Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Pastors Need Growing Too!

Not too long ago, I came across some old articles I had written for a church newsletter several years ago.  As I reread these memorials to another time and place I was surprised to see they were memorials to another man--another pastor too.  Oh, they were my articles, my thoughts, my name was all over them but in another sense they weren't mine.....not anymore.  I keep them not because I will ever reuse them but to remind myself that God not only grows His people, He grows His pastors too.

One of the first things that caught my eye about what I was writing so many years ago was how focused I was on proving my theological convictions and biases.  Even before I began writing things down, back in my very first church, at the spry young age of 27 I had a dear older saint come to see me about a concern she had.  After, recovering from the shocking fact, that I and my preaching were her concern, I listened as she explained, that I sometimes came across more like a prosecuting attorney than a tender and loving shepherd.  Of course, feeling the compulsory need to defend myself from this assault on "God's man preaching God's truth", I, argued my case with the skill of a good defense attorney.  But, the fact is, she was right.  I just didn't know that then.  You see, I had some growing to do.  Thankfully, she didn't leave, run, hide, or mobilize the church against me.  She just kept loving me and praying for me.

This "defense mechanism" that showed up in my pastoring was really not a new thing for me.  I had a supervisor in the Coast Guard tell me that I'd go a lot further in life and in particular in my job if I weren't so intent on defending myself from correction.  Over time and a lot of hard times, I began to see that he was right.  My problem was that I felt I had something to prove. You see, to be wrong, in my mind, was to be unfit or unqualified to be doing what I was doing.  To be mistaken meant I was not as smart or as prepared as I should be.  To be incorrect about the facts meant I was not conscientious and in fact was neglectful and irresponsible.  So, my goal, back in this days was to make sure I wasn't wrong even if that meant arguing circles around people to somehow prove I wasn't wrong, mistaken, incorrect, or, and let's just be honest about it--a sinner.

Another interesting thing I see in my old stuff, which by-the-way, will not see the light of day again, is how much more focused I was on having an agenda, usually a theological one, for my churches.  It wasn't that I was wrong to desire the people I pastored to grow in the truth of God's Word.  It wasn't wrong and still isn't to want to see your people understand their Faith better.  It was and still is entirely correct and good for pastors to go deep in their teaching of the Word of God so as to help their folks understand and connect theological truths.  But, it was wrong and thus, not healthy to see people as "my theological projects".  They didn't need a pastor who had an agenda for them.  They needed a pastor who was able to be with them and love them without having an agenda for them--a pastor who instead of seeing them as projects, saw them as gifts.  They needed a pastor who accepted them as they came to him just as Christ does.  In addition, they needed a pastor who, through his consistent gospel-centered teaching and Spirit-filled life, gently and patiently guided them into a  more mature, fruitful, and joyful life in Christ.

So, what about me today?  Why did I find those old articles and my road down memory lane so uncomfortable in many ways, yet really exciting in another?  Its because I see growth.  I can see that God, over the years, has been working, in me and on me, to gently and patiently guide me into a more mature, fruitful and joyful life in Christ.  He has helped me to understand that being wrong, incorrect, mistaken, and even a sinner isn't what defines me--Christ is Who defines me.  The Lord, through His Word, has also shown me that because of the gospel I am perfectly accepted by and acceptable to God.  In fact, in Christ, I cannot be more accepted by or acceptable to God than I am right now.  And if I am accepted by God because, in Christ, I am acceptable to God--I have nothing to prove.  This means that I don't need to always be right.  It means that I don't always have to prove my point or defend myself or make myself look better than I am or win every theological argument or, and this may be the best part--try to hide the fact that I am a sinner who having been saved by grace is kept saved by grace too.

I'm a much more relaxed pastor these days than I was back when I began this road march over 30 years ago.  I don't argue so much these days and I'm much more interested in people being impressed with Jesus and the gospel than me, my preaching, and my theological persuasions.  Oh, I still have to deal with my old fleshly pride that wants to argue and defend me at every turn, but I see progress and for that I am glad, as is, I am sure, everyone who has to deal with me.  Some of this progress may be because I'm older and hopefully a little wiser but most of it is because of the Good Shepherd Who never gives up on His sheep.  He Who has promised to get us where we need to go and be, will do exactly that (1 These. 5:23-24).  Aren't you glad too?!

Finally, I am prompted to wonder if churches and we, pastors, quit on each other too soon.  I wonder what might happen if a commitment were made between the two to stick it out for better or worse.  Who knows?  But, maybe after a few years, some painful scraps, crushed pride, perseverance, some tough love on both sides,  open communication, and large doses of gospel-forged humility--the church might finally get the pastor she had hoped for and the pastor--the church he would never leave.   Just wondering!

Monday, October 14, 2019

Today!

The Bible very rarely speaks of tomorrow in terms of making life-changing and in fact eternity-changing decisions.  It most usually speaks in terms of "today".   Preachers in the Bible knew this well, especially Moses.  Moses understood that saving faith is always the response of today, not tomorrow, or even yesterday.  In the conclusion of his final sermon preached to the Hebrews, before he died and before this second generation entered the promised land under Joshua's leadership, Moses called the people to make the decision to "choose life" by believing and following God... not yesterday, not in the future, but today.  And he did it four times! (Deuteronomy 30:15, 16, 18, 19)  Moses' point was certainly not lost on Joshua, who in his last sermon to the Hebrews before he died, at least 25 years later, called upon them to "Choose for yourselves Today, the one you will worship . . ." (Joshua 24:15).

As one has said, "the thing about today is that it is always today".  Psalm 95 makes the point in verses 7 and 8 that when God speaks, through His Word, into our lives that the proper response must be a response of today.  God is not satisfied with our responses of yesterday or of our promises of tomorrow.  He calls for a new response every new day.  If you hear His voice today--you must respond today!

This is not to say our salvation in Christ must be renewed on a daily basis.  It is to say that the proof of whether we have salvation in Christ is not based upon decisions, prayers, or commitments we made yesterday but rather upon what is happening in our lives today.  In fact, one of the best tests of whether we did indeed choose Christ, and thus life yesterday, is whether we would make the same choice today.  The best indicator that we trusted Christ for salvation yesterday is that we are still trusting Him for it today.

The Book of Hebrews is a Book emphasizing the importance of today.  Over and over again, it reminds people of the importance--the eternal importance--of responding to God today.  It also commands God's people to be always encouraging each other every day, while it is still called "Today", to not be taken in, fooled, and hardened by the deceitfulness of sin so that we will not "fall away from the Living God".  (Hebrews 3:12-15).  In other words, how you and I are responding today to God, as well as, to the temptation to disregard God, matters today, and thus has great consequence for tomorrow.  Again, the point is not that it is possible for the truly converted to lose their salvation.  The point is, that the truly converted will manifest the true fruit of their conversion to Christ by their responses to God's Word today.

And the fruit of true conversion is a heart that is receptive to God today, that desires to be obedient to His Word today, that fights, always imperfectly, to be obedient today, and that repents when the fight with temptation was not won, so as to get up and fight another day.....when it is called Today!  Perfection is not the objective, not in this life, but trajectory and greater sensitivity toward God certainly are.

