Monday, December 24, 2007
Story One - A Hairy Moment at McDonald's
This past Saturday, we helped some friends load up a U-Haul truck as they set off for a new life in Alabama. Afterward, Susan and I decided we would take the kids to McDonald's to play. When we arrived, it was getting close to lunch time, and the play place was filling up. Emilie Grace is our three-year-old, and she has become quite fond of play places. She has also become capable of getting up and down to any point in the climbing apparatus. So, when we arrived, we didn't think twice about letting her go.
After about five minutes, Emilie began to cry and ran to us holding her head. When asked what was wrong, she said, "I bonk my head!" We held her and clarified her version of the story. Apparently, she tripped and hit her head on the end of the slide. After the crying finished, I asked if she wanted to get down. With tears still on her cheeks and a smile on her face, she said, "Yeah!" So, I let her go.
Emilie began to run and play again, and that's when she met Joshua. She ran past the little boy, who was probably between 18 months and 2 years old. Emilie's running was quickly halted, and she was jerked backwards because Joshua had grabbed onto her hair with both hands. Susan darted over and scooped up our little girl. Joshua's dad was there in a flash, trying to explain that "you can't do that." Another moment of parental comfort led to Emilie smiling through tears and affirming that she was prepared to get down. This time, she would stay with Caleb.
Another five minutes pass, and then we hear more screaming. It's Emilie...again! Looking toward the plastic wonderland, we see Joshua's dad banging on a piece of clear plastic yelling, "Joshua...stop! Joshua...stop!" I jump into action and got up in the thing myself, squirming and excusing myself past elementary and preschool children. I finally got to where the conflict occurred, and I got Emilie out of there. As I did, I noticed a clump of blond hair among the children. I grabbed it, so I could show Susan how serious this was.
Well, as Joshua's dad was taking him to the play place bathroom for corporal punishment, we held Emilie once again. This time, she couldn't seem to calm down. She kept trying to say something. We listened carefully and thought we heard, "I want my hair beret." Ahh...it wasn't in her hair, so we had Caleb go after it. He came back, and we asked for confirmation that the hair beret was what she wanted. She said, "I not want my hair beret." Then, she went back into repeatedly saying what she did want.
Finally, after several wrong phrases, I asked, "Emilie, are you saying you want your hair back?" She looked at me and said, "Yeah...I want my hair back." Susan picked up the clump of hair and asked if that's what she wanted. "Yeah...I want my hair back." So, Susan put the hand with the hair on the back of her head, dropped the clump, and stroked her hair. She asked, "Is that better?" There it was...the tears on the cheeks...the smile on her face. "Yeah, dat's better." And off she went to play again...once we were assured that Joshua was going to stay in Mom's lap for the rest of their meal.
Three-year-old reality: "Mom can do anything...even put hair back once Joshua, a hair terrorist, pulls it out."
Story Two - Scolding Turned to Suppressed Laughter
Yesterday, we traveled to Murfreesboro, TN (about 45 minutes away), to have Christmas with my mom's side of the family. Our two boys love playing with their cousins, Mia and Bella. From the moment we get there until the moment we leave, all four of them are usually found together.
In the midst of the gifts that were given, Caleb got episodes 4, 5, and 6 of Star Wars...you know, the old ones that aren't as intense as episodes 1, 2, and 3. Austin got some Thomas the Train toys, and he was crazy about them. Emilie Grace got a little Dora the Explorer radio with headphones...she wore them around her belly for much of the day.
Well, Mia is a little tomboy, and she got a race car track as one of her gifts yesterday. Our Emilie, having been taught well by her older brothers, immediately took to it and began playing with the cars. Every time Mia would come close to her track...to touch it or to watch Emilie...our little angel would give a great big "NO!" After a warning from mom, Emilie continued in her three-year-old ways. "NO!" Here Mia comes again... "NO!"
Susan had enough. She walked over to scold Emilie with great intensity. She had the look of a stern mother, finger prepared to point, and voice prepared to scold. She began explaining to Emilie that this was not her toy. "It's Mia's toy. If Mia wants to play with it, then she can. You cannot be selfish. You need to say 'sorry' to Mia."
Emilie had looked at Susan during this scolding. She had that look like she might actually be listening. Her mouth opens to respond. Could it be? Will this be the breakthrough we had hoped for? Emilie began to speak, and the scolding quickly turned to suppressed laughter. Our three-year-old's response to mom's correction was this: "Ohhhhh...is dat her name?"
Three-year-old reality: "All scolding seems to sound the same, but at least I learned my cousin's name this time. After all, we were never formally introduced."
I hope these stories made you laugh. Susan and I laughed out loud at both of them. Merry Christmas.
Friday, December 21, 2007
Leave a comment, and join the journey for a NEW SUBTITLE (NEW SUbtitle) (NEw subtitle) (new subtitle) --- did that seem like an echo to you? It was supposed to be an echo. Oh well, I look forward to hearing from you.
Romans 7:19, 22-23
"No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth."
Before I do any confession, let me be clear that I know this passage in Romans has a much bigger application than I will make today. The war between the new man and the power of sin is very serious and must be taken seriously. Each day that we wake up, we have an enemy seeking whom he may devour, and he does this through the power of sin. As John Owen said, "Be killing sin, or it will be killing you."
Both of these passages indicate opposites that are in conflict with each other. There are obviously opposites in the world that don't constantly battle...such as cold and hot, up and down, etc. However, the new man that concurs with the law of God is constantly at war with the one on the opposite side of the table...the power of sin. Also, the lordship of God and of money in one's life are not compatible. There is a war on, and no matter how much we sing of "peace on earth" at Christmas time, we are still at war. In fact, in another place, Jesus said He did not come to bring peace but a sword...a dividing sword (Mt. 10:34-36).
In this great war for the soul of man, we now introduce a personal battle...the battle at Christmas. It's not the battle "for" Christmas...this is not an entry to convince the world of the merits of saying "Merry Christmas" over "Happy Holidays". However, with the same, and even greater, intensity that many Christians battle for proper December semantics, I believe we ought to be battling for something greater...something that will affect our family's spiritual life, something that can testify to God's work in our lives, and something that would reveal how grace transforms a soul.
My battle happens in Target, shopping malls, Walgreen's (at the last minute), and countless other stores from the moment Thanksgiving turkey is digested until the morning of the 25th of December. It is a battle that puts what makes children smile against what makes children spiritually healthy...knowing that ultimately their spiritual health will lead to a greater smile. Do you know what it is yet?
It is buying Christmas gifts...this is the great battle at Christmas. You know that I am crazy about my children. I love seeing them happy. I love awing them with my ability to surprise on Christmas morning. I love buying great gifts that they want and won't break before Christmas breakfast is over. This is one part of me...the part that loves to please my children.
On the other side of the battle is my desire to see my kids love Jesus. I love hearing them ask if we can read the Bible together. I love when we're reading the Bible and they perk up with questions. I love seeing a spirit of giving come over them as they want to help mom bake bread for the whole neighborhood...or give away some of their toys to Goodwill (a.k.a.- the poor children). It is this part of me that would kill all materialism in my children...because they cannot serve God and money.
Now, the stage is set...the players are on the battlefield...the flags are raised. One army is chanting...they are chanting in my ear. "Daddy, make me happy with stuff." In addition, some spies from this army have been sent out to convince me that there's plenty of time to teach about materialism: "They're just kids," these spies whisper in my ear. "They're only going to grow up once...you don't want them to think poorly of you later, do you? They'll see what Billy's dad bought his kids, and they'll see what a deadbeat you are. Just skip the spiritual lesson this month."
Oh, how I can forget that this army has secret plans drawn up...plans that would take my children down the destructive path of materialism. This army intends to kill the freedom of my children by making them associate stuff with happiness, so that they rack up all kinds of debt later in the pursuit of happiness...or, they become work-a-holic, neglectful dads and moms who pursue career in the pursuit of stuff. The chant for happiness seems innocent enough, but it only leads to a trail of tears.
The other army has a simpler, and often quieter chant...much like a still small voice. "Daddy, make me like Jesus." This army also has plans, but they are different. There's still heartache on this road, but there is a Savior that is prepared to carry my children along this path. There are hands bloodied from the defeat of sin that do not extend amazing electronics or much-awaited toys, but instead, they extend salvation to my children. This Savior understands mocking...much more severe mocking than children's voices saying, "Your dad's cheap."
This second army...the army of holiness...calls out for me (i.e.- the new man) to defeat the power of sin that would feed my children's materialism. The power of sin would keep me short-sighted, wondering about my children's emotional welfare four days from now. The Spirit within has a longer, deeper, better vision for my children...one that cares about their spiritual welfare for all time.
So, friends...the battle rages on. Maybe it rages inside you as well. I want to encourage you...don't believe the lie of the enemy. Don't allow the power of sin to convince you that children opening brightly-colored packages, smiling, and hugging you neck is best. Buy your children gifts, but do not feed materialism. They will still smile and hug your neck. In the big picture, though, there is something far greater than the smile of a child as they open Christmas presents...it is the joy of their soul as they learn to live their lives serving God...not wealth.
