Wednesday, February 6, 2019

A Balanced Perspective

The following is a statement that I have heard and even used myself. It is, within the right context, a very true and useful statement. “If one has done his best, no one can do any better than that.”

Sometimes we have tried our best but things have not gone well. Sometimes we lack the skill for the task at hand. Sometimes factors beyond our control kept us from succeeding. In those situations, the words of J.C. Ryle are helpful, “It is not the good and successful servant, but the good and faithful servant, to whom He will say, “Enter into the joy of your Lord (Mt 25:21).”

But while all of the above is true, it could be over-extended and misapplied.

On July 11, 1970 I attempted to preach a sermon about heaven. I collapsed a few minutes into the sermon and never finished it. I had done the best I knew how at the time; but frankly, it was not a good sermon and it is remembered only because I fainted, not because the content was worth remembering.

I had done the best I could at the time, and that is okay. But it would not have been okay for me to have taken the attitude, “That was my best and God will accept it.” Surely, if that had been my attitude, it would have been a sinful attitude. Surely, while taking some comfort in the fact that I had done my best at the time, it was only right that I should desire to improve my best.

In preaching, teaching, singing, praying, in giving, serving, and in all that we do, it is one thing to say “I did my best” and something very different to say, “I did my best and God will have to accept it.” No!!! As soon as we add that second part to the thought, we have said too much. If we are not striving to improve on our preaching, teaching, singing, praying, giving, serving, and all that we do, then we are sinning and God decidedly will not accept it.

Dr. Bob Whitaker, assisted by my oldest son, attempted a brain surgery. Dr. Whitaker was not a brain surgeon. But the man was going to die if someone did not do something, so Bob tried his best. The man died. But Bob did not take the attitude, “Well, I did my best and I will do the same again next time.” Living where he did, he knew that this would come up again. So he asked Dr. Charles Branch (a neurosurgeon) to teach him how to do the surgery right.

God may accept our best, if it really is our best. But our best should be getting better. If it is not, then probably it is not really our best.

Monday, January 14, 2019

What Price Are We Willing to Pay?

While not the most famous words of his inaugural address, this statement by President Kennedy was significant. “Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe to assure the survival and the success of liberty.”

It was understood in January of 1961 that anything worthwhile in life had a cost. It was understood that there are burdens and hardships to bear. It was understood that a man or woman seeking only their own comfort was a man or woman without significance, meaning, or purpose.

At that point in our history, the worth of pain and the might of self-sacrifice were understood by many. The mindset of our nation at that time was still heavily influenced by the scriptures. We were not really a Christian nation, but we were a nation strongly influenced by the faith that has a cross at its center. We are no longer such a nation.

Today the question is not “what can I do for my country?” but “what is the government going to do for me?” That shift in attitude may be the most destructive force in our national life. But I am not writing primarily about our national life.

Is it any different with Christians? Has our faith and focus also drifted? Do we gather to sing our favorite songs and to see our friends? Or do we gather to honor the Lord? Do we live as consumers, trying to get the best bargain we can from the local merchants, on the Internet, and from the Lord? Or do we live as those who “have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised” (2 Cor 5:14-15)?

I am sorry to ask such challenging questions. But somehow I don’t think the church was built by means of positive thinking pep talks, and I don’t think that is what will restore it to its original purity and purpose. What price are we willing to pay, what burden are we willing to bear for the cause of Christ? Admittedly, it is a challenging question, but then most worthwhile questions are.

Friday, January 4, 2019

Pork Fat and Faith

I do not pay much attention to the news. I do not take the paper; I do not listen to the television or radio news. On those occasions when I want to be a bit depressed, I can always look up the news on the BBC web-site. I suppose it was our years in Africa that made the BBC my favorite source for news (although it was only by means of shortwave radio in those days).

New Year’s Day I saw an article on the BBC site that claimed to list the 100 most nutritious foods ( I ran through the whole list rather quickly, reading the details on only a couple of items. The biggest surprise was “pork fat.” That is right; they listed pork fat as one of the most nutritious things we can eat, and said that the rumors of it causing heart attacks have been proven false.

For more than forty years we were told to avoid pork fat. Now, a group of 100 nutritionists have listed it as one of the best foods. Frankly, I do not know (or care) who is right on this particular matter. I just want to make one simple point.

The next time someone tells you that there is scientific evidence that homosexuality is unavoidable for those who have the “homosexuality gene,” you could say, “Pork fat.” The next time someone claims that scientific evidence supports the idea that children should not be made to mind their behavior, just say, “Pork fat.” The next time someone claims that monogamy is bad for us, just say “More pork fat” and keep going.

The sad truth is that the so-called scientific community is full of people who are anything but scientific. Some of these people manage to prove (to their own satisfaction) whatever it was they set out to prove. No matter what they claim to have proven now, they will someday be busy proving the opposite. On matters of faith and morals we will do best to just stick with what God has said, and let the manipulators of statistics go their merry way. We really do not want to go where they are going anyway.

If God says something is bad for us, it is. If he says something will eternally separate us from him, it will. If he says that a given action is evidence that the person engaging in it has an arrogant and sick mind, they do.

One of the great things about being a Christian is that we do not have to keep up with the constantly changing claims of contemporary theorists. “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever” (Heb 13:8).

Friday, December 14, 2018

When in Doubt

Once I entered the work force full-time, I quickly realized that my schooling had disprepared me for one problem that I have faced nearly every day. I had been sent to school at the age of five. I was in school every year except one until I was 21. The one year I did not go to school I did factory work. So, for 16 of my first 21 years, a bell had ruled my life. A bell told me when to work, when to eat, when to play, and when to go home.

