Friday, March 8, 2013

Pressing "Pause"

You may have noticed that I've not posted on our blog for a number of weeks.  These opening months of 2013 have been busier and even more involved than I anticipated.  My new role as staff team leader, in addition to my other pastoral duties, is stretching me in good ways, but it is also taking a lot of time.  So, in an effort to create some healthy margins, our elder board has encouraged me to give the church blog a temporary rest.  You may see an occasional post for church-wide communication purposes or to make you aware of some specially important resource, but I intend to take a break from using the blog on a regular basis as a mean of training.  If you have an itch to be theologically challenged/stretched and resourced, I'd encourage you to scroll back through past posts to sate your soul and mind.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Acts in action

This year at Trinity we're studying the book of Acts, which is all about the gospel spreading like fire, transforming sinners into Christ-followers.  That's not just ancient history.  Each one of us are living examples of God's saving grace as much as the new converts in Acts.  But God didn't save us to sit; He saved us to go - go with the gospel that is our hope to other sinners who need the world's best news.

I was recently spurred on in my own need to go - to go wisely and compassionately - to the sinners in my world by the story of a man from the UK named Mez McConnell.  As you listen to his story, think with thankfulness of how God in grace has rescued you - and calls you to go to others with wisdom and compassion and the best news.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Wisdom in class - and other contexts

One of the greatest examples of true wisdom is knowing when and when not to speak.  That is particularly apropos in a classroom or small group setting.  Particularly challenging for a teacher or leader is the person with a good deal of knowledge who always feels the need to say something - whether its relevant or helpful or not.  Many of us who are natural talkers have room to grow in this area.  That may include you.  Obeying the following chart can help immeasurably.  Hopefully you'll find it as helpful as I have.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Devotion to gospel community

Last Sunday Acts 2:42-47 showed us what going deep in relationship for mutual sanctification looks like, and I gave some examples of that in my own life. True koinonia means more than mere encouragement. It means honestly, kindly and passionately engaging one another when we start to drift for our good and God's greater glory. Today's entry on Scotty Smith's Heavenward blog teaches us how to pray toward that end:

     A Prayer of Intercession for Sin-Entangled Friends

Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently. But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted. Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. Gal. 6:1-2

Heavenly Father, we come to your throne of grace this morning praying for wisdom and gentleness to love our struggling, entangled friends well. None of us naturally likes confrontation, and we decry self-righteous busybodies who show up in our lives like self-appointed prosecuting attorneys in the kingdom; but these words of Paul paint a different picture and present a different spirit.

Give us kindness and strength. If a friend loves in all seasons, that certainly must involve the seasons when we get entangled in sin. Sin brings death. We tend to forget this—death. If we saw a friend drinking poison, we wouldn’t hesitate to do something. If we saw a friend stepping close to a pit of rattlesnakes, we’d warn them. Help us hate sin enough and love our friends enough to risk getting involved. Better to risk the awkwardness and messiness, the anger and the defensiveness than to watch another life, marriage or family simply go down the drain.

Give us discernment and persistence. It’s not about a rush to judgment but about a journey to restoration. Help us to listen before launching. The goal in pursuing our disconnected friends must always be restoration, not just rebuke. Some entanglements take quite a while to get disentangled.

We may have to carry some of these burdens longer than we realize. Father, we need the power of the Holy Spirit and the love of Jesus. You promise to give us sufficient grace for all things, and we take you at your Word. We need great grace to do this hard work well.

Give us gentleness and hope. Those who remove specks the best are those who are most aware of the log in their own eye. Keep us humble and keep us aware of our own “temptability.” None of us is beyond the need of grace, and none of us is beyond the reach of grace. Keep us kind and keep us expectant. Our joy is in remembering Jesus is the great Restorer, not us. This is the law of Christ we are fulfilling; his yoke we are bearing; his story that’s being written. Fill us with hope. Fill us with the hope of the gospel.

Lastly, Father, we praise you for churches that are stepping up and are seeking to do this hard and heart work of discipline and restoration. Increase their tribe and bless their endeavors. It’s never easy, never. So very Amen we pray, in Jesus’ holy and loving name.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Marks of true love

Recently a friend sent me this short list describing biblical love.  It's worth more than pondering.


Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Raising sons

When does a boy become a man?  Few questions are more important for fathers of sons to understand for two reasons.  First, few questions are our sons internally asking more than this one.  They want to be men and want to know when they've passed through that 'golden doorway' of manhood.  The world has many answers, but its suggestions of physical and sexual prowess or the ability to legally drive a car or drink alcohol are no help to our sons.  They're in need of better answers, and those answers need to come from us.  Second, since we've been commissioned by God to train our sons to become men, we had better know what we're training them for.  Without a clear goal of true manhood, our sons will default to the world's goals, and that would be tragic.

Al Mohler, president of Southern Seminary, comes to our rescue in his short booklet From Boy to Man: The Marks of Manhood.  In it he lists thirteen elements which define true manhood:

1. Spiritual maturity sufficient to lead a wife and children.

2. Personal maturity sufficient to be a responsible husband and father.

3. Economic maturity sufficient to hold an adult job and handle money.

4. Physical maturity sufficient to work and protect a family.

5. Sexual maturity sufficient to marry and fulfill God's purposes.

6. Moral maturity sufficient to lead as an example of righteousness.

7. Ethical maturity sufficient to make responsible decisions.

8. Worldview maturity sufficient to understand what is really important.

9. Relational maturity sufficient to understand and respect others.

10. Social maturity sufficient to make a contribution to society.

11. Verbal maturity sufficient to communicate and articulate as a man.

12. Character maturity sufficient to demonstrate courage under fire.

13. Biblical maturity sufficient to lead at some level in the church.

Here are goals which truly define manhood, honor God and let our sons know they are no longer boys.  My oldest son turns twelve in a few days.  I know the gifts he would like to receive this year, but the best gift I can give him is intentional modeling and training in the areas listed above.  If you have sons, that's what they need, too.  To read Dr. Mohler's booklet in full, you may download it here.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

New Year (and every moment) stewardship

Today marks the beginning of 2013.  It is impossible on New Year's Day not to think about the year ahead. Questions and anticipations come to my mind: How will I grow in grace and the likeness of Christ in 2013?  Will my children exhibit greater godliness and spiritual sensitivity and personal maturity in the coming months?  In what ways will our church see growth in spiritual depth and breadth?  Will I consistently maintain disciplines of personal health in 2013 and become a more faithful friend and evangelist to my neighbors?  Similar questions race through your mind, no doubt.

One benefit of New Year's is how it highlights the reality of time.  God lives above and beyond time.  He is not bound by its constraints.  In contrast, God bounds our lives with time to remind us that we are mere creatures made to depend on and glorify Him.  New Year's forces us to thoughtfully examine the precious commodity which time is.  As Christians, we should be particularly concerned to steward time in a way which glorifies God and brings us and others maximum blessing.

In his book The Excellent Husband, Stuart Scott lists some biblical convictions about time which should be true of all believers (pp. 167-168).  May these prove helpful to you as we step into a new year.

Christian convictions about time:

  • Our days are all numbered by God, so we can trust His oversight of them (Ps. 139:16).
  • Our days will come to an end due to our mortality, therefore we should use them wisely (Ps. 90:12).
  • God wants us to spend regular time with Him in prayer and study of His Word (Mt. 14:23).
  • God promises us blessing when we make gathering for worship and fellowship with His people a priority (Acts 2:42ff).
  • At all times we should seek to glorify God and be a witness to Him (I Cor. 10:31, Acts 1:8).
  • We should make the most of the time God has given us in glorifying Him and blessing others, rather than being slothful or wasting our time on worthless pursuits (Pr. 24:30-34, Eph. 5:15-16).
  • We should proactively plan our days/lives for maximum impact (Pr. 16:9).
  • We have enough time to do what God wants us to do (Eph. 2:10).
  • We should plan our use of time by biblical principles, rather than following our feelings or the fads of our culture (Josh. 1:8).
  • When we consider how to spend our time, we must consider the chief responsibilities God has given us and the people He has placed in our lives for us to serve (I Cor. 4:2).
  • Since God is all powerful and all good, we can trust Him when He changes our plans and redirects our steps (Pr. 16:9b).
  • We should seek godly counsel about how best to order our time for God's glory (Pr. 15:22).
  • We should be at peace about the time in which we live and our future.  Since God is not worried about anything, we should not be either (Mt. 6:25ff.).
With God in control of history, we can know 2013 will be a great year.  Let's live each moment for His glory.

