Monday, December 30, 2013

Do We Ever Stop Talking?

Let’s link three Bible passages that encourage shutting our mouths for a moment. Yes, it’s ironic, that here I am, talking, about being quiet. I’ve had to do some personal evaluation about whether I’m doing this to promote myself, or to share a helpful truth and I am willing to adopt myself. You will have to decide whether there is something of value here.

“so that every mouth may be closed and all the world may become accountable to God;”
(Romans 3:19 NAS95)

Romans 3 is huge in the Bible storyline. The “man” project seems to have been a major failure. “Man-apart-from-God” just doesn’t work. And it’s not from a lack of trying. The specific issue taken to task in this passage is the destruction of self-justification. Man left to his own resources has co-opted the Law of God, that is, the expression of God’s moral character in legal form, and tried to use it as a tool to make himself righteous. It doesn’t work, and so, we should just stop talking about how good we or have become as measured by moral or religious standards, and be quiet before a God who is holy in ways that we have yet to understand. Just be quiet, and take in this God who is so good and gracious, and quit making your case for your own self. There is no justification for me based on myself. But there is a God who justifies.

“If you have been foolish in exalting yourself Or if you have plotted evil, put your hand on your mouth. For the churning of milk produces butter, And pressing the nose brings forth blood; So the churning of anger produces strife.”
(Proverbs 30:32–33 NAS95)

What is the opposite of ‘churning’? I though it might be ‘peace-making’, but then I (finally) noticed that the verses already tell me the answer: ‘put your hand on your mouth.’ Peacemaking sounds grand and glorious. Shutting up, not so much. The specific human behavior that causes so much trouble is the agitation self-promotion. So much striving, trying to get ahead. I do not believe that these verses from the wisdom literature of the Bible lead us to reject all goal-setting. There is such a thing as a holy dissatisfaction with the status quo. But the problem may lie in whether our self-adopted goals have to do with a self-promoting agenda. You know, God may have an agenda as well, - perhaps even a better one. And He may have a role for you to play. Take a deep breath. Take note of what God has given, and of what God may do. Ask how you might partner with God in his gracious work of changing lives, and be willing to wait. Give it a little silence, and a lot of closet prayer.

“Then Job answered the LORD and said, “Behold, I am insignificant; what can I reply to You? I lay my hand on my mouth. “Once I have spoken, and I will not answer; Even twice, and I will add nothing more.””
(Job 40:3–5 NAS95)

It is frightening to me to think of the path that Job travelled in order to get to this point. When stripped of all rewards and comforts, what is left? There could have been bitterness. But instead, there was a hard-wrought humility that was much more respectful of God, having lost all regard for the consumption of selfish humanity. It’s really not about me. It never is. Oh, that’s not how I often think, or act. But it’s the facts, - the truth. And, thankfully, Job experiences a new level of richness and satisfaction, when he is forced to stop talking for a time.

God is gracious enough to justify the ungodly. He is glorious enough to share His light with those that will seek His glory. He is good enough to bless those who see Him for who He is. We are conformed to these designations and roles best when we put our hands over our mouths for a moment.

Monday, October 14, 2013

A Momentous Decision

We make fewer momentous choices in life than we suppose. Many things are decided for us. We did not choose our parents, nor do parents choose their children. We think we plan when we will have our children, and those plans often go awry. We do not choose the country, or the century of our birth. As we grow up, our choices are limited and vetted by our parents. And then we come to a day like this, when two young people exchange vows with another, the other chosen by neither set of parents, but simply, independently, each by the other.

It’s a bit of a scary proposition. With over 7 billion people alive in the world, I would guess that there must be at least half a billion men or women of marriageable age and situation. But out of all that, here we are, and these two have whittled it down to one.

How different it was for Adam in the Garden. 
Then the LORD God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone; I will make him a helper suitable for him.” Out of the ground the LORD God formed every beast of the field and every bird of the sky, and brought them to the man to see what he would call them; and whatever the man called a living creature, that was its name. The man gave names to all the cattle, and to the birds of the sky, and to every beast of the field, but for Adam there was not found a helper suitable for him. So the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and he slept; then He took one of his ribs and closed up the flesh at that place. The LORD God fashioned into a woman the rib which He had taken from the man, and brought her to the man. (Genesis 2:18–22 NAS95)

The text does not say that Adam asked for a partner. God decided that it would be “good.” So God created Eve from Adam’s rib, and introduced them to one another. Adam made a choice of one, out of a field of one. Good choice, Adam. Way to go.

But the Biblical account informs our Christian understanding of marriage, and tempers the observations that I made a moment ago about the magnitude of this choice. We are simply not equipped to make the “right” choice from out of billions, or even hundreds. We understand that all our choices, including this one, is created and guided by a God who plans the steps of his children. The verse in Proverbs says as much: The mind of man plans his way, But the LORD directs his steps. (Proverbs 16:9 NAS95)

And so we believe that these two have made a choice - a choice which will give birth to a hundred, a million, implications for the shape of their lives, for the rest of their earthly lives. And yet we believe that they have not made this choice alone. That the idea of marriage is God’s good idea, and that this specific marriage is also God’s good idea. 

