Monday, October 31, 2005

...and this!

...and this

I don't know what you think about Halloween but I know what I think of this...

It's good to be a church...

I'm not usually one to gush, actually probably I am, but whichever, it doesn't matter, I'm going to anyway.

I just can't get over what a privilege it is to be part of a local church. I mean, I was sitting at church yesterday thinking to myself, man who has this?

Who has a group of people who have committed themselves to being one hundred percent for them? And not just for them, in like a hey I'll say whatever you want me to say kind of way, but really for them, in like a hey I'll love you enough to talk to you about embarrassing things like your sin kind of way.

What's more, who has a group of people who are not only committed to being for them, but who have been in some mysterious way united to them by God Himself...think about it, it's not like we go to church and pretend to be a family, we are a family in just a real of way as with my physical family.

Beyond that, who has a group of people who are being molded and shaped by God Himself to be more loving people, more like Jesus Christ? I mean, if we were just in this church thing by ourselves, we'd be done no matter how good our intentions. But we're not, we've got God working full time on changing us into the loving kind of people that He wants us to be.

To top it all off, who has a group of people who flat out say that they are not striving to put themselves first, but other people first? A group of people who are absolutely against treating people differently on the basis of what those people can give to them?

No doubt, we could talk all day probably about how difficult local church life can be, we could sit around and moan about how ornery some people are, you know how it goes...but really, if we can get outside of ourselves and our situations and stop and think about it all for a minute, I think we'll have to admit taht even that is part of what makes the whole church thing so beautiful; because we're not just loving other people when it is easy, but when it is hard, when it is like the last thing in the world that you feel like doing; and you know, it's in moments like those, when we are working so hard to show grace and kindness to people who are just treating us so terribly that God grants us a special privilege, an amazing opportunity to know a little more about the kind of love Jesus has for us.

Friday, October 28, 2005


I wanted to note for some of my students a couple helpful, thoughtful, "teenage" bloggers.

Threats...part three

I’m no expert in serial killers, far from it.

But I did watch CSI once and I remember hearing that very often serial killers don’t look like people you might expect. You know, we expect them to look like these big, muscle-bound thugs; people we’d be afraid to meet on the street but many times instead they look like ordinary people, maybe even people we would be happy to see.

In his parable of the sowers, Jesus introduces to three serial killers and they definitely fit that profile…while we might be afraid of persecution, I mean that’s the musclebound thug, these three killers are all very ordinary.

The cares of the world, the deceitfulness of riches, and the desire for other things…

“And others are the ones sown among thorns. They are those who hear the Word, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches and the desire for other things enter in and choke the word, and it proves unfruitful.”

Probably a better picture than that of a serial killer would be that of co-conspirators. The cares of the world, the deceitfulness of riches, the desire for other things…I guess I imagine these three as contenders for the throne of your heart. They’ve got this whole big conspiracy going on. I mean, they are all smiles, they seem so pleasant, they promise that they want your best.

But ha, ha, ha…

Once a challenger to throne of your heart appears, the true king; they start absolutely freaking out. They do not want to give up dominion over your life - and they are willing to go as far as committing murder if that’s what it takes.

Jesus says, the cares of this world, the deceitfulness of riches, and the desire for others things choke the word.

When it comes to benefiting from the word stuff, the desire for more stuff, is a real threat.

A fourth threat, sin.

That sounds so general I know so let me get more specific.


I don’t know, you might have seen that commercial where this guy is sitting at his cubicle eating this really loud cereal.

If you haven’t you can imagine, his boss comes up to him and just can’t believe it, so he starts yelling at him and finally gets so frustrated, he says “You are fired.“

But the guy sitting at the cubicle, chewing the cereal - it’s so loud - all he can hear is crunch, crunch, crunch.

When it comes to hearing the word, pride acts like that cereal.

If you want to identify the number one reason more people don’t benefit from hearing the Word, I’ve got to believe this is it. Pride keeps them from either really hearing it, understanding it, or submitting to it.

They are sitting there, looking like they are listening, but pride keeps them from getting the message. They just hear, crunch, crunch, crunch.

To me that’s kind of the punch line of the whole parable of the sowers.

Verses 10 and 11, “And when he was alone, those around him, with twelve asked him about the parables. And he said to them, “To you has been given the secret of the kingdom of God, but for those outside everything is in parables…”

The secret? Revelation.

And why didn’t the other people get it? One big obvious reason is because they didn’t come to Jesus humbly in faith asking for it.

They thought they had it all figured out and so they didn’t come to Jesus for help.

The result?

Everything Jesus said and did to them, seemed like absolute gibberish.

A riddle.

Now pride shows up in all sorts of different ways but I think if you look over at James 1:19-21, you’ll see he identifies one of the chief ways pride expresses itself. In fact, though I’m not sure I would guess that James had this parable in mind as he wrote,

“Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness that God requires. Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word (I.e. the seed Jesus talked about), which is able to save your souls. “

If a person is proud, when the word of God comes to bear on their life, they often respond by getting angry. And when a person gets angry, he often responds by either shutting down or going on the attack. He stops listening or he gets real defensive. And if that’s happening, you can guarantee he’s not going to benefit from the Word.

There’s a reason Jesus began the parable of the sowers by commanding people to listen…and ended it with a call to hear.

