spent in sin. The more God opens your eyes, the more you will feel that you are lost in yourself. This is your disease.

"Now for the remedy. Look to Christ; for the glorious Son of God so loved lost souls, that He took on Him a body and died for us - bore our curse, and obeyed the law in our place. Look to Him and live. You need no preparation, you need no endeavors, you need no duties, you need no strivings, you need to look and live. Look at John 17:3. The way to be saved is to know God's heart and the heart of Jesus. To be awakened, you need to know your own heart. Look at your own heart, if you with to know your lost condition. See the pollution that is there - forgetfulness of God, deadness, insensibility to His love. If you are judged as you are in yourself, you will be lost. To be saved, you need to know the heart of God and of Christ. The four Gospels are a narrative of the heart of Christ. They show His compassion to sinners, and His glorious work in their stead. If you only knew that heart as it is, you would lay your weary head with John on His bosom. Do not take up your time so much with studying your own heart as with studying Christ's heart. 'For one look at yourself, take ten looks at Christ!'

"Look at Romans 15:13. That is my prayer for you. You are looking for peace in striving, or peace in duties, or peace in reforming your mind; but ah! look at His Word. 'The God of hope will you will all joy and peace in believing.' All your peace is to be found in believing God's Word about His Son. If for a moment you forget your own case altogether, and meditate on the glorious way of salvation by Christ for us, does your bosom never glow with a ray of peace? Keep that peace; it is joy in believing. Look as straight to Christ as you sometimes do at the rising or setting sun. Look direct to Christ.

"You fear that your convictions of sin have not been deep enough. This is no reason for keeping away from Christ. You will never get a truly broken heart till you are really in Christ. (See Ezek. 36:25-31.) Observe the order: First, God sprinkles clean water on the soul. Then He gives a 'new heart also.' Third, He gives a piercing remembrance of past sins. Now, may the Lord give you all these! May you be brought as you are to the blood of the Lamb! Washed and justified, may He change your heart - give you a tender heart, and His Holy Spirit within your heart; and thus may He give you a broken heart for your past sins.

"Look at Romans 5:19. By the sin of Adam, many were made sinners. We had no hand in Adam's sin, and yet the guilt of it comes upon us. We did not put out our hand to the apple, and yet the sin and misery have been laid at our door. In the same way, 'by the obedience of Christ, many were made righteous.' Christ is the glorious One who stood for many. His perfect garment is sufficient to cover you. You had no hand in His obedience. You were not alive when He came into the world and lived and died; and yet, in perfect obedience, you may stand before God righteous. This is all my covering in the sight of a holy God. I feel infinitely ungodly in myself; in God's eye, like a serpent or a toad; and yet, when I stand in Christ alone, I feel that God sees no sin in me, and loves me freely. The same righteousness is free to you. It will be as white and clean on your soul as on mine. Oh, do not sleep another night without it! Only consent to stand in Christ, not in your poor self.

"I must not weary you. One word more. Look at Revelation 22:17. Sweet, sweet words! 'Whosoever will, let him take of the water of life freely.' The last invitation in the Bible, and the freest - Christ's parting word to a world of sinners! Anyone that pleases may take this glorious way of salvation. Can you refuse it? I am sure you cannot. Dear friend, be persuaded by a fellow worm not to put off another moment. Behold the Lamb of God that taketh away the sins of the world.

"You are sitting, like Hagar, within reach of the well. May the Lord open your eyes, and show you all that is in Christ! I pray for you, that you may spiritually see Jesus and be glad - that you may go to Him and find rest."

What a letter! I have only a few lessons we can learn from such a letter to help us along as we seek to have hearts of evangelism.

(1) Rely on the Word of God. Did you catch how McCheyne took His reader to the Word? Oh, his letter is powerful, but it is the Word of God that can give wisdom that leads to salvation.

(2) Make no excuses. If anyone had an excuse to stop his evangelistic work, it was McCheyne. His heart palpitations made him so weak that he could not continue his pulpit ministry. He was quite sick, and yet he continued to make disciples with pen and paper. For those who know him, take a lesson from David Maynus, who is battling pancreatic cancer. What was his prayer request when I asked? That he might stand for Christ and people would be saved because of his cancer. Make no excuses.

(3) Make the most of every opportunity. Not even knowing this man's name, McCheyne writes a letter and hands it to the lost man's friend to deliver. Relational evangelism is wonderful and powerful, but we should never shy away from an open door simply because we haven't become friends yet.

(4) The Gospel is for everyone. Did you catch the "whosoever" from Revelation 22? The Gospel is not just for people who look like you and talk like is for all! Let us live like it is!

(5) Eyes must be opened. 2 Corinthians 4:4 says that the enemy has blinded those who are lost, and the Lord is the only One who can let light shine into the darkness of the lost heart. As you obey the call to evangelize, intercede for the Lord to open the eyes of those who hear.

Whether it's epistolary evangelism, preaching evangelism, or personal evangelism, let us be about the task of evangelizing the home, at work, at church, at the grocery store, on the mission field...even from our sickbed, if we must.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Simon's Thanksgiving Day

A Story based on Luke 17:11-19

Simon grew up in a normal, Samaritan home. Each Sabbath, his family would go up to Mount Gerizim to worship, and though it was different from the Jews who worshipped in Jerusalem, it was still theirs. As Simon got a little older, his mom would send him into the buy supplies for the family. Though his mom would say it every time he walked out the door, Simon didn't have to be reminded to be careful as he travelled.

It seems that no matter how inconspicuous he tried to be, the Jewish children would find him and harass him, especially that Bartholomew. He seemed to be the ring leader, and he would get all of his friends to throw pebbles at Simon and yell out racial slurs like "half-breed" or "mut". Simon never understood why they hated him so much. His parents had said it was because of a 500-year-old conflict between the Jews and Samaritans. What does that have to do with me? Simon thought. I didn't do anything wrong.

While he was in Jerusalem, Simon would see families going in and coming out of the temple. Herod had built this temple to be even more glorious than the one Solomon built centuries ago. Simon sometimes wondered about God. Could I actually know him? Is He really compassionate like the Scripture says? Does He really forgive sin? Could He ever be my God? He would peek into the temple occasionally but would never go in. Sure, Samaritans were allowed in the outer court, but who would want to endure that? Jewish eyes staring at you, silently belittling you, and wishing you weren't there. No thank you.

It was around the age of seventeen that Simon came in from the fields and his mother noticed that his skin looked especially dry. Over the next couple of weeks, lesions appeared, and white hairs grew out of the lesions. Concerned, his parents took him to the priest because the priest would know what to do about any skin disease. After seeing the priest, their worst nightmare came true as Simon was declared "unclean", having contracted leprosy.

Tears streamed down his mother's face as Simon was told he would have to leave immediately and go live with other lepers. He could not worship anymore, and he could not go home. He simply had to leave. Once Simon got to his new "home", saw a familiar face. "Bartholomew?" Simon realized he wasn't going to fit in all that well with these lepers. After all, these guys were Jews, and he was still a Samaritan. Because of their common illness, they attempted to get along, but they would still occasionally remind Simon of how wonderful the Jews are...and how horrible the Samaritans are.

Ten years went by in this new, isolated existence. "Healers" came and went, but nothing ever changed. Evenings would find Simon sitting with his nine living companions, staring up to the heavens, and still wondering about God. Simon wondered if he would die like this. He thought, It's bad enough that I'm hated for being a Samaritan, but now I'm an isolated Samaritan because of this disease. What a hopeless life.

One day, Simon heard a shout coming from a distance. "Jesus is coming!" Bartholomew answered back, "We've heard His name...who is He?" "He's a prophet sent from God, and He has been healing thousands of sick people...even lepers." What? He has healed lepers? Could this be Simon's chance at getting his old life back?

The traveling party came through, and there He was...front and center...Jesus of Nazareth. After discussing what they would do, the ten shouted together, "Jesus, Master, have pity on us!" Jesus looked at them and answered. Simon was overwhelmed. Go to the temple? he thought. Show the priests? There would be only one reason to go to the temple and show the priests...they would be healed!

The ten immediately headed off toward the temple. Simon had never been inside, and he wondered what it would be like. When they arrived, they went straight to the priests, pulled back their sleeves, and the priest looked at their skin. "You are all clean," he said. Clean? thought Simon. I'm clean? I was diseased, and Jesus has made me clean. This man is no prophet. He is the Christ! He cleansed me from my leprosy, and He can cleanse me from my sin.