There are far too many in our churches today, who--believing they are truly converted because yesterday they walked an aisle, prayed a prayer, made a decision, filled out a card, joined a church or whatever--lack any kind of legitimate spiritual fruit in their lives today.  This is a contradiction in terms because true conversion always results in true spiritual fruit--always!  It may be small.  In fact, the fruit may be only the tiny bud of brand new spiritual affections for Christ--the promise of larger more recognizable fruit to come--but, there will be some proof, some mark, some validation that points to a true saving work of God having been accomplished and the life of God implanted.

So, if there's no fruit and has been no fruit, perhaps it is time to let go of yesterday's religious experience and truly turn to Christ, in faith believing, today--while there is still time--while it is still Today!  As the apostle Paul put it in 2 Corinthians 6:2.

"For He (God) says, 'At the acceptable time I listened to you, and on the Day of Salvation I helped you.  Behold now is the acceptable time.  Behold now is the Day of Salvation.'"




  



   

Saturday, October 12, 2019

How Righteous Are You?

So, how righteous are you today?  

Now before you answer that take a good hard look at the question again.  I’m not asking you how righteous you feel today or even how righteously you behaved today.  I want to know if you know just how righteous you are right now, as God sees you, if you are a Christian.  And by "Christian", I mean someone, who, having recognized his or her sinfulness and subsequent condemnation before God, has repented and placed faith in Jesus Christ alone for the forgiveness of sins and therefore, is now "in Christ". 

If you are indeed a Christian and thus, are in union with Christ, you are completely righteous, in God's sight, whether you feel righteous or have acted righteously today.  In fact, the Bible teaches that if you are in Christ you have been given and possess, right now and forevermore, a righteousness, not your own and certainly not of your own making, but, rather, a righteousness given to you from God Himself in the person of Christ Jesus (Philippians 3:8-9). 

This righteousness, obtained from God, is the very righteousness of God Himself for the simple reason that it is Christ's righteousness that is credited to you.  This is exactly what Paul tells us in 2 Corinthians 5:21.  Paul writes:  He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.”  Therefore, if you are in Christ, you possess the very righteousness of God Himself.  In other words, in Christ, through Christ, and because of Christ, you are as righteous as God is right now.  Now I know that this sounds radical and some of you are probably wondering if I haven’t gone a bit too far in making the claim that the true child of God, the person who is “in Christ” is as righteous as God.  But, that is exactly what Jesus said was required to enter the Kingdom of Heaven in Matthew 5:48, when He said,  “Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”  

 If you missed His point—keep reading Jesus’ words until they sink in.  The righteousness required to get into Heaven is perfect righteousness—God’s righteousness.  To be perfectly blunt and clear—you and I need to be as perfect (righteous) as God if we plan on taking up residence in that celestial city some day.  And praise God that the perfect righteousness He demands of us, He provided for us in His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ.

Furthermore, this transaction in which Christ took the believing sinner's sin and gave him or her His perfect righteousness is so real in God's sight that He treats the believer as if he or she really is as righteous as Christ.  In this sense, the believer is as acceptable to God the Father as Christ Himself.  In fact, it is perfectly correct to say that all that is true of Christ in His humanity is true of the believer by virtue of the fact that the believer is in perfect union with Christ.  Wow......what a Gospel!

To be given the perfect righteousness of another because mine is ruined, to be able to use the wonderful name of another because mine is worthless, to be given the perfectly clean, spotless, and unwrinkled raiment of another because mine are torn, soiled, and filthy, to be able to appear before the Father in the Person of Christ Jesus my substitute......that indeed is GOOD NEWS!

But, wait!  There's more.  All that makes Christ precious, dear, beautiful, accepted, and acceptable to the Father has been transferred to you, the believer, so that the Father treats you as though you are Christ.  So, entirely are you, the believer, one with your "sin bearer" and thus, the possessor of His righteousness, that God the Father treats you not merely as though you had never committed any of the evil you have done and still do, but as if you had done all the good which Jesus did.  In essence, God treats you, the believer, as Jesus deserves because He treated Jesus, on the cross, as you deserve.  GOOD NEWS indeed!

The GOOD NEWS of the gospel is not only that your sins are forgiven but that in Christ Jesus you possess God the Son's very own perfect righteousness.  Thus, you are, in Christ, as righteous as God Himself.  And that’s why you’ll be able to go to Heaven when you die.  

So, again, let me ask you, just how righteous are you today?

Monday, October 7, 2019

"Darkness Defeated Destiny Restored" ~ Peter Waite, 13

Out of darkness, came the serpent,
To the garden to deceive.
Adam's choice, exile decreed....
Out of Eden, eternally!

Into the darkness, came the Son,
To seek and save the lost.
His own life he did not preserve,
But in Adam's race, He bore my cross!

Out of the darkness, He arose, victorious! 
The servant King, conquered the grave.
The King of glory, Creator of all things, 
Died for me, my soul to save!

Into the darkness, now we go
To share the news of our risen King.
Who crushed the serpent, our raging foe...
Vanquished by our heel-bruised King! 

Into darkness, goes the serpent,
No more darkness shall we see!
We fall and worship, with fervent love,
Enjoying Eden, eternally!

Just Preach!


As I was reading my Bible early this morning, I came across a very interesting verse, Exodus 19:9, which I think has a lot to say to pastors about their preaching.  Now, if you spend any time at all reading what I write about you'll see that a good portion has to do with pastoring and preaching.  That, in part, is because I train indigenous preachers and pastors overseas who do not have access to theological education or pastoral training.  So, as I come across passages in Scripture that particularly apply to the preaching/teaching of the Word of God and the shepherding of God's people I write about them.  Its good for me, for those I'm training, and for believers here in the States who are eavesdropping.

So, Exodus 19 is the chapter in Exodus which begins to tell us about the encounter God's people, the Israelites, have with God at Mount Sinai.  In verses 1-2, the Israelites or Hebrews set up their base camp at the foot of Mount Sinai.  Moses then climbs the mountain to appear before God where he receives instructions from God for His people, which are to be delivered by Moses to the people.  That's verses 3-6.

Once Moses brings these initial instructions from the LORD to the people, telling them that if they would obey Him and keep His covenant they would be His own special people.  The people, all responding in unison, agree to everything the LORD commands (vv.7-8).  Then in verse 9, the LORD tells Moses that when He has something to say to His people He will come to Moses in a thick cloud so that the people themselves would be able to hear Him as He speaks to Moses.  In this way, the people would be able to trust Moses.  Unpacking this verse, I see that God wanted His people to hear His voice through Moses, God's spokesman, as Moses is hearing from God.  This is essentially the same thing that is supposed to happen every Sunday morning as the people of God gather today too.

We gather as God's people, no longer at Mount Sinai, but rather at Mount Zion (Her. 12:18-24), to hear God speak to us through His Word as it is communicated to us through God's spokesmen, who are our pastors.  Their job is to simply preach the Word of God so that we, God's people, can hear our God, the God of the Word, speaking to us through His very inspired words.  In this sense, the pastor is a sort of communication medium between God and His people.  His sermon has one purpose and one purpose only--to convey God's Word so clearly that God's voice is heard by God's people as His inspired words are repeated and explained to them.

