Archive for authenticity

Are You Goverened Increasingly By God’s Word?

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , on May 4, 2009 by gospel2live

This is question two from Don Whitney’s book, Ten Questions to Diagnose Your Spiritual Health.  For an index to the posts in this series, click here! 

The value of the Bible cannot be overstated.  Scripture refers to itself as water, food, light, a fire and tool, a weapon, and a seed.  The Word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.”  Hebrews 4:12

If this is true, why do so many professing Christians stagger through life without having the Bible make any clear difference in their day to day lives?  If you find yourself not having a love for the Bible, your spiritual health is likely to be very weak, if not dead.  One of the marks of a growing believer in Jesus, is a growing love for the Bible and an increasing role in how it shapes our day to day decisions and activities.

Whitney points to the example of Jesus, who routinely uses scripture to teach, to respond to temptation, and to settle disputes.  Although Jesus was fully God, it should be noted that the scripture he quoted throughout his ministry had been memorized as a man.  Jesus placed a tremendous value on the scriptures.

So, what does it mean to be increasingly goverened by God’s Word?  Whitney says, “Speaking in a practical way, you know that God’s Word is growing in its influence over you when you can point to increasing numbers of beliefs and actions that have been changed because of the potency of specific texts of scripture…. You remember various turning points where you stopped or started some action or habit as a result of a new understanding of biblical truth.”

Whitney gives several specific examples of how his life has been shaped and changed by the study of scripture.  The examples have a common theme of moving from practices that are simply assumed, to an intentionality in practice that arises from the exhortations of scripture.  Instead of having an attitude of accepting a practice on the basis of no scripture preventing it, he has moved towards a positive shaping of his actions by what scripture teaches.  This moves us out of an apathetic acceptance towards a proactive molding and shaping of our actions by scripture.

Whitney recomends the following practices to develop our dependence on God’s Word:

First, we need to deepen our DESIRE for God’s Word.  We do this through sitting under good preaching in our church, and through other available means.  He again calls on us to pray through scripture and to spend time to meditate on it, not merely read it.

Second, he recommends that me make time for God’s Word.  We diligently and faithfully take time to eat our physical food.  We need to exercise the same diligence in taking time to eat our spiritual food.

Third, read the Bible daily and do not close it until you know at least one thing GOd would have you do in response to your reading.  This gets us out of the trap of reading intellectually and moves us into application.  Don’t be only a hearer of the Word, but a doer of the Word!

Fourth, he urges us to list at least five areas we have not considered from a biblical perspective and to consider one each day for the next five days.  Whitney gives a long list of possible topics to prime the pump, so that you can practice exploring topics from a biblical perspective.

Finally, he urges us to train ourselves to ask “How does the Bible speak to this?”  Learning to ask this question about more and more areas of our lives reflects an increasing desire to bring glory to God and to submit to his will for us.  It will enable us to reflect not just an intellectual faith, but a faith the comes from authentic desire and affections for out great God and savior, Jesus Christ!

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The Flu, the Hospital, and the Hard Days of Parenting

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , on April 27, 2009 by gospel2live

This morning, our youngest was released from the hospital after spending a day being re-hydrated.  Last week was spent being sick and caring for the sick around our house.  We had to take turns in both departments — at least between mom, dad, and the older kids.  Our 1 and nearly 3 year old have been hit especially hard by this flu, as they have had fevers, aches, and all sorts of tummy troubles. 

Late Saturday evening, I took Harper in because he had stopped eating and drinking and had not had a wet diaper all day.  After triage, they sent me out to finish registering while they prepared the room in the ER.  On cue, Harper vomited all over me, soaking my coat and the shirt underneath.  Then, while wearing the shirt dry, I held him down while the nurses tried to get an IV line into his tiny little dehydrated veins.  It took them two tries.

Life back home wasn’t a whole lot easier — in fact, I probably had the easier assignment.  Kim didn’t have nurses to help change soiled bedding and diapers.  Her favorite chair starred as a stunt double for my shirt and took the vomit duty.

When we agreed to adopt again, we knew there would be days (and weeks!) like this.  It’s one of the things that made us think twice about starting all over again with little ones.  However, even though we just came home today, there are already evidences of God’s grace visible through the difficulties.

First, what can I say about Jim?  My dear friend picked up clothes and supplies from Kim at home, brought them to the hospital, returned to my house bearing the carseat for Hudson, and snuck back into our hospital room with a treat and some cash for supper!  I know how he hates the thought of picking up illness from us “carriers,” which only helps me to appreciate the kindness of God in enabling Jim to show us such mercy.