"Bartholomew! Friends! Jesus is the Christ! Let us go back and worship Him!" Simon called out. Bartholomew looked at him and smirked, "We're not your friends, mut. You do what you want. We're going home." It was as if Simon didn't hear a word he said. When they turned away, Simon turned back and quickly made his way to Jesus. He got to the edge of the crowd, elbowed his way through the sea of people, threw himself at Jesus' feet, and began to sing, "Praise God from whom all blessings flow! Praise Him all creatures here below! Praise Him above ye heavenly host! Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost!" Then he said, "Thank you, Jesus. Thank you, my Lord."

With his face to the ground, Simon heard the brokenhearted voice of Jesus asking where the other nine were. They were cleansed, too. Why weren't they here? Then, Simon felt a hand on the back of his head. Jesus now addressed him, "Rise and go; your faith has made you well." Simon felt a sense of relief come over his soul. It didn't matter that he was a didn't matter that he was a leper. His sins were now forgiven, and it was all because of Jesus, the Christ.

Simon was wrong about Jesus. Jesus didn't give him his old life back. Jesus gave him new life.

Now, the story is over, but there's just one more thing to add. In Matthew 26, there is a story of a woman who poured out an alabaster jar of expensive perfume on Jesus' head. Do you remember th location of this event? The house of Simon the Leper (v. 6). Now, I'm not saying that this is the same leper, but wouldn't it be just like the leper in Luke 17 to host a private dinner party for Jesus and His disciples? If it were the same leper, I could imagine that a warm smile came to his face when the perfume was poured, remembering the first day that his heart poured out in worshipping Jesus.

Has your heart been changed by Jesus? Pour out your life for Him.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

We Three Kings

I's not Christmas time, and this is not a blog on the fact that the Bible doesn't say there were only three visitors to see Jesus. I have to confess, though...the tune is still running through my it running through yours yet? "We three kings of Orient are...bearing gifts we traverse afar...Field and fountain, moor and mountain...Following yonder of wonder, star of with royal beauty bright...Westward leading, still proceeding...Guide us to the perfect light." Now, is it there?

Anyway, I write today to examine the prayers of three kings in the Old Testament - David, Solomon, and Hezekiah. These are three names with which most of us are familiar. If you attend Alta Loma, you are very familiar with David, since we are approaching our seventeenth week looking at his life on Sunday mornings. He was the second king of Israel, and he lived around 1000 BC. Solomon was David's second son born to Bathsheba. You remember Bathsheba, don't you? Read 2 Samuel 11-12 for the full story. Hezekiah was one of the only good kings of Judah, which was destroyed by Babylon in 586 BC.

There are three prayers from these three kings that I find very interesting and instructive for us in the 21st century AD. I actually believe that we can learn a lot about prayer from the three prayers that we will examine in this blog. What will we learn about prayer? By God's grace, our motivation in prayer will be refocused. In other words, we will be reminded of the end to which all prayer must lead.

Let's begin with David. Anyone who has ever taken an Old Testament course in Bible college, seminary, or at your local church should recognize 2 Samuel 7. Some commentators call is the most important chapter in all the Old Testament. It is in 2 Samuel 7 that God makes a covenant with David...a covenant to give him a great name, to build his house, and to establish his throne forever through one of his descendants. Who is that descendant? Jesus Christ. It is Jesus that will reign forever on the throne of David (Luke 1:32). As you can imagine, David is humbled by the promises God is making. He enters the tent where the ark was kept, and he prays (read the full prayer in 2 Samuel 7:18-29). His prayer is essentially, "Who am I that you are making promises to me? You are an amazing God, and there is none like You. You are the Redeemer of this nation, and you are their God." In verse 25-26, David's tone changes. He prays, "And now, O Lord, keep forever the promise you have made concerning your servant and his house. Do as you promised, so that your name will be great forever."

Let's recap...David is humbled, he worships the Lord, he declares God's goodness to His people, and then he almost demands that God keep His promise. "Do as you promised..." In fact, this verb is imperative. Why is David so confident and insistent that God keep His promise? Is it so David's throne will be eternal? Is it so people will remember David for generations to come? It is so the nation of Israel will be dominant in world history? No, no...a thousand times no! He says why he is so burdened for God to do these things: "so that your name will be great forever." David's concern in praying is that God's name be great! Remember that.

Next is Solomon...1 Kings 3. Now, admittedly, Solomon is not the best king. He makes alliances with ungodly nations. However, I want to look at one episode in his life. In chapter 3, Solomon makes an alliance with the king of Egypt and marries his daughter. Solomon takes some time and goes to Gibeon, where he sacrifices 1000 burnt offerings. One thousand! Can you imagine the cost? Can you imagine the time it would take for Solomon to sacrifice and worship the Lord in such a way? Solomon was seeking to consecrate himself to the Lord, and the Lord responds to that heart attitude. God comes to Solomon in a dream and says, "Ask for whatever you want me to give you" (v. 5). This isn't just a call to's a promise to answer Solomon's prayer. How does Solomon react? What is his prayer?

Solomon asks for wisdom. He doesn't ask for wealth, he doesn't ask for his enemies to be obliterated, and he doesn't ask for long life. The substance of his prayer pleases the Lord (v. 10). [SIDE NOTE: Notice what Solomon didn't ask, wealth, and protection...what are the majority of our prayer meetings about? Health, wealth, and protection. Aunt So-and-so's kidney, provision to pay the bills, and travelling mercies. It's interesting that Solomon doesn't consume his prayer with these subjects, and it pleases the Lord. That's a blog within a blog.]

Back to our question...why did Solomon ask for these things? First of all, he recognizes that he is young and not a skilled king (v. 7). Then, he makes an interesting argument. He begins to brag on the nation that God has established, and for the good of God's people, Solomon wanted wisdom to govern. It is not for himself, and it is not he will be thought wise. It is for God and His people that Solomon wants to be wise. Solomon's prayer is meant to accomplish the glory of God among the people of God. Seeing a pattern yet?

Finally, we jump to Hezekiah in 2 Kings 19. As you know, the Assyrians destroyed the northern kingdom of Israel in 722 BC, and now there is an Assyrian threat on the southern kingdom. Sennacherib, the king of Assyria, sends threatening letters to Hezekiah and sends his commanders to convince the people to stop following Hezekiah. When the threat was getting the greatest, Hezekiah went into the temple and laid the letter from Sennacherib before the Lord. Then, he began to pray (2 Kings 19:15-19). He asks for the Lord to deliver Judah from the Assyrians. Why? Verse 19 - " that all kingdoms on earth may know that you alone, O Lord, are God." Hezekiah's concern is for the fame of our God to be spread like wildfire through the nations.

David prayed for God to keep His promise so that His name would be made great. Solomon prayed for wisdom so that God would be glorified in the king's governing of the people. Hezekiah prayed for deliverance for Judah so that God would be famous among the nations. Now, let's look at our prayer list. Let's not concern ourselves so much with the "what" of our prayers right now...let's concern ourselves for the "why" of our prayers.

When we pray for healing in a sick family member, is it so they will be healthy or so that God's glory will shine brighter, as it did in the healing of the blind man in John 9? When we pray for God's provision, it is so we won't have to answer calls from collectors or so that God will be made famous as the one who "adds all these other things to our lives" when we seek His kingdom? When we pray for God to convert our friends and neighbors (do you pray that?), is it so we can have a bigger church? Is it so that our friend will be "in" with the church crowd? it so that the glory of Jesus Christ and all He accomplished on the cross will be magnified by one more soul? If our desire is for God to answer so that He will be glorified, magnified, and made famous, then say it in prayer. Tell Him why you want Him to answer.

I believe that, much like all of life, our prayers are too "me-centered" and not God-centered. If we will focus on God's glory as we ask for His intervention, then we won't just see healed scabs and new jobs. We'll see God and His glory. We won't just talk about safe travel and good weather for the church picnic. We'll talk about God and His glory. The heavens are declaring the glory of God, and I fear that if our prayers don't change...if our lives don't change...then we will begin to hear the rocks cry out His praise. I'll finish with quoting a song we used to do in youth ministry, and let it be our cry: "Ain't no rock gonna cry out in my long as I'm alive I'll glorify His holy name."

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Which is easier?

I am sorry it has been so long since my last blog...I may truly be a man with no audience by now. Anyway, for the last few weeks, I have been praying for a dear friend and brother in Christ who is battling pancreatic cancer. His name is Dave Maynus, and he lives in Marion, Indiana. If you aren't already praying for him, would you begin? The Lord has intervened in wonderful ways to this point, and He is to be praised for that.

This friend's struggle actually refreshed an ongoing meditation I have had recently on Luke 5:23. A paralytic has been brought by friends to Jesus for help and healing. Jesus sees their faith, and He pronounces that this man's sin has been forgiven. The Pharisees immediately begin to think, "Who does this guy think he is? Only God can forgive sin." It is at this point that Jesus says, "Which is easier: to say, 'Your sins are forgiven,' or to say, 'Get up and walk'? But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.." Then, he heals the paralytic of his physical ailment.