There is another choice, whether married or not, that is even more momentous in each of our lives. God has appointed and anointed His Son, Jesus, as the King of His creation, as the Cornerstone of His building, as the binding of His book, and as the Savior of His people. We each decide to find ourselves in Christ, or to lose ourselves outside of Him. We choose to live under His authority in loving submission, or to thumb our nose at him in stubborn independence. We choose to take Jesus at his unchanging word, or weather the turbulence of the world’s most recent “truth.” Your decision about Jesus is evidenced by whom you aim to please, by whom you talk to first in the morning and last at night, and by whom you consult for all those other, less momentous decisions that we make day in and day out. This decision concerning Jesus has already shaped these two lives, and is indispensably instrumental for their eternal lives. It is for you as well. We will see that this decision for Jesus must also be a pattern and guide to making their marriage the best of all earthly relationships. Let’s Pray.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Membership/Partnership in the Local Church

Church Membership as Partnership and Participation in the Local Church

Our Union with Christ is part of a Cosmic Communion. It includes believers from past and present; from far and near. Our Union with Christ is expressed by our partnership and participation with a local body of believers, a local church. The local church keeps in mind and serves the interests of this Invisible Church.

In the Bible, the term “Invisible Church” is never used. The Bible uses the word “church” both when speaking of that communion that surpasses location and date, and when speaking of the local church, which has a specific location and time.

This dual sense of “church” renders other terms a bit confusing. We often use the word “member” with regard to the local church. But the Bible, so far as I can tell, never does. It speaks of individuals being members, or parts, of the larger Body of Christ. Also, it is now common to hear of the local church being a “covenant community.” But the New Covenant is that which centers in Christ’s shed blood, for all believers in all places. Just as there are not numerous Bodies of Christ, so there are not a multiple of covenants with Christ. And so, when we use the words “membership” or “covenant” in relation to the local church, we are actually stealing, or borrowing, terms that the Bible reserves for a more grand relationship. The purpose of this paper is to attempt to guard against cheapening these important Biblical terms as we tend to the “house-keeping” duties of local church organization.

We do not wish to reduce the importance of the local church or one’s partnership and participation in the local church. We just struggle to state that connection properly, in a way that does not make the local church an end in itself, or an entity that overshadows the fellowship for which we await. To be fair, the local church is to take seriously Body membership and Covenant inclusion. We say as much when we baptize with water, with reference to the Spirit’s baptism into the Body of Christ; and when we extend invitation to the Lord’s Table, enacting a kind of covenant renewal. There can be an analogy between one’s immersion into the Body of Christ, and one’s participation in a local church; in one’s renewal of covenant enjoyment and commitment to Christ, and one’s partnership with a local church. But these are analogous. They are not identical. And I fear that often, the visible overshadows the invisible; the local outstrips the cosmic.

And so, when speaking of church membership, we stress the terms “partnership” and “participation” (one could also pursue the term “fellowship”). And these are not without difficulty. Some participate in aspects of the local church without showing many characteristics of partnership. We have to ask questions about the degree to which one should participate without partnering. And we have to ask what expressions of partnership are necessary to be considered a partner in the local church.

I suggest that there are three areas where we ought to expect agreement if we are to be in partnership together at a local church level:
1. Conversion and baptism –
2. Doctrine and life –
3. Prayer and service - 
  1. We hold to a believers’ church. Therefore, you must have begun in the Christian life. You must be born again. We rely on your profession of faith, as expressed in believers’ baptism.
  2. Also, we need to stand in large (but not complete) agreement on the teachings of Scripture. Local churches take particular doctrinal stances as they seek to understand the Scriptures. The Bible is not ambiguous. It gives clear, though not complete, knowledge. But doctrinal agreement also assumes an application that shapes one’s life in a godly or Christlike way. We partner as we live lives that behave according to our beliefs.
  3. And third, we partner as we pray and serve together. We are not partners together merely to have names on a list. We are not partners together merely to exist. We are here to serve God’s interests, which depends upon the Spirit’s leading in our midst. This means that, alongside Scripture, we must pray, and then serve. If you are not praying and serving, then you are not partnering.

So our use of the term “church membership” means first partnership, and then participation with other believers who have joined together in this time and at this place to serve the interests of our One Head, Jesus Christ, and to function as a “part” of His one Body, the church. 

Friday, August 02, 2013

No Little Sins

We often hear that one sin is no worse than another. In a sense, this is true. If we define various sins in terms of transgressions, it fits. A transgression is crossing a line that you ought not to cross. It really doesn’t matter if you cross it by an inch or a mile. You have still crossed it. You have transgressed. You have sinned. We all must understand that one single transgression is a violation of God’s holy standard that will have to reckon with God’s judgment. Those who by faith in Jesus are covered by His blood find comfort and assurance in the fact that He has borne God’s judgment for us.

But we would have to admit that different sins carry different consequences in this life. Some sins destroy reputations and lives. Some sins lead to the destruction of family structure and affect the lives of children for decades to come. In this sense, not all sins are the same.

But I would like to turn the opening phrase around and ask, “are some sins better than others?” If one sin is no worse than another, than are some sins “less worse”? And here we must be careful. Because there are no little sins.

