Saturday, December 29, 2012

And They Will Know Us By Our...........?

If a quick perusal of the last month’s Facebook postings is any indication of what many professing Christians want to be known by I am wondering if God will recognize them. My understanding of what defines a Christian at least as far as I can tell from Facebook is that the true born-againer is a liberal hating, Obama-hating, gun-control hating, Muslim hating, homosexual hating, social spending hating, big government hating, abortion rights hating, higher tax hating, same-sex marriage hating, public school hating politically conservative church goer who flies the American flag and can’t stand the fact that our country is being flooded with illegals. Now, before you go and get mad—thinking that I am saying I love all these things—don’t, because I don’t. I too, struggle with the many ungodly and just plain stupid positions our political leaders and social advocates are so bent on pursuing. But, having said that, we as believers are not best defined by what we hate unless what we hate is sin and our own sin first and foremost. The Bible makes the point that what best defines those who follow Christ is love—for Him, each other, righteousness, and sinners. Thus, getting on Facebook to tell us what you hate in everyone else and about everyone else is not the best way to introduce yourself as a follower of Christ. In fact, its not even the best way to combat the very social evils you are so eloquently fuming about. Until Christians begin to love sinners more than they love hating sinners we will never make a social difference in this world. Until we spend less time bashing sinners on Facebook and more time finding a few to spend time with, get to know, actually try to understand, and then love more than they love their sin we will never make a difference because it is doubtful we will ever lead anyone to Christ. Furthermore, until we love others and especially those whose social agendas, policies, and practices we find disagreeable, distasteful and even disgusting more than we love hating their sin or their views on gun-control, same-sex marriage, and the national debt we, like them, are nothing more than noisy gongs and clanging symbols (1 Cor. 13:1).

Friday, December 28, 2012

The War Within

Christianity is war, plain and simple. If you don't know this and you are a Christian you are in trouble. It is a war far more real than you think. The fighting is intense, lasting and real victories are hard won and more rare than you think, casualties abound, retreat is commonplace, and taking and holding ground far more costly than ever imagined. Our war is the ultimate reality all earthly wars point to. They are but the picture, as real and terrible as they are. Our spiritual war is the reality as unreal as it sometimes appears to be. Our weapons are not made of metal and plastic but are divinely powerful designed to destroy all that is in us that is opposed to Christ. Our enemy is a brutal, savvy, treacherous, highly skilled, and unbelievably enduring foe whose greatest strength is its close proximity to us....for our enemy is always with us 24/7. It is none other than our sinful flesh, our old man, if you will, whose nature it is to oppose, fight, and if it could, destroy the spiritual life within us that is becoming more and more glorious everyday as it is being conformed moment-by-moment into the image of Christ 24/7 whether you realize it or not. Our enemy will never quit, be reformed, tamed, surrender, tire of fighting, or concede. Its fight is to the death and only in our death will its head never rise again. But while our flesh presents itself as such a formidable foe it can be defeated even if not destroyed. It can be resisted and it can even be used to encourage our battle hardened and weary souls when seen aright for what it is and why it is. You see, the mere realization that we have a sinful flesh that opposes us in our desire to pursue Christ assures us that our pursuit of Christ is real and something the enemy of our soul finds worthy of opposing. The truth Christians must learn and can only truly learn through spiritual hand-to-hand combat with an enemy who seems to prevail against us at every point is that the mere fact that we are being opposed by and opposing our sinful flesh provides us with an assurance of salvation we could find nowhere else. For you see before salvation, we were at peace with our sin but at war with God. After salvation, we are at peace with God but at war with our sin. Listen, I know firsthand how ugly this battle can get. I also understand how demoralizing and discouraging it often becomes to lose battle after battle. But don’t diminish the value of the battle whether won or lost. Only believers are at war with their sinful flesh and thus, the greatest value may not lie so much in your success as much as in the fact that you’re in the fight.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

A Post-Christmas Observation

Christmas is over, the tree has dried up, the presents are stacked up, the trash can is filled up, the credit card is racked up and some of us are just plain fed up. Fed up with yet another Christmas that didn’t deliver what we thought or at least hoped. Oh, it produced a fast burn that brought excitement into life until the batteries wore out. But then Christmas and all the trimmings turned into a slow fade, which left many just as disappointed, discontented, disillusioned, and dissatisfied with their lives as they were before going deeper in debt trying to buy another year's worth of happiness and holiday cheer. But, you know what, maybe the real problem isn’t Christmas’ failure to deliver. Maybe, just maybe, the real problem is that we are far too easily pleased. You see, our willingness to settle for artificial trees, plastic toys, paper plates, and disposable Christmas lights is very much indicative of the root problem we all struggle with—that of filling our lives with the throw-away-stuff of life so that we have no room left for what the Lord of life promises, which is life itself in Christ Jesus. Quite simply, we are so obcessed with filling our lives with temporary and inferior pleasures—we have missed the ultimate eternal point of life, which is Christ Himself, the source of all true joy and happiness. May 2013 be a year in which we aren’t so easily pleased!

Preachers & Their Churches

Much is said these days about pastors neglecting the proper, biblically expected, and in fact required work of giving themselves to the preaching of the Word of God. By and large, the majority of men filling our pulpits have tragically given themselves to a seeker-driven, customer knows best, culturally sensitive, and God-diminishing brand of sermonizing unknown to the prophets and apostles in our Bibles whose preaching was more often than not introduced by the clarion call “Thus saith the Lord”. On the other hand, not much seems to be said, at least in my hearing, about those churches that accept this kind of preaching as the norm and see nothing empty, powerless, anemic, or do I dare say it, wrong with it. While many are asking, “where are the men?” I am wondering “where are the churches?” I mean, whatever happened to those churches that took their calling as “the pillars and supporters of the truth” (1 Tim. 3:15) seriously and insisted, no, demanded that their preachers “Preach the Word!” (2 Tim. 4:2)? Perhaps, if more churches understood and took to heart their calling more preachers would too. As in the riddle about the chicken and the egg, the question of who comes first, thus resulting in the other, the Bible preaching preacher or the Bible believing church—neither is independent or unnecessary to the other. Personally speaking, as a man who has pastored a couple churches, here and there, I have always preached best to those churches, who like Cornelius, in speaking to Peter in Acts 10:33, make it a point to remind me: “. . . Now then, we are all here present before God to hear all that you have been commanded by the Lord.”

