Thursday, September 20, 2012

The Real Aliens

If I were to ask you today, “Where do you live?”  Some might respond with their street address, some might respond with the city and state, some might even respond with the country.  And while all of these answers, would be true, would be obvious, they still would not be complete.  We also live in a place the Bible calls the world.  This term, world, does include the physical world, but it also includes the motives, behavior, values, and attitudes of men.  This term includes all that makes up the course of this world, the way things are done, the reason things are done, the ways of thinking and living of the people who inhabit this world; for it is the way that man is that determines the course of this entire earth, for it is man that governs the earth.

But there is another dimension to this world, an unseen dimension that is just as real as the physical dimension, and it is the spiritual dimension; and it is this dimension that governs man.  Even though man inhabits the physical dimension of this world, man is governed by the spiritual dimension of his life, and there is a ruler of that spiritual dimension, who is not a man.  His name is Satan, and he is known as the devil, or the evil one.  It is he that governs man, and therefore governs the world.

In several places the Bible speaks to the governing of man by the devil.
I Timothy 2:26…men are held captive by Satan to do his will……
In Acts 26 we are told that men are under the dominion of Satan
I John 5:19…the whole world lies in the power of the evil one.
Three times in John 12:31, 14:30, 16:11… he is called the ruler of this world.
In John 8:44 Jesus tells the Pharisees that they are of their father (meaning spiritual father) the devil. 
In Ephesians 2:2 we learn that people walk (the way they live their life) according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience
Ephesians 6:12 tells us that there are rulers and powers, world forces of darkness, that there are spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places. 
II Corinthians 4:4 tells us that the god of this world (Satan) has blinded the minds of the unbelieving…

So why is the world the way it is?  Because it is governed by someone who is opposed to God in every way.

However, Jesus makes a very poignant declaration to His disciples in John 15:19..."You are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world."  Jesus was telling His disciples that since He had chosen them they no longer belonged to this world.  Then in Jesus high priestly prayer to His Father in John 17 we learn the following:
*We were given to Christ out of the world.
*Although Christ is no longer in the world, yet we remain in the world.
*Even though we are in the world, yet we are not of the world, even as Christ was not of the world.
*Christ did not ask the Father to take us out of the world, but to keep us from the evil of the world.

So, if we are still living in this world, but no longer belong to this world and are not of this world, what does this make us?  According to the Scripture, we are now citizens of another spiritual realm, another kingdom.  This is what John the Baptist preached and also what our Lord preached as He began His earthly ministry as we see in Matthew 4:17 "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand."  Christ tells us in John 18:36 that His kingdom is not of this world.  Paul talks about our citizenship in this kingdom in Philippians 3:20 "For our citizenship is in heaven, from which we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ; and in Ephesians 2:19 he tells us who all are citizens of heaven, "For you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God's household."

A question that might be asked is, "How did we/do we become citizens of Christ's kingdom, the kingdom of heaven?"  Let's see what the Bible shows us.  Colossians 1:13 tells us, "For He (God) rescued us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son."  In John 3:5 Christ tells Nicodemus this, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.  I John 5:1 tells us, "Whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God."  So we see there must be a spiritual birth to be a citizen of God's kingdom, and that as a result of the spiritual birth God, transfers us into His kingdom.

So, if we are citizens of another kingdom, a kingdom that is not of this world, but is a heavenly kingdom, what then is our relationship to this world in which we still live but are no longer a part of? According to the Bible we are aliens, strangers, and exiles.  Listen to Peter in his opening statement in his first epistle, "Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, to those who reside as aliens , scattered throughout Pontus, Galtia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia....."  Here we see that although they live in a physical location, yet they reside there as aliens.  This is not because they were of a different nationality physically, but a different nationality spirituality.  Again Peter talks about our alienship in II Peter 2:11 "Beloved, I urge you as aliens and strangers to abstain from fleshly lusts which wage war against the soul..." Why would he give the admonishment to them as aliens and strangers? Because in I John 2:16 we see that fleshly lusts are part of the things of this world, are things that those that belong to this world participate in,  and we are no longer of this world, and therefore should no longer be a participant in fleshly lusts.  In the hall of faith in Hebrews 11 we see the following statement in verse 13 "All these died in faith, without receiving the promises, but having seen them from a distance, and having confessed that they were strangers and exiles on the earth."  (See also Psalm 119:19)  