Monday, December 24, 2012

The cost of discipleship

"If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.  No one who does not carry his cross and come with me can be my disciple."  - Jesus (Luke 14:26-27)

"Jesus never lured disciples with false advertising."   - Elisabeth Elliot

Sunday, December 23, 2012

How to keep God's Law

One of the thorniest theological issues any conscientious Bible reader faces is how to apply the law of God (His commands which are found both in the Old and New Testaments) as New Covenant believers who no longer live in the Old Covenant context of ancient Israel.  One helpful resource is Ernest Reisinger's book The Law and the Gospel.  In it he gives, among other things, the following advice:
Wrong Uses of the Law
1. We use it wrongly when we misinterpret it like the Scribes and Pharisees.
2. We use it wrongly when we oppose it to Christ, oppose it to grace or oppose it to the gospel.
3. We use it wrongly when we look to it for justification - seeking acceptance by God through keeping it.
4. We use it wrongly when we disconnect it from the gospel and use it to discourage brokenhearted sinners. 
5. We use it wrongly when we fail to use it to glorify God's grace and gospel through Christ.
6. We use it wrongly when we disconnect it from the work of the Holy Spirit, focusing harmfully on our own ability to do good works.
7. We use it wrongly when we use it as ammunition in unlawful and unprofitable disputes about secondary matters.  
Right Uses of the Law
1. We rightly use it when we use it to remember the nature and will of God.
2. We rightly use it to remember our duty to God and others.
3. We rightly use it to realize and remember our natural inability to keep it apart from the gracious work of the Holy Spirit. 
4. We rightly use it to remind ourselves of our sinful natures, hearts and lives, thus driving us to Christ for forgiveness.
5. We rightly use it to help others gain a clearer sight of their need of Christ His perfect fulfillment of it in their place.
6. We rightly use it to develop the principles for establishing a culture and society which maximally glorifies God and blesses us. 

Friday, December 21, 2012

Rightly remembering tragedy

On my drive to work today I found the news to be different.  All the talk was about the Sandy Hook tragedy.  This is not because of any new information, but simply to remember what took place one week ago today.  Remembering has a helpful, healing effect.  