He knew there were a whole lot of things that could keep that from really happening…things like:

Satan, superficiality, stuff and sin.

And there’s a reason Jesus warned us about those threats - to be forewarned is to be forearmed - knowing all that should change the way we approach His Word.

With all these threats, we need to work at hearing the Word or we‘re not going to.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Threats, part two...

I was surfing the web a little this past week, doing intense research, I assure you; when I came across this web-site, “Can you spot a fake?”

They had short five second videos, I’m guessing, of about twenty people smiling and you were supposed to figure out which smile was real and which smile wasn’t.

It’s not as easy as it sounds. I got about half right. Just because a person looks like they are smiling doesn’t mean that smile is coming from the heart…and just because a person looks like they are a Christian doesn’t mean the gospel has really transformed their heart.

If your heart has never really been transformed by the gospel, if all you are is a surface, superficial Christian - the gospel has not really changed your heart; you can sit and listen to the Word all day long and you are not going to profit from it.

Jesus explains,

“Other seed fell on rocky ground, where it did not have much soil and immediately it sprang up since it had no depth of soil. And when the sun rose it was scorched and since it had no root, it withered away…And these are the ones sown on rocky ground: the ones who, when they hear the word, immediately receive it with joy. And they have no root in themselves, but endure for a while, then, when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word immediately they fall away.”

It’s not always easy to tell the difference between someone who is merely a superficial fake Christian and someone who is authentic.

For example, you’d have a hard time in Jesus story at first telling the difference between this person’s response to the Word, the rocky ground soil person and the one who is authentic - the good soil man; the only way to tell the difference really is what happens when obedience to the Word starts to cost them something.

That’s the whole deal with tribulation and persecution.

The tricky thing in our culture of course is that there’s isn’t a whole lot of tribulation or persecution going around, at least not to the point of life or death. It can be just the opposite. There can be some benefits…you’ve got a nice group of people to hang out with, people might start thinking you are a good person, and it’s not like they charge you anything to come to church - and since the choice isn’t life or death, because there are some positives to showing up at church and looking like a Christian, it’s a whole lot easier to go a long time looking like a Christian in our day when in fact you are not.

I think a test for us might be, how do we respond to the word when obedience to the word makes our life difficult? When obeying the word isn’t easy?

There are people whose entire Christianity consists only of doing things they would do even if they didn’t claim to be Christians, who ignore the Scripture when it requires sacrifice…and so it’s no surprise that they can sit and listen to the Word for years and years and not really benefit, because their heart has never been truly transformed by the gospel.

All they are is superficial Christians.

They look like Christians on the outside, maybe - but they are not Christians in their heart.

When it comes to benefiting from the Word,superficiality is a threat.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005


You might have thought that every time Jesus spoke every one who listened would have gone away just transformed.

After all, we’re talking Jesus, the Creator of the Universe.

You might have thought that when Jesus the Creator of the Universe spoke, His Word would have changed absolutely everyone who listened for the better.

But it didn’t.

In fact, it wasn’t very long into his preaching ministry that people were plotting to kill him and were calling him demonic.

There were a whole lot of people Jesus’ word didn’t really transformed.

They sat and listened to Jesus and stayed just the same.

Or you might say, they got worse.

Things haven’t changed all that much.

You might have thought that everyone who listens to God’s Word would go away different people. I mean, different people for the better, changed, more like Christ.

After all, we’re talking God’s Word.

You might have thought that all you needed to do was get people in to hear God’s Word and if you could just get them in to hear God’s Word, they’ll have to leave transformed.

But the fact is many people don’t.

There are a whole lot of people God’s Word doesn’t transform.

There a whole lot of people who have sat and listened to God’s Word a whole lot of times and aren’t a whole lot different as a result.

They sit and listen and stay just the same.

Or you might say, they get worse.

Jesus in the parable of the sowers helps us understand exactly how that happens.

He describes four threats to being truly transformed by the Word.

I'll note one today and a couple more tomorrow.

First off, Satan.

When it comes to benefiting from the word, Satan is a major threat.

One of the things that makes listening to Jesus’ word different than say, listening to someone talk about math is that when it comes to math you may not want to listen; but when it comes to Jesus’ word you are not only fighting yourself - there’s also someone else who doesn’t want you to hear it - Satan.

Satan is actively trying to keep people from benefiting from God’s Word.

You remember Jesus puts it like this,

“A sower went to sow. And as he sowed, some seed fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured it…And these are the ones sown along the path where the word is sown: when they hear, Satan immediately comes and takes away the word that is sown in them…”

I met a couple Marines this week, literally just back from Iraq…infantrymen. Their job was to patrol the streets, keep the cities safe. With all the violence in Iraq, I can guarantee you as they patrolled they were on the alert because they knew they had an enemy and they didn’t know exactly how or where that enemy would strike.

Physically, it’s hard to relate.

Spiritually, it’s not.

Physically, we’re sitting here in Coopersburg. Spiritually, it’s like we’re in downtown Baghdad.

We’re like those Marines patrolling the streets of some city in Iraq. We have enemy, Satan…and he most definitely is on the attack. His primary concern? He doesn’t want people to benefit from Jesus’ Word. This whole listening to Jesus thing, it’s a war. If Satan were to get together with his demons and talk about their battle plan, most of the meeting is going to focus on how to keep people from really hearing God’s Word.