We have to recognize that every single sin, even if undetected by everyone around us, affects both our fellowship with God and our fruitfulness for God. Sins of attitude make sacrificial love impossible. We end up doing good things for all the wrong reasons, often leaving us worse off than when we started. These kinds of “little sins” destroy joy and contentment. They chip away at security and confidence. They will affect both whether and how we pray, and will knock the legs out from under our witness. Miserable Christians are rotten witnesses. The root of that misery can most often be traced back to “little sins” that are not really little at all, because there is no sin that is better than another.

Let’s not make peace with “little sins.” Take up the fight - by carefully confessing these sins, and turning from them with new attitudes and actions. Let’s embrace the invitation of fellowship with Christ, and pray for greater fruitfulness.

Friday, July 19, 2013

I Want It Now

The Church of Jesus Christ is the eschatological people of God. What is that word? Eschatological? It is not simple, but it is important. It means that the people of God belongs to the age-to-come, but that His people already exist, though not in final form, in the present age. We are a people who have been already brought into being, but who are not yet complete.

This truth implies that our current existence is meaningless apart from our future enjoyments. Don’t be mis-led. I did not say that our current existence is unimportant. Quite the contrary. It is highly important, so much so that our choices and behaviors now will have an effect on our enjoyments forever. But our life in the present age can never be isolated from the future reality when we will live in the presence of Jesus and the unhindered expression of the glory of God forever.

I find that a key application of this truth is very convicting. We cannot just live in and for the “now”. But we are trained by our culture to want “it” (and by “it,” I mean just about everything) now.

I want good service in any establishment to be prompt. I want it now. I want your attention when I want it - in that “now” moment when I want it. I want to get where I am going without delay. I hate delays. It messes up my “now.” 

I want to compensated and comfortable in short order. 
I want to experience fullness and satisfaction now. 
I want to be happy now. 
I want to be popular now. 

These last four statements were taken from Scripture (Luke 4:24-25) except for the one word that Jesus clearly and repeatedly pronounces over them and their attitudes. That word is “woe.”

When you and I live merely in and for the “now,” we deny the reality and distinctiveness of what it means to be God’s people. We have taken up living like those who “have no hope and are without God in the world” (Ephesians 2:12). 

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Christian Credibility

If you believe in the creation of the universe in 6 days, you are an idiot, and there’s no point in having a conversation. And if you believe that marriage should be reserved only for men and women, shutting out loving same-sex couples, you are a hater, and you ought to be silenced. If you hold either of these positions, you have no credibility in modern society. You are an old fool who should be ignored or quarantined.

That is fast becoming the attitude toward Christians in our society. Now, not all who profess to be Christians hold to 6-day creation or a traditional definition of marriage, but I want to make a point about Christian credibility. It is not established in the court of public opinion, but depends on a consistent reliance on a firm foundation.

Biblical authority is our firm foundation. Christians are credible when they consistently form their positions from what God’s Word, the Scriptures, say. Our consciences and our conduct must be shaped by what God has said. We must face every issue with the question, “What does the Bible say?”, and then act accordingly. 

But we must face the fact that, regardless of a stiff headwind from secular society, we have created our own Christian credibility crisis. We have done so by failing to be consistent in our appeal to the Biblical witness. Pastors and churches have entertained all kinds of theories about creation, often opting for renditions that feel a little less rigid, and many have placed solid exegesis of Scripture in a secondary position. Also, Pastors and churches have not honored and protected marriage between a man and a woman, and most have ceded spiritual oversight in the area of marriage preparation and practice and also in the area of dealing with the threat and fact of divorce.

The world around us can then rightly say, “If you don’t take your own Book seriously, why should we take you seriously?” And so the issue is, if we are to have credibility, do we stand firmly on a Scriptural foundation.

Yes, there are differences in Biblical interpretation. But not so many as you may think. Most of the differences have to do with ignoring or abandoning what the Bible clearly says. 

Thursday, June 20, 2013

All Truth is God’s Truth

The quote, “All truth is God’s truth,” attributed first to Augustine, implies that truth should be easy to come by. If this world belongs to God, then all that is truly true must square with God, and with His truth. But for practical purposes, our search for truth is not that simple. Many people are out there giving answers. We have to ask, “Whom can we trust?”

Our brains easily opt for true/false solutions and easy answers. What is true stands in white over against that which is false, which is painted in black. This absolute dichotomy leads to a “right answer” kind of faith that tends to trust Wikipedia more than we trust God’s Word. It’s quicker and more concise. 

So two kids are taking a true/false quiz. One student struggles with a question, because the “true” answer would be basically right, except in maybe just a couple of cases. But if it’s not true in every case, then it’s not absolutely true, and so must be false. He marks “F.” Another student has no clue, and since he has marked “F” on the 3 previous items, he throws down a “T.” The teacher judges “T” to be the right answer, but who really knows the “truth”? Point: a lot of people get the right answer and don’t know the truth.

A Hebrew (rather than Greek) approach to truth has more to do with reliability than with right answers. You go to a wise man for advice, not just to get right answers, but because he is wise, and because he has shown his wisdom through a pattern of living and advising. It is not that he does not give right answers. But his advice is more dense, contextualized, and properly applied.

When John 1:14 tells us that the Word (Jesus) is “full of grace and truth,” we are not being told that he is nice and has right answers. We are being told that he initiates a covenantal relationship in which he is completely faithful and even undertakes for the failings of his covenant partners (grace), and that he is perfectly faithful in all that he does to fulfill the covenant and in all the promises that he makes to us (truth). He rarely gives easy, right answers. But we can trust him, lean on him and learn from him, and follow him.

