Archive for March, 2009

Godly Grief and “Good Grief!”

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , on March 30, 2009 by gospel2live

Turn to me and be saved, all the ends of the earth!  For I am God, and there is no other.  By myself I have sworn; from my mouth has gone out in righteousness a word that shall not return: “To me every knee shall bow, every tongue shall swear allegiance.”  Isaiah 45:22-23

Sunday morning was quite the study in contrasts.  After the second service at Chisholm Baptist, a man sitting next to me approached me to ask me a couple of questions and to schedule an appointment to talk.  He was visibly distraught.  Turns out, he was being crushed under the weight of conviction of sin.  He is a brand new Christian, and he was dealing with a re-lapse into a pattern of sin that had enslaved him prior to his conversion.  He needed to know whether it is possible to be forgiven or if he could even still be right with God.  

It was a powerful moment.  There are few pleasures greater on this earth than these types of “impact moments.”  I had the privelege of helping him to distinguish between our justification, done once for all by the death of Jesus Christ, and our sanctification, the ongoing process of cooperating with the Holy Spirit to become more like Jesus.  We talked about how we need to continue to examine our hearts and to repent when we sin.  I reassured him that we can only come to the Father by being clothed in the righteousness of Jesus.  His grief over his sin was, in fact, a good thing and that as we reflect on the Gospel, we should be first crushed by the weight of our sin, but find the joy of our salvation waiting to spring to life as we preach the Gospel to ourselves over and over again.  We were able to pray together before heading out of the sanctuary.

As I left, my wife asked me to help her adjust the car seat for one of our kids.  Before I could get down the hallway and out the door, I experienced the ultimate buzz kill.  

Another man was dealing with an issue of grief, and he caught me in the hallway to share it.  It turns out that our church janitor had taken a bunch of old softball trophies from a dust collecting nook in the upstairs hallway, and placed them on a table to be claimed or tossed.  I was informed that a vital piece of our church heritage was going to be thrown out with the trash.  How would our children know about all the good times these men in the past had experienced together on the softball fields?  These, he said, are trophies of our church and they just can’t be gotten rid of!  I tried to explain that the only trophy our church needs to hold on to is the cross of Jesus.  The softball trohphies are not necessary to remember times of fellowship, and only serve to remind us that we beat everyone else that particular year.  The more I tried to point his eyes away from the trophies towards Jesus, the more frustrated he became.  Sadly, our conversation ended only because he realized he’d get no support from me to end this “tragedy.”

The contrasts between these two interactions is astounding.  From one man, there is a deep humility and sense of being crushed under the weight of sin, and from the other an indignation from having his pride confronted.  The first man had come to worship the living God, and had been crushed by the fear of the Lord in light of God’s holiness and his own sinfulness.  The second man wanted to be able to worship the glory days of his past, and had been crushed by fear that men would not remember his exploits.  The first man went home blessed, having encountered the grace and forgiveness of the Lord Jesus, being restored to His presence, and having hope that springs forth from the understanding of the death and resurrection of Jesus.  The second man went home angry and frustrated.

Which man am I going to be?  Will I submit to the Lord Jesus Christ, be humbled, and find life and peace?  Or will I stubbornly cling to my idols, and be angry when my agenda is thwarted?  Truthfully, if I am not extremely careful,  I can roll my eyes at the guy upset by a handful of dusty old trophies, but fail to see that my own heart is just as prone to idolatry.  May God grant us his grace to fear Him rightly and worship Him only!

Meth and the Gospel

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on March 28, 2009 by gospel2live

I recently spent an evening helping to get a young man, crashing hard off of meth, to go in to the hospital and sitting with members of his family while he was checked out and eventually admitted.  Because of my days in the public defender’s office, I am familiar with the stages of meth use and have dealt with people under the influence before.  However, this was the first time I was dealing directly with a meth situation in a pastoral role.  

As I have thought about the events of the evening, there are some observations about the Gospel at work that I would like to put out for your consideration….