Wednesday, November 28, 2007
In our day and time, history does not seem to be very important. Oh, we may have daily calendars on our desk that say "On this day in 1784...", but this is more like training for Trivial Pursuit or Jeopardy. It doesn't contribute to the shape of our contemporary lives. This is why I have been seeking to read more history this year...admittedly, not a whole lot, but some. For example, in January, I read The Autobiography of George Muller. The encouragement I found in those pages still inspires me to persevere as we trust the Lord in the adoption of our child. (Side Note: Still no word on bringing our daughter home...I have plane tickets for this Saturday, December 1, but unless we hear something in the next 24 hours, we'll have to move them back. Everything else is done...just waiting to get word that I can travel.) Muller's voice from the grave challenges my heart to believe in the providence and provision of God in all things.
In addition to Muller surrounding me, I currently have the 17th century theologian John Owen spurring me on. I am participating in an online reading group, taking his Of the Mortification of Sin in Believers one chapter a week and making comments. It may seem like a hefty title, but it is incredibly practical in the arena of battling against sin in this life. Owen has proved to not only stretch my brain (it is 17th century language, after all), but the Lord has used him to stretch my heart. I have been renewed in the seriousness and necessity of facing and fighting sin daily. As he writes in chapter 2, "Be killing sin or it will be killing you." Another voice from the grave being used for my sanctification.
One more example. This one is a little closer to today. William Newell (1868-1956) was a Bible teacher and pastor in the Chicago area and served as assistant superintendent at Moody Bible Institute under R.A. Torrey. Newell wrote the hymn "At Calvary" - "Years I spent in vanity and pride, caring not my Lord was crucified, knowing not it was for me He died at Calvary - Mercy there was great and grace was free, pardon there was multiplied to me, there my burdened soul found liberty, at Calvary." He also wrote commentaries on the books of Romans, Hebrews, and Revelation.
In his verse-by-verse commentary on Romans, William Newell penned a list of seven things that our souls learn as we live under grace. This list has been near and dear to my heart over the last few months. The words have been so powerful and used by God to convict me, it's as if Newell himself has climbed out of the grave to kick me around my living room...and this, all for my sanctification. Another voice from the grave used by God. Here's his list...maybe it will grab your soul for a few rounds.
1. To "hope to be better" is to fail to see yourself in Christ only.
2. To be disappointed with yourself is to have believed in yourself.
3. To be discouraged is unbelief - as to God's purpose and plan of blessing for you.
4. To be proud, is to be blind! For we have no standing before God, in ourselves.
5. The lack of Divine blessing, therefore, comes from unbelief, and not from failure of devotion.
6. Real devotion to God arises, not from man's will to show it; but from the discovery that blessing has been received from God while we were yet unworthy and undevoted.
7. To preach devotion first, and blessing second, is to reverse God's order, and preach law, not grace. The Law made man's blessing depend on devotion; Grace confers undeserved, unconditional blessing: our devotion may follow, but does not always do so, in proper measure.
If you breezed through that list with no reaction, read it again because you missed something. I'll wait...
Now, what's the point of all this? The point is that there are many spiritual mentors lying dead but waiting to help you on your journey to be more like Christ. There are many voices from the grave just waiting to be heard. Don't just let your pastor or professor or Sunday school give you little quotes here or there. That would be like occasionally enjoying a good appetizer when there's a continual amazing feast waiting to be had. Take up the challenge to spend some time with these dead men. Get to know Muller, Owen, Newell, Spurgeon, Baxter, Bunyan, Luther, Calvin, Carey, Judson, Wesley, and others. Read their biographies and renew your passion. Read their writings and challenge your thinking. You won't agree with everything they write, but who cares! You'll be able to think more clearly about the things of God and live more passionately for Him if you'll let the cloud of witnesses surround you...if you'll let the voices from the grave speak to you.
Monday, November 12, 2007
It's interesting that in this part of the Psalms we have three "betrayal" psalms. Psalm 52 is David's response to being turned in to Saul by an Edomite, and Psalm 54 is his cry after being ratted out by his own countrymen...the Ziphites. Neither of these two things could compare to the kind of backstabbing betrayal David will feel and present in Psalm 55. It is a betrayal that cut so deep that David says, "Oh, that I had wings like a dove! I would fly away and be at rest. Behold, I would wander far away, I would lodge in the wilderness" (v. 6-7). My movie-infested mind can't help but recall the first part of Forrest Gump, in which Jenny's abusive father drives her to kneel in the corn field and pray, "Dear God, make me a bird, so I can fly far...far, far away from here."
Much like Jenny, David has been betrayed by someone close to him...someone that he calls his "companion and...familiar friend" (v. 13) Some guess that David is either writing about Absalom (i.e.- David's son who wanted to take over the kingdom) or Ahithophel (i.e.- who was David's advisor that turned on him). We can't really be sure...all we know is that whoever did this was close to David. He loved this man. They "had sweet fellowship together...[and] walked in the house of God in the throng" (v. 14). They had been together in worship, lifting their hands to the Lord in praise. Maybe they sat together in wonder as they discussed the great forgiveness of God in David's life. Maybe they had been holding one another accountable...each according to their greatest temptations. Imagine the closest Christian relationship you have...one of deep trust and mutual adoration. Now, imagine that person betraying you...turning you out...acting as if you meant nothing to him/her.
Imagine that great friend speaking of you in ways unimaginable...as if he/she were some wicked, persecuting unbeliever. In fact, if it was an unbeliever, you might be prone to bow out your chest a little and get ready to fight to defend yourself and your faith. However, your chest doesn't bow out...it's deflated by the knife that has been shoved into your back, at the hands of the one who always said things like "I've got your back", "You can count on me", and "We're in this thing together."
How will David respond? To whom will David turn in such an awful situation? "As for me, I shall call upon the Lord, and the Lord will save me. Evening and morning and at noon, I will complain and murmur, and He will hear my voice" (v. 16-17). The pain will turn to prayer. The shock will turn to supplication. The deep cuts from a friend will turn into loud cries to the Lord. There's no way to understand it when this happens...there's no real explanation when the man or woman you've trusted for so long breaks it all in one moment. It has to send you reeling back to the only One who is completely trustworthy and will work on your behalf.
This kind of praying apparently brought clarity to David's mind. No longer was he simply trying to regain equilibrium from the "knife wound". Now, looking back, he sees a different friend...hindsight is 20/20, they say. Now, David understands who the man really was. "He has put forth his hands against those who were at peace with him; he has violated his covenant. His speech was smoother than butter, but his heart was war; his words were softer than oil, yet they were drawn swords" (v. 20-21). Now, it's all clear.
James Montgomery Boice writes, "Earlier David was deeply pained by the betrayal. Here, having laid the matter before God and having assured himself that God is his Savior and that he will surely deliver him from such evil, David steps away from his own feelings and reflects on the wrongdoing itself. The real problem is that the man is a covenant breaker, and the reason he breaks covenant is that he is a hypocrite. He pretends one thing but plots another. He speaks peace, but actually he is devising war" (Psalms: Volume 2, p.463).
Interestingly, when we come to verse 22, David speaks what seems to be a personal word of advice to any who would hear. If it were a televised event, I'd imagine that everything around David pauses, and David stays animated and looks directly into the camera. With a sincere heart, he says, "Cast your burden upon the Lord and He will sustain you; He will never allow the righteous to be shaken" (v. 22). It's just like the hymn says, "Friends may fail me, foes assail me, He, my Savior, makes me whole...Hallelujah, what a Savior!"
Have you been there? Have you stood in shock or wept with grief, having found that dear friend to actually be a great foe? Have you had those sleepless nights of wondering, "What just happened here?" Listen to David, my friend. Turn your feelings of bitterness, frustration, and anger into an assault of prayer. Then, cast your anxieties on the Lord, for He cares for you (1 Peter 5:7).
Ultimately, consider this...Jesus Christ Himself had such a friend...a friend named Judas. When Judas betrayed Jesus, Jesus was already feeling the weight of suffering that the betrayal would bring, so He was assaulting heaven with His prayers in the Garden of Gethsemane. After the betrayal, when all was said and done, what is it Jesus did? He cast Himself into the arms of the Father...remember? "Father, into Your hands I commit my spirit" (Luke 23:46). So, what should we do? Let's let the Bible answer..."consider Him who endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart" (Heb. 12:3).
Thursday, November 08, 2007
Have you ever wondered what it would be like to be someone else? Little boys and girls may dream of being baseball players, astronauts, pro golfers, or firefighters, but they don't know what it's like. What's it like to feel the grass beneath your feet in Fenway Park? What's it like to walk on the first tee at a major championship? What's it like for every part of your body to feel the force of the space shuttle lifting off? What's it like to walk out of a burning building with a child in your arms who would have otherwise died?
We can make guesses, read accounts, even interview people who have had the experience, but it's not quite the same. There is a certain privilege to having the experience. In these verses, Peter is writing to scattered, suffering believers about their experience in Christ. He has already assured them in their status as "elect aliens" (v. 1-2), instructed them in the blessings of salvation (v. 3-5), and encouraged them for their joy in all things (v. 6-9). Now, Peter tells them how their salvation really sets them apart from two distinguished groups...the prophets and the angels. In comparison with these two, these scattered, suffering believers are really quite privileged.
