Saturday, December 13, 2014

Peace on Earth

These are the lyrics the song in the link is based upon. With the current racial issues in our country, ISIS and Islamic terrorism, Russia-Ukraine...all just this year, may we remember the promise regarding the One whose birth we celebrate this month. "For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us; and the government will rest on His shoulders; ans His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace." (Isaiah 9:6) The peace talked about in this poem, and the peace sung about in this song, is the peace that is promised in this verse, the peace yet to come; but the peace that will come when our Lord, the Prince of Peace, comes back and reigns upon the earth, and His reign will be a reign of peace. Come quickly, Lord Jesus.
Christmas Bells
I HEARD the bells on Christmas Day
Their old, familiar carols play,
And wild and sweet
The words repeat
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!
And thought how, as the day had come,
The belfries of all Christendom
Had rolled along
The unbroken song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!
Till ringing, singing on its way,
The world revolved from night to day,
A voice, a chime,
A chant sublime
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!
Then from each black, accursed mouth
The cannon thundered in the South,
And with the sound
The carols drowned
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!
It was as if an earthquake rent
The hearth-stones of a continent,
And made forlorn
The households born
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!
And in despair I bowed my head;
"There is no peace on earth," I said;
"For hate is strong,
And mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!"
Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
"God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;
The Wrong shall fail,
The Right prevail,
With peace on earth, good-will to men."

Peace on earth begins with peace with God.  You can have peace with God through His Son the Lord Jesus Christ.  In Christ God has reconciled the world unto Himself.  Place your trust in what God has done in His Son, and receive your peace with Him.

Saturday, December 06, 2014

Vengeance and Vindication--Leave Both to the Lord

This post is a bit personal. No, scratch that, it is all personal. What brings this about is a sighting I had a couple of nights ago that caused an unexpected large wave of emotion to wash over me, much like having one of those large waves at the beach slam into you with a force you were not anticipating; and as a result I found myself in the midst of a battle between my flesh and my spirit.

The genesis of this occurred back in the mid to late nineties during the hottest part of the inerrancy battle happening in the Southern Baptist Convention. The SBC church I was attending at that time was considered one of the flagship churches in the convention as it was the largest giver to the cooperative program, which was and is the funding mechanism that undergirds the SBC and its agencies, both in the states and nationally.  Needless to say, this church exerted much influence, not just in Texas, but nationally as well; and because of this influence was a plum that both sides wanted in their basket. While we were certainly not the only church to experience the battle in the midst of our church, because of who we were, the battle that took place in our church was more intense than was probably the norm in most churches.

Even though the root and core issue of the controversy was due to the theological issue of inerrancy, due to the political process that was being used by the conservatives to regain control of the convention, the war was being fought on two fronts.  One front was the theological front, where the battle was for the hearts and minds of the people, and the other battle was along the political front where the actual control of the national and state associations was being fought out. This led to the battle coming all the way down to the local church, both for their hearts and minds, and for which side would lead and control the church.

Without going into too much detail, our church was dominated by those who called themselves moderates, and we had a particularly militant group of moderates who were involved both financially and politically in the battle both in the state and nationally; and this group was determined to bring our church around to fully support the moderate camp. It was indeed a sad time for our church, as this group of people injected their political agenda into nearly every area of our church.  Even to the point that during a personnel committee meeting they brought up terminating some staff members who would not support them on a vote during the latest business meeting.

During this time I was actively recruited by this group of moderates, and by a group of conservatives from a state organization; but I would not align myself with either.  Even though I was and am an inerrantist, I would not align myself with the conservative group that recruited me because I did not like their approach.  As a Deacon and Deacon officer, a teacher and teacher of teachers, I did not want to get involved with the the politics as they were being played out in our church, but instead focused upon trying to block those who would politicize and cause disunity and dissension in our church.  Proverbs 6:16-19 lists seven things which the Lord hates and which are an abomination to Him; and coming in at number seven is "One who spreads strife among his brothers."  I took these verses seriously, and decided that I would do what I could to protect the unity of our church while standing up for the truth.

The issues that were being foisted upon our church by this militant group of moderates had nothing to do with the theological battle, but were all about them exerting their control and influence on our church to further their political agenda; and because of their tactics they were causing strife and promoting strife and dissension in our fellowship. I quoted this section of Proverbs one night during a deacon's meeting, and asked all of us who were attending to examine ourselves to see if this if what we were doing.  The meeting was suddenly quiet, and I was met with stony glares by several who were of the militant group.

It was after one of our deacon's meetings during this time that I was approached by the pastor who told me that even though I had refused to get involved with the politics, everyone assumed that I was in the conservative camp because of my strong stand on the Word of God.  My response to him was, "I guess that shows that the real issue here is theological, doesn't it."  At that he wheeled around, and did not talk to me again before he left the church to take another pastorate.

What I began to realize during this time was the ill will that the militant moderate group had developed for me. One of the older and wiser deacons nominated me for deacon chairman two years in a row.  When I asked him why he did so, he told me that he knew I would not win, but it showed him who was in which camp by those who voted for me or against me.  He even told me that there were those he knew that were on the fence politically, but he wanted to see if they would vote against me in order not to draw the ire of the militant moderates.  So it was during this time that I began to experience the backlash of ill will that this militant group of moderates had for me.

I say all of this to bring us to the event of the other night.  In 1999 this church planted another church in our town.  I was one of those who left to plant that church (this was before the Lord called my to plant our current church, Grace Covenant).  After I left the church, I was savaged and slandered by some of the militant moderate group, and had my character and reputation assaulted by being accused of things that I never did. One lady in particular even went before the pastoral staff and some deacons and lied and slandered me as one of the pastoral staff stood by and tacitly agreed with her, even though he knew differently. This lady and her husband were a part of the militant moderate group, and she is unaware that I know this.