Put plainly, what I'm saying is that pastors have the incredibly important job of speaking the very words of God to God's people today just as Moses, the prophets, and the apostles did in the Bible.  This is the same point Peter is making in 1 Peter 4:11 about those who have the responsibility of preaching/teaching God's Word in the context of the local church, that they should do so, as those who are "speaking the very words of God".  This led the English preacher, Charles Simeon to say that, "God Himself speaks to us by the preacher and if preachers preach what is founded on the Scriptures, their word, as far as it is agreeable to the mind of God, is to be considered God's."  John Calvin put it this way when, in writing about preaching, he said, ". . . the reason a man climbs into the pulpit is, that God may speak to us by the mouth of a man".

One can't read through the Bible and not see the primacy God puts on preaching.  Oh, its not that God did not, occasionally, call on His prophets and preachers to use drama, object lessons, stories, parables, and other means of communication but, the emphasis was always on preaching.  The command is to "preach the Word" (2 Tim. 4:2).  God wants His people to hear Him correctly because they cannot see Him clearly.  This is why God, in Exodus 19:9, does not allow Himself to be experienced in any sort of visible fashion by His people.  That's why He veils Himself which, is to say that He veils His personal glorious presence from His people so that their attention is solely riveted on His Word.  It seems as though God places the priority in His communication to His people on the hearing of His Word more than He does on seeing Him or even seeing what His Word is conveying.  God does not want His people, in this life, to be focused so much on how they may visually perceive Him as much as upon what they hear Him say through His inspired, infallible, inerrant, and thus, completely trustworthy Word.  

Notice as well, in verse 9, that the result of the people of God being able to hear the very inspired words of God, through Moses, God's preacher,  is that the people find Moses credible and thus, believable.  Its no different for pastors who preach today.  The pastor's credibility as a preacher, before God and God's people, is not the result of his creativity, spontaneity, relativity, or ability to use props, drama, videos, and internet technology.  Rather, he is credible because God's voice is heard, loud and clear, through His inspired words, as they are preached correctly and clearly.  This is not to say that the use of communication tools, internet technology, and other mediums is wrong.  It is to say, they should never become the focal point of the sermon so as to replace God and muddle His Word as the focus of our attention.  In Bible terms, this would be called idolatry.   Perhaps, less emphasis on the medium and more on the message is best.  The fewer communication mediums, between God's Word and God's people, other than the one He ordained, which is preaching, the better.  

The temptation to make preaching more entertaining so as to be more enjoyable and thus more acceptable to those who have so many other things they could be doing on a Sunday morning does not result in credibility with God or His people.  The simple preaching of God's Word by God's man to God's people is considered utter foolishness by those who are not God's people and thus, are perishing (1 Cor. 1:18, 23, 25; 2:14).  Tragically, just preaching, without making the visual and sensory props the main thing, has become foolishness to many of God's people too.  "Just preaching", in the words of the novelist, E.M. Forester,  has become ". . . nothing more than a meaningless echo in a cave."  God, however, begs to differ!  So, one must pick his or her side when it comes to preaching and then be prepared to live and die with the consequences of that choice.

Perhaps, if we pastors gave the most and the best of our time, as we should, to the study and preaching of God's Word (Acts 6:2b) we might not need all the tools to make our preaching more interesting, entertaining, captivating,  enjoyable, and thus, in the world's eyes, credible.  Perhaps if we just preached as though people's eternal destinies depended upon what we said and how we said it, we might give our task the primacy it deserves.  Perhaps, if we just preached God's Word so that God's people actually heard God speaking to them--that would be enough!
  

Friday, October 4, 2019

For Those Who Doubt

What do you do with people like Jim, Janice, Tom, Willie, and Kate who all profess to know Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior, are living for Him, desire to know Him better, want to experience Him even more deeply, and who faithfully give themselves to church attendance and personal Bible study, yet still intensely struggle with a lack of assurance when it comes to their salvation?  Well, if the truth be known, probably many of you reading this post including myself sometimes find ourselves in the same boat with the people I mentioned above.  And while there are many reasons why truly born again believers struggle with doubts about their salvation one of the most common and recurring causes is that we focus too much on what we can't see and not enough on Him Who can see what we can't see. 

Now, before going any further, let me just add this qualifier.  I'm not interested in making
unbelievers feel saved when they're not.  Nor am I wanting to give comfort to professing believers whose doubts of assurance are the result of unrepentant and unconfessed sin.  No, my intent here is simply to provide some encouragement and comfort to those true believers who, because of spiritual concern and tendency toward negative introspection, sometimes find themselves overwhelmed with doubts that perhaps they really are not believers at all because maybe, just maybe, the faith they thought they placed in Christ wasn't quite what it should have been.  Maybe, they wonder if their faith was strong enough, genuine enough, well-informed enough, passionate enough, theological enough, committed enough, or even communicated to God well enough.  And because they can't go back to the day, hour, and moment of their profession of faith to investigate all these possible deficiencies in their faith they doubt even more.  And because the stakes are so high....life eternal with Christ or life eternal without Him.....can you blame them for being concerned?!

The problem that I see in these folks' struggle is that they seem to have a tendency to be trusting more in their faith than in the proper object of their faith--Jesus Himself.  Now let me tell you a story from the Old Testament that I think can help people like them......hmmm.....and like us when the doubts begin to assail our faith and threaten to unravel it.

The story comes right out of Exodus 12.  If you're thinking--Passover--you're right!  Exodus 12 is where God gives Moses the instructions for the Passover.  Now, most of us Bible reading, Bible believing, and sometimes Bible-doubting Christians know the story.  We know, for instance, that God told Moses to have every family select an unblemished male lamb to live with them for four days and then on the evening of the fourth day (14th day of the month) the lamb was to be killed.  Its blood was then to be collected in a basin so that an unspecified amount of it could be painted on the outside door frame (two door posts and the lintel) of the house.  Then, once this was done and the lamb was roasted over the fire, the family was to shut the door, eat the Passover lamb and stay inside the house the rest of the night until morning.  Then when the LORD saw the blood on the outside of the door frame He would not allow the death angel to kill the firstborn child in the family.  If, however, there was no blood to see because there was no blood on the door the LORD would take the life of the family's firstborn.

Can you imagine being in one of those families?  I mean here is a sample scenario of what I think may have actually taken place in some, if not many, of those homes.  Once the blood was applied to the door frame and the door shut so that no one was to go back outside until morning can't you imagine dad wondering, as he looks at his firstborn son, if he had applied the right amount of blood or if he had applied it in exactly the right place?  And of course the problem was that he couldn't go back outside to even see if the blood was still visible.  I mean what if it soaked into the wood because he didn't put enough on or put it on thick enough and was no longer visible--how was God going to be able to see it.  I am sure that he was tempted to go back outside several times that evening to check and make sure the blood was still there but he couldn't.

Finally, morning came and with it great relief as both mom and dad saw their oldest sleeping comfortably on the floor beside them.  The night was over and they could go outside and see what really was, now, unecessary to see.......whether the blood was still there.  And as each family went outside that morning they all noticed that whereas some had applied the blood thicker than others, some in wider and longer swaths than others, and some neater than others--wherever there was blood on the outside of the door frame their was life within the house.

You see what mattered was that the blood had been applied to where God said it needed to be applied.  Whether it was applied extra thick or thin, with a broad hysopp brush or narrow, messy or neat simply did not matter.  Whereas, there may have been trembling and anxious hearts within during the night, wondering, perhaps, how blood they could not see would keep their precious child safe they had to come to terms with the fact that even though they could not see it, God could and did and that's what mattered!