Peter first mentions the prophets, who prophesied of the grace that was to come (v. 10). As the young children's catechism reminds us, these prophets were some of the "chosen men inspired by God" that wrote most of what we call the Old Testament. They stood up to rebellious, sinful people and called them back to the Lord. They predicted the coming of the Messiah in a multitude of passages. What an amazing place these men have in the salvation history of God! So, what does Peter say about them?
First, the prophets made searches and inquiries, seeking to know more about the Messiah (v. 10-11a). The prophets did not only preach with passion and predict the Messiah, they intently looked for Him. They longed to see Him, to know Him, to follow Him. Who was this Messiah that would be full of grace? When you take a look at a few places in the book of Daniel, you'll see that amid all the prophecy are places where Daniel didn't get it and wanted to study more (8:15, 27; 9:2; 12:8). In fact, Jesus said, "...for I say to you, that many prophets and kings wished to see the things which you see, and did not see them, and to hear the things that you hear, and did not hear them" (Luke 10:24). The prophets lived searching lives, trying to understand what God was doing...maybe even wondering what the fulfillment of their own prophecies would look like.
Second, the prophets were inspired by the Holy Spirit (v. 11b). We know this from 2 Peter 1:21, but we can also see it right here, as the Spirit of Christ indicated the Messiah's sufferings and future glories. The Spirit was active among the prophets, keeping them from error in their prophecies and protecting the writings that would be handed down for generations to come. These men spoke wonderful, Spirit-inspired things that they would never see fulfilled in their lifetime.
Third, the prophets understood that they were serving Peter's readers, and even us (v. 12). They understood that their place in salvation history was to lay the groundwork for not only the Messiah's coming, but also for the faith of men and women who would read their prophecy and see the Messiah as the fulfillment of those prophecies. Their great service to you and to me is that the fulfillment of their writings, the Lord Jesus Himself, is preached in the gospel.
Having looked at all that the prophets accomplished, do you see your great privilege? (1) The prophets searched and searched for a Messiah that they would never find in their lifetime. They died with only the hope that one day He would come. We actually have this Messiah in the person of Jesus Christ, having our sins cleansed by Him, and having Him stand before the Father as our Advocate. It is a life experience that not even the prophets had. (2) The prophets had the Holy Spirit inspire them to speak wonderful truths about the Messiah, but we have the Holy Spirit...God Himself...dwelling in our hearts. He testifies that we are the children of God, and He is the seal that we are forever redeemed. These are assurances that can only be experienced after the death and resurrection of Christ, so they are privileges that the prophets did not have. (3) The prophets were our servants. Their lives were about our lives. They spoke and wrote so we would listen and believe. Their writings exist to help us see and savor the glory of Jesus Christ and embrace Him as the supreme Lord of all.
The other thing that Peter mentions is that angels long to look into the things of salvation. There's not much written there, but it seems that our position in Christ is the envy of angels. It is our redemption and the daily experience of it that angels wish they knew. You see, fallen angels are not redeemed, and holy angels are not redeemed. I think Peter is getting at this...there is something so great, so glorious, so Christ-exalting about having fallen into sin and being redeemed from it that angels wish they could glorify God as we do. They can read the Scripture, watch and celebrate as men and women are converted, and continually wonder...but they will never know what it's like to be redeemed...to be bought with the precious blood of the Lamb.
You know that saying, "It's better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all"? Well, I think it would be fair to say that it's better to have fallen and been redeemed than never to have fallen at all. In the sovereignty and wisdom of God, He allowed mankind to fall into son because there was something more glorious then for humans to never sin. That something is for a race of redeemed, born-again men and women and children to have been redeemed from their sin. Why is this so glorious? Because it fulfills God's ultimate purpose in the universe, which is to exalt above all things His name and His word...to exalt the Lord Jesus Christ to the highest place with a name that is above every name.
Now, knowing your privileged position in Christ, don't take it for granted. Don't think that conversion is "the shallow end of the pool". Enjoying the work of God in Christ is the greatest joy there is on earth. Don't long for "deeper things". This is the deepest water there is...that Jesus Christ was born of a virgin, lived a sinless life, died a substitutionary death, was buried, and rose on the third day, proving that He was, is, and always will be the Savior, King, and Judge of all mankind. By faith, He is ours, and we are His. This is not commonplace...it is glorious!!! Swim in the great waters of redemption today, and know that you are the envy of prophets and angels because of what Christ has done in and for you.
Wednesday, September 19, 2007
Before I begin, let me point you to the January 15, 2007, post "Which is better? To be wronged or File a Lawsuit", in which I thought through 1 Corinthians 6 and the idea of suing brothers in Christ more fully (there dealing with the Tennessee Baptists suing Belmont University, a Christian university supported by Tennessee Baptist moneys). I will only make brief reference to the teaching here, for the sake of application.
First, let me quote verses 1-7:
"Does any one of you, when he has a case against his neighbor, dare to go to law before the unrighteous and not before the saints? Or do you not know that the saints will judge the world? If the world is judged by you, are you not competent to constitute the smallest law courts? Do you not know that we will judge angels? How much more matters of this life? So if you have law courts dealing with matters of this life, do you appoint them as judges who are of no account in the church? I say this to your shame. Is it so, that there is not among you one wise man who will be able to decide between the brethren, but brother goes to law with brother, and that before unbelievers? Actually, then, it is already a defeat for you, that you have lawsuits with one another."
Here's the JB Phillips paraphrase:
"When any of you has a grievance against another, aren't you ashamed to bring the matter to be settled before a pagan court instead of before the church? Don't you know that Christians will one day judge the world? And if you are to judge the world do you consider yourselves incapable of settling such infinitely smaller matters? Don't you also know that we shall judge the very angels themselves - how much more then matters of this world only! In any case, if you find you have to judge matters of this world, why choose as judges those who count for nothing in the church? I say this deliberately to rouse your sense of shame. Are you really unable to find among your number one man with enough sense to decide a dispute between one and another of you, or must one brother resort to law against another and that before those who have no faith in Christ! It is surely obvious that something must be seriously wrong in your church for you to be having lawsuits at all."
And now, the AP story from yesterday:
"Southern Baptists in Nashville, Tennessee, are suing their prominent pastor, accusing him of misappropriating money and refusing to let them inspect church records. The lawsuit filed last week follows allegations that the Reverend Jerry Sutton spent church money on his daughter's wedding reception. The 49 people who joined the lawsuit accuse Sutton of failing to abide by church rules and punishing those who question his authority. Sutton, who lost a bid to become president of the national Southern Baptist Convention last year, has served for more than two decades as leader of Nashville's Two Rivers Baptist Church. The plaintiffs want Sutton and other Two Rivers directors removed from office, access to church records and any misappropriated money to be returned."
I hope that in reading the Scripture next to the news item, you heart is broken for the 49 who are bringing the suit, the pastor being dragged to court, and the local church where it is happening. My guess (and it's only a guess) is that most of the members don't actually agree with what is happening in the lawsuit, but as we all know, "the squeaky wheel gets the oil".
Now, let me say right up front...I have no dog in this fight...I take no side in this argument...the pastor may be wrong, and the people may be wrong. According to the church's press release, the budget and finance ministry team approved using church funds for the reception because it would be a church wide event (there was a separate reception for invited guests only that the pastor paid for himself). Is that an appropriate use of church funds? Good question, but not the issue at hand. Don't let yourself get caught up in which side is right and which side is wrong. It is the very bringing of the lawsuit that is at the forefront of my mind.
In taking this issue outside the church to the court system, believers are putting actions that should fall under the title "church discipline" into the hands of a pagan judge/court. All of a sudden, guilt or innocence in relation to sinning against a brother is going to be decided by a publicly elected official. If the 49 get their way, the pastor will be removed from his office as pastor, which is clearly a violation of the separation of church and state. The state should not have authority to establish or "unestablish" in the realm of religious matters, in general, not to mention in the Christian church.
In response to the idea that believers are taking one another to court, Paul says he is intentionally trying to bring shame on the Corinthians believers. Why would he say that? It's just a lawsuit...they're just trying to settle things done wrongly in their own perspective. Don't bother the church with it...let's just go to court. What a horrific idea!!! It is horrible because it is sinful, and the 49 and any who support them have believed a lie from the pit of hell. What is the lie? The lie is this: "Matthew 18, forgiveness, and reconciliation is fine and good for personal relationships, but this is the pastor...this is different...this is special...he has to be handled differently...the church as a whole would never administer justice as it's needed...we should take it someone who will...I guess the courts will do."
Do you see the truth mixed with lies? Mt. 18, forgiveness, and reconciliation is for personal relationships in the body (TRUE). Because this man is a pastor, there is a special and different element to the process (TRUE...1 Tim. 5:19-20). The church as a whole would never administer justice as it's "needed" (very possibly TRUE). Mt. 18, forgiveness, and reconciliation are not for relationships with pastors (FALSE). We need to go to someone besides the church (FALSE). The courts are a better authority than the church (FALSE).