As you might have guessed, it was her that I saw the other night at a Christmas function with my family.  She and her husband came in and sat down to our left in the row in front of us.  This was the first time I have seen her since we left that church. As I said in the opening paragraph, I was not prepared for the wave of emotion that hit me, and in my spirit I wrestled with my flesh as anger and resentment of her lies about me and her seemingly getting away with it brought about a desire for vengeance and vindication; and I had thoughts about her that were not nice.

In God's economy and providence, the play we were attending lasted two and an half hours, so I had plenty of time to wrestle through this and confess my sin to the Lord, and ask Him to work in my heart to forgive her, and not be embittered toward her. This was a test for me, and an opportunity to take the Lord at His word, and apply that word to my life.  "Vengeance is mine, I will repay." says the Lord.  Do not return evil for evil (even in your heart), but give a blessing instead.  Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.  Bless those who persecute you, bless and curse not. Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding.  Be like Joseph, who said to his brothers, "What you meant as evil against me, God meant for good." Many times in the Psalms we see David cry out for the Lord to vindicate him, and in those cries we see the patient confidence of David, that the Lord would do just that, and we also see David's willingness to wait for the Lord to vindicate him, and not seek to vindicate himself.

I share this to encourage others who may read this.  Others who have gone through much worse at the hands of their enemies, even at the hands of those who call themselves Christian brothers or sisters. Friends, when we suffer, let us suffer as Christians, and according to the word of God, not seeking our own vengeance and vindication, but trusting our Almighty, sovereign and good Lord to bring about His desired result in our life and the lives of others. And when you are confronted with such a situation, He will give you all the grace you need to have victory over your flesh.

Tuesday, December 02, 2014

The Goodness of God

And Jesus said to him, "Why do you call
Me good?  No one is good except God alone.
Luke 18:19

The goodness of God is goodness in its original and untainted form. Since God is impassable and immutable, then His goodness is unchanging and unaffected by anything outside of Himself. Therefore God is good in a complete sense, in an absolute sense, not in a relative sense.  His goodness is pure goodness, untainted, undefiled, unaffected, untempered, and without degrees. It permeates all that He is and all that He does, which is why the Psalmist declares that God is good and does good. Therefore, God's goodness is true goodness, the goodness by which all other goodness is measured, and goodness is defined in God Himself.

When men call each other good, we do it in a relative term, as compared to other men. What we see as goodness in men is the vestige of the image of God, as all men were created in the image of God (Genesis 2); and that image has been marred and defiled by sin, it has become compromised and disfigured. When what we call goodness in men is seen in the light of God and His true goodness, we see that what we call goodness is not really goodness at all, not goodness in its true sense, in its God likeness; but is a goodness of degree as compared to other men, as in contrast to what men would call bad or evil as related to the times or culture they live in.

When the Lord becomes our standard of goodness, our definition of goodness, as He should be, then how we use that term takes on a whole new meaning. All of a sudden we realize that we can't consider ourselves good in any way, and what we have called good in ourselves is not good at all; and we realize our dependence on this goodness as our ticket to heaven has been a false hope, a self-deceiving hope.

Because God is good, He came down and took upon Himself the mantle of man in the person of Christ. Christ as God and man was good, good in our stead, good in our place. His goodness has become our ticket to heaven, not for all men; but for all men who place their faith in Him and His vicarious life and death on their behalf.  He becomes the ticket to heaven for all who renounce their own goodness and by faith cling tenaciously to His goodness and receive it as their own.

My friends, don't compare yourselves to other men, to the rest of mankind, to determine your own goodness.  Compare yourselves to the only One who is truly good and see your goodness for the filthy and soiled rag that it is. Confess to God that your goodness is not good enough and that you will rely on it no longer, and by faith ask Him to cover you with the goodness of His Son, who was good in your place. And Christ, who took on the mantle of man, will place upon you the mantle of His goodness, and you will have the true ticket to heaven; and you will taste and see the goodness of God in His salvation of your very soul.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Spiritual Enablement and Empowerment involves both renunciation and reliance.
We have to first renounce all confidence in our
own power and then rely entirely on the power 
of the Holy Spirit.  We must be enabled, not merely
helped.  What's the difference?  The word help implies 
we have some ability but not enough; we need 
someone else to supplement our partially adequate
ability.  By contrast, enablement implies that we 
have no ability whatsoever.  We're entirely powerless.
We can do nothing.  But when by faith we renounce 
self-sufficiency and embrace reliance on the power
of the Holy Spirit, we receive divine empowerment,
enablement, and strength for personal transformation
and ministry.

Jerry Bridges
Bob Bevington
The Bookends of the Christian Life
Page 85

Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear
fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine, so neither can
you unless you abide in Me. I am the vine, you are the 
branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears
much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing.
John 15:4-5

Blessed is man who trusts in the Lord and whose
trust is the Lord.
Jeremiah 17:7

A faith that does not rest fully on the Lord is an incomplete faith, a faith that is not fully mature.  In one way or the other, this applies to all of us.  I am reminded of the man who called out to Jesus, "I believe, help my unbelief."  This is a cry that all of us could make. Our faith should rest fully on Christ, both for our salvation and our sanctification.  Just as we did not begin our spiritual life without the regenerating power of the Holy Spirit, we cannot live our spiritual life apart from His enabling power.

In applying this to our lives, it should even affect how we pray.  How many times have we asked the Lord to help us versus empower or enable us? Yes, we are responsible, and we must act and we must do; but in our acting and doing He is the One enabling and empowering. The Scriptures do not give us a formula for this, for faith does not have a formula. We walk by faith, faith in Him and not in ourselves, which should lead to trust in Him and not in ourselves.

When I was a child, my mother would never let me use the phrase 'I can't' for her reply would be, "Can't never could do anything."  Then she would tell me the story of the little engine who could, and for those who don't know the story, the little engine would chant, "I know I can, I know I can." as he was pulling the huge load up the steep hill.  This kind of human effort, the positive  can do attitude, has polluted our minds, and is one of the humanisms we bring into our faith; and it rides into our Christian life on the back of our pride.