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

The Regeneration of Charles Wesley

One of my favorite hymns, "And Can It Be That I Should Gain?", was written by Charles Wesley in May of 1738.  He wrote it two days after he was brought to saving faith in Christ.  What many Christians may be unaware of is that the words to this hymn are Wesley’s description of how God finally broke through his agonizing heart to bring him to saving faith in Christ.

You see, for several months Wesley, even while serving as an ordained minister of the Church of England as a missionary to Georgia in what is now the United States, knew he did not belong to Christ and that Christ did not belong to him.  He agonized over his lost condition but was unable to find assurance of salvation and the forgiveness of his sins regardless of how good and how hard he worked.  Out of desperation he sought the help of a Moravian preacher named Peter Bohler  who asked him, “Do you hope to be saved?”  “Yes”, replied Charles.  Bohler then asked him, “For what reason do you hope it?”.  “Because I have used my best endeavors to serve God.”  Bohler, realizing Charles was trying to produce his own salvation through his good works, shook his head and said no more to him.  And Charles, even more frustrated, exclaimed, “What?  Are not my endeavors a sufficient ground of hope?  Would he rob me of my endeavors?  I have nothing else to trust to.”

A few months later however, Charles did come to understand that his works were not enough to save him and so he began to pursue faith thinking that faith would save him.   But now the problem he was running into was that instead of seeking Christ—he was seeking faith.  Faith had become the new work, which he substituted for his former good works.  A glimpse at Charles’ journal reveals the struggle he was having.

May 13.  I waked without Christ; yet still desirous of finding Him . . .

May 14.  The beginning of the day I was very heavy, weary, and unable to pray. . . .I longed to find Christ. . . .

May 16.  I waked weary, faint and heartless . . . In the afternoon I seemed deeply sensible of my misery, in being without Christ.

May 19.  I received the sacrament, but not Christ . . . I looked for Him all night . . . I waked much disappointed, and continued all day in great dejection.

Then on May 21, everything changed.  After writing about the “violent opposition and reluctance to believe,” he was experiencing in his own soul as he considered the Gospel, God broke through and caused Charles’ unbelieving heart to finally see, believe, and receive the truth.  Here is how Charles described it:

“The Spirit of God strove with my own evil spirit, till by degrees He chased away the darkness of unbelief.  I found myself convinced, I knew not how or when, and immediately fell to intercession.”

Two days later he wrote the hymn which has become my favorite.  The words of the hymn come from his journal. 

And can it be that I should gain
An interest in the Saviour’s blood?
Died He for me, who caused His pain?
For me, who Him to death pursued?
Amazing love!  How can it be
That Thou, my God, shoul’st die for me!
Long my imprisoned spirit lay
Fast bound in sin and nature’s night;
Thine eye diffused a quick’ning ray;
I woke; the dungeon flamed with light;
My chains fell off, my heart was free,
I rose, went forth, and follow’d Thee.

Charles Wesley never forgot the day God ripped the scales of unbelief from the eyes of his heart and gave him sight so that he could see the beauty and magnificence of Christ so that in his heart of hearts he truly desired Christ and was now able to finally believe in Him for the salvation of his soul from the wrath of God for his sin.   A day in which he describes God as having “diffused a quickening ray” that woke him up and lit the dungeon of his soul with the divine light of regeneration so as to finally be able to see, love, and follow Christ.

The apostle Paul describes this day, this moment, this process, we all passed through who have been brought to saving faith in Christ as the day in which God “shone in our hearts to give the Light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.” (2 Corinthians 4:6).  Just as God said on day one of the creation week, “Let there be light” and there was light—once He declared His Light to shine in our souls there was also light, and for the first time in our lives we were able to see the beauty and attraction of God in the face of Jesus Christ and we, like Charles Wesley, woke up, found our hearts free, rose, and went forth believing to follow Christ.  This is what it is to be regenerated or as Jesus calls it in John 3:3 to be born again.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

God Has No Perfect Servants

Christ is the divine/human reference point for both God and man.  Just as no man can come to the Father but through Christ, God does not come to us but through Christ either.  In this way Christ is indeed the only mediator between God and man.  Just as we see God through and in Christ, God sees us in and through Christ.  Therefore, just as our reference point in our dealings with God is not ourselves, not our sin, and certainly not our performance as Christians but rather is Christ, His righteousness and His performance on our behalf—God’s reference point in dealing with us is the same.   

This is the truth behind Psalm 103:10, in which we are told God does not deal with us according to our sins.  How can this be?  Because He is dealing with us in accordance with another reference point—that point of reference, being Jesus Christ Who made an end to all our sins! 

As I have taken the last thirty days to read through my Bible so as to better catch the flow of God’s divine drama, I was especially impressed if not confounded with how God could carry on fellowship and often intimate unbroken fellowship with the likes of men who lied about their wives, had more than a few wives, were not the best of fathers, kept a few household idols around just in case, took advantage of others, and otherwise chose not to deal with some serious sin issues in their lives thus failing to break down the “high places” that were a constant scourge to their spiritual progress.  During this time I also read the short biography of A.W. Tozer, a man whose intimacy with and knowledge of the Holy very few would dispute or have experienced.  Yet, for all his godliness, he greatly lacked as a husband and father causing them to question throughout their lives whether he truly loved them or simply tolerated them as he pursued Who he truly loved—Jesus Christ.  As I read about Tozer’s less than complimentary and acceptable performance as a Christian husband and father I struggled to reconcile his intimacy with God with his lack of intimacy with his family.  How could he know and relate to God yet not truly know and relate to his wife?  How could he preach, pray, and write with such spiritual power yet fail to communicate and demonstrate a father’s love to his sons?  Basically, I was shocked that God could and would relate as intimately with and use a man to such a degree as He did Tozer. 