Certain steps in the reconciliation may have been taken. The pastor may have been approached one to one. There may have been more witnesses taken. However, the media was involved to "expose" the pastor to the community. There was some kind of meeting to rally support for the accusations. The courts are now going to be involved. Now, can you imagine Paul and Barnabas doing all this because they disagreed about whether John Mark should come along on the missionary journey? Imagine Paul getting his camp together, Barnabas getting his together, and deciding that Felix the governor would decide who was right, who was wrong, and whether John Mark was fit for the journey. ABSOLUTELY NO WAY!
I know that money suspicions create deep feelings. I know that mistrust of leadership can cause great hurt. I also know that pride, selfishness, and jealousy can swell to the point of fabricating suspicion and mistrust, leading to hateful "witch hunts" in the church. You know what I would love to see? Not just in this church, but in others that I know are in turmoil. You know what would bring great glory to God, true peace and unity to a fellowship, and an even greater evangelistic witness in the community? Do you? Do you know?
Not a court date...not a church split...not packing away feelings of jealousy, mistrust, pride, suspicion, and the rest so they can show their ugly heads another day...not continuing to attend the church with folded arms, angry eyebrows, and a closed heart...not just avoiding the issue altogether, hoping it will go away or the pastor will go away.
Here's what I believe will bring more glory to churches that experience these kinds of difficulties, whether it's in Tennessee, Texas, Indiana, or Indonesia. Humility, kindness, grace, forgiveness, confrontation, confession, reconciliation, restoration. I have several relationships, with those in my church and even my marriage, that is graced by constant forgiveness and reconciliation. There is a joy in those relationships that does not come from just abandoning the Scripture, the church, and the brother who offends.
May we be a people who pray for those that believe the lie, knowing that our heads and hearts will be bombarded with the temptation to believe the same kinds of things. May we be a confessing people...confessing our sin to one another and praying for one another, that we may be healed (James 5). May we be a forgiving people...forgiving one another just as God in Christ has forgiven us (Ephesians 4). If the expelling of a member or a pastor becomes absolutely necessary, let us do it with broken hearts instead of puffed-out chests, praying for his ultimate restoration.
Drop the lawsuit, brothers and sisters! Stop denying the power of the Scripture in your church! Do church discipline, if necessary! Examine your own hearts for sinful motivations! If the church decides that removing him and having him repay is unnecessary, find a way to accept the church's decision! Don't abandon your church, your pastor, your responsibility, your Lord, or the faith! Keep your eyes on Jesus!
Friday, September 14, 2007
Recently, I took a short, personal prayer retreat in order to seek clarity from the Lord. So many things have been bombarding my heart and mind, both in our family's life and in my ministry life, that I had to get away. I have to tell you...I didn't even think of it myself. It was the counsel of a good friend, and I took it. Now, admittedly, when I got to the cabin on that Sunday night, I had no clue what I was going to do all day. It seemed random enough, but I felt compelled to read the second half of Acts as my guide for the day. I would read a while, pray a while, journal a while...rinse, and repeat.
I don't know if you've ever found yourself "stuck" asking for the same thing from the Lord, but most of my prayers came back to this phrase: "Lord, I need clarity." So, I kept on asking, believing it would be given to me (Mt. 7:7). I was not disappointed, as the Lord spoke through Paul's missionary journeys in the book of Acts...not only what I will relay here, but more. He did more than I asked or imagined could happen in one day (Eph. 3:20).
So, how do I walk forward? How do I live with clarity in waiting for governmental paperwork to enable me to bring home my daughter? How I continue being a spiritual shepherd with clarity when I feel beat up all the time? How do I walk with joy and peace and strength, instead of throwing myself a pity party? What was the clarity? Well, in order to give you the three things I learned, I need to remind you first of Paul's journey.
In Acts 9, Paul, formerly known as Saul, was interrupted and converted by Christ in dramatic fashion as he was traveling to Damascus to imprison and torture Christians (v. 1-19a). After preaching instead of persecuting in the city of Damascus, Paul was aided by Barnabas in being accepted by the apostles in Jerusalem (v. 19b-28). After spending some time in the church at Antioch, the Holy Spirit set Paul and Barnabas aside to do mission work, the church laid hands on them, and they departed (Acts 13:1-4). These initial travelings will bring the pair to Pisidian Antioch, where Paul (Saul) was invited to speak, and you can read Paul's first printed sermon in Acts 13:16-41.
The next Sabbath, an incredible crowd gathered to hear the Word again, but this time, the Jews stirred up opposition, contradicting Paul, getting the well-to-do and leaders of the city incited against Paul and Barnabas, and driving them out of town (13:44-50). In response, verse 51 tells us that Paul and Barnabas "shook off the dust of their feet in protest against them and went to Iconium". This was Jesus' instruction for the disciples...when people would not accept them or listen to their words, they were to leave, shaking the dust from their feet as an indictment against them (Mt. 10:14; Mk. 6:11; Lk. 9:5, 10:10-11). It is in what happens next that I found my encouragement for the journey, and there are three things that sunk deep into my heart.
(1) They went away full of joy and the Holy Spirit (Acts 13:52).
How did they do this? How could they walk away from being driven out of the city with hearts full of joy? I have this sneaking suspicion that it was because their source of ultimate joy was not ministry. It didn't flow from their success or failure, from reception or rejection. Their joy was in the Lord. I know it sounds simple, but that's what hit me like a ton of bricks, and I hope it hits you. Certainly, seeing people's lives changed, seeing the people of God grow in their walks with Christ, watching as Christians act like Christians...these things add to joy, but even in these, the source is the Lord. None of these things happen apart from the Lord. Paul said, "I planted, Apollos watered, but God was causing the growth" (1 Cor. 3:6). Our belief must be that God causes any growth we see...not our hard work, not our cleverness of speech, not our flashiness of program, not the style of music we sing...in fact, not anything we do. The Lord uses us to accomplish His work, but it is still His work. I wish I could remember the source, but I read recently as a man wrote (and I paraphrase), "Can the axe brag of all the trees that it has cut down? No! It is the power of the one who swings the axe that affects the trees. The axe can be sharp, shiny, and sturdy, but without someone swinging it, it is useless." We are but axes, and it is the power of the Lord that "swings" us, making us effective. So, let us not pridefully think that we are the only axes out there or that we're the "sharpest tool in the shed".
Back to the point...their joy was in the Lord. Verse 52 says that they were "continually filled with joy and the Holy Spirit". This seems to be the theme of the persecuted church in Acts. As riots are formed, as people rejected them, as they are brought to trial, as stones are hurled at them, as rods beat their backs...they are filled. The joy of the Lord was their strength. It's not that they ignored the pain, smiled away their trouble, "turned their frown upside down", or any other such nonsense. It was simply that bad circumstances could not take their joy, and even the absence of opposition could not give them joy. The filling of the Holy Spirit, being God's child and ambassador, and knowing they were obeying the heavenly vision (Acts 26:19)...these gave Paul joy. In this case, man could not take his joy, and man could not give it. There is only one place where this kind of joy and contentment lie...in the person and work of Jesus Christ. With this as his background, Paul can confidently say, "Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say rejoice" (Phil. 4:4).
In this same way, the Holy Spirit's filling was not based on their visible success or continued opposition. Instead, it was based on Christ's salvation of these men and His using them as the axes that would cut down the backward thinking of the world. They emptied themselves out in preaching, teaching, traveling, suffering, etc., and the Holy Spirit continued to fill them along the way.
APPLICATION...Isn't is obvious? You and I must not depend so heavily on what we see in order to satisfy and give spiritual joy. We will face hard things in this life...unexpected job loss, church strife, personal opposition from those who should be our allies in Christ, rebellious children, etc. Remember this in bad times...that your joy must come from the Lord and not what you see. you know, it may be even more tempting in good times to base our joy on what we see, but we cannot do it. We no longer belong to this world, so why would our joy come from it?
(2) They went back to Antioch to minister (Acts 14:21-23). Let me quote it: "After they had preached the gospel to that city and had made many disciples, they returned to Lystra and Iconium and Antioch, strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying, 'Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.' When they had appointed elders for them in every church, having prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord in whom they believed." (italics added)
WHAT?!? They went back? After being run off, I can almost understand that Paul and Barnabas went away full of joy and the Holy Spirit. How am I supposed to understand going back to minister in such a place of opposition? Well, the verses I just quoted give us a picture of five things they would accomplish in going back to such a place.
(a) Strengthen souls - Sure, there was opposition, but there was also a great need for these spiritual newborns to be nurtured in the faith. Leaving them to fend for themselves would be like not feeding a baby, hoping the child would find his way to a bottle before dying. That would be crazy...and so would not nurturing these disciples' souls.
(b) Encourage perseverance - If the apostle was opposed, those who had come to believe would certainly be opposed, too. They had to continue in the faith, and to do that, they would need encouragement to cling to Jesus alone in the face of continuing opposition.
(c) Teach expectations - Paul explained that they should expect tribulation, but he also explained how they should see the tribulation. It was the path down which they must walk to enter the kingdom of God. James says it's the way we become perfect, lacking nothing (James 1). Paul wrote to the Romans that these tribulations produce hope (Romans 5).