You see, no amount of fear on their part, no overwhelming doubts, no misgivings, and no weakness of faith was able to weaken or diminish in any way the potency of the blood of the lamb once it was applied.  The blood was on the door and that was enough for God.  The parents could not see it nor feel it but it was there and even in the midst of their doubts, down deep, they knew it was there but in order for sleep to come that night they had to believe that God also knew it was there because He could see what they were unable to.

So, what do we do with people like Jim, Janice, Tom, Willie, and Kate......people like us.....who having come to Christ as the refuge from the just punishment for their sins and thus who have had His blood applied to their lives still struggle with wondering if in the end they will be safe?  We tell them that what God has promised God will do.  We tell them that if God promised to apply His Son's blood to the lives of those who would believe in His Son for salvation thus, saving them from the just condemnation and penalty for their sins so as to give them eternal life then that is exactly what God has done.  And regardless of whether they can see the blood or not, God does and that is all that matters!







Thursday, October 3, 2019

Effective Pastors Build Bridges

I have been a Pastor, Missionary, and Bible Institute Instructor overseas for almost three decades.  In that long period of time I have taught hundreds of students Biblical Theology, Systematic Theology, as well as many of the individual Books of the Bible so that all the major doctrines of the Christian Faith have been taught.  Through all this instruction I am inclined to agree with most who have ever taught that the one who learns the most is not the student but the teacher.  And one of the most important lessons I have learned after thirty years of trying to transfer weighty doctrinal matters from the text of Scripture to the head, heart, and hands of my students is that while the transfer of biblical information  is necessary for spiritual transformation, it alone does not lead to this transformation apart from relational bridges. 

Physical bridges, like the Golden Gate Bridge, are used to transfer vehicles, objects, and people across spans of space.  The heavier the object or person, the stronger the bridge must be to sustain the weight crossing it.  One cannot expect to drive a semi-tractor trailer carrying several tons of rock over a foot bridge and not expect disaster.  Likewise, pastors and others tasked with teaching the Scriptures and in particular those weightier more difficult to “wrap our minds and hearts around” doctrines of the Faith cannot expect to transfer these truths to others effectively let alone without incident, minor or otherwise, unless there are suitable relational bridges in place by which to make the transfer.

Now, this does not mean that we cannot teach people we have no personal relationship with or connection to.  What it does mean is that this kind of anonymous teaching alone, while perhaps transferring the right information from head to head, is not enough to produce spiritual transformation.  Our goal, as pastors and teachers, within the context of the local church, should never be the mere transfer of information so that our people only "get the truth right" but, rather that they "get it lived".  Again, in my opinion, this requires, what I am referring to as, "relational bridges" by which biblical and theological truths are effectively transferred from teacher to student.

The first relational bridge that is necessary for effective spiritual instruction to take place is that between the pastor or teacher and God Himself.  The mere teaching of the Bible to others apart from enjoying a current, personal, vivacious, and life transforming relationship with the very Author of Scripture is a putrid exercise that your hearers can smell a mile away.  In addition, Bible study that merely engages the Bible as a tool to be used, a textbook to be mastered, a handbook to be referred, an antidepressant to be prescribed, an encyclopedia of morality, or worse yet--a book of sermons to be preached and thus, has no relationship with God is a spiritually empty and powerless exercise.  Until, the Bible becomes, in our personal and pastoral study, an encounter with the living Triune God in which we are hearing His authoritative voice speaking through His inspired words in Scripture, it does not become relational  to us.  If the Bible is not connected to us in any sort of living and relational way we cannot effectively relate it to others regardless of how well we teach. 

The second relational bridge required for the effective learning and life-application of God's Word is the bridge connecting the student to God Himself.  If the hearer in the pew, classroom, or coffee shop has no viable connection to and with God via the Gospel they have no ability to receive a heart transfer of Scripture regardless of how well-prepared and connected the teacher is.  God's truth is pure foolishness to the unbeliever (1 Cor. 1:18).  Blood transfusions do not take place between the living and the dead.  Apart from the Spirit of God at work in our hearers' lives even our Spirit-empowered teaching falls on deaf spiritual ears.  There must be a saving and living connection or bridge between student and God for effective spiritual teaching to occur.  This requires the bridge of the gospel.  Certainly, the hearing of God's Word is necessary for that gospel bridge to be put in place (Rom. 10:17).  However, until it is in place all the effective and Spirit-filled teaching in the world cannot produce spiritual fruit. 

Finally, the third bridge (and this list is not exhaustive) is that which connects the teacher or pastor to the listener.  While this bridge connection is not as important as the previous two, it is still important.  Pastors who know their people and who are known by their people by virtue of time spent together building the relational bridges (connections) of love, trust, and credibility have a much easier time of it when it comes to trying to transfer biblical and theological truths to their flock.  Living life together creates the pillars upon which strong bridges, able to transfer weighty spiritual truths are built and maintained.  This assumes and of course requires more than a mere professionally distant approach to teaching.  It demands a more "up close" and personal encounter between the pastor and parishioner in which both are known and dear to the other (1 These. 2:7-8).  It requires that we as pastors love our people at least as much as we love to preach to them.

Monday, September 23, 2019

Calvinists & Arminians Put Away Your Swords--Finding Common Ground Instead of Grinding Each Other Into The Ground

Oftentimes, we, who would describe our theological understanding of salvation in Calvinistic terms, feel duty bound to correct and even attack our more Arminian siblings at every turn.  Of course, the same can be said for some on the Arminian side of the family as well.  And far too often, our “in house” debate has failed to glorify God, promote understanding, manifest the fruit of the Spirit, let alone honor one another as fellow members of the body of Christ.  Besides all this, fighting over how God saves people has not really been a good use of time when it comes to sharing the gospel with unbelievers.

And just to clarify, both Calvinist and Arminian Christians believe that Jesus Christ is God come in the flesh to save sinners and that the saving work of Christ comes to the sinner by grace through faith.  I think we’d all agree then that this makes Calvinists and Arminians brothers in Christ who belong to God’s family.  This is not to say that there are not profound differences between the two camps when it comes to how and even why God saves sinners because there are.  Yet, this is still a family disagreement between family members who should argue the merits of their respective theological positions lovingly, respectfully, humbly, and thoughtfully, all-the-while affirming one another as fellow believers.  
Robust discussions on theological points to which we disagree are not bad.  In fact, they have the ability to deepen our understanding, sharpen our thinking, and hopefully de-weaponize our arguments.  We shouldn’t have to hide our positions under the banner of “let’s not be divisive” but neither should we throw them to the wind regardless of whom we hurt. 

One great example of how to find common ground with family members with whom we disagree on the Calvinist/Arminian debate or really any other family theological issue can be found in the English pastor, Charles Simeon (1758-1836) who while holding to a Calvinistic understanding of how God saves sinners did not wear it as a badge.  Simeon was a Christian, first and foremost, before he was ever a Calvinist.  His theological system did not define him—Christ did.

In a sermon he preached on Romans 9:16, he made this point.

