Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Who Matters & Why?

Who matters?
The world says, "We do." "Man is the measure of all things," is the judgment of the prevailing philosophy. "Be religious if you want to; go to church if that works for you; worship God if he meets your needs. But, if he does not meet your needs, then abandon him (and his church). You are what matters, not him, not his church." These are the answers of the world.

God’s importance is derived, in the judgment of most. God is important only to the extent that he satisfied our desires. His importance is derived from us.

Who matters?
"God does." That is the answer of the Christian. Humans are important, but they are not the measure of all things. The importance of humans is a derived importance. Humans matter more than animals because they, uniquely, were created in God’s image.

Humans have a purpose. They were not created as consumers. They were not to created to consume the Lord’s creation for their own pleasures, instead they are to care for creation (Gen 2:15). Contrary to what you may have been taught, we did not call God into existence so that he might serve us, rather God spoke us into existence that we might glorify him (Isa 43:20-21; 1 Peter 4:10-11).

Our lives are not to be measured in terms of how well we satisfied our own pleasures, but in terms of how we glorified God (although, interestingly, those who have discovered this truth are the most satisfied people I know).

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

From Quill To Tweet

E-mail is now old fashioned. The up-to-date crowd is texting, tweeting, or posting on facebook. Most folks do not know what a fountain pen is, and they certainly have never used one. Hardly anyone has used a dipping pen, either steel or quill.

We might shun the new technologies as works of the devil. This is how many reacted when the printing press was invented. God’s word had always been read off a page where it had been painstakingly preserved by scribes. The newfangled printed page was viewed as too easy, too likely to cause disrespect for the holy word.

We might embrace the new technologies blindly. People like the speed of the new means of communication and feel that the new means can be used without hesitation.

In my judgment, neither of these is the correct response.

We should make use of new communication technologies carefully and prayerfully. Marshall McLuhan exaggerated in saying that "the medium is the message," but the medium certainly molds the message. The medium chosen for communication will effect how a message is received. Certain media are not suitable for certain messages. That is a fact that we ignore at great peril.

Whether we like it or not, the Lord proscribed visual arts within worship (Ex 20:4). Instead he emphasized, throughout scripture, the use of words rather than images.

All means of communication have their disadvantages. I can type faster than I can write with my fountain pen. Speed, however, is not an unmixed blessing. The handwritten note carries a more personal touch. The pace of the fountain pen encourages contemplation, while a speedy medium discourages depth of thought.

We ought to make careful use of all available means of communication. We ought to study the advantages and disadvantages and try to match the medium to the message. Sometimes we need to write rather than typing; often we need to communicate face to face rather than through an electronic or written means.

Those who have cut off face-to-face communication, who avoid dealing with their fellow Christians (or even their fellow humans) in this old-fashioned and direct manner, need to prayerfully consider what they are doing. Texting is fine for messages of little depth, but the really critical messages need to be delivered in person.

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth (John 1:14).

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The Christian Atheist

I have always loved oxymorons, but this is one I could have done without. Craig Groeschel has written a book called The Christian Atheist. It is about people who live as if God does not exist, even though they claim that he does, and even claim to be Christians.

I do not plan to buy a copy of the book, but I understand why it has been written. When Christians spend their money pretty much the same way their non-Christian neighbor do, are they not living as atheists? When the entertainment choices of Christians and non-Christians are virtually indistinguishable, does this not indicate a problem? When people who claim to be Christians consider it a burden rather than a blessing to worship God, are these people not Christian atheists?

No, they may be ‘church member atheists’ but they are not Christians. Sorry to burst your bubble, but the Lord’s judgment will be "I never knew you" (Matt 7:23).

Ask yourself (perhaps as you stand in front of the mirror), ‘Do I know any church member atheists?’

Matthew 7:21 "Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.

John 14:15 "If you love me, you will keep my commandments.

James 1:22 But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.

Friday, December 10, 2010

More Blessed to Give

"We have come to pay him homage." Matthew 2:2, NRSV

This time of year most of us are busy buying gifts for family and friends. Although it may have gotten out of hand in many ways, this is a good practice, for "it is more blessed to give than to receive" (Acts 20:35).

This seasonal gift giving is traced back to the Magi, or wise men, who brought gifts to Bethlehem; but rarely do we reflect on why they brought gifts. They came to worship (or pay homage, NRSV). They came to acknowledge the greatness of the child and their submission to him.

While giving gifts to our friends, let us not neglect to bring gifts of homage to our Lord. He does not need a new tie, or a shaver, or a shirt, or a book. He does not need anything that we can bring; but we need to bring him homage. We need to bring thanksgiving for his mercy, praise for his goodness, we need to acknowledge his greatness. We need to give these, although he has no need of anything.

As we worship, today and everyday, "let’s forget about ourselves and magnify the Lord and worship him."

It truly is more blessed to give than to receive. I have found that those who ‘come to church’ to be blessed usually go home empty. It is those who come not to get for themselves but to give homage to their Lord who most often go home blessed.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Gardening

I just came across a new approach to gardening. In his book, A Novel Approach to Growing Vegetables, Mr. Les Pro Duction suggests that we are making a big mistake trying to keep weeds out of our gardens. Instead, he suggests, we should encourage the growth of some weeds. According to his theory, the presence of weeds will be good for the vegetables. "I believe that weeds will make the garden more productive by toughening up the vegetables to the challenges that naturally come in a garden," according to Mr. Duction. He went on to say, "I am so convinced of this that not only am I not going to pull any weeds next year, I may even plant a few in the spring, along with my tomatoes."

I was a little skeptical about this new approach to gardening until I reflected on the fact that it fits right in with the way most people approach their spiritual lives. Even many church leaders seem to agree that it is good to encourage some sin in the church, as if too much holiness would be a problem.

I guess if it works in the Christian life and in the church, it might work in the garden as well. I do not know if I will go so far as to actually plant weeds, as Mr. Duction plans to do, but I guess it would be nice to have an excuse to leave off hoeing and weeding.

Insincerely yours,

Thayer

Galatians 6:7 Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

The All-Seeing Eye

How does it make you feel to remember that God sees everything you do and knows everything you think? Most of us feel a little embarrassed at that thought. We know that we have done things that we ought not to have done; that we have left undone tasks we should have done; and that we have harbored thoughts that we should not have entertained.

There is also a comforting side to knowing that God knows all and sees all. While we are not as good as our friends may think, we may not be as bad as our enemies would pretend. Yes, we have dwelt on evil thoughts at times; we have done wrong things; we have a lot of hidden evil; and God knows all about it -- no matter how well we hide it from others. But God also sees the hidden potential, the good possibilities that are hidden from our enemies, from our friends, and even from ourselves.

"I know the plans that I have for you," the Lord told Jeremiah (Jer. 29:11). Jeremiah did not know what the Lord would accomplish through his ministry. He knew only the frustration of being a prophet in a period of spiritual decline. Jeremiah did not know how God would preserve and use his words through the centuries. God’s plans for Jeremiah were greater than Jeremiah could imagine, and his plans for you are likely greater than you ask or imagine (Eph 3:20).

God knows all about us. That is a healthy warning when we are tempted; but it is a tremendous encouragement when we are discouraged. Our lives have meaning; they have a purpose. He has a plan for us. He sees all that we may do for his glory, even when no one else sees or understands, even when we do not understand it ourselves.

