Friday, August 17, 2018

A God of Order

“For God is not a God of confusion …” (1 Corinthians 14:33, ESV).

In his book, How Sermons Work, David Murray has written, “God is a God of order. He did not create everything all at once, but in sequence. He grouped things in classes and created like things on the same days. He revealed Himself in stages and brought all things to readiness before He gave the crowning piece of His revelation, the Lord Jesus Christ. Full of ardor, God is also full of order in what He does.”

Mr. Murray wrote those words in a book on preaching. Evidently he has known a few preachers who were not very orderly in their manner of presentation. One who preaches or teaches, and does not take the time to set his material forth in an orderly fashion, is dishonoring the God he claims to serve. Even if every item of teaching is true, jumbling the material together in a disorderly fashion is untrue to the nature of our Lord. But is this not also true of every Christian?

We should all be learning to conduct our lives in an orderly manner. In order for us to live “self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age” (Titus 2:12) our lives must be marked by orderliness. This would be especially true of our worship (1 Cor 14:40), as the passage in 1 Corinthians indicates; but orderliness is a habit of life. If we allow ourselves to be disorderly in how we keep our homes or how we conduct ourselves at work, it will be difficult to be orderly in how we conduct the work of the church.

The human body is put together in an orderly manner, with the various parts carrying out the functions for which they are suited. The church is the body of Christ (Rom 12:5; 1 Cor 12:12-27; Eph 5:23), and it is to conduct itself in an orderly fashion (Col 2:5; Titus 1:5).

Thankfully, we will not all die as martyrs for the Lord. We will not all serve as missionaries, or as preachers, or as teachers. But we all have the opportunity to help in honoring the Lord. When we neglect orderliness in life and especially in the work of the church, we are dishonoring the Lord. By working to become self-disciplined, orderly citizens, workers, parents, and church members we are honoring God.

Saturday, August 11, 2018

The Wrong Question

A recent headline asked, “Does the death penalty deter rape?” I doubt that anyone knows the answer. I will go even further and say that I have no interest in knowing the answer to the question. I have no interest in knowing, because it is the wrong question. The right question will always be, “Is the death penalty just for this crime?” To ask instead, “Will the death penalty deter this crime?” is to imply that we should do what works, and that the question of justice is secondary – if indeed it is to be considered at all.

That is a horrible attitude. I am sure that the death penalty, if it were carried out with regard to jaywalking, would be incredibly effective. But that does not make it just. When will we learn that a justice system is supposed to be about justice, not about what works?

Please, be alert. There are a lot of people asking the wrong questions on a lot of subjects. Don’t answer wrong questions; instead point people to the right questions.

Capital punishment is not a pragmatic, “what will work,” question. It is a justice question. In cases where it is just, capital punishment should be carried out, whether it deters or not. In cases where it is unjust, it should not be carried out, whether it would deter or not.

Gender is not a personal choice question (“Tom wants to be Tina, so he ought to be allowed to be”). Gender is a matter of fact, not of choice. Tom is what he is whether he likes it or not. That he might prefer to be something else (perhaps a dog, a cat or an amoeba) is irrelevant. He is what he is, and those who really care about him will help him come to grips with reality. Some people wish that 2 plus 2 could equal 5, but wishes are irrelevant when dealing with matters of fact.

Worship is a matter of honoring God, not a matter of pleasing ourselves. Perhaps Bill, Sue, and Jim decided that they all think that they would enjoy worship more if we included a gold calf, or some other impressive idol. Perhaps they have even taken a survey and found that 99.9% of the unchurched agree with them. All of that is irrelevant. Worship is supposed to honor God, not to please us. It must be done according to God’s instructions. If we really love God, we will learn to adjust our preferences to his commands. If we instead insist on modifying his standards to suit our preferences, we are worshipping ourselves, not God.

Saturday, August 4, 2018

Member of the Body or Customer of the Church

For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another” (Romans 12:4-5, ESV).

The Bible says that the church is the body of Christ, and that each Christian is a member of that body (1 Cor 12:27; Col 1:24). But in our overly commercialized society, people have come to think of the church not as the body of Christ but as a business that is trying to attract customers. There is a huge difference between these two concepts.