As such, being aliens in this world:

* We speak a foreign language.
I Corinthians 2:6-16

*We dress differently
Galatians 3:27, Romans 13:14

*We behave differently.
I Peter 4:2, Ephesians 4:17-19

*We have a different odor
II Corinthians 2:14-16b, Philippians 2:17, 4:18, Romans 12:1, Ephesians 5:1-2

*We are misunderstood, we are an enigma to this world.
I Peter 4:4, Jude 1:10

This alien motif (R C Sproul loves the word motif) runs all the way through the Bible, starting with Abraham, then the Jewish nation, then Christ, and then the church, Christ's body.  That is why it is so out of place, so alien, if you will,  for the church to try so hard to be like the world so as to attract the world.  We are to be strangers to this world, we are to be in the world but not of the world, we are to stay away from the evil of this world (I Corinthians 6:17), we are to look differently, behave differently, smell differently, and speak differently.  We are to expect to be misunderstood, maligned, or made fun of because we don't fit it; even by our own families.  We should know that this world and all it contains is only temporary, and is already in the process of passing away (I John 2:15-17).  We are to store up treasures in heaven, which will be our eternal abode, instead of here on earth which is our temporary abode (Matthew 6:19-21).  Our desires are to be heavenly desires not earthly desires (Philippians 3:12-14).  We are to have eternal priorities not temporal priorities (Colossians 3:1-4).   

So, fellow aliens, when we are enticed by all this world seemingly has to offer, let us remember that we have a better possession and a lasting one, and remind ourselves that we are strangers in this world who are just passing through on the way to our true home.  

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Pastors and Discouragement

This is some interesting information regarding pastors being discouraged or lonely.  What I did find interesting is the correlation between age and being discouraged or lonely.  I wonder if it is purely an age issue or an age/length of time in the ministry issue.  Here is the link.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

When the Gospel is Banned from the Church

There are times you want to say things about things that have made an impression on you or affected you or stirred you up. This is one of those times, but it is also one of those times that I know that I won't be able to convey the entirety of what I was thinking and feeling, maybe because I had several thoughts and feelings about what happened.  In the big scheme of things, well, even in the little scheme of things, it probably isn't that big.  But, to me, it is a sign of where we are in our life in the church here in the U S; and it bothered me,
it made me a little sick at my stomach, it caused me to have an anti-smalzy reaction, made my hypocrite alarm go off, and left me with sense of disgust. And, I'll admit, it played right into my prejudice towards the types of churches I mentioned in this recent post

This was brought about when I was recently standing in line at Starbucks.  Our Starbucks is the number two grossing Starbucks in the state of Texas, so you usually have a bit of a wait to make your order.  So as I was waiting in line, a thirty-something year old man came in and queued up behind me.  As we were waiting he made a phone call, and being as close as we were, I could not help but hear some of the conversation.  His tone was fairly crass for most of the conversation, and he used a couple of inappropriate terms that were in step with the tone of the conversation.  I chalked it up to just another person in the world doing what people in the world do.  Well, after I received my order I was talking to a friend of mine, and up walks this same man who was having the conversation.  My friend introduced us, and lo and behold, this man was on staff at one of the local churches that were referenced above.  In fact, he was the staff person in charge of the elementary school age children.  After my friend told him that I was a pastor the tone of his voice changed and he was so sugary that my anti-smalzy alarm went off; I mean it was to the point of being insincere.  You would not have been able to reconcile the person in line behind me with the person I was introduced to.