So she called the name of the Lord who spoke to her, "You are a God of seeing," for she said, "Truly here I have seen him who looks after me." (Genesis 16:13)

Thursday, November 18, 2010

The Long Silence

Sorry that I have not posted anything for several weeks. As many of you know, I have a good alibi. I spent a couple of weeks in Morogoro, Tanzania teaching a seminar of Ephesians, and doing other things to help the church there. I am back home now and will try to post regularly again.

Thanksgiving in the Age of Advertising


Human beings, at least since the fall into sin, have found it difficult to be thankful. We tend to place ourselves at the center of the universe. We expect our needs (and wants) to be met. If our desires are met, that seems no reason for comment. But if our expectations are not fulfilled, we have plenty to say.


By high school, the average American has seen 350,000 television ads. Nearly every one of the those ads is designed to make the viewer unhappy with ‘whatsoever state he is in.’ The goal of the advertiser is to get us to buy what they want to sell. To do that, they have to make us unhappy, at least a little bit, with what we have now.


So add it up. The tendency of our sinful nature is to be ungrateful. Our society has trained and cultivated this tendency for commercial reasons. Is it any wonder that most families, including most Christian families, will have a ‘Turkey & Football Day’ instead of a ‘Thanksgiving Day?’

Go ahead, eat the turkey and the pumpkin pie. But take time to give thanks. Set aside time, at some point in the day, to really pause and count those blessings. Sing praises to our God. Recount his wonderful works. Make it a real day of thanksgiving.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Meeting Them Where They Are, & Getting Them To Move

In a recent Wall Street Journal Article on a modern crisis in education, Thomas Spence made the brilliant observation that, "If you keep meeting a boy where he is, he doesn't go very far."

That is true in secular education. It is also true regarding the faith. We need to meet people where they are, but we must not leave them there. The goal is NOT to keep meeting them where they are, but to get them to move on to where they need to be.

Read Acts two with this in mind. Peter met them where they were, but urged them to move elsewhere. We need to do this for our children, our friends, our neighbors.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Expectations & Growth

A first grader does not know what a college graduate knows; a new Christian does not know what a mature Christian knows. So we cannot expect the same thing of the first-grader or new Christian that we expect of the college graduate or the mature Christian, right? Wrong. We should expect the same thing. The thing we should expect was expressed by Paul in this way, "let us hold true to what we have attained" (Phil 3:16).

Our level of knowledge and our experience of the faith will not be the same, but we must "hold true" to whatever level of knowledge and faith we have attained. We must expect, even of new Christians, that they hold true to what they have attained or they will never grow. If we once begin to allow the expectation of giving second-best to God, if we treat halfheartedness as acceptable, maturity will never come.

Lack of knowledge is understandable in the new convert. Lack of resolve is not. Lack of maturity is understandable, but it is never acceptable to give halfhearted commitment to the Lord.

I often hear it said that we cannot expect much commitment from new Christians, but my experience contradicts this. New Christians are often very aware of the blessings of God’s grace and highly committed to honoring Him with their lives. They stay committed until they learn that lukewarmness is the expectation in the modern church. Rarely is it high expectations that hinder growth. Most of the time, growth is hindered because we expect too little, not because we expect too much.

The little ones are caused to stumble not because we expect too much of them but because we expect too little of ourselves. Let us "hold true to what we have attained" and encourage others to do so as well.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Regarding The Basic Necessities of Life

Sundar Singh wrote, "There is no evil or harm in using any of God’s created things, provided that we do it with thankfulness and with a proper sense of their value. But the danger lies in giving the Creator’s place in our hearts to the creature. ... We can neither live without water nor live in the water. We must drink, but not sink. If we do not drink we shall die of thirst; if we sink we shall die of drowning. So we must use things of the world in such a way that, while they sustain our bodies, they do not become too strong for us and choke the vital breath of our lives, which is prayer."

Jesus said, "Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore do not be anxious, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?' For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you." (Matthew 6:25-33)

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Concerning Qur'an Burning

As you all know, we did not burn the Qur’an here on September 11, nor will we in the future. There are three reasons.

First, and of least importance, I only own one printed copy of the Qur’an, and I do not want to have to buy another one.

Second, and only slightly more important, the Qur’an is probably the wrong book to burn, if one were into book burning. The implication of burning the Qur’an on September 11 is that the teaching of the Qur’an led to the attacks in 2001. I doubt that very much. While there are a number of things in the Qur’an with which I disagree, it is not the main source of radicalism within Islam. If books were to be burned on September 11, it should have been the Hadith, not the Qur’an. Muslims consider the Hadith as well as the Qur’an to be scripture; and it is to the Hadith rather than the Qur’an that most of the violence is to be traced.

Third, and by far the most important reason for not burning the Qur’an, is that we as Christians are not called to condemn other people’s errors so much as we are called to lead them to the truth. Getting everyone in the world, including all Muslims, to burn a Qur’an would save no one. They will not be saved until they submit to the gospel. Burning the Qur’an will make it more difficult to reach others with the good news of Jesus.

Christians are not commanded to pull annoying stunts like this but to "be all things to all men that by all means we might save some" (1 Cor 9:22). There is no way to reconcile the public burning of the Qur’an by so-called ‘Christians’ with that exhortation.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Clarity of Purpose

Last week I read two interesting works on education. One was written by Henry Adams (grandson of John Quincy Adams, great-grandson of John Adams), the other by John Milton (best known as author of Paradise Lost). Henry Adams wrote over four hundred pages, John Milton wrote less than twenty-five pages. Adams was by far the more entertaining; but I would judge Milton’s work the more useful.

The trouble with The Education of Henry Adams is that Adams did not know where he was going, so he could never figure out how to get there. He sought education at Harvard, in London, in Italy, all over Germany and the United States, but he was never satisfied that he received an education.

Were Henry Adams living today, he would fit right in. Our society is plagued by lack of purpose. People do not know where they are or how they came to be there, let alone where they are headed.

Milton knew where he was (outside of paradise), how he had gotten there (through sin), and what he needed to do. The purpose of education, according to Milton, is to repair the damage of the fall into sin by leading us back to God. That purpose may sound narrow, but only if we have a narrow view of God. Because he recognized the greatness of God, Milton proposed that every student study all the sciences (since God is the author of nature) and all the major languages (since all human languages are produced by fallen humans and none is capable of expressing God on its own).

We need a broader view of God, and a clearer sense of our purpose. We are not here to be consumers but to "glorify God and enjoy him forever." Let’s remember that in our studies, and in all that we do.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

There Comes a Point When

I do not know who Mike Jones is, but he sure makes a good point.

If you don’t like how God has run the world -
If you don’t like how God is running the world -
If you don’t like how God will run the world -
If you don’t like what God has said about you -
If you don’t like what God has said about your friend -
If you don’t like what God has said about the churches -
If you don’t like what God has said about preaching -
If you don’t like what God has said about the necessity of the Gospel -
If you don’t like what God has said about hell -
If you don’t like what God has said about marriage -
If you don’t like what God has said about sin -
If you don’t like what God requires of every single person -
If you don’t like what God has said about those who disobey -
If you don’t like what God likes (like holiness) -
If you don’t like God’s justice -
God’s holiness -
God’s righteousness -
If you don’t like what God has said about Himself -
If you don’t like how serious God is about His glory -
If you don’t like the exclusive revelation of God in Christ Jesus -
And that it requires the absolute allegiance of everyone on this planet -
And if you do like those things of which God disapproves -
There comes a point, when, despite all protests to the contrary, one fact becomes tragically obvious:
You just don’t like God.
And whatever you do like -
Well, whatever that is, it isn’t the true and living God.