He’s got all kinds of different strategies for doing that.

Sometimes he uses deception.

You look at the New Testament and you ask how did Satan go about stopping people from really profiting from the Word and you find a two word answer coming up over and over again: false teachers.

Sometimes he uses distortion.

I think that’s basically what he did with Adam and Eve. He took God’s Word and twisted it.

And sometimes he uses distraction.

He and his demons are going to work as hard as they can to get you to focus on anything but Jesus’ word because they know that to really benefit from the Word you have to understand it and to understand it you have to work hard at listening to it.

You’ve got to be focused.

If we want to understand why more people don’t benefit from the word, we can start here, they are not doing just that. They are not paying attention, they are not on the alert, and because of that, they are easy targets for Satan. They easily fall for false teaching, distortions.

When it comes to listening to the Word, this is a supernatural activity and we have a supernatural enemy.

Satan is a threat.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Sincere Love

If they gave out Oscars for pretend love there'd be a lot of nominees because unfortunately we all can be pretty good at pretending we love other people when we don't.

We have had so much training at being fake we can do it at moment's notice.

If I called your house and you were screaming at your kids, how would you answer? Hello, how are you, great, great...

I rest my case.

Since we've had so much practice at pretending, we easily master the skill of saying the right things and looking like we care about other people when inside we don't really care a bit.

Peter says if you are a Christian that kind of "love" just doesn't cut it.

"Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart..."

In down to earth terms that means when it comes to loving other people:

It's not enough to just sit there waiting for your turn to talk, pretending like you are listening, you need to listen.

It's not enough to simply say how sorry you are and how much you care and how you will do anything for the person you are talking to, you need to care.

It's not enough to make all sorts of promises to someone that you don't have any intention of keeping, you need to do what you say.

It is not enough to act like you like someone and then go home and say all sorts of terrible things about your spouse to them, you need to be kind.

In other words, it's not enough to be nice.

It is easy to do nice because it is easy to be fake. All nice requres of you is to put on a show, which is why if all the Bible called us to was to be nice to each other, I don't think many people would have all that many objections. Anybody can do nice.

But you start defining what Peter means when he commands us to love one another earnestly from a pure heart, getting specific about waht that looks like, being involved in other Christian's lives, going out of your way to be committed to the people in your local church, and things are going to get pretty heated because this kind of love requires time, it requires effort, it requires going out of your way, it requires putting others ahead of yourself, it requires doing things you don't necessarily like to do, it requires dealing with the sins that are going on in your heart, it requires that you actually change and do something different than you are doing right now, it requires commitment, it requires sacrifice.

Start calling people to love each other like that, and you'll find all sorts of nice people who would never object to the idea of loving other people have a whole lot of objections when it comes to putting it into practice.

Some people will look at this command to love one another people sincerely and be like, I flat out can't. I can do nice, but this, it's too much.

I want you to know if you have ever felt like that, I appreciate what you are feeling. It means at least you've heard what the Bible's calling you to. You know how difficult people can be and you know your own heart and the kinds of things you think about people and it feels like an almost impossible task to go from where you are to loving other people sincerely from the heart.

I get that, I understand that, I've felt that, but we need to remember, if we are Christians I can't really is I won't.

The Bible doesn't just say love one another, Peter doesn't just call us to love sincerely, before he even gets to what we are supposed to do he talks about why we are supposed to do it and he says in verse 22 that we are to love each other like this because of something that's already taken place in our lives, we have "purified our souls by our obedience to the truth.

What he's saying is that if we are believers something has happened to us. This verse is past tense. It looks back to something that took place in our lives, "having purified our souls."

Before we were Christians our hearts were full of selfishness. But then we heard the truth about Jesus, we believed in Him, we understood that life was all about Him and so we gave our lives to Him. We responded to the truth by obeying, and as a result things changed for us. Whe we submitted our lives to Christ, one of the most exciting changes was that God cleansed our hearts from all the dirt and grime that had built up in it, which means that when it comes to our relationships with other believers we can't use the filth from our past as an excuse.

We can't be like that's just the way my parents were.

We can't be like that's just the way I am.

No, when we believed the gospel God set us free so that we could do things we never could do before and one of the things He has enabled us to do is love our brothers sincerely; which I think you'll all agree makes not doing that pretty ugly.

It may be difficult to love other people, but we can love other Christians sincerely and if we aren't, it is becasue we won't. And that is a major problem, because loving other Christians sincerely is one of the reasons God has purified our hearts in the first place.

Friday, October 21, 2005

Grace not Karma

I was thinking about the difference between Christianity and other religions the other day while sitting on my couch watching "My Name is Earl."

Don't misunderstand, I'm not recommending My Name is Earl, I'm just saying it reminded me a profound theological lesson.

The show is about redemption.

The plot is pretty simple: Earl's done a lot of dumb things and Earl's trying to redeem himself by going back and trying to fix all his mistakes.

Apparently he was watching Carson Daly one day and learned about Karma.

Now there is a Joshua Mack who is into Karma, he wrote a book on it in fact, but it's not me. While I'm not sure what his definition of Karma is, for this blog my take on it is pretty straightfoward, do good and good things will happen to you.

To put it in the form of a theological principle:

I do good good to be accepted by God.