Now please understand, my shock was not because I thought Tozer was unfit or unqualified for service but rather because I thought he really had it all together and that is why God was so intimate with Him and used him to such a great degree.  In other words, I had fallen into the trap of a performance-based consecration in which God relates most intimately with and uses most greatly those whose lives demonstrate the greatest degree of holiness and “spiritual got-it togetherness”.

Then in one of those all too few moments when God seems to come down and speak directly into the heart of His servants, God spoke to me, deep within my heart of hearts,  and here is what He said,   “I have no perfect servants.”    What a freeing realization this became for me the more I contemplated His words.  My sin, my failings, my lack of sanctification, my issues, my rough edges, my lack of godly character, and myself in general and in particular are not God’s reference point when it comes to dealing with, fellowshipping with, becoming intimate with, and/or even using me.  His reference point, plain and simple, both now and forevermore, is Christ.  He sees me in Christ and deals with me in Christ and this is the way it will always be.  And this is what frees God to love me allowing and enabling me to experience and enjoy intimacy with Him.  Not only does it free Him to relate to me in a positive way it also enables Him to use me, failings, immaturity, sin issues, and all, for His greater glory and my immense joy.

Now, I realize, that given most teaching on the subject of consecration, that saying our degree of sanctification is not the main issue when it comes to whom God chooses to use in His service, seems spiritually dangerous—it nevertheless is true.   Not that it hurts to pursue holiness so as to be as sharp an instrument as possible in the hands of God but God has never been nor is He now nor will He ever be limited by the quality of the cutlery available to Him.  Hebrews 11 is the perfect example of how greatly God used imperfect and in fact badly flawed and even badly dulled instruments to accomplish some of His greatest and most penetrating work.  This should not surprise us either as the whole point of Hebrews 11 as well as in salvation and sanctification is not the merit of the recipient of God’s grace as much as it is his or her’s utter lack of merit.  In other words,  God did not use and does not use great men and women of God to accomplish great work for God for the simple reason there are no great men and women of God.  God has no great or perfect servants.  All are flawed, all are sinful, all have issues, all struggle, and all have Christ and His righteousness as their point of reference when it comes to how God sees them, relates to them, and uses them.  In this sense, all are trophies of His grace.

The point of consecration in terms of greater sanctification is not service or spiritual usability as much as it is a greater capacity for seeing and thus experiencing and enjoying God.  “Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God” is the promise made to all of those who have become partakers of divine grace and mercy.  The point of consecration is not greater service for God but greater vision of God.  Divine happiness, of which, we have all been enabled to enjoy as much of as we desire, comes not through our serving of God but in seeing God.  In fact, to find a greater joy in serving than in seeing God is idolatry in its purest and most hideous form.   We serve because we see not vice versa.  Furthermore, we serve Him most Whom we see best.  But we will never see God to serve God and in fact to enjoy God if we continue to view the quality or lack of quality of our relationship with God through the false reference point of ourselves, our sins, our failures, our immaturity, and our glaringly true spiritual inadequacies and inconsistencies.  Only one reference point exists by which the believer is to view God as well as himself and all that is within him which, in all honesty, makes him wonder why God would have anything to do with him and that point of reference is the same one through Whom God views, deals with, and comes to us—The only Mediator between God and man—Christ Jesus our Lord!

Sunday, November 25, 2012

To Our Son Luke On His Ordination To Pastoral Ministry

(Our son Luke, a combat medic in the U.S. Army was ordained to the Gospel ministry as a Southern Baptist pastor yesterday.  God graciously enabled us, through the kindness of Luke's church, Plesant Green Baptist Church in Hopkinsville, Kentucky, to be part of the service via SKYPE.  The following is what we wrote to Luke and asked our oldest son, Mark Daniel, to read to him.  The note includes the prayer of A.W. Tozer on the day he was ordained to the Gospel ministry.  It is well worth reading and contemplating especially if you are a pastor or desire to be one.)
Mom and I just want you to know how thankful we are that God has brought about this day in your life in which you are being ordained as a minister of the Gospel of our Lord Jesus.  Long ago, before you were born, we prayed to the Lord that you would become a soldier of the cross and serve Him valiantly.  God answered our prayers in many ways and today is yet another one of those answers.  We thank the Lord for your life, your salvation, His calling upon your life, and His faithfulness to preserve you in both your salvation and ministry.

Be assured of our constant and continual prayers on your behalf as you continue to serve the Lord as a youth pastor. 

92 years ago, a young 23 year old man by the name of Aiden Wilson Tozer, whom we know as A.W. Tozer, was also ordained to the Gospel ministry.  After the ordination service, Tozer prematurely left the fellowship celebration to spend time alone with God in prayer, a priority he would cherish and model throughout his life. Years later the private prayer from his ordination day was written and published, “For Pastors Only.” Here is the text of his prayer as it later appeared in the Alliance Weekly on May 6, 1950. 

Your mom and I trust it will be a blessing and challenge to you on this day in which we are so honored to be your parents.

We love you!
Dad & Mom

For Pastors Only – Prayer of a Minor Prophet
A. W Tozer

O Lord, I have heard Thy voice and was afraid. Thou hast called me to an awesome task in a grave and perilous hour. Thou are about to shake all nations and the earth and also heaven, that the things that cannot be shaken may remain. O Lord, our Lord, Thou has stopped to honor me to be Thy servant. No man takes this honor upon himself save he that is called of God as was Aaron. Thou has ordained me Thy messenger to them that are stubborn of heart and hard of hearing. They have rejected Thee, the Master, and it is not to be expected that they will receive me, the servant.

