Saturday, November 30, 2013

Being Truly Radical

Radical, as defined in Merriam-Webster, means something that is very different from what is normal or traditional, and its synonym is extreme.  Personally, from the standpoint of the church, I think the term radical is worn out, over-used, and, in fact, misused and misapplied. The Christian life is radical…a radical departure from the life we used to live, the way we used to be, the habits and appetites we used to have, and the way we used to think. The whole of the Christian life is radical, because we have been set apart from sin unto God. In fact, it is radical because it is so different from the way in which the world lives and thinks. Therefore, the living out of a truly Christian life is radical in and of itself, we don’t have to make it radical. But because of the shallowness of evangelicals, and the tare-ridden condition of the churches, there is a misconception of what a true Christian is and how a true Christian lives…so the call to be radical has become a new mantra, when, in fact, the call should be to live and act as a true Christian.

The early Christians, and true Christians in all ages, have always lived in a manner radically different from their culture because they have been freed from sin and made alive in Christ.  Because the church in the West has been deceived into believing that it is to be a place to entice unbelievers instead of a worshiping gathering of believers, the life and witness of the church has been watered down, its expectations lowered, its demands softened, the purpose of its preaching changed, its call to sacrificial living derided, and its call to holiness ignored. By its becoming more like the culture that surrounds it because of all the unbelievers in its midst, the church has lost is saltiness and dimmed its light, and what has been termed nominal or carnal Christianity has become the accepted norm (However, there is no biblical precedent for either).  So the call to be radical has gone out. 

Friends, we don't need to live the radical Christian life, we just need to live the real Christian life...a biblical Christian life, the life of a living sacrifice for the Lord that true love prompts.  This will be radical, radical not only to the church at large, but also to the culture around us.  This will give the church a distinctive presence that will be truly different from what is considered normal, not only in our society, but in the church at large as well.  With all due respect to Francis Chan and David Platt, we don't need Crazy Love, or to be Radical, we need the preaching of the Word, the preaching of Christ, the preaching of the Gospel.  When those in the church are those who are truly saved, and those who are saved are strengthened in their faith, then we will see a truly radical church as it assumes more and more the identity of Christ.

So, in a sense, what we need in the church is radical preaching and radical expectations of what biblical preaching is.  We need preaching that is different from what is now considered the norm, preaching that confronts, cajoles, and commands (Sorry, Steven Furtick, this is not you).   However, this is what the Word does when preached correctly, expositorally. For this to take place, the Word must be preached without fear, the fear of man, but full of the fear of the Lord; for the church is not the primary or ultimate audience, but the Lord is.  

Let us pledge today to live a truly Christian life, and to faithfully preach the Word, and work to do just that.  For to do this is to be truly radical in our day and age.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Vessels for Glory

but so that the world may know
that I love the Father, I do 
exactly as the Father has 
commanded Me.  Get up
let us go from here.
John 14:31
(The words of Jesus as He led
His disciples from the upper room
to the Garden of Gethsemane to 
be betrayed.)

I glorified You on the earth,
having accomplished the work
which You have given me to do.
John 17:4
(From the prayer of Jesus the Christ
in the garden of Gethsemane.)

The accomplishment of God's purposes
bring Him glory.  So when His purpose
is accomplished in your life you are
a vessel that brings glory to Him.

When we pray, "Your will be done on
earth as it is in heaven," we are not 
praying for His will to be done in a
vague and general way, but for His
will to be done in a very specific way,
starting with our very lives.  Our submitting
to His will in our life (doing exactly as our 
Father has commanded) accomplishes His 
work which He has given us to do, which then
accomplishes His purposes in our life, and
the result is that He is glorified.  

For we are His workmanship, created in
Jesus Christ for good works, which God
prepared beforehand so that we would
walk in them.
Ephesians 2:10

Monday, November 18, 2013

Rejoice in the Lord Always

Rejoice in the Lord always;
again I will say, rejoice.
Philippians 4:4 

In the Greek, this word rejoice is a present active imperative, which means it is an ongoing command, one to which is to be carried out continually, and is one of a list of commands that Paul gives in the first nine verses of this chapter.  And, for obvious good measure, Paul couples this command with the word always, so that we see for sure that there is to never be a time when we are not to be rejoicing.  Along with this I do not believe that it is an accident that Paul gives this command on the heels of reminding the Philippians about the book of life in verse three.  What comes to mind immediately is the command of our Lord  to his disciples in Luke 10:20...but rejoice that your names are written in the book of life.  Here He was telling the disciples that their rejoicing should be in their salvation, its surety and security.