Renunciaton and reliance are an assault on our human pride, and require a submissive humility, which again, is quite impossible without His enabling power. It is only after we have been humbled by our spiritual impotency to overcome sin and to be pleasing to God, that we will ask for forgiveness and acceptance from Him so that we may be saved; and it is in a continued submissive humility that we ask for enablement and empowerment to live the life He has called us to live.

Even to the end, our spiritual life is designed so that the Lord receives the glory for it, not us. For all things are from Him, through Him, and to Him; and we exist for Him; and let us remember that we can do all things through......Him who strengthens us.  

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Sunday, November 09, 2014

A Prayer for Sunday

Father, speak Your Word through me this morning.
Through Your Word, train, instruct, strengthen,
encourage, and correct your people.  Send forth
Your Word attended by Your Spirit, so that it
may do all you have intended in the lives of those
who hear it today.  For Your glory and Your
kingdom. Amen

Tuesday, November 04, 2014

Living by Faith, Not by Sight

There was a blog post concerning II Corinthians 5:7, and its misuse and misapplication.  Below is my comment concerning this verse and the context in which it is in.

  1. The section vs 7 is in begins with 4:13 when Paul states, “But having the same spirit of faith, according to what is written…” The crescendo of this thought is in 4:18 “while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal.”
    Living by faith means seeing with eyes of faith, eyes that look to and see the eternal things, the things not seen. How do we see the unseen eternal things? We see them through the Word of God, the things written. Jesus speaks to this in John 8:56, “Your father Abraham rejoiced to see My day, and he saw it and was glad.” We see another example in Moses in Hebrews 11:26-27, “considering the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures of Egypt; for he was looking to the reward. By faith he left Egypt, not fearing the wrath of the king; for he endured, as seeing Him who is unseen.”
    Seeing is the equivalent of knowing, and we see this played out in the verses in chapter five that follow on the heels of 4:18:
    5:1 For we know…
    5:6 Therefore, being always of good courage and knowing
    5:11 Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord
    5:16 Therefore, from now on we recognize no one according to the flesh; even though we have know Christ according to the flesh, yet now we know Him in this way no longer.
    Abraham and Moses saw eternal things, things not seen with human eyes, but with eyes of faith; and they saw these things through the promises of God. Even though unseen, the promises of God have substance and reality. We don’t see our Lord now, but believe in Him because we see Him in and through the Word of God. The Lord talks to us and we experience Him and come to know Him through the Word of God. When we take Him at His Word, and believe His Word, He opens our eyes to see Him and to know Him; and the eternal things become a present reality for us…just like they did for Abraham and Moses; and Paul.
    So, yes, living by faith is what all true Christians do. It is living with eyes of faith that see the unseen through the Word of God, because we believe the Word that has been spoken to us.
  2. Also, here is the link to a post from 2010 where I address this.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Essentials of the Christian Life---Faith, Hope, and Love

But now faith, hope, love, abide these three...
I Corinthians 13:13a

In this verse at the end of the love chapter in I Corinthians, Paul gives us the three Divine distinctives, the three essential qualities that mark the life of a believer. All three of these qualities are operative in the true Christian, and to the extent they are operative determines the quality and vitality and effectiveness of our spiritual lives.  Also, it is the operation of faith, hope and love in our life that is the source of our joy, and it is the extent to which these qualities are operative in our lives that determine the fullness of our joy.

Additionally, these qualities do not operate in isolation from each other, but operate in conjunction with each other.  Each directs, reinforces, and feeds the other. Faith is the foundation, love provides the motivation, and hope gives inspiration. As a cord of three strands is not easily torn apart (Ecclesiastes 4:12), so the Christian life that has faith, hope, and love stands strong against the perils of this world and the wiles of the devil.

Faith is the foundation, but without love faith becomes dry, barren, ritualistic, and formalized. Without love faith becomes a duty to be performed, not a life to be lived.  Love gives strength and vitality to faith and makes faith come alive. Love gives purpose to faith. (I Corinthians 13:2b, Galatians 5:6, John 14:21, 23, I Peter 1:22)

Hope causes faith to persevere by giving it a reason to persevere. Hope directs faith's attention from the life here and now to the life hereafter. Hope gives faith its eternal perspective. Hope is faith's anchor during the storms of this life, its restraint to keep it from heeding the siren calls of this world, and its beacon to keep it on course. (Hebrews 6:19, 11:1, Galatians 5:5, I Corinthians 15:19, Colossians 1:5)

My friends, are these three essentials present in your life?  If they are not, cry out to the Lord for Him to bring these into your life through the indwelling of His Holy Spirit. If they are, seek to cultivate them all the more in order that your life in Christ may be full of His abundance and overflowing with His joy.

Saturday, October 04, 2014

Letting the Peace of Christ Rule

This is a repost.

As believers we are to "Let the peace of Christ rule in our hearts," (Colossians 3:15). So often we see this verse either ignored or misapplied, and it is because of a misunderstanding or a false assumption of what this peace is. So let's see if we can garner a better, a correct understanding of what the peace of Christ is and how it is manifested in our lives.

First off, this verse is in the middle of a section where Paul is talking about our common ground in Christ because He is all and is in all (3:11), and how this is manifested in our life in the church in how we treat and respond to one another in the body. So its primary application is for believers in the context of church life. So this peace of Christ is to rule, act as arbiter or umpire, in our dealings and interactions with other believers, especially those in our local body.

Secondly, what is this peace that Christ has, that is to be the umpire of our hearts, and how did we come to possess it? In John 14:27 Christ says, "Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you." So we see that it is Christ, Himself, that has given us His peace, and we have this peace because He has come and taken up residence in our heart; and we have become partakers of the divine nature (II Peter 1:4). The peace of Christ is the peace between Him and the Father. There was no enmity between the Father and the Son because Jesus always did the things that were pleasing to the Father (John 4:34, 5:30, 8:28-29, 8:42, 12:49, 14:10, 17:4, Matthew 3:17). Because of His perfect obedience to the Father there was unity and harmony between them with peace being the by-product of that unity and harmony. Christ had the same unity and harmony with the Father in His life here upon the earth that He had with the Father in eternity past. This is why Jesus could say, "I and the Father are One." (John 10:30, 17:1122-23). The body of Christ is to have and manifest the same unity and harmony within itself that exists between Christ and the Father (John 17:20-23).