Then I moved into a line of work in which I had to choose what to do and when to do it. Sometimes I have struggled to choose between good and evil; but mostly it is a choice between good and good. Every day I face decisions about how to use my time, and often I am not sure what will be the best use of that time. If you identify with that dilemma, read on.

When in doubt – pray. We are told to pray without ceasing (1 Thess 5:17), so it can never be a mistake to pray. Whatever else we may be doing, it will be done better if done prayerfully. Even if we make a mistake and take up a task that was not the most important or timely task, we will still do better at it and honor God more with it, if we commit our actions to him in prayer.

When in doubt – serve
. Choose a task that will bless someone else and do it (Mt 20:25-28). Do it with all of your might (Eccl 9:10). Any work of service performed with energy and enthusiasm is better than sitting around stewing over what to do.

When in doubt – worship. To glorify the Lord is our purpose in life. This is what we were created to do and what we were recreated to do (Isa 43:21; Mt 5:16; 1 Pet 4:10ff). A few minutes of worship may often clear the mind and help us make a firm decision. Even if it does not make things clear, it will have been time well spent.

Good stewardship of our time involves thinking and planning. But sometimes, no matter how hard we think, there may be doubt as to what is truly the best use of our time. Do not prolong those moments of doubt. Get busy with prayer, service, or worship and you cannot go wrong.

Friday, December 7, 2018

Trouble With My Picky Nail

The nail on my left pinky finger had a talk with me the other day. He said, “I really like being a part of your body; but I do not like being attached to any particular part of the body. I think that I should be able to wander around freely. I know that I cannot go just anywhere and everywhere; but I would like to be on the right hand some weeks, and maybe be on the thumb sometimes instead of always on a finger. Sometimes I might even like to try being on a toe occasionally.”

I tried to explain to the little nail that it was not a question of what he wants, but a question of what the body needs. My body needs each of its parts to stay in their place and to faithfully do their task. While it might be more fun for parts of the body to jump around from place to place and from role to role, that is not what will be good for the body. I need him right there on my left pinky. If I cannot count on him in that role, that nail is of very little use to the body as a whole.

I had a talk with a Christian the other day. He said that he does not like committing to one congregation. He does not like being in submission to a given eldership. He sees himself as a member of the body of Christ in a general sense, not as connected to a particular part of the body.

Do you have any idea what I should say to him?

Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you (Hebrews 13:17, ESV).

Friday, November 30, 2018

We Are Not Sinners

In those days and in that time, declares the LORD, iniquity shall be sought in Israel, and there shall be none, and sin in Judah, and none shall be found, for I will pardon those whom I leave as a remnant” (Jeremiah 50:20, ESV).

All my life I have heard people say, and I have said myself, “We are all sinners.” In one sense the statement is true to the point of being a truism. But in another very important sense it is quite false.

After spending 49 chapters rebuking the sin of his nation, Jeremiah says that there shall be no iniquity or sin found in Israel or sin in Judah. Huh? How so? “For I will pardon those whom I leave as a remnant.”

Someday the redeemed will stand before God and be found not guilty. God will find no sin in his remnant. It is not that you or I or any of us are perfect; it is not that we will be (of ourselves) sinless. But no sin will be found, because God’s pardon, enabled by Christ’s sacrifice, will have been granted.

In one sense, yes, we are sinners. In another sense we are sinless, no sin is found in us.

Sometimes I fear that we use the “of course we are all sinners” line as an excuse, so that we do not have to try. Let us say instead, “We are sinless, perfect in God’s sight, due to the pardon granted in Christ. Let us do our best to maintain this incredible status he has granted us.”

But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet. For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified” (Hebrews 10:12-14, ESV).

Friday, November 16, 2018

Always Moving Forward

And you, Capernaum, will you be exalted to heaven? You will be brought down to Hades. For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. But I tell you that it will be more tolerable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom than for you” (Matthew 11:23-24, ESV).

In his book, Ministering Like the Master, and on the basis of the above quoted passage, Stuart Olyott concludes, “There is no greater sin than simply staying as you are” (43). Later he expands on this saying, “To the Son of God there is something worse than rape in the street, there is something more wicked than violent sodomy. It is the sin of listening to his word and remaining unchanged” (45).

Someday the world will be judged and the men of Sodom will be condemned for their disgusting sin. The people of Capernaum will also be condemned, and their condemnation will be more severe. Regular church attenders will be there that day as well, and what will they hear?

As Olyott later comments, “Who, who, are the worst sinners of all? They are the men, women, young people and children who regularly hear the Bible preached, but who remain unrepentant. Week after week, week after week, Christ is proclaimed to them from the Scriptures. But they choose not to change. They are, quite simply, unmoved. They remain as they are; and this is the way they want to be. There is no greater sin in all the universe than this one” (50).

As shocking as Stuart Olyott’s words may seem, they are firmly grounded in that above quoted statement of Jesus; and they are confirmed in other statements, such as this one,
And that servant who knew his master’s will but did not get ready or act according to his will, will receive a severe beating. But the one who did not know, and did what deserved a beating, will receive a light beating. Everyone to whom much was given, of him much will be required, and from him to whom they entrusted much, they will demand the more” (Luke 12:47-48, ESV).

Those of us who hear the gospel week after week should not be sitting still; we must be moving forward. Let it be said once again, “There is no greater sin than simply staying as you are” (43).