(d) Set things right - Leaving these believers to themselves could have resulted in false teaching and chaos in their fellowship. So, Paul and Barnabas appoint elders...probably after discipling them and instructing them, as they did with the elders in Ephesus (Acts 20). With proper leadership in place, the teaching of doctrine is more likely to stay pure and continued encouragement and perseverance can take place.
(e) Leave them to God - Verse 23 says that Paul and Barnabas commended them to God. It was an example for the Antioch Christians...the same God whose Holy Spirit and joy belonged to Paul and Barnabas also belonged to these believers. Their faith must not be based on human leadership, but on God, who is their life. This way, nobody could say, 'If only Paul were here...' They have Someone far superior to Paul...they had Paul's Savior.
APPLICATION: When the faith of others is on the line, it is necessary to continue going back, even when things are chaotic and full of pain. Souls need strengthening, faith needs encouraging, expectations need to be taught, things must be set biblically right, and the church needs to be full of people entrusting the everything to God.
(3) They focused on the work of the Lord, not opposition.
Acts 14:27, 15:4, and 15:12 tell us that as Paul and Barnabas are reporting in (you know, giving their missionary testimony in church), they report what God has done with them. Admittedly, there may have been a passing mention of the opposition, but it was not the focus. The focus was on the work of the Lord. It would have been easy to talk about the difficulties, wouldn't it? Talking about how hard things are usually gathers empathy...people saying 'well, bless your heart'...thinking you're a hero. Neither Paul nor Barnabas wanted to be seen as the hero; instead, they wanted to point to the Hero of the mission, God Himself. So, they talked about the door of faith among the Gentiles (14:27) and the miraculous signs and wonders God did among them (15:12).
APPLICATION: Sometimes, it's easy to get fixated on the trouble...on the difficulty. After all, if it's surrounding you to the point of suffocating, it can look like the trouble is all that's there. However, let's refocus...let's remember who the Lord is...we must focus on the Lord. It doesn't mean turning a blind eye to the reality of difficulty, but it does mean that our fixation is the Lord Jesus...that our eyes are on the Savior.
After the destruction of Jerusalem in 586 BC, nobody had a greater right to be upset than Jeremiah. He had preached the Lord's message to His people with no visible success. They remained a stubborn people, who were ultimately destroyed and taken into captivity by the Babylonians. In his writing of Lamentations, you can read the first 18 verses of chapter 3 and get quite a suffocating picture. Maybe you feel that way. However, verses 21-23 show us the refocus that we all need in those times. "This I recall to mind, therefore I have hope. The Lord's lovingkindnesses indeed never cease, for His compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness." Can I sit in the Babylonian prison of life and say these words? In Christ, I can, and you can, too!
Well, that's it...those three things are sticking to my soul after my prayer retreat. I hope you find something to encourage you, and I hope that you will consider getting away for a day or two...praying, reading, and seeking the Lord. It's worth it! (1) Our joy is from the Lord alone, not our visible success or opposition. (2) It's necessary to go back where the opposition or trouble is...especially when there are souls in need. (3) Keep your eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, and avoid focusing on things that only swell the feelings of pity and selfishness.
Thursday, August 23, 2007
Now, when you read this story, there will be no word "prostitute" found. So, how did I come to call her a prostitute? One main reason...she has a reputation. She was known as a sinner. Simon the Pharisee knew her reputation as a sinner (v. 39). The author knew her as one who lived a sinful life (v. 37). One secondary reason, found in a commentary that I cannot now recall, is that her hair is unbound (thus the wiping of Jesus' feet). This, it was written, was a sign of the kind of person she was.
What I must first admit is that I cannot dogmatically say that she was a prostitute. It just seems that a woman who is known as a sinner, especially among Pharisees, must have done something that is obvious, public, and heinous. Second, prostitution is not the only sin whose repentance would be so beautiful. This story would be just as powerful with a murderer, a child molester, or a thief...or a gossip, a religious hypocrite, a backbiter, or a tax evader. In fact, just fill in the blank with your great weakness...that chink in your spiritual armor...that place where the enemy knows he can attack. She was at His feet, and she was a sinner...specifically, she was a ____________. See, it's still a beautiful story.
The love this woman displays is wonderful. It's emotional, humble, and sacrificial. Emotional: she's a wreck...can't hold it together. She's crying rivers of tears, so much so that she feels bad that her Savior's feet are getting wet. So, she bows to wipe them off. The hair that had attracted customers was now a tool of worship before the Savior. Humble: She's at His feet...kissing His feet, wiping His feet, anointing His feet. She is down, and down is where she ought to be. Not only because of who she is (and who we are), but because of who He is. Down at the feet is a humble place...it's the place of a cheating spouse who's begging for forgiveness. It's the place of a respectful servant in the presence of a king...or in this case, a King. Sacrificial: The perfume she uses is worth about a year's salary in that day. As she poured out a year's salary on Jesus' feet, it's as if she is pouring herself out at His feet. Have we poured ourselves out that way? Could anyone say that we are sacrificing for the sake of Christ?
With all this in mind, I can't help but wondering something. How had this prostitute come to experience the forgiveness of Jesus? She obviously had done so because Jesus explains her actions by saying that she has been forgiven much. Again, nothing dogmatic here, but when I let my imagination wander, any number of possibilities come to mind.
1. Maybe she was an escort on the arm of a well-to-do tax collector who had been sitting around the table when Matthew invited all his friends over for dinner. There at dinner, she saw in Jesus' eyes something she had never seen in a man's eyes before...compassion, tenderness, mercy. He spoke at the dinner table of God's free offer of forgiveness, and in that moment, the candlelight reflected off something in her eyes...tears. Pain over sin and joy over forgiveness rushed over her soul, and she was set free from her sin.
2. Maybe she had just quietly slipped out of a client's home and began down the street when she saw a crowd began to gather. A prophet from Galilee was going to speak. He said many words that were like arrows to her heart that day. "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied." A life that satisfies? Is that really possible? "Blessed are those who are poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." Poor in spirit is right...there is no more lowly creature in this town than me, she would have thought. "Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted." No thoughts...only tears. The comfort of God's forgiveness overcame her that day.
3. Or maybe she was around when the widow whose son had died was being carried through the streets (earlier in Luke 7). Jesus saw the pain in the widow's eyes and called out to the boy as if he were sleeping. "It's time to get up, son." And the boy got up. This Jesus had raised the dead. Suddenly, it hit her. She was dead inside...a life of selling her body and soul to every man that offered had killed all that was in her. A life of ignoring God left her dead. But this Jesus...if He could raise this dead boy, maybe he could raise my dead...soul. The tears flowed freely as she watched his every move. She watched him talk to John's disciples, and then she watched as he went into Simon's house. She knew Simon, and she had been berated by him a time or two...but she knew Jesus was in there. So, she grabbed last month's earnings, an alabaster jar of perfume, and went in...tear-stained face, shoulders slumped in humiliation, to love her Savior.
Whatever the case was, she had been radically and drastically affected by the forgiveness of Jesus Christ. It wasn't a buzz word to her...it wasn't a Sunday School answer...it wasn't a slogan for her next t-shirt. It was her reality, and in that reality, she fell at Jesus' feet.
Are we this motivated by the forgiveness we enjoy in Christ, as this prostitute did? If not, let us remember that we are the prostitute. We may often feel well-to-do like the Pharisees, but we are the prostitute, and we have been forgiven much. It would do us well, at times, to remember the depth from which we have been rescued. Paul told the Corinthians to do it...do you remember what you were when Christ found you? You had prostituted yourself to the God of me, selling your soul to materialism and greed and lust and hate and slander and gossip and lying...lovers of self and not lovers of God, lying in the ditch of spiritual condemnation, face down in a pool of your own sin. That's where you were when the Lord's gracious hand swooped down and rescued you.
Don't you ever forget it...you were a prostitute, and now you're a child of God because of the forgiveness of Jesus Christ. And don't go thinking you're forgiven because you've preached all these sermons and led Bible studies and written a theology-laden blog and avoided looking bad in the eyes of others. You are who you are by the grace of God, and don't you dare forget it.
It is only the full knowledge of this kind of forgiveness that leads to the love this woman shows Jesus. Now that you've seen her...imagine a church full of prostitutes with such passion for Christ. This is who we ought to be...we are to be motivated by the forgiveness of God in Christ so that we are passionate prostitutes praising our great Savior.
Tuesday, July 17, 2007
Well, I suppose the first, and most obvious, answer to this question as to why pastors should preach morals is found in 2 Timothy 4:2 - "Preach the Word." The call of a pastor is to preach God's Word, not just to stand up each week and find new and compelling ways to say, "God loves you, God has a plan for you, God wants a relationship with you...here are the ABC's of salvation, now you respond." The truth is...moral instruction is part of God's Word to the world. To those of us who believe in Christ, it is that word by which we must live and be corrected when we wander from the Lord. To those who do not believe, it is that word by which you are convicted and shown just how far short of God's glory we have fallen. Either way, part of God's message of redemption is in the moral teachings of the Bible. Why are moral teachings part of God's message of redemption? Because He longs for all men to be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth (1 Tim. 2:4), and in coming to this knowledge, we must see our desperate sinfulness and need of God. Upon believing, we express love for God as we keep His commandments...His moral teachings (1 John 5:3).