Before salvation we were at enmity with Godwe were His very enemies (Romans 5:10), but God reconciled us to Himself (made peace with us) through His Son (Romans 5:10, II Corinthians 5:18-19). The Father and the Son were at perfect peace, so that, "Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ." (Romans 5:29). So when we let the peace of Christ rule in our hearts it means that we are not to do anything that would disrupt our peace with our heavenly Father. Our peace with Him should guide our decision making and govern our responses. Within the context of this section of Colossians we see this worked out in our compassion, gentleness, kindness, humility, patience, forbearance, forgiveness, and love within the body of Christ. We have peace with God and one another as we practice these Christian graces mentioned here; and it should then be a part of our life so that, "As far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men." (Romans 12:18).

So, first, be sure that you are at peace with God through faith in His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. Then pray a prayer of thanksgiving to God for establishing peace with you, His enemy, and reconciling you to Himself through the blood of the cross. Now live a life of peace with God through how you live your life with others in the body, and in the world; but not at the expense of righteousness or the truth.

Monday, September 29, 2014

The Three Essential Elements for Powerful Persuasive Preaching

Preaching is both a human task and a Divine event, a combination of man and God delivering the message of God. As preachers we are both blessed and burdened in our preaching.  We are blessed with the opportunity and the privilege and burdened with the responsibility and accountability, of speaking forth the oracles of God.  Those truly called to preach have been gifted so as to be the mouthpiece of God, so that when we speak for God it should be as God Himself would speak.  As such, preaching has been depicted as God speaking through the personality of men.

In this vein we must realize that there are certain keys, certain requirements, certain foundational principles required on the preacher's part so that the Spirit of God can and will attend and give unction to his message.  It is not erudition, articulation, or winsomeness, although those are certainly helpful.  It is good to be learned, it is good to be a wordsmith, and certainly an attractive personality and engaging presentation will help; but all of these can be present and, yet, the sermon can be devoid of power and spiritually impotent.

What then are the keys to powerful, persuasive preaching?  What is required of those who would stand in the pulpit and herald forth the word of God. What must we as preachers do in order for our sermons to be attended by the Holy Spirit and for us to preach in His power.  I believe there are three keys, three foundational elements, that are required of the preacher for his preaching to be spiritually powerful and effective.  In listening to and experiencing sermons I have seen these essential elements to be present in the preacher whose sermons have been marked by the attending power of the Holy Spirit; and all of the great preachers in the church have possessed and exhibited these elements in their preaching. They are:

1. A thorough conviction of the truth.
This is ground zero for all who would be powerful in the pulpit and is the primary essential element and the guiding principle for all who would have their preaching attended by the Holy Spirit. The preacher who would be powerful in the pulpit will always believe that the word of God is true, absolutely true; not just true as regards the things of salvation, not just true in the matters of faith and practice, but true in every area to which it speaks, whether it is creation, revelation, miracles, history, or prophecy. He does not look for holes in the Scriptures, but has a steadfast hold on the veracity of the Scriptures and believes that they are truth without any mixture of error. He then preaches as presenting the truth, with the conviction that what he is saying is true, and therefore his preaching will be attended by the Spirit of truth.  This gives the message authority.

2. A thorough knowledge of the truth.
Shallow knowledge begets shallow sermons, and shallow sermons are never powerful sermons. There is a saying that knowledge is power, and the powerful preacher will have a thorough knowledge of the Scriptures, not just in a pet area, but in the full flow of the grand narrative of the Bible. He will understand where the passage he is preaching on falls in the scope of the Bible, he will understand its context, its historical surroundings, its audience.  The preacher will have a knowledge of the subject he is preaching on, and what the Bible, as a whole, has to say about the subject. This lends weight to his sermon, this gives breadth and depth to his sermon, and thereby gives his preaching the appropriate gravitas. Alongside this the Holy Spirit of God also gives the preacher wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of God and the Lord Jesus Christ. This makes the preacher believable.

3. A thorough explanation of the truth.
Just as thorough knowledge makes the preacher believable, thorough explanation makes the preacher understandable. What makes the sermon finally and ultimately powerful is the explanation and application of the truth. A correct and thorough explanation of the truth is a prerequisite to the Holy Spirit applying the truth to the hearts of the hearers. People cannot apply what they do not know or understand.  The truth must be presented clearly and precisely.  The meanings of words, their tenses and contexts, and what other verses say about the same subject give light to the mind in understanding the meaning of the passage. Once a passage is understood the Holy Spirit will apply it to each person's heart within the context of their own walk and experience.  This makes the sermon personal, this makes it powerful, this makes it effective.

As preachers we must preach to the heart through the mind in order to bend the will.  In order for this to take place we must be convinced that what we are preaching is true, we must know our subject, and we must be able to explain so as to bring clarity and insight into the mind of the hearer.  When this is done, the Holy Spirit will attend our sermon and give it all the spiritual power necessary to accomplish its aim.

I hope these essential elements are present in your preaching.  They are attainable for us all, from the least gifted of us to the most gifted, from the least eloquent to the most eloquent, from the least winsome to the most winsome. Possessing these foundational and essential elements in our preaching does not guarantee us large crowds or growing churches or notoriety or a place on the conference circuit, but they do guarantee us that our sermons will be spiritually powerful and effective in the sphere in which our Lord and Master has placed us.  This will lead to His approbation, "Well done, My good and faithful slave, enter into the joy of your Master."

Friday, September 26, 2014

The Root Cause of Racism

Due to the events in Ferguson, Missouri, there has been much discussion in the blogosphere over the last several weeks over the subject of racism.  Some good, some not so good. Racism has been a particularly thorny issue since Genesis 11:6-9, when the Lord confused the languages and scattered man over the face of the whole earth.  From then on you see incidences of racism throughout the Bible.  