“Many there are who cannot see these truths [the doctrines of God’s sovereignty], who yet are in a state of truly pleasing to God, yea many, at whose feet the best of us may be glad to be found in heaven.  It is a great evil, when these doctrines are made a ground of separation one from another, and when the advocates of different systems anathematize each other. . . . Mutual kindness and concession are far better than vehement argumentation and uncharitable discussion.”  (John Piper, Roots of Endurance. p. 306)

These were no mere words for Charles Simeon.  He practiced what he preached as can be seen in a conversation he had with John Wesley, an ardent Arminian and the founder of the Methodist Church.  Check it out and see if this is not a great way to engage a theological argument with a brother or sister in Christ.
[Simeon] Sir, I understand that you are called an Arminian; and I have been sometimes called a Calvinist; and therefore I suppose we are to draw daggers.  But before I consent to begin the combat, with your permission I will ask you a few questions.  Pray, Sir, do you feel yourself a depraved creature, so depraved that you would never have thought of turning to God, if God had not first put it into your heart?
[Wesley] Yes, I do indeed.

[Simeon] And do you utterly despair of recommending yourself to God by anything you can do; and look for salvation solely through the blood and righteousness of Christ?

[Wesley] Yes, solely through Christ.

[Simeon] But, Sir, supposing you were at first saved by Christ, are you not somehow or other to save yourself afterwards by your own works?

[Wesley] No, I must be saved by Christ from first to last.

[Simeon] Allowing, then, that you were first turned by the grace of God, are you not in some way or other to keep yourself by your own power?

[Wesley] No.

[Simeon] What then, are you to be upheld every hour and every moment by God, as much as an infant in its mother’s arms?

[Wesley] Yes, altogether.

[Simeon] And is all your hope in the grace and mercy of God to preserve you unto His heavenly kingdom?

[Wesley] Yes, I have no hope but in Him.

[Simeon] Then, Sir, with your leave I will put up my dagger again; for this is all my Calvinism; this is my election my justification by faith, my final perseverance: it is in substance all that I hold, and as I hold it; and therefore, if you please, instead of searching out terms and phrases to be a ground of contention between us, we will cordially unite in those things where in we agree.  (John Piper, Roots of Endurance. p. 306)

Of course, the Wesley and Simeon story doesn’t mean Calvinism and Arminianism are the same.  They aren’t.  Not all Arminians would answer as Wesley did.  Not all Calvinists would ask the questions that Simeon asked.  But, can we not admire and follow the example of these two men, who rather than trying to argue each other into the ground--looked for common ground upon which both could stand together? 

Sunday, September 15, 2019

What I've Learned Anew Being The Pastor In The Pew

For the last year I have not been "the pastor" in the pulpit but rather a former pastor sitting in a pew.  After a couple decades of pulpit ministry preaching to and shepherding congregations of various sizes and make-ups as well as a decade overseas training pastors in some significantly challenging places, the past several months have been a sort of wilderness experience.  It hasn't been a wilderness experience because of a lack of preaching because, the fact is, I still do preach from time-to-time around the country.  No, the wilderness I've experienced this year has not been due to a lack of preaching as much as to a lack of having a church family to consistently, Sunday after Sunday, week in and week out--preach to, shepherd, pray for, love, and live life with.   

Wilderness or desert experiences are good for us and mine is no exception.  Trading the pulpit for a pew has been a good thing for me.  Its enabled me to gain a renewed perspective on pastoral ministry that I really don't think I could or would have gained any other way.  The pew has given me a vantage point that Bible college, seminary, and my 30 plus years in ministry weren't able to.  Being a parishioner rather than the pastor has aroused within me insights about pastoral work that I think have been well-worth sitting out a couple rounds.

So, what have I learned?  What's been so good about being the pastor in the pew this past year?  Well, I'm so glad you asked, so let me tell you just some of the things I have learned from the personal experience of sitting in the pew.  Let me share three things I found I needed and received listening to sermon after sermon each week at our church--Grace Baptist Church in Somerset, Kentucky.  As I do I hope it can help us who are pastors, whether preaching this Sunday or not, understand what the people in the pews need from us, their pastors in the pulpits, if their hearts are to be warmed, their minds instructed, their wills challenged, their sinfulness exposed, their spirits revived, and their doubts assured by our preaching.

1.  They need to hear God when we preach.  We must spare them the jokes, cute stories, pithy cliches and give our people a word from the Lord.  They desperately need to hear God when we preach.  As the writer of Hebrews puts it in Hebrews 13:7, pastors are those men who speak the Word of God to you.  Peter makes the same exact point in 1 Peter 4:11 when making the point that those who are gifted and tasked to preach and teach the Bible must do so as those who are speaking the very words of God.  There's simply no wiggle room here.  As a pastor our job each and every time we open the Book is to give our people a word from the Lord.  Of course, that takes some really hard work of poring over the Scriptures and pouring out our heart in prayer to God before ever getting to the point where we have a word from the Lord for anyone.  

2.  They need to see Jesus when we preach.  More than needing to see all the powerful points in our sermons, our people need to see Jesus.  Preaching that does not see and connect all of Scripture to Christ cannot be considered true New Testament preaching.  Jesus, Himself, made the point on several occasions that the Scriptures are about Him.  He and His gospel are their subject matter when correctly understood and thus, preached.  On his 7 mile walk from Jerusalem to Emmaus, Jesus used the whole Old Testament to teach two unnamed disciples everything they needed to know about Himself and His work of redemption (Luke 24:27, 32, 44-47).  On another occasion, Jesus makes the point that people who were searching the Scriptures because they thought they would find eternal life in them were missing the whole point.  The Scriptures weren't the source of eternal life--Jesus was!  As Jesus says about the Scriptures, "it is these that testify about me" (John 5:39).  So, pastors, please we must show our people Jesus and His gospel work of redemption in our preaching.  Show them what Jesus has done for them, Who He is for them, and what He promises them.  Don't let them settle for less by preaching that is empty of Christ.

3.  They need the Holy Spirit to work when we preach.  Preaching is much more than the transmission of knowledge.  It is the creation of spiritual perseverance, patience, power, praise, joy, worship, repentance, obedience, humility, fruit, and productivity in a believer by the Holy Spirit of God when that believer is under the consistent and continual preaching of the Word of God.  The Holy Spirit of God must empower our preaching as He enlightens and empowers our hearers if there is to be God-glorifying results.  According to passages such as 1 Corinthians 2:1-5 and 1 Thessalonians 1:5, the Spirit of God is necessary to our preaching if it is to become an event where the God of the gospel and His life-transforming grace are encountered by the people of God. 

The Bible says that the Holy Spirit was given to glorify Christ by revealing Him and His gospel-saving and sanctifying work through His Word (John 16:13-15).  In Acts and the Epistles we find that the apostles were filled and empowered by the Spirit to proclaim their Christ-centered sermons. The result of this was that sinners were saved, and the people of God built up in the Faith.  Preachers today also need to be filled with the same Holy Spirit to achieve the same results. In this sense, Holy Spirit empowered preaching is the principal means of advancing the kingdom of Jesus Christ.  This is God 's ordained way, so that He receives all the glory for the salvation and sanctification of sinners. None of this means that preachers are exempted from the hard work of sermon preparation. But, knowing that the effectiveness of our preaching rests in the empowering presence of the Spirit, should  perhaps, cause us to spend as much time on our knees in God-dependent, fervent prayer as we do at our desks studying His Word, preparing our sermons.