My God, I shall not waste time deploring my weakness nor my unfittedness for the work. The responsibility is not mine but Thine. Thou hast said, “I knew thee—I ordained thee—I sanctified thee,” and Thou has also said, “Thou shalt go to all that I shall send thee, and whatsoever I command thee thou shalt speak.” Who am I to argue with Thee or to call into question Thy sovereign choice? The decision is not mine but Thine. So be it, Lord. Thy will, not mine, be done.
Well do I know, Thou God of the prophets and the apostles, that as long as I honor Thee Thou wilt honor me. Help me therefore to take this solemn vow to honor Thee in all my future life and labors, whether by gain or by loss, by life or by death, and then to keep that vow unbroken while I live.

It is time, O God, for Thee to work, for the enemy has entered into Thy pastures and the sheep are torn and scattered. And false shepherds abound who deny the danger and laugh at the perils which surround Thy flock. The sheep are deceived by these hirelings and follow them with touching loyalty while the wolf closes in to kill and destroy. I beseech Thee, give me sharp eyes to detect the presence of the enemy; give me understanding to distinguish the false friend from the true. Give me vision to see and courage to report what I see faithfully. Make my voice so like Thine own that even the sick sheep will recognize it and follow Thee.

Lord Jesus, I come to Thee for spiritual preparation. Lay Thy hand upon me. Anoint me with the oil of the New Testament prophet. Forbid that I should become a religious scribe and thus lose my prophetic calling. Save me from the curse that lies dark across the face of the modern clergy, the curse of compromise, of imitation, of professionalism. Save me from the error of judging a church by its size, its popularity or the amount of its yearly offering. Help me to remember that I am a prophet; not a promoter, not a religious manager—but a prophet. Let me never become a slave to crowds. Heal my soul of carnal ambitions and deliver me from the itch for publicity. Save me from the bondage to things. Let me not waste my days puttering around the house. Lay Thy terror upon me, O God, and drive me to the place of prayer where I may wrestle with principalities and powers and the rulers of the darkness of this world. Deliver me from overeating and late sleeping. Teach me self-discipline that I may be a good soldier of Jesus Christ.
I accept hard work and small rewards in this life. I ask for no easy place. I shall try to be blind to the little ways that I could make my life easier. If others seek the smoother path I shall try to take the hard way without judging them too harshly. I shall expect opposition and try to take it quietly when it comes. Or if, as sometimes it falleth out to Thy servants, I shall have grateful gifts pressed upon me by Thy kindly people, stand by me then and save me from the blight that often follows. Teach me to use whatever I receive in such manner that it will not injure my soul nor diminish my spiritual power. And if in Thy permissive providence honor should come to me from Thy church, let me not forget in that hour that I am unworthy of the least of Thy mercies, and that if men knew me as intimately as I know myself they would withhold their honors or bestow them upon others more worthy to receive them.
And now, O Lord of heaven and earth, I consecrate my remaining days to Thee; let them be many or few, as Thou wilt. Let me stand before the great or minister to the poor and lowly; that choice is not mine, and I would not influence it if I could. I am Thy servant to do Thy will, and that will is sweeter to me than position or riches or fame and I choose it above all things on earth or in heaven. Though I am chosen of Thee and honored by a high and holy calling, let me never forget that I am but a man of dust and ashes, a man with all the natural faults and passions that plague the race of men. I pray Thee therefore, my Lord and Redeemer, save me from myself and from all the injuries I may do myself while trying to be a blessing to others. Fill me with thy power by the Holy Spirit, and I will go in Thy strength and tell of Thy righteousness, even Thine only. I will spread abroad the message of redeeming love while my normal powers endure.
Then, dear Lord, when I am old and weary and too tired to go on, have a place ready for me above, and make me to be numbered with Thy saints in glory everlasting. Amen.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

My Prayer Distractions

As is usually my custom, I rose early this morning, made some coffee, read a few chapters in my Bible, and then went for a walk so as to spend some alone time with the Lord in prayer.  My expectations of communing with the Lord were as big as my intentions but once I got out the door on this beautiful quiet morning my heart became more of a marketplace than a place of prayer. 
As I saw our truck sitting there in front of our house I realized I still hadn’t gotten around to changing the oil on it and of course thinking about the oil change caused me to remember that I needed to figure out where to buy an oil filter wrench so as to remove the oil filter because the one I brought to Cameroon was strangely missing.  This then led me down the trail of wondering how busy the market would be today since its Saturday and if I could somehow find a mechanic who might just lend me one.  Then, just about the time I got into the “Good Morning Lord” part of my praying it dawned on me that tomorrow is Sunday and I need to prepare for our service as well as our Bible classes later in the day.  These thoughts then led me down the trail of thinking about the emails I still needed to answer from last week as well as the update I still needed to write and blog article I wanted to write.  Thinking about the update caused me to think about all the work here that was still not finished and well…….Talk about distractions!
Well the good news is, I was able to clear my mind, give all these distractions to the Lord,  and do a little praying but oh what a battle it was to keep my mind clear so as to talk with the Lord rather than to myself.  Finally, I finished my circuit and as I walked back in the door to sit down and write this, I wondered about the value of my quote unquote “prayer walk”.  As I considered whether I should just go right back out there and do it again only this time with a much more serious approach to dealing with all my distractions, it dawned on me that distractions are life.  And since life is what we pray about—distractions may not really be distractions at all—they may be prayer requests in disguise.  In fact, perhaps they are the very things God wants to talk about.
I’ve never found that talking to my wife was any more intimate and pleasurable because I came to her with a list and an agenda.  Most of the time, what passes for good conversation between us is talking about all the distractions that interrupted our agenda and made scrap paper out of our lists.  Well, after giving it more thought I came to the conclusion that prayer without distractions may not be prayer at all.  Paul told us that we are to pray without ceasing (1 Thess. 5:17) and that we are to be anxious for nothing but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving we are to let our requests be known to God (Phil. 4:6).  How can we pray without ceasing and over everything and not include our distractions?
So, I didn’t go back out on the road to repray my prayers.  I simply thanked the Lord for listening to me as I talked to Him and for listening in on me as I talked to myself.  Then I committed all my distractions to Him.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Will The Real Church Please Act Like It?!

