Friday, April 28, 2017

You're Either Taking Ground Or In Retreat

One of the things I have learned over the years both from Scripture as well as my own personal experience is that no matter how mature in Christ, how passionate about the gospel, how effective in ministry, and even how greatly we have sacrificed for the Faith all of us are still very much prone to wander from the Lord and life we love.  And it doesn't take much to get us wandering.  For many of us its not as much an intentional wandering as much as it is caused by the unintentional neglect of spiritual priorities.  

One of the vivid examples the Bible gives us of such neglect is found in the Book of Nehemiah.  In this autobiographical report, Nehemiah gives us a “play by play” analysis of everything that took place when he traveled from the Persian city of Susa 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.  What preacher wouldn’t be thrilled to have a whole nation respond to the Word of God in such powerful expressions of love and loyalty to the Lord?  

Well after his twelve year success in leading in this great work for God among his people, Nehemiah needed to return to his day job as the cupbearer to King Artexerxes back in Persia.  In preparation, 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.

Now, fast forward twenty some years and Nehemiah returns to Jerusalem, only to find that in the approximately two decades that he had been gone, the people had drifted back to the way they were 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 minds and hearts.  And I’m certain that he must have been greatly saddened to find that the people’s zeal for God’s praise and glory, twenty years ago, was no longer a driving force in their lives.

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

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 Law.  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 toward their responsibilities (13:22), utter disregard for God's standards on marriage (13:23-27), and leaders who followed rather than led the people (13:28-30).

Spiritual and Biblical reform is always an ongoing experience.  If not, it, very quickly, becomes “dis-reform”, which more often than not leads you and I back to square one in our walk with the Lord.  Whatever progress you have made in Christ, whatever growth and maturity you are enjoying, however far you have come spiritually—don’t forget—until Heaven, when sin is completely removed, your heart is still prone to wander from the God you love.  Therefore, as Proverbs 4:23 commands:  “Watch over your heart with all diligence, for from it flow the springs of life.”

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Repentance Is The Means To Happiness

Repentance is not an end in itself but rather a means to a fuller, richer, and greater enjoyment of God.  To the degree that we are willing to repent of our sin-to that degree and that degree only are we able to experience and enjoy God's fellowship.  If unwilling to repent of sin as unbelievers we lose any hope at all for a positive relationship with God.  If unwilling to repent of sin as believers, we, while still possessing a relationship with the Lord, forfeit fellowship with Him and any enjoyment in this relationship.  On the other hand, if willing to repent of our sin completely, we gain complete fellowship with God.  If our repentance is somewhere in between so is our experience of fellowship with and enjoyment of God.

According to the Bible, we cannot love the world and God at the same time (1 John 2:15).  It is simply impossible for a person to love such diametrically opposed entities as God and the world at the same time.  However, this is not what most of us try to do.  We usually do not find ourselves completely at one end of this spectrum--loving only God or loving only the world.  But, in all honesty, we do often find ourselves somewhere in between don't we?!  And to the degree that we love the world or our sinful fleshly desires we do not love God.  Our love for God and our experience of God's love for us correspond to our love for the world and our sin.  If our love for the world increases due to sin then our love for the Father and our experience of His love decreases.  If, on the other hand, our love for the world decreases through repentance of sin then our love for God and our experience of His love increases.  Thus, is the value of repentance.  Our repentance then is not an end but rather a means to the end of loving God and experiencing and enjoying Gods love for us in a greater and much more intimate way.

Therefore, God's commands to us to repent of our sins and turn to Him are commands for us to leave our inferior pleasures behind so as to find superior joy, happiness, and fulfillment in pursuing God and His pleasures.  Repentance then, rather than being a "kill-joy", becomes the portal through which we find true joy.  God is not commanding us to stop sinning to deny us but to delight us.  He is calling everyone everywhere to repent and turn to Him (Acts 17:30) in order to let them drink from the fountain of all true and lasting pleasure.  

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Going Deep! Why Does The Bible Call Jesus "God's Only Begotten Son"?