That got me thinking...which is easier? To heal or to forgive sin? I asked a Bible study group this question, and they all seemed to think that forgiving sin was easier. That's probably how most of the Christian world feels, isn't it? Forgiving sin would certainly be easier than healing a paralytic simply by speaking to him, wouldn't it? We can easily forgive someone who has hurt us, but we can't restore health to anyone at the local hospital simply by speaking to them. Asking "Which is easier?" created one of those moments where everyone had answered the question, nobody was sure of their answer, and they desperately wanted me, the teacher, to relieve their stress and give them the right answer. We've all been there.

Back to the question, though. Is it truly easier to forgive someone? Thinking of the context in which Jesus asked, He was certainly proving His ability to forgive sin. The thought of the day was that being paralyzed, blind, deaf, etc., were all the result of sin. Jesus is proving to the skeptical Pharisees and teachers of the law that the Son of Man had the authority to forgive would He do that? He would exercise His authority over the paralyzation.

That doesn't answer my question. Which is easier? To forgive sin or to heal the paralytic by speaking to him? When we think of forgiving sin, we think of just saying the words "I forgive you" to someone who has hurt us, whatever the level of pain. The problem with that is...this doesn't seem to be biblical forgiveness. Forgiveness restores a relationship. Forgiveness is visible. Have you truly forgiven someone if you avoid contact with conversations, use a different hallway at church, no eye contact, etc.? I don't think so. Remember how we are to pray? "Forgive our debts as we forgive our debtors."

Imagine a God who forgives the way I just described. He forgave you, but there's no relationship attached to it. The forgiveness doesn't really accomplish being right with Him. What a desperate place that would put us in! Isaiah says that it was our sin that separated us from God...forgiving our sin restores our relationship with God. It is this forgiveness that gives us the assurance to say we are saved. In forgiving us, God had to pay the debt Himself. That's what forgiveness is. If you owe me $10,000, and I choose to forgive the debt, then I am choosing to pay the $10,000 will never pay it back. If I have slandered you with my words, and you choose to forgive me, then you are paying for those words with the pain that I caused you...I can never say enough words to restore things. Your choice to pay the debt and forgive my sin against you did that.

Now, pick up your camera, and go to the wide-angle view. How did God provide for the forgiveness of sin? It was through the blood of Jesus Christ shed on the cross. Romans 3:25 says that Jesus died on the cross "to demonstrate [God's] justice, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished." Ephesians 1:7-8 says that "In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God's grace that he lavished on us with all wisdom and understanding."

Now, back to Luke 5...which is easier? To forgive sin or to heal a paralytic with words. Jesus has forgiven the man (v. 20), knowing that He would go to the cross to pay for the sin. This mission for which Jesus was sent is the same "cup" that Jesus prays would pass from him, if possible (Luke 22:42). Authority over disease? That was something Jesus merely was part of His deity. He didn't have to die to be able to speak to disease and watch it flea. Sin? That had to be paid for...why? Because God is just...and when it comes to punishing sin, He gives justice with no mercy. His wrath had to be satisfied, and either all of humanity would suffer for all eternity paying an eternal debt for an eternal offense against an eternal God...OR one man, Jesus Christ, the God-Man, would pay the eternal punishment for our eternal sin in one moment of human history. He would be the propitiation for sin, and God's justice without mercy would fall on him..."God made him who knew no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God" (2 Corinthians 5:21).

Which is easier? It seems that speaking to a paralytic and making him walk again is easier than forgiving sin. Does the same hold true for us? Well, you and I have no ability to do either. It is impossible for us. We have no authority over sickness, and we have no authority over sin. Our only ability to forgive sins committed against us exists because we are a forgiven people...filled with the Spirit of Christ. We only love because God first loved us, and we can only forgive because God first forgave us. If left to ourselves, it is impossible for sin to be forgiven. "With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God."

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Fruit After the Field Changes Hands, Part 2

If you haven't read Part 1 yet, scroll will set the tone for this blog.

So, Robert Murray McCheyne has had to leave the pulpit after 2 years because of illness, but he is still the pastor at St. Peter's Church in Dundee. He has been praying for revival, but nothing has happened...there has been no fruit. Rev. W.C. Burns has taken his place in the pulpit for the time being, and McCheyne has written to Rev. Burns to encourage and instruct him as he continues this good work. What happens? Good question...glad you asked...I love the answer, and I believe it provides the encouragement we need when we don't see the fruit of our labors.

While sick, McCheyne had an opportunity to travel to Israel with Andrew Bonar and some others to evangelize the Jewish people. The heart of many churches in Britain had been burdened for Israel, and this trip was God's answer to the prayer for a door to go. McCheyne never stopped praying for his people in Dundee while he was in Israel. He fervently stayed on his face before God, pleading for intervention and revival in St. Peter's Church. Here is the account from Memoirs of McCheyne:

"On one of those days when [McCheyne] was stretched on his bed, praying for his flock despite all his own suffering, a very remarkable revival began to be witnessed back in Dundee, under the preaching of W.C. Burns...Beginning in Kilsyth, a great awakening took place which soon swept over Dundee. For some time there had been symptoms of deeper attention than usual at St. Peter's, and of real anxiety in some who had previously been careless. On Thursday evening after the usual weekly prayer meeting, Mr. Burns invited those to remain who felt the need of an outpouring of the Spirit. About a hundred remained; and at the conclusion of a solemn address to these anxious souls, suddenly the power of God seemed to descend, and all were bathed in tears. At a similar service [on the] next evening in the church, there was much melting of heart and intense desire after the Lord, and a vast number pressed into the after meeting with awful eagerness.

[About this, it was written,] 'It was like a pent-up flood breaking forth; tears were streaming from the eyes of many, and some fell on the ground groaning, weeping, and crying for mercy. Onward from that evening, meetings were held every day for many weeks; and the extraordinary nature of the work justified and called for extraordinary services. The whole town was moved. Many believers doubted; the ungodly raged; but the Word of God grew mightily and prevailed. Instances occurred where whole families were affected at once. Other men of God in the vicinity hastened to aid in the work.

When McCheyne arrived at the conclusion of his trip through Europe, the blessing was still continuing. He saw much evidence of the revival for which he had been praying as to make his heart rejoice. He had no envy because another instrument was so honored in the place where he himself had labored with many tears and trials. In true Christian magnanimity, he rejoiced that the work of the Lord was done, by whatever hand.'

His people welcomed his arrival with the greatest joy. There was not a seat in the church unoccupied; people were crowded into every available space. Many were weeping; all were still and calm, intensely earnest to hear. On coming out of his church he found the road to his house crowded with old and young who were waiting to welcome him back. He discovered that many of those who were saved during the revival were numbered among those for whom he and others had prayed before he left them."

After the field of Dundee had been passed on to W.C. Burns, the Lord brought revival. Souls were saved for whom McCheyne had interceded for years. The whole town had been changed. What encouragement does that give to me, to you, and to all who don't see the fruit of their labor as their pour out blood, sweat, and tears for the sake of the kingdom? Paul wrote that he was compelled by love, and so we, too, should have that same motivation. Don't be compelled by compelled by love. Be compelled by love for Christ to remain faithful in ministry, knowing that His Word does not return void. McCheyne was given a great grace when God allowed him to see the salvation of souls for whom he had prayed. We may or may not have that same opportunity in this life, but we ultimately do what we do for the glory of God.

Pursue the lost, compelling them to come in. Rebuke, teach, correct, and encourage believers, seeking to be a tool for God's sanctification of their souls. Fight the good fight of faith, for your own sake and the sake of others. However, don't get discouraged over the lack of visible results when we work for what is invisible. "For what is seen is temporal, but what is unseen is eternal" (2 Corinthians 4:18b).

Fruit After the Field Changes Hands, Part 1

As any of us endeavor to serve the Lord in ministry, we long to see the fruit of our labors. We want to see souls saved, prodigals return, and lives sanctified as the Lord uses us in one place or another. What are we to think if we don't see the fruit? We often hear, "Well, I'm just planting seeds...or, I'm just watering." These are very biblical ideas and are often the case, but where is the encouragement for those who serve the Lord and don't see the desired results? This is where Robert Murray McCheyne comes into the picture.