I wondered if there was any conviction on his part about having two personas, or if he even sees the problem with having two different personas, or if he even is aware that he has two personas.  One, which is obviously the way he normally is, and the other, which is his church staff persona.  Two masks representing two different people.  But, I don't think that those who hold to a Moralistic Therapeutic Deism philosophy (see post referenced above) see any problem with hypocrisy such as this.  They don't make the connection between their profession and their life, in fact they don't see that there should be a connection to what you profess and how you live.  And just to add to this, another man told me of a conversation he recently had with a member of one of the churches I alluded to in the post above.  They were telling him about how they would follow their pastor no matter where he went, and then in the same conversation talked about getting drunk the last weekend and having a hang-over the next day.  Again, seeing no problem with talking about being a church member and drinking so much you feel bad the next day, all in the same conversation.

This bothers me for these people, and reminds me of Titus 1:15-16.  I am concerned for their spiritual state, that they can go to church, or be a staff member at a church, and not see the disconnect between what they say they are and how they live.  I am concerned not only for them, but for others in those churches, and also for the churches themselves.  But you see, when you are preaching messages designed to make people feel better about themselves, or improve their worldly lives, or preaching sermons designed to attract the worldly,  this is a logical result.  And I wish these were isolated incidents, but they are not.

You might say, Morris, we have always had hypocrites in the church and always will.  And I would agree with you, but at the same time, I don't think this type of compartmentalization of the Christian life, this type of disconnect between profession and lifestyle has ever been this rampant and this rife in our churches, nor has it ever been as accepted as normal to the point that most have become oblivious to it, as it is now.

If you never preach and teach on sin, never talk about man's sinfulness then there is never a need for a Savior.  If people do not see their sinfulness, then they won't see the disconnect between their profession and their lifestyle, much less see their need for a Savior.  The true Gospel tells man the truth about his sin, his  separation from God and his alienation from God on account of his sin.  The true Gospel tells man of God's remedy in Christ for his sin and the reconciliation with God that is provided through Christ.  The true Gospel tells man the truth about himself, not so he will feel good about himself, but so he will place his faith in what God has done for him in Christ.  And, actually, nothing should make you feel better than to know the mercy, grace, love, and compassion of God that He bestows upon you in salvation.

Unfortunately, this Gospel, the true Gospel, has been banned from so many churches and replaced with the false gospel of Moralistic Therapeutic Deism, the false gospel of self.  Friends, let us make sure the true Gospel is preached in our churches.  Hold fast to the faithful word, do not be ashamed of the Gospel, as it is God's power to save, to heal, to restore, to reconcile, to make holy.  If there will be hypocrites in our churches, let it not be because we have banned the true Gospel.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Pastor-Holistically Disciple Your People

We as pastors must disciple (train, educate, teach, counsel, and encourage) our people with the finished product in mind, which is our people being complete in Christ, and Christ being fully formed in our people.  We must design the ministries of our church with this in mind, and we must engage our staff as well.  A tall task, the task of a lifetime, both for our people and for us. 

This means that our goal cannot be making them Reformed, or Covenental, or Dispensational, or Denominational.  Our goal cannot only be for them to be a good tither, or someone who gets grace, or more loving, or more patient, or happier, or better adjusted, or forgiving, or more knowledgable, or more....I think you can get my drift here.  Our goal for them must be all of Christ, in all of His fullness.  This will take you, your staff, and your church all pulling in the same direction with the same goal in mind.  Paul was laboring so that Christ would be fully formed in those whom he taught, so must we. 