Wednesday, June 05, 2013

Prayer as Pleading

The prayer exchange between Abraham and the Lord in Genesis 18 is shocking. If you start at the beginning of the book you’ve travelled from creation in Genesis 1 and 2, where the unrivaled God makes man from the dust of the ground. He kicks man out of the Garden in Genesis 3, and wipes our humanity in the Flood in Genesis 7. It is now surprising that God would bother to invite a conversation with this lone individual, Abraham, about a subject which is much more God’s business than man’s.

The question God asks Himself, for our benefit, is this: “Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do?” (Gen 18:16). God has willingly bound Himself to Abraham in such a way that he purposes to engage Abraham in the carrying out of His purposes, whether it be to build or destroy; whether to show mercy or exercise terrible judgment. He chooses to let Abraham in on a secret that would have been unknowable to natural man. “Surely the Lord GOD does nothing Unless He reveals His secret counsel To His servants the prophets.” (Amos 3:7 NAS95)

Is it any different for us? Having been drawn into covenant relationship with God, through Christ, no less, does not God also purpose to engage us in His purposes, so much so that he wants us to plead with Him concerning the extension of His mercy and the delaying of His judgment? I would argue that, though Abraham is indeed a Biblical giant, followers of Christ have all the standing of sons of Abraham. In fact, the Bible identifies us as one and the same.

Abraham may not argue with God in the exchange that occurs in Genesis 18:23-32, but he certainly makes an argument. Abraham’s progression of thought is not so surprising as is God’s patience with the whole negotiation process. But when we think about it, we are not seeing Abraham move God so much as we see God moving Abraham. Abraham is growing in his realization of the loneliness of righteousness in a world and culture that is overwhelmingly dark and evil.

Perhaps Abraham assumed that Lot and his family would have had a “salt and light” influence on the city of Sodom. Surely Lot would have won over at least some of his neighbors to the worship of the one true God, and that they would be living in fear and worship of Him. I am guessing that Abraham was overly optimistic about Lot’s influence. On the other hand, it seems that Abraham under-estimated the enemy influence of sin and evil on Lot and his family. And we are left to wonder, how many righteous people were there really in Sodom? Certainly less than ten. Less than 6, or 4? Maybe not even one.

The story and after-story lead us to wonder. Lot offers his daughters to the men of the town who have lewd desires for the visiting angels. Lot pleads not to travel too far from his beloved, wicked city. His wife cannot bear to turn her back on her former, judged life, and is turned to a pillar of salt. Lot’s daughters later take matters into their own hands and get their dad drunk in order that he might impregnate the two of them. Who could dream up a story like this? We, like Abraham, like to think better of our nephews, and of ourselves. We’re not that bad. We’re better than that. But we’re not. We must conclude that the reference to “righteous Lot” in 2 Peter 2:7 is not based on Lot’s own righteousness, judged in its own right. He may have been somewhat righteous in contrast to his wicked city. He did, at least, deny the townsmen’s initial demands. Or, Lot may have been righteous due to a gift given to him rather than what he was in himself. God may have declared him righteous as a gift of His grace.

I would suggest that Abraham’s prayer helped Abraham discover both the real paucity and the absolute necessity of righteousness. Psalm 14, quoted in Romans 3, says that “there is none righteous, no not one.” There is no hope for any of us in ourselves. But there is a Righteous One, not merely one of us, but one who became like us, so that he could take our sin and give us righteousness. In 1 John 2:1, we are told that “we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the Righteous.”  We see the drastic contrast with Lot’s character when Jesus is described in Hebrews 7:26 as “holy, innocent, unstained, separated from sinners, exalted above the heavens.” He’s not like Lot. He’s not like me. The old hymn tells us we have “no friend like Him who’s so high and holy; and yet no friend is so meek and lowly” (No, Not One).

The Lord’s decision to invite Abraham to engage with Him in this prayer shows me that God wants to engage with His children in the carrying out of His purposes. He is patient with me in helping me to discover the deep truths of His purposes and His ways. May I plead like Abraham for the extension of God’s amazing mercy to those living under the threatening clouds of judgment.

Friday, May 24, 2013

One More Note on the Generous Widow

This lady’s lesson concerning her scant offering, described in one scant verse, Mark 12:42, has grabbed hold of me now for a couple of weeks. We eat, and pray that the calories will not hold. But we preach, and pray that the lessons will.

The commentaries say that her offering had the value of 1/64 of a day’s wage. Using rough math, based on a 10 hour day, her offering was equivalent to what a laborer would earn for 10 minutes of work. “Here, I’ll come pull weeds in your garden for 10 minutes. How much will you pay me?”

I would not be surprised to hear you say that it would not be worth your coming. The amount of the work would hold next to no value. It’s hardly worth measuring.

And so one could have said to this widow, your offering is not worth giving. It holds so little value that you may as well keep it yourself, not that it is of much value to you either. You can scarcely pay a bill or buy a vegetable with it. Maybe just throw it on the ground.