McCheyne began his ministry at St. Peter's Church at Dundee in 1836. This Scottish preacher was known to be a powerful man of God both in and out of the pulpit. He saw the spiritual condition of his congregation, and he began praying for God to send revival to His church. At the end of 1838, after just over two years of ministry, a heart condition forced McCheyne to get rest and stop preaching for a time. During these days, he saw the Lord's purpose as sanctifying his own heart through suffering in illness, and he continued to fervently pray for revival. Three months after he stopped preaching, W.C. Burns agreed to preach in McCheyne's place while he healed. Out of a concern for his own flock, McCheyne wrote the following words in a letter to Rev. Burns:

"Take heed to thyself. Your own soul is your first and greatest care. You know a sound body alone can work with power; much more a healthy soul. Keep a clear conscience through the blood of the Lamb. Keep up close communion with God. Study likeness to him in all things. Read the Bible for your own growth first, then for your people.

Expound much; it is through the truth that souls are to be sanctified, not through essays upon the truth. Be easy to access, apt to teach, and the Lord will teach you and bless you in all you do and say. You will not find many companions. Be the more with God. My dear people are anxiously waiting for you. The prayerful are praying for you. Be of good courage; there remaineth much of the land to be possessed. Be not dismayed, for Christ shall be with thee to deliver thee. Study Isaiah 6, and Jeremiah 1, and the sending of Moses, and Psalm 51:12, 13, and John 15:26, 27, and the connection in Luke 1:15, 16.

I shall hope to hear from you when I am away [in Israel]. Your accounts of my people will be a good word to make my heart glad. I am often sore cast down; but the eternal God is my refuge. Now farewell; the Lord make you a faithful steward."

In McCheyne's first two years, he did not see the revival and sanctification of his congregation as he had hoped. However, he did not lose heart. He believed that, under the sovereign hand of God, he had been afflicted with sickness for his own good as well as for the good of St. Peter's Church. Instead of believing that he had failed, he believed that the Gospel could still find success in the faithfulness of his successor and in the power of the Holy Spirit. So, with an eye toward real kingdom growth, McCheyne sought to encourage and equip Rev. Burns for the task at hand, reminding him of what he would need to know as a pastor in that congregation.

Why did he do all of this? Because the glory of God revealed in Christ Jesus was McCheyne's greatest joy. What if pastors actually did this today? What if they would set their pride aside and leave some instructions for the next man to fill his place? What if the guy taking his place could set his pride aside and submit himself to some encouragement and instruction? We may be living in a different church atmosphere right now...there might be a greater sense of partnering in the Gospel. There might not be such egotism in the pulpit. I would have to freely confess...I needed that kind of encouragement and instruction coming to my current place of ministry, but it's quite possible that my pride would have prevented my accepting such words. I fear I am not alone in that foolish pride...God, keep us humble.

So, what happened in St. Peter's Church? Was there "fruit after the field changed hands"? Read part 2 and find out.

Friday, September 29, 2006

The Words of Terrell Owens' Publicist

A Meditation

"Honor the Lord from your wealth..." (Proverbs 3:9a)
"Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth...But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven..." (Matthew 6:19, 20)
"Riches do not profit in the day of wrath, but righteousness delivers from death." (Proverbs 11:4)

Referring to Owens' 3-year deal with the Cowboys..."T.O. has 25 million reasons to stay alive" - Kim Etheredge, T.O.'s publicist

We've all certainly heard about the supposed suicide attempt (or accidental overdose) or Terrell Owens, and it is not my goal to talk about whether I think he did or did not try to kill himself. I will leave that for another day and someone else's blog. I was interested to hear T.O.'s publicist state that he had 25 million reasons to live, referring to the $25,000,000 contract he just signed in March. Kim Etheredge, who said she was the friend who called 9-1-1 when T.O. overdosed, summed up the existence of one of the NFL's most spotlighted receivers by saying that he has "25 million reasons to stay alive."

I didn't think much about the statement when it was first made, but the more I have pondered these words, the more grim the picture gets. Twenty-five million reasons to live, but not one good one. In fact, there is only one good one, and the apostle Paul hit it on the head in Philippians 1:21 when he wrote, "To live is Christ..." For Paul, the rest of that sentence reads, "to die is gain." My fear for T.O. is that his sentence reads differently. We know the reasons to live, but to die would be vain, not gain. The vanity of a public figure taking his own life leads to memorials, but nothing of significant, eternal value. There may have been a scholarship fund set up in his name at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, his alma mater. The sale of T.O. jerseys mave have sent proceeds to some drug overdose research fund. However, that would be the end of it.

The truly sad part is this, "Riches do not profit in the day of wrath..." Twenty-five million reasons to live wasn't enough. Standing before the Lord, T.O. (or anyone else, for that matter) could speak of his success and great wealth, but it doesn't profit anything. For all the profit there was in this life, there is no profit in judgment to having great wealth. Jesus told a parable in Luke 12 about a rich man who had so much wealth stored that he had to tear down his barns to build bigger ones. Once he did that, he felt like he could relax...saying, "Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years to come; take your ease, eat, drink and be merry" (v. 19). He had 25 million reasons to live, and they were all in a barn out back. However, the story goes on, and God says, "You fool! This very night your soul is required of you; and now who will own what you have prepared?" (v. 20). Jesus concludes, "So is the man who stores up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God."

Is it important to leave an inheritance for our children? Yes. "A good man leaves an inheritance for his children's children..." (Proverbs 13:22). However, that is not storing up treasures for ourselves. That is storing up treasures for the sake of our children's future...again, for another blog. Think about Proverbs 3:9 - "Honor the Lord with your wealth..." Now, if we take Kim Etheredge's words to heart, then the reason T.O. lives is for the bottom line in his bank account. If that is the case, then is he honoring the Lord with his wealth? Does it honor the Lord for anyone (rich, poor, or somewhere in between) to find their reason for living in pieces of paper with dead presidents on them? Should wealth be the reason for living? Should wealth be the source of joy? Should life be great with Jesus, but it's really better if you're rich, too? The answer to all of these is, emphatically, no.

We have to learn the secret of being content whether we have much or little, whether we have plenty or we're on empty, whether the bank is overflowing or barely dripping with money. It is a secret that Paul learned, and in Philippians 4:13, we see how he did it. "I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength." I have a friend who recently said that he felt he had the gift of earning a lot of money so that he could give a lot of it away. Both are true...he makes a lot of money, and he gives a lot of it to grow the kingdom and help those who need it. Certainly, he takes care of his family, but he's not tearing down barns in order to build bigger ones. He's financing the expansion of the kingdom of God. There's a reason for working...there's a reason for living.

"For me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain" (Philippians 1:21). Can you say the same? Don't get trapped in the "25 million reasons." Live for this one.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

It Never Gets Old

Six weeks ago, a man called dropped by the church and asked if he could speak with me. He had grown up as a Catholic, believing that he was a good person (better than all those hypocrites at the church) and would certainly find a place in heaven. Well, after years of wandering from any kind of church atmosphere, he ended up on our doorstep. He asked permission to come to our church, and I assured him that he was always welcome. He began to visit and ask questions. We spoke about salvation, and he said he had heard "all this stuff" before coming to Alta Loma.

A week and a half ago, he came to my Sunday School class, connected with some of our young couples and adults, and studied the Bible with us. He's been in our services faithfully when he's been in town. I got a call from him yesterday, and he asked if I could sit down with him and tell him how to be saved. I's tonight? It wasn't good, so he came by today. In fact, he just left my office.

We talked, and he talked about the changes he's experienced in his heart the last few weeks. He has found himself avoiding sin and loving God's Word. He has found a new peace with the Lord. We talked some more, and he kept getting hung up on whether he was "worthy" to be saved. I told him that, in and of himself, he could never be worthy of salvation. However, Jesus Christ is our worthy, atoning sacrifice...dying to make us righteous. He who knew no sin became sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God (2 Cor. 5:21). I told him that when you belong to Jesus, you ARE worthy. Still, not because of you, but because of who you belong to. Jesus Christ makes us worthy of salvation, heaven, and eternal life. We "become the righteousness of God," and therefore, we find favor with God for all eternity.

After a couple of stories and analogies, I asked him, "Are you forgiven of your sin?" He replied, "I hope so." I told him that 1 John 5:13 says that we can know we have eternal life; we don't just have to hope so. He had brought a tract with he had received at a friend's church earlier in the week. It was "Steps to Peace with God." I turned him to the salvation prayer at the back and asked him to read it out loud. Then, I asked him, "Does that prayer reflect what's in your heart?" He said, "That's exactly where I am!" I asked about him being a sinner...yes. I asked about needing forgiveness...yes. I asked if he believed Jesus died for him and was raised on the third day...yes. I asked if he wanted to turn from his sins and trust Christ...yes. I asked if he would follow the Lord for the rest of his life...yes. Then, I told him that, based on the authority of Scripture, he is saved. Not my authority or the church's authority, but on the authority of God's Word (I thought that was important because of his Catholic background). You should have seen the relief that came over was as if he just wanted to know that trusting in Christ was really all that he needed to do.