[reprinted, with permission, from http://alwaysonenote.blogspot.com/]

Thursday, August 26, 2010

The Lesson of the Mosque

I lived under a government controlled by Muslims in West Africa for four years, and have experienced the ‘religious freedom’ of America for over forty years. I have seen both sides, and perhaps that is why I see this matter of the mosque in New York in a different light.

The question that seems to interest most people is, "What does the building of the mosque tell us about America?" Frankly, that question does not interest me. The more interesting question to me is, "What does the building of this mosque tell us about the fundamental difference between Islam and biblical Christianity?"

What would Christians do, more importantly what should Christians do, if the place they had chosen to build a church building turned out to be a location that would offend the locals? The answer is given in Romans 12:18 and Hebrews 12:14. The first says, "If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all." The second reads, "Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord."

Christians should, as much as possible, avoid giving offense. Provided that we were not being refused permission to worship, we should be glad to move to a different location, if doing so would help.

Muslims are making a terrible mistake by building this mosque. They are reinforcing their image as a group of people who run roughshod over the feelings, traditions, and concerns of other people.

Christians should educate people regarding this fundamental difference between these two faiths. Christianity teaches us to avoid unnecessarily offending others. If people find the gospel itself offensive, as they often do, we must, none the less, proclaim it. But Christians are not to needlessly interfere in the lives of those they seek to evangelize. Islam, on the other hand, seems to rejoice in overriding the culture of others.

It was Christianity, not Islam, that recorded and preserved the languages of Africa in the face of European colonialism. Christianity teaches that one may approach God in any language, and that his word ought to be conveyed in every language. Therefore Christian missionaries recorded the languages of each tribe where they worked, so that the Bible could be given to every tribe. Islam insists that only Arabic is a fitting language for approaching God, and that God’s word is given only in Arabic. So they have had little interest in learning the languages of Africa, and have often sought to impose Arabic.

Christians must never stoop to the tactics of cultural imperialism. Rather, they should be involved in reaching across cultural barriers with the gospel.

Friday, August 20, 2010

"I Never Heard That Before"

I get this comment all the time, so I guess it should not have surprised me. I had just finished a sermon in which I presented nothing new, only truths which I am sure I have presented several times before. Then came the comment, "I never heard that before." People often tell me that they never heard truths that have been in the Bible for centuries, and which I know I have presented before.

Normally, I get this comment from someone who does not listen very well, often from people who do not attend regularly. But this time the comment came from someone who is always here and always listens attentively. So how is it that they never heard that which I know had been presented before?

Our minds do not immediately grasp things that are foreign to our thinking. Something compatible with the thinking we have learned from the world may be quickly accepted; but thoughts that run against the flow of modern culture seem to bounce off our minds, at least at the first hearing. It takes time to open the mind to a new idea. Often, it is not until the third statement of the same truth that it begins to break through the prejudice that Satan has set up against it.

That is why we ought to be here every time. That is why we ought to be reading God’s word daily. God has a lot of teach us that runs counter to the ways of the world. But it cannot happen in a lesson or two. Our hearts have been hardened, our minds have been closed by the stifling effects of the God-hating culture in which we live. To open our minds, to soften our hearts, to learn God’s ways in place of human ways takes time. It takes the repeated application of his word before we become able to hear that word.

Deut. 6:6-7 "And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. 7You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise."

Hebrews 10:24-25 And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, 25not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.

Philip. 4:8-9 Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. 9What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.

Acts 2:42, 46-47 And they devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. ...................
And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, 47praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Fix Your Own Bible

The trouble with sarcastic blog posts is that many people have no sense of humor. Someone sent me a link to a blog promoting "Fix Your Own Bible." The blog described a mythical 900 number that you could phone and have a Bible prepared with the parts you might not like taken out. If you want an abortion, but are troubled by those condemnations of shedding innocent blood, they will print a Bible without those verses. If you don’t like what the Bible says about homosexuality, they will get rid of Romans 1, and all the other passages on the subject. If you want to sleep around before or during marriage, they will get you a Bible that omits the verses that condemn it.

The post was hilarious, the comments were not. Most people who commented thought this was serious. I guess brain death is more common than I realized.

You cannot really order a special Bible with the parts you do not like taken out. As far as I know, you will have to keep doing what people have been doing for centuries. You will just have to take the Bible as it is and ignore the parts you do not like. I do not recommend that procedure, but, until someone really starts a company that will edit the Bible to suit your preferences, it is the only thing the willfully disobedient can do.

Don’t phone 900-349-872-4253 (900-fixurbible). It is not a real number. There is not a company that will edit the Bible for you, but of course you can do it yourself. People have been doing it for years.

But remember, the practice has serious long-term consequences. Maybe you ought to read Revelation 22:18-19; Deuteronomy 4:2; 12:32; and Proverbs 30:5-6 before you start editing. Also consider the question Jesus asked, "Why do you call me 'Lord, Lord,' and not do what I tell you?" (Luke 6:46)

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Pepsi Generation Priorities

Pepsi is giving away a lot of money, and getting themselves a lot of advertising in the process. Their method of giving away the money is designed to get them as much attention as possible. It is also effectively demonstrating what modern Americans really care about.

Timothy Hill Children’s Ranch is asking for $50,000 to help fund a transitional facility for young men between 18 and 21. Under current law, the government stops supporting most homeless children as soon as they reach 18. Of course, most of them are not really ready for adulthood, so many of them drift into trouble.

Jerry Hill is one of my favorite people in all the world. I cannot say how much I admire this man. When their son, Timothy, was killed in 1972, Jerry and Fern Hill did not wallow in self-pity. They got busy working on a dream that their son had been planning. Although he was only 13 at the time of his death, Timothy Hill had big plans. He wanted to build a ranch where orphaned boys could learn to live productive lives. Jerry and Fern Hill built that ranch. Now they want to add to that concept a transitional center for the older boys that the State of New York refuses to help.

They are seeking a grant from Pepsi to help with this. Pepsi awards the grants based on the popularity of the proposed projects. People can vote once per day, every day in August. As of Wednesday morning, Jerry Hill’s plan to help young men is in 165th place. I have not checked all the standings, but I notice that a project to help stray dogs and cats is in 85th place, and a project to increase the honeybee population is in 63rd place.

Even if I did not know Jerry Hill, those figures would upset me. Our nation is mentally sick. It is morally dark. It is spiritually dead.

Let’s try to do what we can to help Timothy Hill Children’s Ranch get one of these Pepsi grants. More importantly, let’s do what we can to wake up this nation. A nation that puts dogs, cats and honeybees ahead of children, is a nation in serious trouble.

To support Timothy Hill Children’s Ranch in their bid to get a grant from Pepsi, go to http://www.refresheverything.com/timothyhillchildrensranchproject
Between when I wrote the above article (on Wednesday morning) and now, Thursday evening, Timothy Hill has risen from 165th place to 53rd place. If they can finish in 10th place or higher, they will receive the $50,000 grant. Vote early and vote often.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Are We Good Enough?

I have no idea who Howell Ferguson is, but I read this story and it was credited to him.