Now, let's look at an example of the necessity to preach all things in the Bible. In speaking to the elders from the church at Ephesus (Acts 20), Paul gives us insight into his ministry of the Word. He says, "You know that I have not hesitated to preach anything that would be helpful to you but have taught you publicly and from house to house...I have not hesitated to proclaim to you the whole will of God" (v. 20, 27). Paul gave them the whole counsel of God, which undoubtedly included standards of morality and the reality of sin. He did the same with the Romans in his letter to those believers. You see, preachers would be doing an incomplete job if they were not to instruct believers to act as believers. In doing so, the unbelievers who hear this preaching will recognize that they are incapable of doing and being all that God requires, which points them to the cross and to Christ. So, pastors should preach morals because it is part of the Word of God, and we are to preach the Word.
Now, what about those who would disregard the Bible or pick and choose parts of the Bible to accept and reject, like my friend who made the statement? Well, we must go to a more philosophical line of reasoning. We must think about the nature of love and morals and see if there is, in fact, any opposition between the two. My assertion is that there is no opposition, but that both work in concert with one another. In other words, love demands boundaries. Let's look at an example to show this. We all know that the best of marriages are those that are rooted in a lifelong, committed love for one another. This love carries husband and wife through thick and thin, highs and lows, sickness and health, richer and poorer, and all the other things we may have recited in our vows.
We are awed and moved by hearing of couples celebrating 30, 40, 50, 60, or 75 years of marriage together...seeing them holding hands, hearing him call her sweetheart, etc. But what made the marriage last so long and made the love grow so deep? Was it just the sentiment? Was it just roses and cards and surprise trips and such? I don't think so. These are all wonderful things, but they don't make for a lasting marriage...they add to it. If I had a guess, it is this kind of sentimental love of God and love for God that my friend at Starbucks would have pastors focus on.
However, upon a closer examination of love, and the giving of a few extreme situations, we may see things more clearly. Let's say that a man brings flowers home weekly to his wife, writes her poetry and love letters, and surprises her with jewelry and vacations. What a man! Right? Well, let's say this man does these things because he likes to solicit prostitutes, is having an affair with his secretary, and is hooked on pornography. He does these other things out of guilt because he knows that his wife knows. Is this guy still loving her like you thought he was 2 sentences ago?
Let's say he does all these sentimental things after he goes out, gets completely drunk, and comes home to beat his wife to a pulp. Is he loving because of the sentiment? I think you're getting the point. Real love...the kind that moves our hearts and souls...is love that comes with boundaries. It is love that keeps a husband faithful to his wife...it is love that drives him to learn how to communicate when angry instead of flying into fits of rage...it is love that gives that woman security.
So, you could say that love brings with it boundaries, and that real love stays within the boundaries. Now, let's go back to the statement my friend made. I believe that he's on to something if all he's ever heard from a preacher is "do this", "don't do this", etc., without any mention of the love of God. This trap of legalistc preaching is one we preachers must avoid with great tenacity. The goal of preaching is not to have a room full of people living moral, good lives but, instead, to have people who are redeemed by Christ, having seen their need for Him and His glorious work on the cross.
How do love and boundaries come together in the message of the Bible? First and foremost, the love of God was demonstrated in the cross (Rom. 5:8), and the boundary is this...there is only one means by which a man or woman may enjoy the love of God - through Jesus Christ (Acts 4:12, John 14:6). Secondly, our love for Jesus Christ and what He has done for us is not simply emotional and sentimental...it moves us to stay within the moral boundaries God has established (John 15:13). Just as love and boundaries are intimately connected in marriage, they are intimately connected in the Scripture.
So, we must teach biblical, moral standards, but we must not neglect God's love and grace. It is by grace that we were saved, it is by grace that we grow in Christ, and it is by grace that we keep any commands at all. If we neglect this, we will be encouraging people to pull up their religious boot straps and do better. Lord, keep us from this heresy of works sanctification. Preach morals, preach love, and preach dependence on God's grace for it all.
Monday, May 21, 2007
In these four chapters of the Bible, we are told of the reform of King Hezekiah. Hezekiah was one of only a few good kings in Judah's history, and Hezekiah rises to power in approximately 715 BC, just seven short years after the northern kingdom of Israel had fallen to Assyria. His father, King Ahaz, was one of the worst kings Judah ever saw. Look at these pieces from 2 Chron. 28:1-4, 22-25: "[Ahaz] did not do right in the sight of the Lord...he...made molten images for the Baals. Moreover, he burned incense in the valley of Benhinnom and burned his sons in fire...He sacrificed and burned incense on the high places, on the hills and under every green tree. // Now in the time of his distress this same King Ahaz became yet more unfaithful to the Lord. For he sacrificed to the gods of Damascus which had defeated him...Moreover, when Ahaz gathered the utensils of the house of God, he cut the utensils of the house of God in pieces; and he closed the doors of the house of the Lord and made altars for himself in every corner of Jerusalem. In every city of Judah he made high places to burn incense to other gods, and provoked the Lord, the God of his fathers, to anger." Obviously, Ahaz was not a good role model for anyone wanting to be king and be blessed.
In stark contrast to his father, Hezekiah comes on the scene and immediately begins the difficult task of reforming the nation of Judah. He has seen, in the Assyrian invasion of Israel, what happens when a people called by the one true God reject Him. He saw his fathers apostasy and syncretistic religion. Chapter 29:2 shows such a stark difference as it says, "He did right in the sight of the Lord, according to all that his father David had done." In the 2 Kings account of Hezekiah's life, we read these words, "He trusted in the Lord, the God of Israel; so that after him there was none like him among all the kings of Judah, nor among those who were before him. For he clung to the Lord; he did not depart from following Him, but kept His commandments, which the Lord had commanded Moses. And the Lord was with him; wherever he went he prospered" (2 Kings 18:5-7). God, His Word, and His presence were going to be essential and central in Hezekiah's personal life and reign as king of Judah.
So, what does he do to reform this nation? He focuses first on leadership and the temple (2 Chron. 29:5-19). He compels the priests and Levites to consecrate themselves for the service of the Lord and the physical structure of the temple for the worship of God. Reform always begins here...at the top...in leadership. Apart from godly leadership, the people of God flounder around like a fish out of water. Christ is the head of His church, but He has instituted elders/overseers/pastors to shepherd the flock entrusted to them. If there is no consecration in the pulpit and in the godly leadership of the church, then there will be none (or very little) in the pew. There are some godly, rock-solid believers who stay steady through the great tempests of church life, but generally, we need people to look at, emulate, and follow. Paul instructed the Corinthians believers, "Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ" (1 Cor. 11:1).
We said it included the temple. What possible application could this have for today's church? There are so many different designs for corporate worship spaces. Some fan out, some are long and narrow, some are in elementary school auditoriums, some are in living rooms, etc. How do we apply the consecration of a physical space in today's church? Well, I think the long and short of it could be that anything detracting from the worship of God, taking away from biblical, corporate worship should be removed.
The next area of reform came in worship (29:20-30:27). Here, the sin of the people of Judah was first dealt with, then the singing and more offerings commenced, and finally, individuals came to worship by giving offerings. After all this, the Passover is reinstituted. It is interesting that in focusing on worship, sin is the first priority, then corporate singing, then individual worship. I have often heard people speak of their eagerness to get to corporate worship because they want to "do business with God." I am all for the repentance that accompanies Spirit-empowered preaching. However, why not repent now? Do business with God now? Turn from sin now? What greater way to prepare to enter the presence of God than to spend time confessing known sin and asking God to search your heart for all that is unknown to your conscious mind! Then, we are enabled to come into the presence of the Lord with thanksgiving in our hearts (Psalm 95:2). Then our singing is transformed as we celebrate the God of forgiveness and grace.
Finally, the reform touched the personal lives of the people (2 Chron. 31:1-19). Idols were destroyed, high places were pulled down, and altars were destroyed. Also, the people were now spiritually freed to give as they should, and tithing of crops and all that people had was revived. You see, the reformation of the leadership, the temple, and corporate worship led to the personal reformation of households.
The one question I have is...was Hezekiah successful? We are a success-driven society and church. We are not so much purpose-driven as we are success-driven. So, was Hezekiah successful? After all, the people of Judah would turn away from the Lord again after Hezekiah dies and Manasseh takes over. The Babylonians are still going to invade in a few decades and utterly destroy Judah, taking them into captivity.
Did Hezekiah fail? Nothing stuck. The generations that follow "de-reformed". It was the deflation of all Hezekiah had worked to achieve. Did he fail? Will I fail if nothing sticks? Will I be a failure if the reformation I am praying and preaching for does not last? The answer, I think, lies in something we have already read and something we have yet to read.
(1) 2 Kings 18:5-7 - "He trusted in the Lord, the God of Israel; so that after him there was none like him among all the kings of Judah, nor among those who were before him. For he clung to the Lord; he did not depart from following Him, but kept His commandments, which the Lord had commanded Moses. And the Lord was with him; wherever he went he prospered." Does that sound like a failure? No.