(A great resource for preachers is Arturo Azurdia's book, Spirit Empowered Preaching.  Here's a link: Spirit Empowered Preaching -- Arturo Azurdia III)


Monday, September 9, 2019

Tough Questions Series--"Do All Babies and Infants Go To Heaven When They Die?

One of the toughest questions I have ever been asked is about the eternal destiny of babies and infants who have either died or been aborted.  The hardest occasion for me was when a young couple, both new believers, in our church lost their nearly one year old baby to S.I.D.S (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome).  Of course, one of the very first questions they asked me was where was their baby and was she safe?  My answer to them on that tragic and incredibly sad day is still my answer today.  I told them that I believed that based upon the character of God, the testimony of Scripture, and theological arguments made from the Bible that their baby was indeed safe in the arms of Jesus.  So, why did I tell them this?  Let me try to explain.

First, of all, I do not believe that babies and infants make up a separate "special" category of human beings who are unaffected by Adam's sin so as to not be "in Adam" and thus free from the eternal consequences of His fall as recorded in Genesis 3.  Romans 5:12-19 makes the point that all people are sons and daughters of Adam and thus, "in Adam", are conceived with a sin nature (original sin) and are considered guilty of Adam's sin (imputed sin), placing them under God's judgment.  Therefore, all people, including babies and infants, are deserving of eternal condemnation.  Not a single baby or infant who dies deserves to be in heaven simply because they died.  Nor are they deserving of heaven because they have never volitionally acted upon their sin nature inherited from Adam.  If babies and infants who die do go to heaven it is only and always because of God's grace.  And the fact is, I do believe the Bible teaches that, by and because of God's incredible grace, He does indeed spare all babies and infants who die.  Here are some of my reasons for believing this.

1.  God always does what is right.  In Genesis 18:25, Abraham, when praying for God to spare those people who may be righteous when He destroys Sodom and Gomorrah makes the point to God, Himself, "Shall not the judge of all the earth do what is right?"  The answer to Abraham's rhetorical question is, "Of course, God will do what is right!"  And this is the basis for my answer.  I am arguing that based upon God's character which is holy, just, righteous, good, and loving that He will always do what is right for those babies and infants who have died apart from having the ability to understand the gospel, let alone their need of it, so as to repent of their sinful condition and trust in Christ for salvation. 

2.  All babies and infants who die are innocent of intentional sin.  I think we can rightly conclude that while all babies and infants who die were conceived with a sin nature they did not have the opportunity to volitionally and purposely act upon and in accordance with that nature.  In this sense, while positionally guilty they are experientially innocent.  

God, when condemning the practice of child sacrifice to the idol Molech, referred to those newborn children who were killed as "innocent" (Jer. 19:4).  By this, God meant that they were not guilty of volitional, intentional, and purposeful sin against Him since because of their age they were incapable of such.  Whenever the Bible speaks of the temporal or final eternal punishment of people their punishment is for the evil deeds they have done.  In speaking about the Great White Throne judgment in Revelation 20:12-13, John states twice that the unbelieving dead will be judged according to their deeds.  The Old Testament prophet Ezekiel made the point in Ezekiel 18:20, when teaching that children are not responsible for their parents' sins, that it is the person who sins who will bear the consequences of that sin.  This is the promise of Christ Jesus Himself in Matthew 16:27, when in speaking about His coming and subsequent judgment of unbelievers, He states that He will "repay every man according to his deeds."  So, what will those babies and infants who have no evil sinful deeds be judged and condemned for?

In addition, Deuteronomy 1:39, in talking about the little children of the disobedient Israelites who chose not to enter the land of Canaan under Moses' leadership makes the point that they, as little children,  had "no knowledge of good and evil" and were therefore not held responsible for their parents' sin.  So, here is a case when God specifically exempted from His judgment those who had no knowledge of good or evil because of their age.  In other words, their lack of knowing the difference between good and evil meant they lacked the capability to make morally informed choices and therefore were not accountable for choices they could not make.   

Furthermore, Paul makes the case in Romans 1:18-20 that those people who will be judged and condemned by God have no excuse for the simple reason that they can clearly see and understand God's general revelation as manifested in the Creation.  Their suppression of God's revelation about Himself in His creative handiwork is a volitional and intentional act, which renders them without excuse before God when condemned.  Verse 20, therefore implies that mankind would seem to have an excuse if they had not seen clearly in the Creation what God is like--"His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature".  Since babies and infants cannot process the Creation so as to make conclusions about God's existence, character, glory, and justice, it seems they would indeed have an excuse standing before God's judgment.  In this sense, babies and infants who die or are killed do not have the ability to clearly see or to understand God's revelation as revealed in Creation and are therefore, innocent of suppressing God's truth.

3.  King David's Hope of a Future Reunion With His Newborn Son Who Died.  In 2 Samuel 12:23 King David, upon hearing that Bathsheba's and his newborn son had died, stopped mourning and grieving for his son and began to go about his normal activities.  When his servants saw this they thought it odd that he would stop grieving after the baby died and so they asked him about his reaction.  David's reply was one of future hope and confidence that he would see his son again some day and be with him.  His exact words were: "While the child was still alive, I fasted and wept; for I said 'Who knows, the LORD may be gracious to me, that the child may live.  But now he has died. Why should I fast"  Can I bring him back again?  I will go to him, but he will not return to me.'"

David's hope does not seem to be that he will one day die and merely join his son in the grave.  Rather, what David appears to be saying is that he believes that he will one day, through death, be reunited with his son.  His statement seems to indicate that David has a hope of a future and happy reunion with his son.  Obviously, this would not be in hell but in heaven.

4.  Jesus' Words About Children.  In Mark 10:13-16, Jesus instructed his disciples, after they were not allowing little children to approach Him, that they should.  His words were,  "Permit the children to come to Me; do not hinder them; for the Kingdom of God belongs to such as these."  Then Jesus went on to do something He never did with unbelievers--"He took them in His arms and began blessing them, laying His hands on them."  Jesus also made the remark that ". . . whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child will not enter it at all."  These statements from our Savior would seem to be more indicative of the fact of God's acceptance of babies and infants who die rather than His rejection of them. 

5.  Heaven's Population Infers It.  We read in Revelation 5:9-10 as well as Revelation 7:9 that Heaven will be populated with people from throughout time from every tribe, tongue, people, and nation.  This seems only possible if some of these people are babies and infants who have died simply because the gospel has not in every era of time gone to every people group.  I tend to agree with John Macarthur, who says, that, "God has been gathering little ones from every tongue and tribe and nation from around the world throughout all of human history."

I am compelled by the above arguments to believe and teach that God ordains, for his own wise purposes, that at the judgment day all babies and infants who have died, either in the womb or out of it, will be among the elect and thus covered by the blood of Jesus.  I affirm this, though, neither because they are innocent nor because they have merited forgiveness, but solely because I believe God has sovereignly chosen them for eternal life, regenerated their souls, and applied the saving benefits of the blood of Christ to them apart from conscious faith which, at the age of their death they could not have possibly possessed.
 

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

Life Lived Together Will Improve Our Mileage!

Related imageBack when my family and I lived in Cameroon's Grand North, working with National believers to plant a small church in the Muslim majority city of Maroua I used to do a lot of running.  Over a few month period I logged over 500 miles.  My runs took me through small out of the way African villages where I was told some of the people had never seen a white man up close let alone seen one running through their village.  Sometimes I ran through Maroua where many stopped what they were doing to acknowledge my presence and encourage me by yelling, in Fulfulde or French, “Courage”, as I passed by.