If you stop and think about it, that's basically the idea behind most world religions...I'm accepted by on the basis of my merits, or maybe my merits and a little help from up above.

Though I certainly don't think he's a theologian I do think U2's Bono is right when he puts it like this,

"You see, at the center of all religions is the idea of Karma. You know, what you put out comes back to you: an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, or in physics—in physical laws—every action is met by an equal or an opposite one... And yet, along comes this idea called Grace to upend all that "as you reap, so you will sow" stuff. Grace defies reason and logic. Love interrupts, if you like, the consequences of your actions, which in my case is very good news indeed, because I've done a lot of stupid stuff.

What he's saying is that one of the things that makes Christianity so amazing, so unusual, so absolutely wonderful is the concept of grace.

I don't do good to be accepted by God.

I do good because I'm accepted by God.

If we tried to do good to be accepted by God, we'll never make it. We're not good enough.

But beyond that if we tried to do good to be accepted by God, we'd actually be committing a great evil.


We're trying to be our own Savior. We're rejecting the one true Savior God's provided. And if you read the gospels, you'll see that is a sin God takes very seriously.

To quote a more important theologian, Martin Luther...

"If we doubt or do not believe that God is gracious and pleased with us, or if we presumptuously expect to please Him through our works, then all [our compliance with the law] is pure deception, outwardly honoring God, but inwardly setting up self as a false savior.Note for yourself, then, how far apart these two are: keeping the First Commandment with outward works only, and keeping it with inward [justifying faith]. For this last makes true, living children of God, the other only makes worse idolatry and the most mischievous hypocrites on earth..."

So although it's nice Earl wants to be a better person, if he's looking to himself for redemption, he's only becoming a nicer sinner...there's only one real hope for redemption, it's not in Earl, you, me or anyone else. It's in the person of Jesus Christ.

In the words of an even more important theologian, Paul...

"For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast."

(Ephesians 2:8,9)

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Hearing Problems?

I'm a teacher and a preacher which means I do a lot of talking...a lot of talking. In fact with all the talking I do, and with how hard I work at getting better at it, I sometimes become concerned that I'll forget to work on something equally important, listening.

I've seen it happen, all too often...people so used to talking to others that they stop listening to what others have to say.

When I was a kid I remember someone calling it fls, flapping lips syndrome.

In my opinion, it is deadly.

It definitely is a friendship killer. I mean for one thing, if I ever get to the point where I'm the one always doing the talking and thinking everyone else is enjoying it, I'll know I'm just fooling myself because I know me and I'm not all that interesting.

But more seriously, it makes it difficult for me to learn. If I don't listen to others, it is an indication of pride, and if I'm proud that tells me I don't fear God, at least not enough...and if I don't fear God, Solomon tells me I don't even have the beginning of knowledge.

Plus, it makes it difficult for others to learn. Teaching isn't just talking about a subject, it's talking about a subject to people. If I don't listen, I don't know where the people I am teaching are at, and if I don't know where the people I am teaching are at, I'm going to have a very hard time doing much teaching.

Besides, it is a terrible model. One of the things I most want to display as a teacher is the love of Christ, and if I am always talking and rarely listening, I'm definitely not doing that.

If I'm going to be an effective teacher I know for sure I can't just talk, I've got to listen. The problem is, listening is hard work.

It requires some serious dying to self.

For one, you have to die to pride.

For another, you need to die to selfishness.

It means I have to admit that perhaps I don't know it all, and that even if I do know an awful lot about a subject, there's more for me to hear or maybe I need to hear it again.

It means I need to actually be interested in others. I have to work on wanting to know what's going on in their life. I have to care so much about them that I allow them to talk to me in their own style, not getting upset that they use more details than I do or maybe less. I need to let them be interested in what they are interested in, and try to be interested in it at least while they are talking about it, maybe not because it fascinates me so much, but instead because I love them.

If we're going to be good listeners we need to work at focusing.

We need to grab our mind and take control, forcing ourselves to pay attention to what the other person is saying.

If we're going to be good listeners we need to ask questions.

We need to be very careful that we don't assume we understand, but care enough about the other person to work at really understanding what they are saying to us.

If we're going to be good listeners we need to be patient.

We need to be willing to wait to hear what is really going on in the other person's life.

If we're going to be good listeners we need to think long and hard about all the listening God does to us. I've got to believe if I were God I would get bored sometimes by all the things I have to say to him. I've got to believe there would be times I would be distracted. But when I look to Scripture, I find it telling me God's not. He actually wants me to talk to Him, He wants to listen, and He cares about the smallest, most minute details in my life.

If God's willing to listen to me like that, who am I kidding if I ever think I'm too busy or important to stop and really listen to others?

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Scary Grace part 2

How do I become a person who dreads sin and lives in awe of God? I think I know how many people who sincerely want this for their lives and who want the same thing or their children and for their church would answer their question, and the unfortunate thing is that the answers many come up with are very different than Peter's.

When they want to motivatge others and even themselves to fear, they turn to intimidation. Isn't that the basic tactic of the world? If you want to cause someone to fear, you bully them. And believe it or not, some people carry that same tactic over into their relationship with God.

In thier own lives they just beat themselves up over a's not simply that they grieve over it, they call themselves all sorts of names, they deride themselves, they beat themselves up. In their children's lives, they try to scare them into doing what's right. They argue with their children, try to make their children feel stupid for struggling with sin, and even sometimes make fun of their children for sinning. And in the life of the church, they turn to legalism. They constantly emphasize rules, rules, rules.