Ever wonder why the Bible calls Jesus "the only begotten Son" in John 3:16?  Jonathan Edwards, the American pastor-theologian of the 18th century and the guy who is better known for his sermon entitled, "Sinners In The Hands of an Angry God" has a robust take on that question which I want to try and accurately summarize here.  If you'd rather go straight to the horse's mouth, so to speak, just get yourself a copy of Edwards' unpublished essay on The Trinity. You might want to pick up a dictionary specializing in 18th century terms and prose while you're at it.  If you don't have the time to pick those up you can take your chances with my summary.

First things first though--Edwards understood that the word "begotten" was not being used to speak about the Son of God as having a point of beginning, origin, or birth.  Rather, the word was used, especially in John's writings, to communicate the idea of the Son of God existing as a "unique and one of a kind" type of Being completely equal to and always existing alongside the Father as a separate person from the Father (Jn. 1:14, 18; 3:16; 1 Jn. 4:9).  So, how is it then, if the Father and the Son are two separate co-equal and co-eternal divine Persons that the Father is the "begetter" and the Son is the "begotten"?  What does the Bible mean when it states that the Son is begotten of the Father?

Essentially, Edwards makes the point that because God is unlimited in His knowledge He knows everything perfectly and comprehensively about everything and everyone including Himself.  Now, knowing everything there is to know about me may not seem like a big deal but God knows everything there is to know about everyone without exception.  And if that still doesn't impress you, try this on for size--God knows Himself and everything there is to know about Himself as an Infinite Being with a perfect, full, and totally comprehensive knowledge.  In other words, God, Who is, by virtue of His being Infinite, unknowable, knows fully and comprehensively everything there is to know about Himself.  That is impressive!

Edwards explains that God has always had perfect and totally comprehensive knowledge of Himself.  Therefore, God's perfect knowledge of Himself is as eternal as He is.  Furthermore, because God's knowledge of Himself is absolutely perfect in every detail His knowledge of Himself is really nothing less than a perfect reduplication of Himself.  It could not be otherwise.  If God's knowledge of Himself is absolutely perfect, all-encompassing, and fully comprehensive then for it to be all those things it would have to be more than a mere picture, thought, reflection, or idea--it would have to be a real person just like Him.   For how could God have a perfect knowledge of Himself and it not be exactly the same as Him?!  And if it is the same as Him it must be another person just like Him in every way completely equal to Him and as eternal as he is.  It  would have to be the One we call Jesus.  (2 Cor. 4:4, 6; Phil. 2:6; Col. 1:15, 19; 2:9;  Heb. 1:3)

Edwards put it this way:

". . . that idea which God has of Himself is absolutely Himself.  This representation of the Divine nature and essence is the Divine nature and essence again: so that by God's thinking . . . there is another Person begotten, there is another Infinite Eternal Almighty and Most Holy and the same God, the very same Divine nature.  And this Person is the second Person in the Trinity, the only Begotten and dearly Beloved Son of God; He is the eternal, necessary, perfect, substantial and personal idea which God hath of Himself."

This, then in very simplified terms is Edwards answer to how Jesus Christ can be co-eternal and co-equal with the Father so as to have never begun yet still be begotten.    

Monday, April 10, 2017

Another Day--Another Chance To Say "No"

I like to remind myself, from time to time, that every day I wake up and find myself conscious and breathing is another day to fight sin in my life so as to make much of Jesus by my life.  I don't know about you, but, it seems to me that I am fighting some sin issue or another in my life every day.  
And the fact is, some days are better than others.  That's a positive way of saying that some days are worse than others.  Regardless, however, of how the previous day's battles went I can always count on another day and another battle as long as I am still this side of glory.

When I was a younger believer this was not a comforting thought or proposition.  Much of my time in prayer used to be asking God to take away the battles, to remove the temptations, and to make me invincible to falling.  Now, there is a sense in which I am thankful for the battles because they not only serve to remind me God has not taken me off the battlefield, they are also my opportunities every day to express in a very real and tangible way my loyalty to my King.