First, the Gospel is at work in the addict.  I first met this guy in the jail.  His mom asked if I would go see him, so I did.  In the past two years, our contact alternates between chuch and the jail.  He will come to Bible study or services, when he is sober — usually after release, but eventually returns to his old friends, old ways, and old addictions.  He has had been taught about Jesus, and embraces his need for a savior, but he is still a slave to his flesh.  Although he just turned 21, in reality he is still a little boy who is looking to the women in his life to make sure that all the blame and consequences for his actions do not land on his shoulders.  Despite the rage and beligerence of his state, over the course of the evening something checked his rage long enough for him to submit and comply with what he needed to do.  My conclusion is that the war for his soul is very fierce right now.  He is at a crucial juncture where he will yield to the Lord Jesus Christ, or his old masters of drugs and violence will destroy him.  Please pray for his deliverance.

Second, the Gospel is at work in this guy’s family.  Over the course of the evening, our service of the Lord in assisting in the care of this young man was a witness of the love of Christ to his mother, his girlfriend, and his extended family.  God provided the opportunity to present the Gospel to his girlfriend, to exhort her to forgive the church people who have hurt her deeply in the past, and to try to convince her to come back to where the Lord Jesus is her first priority.  I pray that our involvement will provide a good witness to his siblings who have not embraced Jesus, and help his mother to grow in grace and to move towards a deeper maturity through the difficult situations shaping her at this time.

The Gospel is also at work in the hospital staff.  The nurse who served this young man was phenomenal.  She was fearless, despite being less than half the size of this guy.  Without her skillful control of the patient, he would have almost certainly ended up in the jail, rather than the hospital.  Eventually a control team and law enforcement had to assist, and yet the Lord allowed the situation to resolve peacefully as he finally yielded to the waiting wheel chair.  Several times I was asked “you’re his pastor?”  Granted, I am not necessarily a typical pastor, and certainly some of the incredulity could be negative — as in what kind of pastor would lead a guy to become a meth addict — but I hope that the result might be that their stereotypes about churches as stuffy places that have no impact in the real world might be changed.  

Fourth, the Gospel is at work in the man from my Bible study who I recruited to help.  He is a law enforcement veteran who buried his son a little over a year ago — due to a drug problem.  In addition to his training, experience, and connections as a police officer, he provided an empathetic support for the family as they waited at the hospital.  His growth over the past couple of years has been significant, as he has studied the Bible and persevered through some incredibly difficult circumstances.  These circumstances provided a unique opportunity to sharpen one another as we seek to not merely learn about the Gospel, but to carry it over into our real life situations.  I am optimistic that as his faith continues to grow, that he will be a highly strategic worker in bringing the Gospel to the community in ways that a vocational pastor cannot.  

Finally, the Gospel is at work in me.  I am so grateful that God would open my eyes to see the glory of the Gospel in the face of Jesus Christ.  I am so glad that he is at work in my life to convict me of my sin and to move me towards repentence and sanctification.  This experience reminds me of my own frailty and how, apart from God’s grace in my life, I could easily be in the shoes of the addict on this night.  It brings conviction of my own lack of self control and discipline.  I think of my “acceptable’ addictions — food in particular.  I am reminded that I also have a tendency, even if only in my heart, to make excuses and blame shift.  My heart is a factory of excuses that will continually convince me of my own self-righteousness — if I let it.  And so I come away from the experience humbled by my sin in the light of God’s absolute holiness.  I, too, must repent again and turn to Jesus for his healing and forgiveness.  In the process, I find the joy of his salvation and the peace that comes from knowing I don’t NEED to be self-righteous, because I am clothed in the far superior righteousness of Jesus, through faith in his sacrificial death for me.

Meth is an insidious evil.  For this season, God is allowing evil to continue so that those He is calling out of their sin and depravity may not receive the judgment due to them, but that they might be reconciled to God through faith in Jesus.  A day is coming when He will tolerate evil no more.  We do not know how long he will wait until that day, but it is coming and we all must be ready.  We MUST decide whether we will continue in our sin and self-justification, or turn to Jesus, submit to his rule in our lives, and accept that he alone can rescue us from our rebellion against God.  So meth points us back to the existence of the cosmic struggle against God’s good and loving rule of the universe and ultimately should remind us that we ALL need to be reconciled to God through Jesus Christ.