The problem with that approach is that while intimidation, name calling, bullying, and legalism may produce a type of fear, they don't produce the kind of godly fear of which Peter speaks.

The fact is the kind of fear intimidation produces doesn't work the same as the godly fear grace produces. It produces external conformity, but doesn't touch the heart. You know that. When you are driving and you see a cop, what do you do? Slow down. But when he's not looking? Speed up. That's the way many Christians are with sin.

If you honestly want to be awestruck with God's glory, you honestly want to dread offending Him, you honestly want to be overwhelmed with God's holiness, you honestly want to live a God-centered, Christ-consumed life, you need to move away from legalistic intimidation to grace.

Specifically, if you want this kind of fear, you need to make a commitment.


Once in a while in certain neighborhoods you'll have one of those kids that flies nazi flags on independence day. Seeing that gets your blood boiling and makes you want to go over to that teenager and say, 'man, don't you know what it cost so that you could have freedom?' The thing is, if you did that, I can pretty much guarantee you the kid would say, "Yeah I do. Get off my back." But we know, no matter how much he says he knows how much it cost, he doesn't. If he did, his life would be different. And the same is true for us.

We might say we understand God's grace but if it's not making an impact on our attitudes, the way we speak, the way we think, we don't. Sometimes people who know they are struggling spiritually,still think man, I fully get the gospel. The problem must be somewhere else. You can sit in church all day long and say I get it, but if you are not awestruck by God, if you don't dread offending Him, if you are not overwhelmed by his holiness, if there's no fear, then no matter what you say, you are not getting it. Not the way you should.

If you want to grow in the fear of God go back and make sure you fully appreciate the grace of God. DON'T TAKE HIS GRACE FOR GRANTED.

Monday, October 17, 2005

Grace is Scary...

"And if you address as Father the One who impartially judges according to each man's deeds, conduct yourselves in fear..."

I've read, studied, and even preached these verses before and I'll admit, I've always been a bit confused as to why exactly Peter brings this up.

Now, I can understand the first part; why Peter talks about us calling God Father. That fits with the theme of the chapter. Peter's talking about the difference it makes now that we've been born again. He begins in verses 3-12 by blessing God that he's caused us to be born again, and in verses 13ff he continues to focus on this new relationship - 1.) therefore since you've been born again to a living hope, hope; 2.) as obedient children - back to the theme of being born again - be holy in all you do...which is why the opening phrase of verse 17, doesn't suprise us. Once again, Peter wants us to think about the difference being born again makes - "And if you address as Father..."

But Peter links the fact that we've been brought into this new relationship with God with another thought, one that seems a bit out of place, one that is jarring in this context, and that is God's judgment.

He says, the One we call Father is also the One who "impartially judges according to each man's deeds..."

If you don't see why it's so surprising to see those two phrase together, stop and think about each phrase one by one.

When you think about God as Father what's the first word that comes into your mind?

For me it was the word intimate. Being able to call God Father means I have an intimate relationship with Him.

But if the first word that comes into your mind when you stop and think about God as Father is intimate, what's the first word that comes into your mind when you stop and think about the fact taht God is the impartial Judge of the Universe?

I'll tell you the first word that comes into my mind...damned.


If I were judged solely on the basis of my own works then I know I would be damned. That's what I would deserve.

So reading this passage it's almost like we are watching two great biblical concepts collide. Peter wants to force us to sit up, pay attention and ask questions.

And the primary question we are forced to ask when stop and think about the fact that we call Father the Almighty Judge who is absolutely holy and who isn't partial and who is going to judge every man for their sins, when we stop and think about the fact that we have this intimate, secure relationship with him is:

How did that happen?

How did I come to have this kind of relationship with the Judge of the Universe?


Here's the key - God's grace.

As my daughter likes to say: wasn't me, couldn't be.

The only explanation for this new amazing relationship has to be something God did, which is the very point Peter pounds home in verses 18ff.

It's like the perfect set up. He's like listen the thing that should motivate you to dread sin and that should knock you flat on your face in awe of who is, is thinking about the fact that you have this incredible relationship with the Almighty Judge of the Universe, and when you start thinking about the fact that you have a relationship with the Judge of the Universe, this is where it really gets scary - knowing what it cost to bring you into this new intimate relationship with Him.

Friday, October 14, 2005

Quote for the Day...

After defining an evangelical as one who is convinced of the final authority of the Bible as God's Word, Graeme Goldsworthy helpfully writes,

"To claim the name evangelical [i.e. that you believe in the final authority of the Bible] does not necessarily mean that we always understand its implications or are consistent in the way we carry them out in our lives or in our preaching. The understanding may be rather unformed and basically negative. This carries the ever present danger of pharisaism, 'I thank God that I am not like these Catholics, Liberals, and Charismatics; I read my Bible every day, I accept only the Bible as my authority.' The conviction may be a feel good thing that somehow relegates religious experience to some vague convictions about the Bible being the authority that authenticates this experience. The danger here is that as long as what we do makes us feel good, we are content to accept that it is biblical without necessarily examining the Scriptures to see if it really is. This good feeling may be some undefined inner warmth or simply the recognition that our ministerial strategies are working...It is easy to claim to be biblical, but it is much harder to translate that into the way we read the Bible and shape our thoughts, lives, and ministries...If we as evangelicals are Bible people, then we have to be diligent in working out our understanding of the message of the Bible and of its effects." (Preaching the Whole Bible as Christian Scripture...)