It never gets old...seeing someone trust in Jesus Christ as Savior. Though I believe his faith had already been awakened before he came to my office, it was amazing to see the confidence he had in Christ as he left. Stay faithful at the task of evangelism...sometimes it takes six weeks...sometimes it takes six months...sometimes it takes six years. Jesus told us to compel people to come in, and my friend did. No longer is he just a friend...he's a brother. Praise the Lord!

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Rosie O'Donnell, the Pope, and Danger

Nobody really likes being in danger. In fact, most people like to avoid it, unless, of course, you are a professional stunt man, a missionary to a third world country, or a convenient store clerk. Some jobs bring inherent danger with just comes with the territory.

On September 12, two statements were made about religion and danger that I think are interesting to compare. The first came from Rosie O'Donnell, new co-host of The View. (Side note: Though this is a second blog containing information from The View, I promise...I don't watch it.) In talking about the war on terror, O'Donnell said, "We were attacked not by a nation. And as a result of the attack and the killing of nearly 3000 innocent people, we invaded two countries and killed innocent people in their countries." When Elizabeth Hasselbeck, the professing Christian and conservative of the group, began to respond with comments on radical Islam, O'Donnell piped up again, "Just one second...radical Christianity is just as threatening as radical Islam in a country like America."

Did you read that correctly? Yes. Did she really say that? Yes. In other words, Rosie O'Donnell believes that Christians who stand for their faith (and hold to a doctrine that confronts her lesbian lifestyle) are just as dangerous as a radical Muslim. Sure, they aren't flying planes into buildings or torturing and killing those who oppose them, but they are certainly as dangerous with their articles and preaching and books. Please excuse the sarcasm.

The second comment on religion and danger came from Pope Benedict XVI, who spoke at the University of Regensburg in Germany that same day. He was speaking on faith and reason, and in doing so, he quoted 14th century emperor Manuel II, who said, "Show me just what Muhammad brought that was new and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached." He did all of this to show the irrationality of conversion by compulsion...that it was no conversion at all. In other words, "The man convinced against his will is of the same opinion still." Clearly, in the pope's speech, the evil lies with radical Islam and not with Christianity.

Now, with such harsh statements coming against Christianity and Islam, I think we'll get to see which is more dangerous. First, let's think of the consequences of Rosie's words...blogs, articles, coffee shop discussions, radio talk show hosts with more material, etc. What is the world coming to?!?! (Sarcasm, yet again.). What about the result of the Pope Benedict XVI's words? Churches being bombed, Christians being shot in the West Bank and Gaza, an Austrian nun killed, the pope burned in effigy, a call for the pope's assassination, a threat to destroy the Vatican, and public Muslim prayers like "enable us to slit their throats." No sarcasm here...those are all things I found online in a 3-minute search. So, whose life is in greater jeopardy because of their words? Rosie O'Donnell or Pope Benedict XVI?

Well, the story doesn't end there. Remember those episodes of Scooby Doo when the mask was taken off the monster at the end, and you were surprised to find our who the real crook was? There's a mask here, as well. If we stop here, then we're in danger of disobeying a command of Jesus and giving too much authority to the Islamic religion.

What is the command would ignore? "Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell" (Mt. 10:28). If we stop the discussion too soon, then the greatest power of religion lies in this whether some radical Muslim will take our lives or not. Rosie would be wrong...radical Christianity wouldn't be just as threatening as radical Islam...radical Islam would be the greater danger because of the threat of death.

I still think Rosie is wrong, but in a much different way. I believe that, for Rosie O'Donnell and all others who do not believe, Christianity is much more dangerous than Islam. The Christian message is that all are sinners, and unless we repent and believe in Jesus Christ alone for salvation, then an eternity of hell awaits us. The threat of torture, a slit throat, a destroyed Vatican, a dead nun, and burned churches are nothing compared to the threat of the wrath of God being poured out on a soul for all eternity. That is danger...refusing to believe in Christ is the most dangerous life to live. We'll all stop breathing one day, but apart from Christ, you will never stop suffering.

Monday, September 11, 2006

The God of the Parking Lot

Sometimes, the Lord makes Himself known in the least expected places. Think of Balaam's donkey...who would think that the Lord would get Balaam's attention through the rebuke of an animal? Think of Elijah...we expect the Lord to be in the mountain-destroying wind, the earthquake, or the fire, right? However, it is the gentle whisper through which God spoke. Jonah was blown away by the idea that God would extend forgiveness in a place like Ninevah. The appearance of the Messiah as a humble Savior rather than a revolutionary crusader meant that Jesus was not recognized or received by His own.

When you think of how God works in this world, what do you think of? Do you think of great revivals or Billy Graham crusades? Do you think of multi-million dollar complexes being erected in the name of church expansion? What about missionaries being sent all over the world to reach the unreached millions? What about some sweaty, aching men and women resurfacing a parking lot? WHAT?!? Did that last question really fit with the others? It did this last Saturday.

God showed up when a group of men and women set out to improve our stewardship of this church property by resurfacing the parking lot. One of the things we are doing in our congregation is making an intentional effort to be better stewards of the property God has entrusted to us. Many repairs and improvements will need to be made, but we already had money set aside for this parking lot project. Originally, the money was to go to repaving...not enough money. Ok...we could consider hiring someone to resurface...again, not enough money. Well, we did have enough money to buy the supplies and do the work ourselves. So, at 8 AM this last Saturday several of our people were here, ready to get started.

After about 2 1/2 hours, it became very apparent that they would not finish half the lot...which was the goal for the day. About that time, a man named Daniel came strolling across the parking lot. He asked what we were doing, and the leader of the bunch told him. Daniel walked away...then, he came back a little while later with long boots on and equipment to do the job. It turns out that Daniel resurfaces parking lots for a living, and he decided he wanted to help. He was told that we couldn't pay him, but he didn't want it. They tried to feed him, but he wouldn't accept it. The group even tried to offer money at the end of the day, but he said the only way he would take it is to buy patching material so he could help finish the job in the coming week.

In those first 2 1/2 hours, our crew only got about 10% of the work done. In the next 2 1/2 hours, the other 90% was taken care of, with the promise of more help to come (watch out...there could be an illustration in there somewhere). Our men and women showed up that day knowing that there was a big job ahead of them. It was an overwhelming task. All they could do was be faithful to the task at hand...improving our stewardship of this property by improving the lot. In taking those steps of faithfulness, God blessed them with the help they needed to complete that day's task and more.

What do you know? God showed up in a parking lot! Mixed with the stain of resurfacing material and the sweat of the day's work were tears of joy, knowing that God had provided what we could not do ourselves. Who would have guessed that a day of potential disappointment would turn out to be an inspiring testimony to a whole congregation the very next day?

Do you feel like your just in a rut of daily living? Do you feel like what you do is no more important than parking lot maintenance? Do you feel like you are giving blood, sweat, and tears to what you do without seeing any results? Be faithful in what the Lord has given you to do, and trust the Lord for the rest...for the blessing...for the Daniel.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

The Testimony of a Friend

Today, I will not post my own thought. Instead, I will give the floor to a good friend of mine named Matt Thorne. We were together in the trenches of youth ministry for three years, and in that time, I saw the Lord use him over and over again to touch the lives of teenagers. He sent me e-mail today, and I can't help but share it. Matt writes:

"In the midst of a retail job that seems to have no end, I at times have been blessed by a few customers that, in one way or another, help me make it through the day. Wayne Anderson was one of those customers. Wayne came in every evening around seven to play the lottery. I don’t mean buy a few scratch off tickets, I mean play $30-$50 worth of tickets every day. During the interactions, which sometimes would take a while, Wayne and I would get to share stories or I’d tell him a stupid joke or we would talk politics (he hated Bush). It usually ended with Wayne laughing and telling me something like, “Man you aint right.” I miss Wayne.

When they moved me to Hartford City, it happened so fast that I didn’t get to tell a lot of people good-bye. Wayne was one of those people. In addition to not telling him good-bye, I also never got to tell Wayne about my personal relationship with Jesus. He knew I was a Christian from our talks, but I never got to tell him what Christ meant to me and what he did for us on the cross. You can imagine the overwhelming guilt and anguish that came over me this morning when I read his obituary sent to me from a faithful friend at Marsh #94.