When I go to the hardware store, I am a customer. I take what I want (after paying for it, of course); I leave all that I do not want. I have never gone to any kind of store and taken even half of what they had on offer. Normally I choose a few items and leave all the rest. The store owner has no problem with this. That is the nature of our relationship. He is a merchant; I am a customer. The customer is the one in charge of this relationship. The merchant responds to the customer’s desires (or the merchant will soon be out of business).

But that is not the nature of our relationship with Christ. He is the head; we are parts of his body. We respond to him, we do our job as he directs, or we are not acting as part of his body and may well be removed from it.

Years ago I had a tooth that was no longer serving its purpose. I could not chew on the right side of my mouth because this tooth had become infected and was giving me pain. I paid to have it repaired more than once, but it only became worse. Eventually, I had it removed. I really had no choice. If I had not removed it, my whole body would have suffered.

Are we trying to be Christ’s customers instead of members of his body? Are we trying to get him to do what we want, instead of obeying what he commands? A part of the body that does not fulfill its proper function, and which causes distress to the rest of the body is amputated. A branch that is dead is pruned from the tree so that the tree can bear fruit. What will happen to church members who act like church customers? I have no opinion on the subject. I do not need to have an opinion; Jesus has already answered the question.

I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit" (John 15:1-2, ESV).

Friday, July 27, 2018

Our Duty Toward Sinners

If a person has committed a murder, but is sincerely repentant, it is not the church’s place to punish the repentant murderer. The governing authority has a duty in that direction (Rom 13); but the church would forgive the repentant murderer. If a person has been a thief, but is sincerely repentant, it is not the church’s place to punish the repentant thief. The governing authority has a duty in that direction (Rom 13); but the church would forgive the repentant thief. If a person has been a child abuser, but is sincerely repentant, it is not the church’s place to punish the repentant child abuser. The governing authority has a duty in that direction (Rom 13); but the church would forgive the repentant child abuser.

Of course the church would insist that the murderer kill no more, that the thief steal no more, and the church would take firm steps to protect children from the child abuser. This does not mean that we hate the murderer, the thief or even the child abuser. On the contrary, love corrects the erring. Those who would let others go on in their sin are the ones who show that deep down they hate the sinner. The Lord says, “Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline” (Rev 3:19). If we are too lazy to rebuke wrongdoing, we are not loving people, we are lazy people.

If a person has engaged in sexual immorality, whether heterosexual or homosexual, but is sincerely repentant, it is not the church’s place to punish the one who has repented of his immorality. The governing authority has a duty in that direction (Rom 13). We know that the government will not, in this case, do their duty; but we must still do ours. The church will forgive the one who has repented of his immorality. But the church will not allow a person to continue in unrepentant sexual sin and remain a member of the church.

The church must not allow people to go on in their sin, whether that sin is murder, stealing, child abuse, or sexual sin. To do so would demonstrate negligence of duty. The loving thing to do is to correct the sinner. No form of sin should be given a pass on this correction - especially not sins that do so much harm to others and sins that the Lord has labeled as deserving of death. Our duty is to forgive the repentant, and to show the unrepentant the error of their ways.

“…whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins” (James 5:20).

Saturday, July 14, 2018

Coping with the Climate

For me ideal weather is warm days with coolness and soft rainfall at night. Even if it gets hot during the day, if it is cool at night the heat does not bother me. But heat really gets to me if it is unrelenting. Heat all day and all night wears me down.

We live in a spiritual climate that seeks to wear us down. Good is called evil; and evil is called good (cf. Isa 5:20). The world demands that we not only tolerate wrongdoing, now it is demanded that we rejoice and celebrate some of the most sickening and perverse of evil deeds. Those who watch television tell me that every show and every news broadcast is designed to get us to accept evil as normal, and to reject righteous living as impractical.

This climate is wearing us down. I am beginning to hear church members downplay, if not openly deny, the fundamentals of Christian morality. We may intend to cling to the truth - but if we constantly listen to error - sooner or later we will be worn down and will embrace falsehood.