I am perplexed by the vast and overwhelming number of organizations who call themselves churches.  It really is astonishing when you stop and think about it.  I mean, it’s like every group or gathering of people who get together on Sundays and have a program which includes singing songs, listening to someone speak, bowing their heads, standing, sitting, raising their hands, weaving back and forth, and even kneeling at the appropriate times, and who do it with a Bible or electronic device in one hand and a cup of coffee and/or donut in the other are calling themselves churches.  Worse yet, they are advertising themselves as such to other people who, not knowing any better, come along for the ride, never realizing that the road they’re on leads to hell.
So……does this mean that I think churches that serve coffee and donuts aren’t churches and in fact are leading the people who go there into eternal damnation?  No.  That’s not what I mean at all.  What I mean is—is that just because a group calls themselves a church that does not make them a church any more than calling yourself a Christian makes you one.
To be a church the group of people must be members of “the church”, that is, the blood bought, chosen from eternity, regenerated by the Holy Spirit, faith exercising, repentance pursuing, declared righteous, saved from the wrath of God, sin forgiven, Jesus loving, and in the process of being made holy—bride of Christ.  Anything less than this isn’t a church but perhaps, at best, just a nice group of people meeting in a nice building listening to a nice man or woman giving inspirational talks, with a nice parking lot, with some really fun activities for the kids, with all kinds of committees making all kinds of plans, and with no idea that they’re all not only guilty of identity theft—they are all, even more alarmingly, still guilty of their sins and thus on their way as a “Christless church” to a Christless eternity in hell.
So, how do you know whether you’re in a church or in a group that simply thinks and calls itself a church?   Well, not intending to write a book and willing to be considered too generous by some and not generous enough by others as well as even being willing to be misunderstood as a fanatic or zealot of sorts, let me say, that which, best distinguishes a true church from all those groups pretending to be churches is how important God and His glory is within that body. 
Practically speaking, what I mean is this—if your group is so concerned about their finances that they will not pursue financial priorities and decisions which make much of Christ by putting yourselves in a position to obey the Scriptures you’re not acting like a church.  If your leadership is unwilling to confront sin because it is more concerned with peace and not rocking the boat, you’re not behaving like a church.  If your worship services are all about the music, the worship team, the instruments, the sound, the image, the atmosphere, the professionalism, and the appeal to non-believers rather than all about glorifying God—you’re a far cry from how a church worships.  If you’re group has more unbelievers than believers in it because it really is a comfortable place for unbelievers to hang out in while they’re hanging out their sin, it could be because your group is not as concerned with the things of God and in particular the holiness of God and the holiness of those who are called by His Name as they should be.  If your preacher doesn’t teach the Bible, waters it down, neglects to teach the whole counsel of God, minimizes doctrine, excuses sloppy sermon preparation, is unprepared when he comes to the pulpit, and worse yet—is more concerned with his job security than teaching the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth of the Gospel, you’re failing to measure up as a church.  Let me also add, that if your church isn't concerned about genuinely loving people or going out on a limb to meet real pressing needs or taking the Gospel of Jesus, not only to where its never been heard but, also to our neighbors across the street you may have a bit of an identity crisis going on. 
Wow…..I could go on and on but this is probably enough to try, convict, and hang me.  But that’s OK because I think Christ’s bride and reminding her that even though she is still in the world she is not of it and must be separate from it is worth whatever criticism I receive for writing this.  Now, I know that none of us as individual believers as well as none of our churches have completely arrived.  We are all works in progress but if you or your “church” aren’t in any way making progress toward becoming what and who God says you should be becoming—I would be concerned.  So, I encourage you to take a good hard look at your church, whether you’re the pastor or a new member, to see if what you are calling your “church” is who Jesus is calling His bride.
“That you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of truth.”  1 Timothy 3:15

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Will Heaven Be Boring?

Have you ever wondered if we will continue to grow spiritually in Heaven?  It’s a good question to ponder.  The answer has a great deal to say to us about the depth and the quality of what our experience in Heaven will entail.  In other words, it answers the question so many have on their minds—will Heaven be boring?

Many believers believe we won’t grow spiritually, intellectually, or emotionally once we get to Heaven because they believe we will have perfect knowledge in Heaven, in the sense that our knowledge, both spiritual and intellectual, will be full and complete.  They believe this is true because of their understanding of 1 Corinthians 13:12, which states that when the “perfect comes”, mentioned in verse 10, we will know fully just as we are fully known.  Whereas, some take “the perfect” to be the completed canon of Scripture, I disagree.  I think it is referring to our Heavenly existence, when we move from earth to our new home in heaven.  The struggle those have who argue for the “perfect” being the completed canon of Scripture is that we, even with the Scriptures, do not know fully as we have been fully known.  None of us are perfect, none of us have a perfect understanding of God’s Word, and all of us are still affected by the sin indwelling our flesh—thus none of us know fully.  However, once we get to Heaven and we are no longer inhibited by sin and we are in the presence of Jesus we will know fully.  But what does it mean to know fully?

The Greek word for the phrase “know fully” is epi-ginosko.  Whereas, it means to know extensively, it is never used of absolute knowledge when used of humans—even those in Heaven.  This Greek word is thus, referring to the quality of what we will know not the quantity of what we can know.  The basic idea behind the verse is that in Heaven we will know in a fuller and more intensive way without any error or misconceptions in our knowledge.  Paul’s point in comparing our knowledge to God’s knowledge is that like God, what we know will be perfectly accurate, not that we will know exhaustively all that God knows.  Therefore, if to know fully does not mean to know comprehensively and completely, we will grow in our knowledge and in fact, we will grow perfectly in an ever-increasing knowledge and understanding of an infinite God whose depths can never be plumbed, even by those in Heaven.  Thus, if we are to grow perfectly and continually in the knowledge of the most magnificent and majestic of persons and explore the depths of His works—how can Heaven be boring?

