Friday, May 28, 2010

An Evening of Common Grace

Wednesday evening was one of those special, almost magical, evenings.  We live in the Northwest corner of Midland, Texas; and I was walking around our neighborhood right as the sun was setting and twilight began.  It was one of those great, late spring, West Texas evenings when the temperature was just right and the breeze was both caressing and refreshing.  I was walking with my earphones plugged into my Iphone, tuned into the Pandora internet radio application, playing some delightful, easy listening, jazz music.  

If you have never seen a West Texas sunset, have missed one of God's great beauties.  They are always beautiful, never the same, from magnificent and soul stirring to bucolic and flooding the senses with peace and tranquility.  Wednesday was no exception with colors from pink to green that melded into the azure blue of the twilight sky.

There were some ducks headed to a playa lake nearby and their silhouette against the twilight sky was like an Ansel Adams photograph.  There was the twilight chatter of the birds that I could hear over my headphones.  For the length of a yard a Robin ran along beside me as if keeping me company.  One of the Grey Foxes that inhabit the area trotted in front of me and then stopped and gave me a long look before he jauntily went on his way.

Really, quite a 45 minutes as I was drinking it all in and enjoying each and every drop, reveling in its pleasure.  I was also thinking on I Timothy 6:17 (God, who richly supplies us with all things to enjoy), and thanking Him for all I was enjoying: and  thinking on how God is good and does good, and that He withholds no good thing from His children.  I was enjoying not only His physical creation, but also the music created by the ones created in His image, and made available through the technology that has its ultimate creation in God.  For all things are from Him and through Him and to Him, and He is the giver of every good and perfect gift.

In thinking about all of this it occurred to me that some of the people whom I passed by on my walk were probably not Christians, not God's children; but that they were able to enjoy the same evening, the same atmosphere, the same breeze, the same scenery, and the same music as I was. They also benefit from the same technology and are able to enjoy the same sunsets because they live in West Texas.  Matthew 5:45 tells us, "He causes the sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and unrighteous."  Luke 6:35 adds this, "For He Himself is kind to ungrateful and evil men." 

Yes, God is good and does good, but He does good to all and for all, and all of us, believer and unbeliever, are the beneficiaries of His immeasurable goodness.  This is common grace, unmerited favor, bestowed upon all those who have not merited, earned, or deserved it. Psalm 145:9 says, "The Lord is good to all, and His mercies are over all His works."  God's common grace flows out of and is an extension of His goodness.  Oh, that those who are not His, would see and rejoice, and come to faith.  Then their common grace would become special grace, saving grace, which is the ultimate expression of His goodness.

Thank you, O Lord, for all that you have given us, as man, to enjoy.  Bless Your name now and forever.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Spiritual Leadership

Spiritual leadership without character is only religious activity,
possible religious business or, even worse, hypocrisy......
The qualified leader is a man of the Book, using it not just
to prepare sermons and preaching notes, but, first and foremost,
to prepare himself.

James M. George
The Call to Pastoral Ministry
Pastoral Ministry
(How to Shepherd Biblically)
Page 91

Remember those who led you, who spoke the word of God to you;
and considering the result of their conduct, imitate their faith.
Hebrews 13:7

How important it is for those of us who occupy a place of spiritual leadership to be men of character, character forged by the Holy Spirit and formed by the Word of God.  A daunting responsibility, providing spiritual leadership, a responsibility that underscores the Lord's admonition in James 3:1 "Let not many of you become teachers, my brethren, knowing that as such we will incur a stricter judgment." This is why the Lord stresses Godly character in His requirements for those who occupy the post of pastor; and why Paul buffeted his flesh, so that after he had preached to others he would not be disqualified.

The landscape of the church is littered with the moral failures of those who failed to watch themselves.  In fact, it has become much too common.  And it is just not in the area of sexual immorality, as noted by the current furor over a Christian college/seminary president whose personal testimony and spiritual resume are undergoing public scrutiny for hyperbole, embellishment, and poetic license (to say it nicely).  Over the last couple of years the SBC has been taken to task by those within its own ranks for inflated membership numbers and an evangelastical (intentional spelling) way of counting baptisms. 

These are the obvious, the news grabbing and headline making, but what about the ones that don't make the news, the ones that cause damage just as great?  I was reading an internet article about how Peacemaker ministries worked to reconcile a church's pastor and elders after temper, egos, and innuendos had split them and the church.  What about the detrimental effects of pride, stubborness, selfishness, ambition, jealousy, unforgivness, greed,  and gossip?  What about those that fear man more than they fear God, those that are men-pleasers vs God-pleasers, and those who would compromise rather than confront? What about the small things that are done daily that add up over time?