As Christians, our greatest joy should be our salvation, and it should override and overcome any and all circumstances in life.  Our joy in our salvation, in our eternal standing in the Lord should always be our greatest joy, and we should exult in our salvation above all else.  As a result, we should be more thankful for our salvation than anything else, and the fact of our salvation should be both the foundation and the fountainhead of all of our praise.  In Hebrews it is called a "so great salvation" and, indeed, it is just that. The Scripture tells us we are to make melody in our hearts to the Lord, and if you read through the Psalms you will see the greatest praise and thanksgiving, the greatest rejoicing, revolves around salvation.

The circumstances of the Philippians when Paul wrote this also gives us some insight into this command to rejoice.  They were facing opposition from without that was causing suffering of the type that they had seen Paul go through when he was in Philippi (Philippians 1:27-30).  They were faced with opposition from within as there were enemies of the cross (tares) among them (Philippians 3:17-19).  They were also beset with internal bickering that was dividing the church (1:27, 2:2-4, 4:2-3).  There was much going on that would be disheartening and discouraging to this body of believers.  Which is why Paul starts of this section with the command to stand firm in the Lord.  In light of all of this, we see the command to rejoice in this verse is for them to have a thoughtful response to their circumstances, not a blitheful, ignorant, Pollyanna view, but a knowing reflection of the greatness of their eternal spiritual state in comparison to the temporal circumstances they found themselves in.

Additionally, they already have joy, joy within, through the fruit of the indwelling Holy Spirit.  Joy is second on the list of the fruit of the Spirit.  It is only those who have the joy of the Lord who can truly rejoice in the Lord…in His reality, His nearness, His promises, His truth.  Again, you rejoice in Him because of all that He is and all that you have in Him.  Nehemiah 8:10 tells us, "The joy of the Lord is our strength."  Joy steadies the fainting soul, it strengthens the weak soul, it anchors the wavering soul, it gives light to the distressed soul, it soothes the anxious soul, and it bolsters the vexed soul.

However, joy is what we have, rejoicing is what we do; and rejoicing in the Lord is key in standing firm in Him. Paul also tells the Thessalonians in Chapter 5 to rejoice always.  So rejoicing is to be a state that the Christian is to live in, and a daily practice. In his commentary on Philippians Walter Hansen shares this,  “The fulfillment of all other goals in the Christian walk flows out of the practice of the rejoicing in the Lord." If you think about it, you see how true this is. I have never seen an effective Christian who was not a rejoicing Christian.

This command to rejoice was given to the Philippians in the context of suffering, in the context of opposition, in the context of less than perfect circumstances, and so we see who they are rejoice in, it is the Lord, Himself.  They are to rejoice in the Lord, not in their health, their wealth, their prosperity, their stuff, their job, their family, or their circumstances.  Their object of joy is to be the Lord, who He is and all that they have in Him, which is all wrapped up in the package of salvation.

So with this in mind let's look at why we are to rejoice in the Lord, by looking at our reasons for rejoicing. And these reasons never change, even though our circumstances do.

II Corinthians 1:20 You rejoice in Him because in Him all the promises of God are Yea and Amen.

Philippians 4:13, John 15:5  You rejoice in Him because in Him you can do all things, but apart from Him you can do nothing.

Ephesians 1:3 You rejoice in Him because in Him you have been blessed with every spiritual blessing.

Colossians 2:3 You rejoice in Him because in Him you have all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.

I Corinthians 1:24 you rejoice in Him because He is wisdom of God and the power of God.

Colossians 2:10 You rejoice in Him because in Him you have been made complete.

I Corinthians 1:30 You rejoice in Him because in Him are righteousness, sanctification and redemption.

Romans 8:1 You rejoice in Him for in Him there is no condemnation.

Ephesians 1:7 You rejoice in Him because in Him there is forgiveness of sins.

I Thessalonians 1:10 You rejoice in Him because in Him there is deliverance from the wrath to come.

Ephesians 1:10-11, I Peter 1:3-4 You rejoice in Him because in Him you have obtained an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, will not fade away, and which is reserved in heaven for you.

I Peter 1:5, 3:20-21 You rejoice in Him because in Him your salvation is protected by the power of God.

Ephesians 1:13 You rejoice in Him because in Him you were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise.