"Three men meet at the end of a dock on a Florida beach. One of the men is an alcoholic and homeless. The second man is just an average guy. The third man is a fine, honorable man, well respected in the community. Suddenly, the alcoholic runs and jumps off the edge of the dock, landing five feet out into the water. The other two men standing on the dock yell, "What are you trying to do?"
"The man in the water yells back, ‘I’m trying to jump across the Atlantic Ocean!’
"The second man, the average Joe, says, ‘Watch me, I can do better than that!’ He quickly runs across the dock, jumps and lands ten feet out into the water, twice as far as the alcoholic.
"The third man, the outstanding man, laughs and says, ‘That’s nothing, Watch this!’ He backs up about fifty feet and makes a mad dash across the dock and lands twenty feet out, twice as far as average Joe, and four times as far as the homeless alcoholic."

What is the point of this silly story?

It seems to me that, the more we trust in ourselves, the more we get in over our heads. The respected citizen lands further from the shore, and therefore in much greater danger. None of them comes significantly nearer to jumping the ocean.

Two passages, Romans 9:30-10:4 and Ephesians 2:1-10, came to my mind as I read that story. We may be better than others, and that may be our greatest danger.

Romans 9:30-10:4 ESV
What shall we say, then? That Gentiles who did not pursue righteousness have attained it, that is, a righteousness that is by faith; 31but that Israel who pursued a law that would lead to righteousness did not succeed in reaching that law. 32Why? Because they did not pursue it by faith, but as if it were based on works. They have stumbled over the stumbling stone, 33as it is written,
"Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense;
and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame."
10:1Brothers, my heart's desire and prayer to God for them is that they may be saved. 2I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge. 3For, being ignorant of the righteousness that comes from God, and seeking to establish their own, they did not submit to God's righteousness. 4For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.

Ephes. 2:1-10 ESV
And you were dead in the trespasses and sins 2in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— 3among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. 4But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, 5even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ— by grace you have been saved— 6and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 8For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9not a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Snatching Them From the Fire

John was stunned as he turned the corner. Those fire trucks that passed a few blocks back were pulled up in front of his house, and the house was going up in flames. The entire house was engulfed. Before he even had time to take it all in, he was out of the car and running toward the house. His precious stamp collection was in there. All he could think of was that stamp collection. He never stopped to consider the insanity of what he was doing. He was so focused on his pride and joy that he acted without thought.

Mercifully, officer Riley had seen John jump out of his car. The policeman anticipated his path and intercepted him as he neared the house. Without time to explain Riley simply tackled John and restrained his hopeless effort.

I don’t know about you, but I don't think the neighbors will call officer Riley a narrow-minded, hateful bigot for what he did. They might even call him a hero for snatching John from the fire. But a Christian who strives to save another from eternal destruction, that is a different matter. No matter how kindly you try to phrase it, they will often hate you for trying to save them.
Do it anyway.

Jude 1:22-23 And have mercy on those who doubt; save others by snatching them out of the fire; to others show mercy with fear, hating even the garment stained by the flesh.

Friday, July 9, 2010

A Tragic Choice

Sometimes it amazes me what people give up for some small, fleeting pleasure. You can buy an official Rawlings Major League Baseball for $14.95, but a fan in Arlington, Texas nearly died as a result of trying too hard to get one. A fan in the upper deck, trying to catch a foul ball, fell approximately 30 feet to the stands below. His fall was broken by landing on top of people below, otherwise the incident might have ended tragically. [As it is he has a fractures to the skull and ankle.]

I trust that none of us would risk our lives for a baseball. We recognize the terrible mistake that this man made. But how often are we risking even more? How often do we, unlike Moses, choose "the pleasures of sin for a season" (Heb 11:25) and thereby sacrifice our eternal happiness?

Are we too focused on the here and now, too drawn to instant gratification, too undisciplined to seek what truly satisfies?

"For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his life? Or what shall a man give in return for his life?" Matthew 16:24-26, ESV

"As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy. They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, thus storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly life." 1 Tim. 6:17-19, ESV

Friday, June 25, 2010

MacArthur & McChrystal

They now have more in common than the prefix on their surnames and their occupation. Harry Truman relieved MacArthur of his duties in Korea in 1951, and now Barak Obama has relieved McChrystal of his duties in Afghanistan.

There are points of similarity and of contrast in the two incidents. Only one point (one of similarity) concerns us here. In both cases, the men were dismissed for disagreeing with their commander-in-chief, and allowing those disagreements to become public knowledge.

I do not happen to agree with the dismissal of General McChrystal. Nor do I agree that Mr. Truman was right to dismiss General MacArthur. But, while it was perhaps too heavy-handed to dismiss the generals, it was also wrong of the generals to criticize their commander.

MacArthur believed that President Truman was violating the constitution in ordering the Army into Korea. He further believed that, if the war in Korea was so important to Truman that he would violate the constitution to fight it, then he ought to fight it all out -- including bombing the bases in China being used by the communist forces. Perhaps MacArthur was right. But, even if right, he should have challenged the President directly on these matters, and not allowed his convictions to leak out by means of actions he took in Korea.

McChrystal’s criticisms of Obama may also have been correct; but it is still a soldier’s duty to support his chief, or, if he cannot in good conscience do so, to resign. Truman and Obama are both human leaders. They may have been wrong, but it is the duty of their subordinates to submit.

I am thankful that my commander is not human, that he does not err, that I can obey him without doubt or question. MacArthur and McChrystal should not have openly second-guessed their chief, even though their chief may have been wrong. We who serve a perfect leader, have no excuse for our insubordination.

"Then I fell down at his feet to worship him, but he said to me, "You must not do that! I am a fellow servant with you and your brothers who hold to the testimony of Jesus. Worship God." For the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.

"Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! The one sitting on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war. His eyes are like a flame of fire, and on his head are many diadems, and he has a name written that no one knows but himself. He is clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and the name by which he is called is The Word of God. And the armies of heaven, arrayed in fine linen, white and pure, were following him on white horses. From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron. He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty. On his robe and on his thigh he has a name written, King of kings and Lord of lords. (Rev. 19:10-16, ESV)

LAW & GOSPEL

William Perkins wrote, "If anyone is to receive this righteousness in Christ for himself he must seek it where it can be found, namely in both the law and the gospel; not in the gospel alone; but first in the law, and then the gospel. We must never try to taste the sweetness of the gospel when we have not first swallowed the bitter pill of the law. If, therefore, we want to be declared righteous in Christ, then we must be content first to be pronounced sinful and unrighteous in ourselves."

What Mr. Perkins has said is not congenial to our modern emphasis on positive thinking, but it is the truth. The gospel is good news to those who have faced the fact of their sinful unworthiness. But to those who claim "I’m OK, you’re OK" the gospel is a pointless story, the solution to a nonexistent problem, the satisfaction of a thirst they do not feel.

Peter presented the good news of forgiveness only after he had cut his hearers to the heart (Acts 2:37). Those who are seeking righteousness within themselves will never, can never, grasp the gospel (Rom 9:30-10:4).

We are not under the law of Moses. We must never teach that law, or any law, as a means of salvation. But until people know enough of God’s law to know that they are hopelessly, completely, eternally lost, their ears will be closed to the gospel of Christ. Until we know that we are undone, we never welcome the hot coal of God’s purifying forgiveness (Isa 6). The law, taught as a means of salvation, is falsely taught. Law taught as salvation confirms us in our arrogance.