But when you look at the world picture from an historical perspective, it is more than racism, the color of ones skin, it actually goes much deeper to ethnicity or tribalism.  In recent history look at the ethnic cleansing that took place in Bosnia with the Serbs, Croats, and Bosnians, which also included some Albanians.  Look also at the issues with the Tutsis and the Hutus in Rwanda and the genocide there. In studying Native American history you can see the same animus among the different tribes toward one another.  So as we consider the issue of racism we must think of  it as a facet of ethnicity.  

The root cause of racism is the failure to love our neighbor as ourselves.  Interestingly,  Leviticus 19:18 gives us the first mention of loving your neighbor as yourself, and it is in the context of not taking vengeance or not bearing any grudge. Racism begins with a lack of love and therefore bears a grudge, carries a black mark in the heart, toward anyone who is a different ethnicity than you simply because they are of a different ethnicity; or, in many cases, are of a specific ethnicity. Racism is lack of love which does not believe all things, hope all things, bear all things, endure all things, and therefore assumes that someone did something to someone else simply because of ethnicity; it therefore mistrusts because someone is of a different ethnicity; it therefore leaps to conclusions; it therefore refuses to give the benefit of the doubt; it therefore refuses to hear the truth; it therefore refuses to treat others as it would be treated. 

Therefore, racism is sin. It is the sin of a heart that has been hardened toward those of other ethnicities, and is a sin that continues to harden the heart. The knife of racism cuts in all directions, and there is not one ethnic group that is immune to this sin, for sin is in the heart of all men. 

Where can we as Christians begin to deal with this issue of racism? How can we bring healing to this thorny and emotionally charged topic?  We must start by loving one another as ourselves, and for those of a different ethnicity who happen to be our brothers and sisters in Christ, we must love them as Christ has loved us.  We cannot hope or expect those who do not have the Spirit of Christ within to reciprocate this love, for they cannot; but the church can and should provide this witness and example.  For all things societal, the root issue is always a moral issue, and the moral issues always have a spiritual foundation.  

On this issue, the church, comprised of individual Christians, should be salt and light to the broader culture.  We should be the salt that stops the corruption of racism in its tracks, and the light of love for those of other ethnicities that shines in the midst of the darkness of racism.  Fellow brothers and sisters, let us love like this each day. 

Friday, September 19, 2014

Creative Preaching?

I had several thoughts converge when I saw this ad, and none were complimentary. However, I do think this ad captures the essence of what is misdirected, ill advised, bad, and just plain wrong with what is coming out of so many pulpits across our land today. There is indeed a pressure from the masses, a II Timothy 4:3-4 type of pressure, for the pastor to be fresh, creative, original, and entertaining with his messages, or else the crowd is off to the one who will meet their demands; and what is also implied in the II Timothy passage is that there will always be pastors who are eager to give the masses what they want.

This pressure from the masses is in conflict with the charge to the preacher in II Timothy 4:1-2 to preach the word in season and out, rebuking, reproving, correcting, and instructing.  Somehow, you can't entertain and rebuke simultaneously; creativity and correction just don't go together; and instruction in godliness doesn't meet felt needs...especially the modern crowd's need to feel better about their bad self.

There is always a temptation for the pastor to play to the crowd, which involves ignoring what they need in order to give them what they want.  Advertisements like the one above certainly aid in the succumbing of the pastor to that temptation.  You will also notice that they want to help you be creative and fresh, for a price. Brothers, let's call that what it is. That is not ministry, that is merchandising.  

In II Corinthians Paul defends his preaching to the Corinthians against the charge that he was personally unimpressive, unskilled in speaking (not eloquent in the manner of the day), and he had nothing to say that was worth listening to. (It makes me wonder if Paul had the church at Corinth in mind when he penned those verses in II Timothy.)  If you read through both epistles to the Corinthians you will discover that in Paul's preaching to them, he gave them what they really needed to hear, not what they wanted to hear.  He was determined to know nothing among them but Jesus Christ and Him crucified, He brought them the gospel, He laid out Jesus Christ as the foundation of their faith, His message and preaching were not of eloquent persuasion but demonstrated the power of the Spirit, He preached God's wisdom instead of man's, and lived out before them what he preached to them.  He never worried or fretted about being fresh or creative, but in preaching Christ to them he gave them the full counsel of God.

Brother pastors, let us not fall prey to the siren call of the shallow silliness of the day, let us not succumb to the temptation to be fresh and original, let us not be led astray by the enticement of slick advertisements that play on our insecurities; but let us remain faithful to our charge to handle the word rightly, let us preach it faithfully, let us preach it boldly and unapologetically, and let us preach it in the power of the Spirit so that we will have no regrets when our work is tested by fire in that last day, and we will  receive our full reward.

Monday, September 15, 2014

His Goodness and Ours

Psalm 119:39b...Your ordinances are good.
Psalm 119:68 You are good and do good, teach me your statutes.

Why would the Psalmist ask the Lord to teach him His statutes?  So that he may be good and do good just like his heavenly Father (Matthew 5:48), as it is from His statutes that he learns what is truly good.

Father, this day, this week, this month, fulfill our every desire for goodness, and attend our works of faith with Your power so that the name of our Lord Jesus Christ will be glorified in You and You in Him.  Amen. (II Thessalonians 1:11-12)

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Sunday and the Word of God

The Word of God is meant to be a blessing
to the people of God.  So, this Sunday, sing it,
read it, preach it, and pray it.

Monday, September 08, 2014

Forgiveness for the Sake of His Name

Our sins have been forgiven for the sake of His name (I Jn 2:12). We must therefore forgive others for the sake of His name (Mt 5:43-45).