And then I thought, how long do I pray in the morning? Ten minutes. How much time do I spend in consideration of God and His Word? 1/64th of a day? And would you be surprised if God were to say, “don’t even bother, it’s of so little use, so little value, you may as well spend that time on yourself, or just throw it on the ground.”

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Trophies of Grace

Go into most schools and many churches, and you will see a trophy case. Some are getting pretty tarnished, but they denote real accomplishments, albeit from the past. Tastes differ, but I think they look kind of gaudy. I think the trophy business needs a new look.

There are better trophies out there. Trophies of grace. Lives stuck in the mud who have been rescued and redeemed. Sinners made saints. Worshippers of self turned glorifiers of God. Earthen vessels possessed by the Spirit of God, now doing the will of God in the power of God, all the while pointing to Jesus.

Trophies don’t make themselves, and they don’t testify to themselves. Children of God are made by God, to give testimony that there is a trophy enterprise that is full of grace and wonder and beauty.

What a privilege this past Sunday to hear a couple tell the story of God’s grace, and how God laid hold of poor, lost souls to create trophies of grace that “shine like lights in the world” (Philippians 2:15). Praise the Lord!

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Time to Re-Set?

I like words. And I like to notice when a new word becomes hot. “Re-set” is one of those words. This word may have been around for a long time, though I don’t remember it. But I hear it a lot these days, whether it has to do with the economy, or relationships with the Russians, or with Congress, or in telling a story that explains our condition. We need to re-set.

I guess it’s a word. I’m not sure it’s a true word, or, a word that has real meaning. I don’t believe suddenly being kind after being offensive results in harmony, or that suddenly telling a new version of truth after old versions have been exposed gives birth to trust - I don’t think that re-set works. The crook or sinner from five minutes ago is still a crook or sinner. Maybe he has learned a lesson, but he still may remember a number of his old lessons.

But I love “re-” words. And I love the ones that are actually a part of intelligent literature, and I especially love the “re-” words of the Bible. Let’s take a look at these three: re-pentance, re-conciliation, and re-demption.

Repentance is telling the truth about my sin, and turning away from it. It is agreeing with God about the fact of my sin even as I admit that my actions/attitudes were a lie and an offense against God’s truth. Repentance does not lead us to a vacuum, but to faith, a turning toward God even as we turn away from ourselves. It is a humble act of submission that comes about as God in His Spirit graciously breaks down the hardness of our hearts and shines His light into our darkness. Repentance is real because it is not merely a human activity initiated in order to paint over our own messes. It is initiated by God to “bring me up out of the pit of destruction, out of the miry clay” (Psalm 40:2). It is God’s rescue operation.

Reconciliation is putting back together what has torn apart. We fail to remember that most of our fractures cannot be self-healed. We desperately need outside help. My major theological illustration of this is good old Humpty Dumpty. “All the king’s horses and all the king’s men could not put Humpty Dumpty back together again.” Neither can you, and neither can I. But God does. He goes to the root of the problem and plants a new root. He does not placate the enmity, but destroys the enmity, “by abolishing in His (Christ’s) flesh the enmity” (Ephesians 2:15), “having nailed it to the cross” (Colossians 2:14). God is able to create true and deep peace where there was only fear and suspicion. I love this word. It’s a true word with real meaning.

That brings us to redemption. We are, by nature, imprisoned and enslaved people. That’s what it means to be a sinner. We don’t just make bad choices. Our whole existence is defined by bad choice. We are a bad choice. We are part of Satan’s choice to rebel against God; part of of Adam’s choice to have his own way. We are a product of bad choice, and an expression of bad choice. And then, in our own experience, we confirm bad choice time and time again, even when we don’t want to. But God, in redemption, embraces “bad choice.” “In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace” (Ephesians 1:7). He embraces you. He embraces me. He pays the price to redeem you from your slavery and imprisonment into a new experience of love and forgiveness; to a new life of purity and freedom on a new path, never alone, but in constant contact with His Son, Jesus. 

Saturday, April 06, 2013

What Were You Thinking?

We can get pretty puffed up with wrong notions and erroneous beliefs. In fact, we are encouraged that direction by the messages of the world in which we live. The New Testament uses a little phrase, “if anyone supposes ...” as an indicator of some of these wrong notions and beliefs. Here is a summary of them, with a few notes.

God’s wisdom and power trumps worldly wisdom and power
1Cor. 3:18   Let no man deceive himself. If any man among you thinks that he is wise in this age, he must become foolish, so that he may become wise. 
The short answer here is that Christ is my life. He is the source of true life, the meaning of true life, and the goal of true life. Therefore, any kind of worldly wisdom that denies this truth needs to be overthrown. Here are a couple of examples:
“if you have your health, you have everything”
“the key to a good life is a good education”
“the one who dies with the most toys wins”
There is no point in being opposed to health, education, or even toys. However, when they are allowed to supplant Christ as the source, meaning or goal of life, they are dangerous and damning.

Love trumps knowledge
1Cor. 8:2 If anyone supposes that he knows anything, he has not yet known as he ought to know;  3 but if anyone loves God, he is known by Him.
It is said that “knowledge is power.” I’ve seen this happen among believers. But God, who gave us our brains and our minds as gifts to be used for Him expects that all knowledge will be pressed into the service of love. Knowledge is not a leveraging tool. It is an instrument by which we express love.