Paradoxically, the gospel, if taught without first demanding repentance by the teaching of God’s law, likewise leaves us feeling that we are acceptable, that we have little need to seek forgiveness.

Law and gospel, we must teach both. We must believe both.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Of No Effect

Themba Maseko, a spokesman for the South African government, has said that a strike by marshals assigned to protect World Cup fans "will not affect security." Well, I have a question (or two). If their not working is not going to affect security, why were they hired in the first place? In saying that their refusal to work will not have an effect, are you not admitting that they were of no use to begin with?

Now, let’s consider this in relation to the church.

Place your name in the blank at the beginning of the following paragraph. Then read the paragraph and ask yourself if the shoe fits. Is your involvement in the church about as effective as these South African marshals?

"Since ________ ________ is no longer a member of the church, the committee chairmen met to consider the impact this would have on the church. The education committee is not going to search for a new teacher because this member never helped with a class. The trustees do not have to find someone else to help with the cleaning and repair of the building, because this member never helped with these tasks. The worship committee is not concerned that the absence will have an impact on our singing, because this person rarely sang out anyway. The treasurer suspects that there will be no noticeable drop in the contribution due to this departure. The benevolent committee reports that this member was never known to provide assistance to those in need. The mission and outreach committee is unaware of any effort on this person’s part to help evangelize or to teach new converts. We are sorry to see them go, but it appears that the departure of this member will not actually affect any aspect of the church’s work."

Does that accurately describe you?

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Neglected Blessing

It is not uncommon for preachers to focus on the disadvantages of life in full-time ministry. There are difficulties. As a general rule, there is a lack of financial security; there is the burden of an uncertain schedule; and there are certain emotional burdens involved in the task (cf. 2 Cor 11:28). But there are also tremendous blessings in this work.

I am writing this on Tuesday morning. This morning I have been able to read a number of interesting comments on the two parables that will serve as the text for my sermon Sunday morning. I am blessed with more opportunity to do this than most. I enjoy finding out what others think about the scriptures. Although I do not always agree with what they say, they often point out a line of thought that I may have overlooked.

Many of you work jobs that prevent you reading as much as I am able to do. Few of you have as many good Bible study resources as I have. In studying Matthew 13, you may not have the opportunity to consider the thoughts of John Calvin, Alfred Plummer, Craig Blomberg, Robert Mounce, Richard France, R.V.G. Tasker, Richard Lenski, Leon Morris, William Barclay, and Neil Lightfoot as I will have this week. That is a blessing and I am thankful for it.

But what do you have? What can you use to stimulate your thinking about God’s word? What can you do to make sure that you do not overlook significant truths when reading the Bible?
You have our Bible classes. The comments of the teachers and fellow students in these classes are intended to serve a purpose for you similar to that served for me by my library. What the comments in class may lack in scholarliness, they often make up for in timeliness. Our classes are far from perfect, but they are often stimulating for those who attend and participate. Are you neglecting this blessing?

Friday, June 4, 2010

"In the Name of Human Dignity"

Madonna has said that homosexuals jailed in Malawi should be released "in the name of human dignity." Pardon me for asking, but what does Madonna know about dignity? Exactly what does she imagine to be dignified behavior? I know very little about the woman, but everything I do know indicates that she is as undignified as anyone on earth.

A sane concern for human dignity would lead us to condemn rather than excuse perverted behavior. When a child takes something and puts it to a use for which it is clearly not designed, we excuse it on the basis of their ignorance. But when adults, who clearly know better, take the body God has given them and use it in an unnatural and unhealthy manner, concern for human dignity is exactly why humanity has, throughout the centuries, condemned their actions.

I am not familiar enough with the Malawian situation to say if the sentence handed down was completely just; but it is clear that the reaction of Madonna (and the Western media in general) has been completely illogical.

These men have offended human dignity. We may disagree as to how we should deal with such wrong. But it is wrong. That is beyond question. They have perverted the use of the human body. They are the ones who stand guilty of offending human dignity.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

The Point, Exactly

A South African newspaper recently published a cartoon depicting Mohammed, lying on a couch, speaking to a psychiatrist and saying, "Other prophets have followers with a sense of humour!"

The reaction of the Muslim community has reinforced the point made by the cartoon. They did not recognize that the cartoon was calling on them to develop an ability to laugh a little at their own foibles. Instead they called the cartoon an insult to the prophet, and some of them threatened violence. The threats came from a few, but the missing of the point was nearly universal. The reaction of even the most educated and moderate Muslim leaders seems to have proven the cartoon to be accurate.

This lack of humor is a trend in our world. Our past political figures could take a joke, and even poke a little fun at themselves. But our current leaders tell jokes only on others. This is a shame and it is a greater shame that it is spilling over into the church.

Are we sometimes guilty of taking ourselves too seriously? Are we ever guilty of taking a joke concerning our own foibles as an insult to Christ? Can you chuckle when someone suggests that you must be a member of the church of Christ if you can read shaped notes, or if you think seperateandapart is all one word? Most Christians seem to have a pretty good sense of humor (or humour, as the South Africans would say). But a few are getting too uptight to keep things in perspective.

An ability to laugh at one’s self indicates a healthy realization of our failings and foibles. A tendency to take ourselves too seriously shows that we are mistaken about our place in the universe. As Christians, we are not drawn to Muslim theology. Nor should we be drawn toward Muslim personality with its lack of humor.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Health News

I recently read of a research project that found an interesting (although unexplained) link between coffee and diabetes. The research found that people who drink coffee at lunch are less likely to get diabetes than those who do not drink coffee at lunch. Coffee at other times of day did not seem to help. Fancy coffee did not seem to help, just plain black coffee.

These researchers did not pretend to know why this might be true, which is good and right of them. But I am not a diabetes researcher, so I am going to take a wild guess. I am going to guess that people who drink coffee at lunch stay busy throughout the afternoon, leading them to get more exercise and helping them fend off diabetes.

Now, I will go a step further and state that, if Christians would take a healthy spiritual stimulant in the middle of their day (week, lifetimes), and stay more active in the Lord’s work through the afternoon (rest of the week, rest of their lives), they would be less likely to develop many of the spiritual ills that beset them.

Is it not painfully clear that many have grown spiritually ill from lack of activity? We were created for good work (Eph 2:10). Anything that fails to fulfill its purpose will rust or decay. Any living being that is not fulfilling its natural function will suffer health problems. Any Christian who is not active in good works will be ill.

So give yourself a little spiritual caffeine in the form of a midday psalm or spiritual song, a midweek Bible study, or a mid-life Christian retreat. Then get out there and DO SOMETHING. Help someone in need; invite your neighbors to worship, explain the gospel to a loved one, or send a card to someone who needs encouraging. Maybe no one will appreciate your effort, but the exercise might keep you from spiritual illness, so that alone makes it worthwhile.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

A Neglected Quality

When discussions arise about church leadership there are three passages to which people regularly turn. First Timothy 3, Titus 1, and Acts 6 are always brought into the discussion. These three are relevant, and they ought to be studied prayerfully before making decisions about church leadership. But there are other passages that should also enter into the discussion.