Contrary to popular opinion among unbelievers, Heaven will never be boring.  Isaac Asimov, the science fiction writer was the one who said:  “I don’t believe in an afterlife, so I don’t have to spend my whole life fearing hell, or fearing heaven even more.  For whatever the tortures of hell, I think boredom of heaven would be even worse.”  In spite of what Asimov said—Heaven will never become boring because there will always be more to learn, understand, and enjoy about God, our new home and ourselves.

You might ask, how does one grow spiritually and intellectually in heaven?  Spiritual growth is dependent upon and proportional to the comprehension and application of truth (Jn. 17:17).  As we learn more and more about our eternal and infinite God—we never ever begin to limit how much more there is to know.  Plumbing the depths of God is impossible regardless of how long eternity is.  Thus, if there is more truth to know then there is more growing to do.  We do not reach Heaven as static people who will never ever do any more growing in terms of knowledge, maturity, and growth.  Keep in mind that 1 John 3:2 teaches that we shall be like Him in terms of a glorified body like His and sinless moral character like His.  It does not mean that we will know everything Jesus knows and be everything that Jesus is.  Whereas, we will be conformed to His character—it is as conformed to His character as a finite creature can be or has the capacity to be.  Certainly, in a glorified body, completely redeemed from and removed from sin, in a place with no sin, and in the presence of Christ Himself, we could not but experience ever-increasing growth thus ever-increasing responsibility, challenge, and productivity.

Is, then, spiritual growth of any real importance upon earth?  Yes.  Here on earth, spiritual growth is not uniform or constant.  It is affected by sin to greater or lesser degrees.  Thus, one person’s rate of spiritual growth is not the same as someone else’s.  In Heaven, this is not the case for the simple reason there is no sin in Heaven.  Thus in Heaven spiritual growth as well as intellectual and emotional growth is constant and uniform.  We will all grow at the same pace.  But we will not all be at the same level of growth.  Why will this be so?  Because we all enter Heaven at differing levels of growth.  The man or woman who has applied themselves to the spiritual disciplines of involving themselves in the life of the Body, hearing the Word of God taught, personal Bible Study, prayer, Scripture memorization, evangelism, etc. will be more mature and at a higher growth level than the believer who has not given themselves to spiritual disciplines.  Thus both believers enter Heaven at different levels of growth.  Since, in Heaven, growth will be constant and uniform both will grow at the same pace but the one who entered Heaven more mature will always be ahead and at a higher level of growth than the believer who did not apply himself on earth.  As Theologian Paul Helm writes:  “The goal and end of a person’s calling does not terminate in this life, but it makes sense only in the light of the life to come. . . .The basic fact about the present life is that it is important and valuable in all its aspects because it leads to the world to come.”

What you and I do as Christians now really does impact our future in Heaven.  This is why Paul commands us in Colossians 3:1-2 to set our affections (our passions and desires) on things above—Heaven.  It is only as we see what awaits us in Heaven that we will walk away from the sin that so charms us here.  Heaven is a place of greater joy, happiness, and even learning than we have ever imagined.  And while everyone will experience great joy, happiness, and discovery in Heaven, we will not all experience the same capacity or level of joy, happiness, and discovery.  What you do on earth for and with Christ will determine that.

After Columbus, discovered the New World in 1492, Spain minted new coins with the Latin slogan, Plus Ultra, which means, “More Beyond”. This was a reminder to all those who thought their present life was all there was.  And it’s a good reminder to us as well that this life is not the end.  It isn’t even considered life in comparison to Heaven (2 Cor. 5:4).  God has promised those of us who treasure and cherish His Son as their greatest pleasure in life an eternity of ever-increasing beauty, friendships, grace, knowledge, joy, pleasure, adventure, growth, responsibility, and tranquility.  As Randy Alcorn puts so well:

“The world to come is what we were made for—it gives shape and meaning to our present lives.  If we think regularly of the heavenly and the eternal, we aren’t easy prey for Satan’s lies and distractions. . . If my wedding date is on the calendar, and I’m thinking of the person I’m going to marry, I shouldn’t be an easy target for seduction.  Likewise, when I’ve meditated on Heaven, sin is terribly unappealing.  It’s when my mind drifts from Heaven that sin seems attractive.  Thinking of Heaven leads inevitably to holiness.  Our high tolerance for sin testifies of our failure to prepare for Heaven.”   (1 John 3:2)

And as I say all this, I realize that many believers are troubled and deeply disappointed in how their lives have turned out due to bad decisions, the consequences of sin, health issues, physical limitations, or even the sinful actions of others.  And what adds to their disappointment is the fear that their failings and failures on earth will result in a diminished and dismal future in heaven.  They have the mistaken idea that their earthly existence held more promise, more potential, and more opportunities than Heaven and thus if they blew it on earth—there really is nothing in terms of opportunities, responsibilities, challenges, adventure, and even growth to look forward to in Heaven. 

This simply is not true.  There will be no unhappy, unproductive, unfulfilled, unchallenged, and ungrowing  people in Heaven.  Everyone there will experience as much happiness, joy, productivity, fulfillment, challenge, and growth that they are able and capable of.  The difference among those who reside in Heaven is simply that there will be differing capacities for opportunity, responsibility, happiness, challenges, and productivity.  And the differing capacities are proportional to the differing levels of faithfulness on the part of believers while they lived on earth.

Now, if you are one of those people who are discouraged and even depressed about how your life has turned out thus far due to your own sinful choices—don’t despair.  Confess your wrongdoing to God and commit yourself to making moment-by-moment decisions in light of your future destiny.  Ask yourself, each day when you wake up—what can I do today to write the best ending of this Book about your life—a story that will continue gloriously into Heaven.  By God’s grace, use the time you have left on earth to store up for yourself treasures in Heaven, to be laid at Christ’s feet for His glory.  Then look forward to meeting Jesus in Heaven along with all those your new Christ-exalting choices touched in a positive way.