Participation in Christ trumps association with Christians
1Cor. 10:12 Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed that he does not fall.
“Hanging out” is the new Christian activity. We aren’t going to teach or learn. We’re just going to hang out. We’re not going to pray or evangelize. We’re just going to hang out. Well, in the Old Testament history that Paul recites at the beginning of 1 Corinthians 10, there were a lot of people hanging out with God’s people who will not be hanging out in heaven. Having Christians around you is not of much use if you do not have Christ in you.

God’s Word trumps human reasoning
1Cor. 11:16 But if one is inclined to be contentious, we have no other practice, nor have the churches of God.
I’ll be honest, the first half of 1 Corinthians 11 is tough. But what is clear is that God has a design, even if it does not always make sense to us. We may not understand the cultural significance of head coverings, but we understand that God has established a principle of male headship in the home and in the church. So while it may be true that women are smarter and better listeners and thus better corporate officers and organizers (WSJ this week), it does not change God’s design. We just need to take God at His Word.

God’s Word trumps subjective expressions of prophecy or spirituality
1Cor. 14:37   If anyone thinks he is a prophet or spiritual, let him recognize that the things which I write to you are the Lord’s commandment. 
Our notions and feelings need to be checked by God’s Word. There are many people with powerful personalities and winning charisma that can be at odds with God’s agenda, whether because of some malicious motivation or being unwittingly used by the enemy. What does God’s Word say?

The Spirit of God and Glory of Christ trump human accomplishments
Phil. 3:4 although I myself might have confidence even in the flesh. If anyone else has a mind to put confidence in the flesh, I far more:
God delights to use the weak to demonstrate His power; to take something ugly to create something beautiful. So why do we always gravitate to the best and the brightest. The company of believers in heaven will be trophies, not of human genius and greatness, but of grace. 

Self-control trumps self-expression
James 1:26   If anyone thinks himself to be religious, and yet does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this man’s religion is worthless.
Is anyone more practical than James? Ouch, ouch, and ouch. You think you’ve got it together? What do you say when you’re mad? What do you say under your breath, and inside your head? As we fail in this area, we take our minds and hearts back to God over and over again, asking for forgiveness, cleansing, and the construction of a deep and real holiness in our hearts.

Wednesday, April 03, 2013


Baptists are not sacramental people. Some could argue that we are actually anti-sacramental, or sans-sacramental. We reject a doctrine that seeks to mutate the doctrine of God’s grace flowing through Christ “like a river glorious” into some kind of chunky ‘dose of grace’ concept that says we are better off for having chewed on a wafer or swallowed a thimble-full of juice. And yet, we observe Communion, and strive to keep the emphasis, not on the elements, but on the Person. The sappy-sacramentalists in several camps will have a field day with all of this. Stupid Baptists.

But maybe we have all missed the point. Jesus has not merely injected heavenly meaning into a very few material elements. He has transformed the meaning of life, in all of life. John 6 is the material that is poking at me, and Jesus was abusing the brains of people who are trying to work with the old definitions. Did he really say “Eat my flesh; Drink my blood”? No, Jesus, don’t say such a thing. It’s beyond the pale of reason and good taste.

Our shared case in missing the point may be somewhat like what has happened to our experience of the Spirit. We are critical of the exaggerations of the charismatics, so much so that we are almost afraid of any kind of spiritual experience or expression. We are so afraid of any form of transubstantiation, we spend our time in Communion saying more what it doesn’t mean than what it does. But what if we blow the ends off the coffin, and apply Jesus to all of life?

Can you imagine a believer so taken with Christ that he is drawn to think of Christ every single time he eats or drinks? Breakfast: I can’t afford to start my day without ... Jesus. Bedtime snack: Just a little more of Jesus. I can’t live without my coffee, and much more profoundly and deeply, without Jesus. Let’s dive into baptism. Can you imagine a believer so taken with Christ that every time he washes his hands, every day when he takes a shower, he is deeply aware of the cleansing that we have received and of which we stand in need by Jesus’ blood and God’s forgiveness? 

Let me call this the Super-Sacramental life. It stands in contrast to the sans-sacramentalism of the Baptists, and the sappy-sacramental approach of those who find the eucharist in every reference to bread, blood or water in the Bible. Jesus has not injected himself into all of life - He is our LIfe in such a way that we see him everywhere, in all that we do, in every arena, in the smallest things and the grandest things. 

We observe gathered Communion/Lord’s Table regularly. There is a distinctive character to it. Here we eat and drink in fellowship with God’s people and in fellowship with our Lord. It anticipates the heavenly fellowship that we will one day enjoy, face to face and unhindered by distance and death. Frankly, we need gathered communion because we fail to see Jesus everywhere else. But, truthfully, our Communion cannot be limited to these occasions, because we are invited by Jesus to live Super-Sacramental lives, feeding on him and drinking him in, enjoying that flow of grace, every moment of every single day.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Joy in Judgment

“Don’t judge!” That’s the correction given over and over in our day. And there is much truth in it - but not absolute truth. Because joy comes in judgment.