One such passage is 1 Corinthian 16:15-16. It reads,
Now I urge you, brothers—you know that the household of Stephanas were the first converts in Achaia, and that they have devoted themselves to the service of the saints— be subject to such as these, and to every fellow worker and laborer. (ESV)

The point here is not that the first convert in town ought to be a church leader, but that those who are workers, those devoted to service, ought to be the ones under whom we place ourselves in the church.

Bad things happen when we ignore this principle. A man might be married only once, and be able to teach, and fulfill a lot of the other qualifications listed in the passages we normally use; and yet, if that man is not a worker and servant, he is not fit to be an under shepherd of Christ (see 1 Peter 5).

Let us consider the whole council of God regarding leadership. And may we never forget this vital matter of service. May we always be willing (even eager) to submit ourselves to the leadership of those who are known to be hard workers for the Lord.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Taming the Tongue

Sometimes it seem that we speak and no one listens, we write and no one reads. But at times our words do more than we realize.

I can still quote the little note my roommate left for me when I was having a difficult freshman year in college. He lived near campus and was able to go home every weekend. I was often left alone in the dorm. Knowing my difficulties, he left this note one Friday, “James tells us that the fervent prayer of a righteous man is powerful. I may not be very fervent or very righteous, but I am going to pray for you anyway.” I did not keep the note, I did not need to keep it, I remember it word for word. Thirty-five years later, those words still lift my spirit.

On the other hand there are those thoughtless words, the ones we wish we had not spoken. Some of them are burned in our memories, and perhaps in the memories of others.

Our words are powerful, more powerful than we realize. “The tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things. How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire!” (James 3:5).

Our words reveal the content of our hearts (Matt 12:34). We all speak wrongly on occasion, for there is an element of evil in the best of human hearts. If we speak ill often, it indicates that evil is gaining the upper hand in our heart.

No human can tame the tongue (James 3:8), only with God’s blessing and help can it be tamed. Do you have trouble speaking the truth? Do you have trouble speaking words that build up? Don’t deny the problem, but don’t tackle it on your own, either. Consider the rest of that verse my roommate quoted to me, “Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much” (James 5:16).

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

No Retirement From the Lord’s Work

We are to remember our creator in our youth (Eccl 12:1); Christianity is a movement that involves and uses the youth; but this does not mean that those of us past fifty (or even past eighty) ought to be put out to pasture or placed on a shelf. There is no retirement from the Lord’s work.

Enoch walked with God all of his 365 years (Gen 5:23f). Moses was 120 when he handed Israel’s leadership over to Joshua. Joshua was near 80 when he accepted that leadership. Caleb, was 85 when he requested that he be given a “mountain” to subdue for the Lord (Jos 14:10-12). John was still working for the Lord and writing in his eighties.

Last week I wrote of the importance of involving teens and young adults in the work. This week I emphasize the usefulness of our older members.

Those between the ages of sixty and ninety have an opportunity that never existed before. The idea of retirement is fairly new. Prior to the 1930’s it did not normally happen. Throughout history people worked until they could work no more, and we may be returning to that situation. But a few generations were blessed to receive an income, without having to report for work and while they were still able to work. Some Christians have used their retirement years as a gift from God. They have used retirement to His glory. Sadly, others have used it selfishly.

There are hundreds of tasks that need to be done. There are classrooms that need decorating or cleaning. There are Bible studies that need to be taught. There are young families that need to be encouraged. Some of these tasks can be accomplished more effectively by a retired person than by anyone else. If you are retired - are soon to retire, or if you just are not asked to work as many hours as you used to work - you need to consider how you can use the extra time to the glory of God.

Whether you walked with God in your youth or not, be sure you walk with him to the end of your days. There is no earthly retirement from the Lord’s work.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

A Youth Movement

In the minds of some sad and misguided souls, Christianity is for the old and the very young. The teens and twenties are seen as a time to pursue other interests. Sunday school is thought to be for children, and worship for the middle-aged or older. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Jesus was only thirty when he began his ministry (Lk 3:23), and his apostles seem to have been younger. More than twenty years after the death of Jesus, the Apostle Paul writes that most of the five hundred that witnessed his resurrection were still alive (1 Cor 15:6). Given the life expectancy at the time, this indicates that most of them were young when he was raised. His movement was, at the start, a youth movement.

Think of the heroes of the faith. Some were old, but many were young. What do Jesus, John the Baptist, Timothy, and Jeremiah all have in common? They were all thirty or younger when they began their ministry.

The work of the church belongs in the hands of the young. Those who are older should provide guidance and direction, but the energy of youth is needed to make the work a reality.

“Nineteen hundred years ago,” J. S. Stewart wrote, “a group of young people under Christ changed the world. He is counting on young men and women today to do it again.”

They can do it again because he is still willing to work in and through them to make it happen. Let us not worry so much over what the world will do to our children, let us rather rejoice in what the Lord may do to the world through our children.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Responding to a Conspiracy

Driving home from Cleveland the other day, I listened to a feature story on NPR. It was about a British chef who came to Huntington, West Virginia to work with the schools to improve their lunch program. Three days later I learned, from another source, that actually the chef was in Huntington to film a television show at a church. What he did at the school was a side light. Why did NPR leave his work at the church completely out of their report?

Why is it that last year, when a group of homosexuals attacked a church service in Michigan, it was not mentioned by most of the major networks and downplayed by those that did mention it? Why is it that when the FBI recently arrested a group of people who are accused of plotting to kill a police officer, every news report claimed that this was a "Christian" group (without indicating any evidence to support the claim or defining what they meant by the term)?

Did you know that the President is legally obligated to appoint an ambassador-at-large to keep track of abuses of religious freedom and to report this abuse directly to the Secretary of State so that it can be factored in to foreign policy decisions? Did you know that the position has been vacant since January of 2009? Why would this neglected duty not be mentioned by CNN, CBS, NBC, ABC, FOX, or NPR?

We are not playing on a level field. I am not suggesting that we cannot count on the news people. We can count on them -- we can count on them to distort the truth so as to demean Christ and stir prejudice against his followers.

How should we respond to this situation?

Jesus faced a conspiracy against him. His reaction to that very real and certain conspiracy should serve as our guide to responding to the conspiracy we fear is developing.

According to Matthew 12, when faced with a conspiracy against him, Jesus did not seek needless confrontation or undue notoriety. When necessary he did confront (13), but when he could he withdrew from confrontation (15). He did not "sound the trumpet" regarding his good deeds (16), but rather avoided the limelight, while continuing to do good. There may be many reasons for this. Chief among them is the need to teach the disciples -- something that could not happen if the crowds were too big or if the cross came too soon.

Jesus was called -- he was chosen -- for a purpose (17-18). He quietly fulfilled his calling. He knew his purpose and he worked steadily at it. He quietly, firmly, and persistently proclaimed his message (18, 20). Jesus occasionally engaged in controversy, but he was not one to seek a quarrel or make needless noise in the street (19). Nor was he one to give up on the downtrodden (20).

So, let us go and do likewise. We must know our purpose. We must quietly, firmly, and persistently proclaim His message and do good.

Will it work? I AM NOT saying that it will result in the changes we might like. I am not promising that it will make the conspiracy go away, or that it will make people look on us more favorably. It did not "work" for Jesus, and it may not "work" for us. He ended up on the cross, and we must be prepared for that, if such be God’s will. He did it, not because it would work, but because it was God’s will.