Saturday, September 06, 2014

The Greatest Message

and that repentance for forgiveness of sins would be
proclaimed in His name to all the nations...
Luke 24:47

The most exciting, the most glorious, the most gracious,
the most wonderful message in the world, is that God
forgives sin.  And He has provided forgiveness for sin
 for all who call out to Him, by not counting our sins  
against us (II Corinthians 5:19), but by counting
 them against Christ. 
(II Corinthians 5:21, I Peter 2:24, Isaiah 53:8)

So today, right now, seek Him while He may be
found, call upon Him while He is near, for He
is gracious, ready to forgive, and will 
abundantly pardon.

And for those of us who have been abundantly
pardoned, let us abundantly rejoice!

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Measuring Your Ministry

I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has strengthened me,
because He considered me faithful, putting me into service.
I Timothy 1:12
(italics mine)

As pastors, our desire should be to be faithful, not successful!  Too much, pardon me...way too much... emphasis is put on a pastor being successful.  Pastors grade themselves, and are graded by others, on the success of their ministry, instead of the faithfulness of their ministry.  There are conferences, seminars, magazines (Leadership), blogs, articles, and websites that are devoted to the pastor's success. There are secular standards of measure that are used such as numbers, growth, baptisms, budget, missions involvement, influence, twitter followers, website or blog hits, and the like.  And, yes, the more 'spiritual' will talk about how true success in ministry is measured in spiritual terms, or how you can't measure success because it is spiritual; but the problem is that the emphasis is still on being successful.

I cannot find one scripture in the entire Bible that refers to a pastor being successful.  In fact, the Bible never stresses the success of the pastor, but stresses the faithfulness of the pastor.  For example see I Timothy 1:12 above and listen to I Corinthians 4:1-2 "Let a man regard us in this manner, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God.  In this case moreover, it is required of stewards that they be found (pistos) faithful/trustworthy.  

This is why we never find any Scriptures where the Lord is measuring our success, but we see where He is always measuring our faithfulness, our trustworthiness.  For example:
Luke 16:10 He who is faithful in a very little thing is faithful also in much; and he who is unrighteous in a very little thing will be unrighteous in much. For us as pastors we see this principle in Luke played out in Matthew.

Matthew 24:45-46 "Who then is the faithful and sensible slave whom his master put in charge of his household to give them their food at the proper time?  Blessed is that slave whom his master finds so doing when he comes."  And we see this illustrated vividly for us in a parable of the kingdom, Christ's kingdom, in Matthew 25:14-30. In this parable we see the Master leaving and entrusting his possessions to his slaves, and in verses 21 and 23 we see His commendation upon His return, "His master said to him, "Well done good and faithful slave, You were faithful with a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your Master." Christ has left this earth for a while, and has given us pastors charge over His possessions (His people, see I Peter 2:9, Titus 2:14). His concern, as so wonderfully illustrated in the Scriptures above, is for us to be faithful with what Has given us, and He has not entrusted everyone with the same amount.

You see, when you try to measure success, the only true way to measure is if everyone is given the exact same ministry, the exact same gifting, the exact same set of circumstances, and so on.  But the Lord has not seen fit for it to work in that way.  In addition to the verses listed above in Matthew consider this in Romans 12:3-6 "For through the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think; but to think so as to have sound judgment, as God has allotted to each a measure of faith.  For just as we have many members in one body and all the members do not have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. Since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, each of us is to exercise them accordingly; if prophecy, according to the proportion of his faith." So there is no standard by which we can all be measured, except our faithfulness.  So as we have seen in Matthew (and also in Luke 19) when the Lord measures "success," He measures it by faithfulness.

What we are concerned about in our ministry will be what we emphasize in our ministry. When our concern is our success, then success, in whatever way we measure it, will be the emphasis; and if success in ministry is our goal, then our ministry automatically becomes about us and our goal(s) and not about the Lord and the accomplishment of His purpose(s).  

As indicated above, the Lord is using us (talking to pastors in particular here), to accomplish His purpose(s). We are the tools, the means, the vessels that He has chosen to use, but it is Him that is accomplishing His purpose(s) through us.  When we put the emphasis on our success, it then becomes us achieving our goals with the Lord's "help."  When the emphasis is on our success, the Lord becomes our means in accomplishing our goals instead of us being the means of the accomplishment of His eternal purpose; and, in effect, the Lord becomes our servant and we cease to be His; and thus, the glory is no longer the Lord's but ours. This is very subtle, but it is rampant in the ministry here in the states, as we have corrupted the ministry with the American success syndrome. In considering this, let us look at a few Scriptures that can give us the right perspective on this:

Psalm 127:1 Unless the Lord builds the house, they labor in vain who build it; unless the Lord guards the city, the watchman keep awake in vain.
II Corinthians 3:4-6 Such confidence we have through Christ toward God.  Not that we are adequate in ourselves to consider anything as coming from ourselves, but our adequacy is from God, who also made us adequate as servants of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit...
I Corinthians 12:4...the Spirit gives the gifts
I Corinthians 12:5...the Lord gives the ministries
I Corinthians 12:6...our God causes the effects
II Timothy 2:21 Therefore, if anyone cleanses himself from these things, he will be a vessel for honor; sanctified, useful to the Master, prepared (made fit) for every good work.
II Corinthians 4:7 But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, so that the surpassing greatness of the power will be of God and not from ourselves.

How these verses work together in a gospel ministry is illustrated in these mysteries:
Mark 4:26-28 And He was saying, "The kingdom of God is like a man who casts seed upon the soil; and he goes to bed at night and gets up by day, and the seed sprouts and grows--how, he himself does not know. The soil produces the crops by itself; first the blade, then the head, then the mature grain in the head.
I Corinthians 15:10 By the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me did not prove in vain (because Paul was faithful), but I labored even more than all of them, yet not I but the grace of God with me.