Breaking the cup of “Psychological Needs”

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , on March 18, 2009 by gospel2live

Have you bought into the idea that people, or even God, “owes” you something?  Do you have “needs” that others ought to be filling, and it makes you angry or depressed when people fail to meet them?  After pointing out the biblical weakness of the theology behind much of American Christianity’s psychological needs theory, Ed Welch gives us the following quote:

This explains why Christ is sometimes not enough for us.  If I stand before him as a cup waiting to be filled with psychological satisfaction, I will never feel quite full.  Why?  First, because my lusts are boundless; by their very nature, they can’t be filled.  Second, because Jesus does not intend to satisfy my selfish desires.  Instead, he intends to break the cup of psychological need (lusts), not fill it.  (Ed Welch, When People Are Big and God Is Small, pp149.)

This leads to further questions.  Do I need love and respect from my spouse, or do I desire it?  Do I need affirmation for my work, or do I want it?  Do I need people to boost my self-esteem, or is it a lust of my sinful, prideful heart?

While we might, as Christians, challenge our classification of certain material possessions as needs, I suspect that it is much less common that we buck the cultural trends and do the same with our perceived psychological needs.  Welch explains that the problem is not that we delight in receiving these things, but in the amount and purpose for which we desire them.  “To elevate our desire for love, impact, and other pleasures to the point where they become needs or longings is to sinfully exalt desire so that it becomes a delirium of desire.  It is to yell out, ‘I want!’ ‘I must have!’ ‘My desires are the basic building blocks of my world!’” (pp 149)

Jesus’ purpose has never been to satisfy us by giving us everything that we think that we want, but rather to transform our hearts so that he alone is satisfying to us.  When we ponder his agony on our behalf, it cheapens his sacrifice to think that it was only so that we can have a healthy sense of self-esteem.  Rather, we should be humbled by the enormity of our sin and his sacrifice.  This should lead us to marvel at his ill-deserved kindness to rebels who deserved death, not love.  Our struggles with disappointment, rejection, depression and the like should simply fade away as we lay them next to the foot of the cross.  What suffering do we have to compare to the enormity of what HE suffered for us?

How terribly I fail to keep this perspective in my own life!  How quickly I become angry or depressed by the “perceived injustices” that are carried out against me!  I need to heed the admonition of Hebrews 12:3 — “Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted.”

So what is our response?  Welch writes, “The main reason why there is an epidemic of emptiness is that we have created and multiplied our needs, not God….  We forget that we must repent of our self-centered desires.  Without repentence, our desires remain the focal point instead of God’s glory.” (pp 151)

I encourage you to let Jesus have your cup of unmet needs.  Repent of having allowed them to become too big.  Then, find the joy and satisfaction that comes as he breaks the cup of your sinful desires and fills you with the joy that is ONLY found in focussing on HIS glory!

Adoption

Posted in Uncategorized on March 7, 2009 by gospel2live

We are pleased to announce the placement of two little boys in our home for adoption.  They are 2 1/2 and 11 months.  This is quite a change for our family.  Before we got the call, our parenting focus was largely on helping our oldest get ready to leave for college this fall.  Now, we are changing diapers again!

I have been trying to figure out what to write about this for at least a week, but I a) have not had time to really sort through my thoughts, and b) am thinking about so many different aspects of this that I think I will need to do several posts over time.

For now, let it suffice to say that if God can sacrifice his only Son in order to satisfy his just wrath against us and adopt us into His family, whatever sacrifices that we need to make in terms of our time, material possessions, or leasure activities are quite inconsequential in comparison.  In turn, we pray that God would regenerate the hearts of these young men at an early age and use them to be mighty men of valor as they seek the honor and glory of Jesus.