I found my excursions out of the city, along dry river beds on mostly deserted paths, more to my liking. Along these trails I often saw African farmers smiling, sweating, and laughing as they worked together on small plots of land, breaking up the hard, dry, and crusty ground with small hand tools. Close by were tiny mud brick houses with thatched roofs, no bigger than a 4x8 tool shed, where family members of all ages worked together to clean up from one meal only to begin preparing the next.  Outside, small children laughed while they searched for elusive firewood for their mother's cook fires.  No matter what the work, how hard, how mundane, or boring the people just seemed to enjoy each other’s company as though the task was just an excuse to do something together.

Besides enjoying each others company, these folks also seemed to enjoy my company as I ran through their neighborhoods.  No matter how busy they were there was always time to smile, greet me, acknowledge my presence, offer me water, or just ask me who I was, where I lived, and why in the world was I running.

This used to bother me.  I wasn't used to such interaction and I really never cared to become more than anonymous. But, I couldn't hold onto this kind of selfishness for long in Africa for the simple reason that life is hard, yes even on Americans who had come to help.  I came to learn that tough times and dry ground, whether physical or spiritual, do more than toughen us up—they also tend to soften us up so that we are able to recognize what most of these people had known and enjoyed all along—life lived together is more fun and valuable than a life lived alone.

We really do need each other if for nothing else than to make the often tedious, boring, sometimes hard, and once in awhile, just plain painful journey through life a little bit more fun, more doable, and far more interesting than living life on your own. The African trails I ran never seemed to end. They went on and on seemingly forever into this southern fringe of the largest desert on earth. And when I did see people on them they were rarely if ever alone.  For as they said, “If you want to travel fast go alone. If you want to travel far take others with you.”

Makes me wonder if I could have extended those 500 miles out some more if I had chosen to run with others rather than alone. Also gets me to thinking about how much further we could all be on our journey with Christ if we weren't so dead-set on walking alone. 

Monday, September 2, 2019

The Spiritual Necessity of Being In Need

If I could wish, for you and I, one thing that would bolster our faith and bring vitality to our Christian experience it would be a needy life. Now, of course, you are wondering why in the world I'd wish for that.  I mean, would it not be better to wish for a fulfilled and completely needless life? No, I don’t think so and let me tell you why. Without needs we would go nowhere in the Christian life. You see, our neediness is the impetus for our spiritual growth and maturity. Our needs cause us to turn away from ourselves and our own resources to Christ and His resources. Our problems produce stress, which results in the neediness that drives us away from our miniscule personal resources to Christ as our infinite and all-powerful resource.

Were it not for our needs, most of us would not search out, reach out and then appropriate by faith God’s promises. And if God’s promises are never appropriated we will not become partakers of God’s divine nature. This is what 2 Peter 1:4 teaches us.

“For by these He has granted to us His precious and magnificent promises, so that by them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world by lust.”

God’s plan for our spiritual growth primarily utilizes our problems, struggles, and challenges to promote within us the sense of need that pushes us to search the Word of God for the promises of God. Once these promises are found and we by faith grab ahold of them and appropriate them spiritual growth occurs and presto, we find ourselves becoming more and more like Christ—who, by the way, all the promises of God find their fulfillment in (2 Corinthians 1:20).

God does not so much reveal Himself to us through philosophy and higher education as He does our needs. As J.N. Darby writes: “. . . necessity finds Him out. I doubt much if we have ever learned anything solidly except we have learnt it thus.” Therefore, perhaps it is not the most knowledgeable and articulate that make the greatest ambassadors for Christ—perhaps it is the most needy.

And while most of us equate happiness with having our needs met to the point that we have no more needs, the Bible begs to differ.   Jesus, Himself, said: “Blessed (happy) are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness for they shall be satisfied.” In other words, the happiest people are not those whose belly is full but whose spiritual belly is always hungering and thirsting for God. You see, the need of spiritual hunger and thirst drives them to God and His promises, which satisfy them. However, this satisfaction is not an end in itself. No, it is the means to greater hunger and greater thirst and thus even greater satisfaction in God.

Thus, our need for God not only produces spiritual growth, it produces spiritual satisfaction and contentment for God, which in turn glorifies Him as nothing else can. As John Piper puts it so well, “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him.

Friday, August 30, 2019

Why I Still Run

Back in 2013 I wrote a post entitled: "Why I Run".   Six years later and with another decade under my belt I'm still running. I've been running fairly consistently since 1978 when I was dared to run a 45 mile ultra-marathon race in Kodiak, AK called the Chad Ogden Memorial Run.  Whereas, I was not in particularly good shape and would not have considered myself a runner I had the day off the day of the race--so I figured I'd give it a try.  Believe-it-or-not, I finished 13th out of the 26 people who started the race.  Only 14 finished.  By the time I got across the finish line, 10 hours after we started, everyone had already gone home except for one race official who quickly handed me a “finishing trophy” and said "another hour and we'd have sent out the dogs”. That was it….no band, no hand clapping, whistle blowing crowd cheering for me, not even a T shirt. But it didn’t matter because I didn’t quit and that meant more to me than any of those things.  What I remember about that day was learning just how far 45 miles really is, how much it hurt, but how good it felt to finish and not quit.  This was the day I became a runner and I've been running ever since.

Now, don't take all this to mean that I am a fast runner or an accomplished runner.  I'm neither.  If anything, I am a plodder, struggling to pick up one foot after another only to do it again a few thousand times until the run is over.  Anymore at 60, I don't so much envision running 6 miles as much as I envision running one mile six times.

But why do I still run? Well, whereas, I do find enjoyment in running, it still comes back to what mattered most to me when I crossed the finish line 41 years ago….I finished! It wasn’t pretty. No one else cared except for the race official who finally got to go home but it did matter to me because when tempted to quit….when my body was begging me to quit….when the blisters on my feet and my blood chafed inner thighs were screaming at me to quit….when I really wanted to quit….I didn’t. I kept going until my race was finished and in the finishing experienced the sheer joy of not quitting. And that’s why I run and keep on running….for the sheer joy of not quitting.

Real runners don’t quit and that’s what proves they are real runners. So what does this all have to do with anything anyway? I mean, is there any spiritual significance to any of this? I think so. I think it portrays and illustrates what so many Bible verses teach regarding the need for believers to persevere until the end so as to not quit, but finish their race.  In the end it is their perseverance that finally proves they were true believers for only the true believer will persevere until the end because only the true believer will be preserved until the end.  And in the persevering, in the not giving up, in the enduring until the end they experience the sheer joy that comes when you don’t quit. (Hebrews 12:1-3)

In this day when apostatizing (quitting) seems to be in vogue among religious "superstars" remember this--just as real runners keep running and don't quit--real believers keep believing and don't stop.

And in case you're wondering......the pic is of our last two teens still at home, Esther and Peter, who, while being able to run much faster and farther than me still run with me to make sure I don't quit.  Ah, I think that's fodder for yet another post down the road.