Brother pastors and fellow Christian workers.  Let us no longer be slaves to the secular success syndrome that has crept into the church and try to measure our ministries by artificial and arbitrary standards. Let our concern not be for our success, but for our faithfulness; and therefore let us seek to be faithful in the task, the great and noble task, of expanding the kingdom which was begun in Christ and will be culminated in Christ when He returns and rules.  Let our success be found in our faithfulness to the Lord and to the ministry to which He has called us and has equipped us and gifted us to perform; and let us keep our hands firmly on the plow as we follow His path and pray for His will to be done and not our own.

Friday, August 08, 2014

God's Perpetual Care

There was a popular song a few years back by Third Day, the foundation of which was Psalm 36:5-6.  I wish whoever had written the lyrics had gone ahead written about the rest of that section so that we could see more of the beauty and perpetuity of God's care for us.  The following are the verses 5-9 of Psalm 36, with the heading of each verse giving us an area of God's care that is highlighted in that verse.

In God we have:

35:5 Your lovingkindness, O Lord, extends to the heavens, Your faithfulness reaches to the skies.

36:6a Your righteousness is like the mighty mountains; Your judgments are like a great deep.

36:6b O Lord, You preserve man and beast.

36:7 How precious is Your lovingkindness, O God! And the children of men take refuge in the shadow of Your wings.

Spiritual Satisfaction
36:8 They drink their fill of the abundance of Your house; and You give them to drink of the river of Your delights.

Spiritual Sustenance 
36:9a For with You is the fountain of life;

Spiritual Sight
36:9a In Your light we see light.

And Father, we pause now, and give You thanks for Your wonderful and marvelous provision.  We thank you that You are able to do abundantly more than we ask or think, and that You do just that in the lives of Your children.  Thank you for our daily bread, the cleansing from sin, and the availability of Your ear.  Bless Your name now and forever.  Amen.

Thursday, August 07, 2014

Persuasive Preaching or Powerful Preaching?

The word persuade is defined as causing someone to do or believe something. There are many who believe that preaching must be persuasive, and to a degree it must be. However, there is a fine line between persuasion and manipulation.  There is much preaching that goes on that is nothing but rank manipulation, and I am not talking about only the religious hucksters, the religious profiteers, and the televangelists, for they are the most obvious ones; but I am also referring here to the regular pastor/preacher types.

There is tendency, indeed a temptation, that for a sermon to be successful it must elicit some type of visceral response, cause some type of emotional reaction, or cause the congregants to tell the pastor how good the sermon was or how moved they were.  There is also the temptation to "move" the congregation to get behind a particular issue or event or project that is important to the pastor.

Honestly, the need to have these kind of responses reveal a great deal about the pastor...his ego and his insecurity.  To be frank, all of us who preach want to know if our sermons are hitting the mark, if they are effective, if they are doing anyone any good; but a preoccupation with the effect of the sermon or the response to the sermon, can cause the pastor to incorporate manipulation into his sermon (its production and presentation) so as to get the response he desires.  There is also the desire to come alongside certain issues or projects that particularly appeal to us that fits in here as well.

So, should sermons be persuasive?  Of course, they should!  But they should be spiritually persuasive because they are spiritually powerful.  A spiritually powerful sermon is always persuasive, but in order to be spiritually powerful, they must be based on Scripture, kept in context, accurately handled, and, might I add, soaked in Scripture.

The Lord tells us in Jeremiah 1:12 that He stands over His word to perform it. In Isaiah 55:11 the Lord states that His word will not return to Him empty without accomplishing His desire for it.  In I Thessalonians 2:13 He tells us that His word performs its work in those who believe.  In I Peter 2:2 we learn that it is His word that causes us to grow in respect to our salvation. Notice that it is His word He stands over, not the preacher's; it is His word that does not return empty, not the preacher's; it is His word that performs its work in the heart of the believer, not the preacher's; and it is His word that causes spiritual growth, not the preacher's. So for us to be spiritually persuasive, and, therefore spiritually effective, we must use more of His word and less of our own.  It is only sermons that are spiritually persuasive that have a lasting effect.

As preachers we preach to the heart through the mind in order to bend the will.  The will once bent will remain that way, but the bending of the will comes incrementally, much like watching a blacksmith forge an iron tool as he gradually conforms it to the shape he desires.  True change that is the result of true persuasion, is change that is permanent in nature.  Only the word of God attended by the Spirit of God can effect such a lasting change.

So if you want your sermons to be truly persuasive, then base them on the word of God, having accurately handled it to get its message (not your own) out of the text. And, be patient, trusting the Lord and His word to do what only they can do.

Tuesday, August 05, 2014

Trials-Faith Tested, Faith Proven

When I was young boy, one of my favorite books was The Red Badge of Courage.  This was a novel set in the Civil War about a teenager who went to war as a drummer.  He often wondered if he had real courage, courage enough not to run in the thick of the battle.  Sure enough he would find out.  In the heat of a fierce battle he sustained a head wound.  His head was bandaged, and the bandage was soon soaked with his blood. Wounded and hurting, he grabbed the flag from a fallen comrade and led the charge.  The red bloody bandage became the red badge of his courage for all to see.  A great story, one that still gives me a thrill to think about.

Faith untested is faith unproven.  So have you ever wondered about the proof of your faith?  Have you ever wondered what you would have to show the Lord to prove the reality of your faith when you stand before Him on that final day?  You can't hold faith, you can't touch and feel faith, you can't see faith itself, faith is not a physically tangible object.  So how do you know it is real?  Well, God in His goodness to us has provided us for a way to know our faith is real, to stand before him with something tangible in our hand, to have that definitive proof of the reality of our faith.  We see this in I Peter 1:6-7, "In this you greatly rejoice, even though for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials, so that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ." 

Think about it!  Your enduring trials, your being faithful to God when under duress, your being wounded in some way as you remain godly in your circumstances, your paying a price because of your love for the Savior become the red badge of your faith. Just as the young boy in the story could look at that bloody bandage and rejoice because his courage had been proven, so we too can look at the trials that have proved our faith and rejoice in the knowledge that our faith has stood the test, and that we will stand before the Lord when He comes with tangible evidence of our faith in Him and love for Him.  Yes, we will quote the Psalm that God is good and does good, but have you ever considered the goodness of the Lord in using trials to give us not only the confidence that our faith is real and has substance to it; but also that He is good by giving us trials to hold in our hand, that prove our faith, on that great day when we appear before Him?