(2) 2 Chronicles 31:20-21 - "Thus Hezekiah did throughout all Judah; and he did what was good, right and true before the Lord his God. Every work which he began in the service of the house of God in law and in commandment, seeking his God, he did with all his heart and prospered." Does that sound like a failure? No.
Can I substitute my name in there? Can you? Try, and you ask the Lord if it's true or not. Thus [name] did this work in [church name]; and he did what was good, right and true before the Lord his God. Every work which [name] began in the service of the house of God...seeking his God... [name] did with all his heart.
What is the primary goal in reform? Personal faithfulness. Faithfulness to the task at hand, depending on the Lord and His strength, resting in His faithfulness on my behalf, and doing every work with all my heart. It is a high bar, but it is the bar for any who would lead the reform of God's people.
Wednesday, May 16, 2007
In 1645, the Scottish parliament adopted what is called A Directory for the Public Worship of God. The goal of this document was to help churches in their local congregations by giving guidelines by which they could operate. In this directory, there are several important areas covered. Here are a few of these areas:
- Public reading of Scripture
- Public prayer before the sermon
- The Lord's Supper
- Sanctification of the Lord's Day
- Singing of Psalms
- Visitation of the Sick
- And more...
Now, admittedly, I have not read this entire document, but I was recently introduced to one section, namely "On the Preaching of the Word". I know that not all those who read this blog are preachers, but as believers in the Lord Jesus Christ, you will be in a local church this Sunday listening to a preacher...listening to God's glorious Word proclaimed.
The questions I lay before you today are these: how do you evaluate and take in what you hear? Do you sit and listen as a sponge, taking in every word of the preacher as is? Do you cynically sit back and reject everything said from the pulpit because it is not in a style or manner you prefer? Do you judge the quality of the sermon by the number of great stories told, the amazing rhymes or alliterations used in the outline, the short- or long-windedness of the preacher, the temperature of the room, the number of laughs produced, the visual response of the congregation during a time of invitation? Do you listen carefully, examining the Scriptures as you go, insuring that all you hear and accept is biblical truth?
These are good and important questions. How is one to listen to and evaluate the preaching of God's Word? This is what the "Westminster Divines", as they were called, were trying to express in the Directory for the Public Worship of God. Their words have proven helpful to me in the last few weeks, and I hope they will help you as well.
Before I quote selected passages from this section on preaching, please know that pressing too much on one particular point of any statement on preaching can make us unbalanced and cynical. If you already have a critical heart toward your pastor or his preaching, maybe you should stop reading now...there's no sense in finding new things to complain about. Otherwise, read with care...encourage your pastor where you see faithfulness and obedience...pray for him in areas of needed growth...pray that he will be filled with the Spirit this Sunday as he preaches...pray the promise God gives in Isaiah 55:10-11, that his word will not return void.
That being said, here are some words echoing through the halls of history.
"Preaching of the word, being the power of God unto salvation, and one of the greatest and most excellent works belonging to the ministry of the gospel, should be so performed that the workman need not be ashamed, but may save himself, and those that hear him...
Ordinarily, the subject of his sermon is to be some text of scripture...Let the introduction to his text be brief and perspicuous, drawn from the text itself, or context, or some parallel place, or general sentence of scripture...
In raising doctrines from his text, his care ought to be, First, that the matter be the truth of God. Secondly, that it be a truth contained in or grounded on that text, that the hearers may discern how God teacheth it from thence. Thirdly, that he chiefly insist upon those doctrines which are principally intended, and make most for the edification of the hearers. // The doctrine is to be expressed in plain terms; or, if any thing in it need [explanation], it is to be opened...
...the servant of Christ, whatever his method be, is to perform his whole ministry:
- Painfully, not doing the work of the Lord negligently.
- Plainly, that the [man of lowest intelligence] may understand; delivering the truth not in the enticing words of man's wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, lest the cross of Christ should be made of none effect...
- Faithfully, looking at the honour of Christ, the conversion, edification, and salvation of the people, not at his own gain or glory...
- Wisely, framing all doctrines, exhortations, and especially reproofs, in such a manner as may be most likely to prevail...and not mixing [in] his own passion or bitterness.
- Gravely, as becometh the Word of God; shunning all such gestures, voice, and expressions, as may occasion the corruption of men to despise him and his ministry.
- With loving affection, that the people may see all coming from his godly zeal, and hearty desire to do them good. And,
- As taught of God, and persuaded in his own heart, that all he teacheth is the truth of Christ; and walking before his flock, as an example to them in it..."
I know that's a lot, and you may need to read it again if you're not used to 17th century language, but the message of these excerpts is essentially fourfold:
- Preachers must work hard at the preparation and preaching of sermons.
- The sermon must come from the text, not independently developed and then texts found to support the preacher's ideas. The reason for this is so the people of God will not believe themselves to be helpless when it comes to Bible study. Preachers extracting truth from the text should be a model for those who study at home.
- Sermons ought to be plainly spoken and easily understandable...not using $5 words for the sake of eloquence, but using normal words.
- The manner in which this plain, biblically-driven sermon is conveyed is of utmost importance...it must be a sermon and not a soap box, and the pastor's heart must be compassionately with his congregation and not in attack mode.
Personally, I am thankful for words like these. The Westminster Divines are sharpening me as a preacher from 360 years away through these words. Amazingly enough, pastors today are not regularly challenged in their preaching ministry, but they are bombarded with ideas involving programs, events, and leadership development. These are not necessarily unimportant things, but the place where we must stay sharpest is in the pulpit. Books on church methodology and trends are published every day, but far fewer are keeping us focused on the main task of the preacher and of the Church...the proclamation of the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ found in the Word of God.
It is unfortunate that a church might tolerate a nice guy, great programmer, and good leader with self-help books as his preaching text and no desire to learn or grow toward greater faithfulness. However, that same church might not tolerate leadership flaws in a man who studies hard and preaches faithfully, always seeking to grow and be more effective. Pastors should grow in their competencies for all ministry, but if something is going to take the forefront...it must be preaching.
After all, what is a pastor's primary place in the church, if not to be the ambassador of God, stepping into the pulpit week after week with the message of God for the people of God to the glory of God and the salvation and edification of the congregation? Prepare your heart for this coming Sunday, my friends. Expect God's Word to speak to your heart and build your faith. Pray for your pastor, and encourage him to preach the Word in season and out of season.
Monday, April 23, 2007
"Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart."
I want to start by stating the very obvious truth that there's "a lot of meat on this bone." This is such a rich passage of Scripture, and we could spend hours thinking about it and uncovering the applications. The reason I chose it today, though, is because of how it applies when we are struggling, feel like giving up in a ministry when it appears that things are falling apart, and wrestle with weariness in doing good. That's where I've been recently, and I have been encouraged afresh this morning by these three verses. Maybe God will use these verses and a couple of my rambling comments to refresh you as well.
The encouragement we are being given is to "run with endurance the race set before us." First, I remember the most recent time I studied this verse that the word "set" indicates that our course has been set...it is immovable...it has been planned. Who is it that set your course before you? Who it is it that has set my course? It is God Himself, for no other can set the course of human history and life as He can. In the race I am running, I run because God has set my path. It is as Jesus told His disciples, "You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to bear fruit that will last" (John 15:16, paraphrase). Jesus set their course...by His call and for His purpose. So, when Jesus told them that they would face tribulation in this world but that His peace would be with them (John 16:33), it was part of their course in life. All who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted (2 Timothy 3:12). Why? Not only because the world hates Christ...not only because of spiritual warfare...but because God has set our path, and it has been granted to us not only to believe in Christ, but to suffer for His sake (Phil. 1:29). What is so encouraging about this reality? The reality is that the gracious, loving Heavenly Father, is conforming us to the image of His Son Jesus Christ. This conforming of our hearts and lives must walk us down the path of suffering and struggle and even wanting to pass on the cup of suffering, even as it did for our Christ. So, He has set our path just as it needs to be, and we are to run it with endurance.
The second thing I notice is that we are to run. I completely believe in dependence on God and that anything done in my own energy will be folly...that apart from Him, I can do nothing (John 15:5). I also see that, in Scripture, we do not simply sit back and do nothing. Some would say that we need not strive and work and run because it indicates that we have no real dependence on God and His work. What, then, do we do with Scripture when it tells us to "work out our own salvation with fear and trembling" (Phil. 2:12)? What about going into the highways and hedges and compelling people to come into the kingdom (Luke 14:23)? What about running in such a way so to win and not simply boxing the air (1 Cor. 9)? You can probably think of others, but surely we should include our Hebrews passage, "run with endurance". Friends, we are to run. We are to run to win...to gain the prize. We do not believe that our running and working and striving are the basis of our prize...Jesus Christ purchased our inheritance on the cross, and no striving or working will do better than our Savior did. However, part of God's kingdom work is men and women running to win in this life, and so we must. We must run, knowing that any strength we have to win comes from our great Savior Jesus Christ. When we are struggling, when we are weary, when we want to give up...we must remember our Christ and run. Not run away, but run the path right through the heart of difficulty with endurance.