I saw his picture and began to tear up. I started reading through the life of Wayne Anderson and as I read, I kept thinking to myself, why didn’t I say something? Why is this man burning in hell right now when I had the chance to stop it? And then suddenly, I got to the middle of the obituary and read six little words that made me cry like a baby. It read, 'Wayne received Christ in July 2006.' Praise the Lord!

I’m not sure how Wayne came to the best decision he ever made. I don’t know if someone led him or if the Holy Spirit just moved upon him so much that he had no other desire than to know Jesus. Whatever the case, I get to see Wayne again someday. Thank you for taking the time to read this and please, remember what Paul wrote in II Cor. 4:13. 'I believed, therefore I spoke.' God bless you all and have a great day!"

Isn't that an amazing word for all of us? I believe this testimony carries two lessons for all of us. (1) We should be reminded of the urgency to be vocal about our faith, and (2) we should be reminded that even when we get tongue-tied or afraid or lose an opportunity, God continues to seek and save those that are lost. What a wonderful, gracious God we serve!

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Books and Conferences and Frustration (oh my)

One of the things that is incredibly obvious but has become very comforting to me in recent days is the truth that not every church can do everything. Though we are all commanded to care for the poor, the oppressed, the widow, and the orphan, the First Church of Big City has been compelled and equipped by God to open an orphanage. Though many may know that, in our culture, recreation can be a front door to introducing someone to the Gospel, the Second Church of Somewhere-Else has twenty godly men gifted in coaching and has started using Upward Basketball to get kids off the street and teach them about Christ. You get the idea...some churches have especially gifted carpenters and can do more construction missions...some churches have technological gurus in every pew and can use technology to its fullest extent for the cause of the Gospel. Think of your there anything that stands out as a particular gift like this? Are you using those gifts to advance and build the kingdom?

Watch comes frustration. Enter church growth and church health books...enter conferences. Well-meaning pastors, professors, and authors seek to equip churches to be as effective as possible. There is certainly nothing wrong with evaluating and improving our ministry methods. However, the frustration begins to take over when "the plan" is laid out. It looks great, it runs great, it sounds's even got that "new program smell." Excitement grows over the two or three days that you listen to the various dimensions of "the plan" to take you to the "next level." Then, many pastors and lay leaders get on a plane, heading back to a land we all like to call reality. Sure, the program needed 50 volunteers, and we've only got 50 people in worship on Sunday morning...but we can do it. Sure, the program will cost us about $7,500 a year and we have trouble keeping our staff paid and the lights on...but we can do it.

Now, don't read me wrong...I believe in taking steps of faith. I believe in treading new territory. I believe that God can use a basketball, an iPod, and a coffee shop for His glory. However, I also believe that not every church can do everything. Books and conferences try to convince us of programs rather than principles. They teach us how to develop our methodology rather than trusting our theology...that God has gifted His church and that God will build His church. What we must seek after is faithfulness!

So, the volunteers and their pastor spend one five-hour meeting developing the new ministry, and then they present it to the congregation. There has been no real period of time for prayer or asking the question, "Can we do this?" Why? Because too many books and conferences don't ask that question...that question doesn't sell books or conference tickets. They tell us that we must do whatever it is they are writing, or we will not be a New Testament church. That's what gets many so motivated! We really do want to please the Lord in our ministries, but the path to that divine pleasure is not paved with pep rallies but rather with the pages of Scripture.

What if we spent more time at conferences learning how to deepen our prayer lives as pastors and leaders? What if we read books that excited our hearts about the subject of our teaching and preaching...and the main audience of all ministry...Jesus Christ? What if all of these good things actually led to a better end? Greater faithfulness rather than frustration. Contentment in God's place for us rather than the desire to send out resumes. Passion for Christ rather than pickiness over our congregations. A broken heart for the lost rather than a broken heart over the size of our budgets.

(Step off soap box now) The point is this...not every church is equipped to do every type of ministry. Not every methodology works in every community. So, if you're reading a book or going to attend a conference, glean what is good and right and guides you to more biblical ministry.

The fact is...this is true personally. One of the things I would love is to be a more effective be able to turn conversations to Christ, find in-roads with the lost, see people come running to Jesus because of God's anointing on my efforts in personal evangelism. I know people that are like this...God's hand is just on them, and He has gifted them as evangelists. I still make efforts...I try to make the most of opportunities...but it's just not the same. Maybe you know what I'm talking about. There are two ways we can handle these, bang our heads against the wall and believe that we can never be used of God unless we're like this person or that person. Or two, we can be content with the gifts God has given us, stay faithful to the tasks He has given us, and seek to be good and faithful servants. Let's go with the latter...God didn't gift us or our church so we could sit in a corner and pout about not being like the person or the church down the road. He gifted us for His glory...let's pursue it!

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

To Those Left Behind

Wow! As I look up at that title, I wonder what you may be thinking is actually on my mind today. No, I don't have an inside scoop on the second coming...however, two churches that I deeply care about have departing pastors this week. My good friend, Wayne Wilson, should be arriving in North Carolina any time now in his U-Haul. He just had his last Sunday at Sunnycrest Baptist in old stomping grounds. Another friend, Wayne Shoemaker, will have his last Sunday with us here at Alta Loma this weekend.

I know the statement has been made here, and I'm sure someone has uttered it there in Northeast Central Indiana... "What are we going to do now?" This pair of Waynes were great men and integral parts of the churches they served. Wayne Wilson, through his incredible heart for the Lord, was used by God to help give that congregation permission to be more expressive and to seek more personal, daily worship of the Lord instead of only thinking of Sunday as "the day of worship." Wayne Shoemaker, with his amazing servant's heart, was used by God to help this church stay the course through some rough waters during his eight years. In all of it, he served as an example of how to meet needs with compassion and how to minister in grace and truth.

So, this question (i.e.- What are we going to do now?) seems to be the logical one to ask. It certainly comes from a good place. It comes from hearts that recognize the work of God through His servants in His church for His glory. It comes from hearts that see the vital roles that certain individuals play in kingdom work. So, the question is understandable...those that are "left behind" will miss the kind of godliness, leadership, and friendship they found in those who served them. What a great testimony of the faithfulness of this "pair of Waynes"! We praise the Lord for their ministries.

Now, to those left behind, I want you to know that you have not been left "high and dry". You are not stranded in a sea of hopelessness because God has moved His servants to new assignments. In Acts 13, Saul and Barnabas were sent out from the church at Antioch because of what "the Holy Spirit said." Because I know Wayne and Wayne, I believe their moves have been prompted by the Spirit as well. That's where most of the focus usually is...on the ones leaving. However, the Spirit that called them to go is the same Spirit that raised Christ from the dead, and He is the same Spirit that abides with the church of the Lord Jesus Christ. So, we are not abandoned to hopelessness when a friend/pastor leaves our congregation to serve the Lord somewhere else. We may experience a sense of loss because our fellowship changes, but it would be a different story if we lost the fellowship of the Holy Spirit. That would be the real tragedy!

So, be encouraged if you are left behind. God has not left nor forsaken you. He has not stopped building His church because His ministers have been moved. Stay steady in the times of is in these times that you and I will be most tempted toward discouragement, fear, and unbelief. King Solomon wrote, "Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways, acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight." (Proverbs 3:5-6) To those who are left behind, follow the royal advice.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Christian Freedom and Alcohol

This past June, the SBC passed a resolution on alcohol use in America. I don't know if you noticed it or not, but here was part of that resolution: "Resolved, that we urge that no one be elected to serve as a trustee or member of any entity or committee of the Southern Baptist Convention that is a user of alcoholic beverages."

Here's part of a recent article by Richard Land, president of the SBC's Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission:

"Just hours before Southern Baptists opened their annual meeting in Greensboro, North Carolina, and just a few miles from Durham, J.J. Redick, star basketball player for the Duke Blue Devils...was arrested on charges of drunken driving after he made an illegal U-turn to avoid a police check point.

The incident probably won't affect the player's future. He was drafted eleventh by the Orlando Magic in the NBA draft a few weeks later. But what about his witness?

On November 10, 2005, Redick gave an interview to the Charlotte Observer. The basketball standout, who has two tattoos, both Bible verses (Isa. 40:31 and Josh. 1:9), said the most important person in his life was Jesus Christ. 'When I die,' Redick said, 'I'd like people to look back on my life and say, "He was a man of God."'

J.J. Redick's moral lapse is well covered by the atoning work of his Lord and Savior, and his legal transgression will probably be well covered by a well-paid legal defense. But what does his decision to drink signal to a youngster who admires him?"