In Genesis 22:12 God has this to say to Abraham after He stopped Abraham from plunging the knife into the breast of the son, who was not only the son of promise, but the son in whom all the promises of God were to be fulfilled, "...for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from Me."  Yes, Peter was correct, the proof of our faith is truly more precious than gold.  Gold perishes, but the proof of our faith does not, and we will always wear its red badge, not only before men, but more importantly, before God.

Lord, we want to close in thanking You for using trials in this way.  Thank You for the proof of our faith that trials give us, and for the confidence that our faith is real that trials give us.  May each one who is reading this post have that red badge of faith, so we will not shrink back from You at Your coming. Amen.


Saturday, August 02, 2014

Preparing Ourselves for Sunday

As we prepare for Sunday, let us remember
that what we do is important, not because we
are doing it, or because it is our ministry.
It is not important because of the size, or
lack thereof, but it is important because
 it is His work He has called us to do.
Keeping that in mind is part of 
preparing ourselves for Sunday.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

The Peace of Christ and Us

Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you;
not as the world gives do I give to you.  Do not
let your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful.
John 14:27

However, this peace, the peace of Christ, is not a peace at the expense of righteousness, or peace at the expense of the truth. It does not compromise righteousness or truth, but instead it is a peace at the expense of the self, at the expense of personal "rights", at the expense of personal desires, at the expense of personal comfort. It is a peace at the expense of personal ambitions, personal glory, at the expense of personal achievements, or personal recognition. It is peace because we have given up ourselves, and is part of taking up our cross daily and following after (living in like manner) Him, who gave Himself up for us.

Blessed are the peacemakers, for
 they shall be called sons of God.
Matthew 5:9

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

God's Lovingkindness in Psalm 119

This is a repost, and, really, a timely reminder for us all.

Lovingkindness, hesed in the Hebrew, is one of my favorite words in the Scriptures.  It is part of the Lord's self-revelatory declaration in Exodus 34:6, where not only does the Lord declare that He possesses it, but that He abounds in it.  It is a vastly rich and nuanced word, and has a depth of meaning and a breadth of application as you can see through its use in the OT.  Read through its definition in a good Hebrew Lexicon and you will see what I mean.  

What makes it this way, though, is pretty simple when we boil it down to its essence.  Lovingkindness is God's love in action.  It is His love exhibited in and through His actions towards His own.  It is His strength, mercy, compassion, grace, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, steadfastness, commitment, gentleness, benevolence, truthfulness, and favor towards His children, those with whom He is in covenant.  We see it expressed in the command in I John 3:18, "Little children, let us not love with word or with tongue, but in deed and in truth."  God loves in deed and in truth...His love in action...and we are to love as He loves; in other words, we are to express His love through our actions.  We also see an example of this in Ephesians 2:4-5"But God, being rich in mercy because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ." His love for us moved Him to be merciful to us and make us alive in Christ, despite our sinfulness.  So we see His lovingkindness toward us in His saving us.  His love was put into action to bring about our salvation, and His love was expressed through His mercy toward us.

The Psalms, especially Psalm 136 are replete with the use of lovingkindness.  It is also used seven times in Psalm 119, and I want us to go through those and see how it relates to the Word of God.

Psalm 119:41...God's lovingkindnesses (notice the plural) come to us in salvation, and that salvation according to His Word.

Psalm 119:64...The earth is full, overflowing with the lovingkindness of God.  God has built His lovingkindness into the earth and all it contains, and all that is available to man in and through His creation.  The knowledge of the Word helps us understand and appreciate all He has provided for us in this world.  Reminds me of I Timothy 6:17...God supplies us with all things richly to enjoy, and He does this through His creation, and it is part of His lovingkindness toward us.

Psalm 119:76...The comfort that His Word brings to us, in any and all circumstances, is part of His lovingkindness to us.  God wants us to be comforted and has provided that through His Word of truth.

Psalm 119:88...God's lovingkindness renews, refreshes, and revitalizes us so that we will be strengthened to keep His word.

Psalm 119:124...Not only does God deal with us according to His Word (Psalm 119:65), but dealing with us according to His Word is also dealing with us according to His lovingkindness; and in His dealings with us, He teaches us His Word.  His teaching us His Word, the taking of the Word and making it part of the fabric of our life, is His love in action towards us.  Psalm 51:6 tells us that God desires truth in our innermost being and as part of His lovingkindness towards us He takes His truth and makes it a part of us.  Wow!  What a blessing!  What a God!

Psalm 119:149...His hearing our voice is due to His lovingkindness towards us.  In another Psalm it tells  us that He inclines His ear to hear our prayer.  God's response to our prayer is in accord with His lovingkindness, and in accordance with His Word through which we are refreshed, renewed, and revitalized.

Psalm 119:159...Here the Psalmist is saying, "Lord, in the exercise of Your love for me, take into account my love for Your Word, and deal with me accordingly."  What great faith and confidence the Psalmist has in the lovingkindness of God toward him, a confidence founded and grounded in the Word of God.  This is a man who knows and trusts his God because He knows and believes God's Word.  A great example for us.

In Psalm 34:8 we are exhorted to taste and see that the Lord is good.  In Psalm 119:68 we see that the Lord is good and does good.  His goodness is expressed toward us in His acts of lovingkindness, in other words, His lovingkindness is good, and He does not withhold it from us, but lavishes it upon us.  This begins with our salvation, and will be continued in the ages to come as He shows the surpassing (which means it is more than we can comprehend) riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 2:7).  

Father, You indeed abound in lovingkindness, and Your lovingkindnesses are as infinite and grand as You are.  So help us to know and understand Your lovingkindnesses toward us.  Cause us to see them.  Help us to not take them for granted; and may we be grateful now and for all eternity for Your active love for us.