The third thing that stands out to me in these verses is the connection made between our life's race as believers and the life of Christ. How does the life of Christ connect to our race? Christ is, first and foremost, the author and finisher of our faith. There is no running, no winning, no victory apart from Him. It is so true that we fight from victory and NOT for victory. Also, Christ endured the cross, despising the shame, for the joy set before Him (v. 2). How did Jesus face His cup of suffering? Despising the shame...the shame of the beatings, the hostility, the mocking, the scourging, the crucifixion...He despised it. "Despise" means "to think little of" something. It wasn't the shame that Jesus focused on, but the glory on the other side. He thought little of what He had to endure but thought much of what He endured it for. I have said a few times in teaching that "there is glory on the other side of adversity," and this is so true of Christ and the cross. The glory of obedience and having a name above every name...the glory of gathering God's people into God's kingdom...the glory of seeing sinners redeemed...glory is on the other side of adversity.
This point doesn't stop here, though glory through adversity is a great truth on which to dwell. The writer goes on to tell us that Jesus endured this hostility so that we would not grow weary and lose heart. One of the things that Jesus' work accomplishes for us is the ability to endure. When we want to throw the white towel to the center of the ring and give up or fly our white flag and surrender to the pressure around us...we must remember our bloody red Savior, whose endurance is our example and our source of strength. We must remember this same blood dried up and flaking off His eyelids as He opened them on the third day, having been raised from the dead, and so securing the truth that "those who endure to the end will be saved" (Matt. 24:13). The very life, death, and resurrection of Christ is our strength and example of how to run the race with endurance.
Finally, I notice that the race is not to be run alone. I am an introvert by nature, and I truly enjoy spending large amounts of time alone. Even in a crowd, I find ways to stay hidden. However, this is not how the race of a Christian is to be run. Every pronoun used in these three verses are plural, and we know that this letter was written to a group of believers. Though we are accountable for our own lives...our own races...we are to run them together. This is part of what happens in a local church...we run the race together. I have only run one race in my life; it was a 5k in college. If I had set out on that race alone, I probably would have given up because I'm not all that interested in running. However, I ran with a couple of friends in the midst of a group of about 200 runners. Because of the challenge in seeing runners who had more endurance than me, hearing the cheers of the crowd, and having my friends who had run before encourage me along the way, I finished. I have many such friends in my Christian life, and I am thankful to God for them. Do you know where I found these friends? Not in coffee shops or bookstores, but in local churches. I pray you have these kinds of friends, who will help remind you of the Pacesetter we have in Christ, the importance of running with endurance, and the fact that giving up is not an option.
So, (1) our course (painful as it is at times) has been set for us by our God, (2) we are to run in complete dependence on God, refusing to believe that doing "nothing" is the most spiritual avenue, (3) Christ is our great example and our strength for the journey, and (4) we should not run alone.
Even as I have written these words, I am renewed for my own journey. I pray that you take encouragement from all this and that you will run the race with endurance because of what is taught here in Hebrews 12. This way, we will close our eyes one last time in this life and say, along with Paul, "I have finished the race."
Monday, March 19, 2007
"For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a slave to all, so that I may win more...I do all for the sake of the gospel, so that I may become a fellow partaker of it."
Now, in between these verses are some well-known lines from Paul. You know, "To the Jew I became a Jew, so that I might win Jews", and he goes on to talk about those under the Law, those without the Law, and the weak. Then, he says, "I have become all things to all men, so that I may by all means save some." It would definitely be worth your personal time to study and meditate on these verses, being challenged by Paul's adaptability in order to win souls. Also, check out Paul on Mars Hill in Acts 17:22-31, to see him in action...being all things to all men. Maybe I'll write on that another day.
What compelled me in my recent study of the two verses given above. These are not the kinds of verses that make you go "Hmmm" and then move on with your life...they have a deeper impact than that. You'll see what I mean as we go.
Paul writes that he is free from all men, and freedom is a main "food group" in the writings of Paul. For example...
Galatians 5:1 - "It was for freedom that Christ has set us free."
2 Corinthians 3:17 - "...where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty"
Romans 8:2 - "For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and death."
Not only this, but in Romans 14, Paul spends time talking about our freedom as Christians. In the gray areas of life (food, drink, and days to be celebrated), he says that we should have convictions but not hold to them like we hold to the deity of Christ or the exclusivity of the gospel. So, here in 1 Corinthians 9, Paul says, "I am free from all men..." He has no earthly master...he is enslaved only to One. The Master. Jesus Christ.
In the same sentence Paul declares his freedom from all men, he goes on to say that he makes himself a slave to all people. He enslaves himself. He surrenders all that he is to the service of others. Why? Keep reading the verse..."so that I may win more." He is not saying that nobody will be saved without this attitude. We all know this from experience. It is not that arrogant evangelists (whether pastors or laypeople) don't see fruit in their ministry. If the gospel is preached and the Holy Spirit empowers it, then people will come to faith in Jesus.
For Paul, this isn't enough. It's not enough that some people will be saved...he wants more to be saved; if possible, how would want all to be saved. He wasn't satisfied with being a famous preacher and seeing only a few converted. He longed more than anything to see masses of people come to Christ. You see, clutching to pride, self, "my rights", and other personal treasures will hinder the full effectiveness of our evangelistic efforts.
Here, I write primarily because of the conviction about my own life...if the Lord should encourage you as well, then praise be to our God. Many long to see these same masses come to Christ today, but too often, clutching to our own personal treasures has hindered our effectiveness. The phone call on Saturday from a person who is lonely or in need or just wants to talk is too often met with resistance in my heart; after all, isn't that "family time?" The 9 PM visit to the emergency room is too often "because I feel like I have to". I'm sure we could all provide examples from our own lives and ministries, and we might take up blog after blog doing so. The point is...it happens far too much.
If we are to become more effective, we must say along with Paul, "I make myself a slave so that I may win more." This means the giving up of personal rights in order to serve those around us. In the midst of the many, many bad examples from my own life, let me share one good moment in this regard. Yesterday, I did something I never thought I would do...I stood up and explained to my congregation that we are planning to adopt from Liberia, that we must all prepare our hearts for this child to come because some in society look down on interracial families, and that they should know where we got our funding. Whoa! I was with you until that last part. Why would you tell them about that? That's none of their business!
You're right. It is none of their business, but without making myself a slave to my congregation, there may be assumptions about how we got so much money. Some people make it their business. Why? Because the phrase "the Lord's provision" is sometimes sinfully used to cover up unethical financial decisions. Plus, other pastors in the history of this church have been unethical in the way they handled money, purchasing procedures, reporting receipts, etc. They weren't stealing, but it was unethical. Not everyone in the church knows this, but I'm certain that some do. Also, some may believe that I am taking advantage of the church, being overpaid in a time when the church is struggling financially.
Such situations, along with the announcement that the pastor is using thousands of dollars to adopt a child and travel to get the child from their home country, can lead to rumors, gossip, and a people who do not trust the man God has given in leadership. Hiding how we got the money could be a hindrance to the gospel being heard because of a wrong view of the messenger. I want to remove all such hindrances. I believe this was an application of what Paul said, "Though I am free from all men, I have made myself a slave to all, so that I may win more...I do all things for the sake of the gospel..."
Do you see that? You see that rabbit? I've got to chase it...I've just got to. Just for minute...maybe two. Bring a shotgun.
There is a feeling among many in church leadership (mostly pastoral, but also lay leadership) that value secrecy. I know that things involving people's life situations should remain secret unless we come to the unfortunate situation of having to "bring it to the church" (Matt. 18). Apart from this, though, how much secrecy do we really need? You know what secrets foster? Rumors, gossip, and distrust.
I remember when my pastor in Indiana stepped down suddenly, and the rest of the staff (including me) thought it would be best to keep the details to ourselves. We wanted to protect the church and our friend and try to maintain order. How I wish I could go back to that Wednesday night and say, "Though we love him and pray for him as he leaves, you must know why our pastor is resigning, so that there will be no rumors or gossip, and so that you will know how to pray for him and for our church as we try to move forward." That's not what happened. We believed that the congregation should trust us with the details. You know what? They didn't, and trusting the pastoral staff is still an issue today for some in that church. Maybe we should rethink secrecy between leadership and congregation.
If you are a pastor (as I am), then these words are especially important for us. Whether it is the kind of secrecy or immorality mentioned above, laying out a legalistic ethic by which our people must live to be "really spiritual", or just being insensitive to our audience in how long we preach, we cannot hinder the gospel. Following up on that last phrase...maybe our congregations should learn to listen longer, maybe not. But when their brain shuts off, they're not hearing the gospel anymore. They hear "blah, blah, blah" and can't wait to hear "let's pray". This is especially true of weak Christians, but what did Paul say? "To the weak I became weak, so that I might win the weak." Food for thought.
For those who are not pastors, don't copy, paste, highlight, and send those last words to him. Love your pastor, encourage your pastor, and pray that the gospel will be unhindered, so that more may be won to Christ.
Just a rabbit...no time to chase the rabbit farther than that...just something to think about at the next red light. Back to the text at hand. We are free...free from sin, free from death, free from the ultimate authority of any person on the earth. Christ is our only Master. However, if we want to win more, then we must make ourselves slaves to all. Do you want to win more? Set aside your personal pride and your rights and become a slave. Adapt to those around you so that you might meet their greatest need in life...the need to be saved from their sin.