Psalm 21 talks in terms of two teams, of two sides. There is joy when your team wins. Their is dismay when you lose. Joy is tied to the judgment of the other side. Psalm 21 describes no silly game. This is not merely an annual contest to be played all over again next year. This is the eternal struggle between God and His enemies, and we are caught in the middle. Those who have been caught up by God’s grace are now passionate for the victory of God and for the vindication of God’s people as we often take our lumps, or worse, in this world that has set itself against God. And our joy is ultimately linked to God’s victory over and judgment of His enemies.

Psalm 21 begins and ends with a reference to God’s strength. We have a strong team, anchored in the strength of our God. We exult in our God, and we want to see Him exalted, by all. There is none like Him.

And He treats His people so well. What we want, He gives, in keeping with His victory. We ask for life. He defeats death. We ask for more and many days. He removes the curse and every barrier to eternal life. We want to be close to Him, and He gives “the joy of your presence” (v.6). Our God is better than we deserve, and greater than we know.

The most striking metaphor in Psalm 21 is in v.9: “as a blazing oven.” You have to connect this with Nebuchadnezzar’s oven into which he tossed Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego in Daniel 3. God thwarted His enemy’s victory that day, and will establish His own victory in terrible judgment, which will result in the joy of God’s people.

God is the judge, not me. But let’s not be so afraid of judgment that we remove it from our conception of our God, and thus lose our joy.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Basic Temptations

2. The first day that you enter into Christ's congregation, watch out for the temptations.
Bunyan, John (2011-11-22). Prayer (Kindle Locations 371-372). GLH Publishing. Kindle Edition. 

One would think that when we come to Christ and enter into His church, we are safe at last. And in a sense, we are right, for there is no more dangerous place to be than outside of Christ. There I am under the lordship of the devil, and in constant peril of being confirmed and confined to eternal punishment. Now, in Christ, we are saved - safe in Him.

And yet, there are temptations for those who enter the fold - temptations that would draw you away from the purity of the Gospel; temptations that would fix your eyes on men with powerful personalities rather than relying on the power of the Spirit; temptations to attempt or expect short-cuts to glory, bypassing the pains and shames of suffering. 

The Apostle Paul has written letters on each of these subjects (and more). He wrote to the Galatians: “I am amazed that you are so quickly turned from the Gospel,” returning to a kind of “approval-by-lawfulness.” He wrote 1 Corinthians to warn people to not be so enamored with gifted men who have been called to be but servants of Jesus who alone is Lord. In addition, Peter wrote his first letter to warn fellow Christians that they “should not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you.”

All of these temptations result from losing sight of the glories of heaven, substituting instead a lesser vision framed by earthly and man-sized perspectives. We trade away approval with God, secured by Christ, for approval in the eyes of men, earned through our own efforts. Our worship slides askew from “faith-in-God-who-cannot-be-seen” to physical or psychological attractions toward mere men. We begin to think that we were saved primarily for our own convenience and comfort rather than for the glory of God, and thus  find rejection and suffering impossible to comprehend and to endure.

But Christian, remember that we are strangers and sojourners. We are not yet what we will be, and we do not yet bask in our Savior’s presence. That is ahead, up the road. Let’s keep going, in the purity of the Gospel, relying on the strength that God’s Spirit gives, enduring suffering as good soldiers of Christ.

Tuesday, January 08, 2013

Wives, Submit to your Husbands

The subject of a wife’s submission to her husband gives rise to tensions. If you have been part of such discussions, it is likely that you will have heard more about what submission is not than what it is. “I don’t know what submission means, but it certainly cannot meant that!” Let me ask a different question that may help with the context.

Why do people resist coming to Christ?

I suppose that several reasons could be given. If we rule out the problems of the many who have not heard and understood the Gospel, we can say that many people resist on intellectual grounds. They just don’t accept that Jesus is more than a man, that he rose from the dead, and that he is appointed as Judge of all the earth. And they would have a lot of company.

But further, why do so many adopt that position? Well, it is popular. But why is it so popular? I believe that at least a large segment of these objectors do so, not because of the force of their arguments, but because they do not want to come to Christ. I believe that many of us, with reference to many different subjects, tend to adopt the position that we want, and then secondarily marshall arguments that support our position. I suppose that many who resist Christ say that Christians have done exactly that - choose Christ, and then find arguments to support the position.

But my point then exposes what I believe is the largest group of people who resist coming to Christ: they resist him, because they don’t want to submit to his authority. They do not want to accept the yoke of being a Christ-follower. This is not intellectual resistance; it is willful resistance. I simply don’t want to.

If you found yourself under the domination of a cruel taskmaster, you might quickly flee to a kinder master. If you saw yourself in slavery, you would gladly welcome deliverance into a better relationship. But if you view your life as being your own, and that you are the master of your own world, the invitation to turn away from such independence and self-sufficiency is hard. It’s like, well, dying to self. And who is so suspicious of self, that they actually trust someone else more? The common condition of men and women in our culture is that know one knows and cares what is best for me than my own self, and thus we remain willfully independent. And so many - most - resist Christ.

Except we are not truly independent. The Gospel shows that we are enslaved to our passions, and that those passions are actually structured and inflamed by spiritual powers that have the upper hand. We are not free. We are slaves of sin.

Those who would be Christians give up resistance to Christ when they recognize their sin and see their need of a Savior. They bow to his authority, confessing the mess they have made of things on their own, and recognizing that they do not possess the wisdom or the strength to rightly govern their lives. They have come to understand that their lives are not their own (1 Corinthians 6), but that life is a gift, and they act as stewards, so that they are accountable for significant decisions and actions, not to their own selves, but rather to God. We believe that we find our lives when we lose them (Mark 8).