In Perelandra, C.S. Lewis writes of his character Ransom, who has recently returned from another planet, “A man who has been in another world does not come back unchanged.” Likewise, the believer who sets his affections upon his future home in Heaven where Christ is cannot remain unchanged.  He becomes a new person, who can no longer spoil his appetite for God’s superior, eternal, and infinite pleasures by snacking on sin’s trash.   So, with this in mind--Live with Heaven in view!

Friday, November 2, 2012

Prone To Wander

As a Christian, a husband, a father, a pastor, a missionary, and a leader, I find the Book of Nehemiah invaluable.  Its jam-packed with everything from principles of biblical leadership to the precepts for spiritual revival to dealing with conflict and everything inbetween.  Within it pages you'll also see how a godly man deals with ungodly opposition, corruption within government, fear, and my favorite--our proneness as God's people to wander from His truth so as to slowly but surely find ourselves in spiritual struggles and sometimes cesspools of our own making.  Its my favorite because I find in myself this same proneness.  Reading Nehemiah reminds me of this so as to encourage me to be much more dilligent in guarding my own heart from this incessant wandering.

In this fast-moving book in the Old Testament, Nehemiah basically gives us a “play by play” analysis of everything that took place when he returned to Jerusalem to lead in the rebuilding of the wall around Jerusalem as well as lead the people in a spiritual revival.  The climax of this revival is seen in chapters 8-9 where the people, upon hearing the Word of God read and taught, respond by confessing and repenting of their sins.   Then in chapter 10, they signed a covenant in which they promised to obey and honor the Lord from here on out.  What a tremendous response to the preaching of the Word of God.  I’m sure Nehemiah was ecstatic.  How could he not be thrilled to have his whole nation respond to the Word of God in such a passionate expression of love and loyalty to the Lord? 

Well after twelve years of successful spiritual leadership that led to national and personal reform Nehemiah needed to return to his day job as the cupbearer to King Artexerxes back in Babylonia.  So, he did what any good leader would do under the same circumstances and made sure his leadership would be carried on by qualified men.  Once theses arrangements were made, he then left to resume his service to the king.

Much later Nehemiah returned to Jerusalem, only to find that in the approximately twenty years that he had been gone, the people had drifted back into many of the same sinful practices they were involved in before he had come the first time.  I’m sure he was shocked to hear about and actually see for himself that the mountaintop experience of twenty years ago had become a distant memory in the people’s hearts and that the spiritual revival he saw and experienced with his own eyes had very little if any effect upon anyone any longer.  And I’m certain that he must have been greatly saddened to find that the people’s zeal for God’s glory, two decades ago, was no longer the driving force of and in their lives.

Nehemiah 13 is the record of how quickly God’s people can move from a spiritual high to spiritual pit.  It is also a good reminder to all of us that even in our strongest and most passionate moments with God, we are still very “prone to wander from God.   

It appears, from reading chapter 13, that the people began their departure from Nehemiah’s reforms in very small and seemingly insignificant steps that amounted to not giving full attention to all of God’s Word and thus, not to God Himself.  Some of these included: a careless attitude toward the Temple (13:4-9), a failure to take seriously the corporate worship of God (13:10-14), a disregard for the Lord’s Day (13:15-21), a nonchalant attitude on the part of the spiritual leaders in regard to being prepared to lead the people in worship (13:22), utter disobedience in marrying unbelievers (13:23-27), and religious leaders who followed rather than led the people (13:28-30).

Spiritual and Biblical revival and reform must always be an ongoing experience in our lives.  If not we very quickly find ourselves in a state of “dis-reform” which, if not quickly and thoroughly repented of, leads us into spiritual wastelands that have the potential to shipwreck our faith.  We must never forget that we have an enemy within us, an enemy within the gates, if you will, and this enemy is our flesh.  And our flesh knows how to eat an elephant--one small nibble at a time!  Regardless of our spiritual stature, strength, stamina, and stability our sinful flesh knows how to wear down our love for God and turn our devotion to Him into desertion of Him.

Whatever progress we have made in Christ, whatever growth and maturity we are enjoying, however far we have come spiritually—we cannot afford to forget—it is the small foxes that spoil the vine.  Until Heaven, when our enemy within is finally dead and sin is no more, our hearts are still and always prone to wander from the God we love.  Therefore, as Proverbs 4:23 commands:  “Watch over your heart with all diligence, for from it flow the springs of life.”

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Reformation Day

While the vast majority of Americans including more than their share of Christians celebrated October 31 as Halloween, selecting or making just the right costume and ensuring a bowl of candy was next to the front door ready to be disbursed to the hordes of trick or treaters coming to the house, a vast minority celebrated Reformation Day.  Now, some of you have no idea what I am even talking about…….do you?!

Reformation Day celebrates that event back in history, in 1517 to be exact, when a relatively unknown Catholic monk by the name of Martin Luther nailed a list of 95 protests against the Roman Catholic Church on a church door in Wittenberg, Germany.  Unbeknown to Luther at that time, his actions sparked what has become known in history as the Protestant Reformation.
Whereas, Luther was protesting several abuses he saw in the church, the one which took priority over them all was the sale of indulgences.  The selling of Indulgences was Pope Leo X’s way of raising money to finish building St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome.  The plan was basic enough—tell people they can buy themselves out of purgatory (an unbiblical teaching in itself) and into heaven by purchasing a certificate known as an indulgence for the “remission of the temporal punishment of sin”.  The money would be applied to a good cause and the person providing it would essentially buy him or herself into heaven.  The Pope’s all-time high producing salesman, a priest by the name of John Tetzel, used to say, "As soon as the coin in the coffer rings, the soul from purgatory [also attested as 'into heaven'] springs." 