Ephesians 2:13, 3:12, Hebrews 4:16 You rejoice in Him for in Him you have been brought near to the throne of grace and in Him you have bold and confident access to the Father.

II Corinthians 5:17 You rejoice in Him for in Him you have been made new.

II Corinthians 5:18 You rejoice in Him for in Him you have been reconciled to God, and are no longer God’s enemy.

Ephesians 2:22 You rejoice in Him because in Him you are being built together into a dwelling of God in the Spirit.

Ephesians 2:16 You rejoice in Him because in Him you have been raised up and seated in the heavenly places.

Ephesians 1:7 You rejoice in Him because in Him are all the riches of grace.

Ephesians 4:21 You rejoice in Him for truth is in Him.

John 1:4, 11:25 You rejoice in Him for in Him is life eternal.

Acts 4:12, II Timothy 2:10, Hebrews 5:9 You rejoice in Him because salvation is in Him.

John 14:9, Hebrews 1:3 You rejoice in Him because in Him you have seen the Father.

Ephesians 2:5 You rejoice in Him because in Him you have been made alive.

Galatians 2:20 You rejoice in Him for because He now lives in you.

John 16:33 You rejoice for in Him you have peace.

This rejoicing is to be a persistent rejoicing, an active rejoicing, an intentional rejoicing…not a passive, reluctant, forced rejoicing.  When we rejoice like this, in any and all circumstances, the joy of the Lord is truly our strength.

Let's rejoice today in the Lord, in all that He is, in all that He has done, in all that we have in Him. Let us rejoice in the greatness of His salvation that He has so graciously and magnanimously bestowed upon us.  For the circumstances of this life are temporal, but His salvation and all that we have in it are eternal.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Speaking the Truth in Love about Unconditional Love

  • The first section below is a post on a blog concerning Rob Bell's belief concerning homosexuality over at the Gospel Coalition website, and below it is my comment.  If we as Christians are going to engage in these discussions/talks/conversations/debates, then we must speak the truth and speak it in love.  The truth is confronting enough, and should be applied properly.  Shouting contests, name calling and inflammatory statements are not only not Christlike, they are futile.  Far too many Christians follow the tactics of the unsaved.  Only truth will win the day, and we must speak it in love for it to be at its most powerful and apologetic.

    @Joyce by Mike
    The difficulty with your argument is that some people understand those passages differently. They would assert that the (few) passages in the Bible that mention homosexuality do so in the context of forced submissiveness, as opposed to a mutually affirming, loving relationship. Many Christians believe that the overarching narrative of the Bible, especially Jesus, is primarily to love God and love your neighbor. Within that narrative the love for your neighbor is more important than your neighbor’s sexuality.
    So here’s my question for you: Why does this matter so much? Rob Bell’s affirmation of homosexual relationships seems to bring out a strong negative emotive response in so many people — why? What if you personalize the issue? Gay people are not some faceless group; they are family and friends and neighbors and colleagues. The dichotomy Christians face is that Jesus calls us to love our neighbors with a love that does not condemn (cf. the woman caught in adultery), and yet our neighbor may be carrying on in activities that we believe to be sinful.
    If we have a friendship with someone who is gay, and if that friendship is the kind of relationship where we hold each other accountable, only then have we the freedom to talk about things like whether one’s homosexual relations are God-pleasing or not. But for anyone else, we are called to love unconditionally just as God does.

    My Response to Mike

    1. Mike,
      You don’t get a get out of jail free card because you “understand” the passages differently. They are plain, within the context.

      The issue is not loving unconditionally. God does not love unconditionally, if He did then there would have been no need for Christ to die; and why would God put His Son, and why would the Son go through, that grisly horrendous death and suffer the wrath of God, if His love was unconditional? Unconditional love is not loving us just as we are, but loving us in spite of who we are and in spite of our enmity with God (Romans 5:6-8) If things were okay between God and man, man would not be the enemy of God (Romans 5:8, 1:30) and there would be no need of reconciliation (Romans 5:10-11, II Corinthians 5:18-19) If God loves people just as we are (unconditionally) then there would be no need for man to be born again or made new (II Corinthians 5:17, John 3:3-7) The unconditional love that is offered in John 3:16 is only for those who place their faith in Christ. Do a word study, just in the NT, and see who are the objects of God’s wrath. If God loves unconditionally, then there would also be no reason for wrath, for any sin no matter how heinous.

