Archive for Christianity

Eschatology and Evangelism

Posted in evangelism with tags , , , , on December 5, 2009 by gospel2live

Is a particular view of eschatology (the study of end times prophecy) essential in order to be urgent about evangelism?

One of the arguments put forward by those who hold to a pretribulation rapture is that their view properly leads to an enthusiasm for evangelism.  The argument is basically that since Jesus could come at any minute to bring believers to heaven prior to a time of tremendous suffering where God’s wrath is poured out on those left behind, we should be motivated to share the Gospel with as many people as possible to help save them from the time of trouble ahead.

While I will leave the merits of particular eschatological views to others to debate, I do not find eschatology to be a compelling force for evangelism.  In fact, the pretribulation view might actually lessen our urgency for evangelism, since many sincere believers think that the rapture of the church will be the very sign that causes their friends and family to realize the claims about Jesus are true and to turn to Him for salvation.

Regardless of your views regarding the end times, there IS a far more compelling motivation for us to be talking about Jesus to the ones we love.  This morning, a 39 year old woman left her home and headed out in a pickup on Hwy 53 — a four lane divided highway that is about as safe as a highway can be.  I don’t even know this woman’s name, but I am reasonably certain that she did not expect to die today.   However, she lost control of the pickup on an icy bridge deck and was pronounced dead at the scene of the one vehicle crash.  For this woman, today was her day to stand before Jesus.

While there are a million ways in which our lives could be cut short, our best motivation to be talking about the Gospel is because it is, in fact, really great news!  While love and concern for people is a legitimate motivation for evangelism, the best one is our love for Jesus.  When we are truly in love, whether it is a new romance or the birth of a child, NOBODY can get us to cease talking about it!  So ultimately, our way to increase the motivation to do the work of evangelism is to cultivate a deeper love for Christ.

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Individual Discipleship Plans

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , on October 21, 2009 by gospel2live

Now there are a variety of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone.  To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. 1 Cor. 12:4-7

Becoming a Christian is a one-time event.  At some point in time, you must be born again.  When you were physically born, the doctor, a nurse, or your parents noted the date and time.  For those who are born again spiritually, there is also a point in time where God takes note that He has saved you – he has given you the faith to believe that Jesus died for your sins and He declares you righteous based on that faith.

However, the rest of the Christian life is clearly a process, not a one-time event.  Just like physical birth leads to various stages of growth, re-birth leads to spiritual growth.  Unlike physical growth which follows pretty set patterns and timeframes, our spiritual growth can often seem to be hit or miss.  We may go through great growth spurts where we mature by leaps and bounds, only to enter seasons where we seem to lose ground and become lethargic spiritually and seem to shrink farther away from maturity.  David Powlison describes this process by comparing it to a person who is using a yo-yo as he walks up the stairs – there is constant up and down motion, but it is ascending as it goes.  At least, we want it to be ascending!  We want to be able to see that there is progress being made and that we are becoming more spiritually mature, despite whatever struggles we may be engaging in at the present time.

So why do we sometimes fail to see any spiritual progress, either in self or in others?  First, growth follows birth.  One reason that spiritual growth does not take place is because there has been no spiritual birth.  Scripture admonishes us to examine ourselves to be sure that we are in the faith.  If you have seen no growth in your love for God, your ability to resist sin, and development of spiritual fruit, then you (or one you are concerned about!) may never have been born again.  It isn’t as much about praying a prayer as it is getting a new heart from God that is capable of loving God.

For those who have been born again, there can be problems in establishing consistent growth.  Sometimes a baby experiences “failure to thrive.”  In these circumstances, the child fails to gain weight, develop skills, or otherwise mature.  Often this is due to a lack of proper nutrition or nurturing.  In the same way, many Christians suffer from a spiritual “failure to thrive.”  They may regularly attend church, or even serve in some form of ministry, but they do not grow in their maturity.  They do not experience a growing love and passion for God, a progressive movement towards holiness, or a sense of their purpose and calling in ministry to the church or the world.

As our children grow, our parenting must change to accommodate their growth.  We make decisions about diet and activities so that they continue to grow to maturity.  As a church, we need to nurture people to provide for their individual growth.  This will NOT be a one size fits all plan!  Different people are at different maturity levels and are being given different gifts to perform in different ministries!  Most churches struggle to see that this is a process that will need different methods for different people.  It is much easier to focus on standard programs that individuals can customize to their own needs, than it is to focus on individuals and tailor make a discipleship program that takes into account their unique creation by God.