Air conditioning allows most of us to escape from the heat for at least a few hours of the day or night. That enables us to be productive, even in the “dog days” of summer. But how are we to cope with the spiritual climate? All day long the truth is called false, and falsehood is exalted as admirable. How are we to cope with that?

We must arrange our days to allow a bit of spiritual refreshment each day. We must arrange our weeks to allow a day (not an hour, but a day) of spiritual refreshment each week. We must arrange our lives to allow a longer period (a week or even two) of spiritual refreshment each year.

With regard to daily refreshment, we have (or should have) Bibles and hymnals in our homes. We might also have some good devotional reading material, some recorded hymns, and other aids to spiritual refreshment. We ought to use these at least once per day. With regard to a weekly day of spiritual refreshment, the Lord has indicated the day and the church has provided the means by appointing an hour of classes and two hours of worship on that day. With regard to yearly refreshment, there are several Christian camps, retreats and lectureships available; or one could arrange to stay in a house at the end of a dirt road (with no radio or television) to pray and read uplifting literature for a week.

Whatever the exact details, we must have a plan for spiritual renewal. Satan undoubtedly has a plan for our spiritual destruction. If we do not take action to counteract him, he will defeat us.

Friday, June 22, 2018

Nothing Has Changed

Lawrence Rast is President of Concordia Theological Seminary. In a recent alumni newsletter, he reflected on the 172 year history of that institution. He wrote,

“In the intervening 172 years, the world has seen war and peace, famine and plenty, disease and medicinal advances. Yet in all this historical change, theologically nothing has changed. Our Lord Jesus Christ remains the same yesterday, today and forever (Heb 13:8).”

While we would disagree rather sharply with Dr. Rast on many points, he is certainly right on this. Our Lord, and therefore our message, is changeless. Jesus is still “the way, the truth, the life” (Jn 14:6). There is still “no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). We must reject any other gospel than the one then proclaimed, for any other message is a false gospel and not really good news (Gal 1:6-9).

There are many things in life that are both/and rather than either/or propositions. One can like green and also like blue. One can enjoy both baseball and football. We should eat vegetables, grains, and meats (all within moderation, of course).

But there are a few things that are either/or propositions. There are some questions in life where trying to take the both/and approach is illogical in the extreme. There are some matters in life where moderation is worse than foolhardy. If a gun is pointed at your head, don’t pull the trigger – not even moderately. In fact, get your finger off of the trigger and out of the trigger guard.

Jesus went to the cross because there was no other way for us to be saved (Mt 26:39). That being true, legalism cannot be true, secularism cannot be true, Islam cannot be true. Either Jesus is the only way or he is nothing at all. Those who know his word know that he is something, in fact, that he is everything.

A lot has changed in the last 172 years; but, spiritually speaking “there is nothing new under the sun” (Eccl 1:9). We are still great sinners; but we have a greater savior. Let us cling to him.

Friday, June 8, 2018

Do It Now

Near the beginning of World War Two, C.S. Lewis gave this advice.

“If we let ourselves, we shall always be waiting for some distraction or other to end before we can really get down to our work. The only people who achieve much are those who want knowledge so badly that they seek it while the conditions are still unfavorable. Favourable conditions never come.” (C.S. Lewis, Learning in War-Time)

What Lewis said about learning can also be said of Christian service. Many people claim that they want to serve the Lord; they claim that they will serve the Lord when an opportune time comes. Satan sees to it that the opportune time never comes.

If you want to have fewer interruptions in your life, then I suggest that you serve the Lord even in the midst of interruptions. Those who allow interruptions and distractions to keep them from the work will find that distractions and interruptions are constantly coming up. But if Satan sees that we serve on through the distractions, then he has less of a motive for distracting us. He will not stop his evil work, of course, but he will at least be forced to change tactics.

If we wait for a better time to become a Christian or to become a more active Christian, that better time will never come. As Paul tells the Corinthians, “Behold, now is the favorable time; behold, now is the day of salvation” (2 Cor 6:2, ESV).

Take hold of each day. Redeem the time (Eph 5:15-16). Do not wait for an opportunity to do some great deed, do the small deeds that are possible today.