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Putting Feet to Our Commitment...

Since we've been talking about being committed to a local church, I thought I might close this series of blogs with a few ideas about exactly what that might look like in practice.

It means for one thing you are going to have to spend time with the people in your church.

We need to be careful and make sure that we aren't legalistic and say more than what the Scripture says, but we can say this much for sure, it is really difficult to love anyone very well if you don't spend time with them.

But of course, time is not enough. Being committed to people in your church is much more than just showing up of meetings. Being committed to the people in your church means you are going to work at cultivating affection for them.

Love doesn't mean much if there's no heart in it.

I don't want you to be satisfied with a kind of casual take it or leave it attitude towards other people in your church. These people should mean something to you. I've often heard people say that they don't like the people at their church because they are so different them, i.e older than them, into different activities them. I want to encourage you not to believe the lie that to love people with affection, they need to be just like you. Anybody can love people that are just like them - that have all the same interests and the same type of personality. That's called loving yourself in another person. It doesn't take anything supernatural to do that.

What's supposed to be special about the church is that the affection we have for one another isn't based on personality types or anything like that at all. It is not even based on whether that other person really deserves it or not. The kind of committed, loving relationships we need to cultivate in our churches goes way beyond that.

I want to plead with you to be so committed to your church that you love people even when they are not like you, and what's even harder, when they aren't treating you very well. That means, there are going to be times when you need to just flat out deny yourself. Somebody didn't treat you as well as you think you deserve to be treated, well, you know, as respectfully as I can say it, get over it.

That's the kind of thing you do when you love other people. You either go to them and say, hey, this is an issue I have with you or you get over it. Why? Because part of being committed to the church, part of loving the people at your church is being absolutely one hundred percent committed to them...which doesn't mean of course, that you are always going to agree with them, it doesn't mean you are never going to say some tough things to them, it doesn't mean you are always going to have the same perspective as them, but it does mean that you work hard and pray alot that whatever you do, whatever decisions you make are going to be motivated by a desire for their best.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Loving Jesus requires Loving the Church

I read recently where someone I once knew was saying, he loved Jesus and was all for Jesus but was tired of all the problems he encountered in the church and so he was giving up on it.

What I'm not sure he understands though is that that is like a contradiction in terms because while he may have given up on the church, Jesus hasn't. Jesus' commitment to the church - it's not just a past commitment - something that happened on the cross. It's not just a future commitment - he'll really show his love for the church when he comes again. It's a present commitment. He's doing something in the church, right now, today...He's nourishing it and cherising it as we speak.

Jesus loves the church.

And the thing is, I don't think it takes a big leap of the imagination to say that people who call themselves Jesus' followers should be committed to exactly what Jesus is committed to. I know, we all know, there are plenty of problems in the church. There are a million different reasons a person might give for not being committed to the church. But there's one big compelling reason for being committed to the church in spite of all that:

Jesus is.

Which means even though it's difficult, even though it's time consuming, even though there are going to be times when it is disappointing, if we are committed to Jesus we need tob e committed to what Jesus is committed to:

The church!

One very practical way we do that is by committing ourselves to pursue the good of a local church.

Obviously when Paul wrote Ephesians 5 and talked about Jesus' commitment to the church he wasn't only talking about my local church, or yours. His vision was a whole lot bigger than that. Jesus isn't just about your local church or my local church, He's about the church. And so we shouldn't just be about our church, we should be about the church.

But do you know one of the best ways to show you are about the church? Through your commitment to your church.

If that's confusing for you, Joshua Harris simplifies it by quoting a bumper sticker: "Think globally. Act Locally."

It would be very strange for us to say that we are committed to the church if we are not committed to a church. We show our commitment to the church by committing to a church, and really in doing that, we show our committment to Jesus because we are showing our commitment to being about what Jesus is about!

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

All Out...part three

You take the most committed, intimate, human relationship...the relationship between a husband and a wife... we've seen Paul says that relationship is specifically designed by God to represent how commited Jesus is to the church.

I want to think about exactly what that means. What exactly does that tell us about the extent of Jesus' commitment to the church?

For starters, it tells us that Jesus is committed to leading the church.

That's what Paul means by calling Jesus the church's head. He writes, "Wives submit to your own husbands as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body and his himself its Savior."

Jesus is the leader of the church.

Now obviously not every leader is committed to the people he's leading. For example, a CEO doesn't have to be super committed to the people of his company to lead them. I doubt Donald Trump loses much sleep when his janitor gets sick.

But Jesus doesn't lead us like a CEO leads his company. Jesus leads the church the way a head leads his body. And though a CEO doesn't have to be super committed to lead, a head does. I'll tell you, my head is super-committed to my body. There's never been a time when my head wanted a break from my body. It's never asked to go off by itself and leave the rest of the body behind.

We see Jesus' commitment to the church in the way He leads it, not in a cold disconnected way like a CEO but like a head does a body.

A second way we see Jesus' commitment to the church is in the way He loves it.

Jesus loves the church. Paul writes, "Husbands love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her..."