Kim put together clothes for me, and threw in my absolute, most comfortable, long sleeve, camo hunting T-shirt.  (Then again, maybe she was secretly hoping it would get puked on!)  She came out in wet, windy and nearly freezing weather to hang with us in the hospital for awhile Sunday afternoon, and allowed me a chance to get some fresh air and a bite to eat.

The church in Side Lake was extremely gracious to me.  Even as I called early Sunday morning to let them know I couldn’t get out there to preach, their first concern was to pray for me, assure me of their love, and encourage me.  I count it a great privilege to be able to bring them the Word of God on a (nearly!) weekly basis.

God gave opportunities for great conversations with nurses and other staff at the hospital.  Even as we were preparing to leave, two nursing students who were doing an assignment by trying to practice getting vital signs off Harper began to kill time by asking questions about parenting, marriage and faith.  As a result, I had the chance to explain that ALL of us are under God’s wrath, unless we turn to Jesus as our substitute.  Therefore, it is important for us as pastors to let people know that we are NOT good enough for heaven, but saved only because God loved us enough to save us.

Truthfully, I would not choose to have my child get sick, just to get an opportunity to share the Gospel.  However, since God had placed us in that position, I had to decide how I was going to respond.  Getting upset, complaining about my lot, being impatient, or any number of other responses would come quite naturally to me.  However, by God’s grace, I hope that the nurses, doctors, interns, janitors, and others got a glimpse of a peace that passes understanding.  Hopefully, they saw a horizontal love towards my adopted child that in some small way images the vertical love my Heavenly Father has shown me.

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.

Penn Jillette on Evangelism

Posted in evangelism with tags , , , , , , , , on February 19, 2009 by gospel2live

…I’ve always said, you know, that I don’t respect people who don’t proselytize. I don’t respect that at all. If you believe that there’s a heaven and a hell, and people could be going to hell, or not getting eternal life or whatever, and you think that, well, it’s not really worth telling them this because it would make it socially awkward … how much do you have to hate somebody to not proselytize? How much do you have to hate somebody to believe that everlasting life is possible and not tell them that? I mean, if I believed beyond a shadow of a doubt that a truck was coming at you, and you didn’t believe it, and that truck was bearing down on you, there is a certain point where I tackle you. And this is more important than that …

I found this quote particularly fascinating.  It gives a completely different perspective to that which we would expect to hear from an atheist, but it is a wonderfully logical way of thinking.  So many unbelievers just want the Christian to shut up and leave them alone.  Too many Christians do exactly that.  As a result, we see little, if any, evangelistic efforts in our day.  

But what if we REALLY believed the Gospel?  Isn’t it our Biblical belief that judgment day is coming towards our unbelieving world like a run-away truck?  Do we really believe that those who do not come to Jesus by faith are objects of wrath who will spend eternity in conscious torment in the fires of hell?  Do we really believe that forgiveness and adoption as sons are made possible through the sacrificial death of Jesus on the cross?  Do we really believe that Jesus rose from the dead and that we now have the blessed hope of eternity in the presence of God?

If we really believe these things, why aren’t we willing to “tackle” unbelievers?  Penn would.  

I understand that not every unbeliever shares Penn’s respect for the evangelist.  However, the power of the evangelist rests not in his eloquence, his methods, or even his persistence.  The power of the evangelist rests in the power of the Holy Spirit and in the message of the Gospel.  We do not need to make ourselves obnoxious, or argue people into the kingdom.  However, we need to be consistently and continually proclaiming the good news that Jesus lived the life we should have lived, died the death we deserved to die – as our substitute to satisfy God’s righteous anger – and rose again to bring us the hope of eternal life.

 How can we remain silent with such great news?

Forfeiting Evangelism

Posted in Christian relationships with tags , , , , , , on February 7, 2009 by gospel2live

The following is a quote from Mark Dever’s message on Evangelism and the Church for the 2009 Desiring God Conference for Pastors:

We want to lead our congregations to evangelize congregationally.  What I’m saying is, the corporate witness of our churches, will make our evangelism either easier or harder — depending on whether that witness is a help, or a hindrance.  If your church, is all about making sure everybody who was ever a member is still a member, keeping this group together at all costs, then you are forfeiting your witness to the Gospel in the community.  If your church is all about glorifying Christ, seeing his Spirit work and mold and break and convict and edify and change us, as individuals and as a community, friends, then Satan’s knees are shaking!  That’s exactly what God built the church to do.

This particular comment struck me hard.  It seems that many of our churches fall prey to this temptation to keep peace at any and all costs.  We handle sin with kid gloves and maintain facades as we interact with others from the church.  Often, this may lead to double lives.  We put on our happy face and act real holy at church, but our lives away from church reflect all the values of the world and are barren and dry spiritually.