We, however, are not willing to be deterred by a challenge!  That is why I am putting together some basic assessments that you can work through, with me, to come up with an Individual Discipleship Plan.  We can look at your life and prayerfully examine where change and growth needs to occur.  Additionally, we can set goals that match up with your skills and abilities, so that you might move into a ministry that God is calling you to participate in – not just something you feel a need to do out of guilt or necessity.  If you want to become intentional in your spiritual growth, please set up an appointment to talk.  Whether you are a spiritual baby, or an aging veteran, there is always room to grow in our likeness to Jesus!

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!

Do you thirst for God?

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , on May 1, 2009 by gospel2live

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

Whitney describes three types of “soul thirst.”  The thirst of the empty soul is  the unsatisfiable desires of the person who does not know Jesus.  They seek satisfaction from many different places, but can never be filled.  Even when empty souls seek God, they ar enot seeking the God of scripture, but rather a god that will be what they want him to be.  The only cure for this thirst is to be reconciled to God through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ — to come to the one who offers “living water” to all who will drink.

The second type of thirst is that of the dry soul.  This is one who has experienced the soul satisfaction of the rivers of living waters, but is experiencing a season of spiritual dryness.  Whitney gives three reasons for this condition.  First, a soul becomes dry by drinking too much of the fountain of the world.  Similar to drinking salt water, turning to the world’s pleasures will leave us thirsty in all the wrong ways.  Second, sometimes God allows us to experience a period where his presence is not clearly perceived — what the Puritans described as “God’s Desertions.”  Third, spiritual dryness may be the result of physical or mental fatigue.  Foregoing the Sabbath and not taking adequate time for rest and rejuvenation can lead us to a point where we are dry and barren spiritually.

The third type of thirst is that of the satisfied soul.  This is an increased thirst for God that comes from letting him satisfy our thirst!  Although this might seem to be a contradiction, the more we drink deeply from the soul-satisfying knowledge of God, the more we desire to drink.  God graciously allows us to crave more of His water, the more we drink.  The difference from the other thirsts is that this is deeply satisfying thirst. 

Whitney goes on to explain how spiritual thirst is actually a blessing of God.  First, God initiates spiritual thirst through the Holy Spirit’s indwelling presence.  Second, the purpose for which God initiates spiritual thirst is so that HE might satisfy it.  He satisfies our existing thirst and gives us a greater craving and capacity to continue drinking!  Thus, we continue to thirst and drink and thirst until we are finally able to be fully satisfied as we behold him as he is.

Whitney gives three practical steps for “thirsting after the thirst-slaker.”  First, meditate on scripture.  Don’t just read it, but think about it.  Let it swirl around so that you can taste and savor the truth in it.  With literally thousands of bits of information flowing through your mind each day, slow down and let the water of life be absorbed, and not just pass right through.  

Second, pray through scripture.  Use the words inspired by God, to talk to God.  This begins to flow naturally out of meditation as we slow down and take time to make scripture more important in our lives.

Finally, Whitney encourages us to read thirst-making writers.  Let me encourage you to consider Whitney to be one of those writers!  To get his list of these types of writers, get your hands on a copy of this book.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.  Matthew 5:6

Ten Questions to Diagnose Your Spiritual Health

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , on May 1, 2009 by gospel2live

Ten Questions to Diagnose Your Spiritual Health, by Donald Whitney, is one of the books I am currently reading.  Whitney provides these questions with scriptural guidance for why they are important to our spiritual health, and then concludes each chapter with practical steps to help cultivate the particular area of spiritual health.  God willing, I will try to post a brief summary of each chapter on the blog, so that you can take your own spiritual checkup.  Better yet, click on the link and get your own copy!

Here are the ten questions:

  1. Do you thirst for God?
  2. Are you governed increasingly by God’s Word?
  3. Are you more loving?
  4. Are you more sensitive to God’s presence?
  5. Do you have a growing concern for the spiritual and temporal needs of others?
  6. Do you delight in the Bride of Christ?
  7. Are the Spiritual Disciplines increasingly important to you?
  8. Do you still grieve over sin?
  9. Are you a quick forgiver?
  10. Do you yearn for Heaven and to be with Jesus?

 Most of us have a tendency to take our health for granted, whether physically or spiritually.  So take some time for a spiritual checkup and evaluate your own life in light of Dr. Whitney’s questions.

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!