Monday, August 26, 2019

The Call To Worship

My family and I love our church.  We look forward to gathering as "the church" each week in order to worship God together as a family of believers in the Lord Jesus Christ.  In our church worship is the one word descriptor for what happens the moment our pastor makes his way to the platform and announces "the call to worship".  After that call is given through the reading of an appropriate text of Scripture our focus is intentionally pivoted away from anything and everything other than God and His Word.  We don't do announcements after the call to worship.  We don't "meet and greet".  We don't hear reports, make financial appeals, announce special events, or get out the vote.  We simply worship by focusing our attention and affections on our Triune God, His Gospel, and His Word in song, Scripture reading, prayer, and preaching.

Our church is one of the few I have been involved with that takes her worship of God so seriously that she is dead serious about not allowing our weekly one and a half hour gathering to be hijacked by  good and even churchy things so as to miss the very best thing we can give ourselves to.....worshipping our Triune God as best as we are able "in Spirit and in truth".

And when all is said and done, as we walk out the doors of the building where our church worships together once a week we go home spiritually energized, enthused, enraptured, and empowered to face six more days of a worshipless world as we look forward to the "call to worship" next Sunday.

What a joy it is to be involved with a church that sees the priority of worship and does something about it.  What a joy to have a pastor who protects our time of worshipping together so as to experience a taste of heaven on earth.  What an eternal joy to know and worship the God Who deserves all worship.


Tuesday, August 20, 2019

What’s With The Pic of The Coast Guard Boat? (Repost from 2017)

Preview
A lot of responsibility for a 20 yr. old
 That's a good question.  

The fact is, I served in the U.S. Coast Guard for a few years back in the day.  I started in Kodiak, Alaska and then was transferred to a life boat station on Lake Michigan where I was a small boat coxswain running a 41' rescue boat just like the one in the picture to the right.  In the Coast Guard, the coxswain is the person in charge of the boat, its crew, and how the mission is to be carried out.  So, basically my job was to ensure our boat and crew were ready at all times to assist and rescue those who were in trouble and sometimes in danger of perishing.  It was also my job to make sure my crew didn't get sidetracked and lose sight of our mission.  The mission, not us or our concerns, was the priority every time we went out.     

So, in part, my affection for the Coast Guard is one reason for using such a picture.  But, its not the only reason.  You see, the Coast Guard's mission is to rescue people who are in trouble and in danger of peril.  As I see it, that's the church's mission too.  We are to be involved in rescuing the perishing.  And this picture reminds me of that so that when I find myself immersed in all the nitty gritty of church life especially the administrative details, the inevitable internal conflict that comes when sinners rub shoulders, and yes, the good stuff too, I don't forget that first and foremost we're a rescue outfit.  We are tasked with the mission of rescuing, with the gospel, those who are perishing.  And we do it all for the glory of God and the eternal joy of those people who will believe the gospel and be rescued.

The Next One

I am told that in a monastery in New Mexico, my home state, is a small cemetery primarily used for the Benedictine monks who die there.  But, unlike most cemeteries, graves here are not dug after death but before.  It’s not uncommon for pilgrims and strangers to walk through this cemetery and upon seeing an open freshly dug grave ask, “did one of the monks just die?”  The answer they receive undoubtedly shocks most as it also awakens others.....”No, it is for the next one.”

So, three times a day, on their way to breakfast, lunch, and dinner, all normal activities of living, these men pass by an open grave reminding them of two things. Death is lurking and will not be denied and one of them will be the “next one”.

I wonder if this wouldn’t be a good picture for us as professing believers in Jesus Christ to cement into our consciousness—an open grave not hidden from the reality of living but as part of it.  An open grave ready and prepared for the “next one”, reminding us that one of us could be the “next one”.  

It makes me wonder how I might think and do differently if my daily routine included a continual reminder that I’m not promised tomorrow and that today could possibly be my last day.  Realizing I might be the “next one” might not be a bad thing.  In fact, it might very well be a good thing because living with death in sight tends to make one live better.  I think that’s why Solomon made the point, toward the end of his life, in Ecclesiastes 7:2, that, “It is better to go to a house of mourning (funeral parlor) than to a house of feasting because that is the end of every man—and the living takes it to heart.”

The thought that any day I might be the “next one” tends to motivate me to run the last lap of my life with a renewed vigor because quite frankly, at 60, the finish line is in sight and I want to finish my race well.  I don’t want to play it safe all the way to the grave with the intention of leaving behind a hefty bank account, lots of toys, and no broken bones.  No, that’s not for me.  I want to make it home safe by skidding in sideways, an empty wallet in one hand and God’s Word in the other with my body thoroughly used up and totally worn out making much of Jesus and screaming—“Wow what an adventure!”

It motivates me to run my race with endurance compelling me to lay aside my besetting excuses (encumbrances) and sins which have entangled me so as to run with my eyes fixed only on Jesus, Who, in running and defeating death before and for us, has already marked out the path we are to follow (Hebrews 12:1-2).  In this way and only in this way will we run the race that is before us and cross the finish line of death well so as to obtain a better resurrection (Hebrews 11:35).

So, might you be the next one?  Are you running?  Are you running well?






Monday, July 29, 2019

Believer.......You Are Not Defined By Your Sin!

The gospel of Jesus Christ is good news but not just good news.  It includes both bad news and good news.  And in order to embrace the good news so as to be saved people must first accept the truth and reality of the bad news.  The bad news isn’t complicated.  In fact its very simple.  We are more than  people who have made a few mistakes or done some bad things.  The truth is, we are bad people who have done and do bad things.  The fact is—we were never good or pure and thus our sinful state and our sins are our identity.  We are sinners through and through—in thought, word, and deed.  That’s the bad news we have to come to grips with in order to really hear and embrace the good news Jesus wants us to embrace and enjoy.

The indescribably good....no the incredibly great....no the incredibly amazing news of the gospel is that God the Father sent God the Son, Jesus Christ, to earth to assume our identities as sinners and then take our identities to the cross where He died in our place, paid the eternal penalty for our sins and our sinful identities, satisfied the wrath of His Father against our sins and us, destroyed any record of our past identities, and then gave us His identity.

Thus, from the moment of belief, from the moment of conversion, from the moment of salvation believers are no longer defined by their sin because it no longer exists.  Our sin, in whole and in part, was removed from us, paid for, destroyed, and forever forgotten by God at the cross.  It has no jurisdiction in your life.  It has no bearing in regard to how God sees and treats you.  It is not your identity and never will be again.  Your identity as a believer is Christ.  Thus, you are no longer defined by your sin but by your new life in Christ.

The correct response to this incredibly great and amazing news is to believe it, embrace it, exult in it, enjoy it, and share it.  The worst thing you and I can do is to forget about it and let Satan and your own flesh deceive you into thinking your sin is your identity and that which defines your life.  That shadow cast upon your soul will rob your joy faster than anything I know.

Don’t let it linger long.  Fight it by preaching the incredibly great and amazing news of the gospel to yourself.....Christ is not only your Lord and Savior, He is also your identity.  His obedience to the Law, His righteousness, His devotion, His love, His purity, His passion for His Father’s glory, His works, His death, His burial, His resurrection—its all yours!  As Paul put it in Galatians 2:20, “I have been crucified with Christ and it is no longer I who live but Christ lives in me and the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave Himself up for me.”





Pursuing the Glory of Christ as though He were the most important pursuit in all the world--Because He Is!

" Looking for the Blessed Hope and the appearing of The Glory of our Great God and Savior, Christ Jesus." Titus 2:13