While I have seen this condition in churches before, I am not sure I had thought about it as a forfeit of our Gospel witness.  However, it makes perfect sense.  Unity at all costs will inevitably lead to hypocrisy and hypocrisy is the bane of evangelism.  Our unbelieving friends and family see through the happy-face charades that we play, and it sickens them — as it should sicken us!  When we pretend to be holy on Sunday, but our lives are not transparent, authentic, and transformed daily, we fail to show the power of the Gospel and make evangelism difficult, if not impossible.

On the other hand, if we are willing to live humbly, confessing our own sin, earnestly pursuing the glory of Jesus Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit, then our lives will be a fragrant aroma to those whom God is calling to salvation.  While self-righteous, religious pride is toxic to evangelism, authentic and honest relationships that are causing us to sharpen one another and grow in our conformity to Jesus will be strangely attractive to unbelievers.  As a result, our attempts to proclaim the Gospel will have a much more powerful effect.

However, authentic and honest relationships will ultimately lead to a certain amount of conflict.  As a result, people who LIKE their religious pride and sense of superiority will not react well to even the most loving confrontation  over their sin.  As a result, people who are not serious about having their own sin dealt with will often be driven away — much like the rich young ruler.  When Jesus forced him to choose between becoming a disciple and his material possessions, we found out that he really worshipped his stuff, not Jesus.

In response, ask yourself the following questions:

Do you really know and believe the Gospel?  

Is the Gospel something you know in your head, but do not rejoice over in your heart?

Does your church value the glory of Christ and his cross more than it values peace among the membership?  

I would challenge you to think this through prayerfully, asking the Spirit to reveal His truth to you, and to discern whether your practice is consistent with your theology.  If there is a gap in your practice, either individually or corporately, repent and turn to Jesus.  Cultivate an environment where the glory of Christ is more important than your own comfort, and you may find that your church will begin to be competitive for lost souls, instead of forfeiting them to the enemy.

"Anti" Christians

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , on December 18, 2008 by gospel2live
For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that we was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures…” 1 Corinthians 15:3-4
Facebook is an interesting phenomenon.  This free social networking site allows people to create their own web page on the internet and is a useful tool for keeping in touch with friends and family.  One of the noteworthy features of facebook is your status line.  Status lines are simply a headline that is easily changeable and is often used to let people know what you are thinking, feeling, or doing at any particular moment.  A recent facebook status by a friend of mine announced that he “is anti-gay.”  This caused me to pause and think about how we define ourselves.
The truth is that evangelicals are often identified by what we are against.  We may be anti-gay, anti-abortion, anti-slavery, anti-liberal, and even anti-catholic or anti-Islam.  Sometimes, some of us may be anti-alcohol, anti-tobacco, anti-dancing, anti-movies, or (like my paternal grandparents) anti-playing cards.  In extreme cases, some would go so far as to say they are anti-drums, anti-guitars, and anti-syncopated beat.  
Some of these things that we are against arise from right, Biblical convictions, while others tend to be more personal preferences that have taken on a traditional appearance of greater holiness.  Clearly, in today’s day and age, one would be hard pressed to find anyone who would advocate for slavery.  At the other end of the spectrum, it is becoming increasingly hard to find those who hold to the idea that playing crazy 8s or hearts will banish someone to hell!  
Regardless of which end of the spectrum that these issues may be on, there is a great danger that occurs when we define ourselves by them.  Certainly some of these issues require us to take action, such as slavery or abortion.  Yet, why do we take action?  What is the purpose and attitudes that are behind our activism?  Are we proceeding out of a self-righteous pride that motivates us to condemn those involved in a particular activity?  Or are we lovingly advancing the Gospel as we interact with the homosexual, the unwed mother considering abortion, or the person who likes rock music?
D. A. Carson, in his book The Cross and Christian Ministry,  recounts an assessment from a Mennonite leader as follows:
“One generation of Mennonites cherished the Gospel and believed that the entailment of the Gospel lay in certain social and political commitments.  The next generation assumed the Gospel and emphasized the social and political commitments.  The present generation identifies itself with the social and political commitments, while the Gospel is variously confessed or disowned; it no longer lies at the heart of the belief system of some who call themselves Mennonites.” (p 63)
As we look to 2009, will you resolve to make the Gospel more central to your identity?  Will you humbly start each day by thanking Jesus for dying as your substitute, to satisfy the wrath of God against your sin?  Will you ask him to send the Holy Spirit to open your eyes to the glory of the Gospel and lead you, day by day, to lovingly and faithfully proclaim that Gospel to the people you encounter?  Will you define yourself by being for the Gospel, rather than against something else?  May God bless you in this coming year and draw you ever more deeply into the beauty and glory of the cross of Jesus Christ!