      Additionally, if I truly love someone then I will tell them the truth…not condemningly, but truthfully (Ephesians 4:15). True love does not bash anyone, homosexual or heterosexual, but it also does not shrink back from declaring the truth to them. The truth is that you cannot continue/practice a sexually immoral lifestyle (homosexual or heterosexual) and be a Christian (See I John). However, the gay community has labeled anything that is said to them that is contrary to their lifestyle as hate speech, homophobia, etc. The most loving thing we can do is to speak the truth, but we must speak it in love, and not use it as as a cudgel. As it says in Proverbs 27:6 “Faithful are the wounds of a friend, but deceitful are the kisses of an enemy. A true friend speaks the truth, and as Christians we should speak the truth to others as we would want them to speak the truth to us (Matthew 7:13).

      Finally, for the context, I mentioned Romans 1:30 above. If you follow the train of thought from verse 18 through the end of the chapter you will see that homosexuals are specifically mentioned and then it goes on to list them among those who hate God in verse 30. Are those who hate God, and therefore are His enemies under the wrath of God? Yes, all of them. But God does offer them salvation, the deliverance from the wrath to come (Romans 5:9, I Thessalonians 1:9-10) if they will repent and believe the gospel (Mark 1:15, from the lips of Jesus Himself).

      Finally, why have I used so much Scripture? Because Jesus says this in John 12:48 “He who rejects Me and does not receive My sayings, has one who judges him; the word that I spoke is what will judge him at the last day.” And what is the word Jesus spoke? The Scriptures, all of them (I Peter 1:10-12), as He is the Living Word (John 1:1, 14).
      So what is the most loving thing I can do for you? Tell you the truth as I just have, not my truth, but God’s truth; and urge you to go to the Scriptures for your wisdom and not depend on the prevailing sentiment of the day, but on the eternal unchanging word of God.

Saturday, November 02, 2013

The Importance of Faith, Hope, and Love

In that well known verse at the end of I Corinthians 13 Paul gives us the three eternal Divine qualities, the three Divine distinctives that are to be present in the life of one who truly believes.  And to the extent these are present in the lives of believers, they will be present in the life of the church of which they are a member.

These three Divine distinctives can be manifested in various ways, and we see them manifested in the life of two churches that Paul wrote to.  First, it was the Thessalonians.  In I Thessalonians 1:3 we see the activity of faith (work), the unction of love (labor), and the steady enduring of hope (waiting for Christ).  We also see them manifested in the church at Colossae.  In Colossians 1:3-5a we see the object of faith (Jesus Christ), the direction of love (toward all the saints), and the place of hope (heaven).  In two different churches we see the same qualities, but how they are manifested in each church was different....just as they are in the lives of individuals.

It is no accident that in both letters we see Paul commending the church, and rejoicing in thanksgiving for these two churches in his prayer for them.  Why?  Because a spiritually healthy church, a spiritually balanced church will be manifesting these eternal qualities, just as a spiritually healthy and spiritually balanced individual will be manifesting them.  Paul knew that these churches were spiritually healthy and robust, and therefore would be effective.  This is why he wrote what he did to the Colossians, so that they would stand fully assured in their faith (2:1-3, 4:12) and not be derailed by the false teachers; and why he wrote to the Thessalonians to not only keep doing what they were doing, but to excel in it still more.  In both of these letters you can see Paul wanting these churches to continue to grow in their faith, their hope, and their love.

Another example is the letter to the Hebrews, written with the goal of exhortation Hebrews 13:22 (speaking to the need of the moment).  These believers needed to be encouraged and strengthened in their faith, love, and hope.  In this epistle the author of Hebrews talks about the obedience of faith and the endurance of faith.  He talks about the confidence and assurance that hope brings, and how it is the anchor of our soul.  He talks about the encouragement in love that comes from gathering together, and how we should be stimulating one another (being a catalyst) to love and good deeds.

In I Timothy 1:5 Paul writes, "But the goal of our instruction is love from a pure heart and a good conscience (which is directly connected to the assurance of hope) and a sincere faith."

So, fellow pastors, what is the goal of our instruction, our exhortation?  Should it not be in developing faith, love, and hope in the people under our care.  Should not the things we do, the prayers we pray, the activities that we engage in be to developing these eternal qualities in our people?  I sincerely believe that is why the Philippians were Paul's joy and crown, not just because of their aid to him, but because of the manifestation of faith, hope, and love he witnessed in them.  May the faith, hope, and love of our people be to us a great and glorious crown and the cause of our rejoicing in that day!