Sign some petitions if you wish, but depend on prayer more than petitions; trust in God rather than in some so-called political messiah. Don’t let worldly means and messages distract you from your calling (1 Peter 2:9). Don’t let worldly promises of peace and prosperity keep you from the peace that passes understanding. A peace that you will know only if you submit your life wholly to Christ.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

The Power of the Word

“...nothing so endures as a truly spoken word.” (Thomas Carlyle)

As Christians, I think we are obligated to believe that words are powerful. The Bible certainly teaches that they are.

God’s word is powerful. “The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever.” (Isaiah 40:8) "For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty,but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.” (Isaiah 55:10-11) “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. ... And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:1-3)

His word is powerful not only in its incarnate form and its written form, but when we speak it as well. That is why Paul urged Timothy to “preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.” (2 Tim. 4:2)

Even our own words are powerful--for good or for ill. “So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things. How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire!” (James 3:5)

So let us be careful how we speak. Let us, as often as possible, present God’s word to others. And even when we speak our own words, let us be careful that they are spoken to provide a blessing to those who hear.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Meditate, Imitate

It was Charles Sheldon who first popularized the question, “what would Jesus do” (WWJD)? But, as has often been pointed out, we cannot profitably ask what Jesus would do in our situation until we first know what he did and taught in his own life. Those who ask, ‘what would Jesus do?’ without first gaining a solid understanding of his life and teachings, are in no position to answer their own question. WDJD (what did Jesus do?) must come before WWJD (what would Jesus do?).

Having said that, we must hasten to add, the first question is of little value without the second. While we cannot know what Jesus would do without first knowing what he did do, to know what he did without imitating it in our own lives is of little value.

We need a combination of the meditative and the imitative. We must study, but we also must practice. It is not on those who know his will that Jesus pronounces a blessing, but on those who act on what they know (John 13:17).

We tend to separate the doctrinal from the practical and the meditative from the active.

There is nothing more practical than his doctrine; and there is no worthwhile activity that would not be done better if we would pause a moment to meditate on the life of Christ before beginning. Rushing past the principles to get to the practice never works. We must understand the principles or the practice will be flawed. To understand the principles of Christ, we must meditate on his life and be well versed in his teaching.

But having studied the principles, we must then put them into practice. We meditate in order to imitate. Never attempt imitation without meditation. Never meditate without also imitating.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

The Awe-Inspiring Part

John would have prevented him, saying, "I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?" But Jesus answered him, "Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness." Then he consented. (Matthew 3:14-15)

“And with that,” as J. S. Stewart said, “they went down into the water together and there happened the event which the very angels might desire to look into -- a man baptizing his Lord.”

Indeed, there were many things about the earthly life of Jesus that may have inspired the awe of the angels (1 Peter 1:12). I do not know about you, but for me the most awe-inspiring events of Jesus’ life are not the miracles but the little things -- like his submitting to baptism at the hands of his cousin, John. That the one who created the universe and upholds it by his power (Heb 1:1-3) should change water into wine, multiply loaves, or even raise the dead, is not so surprising. That he should walk on water is not unexpected. The shocking part is in the simple stuff.

He asked John to baptize him. He is going to prepare a mansion for us, but he slept on the ground (Matt 8:20). For our sake, he who knew no sin became sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God (2 Cor. 5:21).

That is the really awe-inspiring part.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

The Praise of a Stone

'Look, for three years now I have come seeking fruit on this fig tree, and I find none. Cut it down. Why should it use up the ground?' (Luke 13:7)

It may have been Richard Baxter who said, “To do no harm is the praise of a stone, not of a man.” It was Jesus who indicated, in his parable of Luke 13, that fruitfulness is expected of all God’s children. In his parable, to do no harm is the praise of a stone, not of a tree.

It seems to me that there are three kinds of people in the church today.

There are those who are taking their ease in Zion (Amos 6:1). They contribute nothing to the work and see no reason why they should. Their favorite song is titled “Jesus Paid It All;” but they are a little uncomfortable with the line of the song that reads, “All to Him I owe.” They live as if their life still belongs to themselves, even though they claim to have been bought with a price. They are unfruitful, unconcerned, and, in reality, unsaved.

There are those who are disturbed, even depressed, because they see no results from their efforts. They want to glorify the Lord with their lives, but they often feel that they have failed.

Then there are those (or at least I hope there are) who do their best to honor the Lord in everything they do. They are active in the work of the church and in trying to build a home that honors God. They are active, yet not worried. They are satisfied to do what they can and leave the results in God’s hands.

To become this third kind of Christian, we first need to start with a little self-examination. We need to know where we are now, if we are going to get to where we ought to be.

Where are you now? What are you doing to get where you ought to be?

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Whether I Die or Live

I found this credited to Richard Baxter, although I could not find the exact location in his works. Baxter was dead before there was a copyright law, so this must be in the public domain. It certainly is worthy of a careful, prayerful reading.

Lord, it belongs not to my care, Whether I die or live;
To love and serve Thee is my share, And this Thy grace must give.
If life be long I will be glad, That I may long obey;
If short--yet why should I be sad To soar to endless day?
Christ leads me through no darker rooms Than He went through before;
He that unto God's kingdom comes, Must enter by this door.
Come, Lord, when grace has made me meet Thy blessed face to see;
For if Thy work on earth be sweet, What will Thy glory be!
Then shall I end my sad complaints, And weary, sinful days;
And join with the triumphant saints, To sing Jehovah's praise.
My knowledge of that life is small, The eye of faith is dim;
But 'tis enough that Christ knows all, And I shall be with him.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Avoiding Sin

It is by the grace of God, made available through Jesus, that we are saved. In appreciation of his grace, the Christian desires to live free of sin. The true and faithful Christian desires to be saved from sin, not just from the consequences of sin. Here are three simple strategies to help us avoid sin (there are others, but we have room for just three).

Be Careful of Companions
"Do not be deceived: 'Bad company ruins good morals'" (1 Cor. 15:33). If we sleep with the dogs, we will wake up with fleas. We run into enough evil in this world without seeking it. When we seek evil influences, we are sure to fall. Rather than seeking evil influences, we should have the attitude expressed in Psalm 101:6-7. "I will look with favor on the faithful in the land, that they may dwell with me; he who walks in the way that is blameless shall minister to me. No one who practices deceit shall dwell in my house; no one who utters lies shall continue before my eyes."

Get Plenty of Rest
Sometimes long hours come on us unavoidably; but often people willingly keep late hours for no sound reason. When we are tired our judgment is impaired. We may sin because we were not thinking clearly, but if our weariness was self-inflicted, we are fully accountable for our actions. When we choose to impair our judgment by keeping late hours, or by other foolish activities, we will answer for the consequences.

Avoid the Little Sins
One sin often leads to another. Do not give in on the little things, it will only weaken your resolve and make you more susceptible to greater sin. One minor victory over temptation strengthens us to win a greater victory. As the song says, "Each victory will help you, some other to win."