Luther objected to this practice on the basis that salvation from sin and thus from the wrath of God could not be purchased, earned, merited, or achieved.  It was a gift of God that came through God’s grace alone, by faith alone, in Christ alone so that God alone would be glorified.  Against the teaching of his day, that the righteous acts of believers are performed in cooperation with God, Luther wrote that Christians receive such righteousness entirely from outside themselves; that righteousness not only comes from Christ but actually is the righteousness of Christ, imputed to the one who believes (rather than infused into them) through faith.  "That is why faith alone makes someone just and fulfills the law," wrote Luther.  He rightly understood and taught that:
"Jesus Christ, our God and Lord, died for our sins and was raised again for our justification (Romans 3:24–25). He alone is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world (John 1:29), and God has laid on Him the iniquity of us all (Isaiah 53:6). All have sinned and are justified freely, without their own works and merits, by His grace, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, in His blood (Romans 3:23–25). This is necessary to believe. This cannot be otherwise acquired or grasped by any work, law or merit. Therefore, it is clear and certain that this faith alone justifies us ... Nothing of this article can be yielded or surrendered, even though heaven and earth and everything else falls (Mark 13:31)."
Once posted on the church door in Wittenberg, the 95 Theses were quickly translated from Latin into German, printed, and widely copied.  Within two weeks, copies had spread throughout Germany; within two months throughout Europe and the world has never been the same since.  So, as you enjoy all the candy your Trick or Treaters brought home last night, don’t forget to tell them about Martin Luther and the Reformation.  Better yet, just make sure they know and understand the Gospel!

Monday, October 29, 2012

Dealing with Disappointment, Discouragement, Depression, & Despair

Sometime ago, I came across a wonderful truth as I was reading Psalm 27:13.  Read it a couple times and let it sink in.

"I would have despaired unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living."  (NASV) 

David, in one short verse of only 23 words, has given us the reason and the cure for despair, discouragement, disappointment, and depression.  Essentially what he is saying is that all of these “d” words are caused by another “d” word.  That word is none other than “disbelief”.  You see, disbelief in God’s promises and in God’s goodness and especially in God’s intentions toward us cause us to be overwhelmed whenever our circumstances move out of the realm of being acceptable and comfortable. 

Things often don’t work out quite the way we had hoped and expected and we become disappointed.  If our disappointment isn’t checked as unnecessary baggage it quickly can turn into discouragement.  And discouragement left to itself, over a period of mere hours, has a tendency to snowball into depression and depression is simply the precursor to despair.  And where the problem all started was the fact that things didn’t work out the way we had hoped and expected.  Well, if things don’t work out the way we had hoped or expected it is because the way we had hoped and expected was not the best way.  It was inferior and not in accordance with God’s best for our lives.  Thus to be disappointed in your circumstances is really nothing less than to disbelieve that God is sovereign in and over your life or that He is sovereign but truly doesn’t have your best interest in mind. Thus, the cause or root of despair is disbelief in the promises, goodness, and intentions of the LORD toward you.

Now let’s turn our attention to the cure of despair, depression, discouragement, and disappointment.  If disbelief is the cause then we might assume that belief is the cure as well as the prevention for these dreaded “d” words.  And that assumption, according to this verse, would be correct.  Listen again to what the psalmist says:  “I would have despaired unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living.”  In other words, apart from the belief that you and I, personally, will see and experience God’s goodness in the midst of our circumstances this side of glory we would have no reason not to despair.  But, because of God’s great promise to work all things together for good in the lives of His children and God’s great intention to make us like His Son and God’s great love for us, so visibly demonstrated in the delivering up of His Son to the cross for our sake—we have no reason not to believe that we will see His goodness and thus we have no reason to fall into despair.

But to take the thought of Psalm 27:13 and extend it out even further—I think we can also understand it this way and be theologically and biblically correct.  “I would have despaired unless I had believed that I was seeing the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living.”  You see, regardless of where, what, when, how, and why—you and I as God’s people are seeing and experiencing His goodness right now.  And its only as you believe this that you can face all the challenges and indeed the burdens of life in a way that does not lead down the dreaded and despondent path of disappointment to despair. 

Furthermore, it is only as you believe this truth that you will obey verse 14 which instructs us to:

"Wait for the LORD; Be strong and let your heart take courage; Yes, wait for the LORD."
I wish I could say to you that I have this down pat and never suffer from discouragement.  The fact is I still do but the good news is that I’m getting better.  And the reason for this is not me and my growing faith as much as it is Him and His constant faithfulness to His promises, His kindly intentions, and His ever-present love.  I hope you’re growing in this area too.


Friday, October 26, 2012

Why Lord?

It is only natural for those going through trials as well as for those of us who are watching people we love endure trials to wonder in our heart of hearts why these things have to be.  The reason I use the phrase “have to be” is because either God is truly and completely sovereign over the affairs of our lives or he is not.  It cannot be both ways.  If God is sovereign and in complete control then your trial or trials are under his control.  In other words if he has the power to prevent or discontinue or change what you are enduring but doesn’t, the only conclusion we can reach is that the hardship you are having to undergo is his will for your life and thus, necessary.  But, even acceptance of this truth does not always alleviate our questions, doubts, and fears.

With all this in mind, I’d like to share a couple verses with you that while not providing an escape from your trials will help you to endure them.  The passage is Psalm 84:11-12.  Read it slowly and meditatively.

“For the LORD GOD is a sun and shield; The LORD gives grace and glory; No good thing does He withhold from those who walk uprightly.  O LORD of hosts, How blessed is the man who trusts in You!”

If you trust in Him and your life is being lived for Him and His glory—then God is not withholding anything good from you.  In other words, all that you have and are going through right now is His “good”, in fact, His "best", being lovingly bestowed upon you for your ultimate good and His glory.  And whereas, this is difficult to believe depending on what it may be you are enduring—you must!  Your joy and your happiness depend upon trusting God that what you are going through is actually His best in and for your life right now.  That is why verse 12 states emphatically, How blessed (joyous & happy) is the man who trusts in You. 

Trials are not meant to steal your joy—they are meant to increase it as you come to experience God and His power at work in your life and through your situation in ways you could not have otherwise.

So whatever it is you are being called to bear up under—use the eyes of faith to see that what appears to be bad is really good.  In fact, it is God’s best for you and your life right now.  It is only as you accept this truth and trust Him that you will find the strength to endure your trials with joy unspeakable and full of glory.

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