Now, submission doesn’t sound so bad, does it? Submission is admittedly a dirty word when sounded out in the context of American individualism. But against the backdrop of redemption, submission is sweet. God is good, and He is gracious, and, in Christ, He rescues us from sin and from ourselves. For saints individually and for the church collectively, our submission to Christ is illustrated by a wife’s submission to her husband.

Then why is this so difficult? Because, as saints, we are still sinners. And the earliest chapters of the Bible make plain that there is rebellion bred deep into us in the effects of sin. God speaks to Eve, the first woman, in the after-effects of the first sin, and he tells her that “her desire will be against her husband, and he will rule over you” (Genesis 3:16). There will be a contest of wills - willful resistance. And so the Christian bride makes a conscious decision that she will act toward her husband as she acts toward Christ. She will submit, even when it does not come naturally.

But why is this so hard? Another layer of reason is that your husband is not Christ. While Christ is perfect in wisdom and love, your husband is not. And yet, you are to trust him with your life more than you trust yourself. I wonder, if brides really understood this, would there be fewer brides?

The whole history of the human race as described in the Bible could fall under a search for a Deliverer, and a search for a Leader, a Ruler. Every worldly ruler seems to think first of himself, and is often guided by a dangerous combination of foolishness and ruthlessness. Our disappointments with rulers are many, and they give us little reason to trust anyone else. But Ephesians 5 is clear: the husband is the head of the wife. Genesis 3 is clear: the husband will rule the wife. 

If David, the best king ever, were your king, you should still yearn for a better King. And if prince charming is your husband, there are enough chinks in his armor that you will still yearn for a Ruler who will lead and love perfectly. I think that is what wives know and accept - as good as your husband is, there is still something better. There must be. Marriage is not the ultimate experience. You are being prepared for something greater, even as God can and often does bring plentiful blessings in the present.

So, what does it mean to submit? It means to willingly place yourself under a God-ordained order (hupo-tassw). Since God has designed the home to be a place where the husband is to lead and love his wife as her head, then the wife submits to that order. There are other orders to which we submit, whether in society with its laws and government (Romans 13), or in church to the Word and to designated leadership (Hebrews 13).

Submission is akin to obedience. The word-picture in my brain for obedience is standing underneath a reverse umbrella, where, when you stand in its shelter, you are watered with God’s word, and you stay under the direction of that word, not venturing out into the dryness to do your own thing according to your own senses. Obeying means to abide under the direction of God’s word. Submission means staying within God’s order - staying in line as when marching in parade - keeping in step even when the rest of the world runs helter-skelter. The husband/wife relationship is part of that order. And while obedience infers an understanding gained from God, submission infers that you abide in that order whether you understand and agree, or not. Submission is harder than obedience.

Saturday, January 05, 2013

Spiritual Advice

A man named Jerry has been a special blessing to me for the past year and a half. He’s an interesting fellow, born and raised in Detroit, and since transplanted. He has faced, and continues to face, several hardships. His wife does not have a strong heart. By God’s grace, she has endured longer than doctors would have hoped, and there is something special about a person who knows that each day they live, it is because of God’s favor. Jerry himself is not what I would call healthy. He looks great - good-looking and strong. But he lost the use of a lung during a heart surgery, and he makes frequent trips to the hospital because of breathing deficiency. He and his wife have welcomed a daughter and her two children back into the home as she seeks to re-train to support her family on her own. He has spent considerable time with an aging mother-in-law. And yet Jerry faces each twist and turn with a smile and a sense of humor.

Jerry does not claim to be perfect. He knows that he’s got a quick temper, and that he can take quick offense. He has not always walked close with the Lord. But he does now. God has placed his claim on Jerry, and Jerry has placed a claim on God. They are bound together, and it shows.

There were days this past summer when I was pretty darn discouraged. Jerry, more than once, came and prayed with me at the start of a day, asking for God’s help. It changes your perspective! We saw God answer prayer in pretty amazing ways, and we were able to thank the Lord together for his surprising provision. Jerry also pointed out, in father-like fashion, some mistakes that I was making, and he wanted to make sure that I could see them. It was a little painful - a dose of humiliation - but it was what I needed. He was a friend, telling me the truth.

Jerry has also been exceedingly kind and generous. He has been generous with his time and energy; with his house and pool; with sharing and with gifts. He has been an open book, an epistle written by the Spirit of grace, and I have benefited from the experience.

I talked with Jerry on the phone a couple of times this past week. In our short conversations, he turned to spiritual themes two or three times - not forced; not preachy - just real and practical. He was right. He was stating the obvious - obvious, that is, to someone who walks with the Lord and is being guided by the Spirit.

One of the clear, first lessons that I have noticed in “the wisdom project,” our reading of a chapter of Proverbs each day through 2013, is that we need to listen to wise counsel. We need to hear spiritual advice. We need the blessing of someone who will speak the truth in the context of the difficulties of life, pointing the way to Christ in the light of the Spirit. I am blessed to have been the beneficiary of this ministry, and I pray that I might learn to do the same for others.