I remember hearing Bill Bright, the founder of Campus Crusade for Christ, preach several years ago, and in his sermon he was stressing the need for moral integrity.  He said that he had asked God to take him home before He let Bill commit adultery.  Admirable, yes, but for most of us, we are on guard against the big A; and it is the perniciousness of the so called small sins that we ought to be on guard against as well.  Is our prayer, "Lord, lead me away from temptation in the areas where I am weak and most easily tempted, and let not evil have any way with me. Please keep me from causing any of the brethren to stumble.  Help me to adorn the doctrine I preach with the life that I live.  Help me to do what is right, to love what is good, and to walk humbly with You.  Let not anyone, saved or unsaved, look at me and cry hypocrite.  Let me be at home what I am publicly."

Who is adequate for this?  None of us outside of the power that God supplies.  There is a greater burden, a greater responsibility, for those of us whom God has called into ministry; but there is a greater grace available as well.  Let us be on our guard, empowered by the grace of God, so that sin will not have its way with us, not derail us, nor render us impotent in our efforts to advance the kingdom of God in our own lives, so that we will be effective in advancing His kingdom in the lives of those whom He appointed to our shepherding.  Let not the sin in our own lives be an impediment, an excuse, for those in our flock in dealing with the sin in their own lives.

Father, guard our hearts and our minds.  Work within us only that which is pleasing in Your sight.  We are frail and weak in our own strength, so help us by the strength which You supply to live a life worthy of the gospel of Your Son, and a life worthy of the calling with which we have been called.  Help us to be an example to the flock, living a life worthy of admiration and imitation.  Guard us from our own selves, and give us a sensitivity to the sin which so easily entangles us.  Help us to fight the good fight of faith and finish our course without disqualification.  AMEN.

A Holy Calling = A Holy Walk

If we find ourselves at home in the ungodliness, lust, and filth
of this present world, it is because we have not been called
effectually by God's grace.  The called are "the called of Jesus
Christ" (Romans 1:6), called to be His property and peculiar
possession, and therefore they are "called to be saints" (Romans 1:7).
The called must exemplify in their conduct the calling by which they
have been called and have no fellowship with the unfruitful works
of darkness. ...The sovereignty and efficacy of the call do not
relax human responsibility.  The magnitude of the grace enhances
the obligation.  This is the effect of Paul's exhortation, "I, the prisoner
in the Lord, beseech you therefore to walk worthily of the calling
wherewith you have been called" (Ephesians 4:1).

John Murray
Redemption Accomplished and Applied
Page 92

...God, who has saved us and called us with a holy calling,
not according to our works, but according to His own
purpose and grace which was granted us in Christ Jesus
from all eternity.
II Timothy 1:...8-9

Friday, May 14, 2010

Worshiping Today?

Or do you not know that your body is a temple of
the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God,
and that you are not your own?
I Corinthians 6:19

you also, as living stones, are being built up
as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood,
to offer up spiritual sacrifices
acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.
...But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood,
a holy nation, a people for God's own possession,
so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him
who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light.
I Peter 2:4,9

Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God,
to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice,
acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship.
Romans 12:1

In the Old Testament, under the Old Covenant, worship took place in the temple where the glory of God dwelled.  Sacrifice was the basis of the worship that occured and we see from Hebrews 9:6 that the priests were continually entering the outer tabernacle performing the divine worship as this was where the priests brought the animals to be sacrificed.

In the New Testament, under the New Covenant, each believer is a temple of God as His Holy Spirit indwells each one of us.  Sacrifice, which is still the basis of worship, occurs as we offer up ourselves to God each day.  This is what Christ meant when He said in Luke,  "Take up your cross daily and follow Me."  A life of sacrifice, self-sacrifice, is a life of worship.  Listen to what the Lord says in Isaiah 58:13-14b, "If because of the sabbath, you turn your foot from doing your own pleasure on My holy day, and call the sabbath a delight, the holy day of the Lord honorable, and honor it, desisting from your own ways, from seeking your own pleasure and speaking your own word, then you will take delight in the Lord, and I will make you ride on the heights of the earth."  It is this kind of self-sacrifice that proclaims His excellencies and shows His matchless worth to all the world around us, to both believers and non-believers alike.  It is a life that shouts, "Glory to the Lord, Glory to the Lord, Glory to the Lord." 

How is your worhip today?  Are you desisting from your own ways, seeking your own pleasure, and speaking your own word; and seeking His way, His pleasure, seasoning your speech with salt so that it may give grace to those who hear?  Are you sacrificing yourself for Him to day to show His matchless worth to you, His incomparable value to you, and your high estimation of Him?  This is presenting your bodies as a spiritual sacrifice well pleasing to God, and in this sacrifice, this worship, we will delight in our Lord; and He will make us ride on the heights of the earth.