What do these two things do in your mind? Well, let's think about "both hands" for a moment. On one, you have a distinct command about avoiding drunkenness without a command for complete avoidance. Even the medicinal purposes of wine are pointed out and our Savior turned water into wine for consumption at a wedding. On the other, you have the witness to the world and the cultural perception that "Christians do not smoke or drink." If we had three hands, we would add that there is a certain amount of freedom of conscience given to Christians when it comes to eating and drinking and the celebration of days (Colossians 3, Romans 14). By the way, if you have three hands, get that checked out.

Anyway, I think the bigger question is not about Christian freedom and alcohol. It actually concerns the SBC dictating what freedoms their trustees and committee members will take in their personal walks with the Lord. I understand the "what about our witness?" argument. In fact, that's why I will not touch's because I genuinely believe that a glass of wine with dinner or the occasional cold beer is not worth putting a stumbling block in someone else's path...the non-Christian who believes wrongly that Christians are commanded not to drink, the teenager who faces temptation almost every weekend, the believer who is a recovering alcoholic who doesn't need a reason to drink again, and I'm sure the list could go on.

Though I hold this "T-total" position, I'm not sure about dictating the position to everyone in my congregation or community. I can encourage it, I can show the merits of the position, but I believe that in this arena, each man's conscience must be convicted of it. If not, it can easily become an external, legalistic standard that becomes an "add on" to the Gospel. This kind of requirement is reminiscent of the Judaizers, who claimed that you had to be circumcised in order to be a "real" Christian. These are dangerous waters we are treading, so let us avoid, at all cost, adding to the precious, complete Gospel of justification by faith alone in Christ alone.

So, for those who use your Christian freedom to have a drink occasionally, consider the "T-total" position. For those who are hard-nosed in holding the "T-total" position, don't be a jerk about it.

Monday, July 31, 2006

Another one bites the dust

Well, it happened again this weekend. A pastor here in Nashville was immediately and unbiblically removed from his ministry. David Foster, who started Bellevue Community Church in 1989, was fired on the spot by the elders of his church. Before this Sunday arrived, Foster's e-mail was shut down, his name was off the internet staff directory, his key card to the building was disabled, and Metro police officers contacted Foster on Saturday to let him know he would not be allowed in the church building.

What was the elders' explanation to the congregation on Sunday morning? It was all put under the banner of "personal, relationship, and leadership issues." No details given, no explanation given. Just this vague phrase. To be honest, I don't know what the problem was...maybe he was an intolerable tyrant of a leader, maybe he was having an affair with the secretary, maybe he was looking at pornography on his computer in the office. What if he was just a charismatic preacher with an introvert personality, that closed himself off during the week? What if he could have unknowingly hurt a couple of elders and never apologized? What if he was going through a mid-life crisis and it affected his ministry? Weirder things have happened! The point is...the church will never know. I'm not part of the church, so I wouldn't expect to know.

However, what we have here is another classic case of the avoidance of Matthew 18 being carried all the way through. I was part of a church that made a similar vague announcement because of the actions of our pastor, and it ended up very ugly. The pastor had been confronted one on one, a group had gone to him, and instead of bringing it to the church for their discipline, it was simply announced that he was leaving because of "moral failure." No explanation given. I was on staff at that church, and with my 20/20 hindsight, I can see that it was handled wrong...not intentionally, but still wrong. None of my brothers on staff were trying to avoid doing what was biblical, but in the heat of the moment and the confusion of all the information we were getting, that's what happened. I pray God's grace on my ministry that I would never have to be part of dismissing another brother from ministry like that again. However, if I do, I know that my hindsight will help me.

Another one bites the dust here in made the front page of today's paper because it was a mega-church. Now, as thousands of unbelievers and backslidden believers are reading that column, what are they thinking about the church? "Who needs it? They're all just a bunch of hypocrites and power-hungry people who want their way. I'll just watch church on TV this weekend...all I need is the preaching."

The good news is that in all of this, God still works together for the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purpose. God's grace can still heal this situation, if the pride of both the pastor and his elders can be put aside long enough to pick up a Bible, hear what God says, and be doers of the Word.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Thoughts on Prayer from a Dutch Priest

This week has been amazingly stressful and full of personal, spiritual warfare for me. So, for those who will, please pray. In fact, it is prayer that drives this blog. This won't be an original. Most of what is written here will come from Henri Nouwen, a Dutch priest who died in 1996. It's from his former years, they were known as books and were published on paper...very late-20th century.

Anyway, I'm not all that familiar with everything he wrote, but I know that, for the most part, it's pretty mystical. So, if you choose to follow this with some more reading of Nouwen's material, know that I am not giving a blanket endorsement by publishing this post. I find these words of his somewhat helpful, though, when it comes to being vulnerable in our prayer lives. As the children's song says, "Our God is a great big God," and He can take as much venting and unloading as we can give. My problem is that, typically, I don't cast my cares upon Him as I should...I want to work them out on my own. This kind of spiritual pride leads me So, I picked up Nouwen today to use some of his With Open Hands book as an illustration in tonight's Bible study. It is so convicting that I have to share it. Here it goes, and I'm going to replace some vague references with some clarity:

"Praying is no easy matter. It demands a relationship in which you allow [the Lord] to enter into the very center of your person, to see there what you would rather leave in darkness, and to touch there what you would rather leave untouched...The resistance to praying is like the resistance of tightly clenched fists. [A clenched fist] shows a tension, a desire to cling tightly to yourself, a greediness which [portrays] fear. A story about an elderly woman brought to a psychiatric center exemplifies this attitude. She was wild, swinging at everything in sight, frightening everyone so much that the doctors had to take everything away from her. But there was one small coin which she gripped in her fist and would not give up. In fact, it took two people to pry open that clenched hand. It was as though she would lose her very self along with the coin. If they deprived her of that last possession, she would have nothing more and be nothing more. That was her fear.

When you are invited to pray, you are asked to open your tightly clenched fists and give up your last coin. But who wants to do that?...[Prayer], therefore, is often...painful...because you discover you don't want to let go. You hold fast to what is familiar, even if you aren't proud of it...

When you pray, then, the first question is: How do I open my closed hands? Certainly not by violence. Nor by a forced decision. Perhaps you can find your way to prayer by carefully listening to the words the angel spoke to Zechariah, Mary, the shepherds, and the women at the tomb: "Don't be afraid." Don't be afraid of the One who wants to enter your most intimate space and invite you to let go of what you are clinging to so anxiously. Don't be afraid to show the clammy coin which will buy so little anyway. Don't be afraid to offer your hate, bitterness, and disappointment to the One who is love... Even if you know you have little to show, don't be afraid to let it be seen.

Often you will catch yourself wanting to receive your loving God by putting on a semblance of beauty, by holding back everything dirty and spoiled, by clearing just a little path that looks proper. But that is a fearful response - forced and artificial. Such a response exhausts you and turns your prayer into torment.

Each time you dare to let go and surrender one of those many fears, your hand opens a little and your palms spread out in a gesture of receiving...It is a long spiritual journey of trust, for behind each fist another one is hiding, and sometimes the process seems endless...

Maybe someone will say to you, 'You have to forgive yourself.' But that isn't possible. What is possible is to open your hands without fear, so that the One who loves you can blow your sins away...Then you feel a bit of new freedom, and praying becomes a joy, a spontaneous reaction to the world and the people around you. Praying then becomes effortless, inspired and lively, or peaceful and quiet. When you recognize the festive and the still moments as moments of prayer, then you gradually realize that to pray is to live."

That's all from the introduction...I don't remember much after that. You can see the mysticism come through, but the truth that letting go of all our cares and casting them on the Lord is a freeing experience is a strong one. Our hands were not meant to carry all that we attempt to carry in a given week, day, or hour. It's not so much that "God won't give you more than you can handle." It's that God intentionally gives us more than we can handle, so that we will look to him in faith, casting our cares on Him because He cares for us.

In your next time of prayer, try praying with your hands intentionally open in front of is a vulnerable position. Be vulnerable with the Lord...our God is a great big God...He made the heavens and the earth by His great power...nothing is too difficult for Him!

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

John Hagee and Two-Covenant Theology

One of the things that bothers me most when I talk about preachers with today's Christians is the inability to distinguish between preachers that are orthodox and those that are not. A few years ago, a lady in the church I was serving told me that she enjoyed watching preachers on television. When I asked who she liked the most, she told me David Jeremiah, Charles Stanley, John Hagee, and Joel Osteen. If you know anything about these four men, you know the wide theological scope we just covered. Before I go any further, let me just say this...if you can't tell the difference between the preaching of David Jeremiah and John Hagee, then you need to start studying the Bible again...get back in Sunday not pass go, do not collect $200.