Friday, February 26, 2010

Exhausted

Perhaps some of you may be wondering why there has not been a new posting on this blog in several weeks. I have just returned from a trip that took me from Toledo, to Frankfurt, to Addis Ababa, to Juba, and from there out into the bush of Eastern Equatorial Province. I am exhausted, but I did learn some things.
1. Do not believe the clerk at the check-in desk when they tell you that, although your first flight is delayed, and you will miss your connection, you can get another flight on the same airline 12 hours later. That might be true going some places, but not when going to Ethiopia.
2. It is amazing the way some people bounce back from twenty years of war. South Sudan may be the first place I have visited in Africa where I was not confronted with serious cases of malnutrition. There is a lot of poverty, no doubt, but I have seen worse conditions in places that were considerably more peaceful.
3. When the sign says, "Land mine removal in progress," stop the car, and do not wander too far from it.
4. The one who pays the fiddler will continue to call the tune.
5. If you have a lot of extra luggage, agree to be "bumped" to the next flight. Ask that your luggage be taken as your compensation. I saved $440 that way.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

A Moral Wasteland


I know that many Christians are cheered by the news of a Republican victory in the Massachusetts Senate election. I know that other Christians are horrified whenever a preacher mentions politics. Sorry, but this article may offend both. It is not that I like to upset people, but sometimes I have no choice.

If you fear that my commenting on an election is a violation of the law, do not worry. I am not going to endorse a candidate (which is today called illegal, despite being obviously constitutional). I am only going to comment on certain moral issues. I have not only a legal right but a moral responsibility to do that.

If you have been rejoicing over the election of a Republican, please ask yourself how much you know about this man. Has a party label perhaps blinded some to the facts about his moral stance? While it has become common to assume that Democrats tend to be on the wrong side of nearly every moral issue in our country today, are you really confident that a man who has appeared as the centerfold of a racy magazine (and whose wife has done similar things) is likely to be on the right side, morally speaking? Do you even know his stance on issues like abortion, cloning, homosexuality, pornography, and the free exercise of the faith?

Unless I am greatly mistaken, the major parties presented the people of Massachusetts with the choice between two moral reprobates. The people (not surprisingly) chose a moral reprobate. Whether or not this election proves anything about what will happen in future elections, I do not know. But what I do perceive is that it proves (if we needed any proof) that America has become a moral and mental wasteland where people do not think clearly or morally.

This special election fell near the anniversary of the notorious Roe vs. Wade decision. In that decision the Supreme Court of this country took a position that is neither morally nor constitutionally defensible. Yet no representative (that I can recall) submitted a motion for their impeachment. They clearly demonstrated in their decision, that they had no respect for our foundational law, yet neither major party took a stand against such arrogance then, and neither major party has taken an effective stand since.

Sorry, but I am not much cheered by the news from Massachusetts. Perhaps the presence of another Republican will lead to a little more gridlock in Washington, and perhaps (under the circumstances) gridlock is a good thing. But the chilling fact remains. We are living in a moral wasteland where good is called evil and evil is called good.

This is nothing new. Isaiah lived in such a time (Isa 5:20). Jesus was born in such a time (Matt 2:1-18). We should not be fooled by either party, we should face the fact of the moral wasteland in which we live; but we should not give way to despair. Zechariah and Elizabeth were not dismayed at the moral wasteland into which their son was born. They did not mourn over what the world would do to their son. Instead they anticipated how the Lord would change the world through their son (Luke 1:57-79). The early Christians did not give up in the face of the murder of Stephen and the persecution that followed. They responded to these events by going about preaching the word (Acts 8:4).

And that is exactly what we should do. Senator Brown is no more the anointed savior than Barack Obama. He, like nearly everyone in this nation, is a lost person in need of salvation. We live in a moral & spiritual wasteland. We are not going to fix that politically (although we should vote as morally as we can). The good news that this country needs is not a new health care plan, or a new banking plan, they need the gospel plan. That is the only plan that will save them. Scott Brown is not going to deliver the gospel any more than Ted Kennedy did. The question is, are we?

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Just One Key

There are more than 80 keys on my keyboard. Nearly all o them work. The only one that does not work is the key (the one between d & g). It stopped working yesterday. But since all the rest o the key work ine, it will be OK. Or will it?

No, on second thought, I am going to have to go and buy a new keyboard. Even though 98% o the keys are doing their job, having one key out o order is making a mess o my work.

Oically, there are 142 members o this congregation. But some of them are unreliable, they do not engage in the work o the congregation on a consistent basis. They are like that key -- sometimes they work, but often they do nothing.

Having one key out o order messes up my typing, so what do you suppose your ailure to do your part does to the work o the church? Sure, we manage to get the work done somehow, but it does not look right. It takes all o the keys to type properly, and it takes all the members of the body for the church to unction as it should.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Who Has Come To the World

A recent article in House to House reminds me that there is a radical difference between the way Christians talk now, and the way the earliest Christians talked. Christians today are constantly bemoaning the state of the world. The phrase, "Look what the world has come to," sums up their attitude.


The early Christians had a different approach. No doubt they were equally aware of the evil in the world. In fact, judging from Romans chapters 1 through 3, they may have been more aware of human evil. But the attitude then was not "look what the world has come to." The early Christians were more often saying, "Look who has come to the world."


Yes, the world is in terrible shape. We must point that fact out to the few who have not noticed it. But, to the many who have already noticed the evil of this world, we must take the message of the world’s redemption.


"For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord." Luke 2:11

"And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth." John 1:14


"Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! John 1:29


"For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life." John 3:16


"In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him." 1 John 4:9


Yes, the world is in rotten shape. But when we point that out, without pointing people to the solution, we are not helping; we are making matters worse. Let us point them to the one who has come to the world. Let us teach them the good news.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Rx: Bib Overalls


Mr. Rutledge went to his doctor. The doctor told him to buy bib overalls, loose dress trousers and suspenders. He told him that if he would keep his clothes loose his blood pressure would go down ten to fifteen points. The doctor told Mr. Rutledge’s daughter (a nurse) to take her father’s blood pressure. Then he loosened his belt and collar and had her it again. It was down more than ten points.

Loose clothing is not a cure for all blood pressure problems, but it would help many people. Changes in eating habits would also cure a lot of high blood pressure. So why are people paying big money for pills when bib overalls and better eating would solve the problem (without all the side effects)? Bib overalls are not in style. People would rather pay big money for pills than to change the way they eat or the way they dress. Most doctors have learned to prescribe what is wanted, rather than what is most needed.

Church leaders face the same problem. People want an easy solution, one that does not involve any change of lifestyle. They want preaching that condones lukewarmness, or even open sin. Most preachers have learned to go along with what people want. Cheap grace is preached all over town. Short-list legalism is also popular. The straightforward preaching of the cross is almost unknown.

Paul never would have been stoned, if he just would have given the people what they wanted, instead of what they really needed. Paul never learned. I hope we never learn.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Cannibals or Worms, Does It Matter?

John Patton wanted to be a missionary. He believed that the Lord wanted him to go to the Islands of the South Pacific with the gospel. Others thought him insane. One brother told him, “You will be eaten by the cannibals!” That was a very real possibility in the mid-19th century. John Patton’s reply was classic,

“Mr. Dickson, you are now advanced in years, and your own prospect is soon to be laid in the grave, there to be eaten by worms; I confess to you, that if I can but live and die serving and honouring my Lord Jesus, it will make no difference to me whether I am eaten by cannibals or worms; and in the Great Day my body will arise as fair as yours in the likeness of our risen Redeemer.”

The danger of facing cannibals is now past, but are we not often held back from honoring the Lord because of some parallel (although lesser) fear? We need to take more seriously the words of our Lord, “do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows. So everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven, but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven.” Matthew 10:28-33