Sometimes, sadly, you'll have a marriage relationship where the husband and wife are committed to staying together but they don't love each other anymore. They are just kind of making it.

Fortunately, Jesus isn't just committed to leading the church in a "clench your teeth and I'm going to make this marriage work" kind of way. No, he truly loves the church. And when I say he loves the church, I'm talking He loves the church in an intense all out kind of way.

He's gone to great lengths to prove that.

One of the ways you prove you love somebody is telling them, and Jesus has proved his love for the church by doing just that, telling the church of His love over and over and over again. But He hasn't stopped there.

He's acted.

He's proven His love in the most dramatic way possible.

"He gave Himself up for her..."

And He did this in spite of the fact that she wasn't attractive or worthy of that love.

"He gave Himself up for her that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water by the Word."

Looking at the church all by itself, we might wonder about the way Jesus feels about her. The church doesn't look all that special, it doesn't look all that unique, it doesn't look all that glorious. But if you want to know the way Jesus feels about the church, you can't just look at the church, you have to look at the cross.

You wonder about the way Jesus feels about the church.


Look at the face of Jesus being spit upon. Look at Jesus with the thorns on his head. Look at Jesus being beaten, whipped.

And listen.

Listen as the criminals beside him mock him. Listen as the crowds cheer out, crucify Him, crucify Him. Listen as He cries out in agony, "My God, My God, Why Hast Thou Forsaken Me?"

And feel.

Feel the anguish as they hammer the nails through his wrists. Feel the horror as the wrath of God comes pouring out on Him.

And imagine.

Imagine the humiliation of it all.

The Creator of the World, crucified. The judge of the Universe, condemned. The Holy One, treated like a sinner. The All Powerful God, weak. The Beloved, hated.

And why?

Ask yourself why?

All for you.

All for me.

All because of His great commitment to the church.

Monday, October 10, 2005

One hundred percent committed...

It'd be basically impossible for Jesus to be any more committed to the church. Just look at Ephesians 5.

We usually turn to Ephesians 5 to talk about marriage which is fine because it is about marriage, but it is also about something more than that. It's about Jesus and the church. What Paul is doing is comparing the relationship between a husband and a wife with the relationship between Jesus and the church.

That's why he says things like, in verse 23, "the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church..." and "Husbands love your wives as Christ loved the church..." The reason he's comparing the relationship between a husband and wife with the relationship between Jesus and the church is because part of God's original purpose in designing the marriage relationship was to be a physical, real life illustration of Jesus' relationship with the church.

It's not like Paul chose this illustration out of the air.

Look at what Paul says in verse 31. He quotes Genesis 2:24 where God says, "Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh." And then he explains, "This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church." Genesis 2:24 in other words doesn't refer simply to a husband and wife, it also refers to Jesus and to the church.

As one pastor has put it, and I think helpfully: "...the meaning of human marriage is based on another great marriage designed by God in heaven before creation, namely the marriage of Jesus to the church..."

This is how one hundred percent committed Jesus is to the church: He has chosen the church to be His Bride.

You take what is to be the most committed, intimate human relationship...that relationship is designed by God to represent to us how committed Jesus is to the church. Now in the next several blogs, I want to think together about exactly what that means. What does all this tell us the extent of Jesus' commitment to the church?

Friday, October 07, 2005

Why Be Committed?

I wouldn't guess most of us would argue with the fact that we are supposed to be committed to other Christians.

It's difficult to read the New Testament and miss the emphasis the writers place on sacrificing and loving other believers. Just sit down for a couple minutes and start flipping through and you'll see it everywhere.

Romans 12:10-13, "Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality."

Galatians 6:2, "Bear one another's burdens and thus fulfill the law of Christ..."

Philippians 2:4, "Let each of you look not only to his own interests but also to the interests of others..."

John 15:12,13, "This is my commandment that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lays down his life for his friends."

And you know, all that, it is beautiful. Even most unbelievers have a longing for something like that, for community...that's why you have motorcycle clubs, flower clubs, whatever clubs, people are longing for real relationships. We're made that way. All the talk in the Bible about loving each other, the kind of fellowship and commitment that we are supposed to have one another, it sounds great in theory.

But the honest truth (and I know that's what you want because really, who wants dishonest truth?) the honest truth is, that it is very difficult in practice.

For one thing it requires effort. There's no getting around it. Relationships take time. I guess there might be some relationships where you just click right away but there aren't a whole lot of relationships like that, most relationships grow with time and many of us don't have much of that to go around.

For another thing though, people are pretty messed up - even Christians. There's no need, I don't think to get cynical and be like everybody is this big mess but if you spend time with even the nicest of people, you're going to find some stuff you don't like.

In fact, that's almost a natural part of a deepening relationship. We meet a couple that's just dating or courting or whatever you want to call it and they are like oh this other person is so perfect, I can't find anything wrong with him and you are like lovingly I hope, but you are like, just wait - it's a matter of time. I don't think that's pessimistic. It's just realistic. As a relationship deepens you find out more, and some of what you find out can't help but be not all taht good because there's not one of us who can claim constant one hundred percent perfection in the innermost depth of our souls.