Don't be a one-dimensional discipler, don't be a hobby horse pastor, have it as your goal to teach and train the whole person; so that when you see them, you see Christ in them, and the longer they are under your care, the more of Christ you see in them.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Growing in Sanctification

Growing in sanctification is growing in personal holiness.  As such it is a practical, progressive, holiness.  It is a growth in holiness that, as Peter puts it in II Peter 1:8, leaves us neither useless nor unfruitful in our knowledge of Him.  So then, growing in holiness is also growing in our practical knowledge of Him.  Conversely, as our practical knowledge of Him grows, so does our holiness; and as our holiness grows, so does our sensitivity to sin.  As such, we will repent more readily and more deeply and more completely.

Additionally, as we grow in sanctification we also grow in our faith; and the heights of holiness we attain are matched by the depth of our faith.  Growth in faith gives us a greater ability to trust His Word, to trust in Him, to entrust ourselves over to Him regardless of the situation.  This depth of faith is really the bedrock of our sanctification and is the rich soil out of which our holiness grows.

Also, growing in sanctification is also growing in love.  It is the enlarging of the heart to love Him more, to love your neighbor more, and to fervently love your fellow Christians.  It becomes the great motivation in your living out your Christian life, the great motivation in growing in your faith, the great motivation in your desire for holiness...the great motivation behind the sacrifice and service of your faith.  It is this love that gives you the desire, indeed the increasing desire, to please the Lord in every respect.  Since all the Law and the prophets are fulfilled in the commands to love God with all our heart, mind, and strength and to love our neighbor as our self; then as we grow in our love for God and neighbor we will also be growing in holiness.

Growing in sanctification, therefore, is not an isolated event, but affects the whole of our spiritual life.  There is not an area or aspect of our spiritual life that is not touched.  We are set further and further apart from the person we used to be.  We become less like that old man, and become progressively more like the new man that is being conformed into the image of Christ; and in the daily renewing of our inner man we grow in all aspects into Him

Growing in sanctification, then, is the progressive reality of our salvation.  Friends, I hope this reality is yours.

Friday, September 07, 2012

Raising the Spiritual Bar

Pastors should not be afraid to set the spiritual bar for their people as high as it is set in Bible.  Of course, the bar the Scripture sets is Jesus Christ, Himself.  He is the One against whom we all are ultimately measured. He is the One whom we all are being conformed into, and it is Him that we all will be like on that day (Ephesians 4:11-15, Romans 8:29, Colossians 1:28, I John 3:2).  If this is true, rather, because this is true, then pastors should be concerned with the personal holiness of their people, not their personal happiness.

Pastors need to exhort their people to be great Christians.  They need to lay out an expectation for them to be the best Christians they can be. They need to entreat their flock to love the Lord with all their heart, so they will be filled with an ongoing desire to please Him.  They must to encourage them to pursue Christ. They need to keep the Gospel fresh, so that the joy of  salvation will not grow stale. Pastors need to extol the greatness of God, so that the people's reverence for Him will not wane.  They must not hide the cost of discipleship, but encourage their people to press on.  They must prepare them to be diligent and to persevere, and cheer them on to not grow wearing in doing good. They must be faithful in giving them the Word, so by it all under their charge and care may grow with respect to their salvation.

This is tough and demanding, because if pastors raise the bar for their people then they must also raise the bar for themselves.  They must then raise the bar for their own personal holiness and its pursuit; raise the bar for their personal Christ-likeness; raise the bar for their preaching and teaching; raise the bar for their spiritual leadership; raise the bar for their own diligence and perseverance; raise the bar for their worship; raise the bar for their prayer life; raise the bar for they do church.  But is that not the task pastor's have been assigned, is it not the stewardship they have been given?  Is it not why the warning is given in James 3:1? Daunting as that may seem, His grace is sufficient, and it is the Lord that makes us all adequate as His servants.

Pastors,  press on in the fulfillment of your calling.  Press on to be the best shepherd you can be.  Press on to be great shepherds of the sheep, as any less of an effort is a disservice to them, a dishonor to your calling, and a disappointment to the Master.  And on that day may you all hear, "Well done my good and faithful servant, enter into the joy of your Master."