Friday, August 31, 2018

Trivia, but not Trivial

Here are a couple of trivia questions for you. How many times did Babe Ruth win the American League Most Valuable Player award? How many times did Red Grange win the NFL Most Valuable Player award?

Interestingly, they are tied. The answer, in both cases, is zero. Neither of them was ever named most valuable player. There was no such award in the NFL until 1957, long after Red Grange had retired. There was no such award in baseball until 1931, near the end of Babe Ruth’s career.

In recent years, it seems, our sports have been dominated by individual statistics and individual achievement awards. It has not always been this way. There was a time when the team was considered more important than the individual. As someone has said, “the name on the front of the jersey is more important than the name on the back.” When it comes to the Yankees, about the only thing I like about the team is their decision that the players’ names will not appear on the jerseys, only the team logo.

Are we infected with the modern worship of individual accomplishment, or do we realize that the individual is to show more concern for others than for himself? Are we infected with worldly self-centeredness, or do we realize that the Lord’s glory ought to be our goal? Would we rather that the church succeeds even if we are unnoticed or do we insist that we be catered to, whether it is good for the church or not?

Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others” (Philippians 2:3-4, ESV).

For a day in your courts is better than a thousand elsewhere. I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of wickedness. I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of wickedness” (Psalm 84:10, ESV).

Friday, August 17, 2018

A God of Order

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, August 11, 2018

The Wrong Question

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, August 4, 2018

Member of the Body or Customer of the Church

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

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

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

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

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

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

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