Anyway, John Hagee seems to be a favorite of many older people in the congregations I have served. I guess his style of communication reminds them more of what one man called "real preaching." You know, it's the huffing, puffing, blow-your-house-down style of preaching. Very big bad wolf. Moving on...because of the inability to distinguish between one theology and another, it seems necessary to point certain, major errors.

Today's error of choice is commonly called two covenant theology, or dual covenant theology. This view holds that it is unnecessary, and even wrong, to seek to evangelize Jewish people because they have their own covenant with God and do not need Christ. Hagee has said, "The Jewish people have a relationship to God through the law of God as given through Moses...I believe that every Gentile person can only come to God through the cross of Christ. I believe that every Jewish person who lives in the light of the Torah, which is the word of God, has a relationship with God and will come to redemption. The law of Moses is sufficient enough to bring a person into the knowledge of God until God gives him a greater revelation. And God has not..."

Re-read that last part...about the law of Moses being sufficient. I agree that the Old Testament is God's Word, but it is incomplete without Christ because the greatest revelation of God came in Christ Himself. Anyway, here's some more Hagee. "There are right now Jewish people on this earth who have a powerful and special relationship with God," declares Hagee in one of his books. "They have been chosen by the 'election of grace' in which God does what he does without asking man to approve or understand it. Let us put an end to the Christian chatter that all the Jews are lost and can't be in the will of God until they convert to Christianity! . . . there are a certain number of Jews in relationship with God right now through divine election."

The truth is that this inclusive view of Hagee's finds no foundation in the revelation of Scripture. In John 14:6, Jesus declared, "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me." Hagee might answer, "That's only for the Gentiles." The problem is that Jesus' audience was Jewish...He was speaking to His disciples. Plus, he clearly states that "no one" can come to the Father apart from Him. Though the disproving of two covenant theology could be quite lengthy, let's look at just two strong texts to help us as we speak to friends who may listen to and read Hagee.

First, Hebrews 11:39-40, speaking of the faithful ones of the Old Testament, says, "These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised. God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect." The Old Testament believers did not receive what they were promised because the Messiah had not yet come. It is in the coming of Christ, His substitutionary death on the cross, and in His resurrection that the "better" came and the promise was fulfilled. These saints looked forward to the coming of God's Messiah. Now, together with those who believe, they are made perfect. Salvation did not come through their observance of the law of came through Jesus Christ. Why? Because there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved...not even for the Jews of any era.

The second, and clearer, text is Romans 3:20-24: "Therefore no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we became conscious of sin. But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and Prophets testify. This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus." Could it be any clearer than that?

I know more could be listed here, and you may want to share some in response. However, the point here is that we have people in our churches who are watching John Hagee, taking notes, and loving every minute of it...believing themselves to be growing deep in their faith. They are being led away from the Gospel, so let us weep for them, pray for them, and call them out from under this false teacher's ministry.

Special Days and Worship

Ok...I have a confession to make. I am a Southern Baptist. Now, that is no surprise to those who read this blog because you all know me. However, for the millions of blog readers out there who will never come across this page, it may come as quite a shock. Enough of that...on with the blog.

There are times when I am proud to be a Southern Baptist, like when I see Cooperative Program dollars sending and supporting missionaries all across the world. On the other hand, there truly are times when I cover the "Southern Baptist" portion of my name tag, like when we get into stupid arguments over secondary issues...a trend that has kicked up more recently and may get a blog here one day.

What I want to write about today, however, is the idea of so many special days that are recommended for the church to celebrate or observe. Now, there are several that I believe merit a church's attention, and issues on which I wish we spent more time. For example, the sanctity of life has its own day. Good for us in wanting to defend the rights of the unborn, but shame on us for having to mark off a day on the calendar to do it. Racial reconciliation has a special day. Same "good for us, shame on us" scenario. I agree that we need to spend more time praying for and giving to international and domestic missionaries, which is why I love the Lottie Moon and Annie Armstrong missions offerings. Then, there are the "normal" calendar celebrations that are typically observed...Mother's Day, Father's Day, Memorial Day, July 4 (or the Sunday closest to it), etc. None of these are necessarily bad, but you have to admit, there are a lot of "special days" out there.

This morning, though, I picked up the Baptist and Reflector, which is the Tennessee Baptist newspaper. It's mission, according to the subtitle on front, is "telling the story of Tennessee Baptists." Do I think this is a good idea? helps remind me that the kingdom for which I work is bigger than the corner of Gallatin and Alta Loma Road in Madison, TN. I get to read about what the Lord is doing in other parts of the state. Unfortunately, I also read stories which seem to be for churches who wish to blow their own trumpet for how many people did this or did that. Now, I don't want to throw out the baby with the bath water here. I think, overall, papers like this are good things. I could live without it, but I genuinely enjoy a larger perspective than the walls of my office provide.

Where am I going with this? Oh yes...I picked up the B & R this morning to read that on August 20 of this year, churches are being encouraged to use another Sunday of the year in a unique way. Do you know what it is? Is it to speak to some important, pressing issue like same-sex marriage? Is it "Defend the Inerrancy of Scripture Day"? Is it presidential prayer Sunday? No to all of the is "Baptist and Reflector Day". The Tennessee Baptist Convention's paper is actually encouraging pastors to order free copies of the paper for their entire congregation and hand them out on that Sunday. This is their attempt to boost their number of subscribers. After all, the article says, "subscriptions are only $11 per year and discounts are offered for various church plans."

Are they kidding? I have a big enough struggle recognizing mothers and fathers in such a way that doesn't profane our time of worship. We don't come together to recognize moms and dads; we come together to worship the one, true and living God. I almost did nothing on these two days, but instead, we just had moms and dads stand so that families could lay hands on them and thank God for them. We'll have to see if we even do that next year. The only time we even make announcements is after our corporate worship is complete and we're about to walk out the door. Does the TBC really expect pastors to take corporate worship time to push the state paper? This is one church pastor that won't be recognizing "Baptist and Reflector Day." I still enjoy reading it, but it won't be making it into the order of worship on August 20...or any Sunday, for that matter.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Assuming motives leads to war

Thoughts after reading 1 Chronicles 19.

Motives are difficult things to read...reading the question "What are you doing?" gives us no indication of motive. However, if you begin to emphasize different words, you can begin to feel different motives. "What are you doing?" is the question of a parent, whose motive is to find out why her three-year-old son is eating soap (true story). "What are you doing?" is the question of a person who has just been asked what they were doing in an accusing manner. After giving what they believed was a good answer, they throw the same question back in their accuser's face. "What are you doing?" is the question of an inquisitive boss, whose motive is to try to find some reason not to fire a seemingly lazy employee that he/she otherwise likes.

Motives are funny things, and when you begin to assume someone's motive, it can get dangerous. Have you ever assumed that someone was questioning your character when they just had a question? Have you ever assumed someone to be selfish or proud when reality proved otherwise...that they were simply acting in ignorance? My seventh grade band teacher told us all one day that assuming makes something of "u" and "me". (If you don't know, it's okay.)

King Hanun assumed something in 1 Chronicles 19. He assumed that David had sent a delegation to spy on him and find a way to overthrow his country, when David was actually sending a delegation to express sympathy over the loss of Hanun's father, Nahash. Hanun was paranoid and assumed David's motive was antagonistic toward him, so he had the delegation captured, shaved, and stripped. This was not good...the Ammonites became "a stench in David's nostrils" (verse 6). What happened next? You guessed it...battle lines were drawn, and eventually the Ammonites ran away from the fight. The integrity of the king had been questioned by Hanun...assumptions were wrongly made about his motive. Nobody would dishonor God's anointed king, and so war broke out.

Where did it all start? Hanun was so paranoid about being attacked that even an act of kindness by David seemed threatening to him. He didn't even give the delegation time to explain why they were coming; he simply assumed the worst and jumped on the defensive. Does that sound familiar at all? Don't we too often assume that people are out to get us? Someone that we have had conflict with in the past may genuinely try to encourage us...what goes through our minds? "I wonder what her angle is." "I wonder what he really meant by that." "Was that sarcastic?" What would happen if we didn't assume these kinds of things? What would it be like to actually give someone the benefit of the doubt?

This is not to dismiss the importance of defending integrity when it is attacked. However, I think we too often jump to the conclusion that everything is an attack on our integrity. Well, I know I jump to that conclusion too often. Let's listen carefully to Paul's words in Romans 12, with some parenthetical comments by me:

"Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody (even the ones you assume are against you). If it is possible (and it is more possible than we usually think it is), as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God's wrath, for it is written: 'It is mine to avenge; I will repay,' says the Lord...Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good." (Romans 12:17-19, 21)

Assuming wrong motives in those around you can lead to war. It did in the Old Testament, it can in your family and friends, and it can in the New Testament church.