Someday, when this life is over and real life begins there will be no more personal battles with sin for me and what a glorious day that will be.  However, on the other hand, I will never ever have the opportunity, out of love for and loyalty to my Savior, to say "No" to temptation again either.  So, now I don't ask God to remove temptation or my sin issues from me.  I ask for His help to prefer Him over them and thank Him for giving me another day to fight--another day to say "No".

Sunday, April 9, 2017

What Is Your Church Known For and Driven By?

Churches are known for and driven by all kinds of things.  Many are known for their tradition and have as their motto: We’ve never done it this way before.”  Some churches are finance-driven and the only thing the membership wants to know before making a decision is "How much will it cost and can we afford it?"  Others are numbers-driven, having as their bottom line--a bigger budget, a bigger building, and a growing membership roll.  Others still, are known for a certain theological perspective such as being reformed or non-reformed, charismatic or non-charismatic, seeker-driven or non seeker driven, contemporary/blended worship or traditional, etc. Finally, there are churches known for and driven by programs, activities, ministry, personality, social causes, and a plethora of other possibilities.

So, what is your church known for and apparently driven by?  

Personally, I think that whereas its not a bad thing for  churches to be known for what they believe and stand for or against they should, by all means, strive to be grace-driven and here are some reasons why.  First, grace-driven churches are driven by God’s saving grace-in forgiving sinners-to preach the gospel.  Second, they are driven by God’s sanctifying grace-that grows believers in grace-to preach the Word of grace to one another as well as to deal with each other in grace, correcting one-another in grace, accepting one another as Jesus accepted them freely, unconditionally, and over and over again.  Third, they are driven by God's extravagant grace-in which He gave His own Son Whom He loved to save sinners whom did not love Him-to take serious risks, expend great energy, significant resources, and exhaustive creativity in communicating and demonstrating the Gospel of grace to unbelievers both nearby and far away.  

God is grace-driven.  His plan of salvation, His desire to redeem, and His move to crush His own Son (Is. 53:10) so as to save us were all grace-driven acts.  But, while grace-driven, these acts were not simply carried out to make much of us and our need.  No, God’s grace-driveness is not about making much of us which is often what many  a church's "pet" distinctions and preferences are driven by.  God's grace-drivenness is not an end in and of itself just as we are not an end in and of ourselves.  To think that would be to terribly misunderstand and pervert God's grace, which is a means to a much greater end.  That end is God’s glory. God is grace-driven because God is passionate about His own glory.  He justifies for His glory.  He forgives for His glory.  He redeems for His glory.  He saves for His glory and He keeps us saved for His glory.  God’s grace-driveness is first, foremost, and fundamentally about and for His glory.

And this ultimately is for our good in that whereas, God's grace saved us-God's glory satisfies us.  You see, God's grace is the means by which we are able to see, enjoy, revel in, and forever be amazed by the glory of God.  This is what Jesus wants for us.  That's why He asked His Father in John 17:24 that we who have been given to Him by the Father be with Him so that we may see His glory and be forever satisfied.  Grace is the means to glory!

And thus, if any church really desires to glorify God as well as to enjoy and be amazed by God and His glory—she absolutely must be, among other things, grace-driven! 

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Sanctification And The Gonzaga-North Carolina Game

Last night we watched the NCAA basketball championship game between Gonzaga and North Carolina.  In all honesty, it wasn't a very good basketball game.  Even North Carolina coach Roy Williams thought so, calling it "an ugly game".  Both teams were sluggish, stiff, ungraceful, and just seemed out of sync.  The referees were't much of a help either blowing their whistles so often they, rather than the teams playing, controlled the pace of the game.  But, interspersed among all the missed shots, missed opportunities, fouls, turnovers, and some really poor performances by all involved there were some really great moments that brought the crowd to its feet too.

Probably, more than anything, what impressed me about this particular game was the fact that the players, in spite of how bad and how ugly their game looked, didn't walk off the court and quit until the final buzzer sounded.  They kept running the plays, as sluggish and sloppy as they were, totally committed to finishing.  At the final buzzer two exhausted teams left the court.  Both had persevered to the end.  Their performances were anything but stellar but they finished and in the end this is what registered with me.  Real basketball teams....real basketball players play all the way to the buzzer no matter how well or poorly they are playing.  That's just what they do!