New York City pastor Tim Keller knows that.  So, in 2006 at the five year anniversary of 9/11, he preached a poignant sermon with some very helpful reflections about the tragedy of sin in our world and how we begin to heal from its wounds as we remember it and see it through the lens of God's truth.  His message is reproduced in full below.
As a minister, of course, I've spent countless hours with people who are struggling and wrestling with the biggest question - the WHY question in the face of relentless tragedies and injustices. And like all ministers or any spiritual guides of any sort, I scramble to try to say something to respond and I always come away feeling inadequate and that's not going to be any different today. But we can't shrink from the task of responding to that question. Because the very best way to honor the memories of the ones we've lost and love is to live confident, productive lives. And the only way to do that is to actually be able to face that question. We have to have the strength to face a world filled with constant devastation and loss. So where do we get that strength? How do we deal with that question? I would like to propose that, though we won't get all of what we need, we may get some of what we need 3 ways: by recognizing the problem for what it is, and then by grasping both an empowering hint from the past and an empowering hope from the future. 
First, we have to recognize that the problem of tragedy, injustice and suffering is a problem for everyone no matter what their beliefs are. Now, if you believe in God and for the first time experience or see horrendous evil, you rightly believe that that is a problem for your belief in God, and you're right – and you say, "How could a good and powerful God allow something like this to happen?"
But it's a mistake (though a very understandable mistake) to think that if you abandon your belief in God it somehow is going to make the problem easier to handle. Dr Martin Luther King, Jr., in his Letter from Birmingham Jail says that if there was no higher divine Law, there would be no way to tell if a particular human law was unjust or not. So think. If there is no God or higher divine Law and the material universe is all there is, then violence is perfectly natural—the strong eating the weak! And yet somehow, we still feel this isn't the way things ought to be. Why not? Now I'm not going to get philosophical at a time like this. I'm just trying to make the point that the problem of injustice and suffering is a problem for belief in God but it is also a problem for disbelief in God---for any set of beliefs. So abandoning belief in God does not really help in the face of it. OK, then what will? 
Second, I believe we need to grasp an empowering hint from the past. Now at this point, I'd like to freely acknowledge that every faith - and we are an interfaith gathering today – every faith has great resources for dealing with suffering and injustice in the world. But as a Christian minister I know my own faith's resources the best, so let me simply share with you what I've got. When people ask the big question, "Why would God allow this or that to happen?" There are almost always two answers. The one answer is: Don't question God! He has reasons beyond your finite little mind. And therefore, just accept everything. Don't question. The other answer is: I don't know what God's up to – I have no idea at all about why these things are happening. There's no way to make any sense of it at all. Now I'd like to respectfully suggest the first of these answers is too hard and the second is too weak. The second is too weak because, though of course we don't have the full answer, we do have an idea, an incredibly powerful idea. 
One of the great themes of the Hebrew Scriptures is that God identifies with the suffering. There are all these great texts that say things like this: If you oppress the poor, you oppress to me. I am a husband to the widow. I am father to the fatherless. I think the texts are saying God binds up his heart so closely with suffering people that he interprets any move against them as a move against him. This is powerful stuff! But Christianity says he goes even beyond that. Christians believe that in Jesus, God's son, divinity became vulnerable to and involved in - suffering and death! He didn't come as a general or emperor. He came as a carpenter. He was born in a manger, no room in the inn. 
But it is on the Cross that we see the ultimate wonder. On the cross we sufferers finally see, to our shock that God now knows too what it is to lose a loved one in an unjust attack. And so you see what this means? John Stott puts it this way. John Stott wrote: "I could never myself believe in God if it were not for the Cross. In the real world of pain, how could one worship a God who was immune to it?" Do you see what this means? Yes, we don't know the reason God allows evil and suffering to continue, but we know what the reason isn't, what it can't be. It can't be that he doesn't love us! It can't be that he doesn't care. God so loved us and hates suffering that he was willing to come down and get involved in it. And therefore the Cross is an incredibly empowering hint. Ok, it's only a hint, but if you grasp it, it can transform you. It can give you strength. 
And lastly, we have to grasp an empowering hope for the future. In both the Hebrew Scriptures and even more explicitly in the Christian Scriptures we have the promise of resurrection. In Daniel 12:2-3 we read: Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake….[They]… will shine like the brightness of the heavens, and…like the stars for ever and ever. And in John 11 we hear Jesus say: I am the resurrection and the life! Now this is what the claim is: That God is not preparing for us merely some ethereal, abstract spiritual existence that is just a kind of compensation for the life we lost. Resurrection means the restoration to us of the life we lost. New heavens and new earth means this body, this world! Our bodies, our homes, our loved ones—restored, returned, perfected and beautified! Given back to us! 
In the year after 9-11 I was diagnosed with cancer, and I was treated successfully. But during that whole time I read about the future resurrection and that was my real medicine. In the last book of The Lord of the Rings, Sam Gamgee wakes up, thinking everything is lost and discovering instead that all his friends were around him, he cries out: "Gandalf! I thought you were dead! But then I thought I was dead! Is everything sad going to come untrue?"
The answer is YES. And the answer of the Bible is YES. If the resurrection is true, then the answer is yes. Everything sad is going TO COME UNTRUE 
Oh, I know many of you are saying, "I wish I could believe that." And guess what? This idea is so potent that you can go forward with that. To even want the resurrection, to love the idea of the resurrection, long for the promise of the resurrection even though you are unsure of it, is strengthening. I John 3:2-3. Beloved, now we are children of God and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when he appears we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. All who have this hope purify themselves as he is pure." Even to have a hope in this is purifying.
Listen to how Dostoevsky puts it in Brothers Karamazov: "I believe like a child that suffering will be healed and made up for, that all the humiliating absurdity of human contradictions will vanish like a pitiful mirage, like the despicable fabrication of the impotent and infinitely small Euclidean mind of man, that in the world's finale, at the moment of eternal harmony, something so precious will come to pass that it will suffice for all hearts, for the comforting of all resentments, of the atonement of all the crimes of humanity, of all the blood that they've shed; and it will make it not only possible to forgive but to justify what has happened."