All-in-all, the game reminded me of what sanctification--at least mine looks like.  Simply put, sanctification is the theological term we use when talking about the process every true believer in the Lord Jesus Christ goes through in this life, after salvation, of becoming more and more like Christ.  This process of sanctification or growing in Christ entails fighting and saying no to personal sin and yes to God by the power of the Holy Spirit.  It is evidenced by the fruit of the Spirit in which the believer's life is characterized more and more by such qualities as joy, love, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.  It is a time of growth in Who God is, what the Bible teaches, obedience to the Word of God, and building and maintaining relationships with other believers.  But, it is not a process characterized by sinless perfection.  That doesn't happen until Heaven.  It is characterized by perseverance though.  Real believers keep growing and keep going in spite of how ugly and messy their fight with sin and fight to be holy often looks.  That's just what they do!

I don't know about you, but my sanctification has been a pretty messy process.  Likening it to the basketball game, there have been days, weeks, months, hey there have even been years when it seemed like I missed far more shots than I made, sluggishly stumbled through most of the plays, couldn't get in the groove, had very little momentum, and.....well, I hate to admit it.....talked a much better game than I played.  Now, this is not to say there haven't been some great moments--some really unbelievable "bring the crowd to its feet" moments because there have been.  They have been few and far between but there have been some.  There's also been some growth, which while slow in coming is still real and enduring.  And there has been the grace of God and only by the grace of God......I am still in the game, still on the court, still running, still shooting, still playing "D", still cheering my teammates on, still fouling, still being fouled, still making the plays even if they're not pretty, with never a thought of quitting until the final buzzer sounds.  And in our sanctification this is what matters because real churches.....real Christians keep fighting their sin, keep pursuing holiness, keep cheering their fellow-believers on, keep confessing their sins, keep themselves in the Word, keep praying, keep serving, and keep on keeping on no matter how ugly it sometimes looks.  That's just what we do!

Sunday, April 2, 2017

What's A Spiritual Leader To Do?

You can't miss the leadership section of any Book store or internet site for that matter--its simply too big.  Do a search on Amazon for books having something to do with leadership and you'll come up with almost 200,000 books with the word "leadership" in their titles.  In 2015 alone, over 1200 books were published that had something to do with some kind of leadership in some field.  Add to these numbers the hundreds of blogs being written that have something to do with leadership and you have a mountain sized stack of resources on leadership that have been written and read.   Throw in the almost just as many definitions of leadership and opinions on what's a leader to do and you have a major leadership traffic jam on your hands. 

In 1991, Joseph Rosa, a professor of leadership studies at the University of San Diego, took on the challenge of reading as many books on leadership as he could in preparation for his class.  After reading all that he could get his hands on reaching all the way back to 1900 he found that the "experts" on leadership  had defined it in more than two hundred ways.  Comparing the differences in definition as well as what each writer suggested were the fundamental tasks of leadership, Rosa states that the closest the different books came to a consensus definition of leadership was that it was simply "good management".  In practice, Rosa wrote, "leadership is a word that has come to mean all things to all people."

The subject of "spiritual leadership" is no different.  Literally hundreds of books, blogs, and internet sites are devoted to the topics of spiritual, pastoral, and ministry leadership. Interestingly enough, they all come up with the same kind of varied conclusions about what spiritual leadership is and does.  Since so many others have thrown their opinion into the mix I thought I'd give it my best shot too.  So, here is what I think spiritual leadership is basically all about and does.

Spiritual leadership is influencing God's people to think, act, and react like God's people in any and every circumstance of life.  As for what a spiritual leader does, I think Craig Hamilton hit it right on the head in his book entitled Wisdom in Leadership when he makes the point that the number one thing a spiritual leader does in any given situation is to ask and answer the question, "What does the Bible say?"  The number two thing he does is to lead God's people to do what the Bible says.  

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