If we keep things at a semi-distant level in our relationships with other Christians we may be able to at least keep up illusions; but the deeper you go the more sure it is taht you are at least at some level going to be, disappointed. There's going to be a lot of joy, don't get me wrong - I'm not trying to minimize that, I'm just trying to be real about what it takes to be committed to other Christians - it's not always easy, it can be hard.

I feel like even with all the Scripture says about the importance of being committed to other Christians, a whole lot of us could give a whole lot of reasons not to.

That's why I want to give you one big compelling reason why you should be one hundred percent committed to the church in spite of all that:

Jesus is.

I don't want to guilt you into commitment to other Christians, (though I suppose there might be a place for that) but I want to excite you into commitment to other Christians in the next few posts by looking at Jesus' commitment to the church.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

World Stains...

I remember reading Donald Barnhouse write that years ago "...some musicians noted that errand boys in a certain part of London all whistled out of tune as they went about their work. It was talked about and someone suggested that it was because the bells of Westminster were slightly out of tune. The boys did not know there was anything wrong with the peals and quite unconsciously copied their pitch."

In the same way, we as Christians can be whistling the world's tune without even realizing it. If we're going to keep that from happening we must be continually going back to the Word of God and make sure that it is really setting the pitch for us.

Two examples, first...what's our attitude towards money?

The world's attitude towards money, treasure it.

God's attitude? Treasure me.

"Do not lay up for yourselves treasures upon earth where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal..."

We've got to ask ourselves the hard questions:

Why do we work? Why do we save money? Why do we have the house we have? Why do we drive the car we drive? What are our financial goals? Do they make sense biblically? What master are we really serving?

Second, what's our attitude towards entertainment?

Wayne Wilson writes, "Every Christian seems to agree that we live in a time of cultural decline. Obscenity, vulgarity and perversion are the norms. Decency, honor and purity are the exceptions. Christians talk about a culture war as though it were an us versus them contest. I...argue that we are the enemy. The decadence prevails because it is largely funded by Christian dollars, viewed in Christian homes, and welcomed by Christian hearts. Somehow we have grown fond of the world. Christians have always been tempted by the world, but this is I believe the first generation of Bible believing Christians to have ever embraced the world's temptations so completley. We delight in that which is offensive to God. Because we love what the world loves, the world is tearing us down."

Does our view of entertainment match up to Ephesians 5:3-7, "But do not let immorality or impurity or greed even be named among you as is proper among the saints, and there must be no filthiness or sill talk or coarse jesting, which are not fitting but rather the giving of thanks. For this you know with certainty, that no immoral or impure person or covetous man, who is an idolater, has an inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. Therefore do not be partakers with them..."

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Surface Christianity...

I stood on the border of Rwanda a number of years ago.

Just a year actually after a tribal war, where hundreds of thousands of people were killed. The funny thing is, no, not really funny at all; the sad, sickening thing is Rwanda was considered a Christian nation.

The missionaries told me, the reality, and this of course is obvious, is that Rwanda wasn't a Chrsitian nation at all. Many of those supposedly converted had done nothing more than add Christianity to their tribal religions. They went to church, when through the motions of worship, but down deep they hadn't changed.

For many, theirs was a surface Christianity.

It would be easy to point our fingers at the Rwandans, except I'm afraid many of us American Christians have done the same. We say we're Christians but we've just added going to church and praying as a kind of surface covering over a heart and life that is completely devoted to the world and to our previous way of living.

If we take a step back we can see this happening in the church at large. Too often the ideas and principles that control those in the world are the same ideas and principles that control those within the church, only perhaps those ideas are clothed in more religious language.

Can you say "seeker sensitive?"

Or perhaps, "Christian psychology?"

But we must be careful here. It's easy to talk very generally about worldliness. It's even easy to talk about ways in whcih the church at large is becoming more and more worldly. But we must remember that the church is made up of who? Individuals. And the church as a whole compromises because individuals do. So if we are concerned about worldiness in the church, we must start by being concerned about worldliness in our hearts.

Sometimes it is hard for us to identify the ways in which we are worldly because we have become so accustomed to it. I'm sure many of the Rwandans didn't think much about killing members of other tribe because that's the way they had lived for a long time. And many times we don't think much about the worldliness in our lives because that's the culture in which we live and we haven't examined ourselves in light of Scripture.

Herbert Schlossberg writes, "Idols are hard to identify after they have been part of society for a time. It became normal for the people of Jerusalem to worship Molech in the temple and it seemed odd that people calling themselves prophets shoulc denounce the practice. Molech was part of the establishment religious scene, one that directed national worship throughout living memory. The idol was supported by all the best elements of society, the political, economic, and religious power structure. "

I want us to try to identify some specific ways we are often worldly without realizing it in the next few blogs.

What do you think?

Monday, October 03, 2005

Unanswered last time

We're talking about the problem of unanswered prayer:

If God is in control and God really listens to our prayers and if God loves me, why doesn't He answer my prayers the way I want?

In previous blogs we've seen, 1. because God is God and we are not...2. because God has a better plan to bring Himself glory.

Today, one more.

3. Because He wants our best.

Just imagine going diamond shopping with an expert in diamonds.

I mean, this guy knows it all. And you look, and you look, and finally you come down to two options. And you, you have a hard time deciding, but you pick one over the other. On your way home you ask your friend, what do you think? What do you think about my buy?

And he says, it’s nice if you like a fake.

How would you react?

You’d say – why didn’t you say something? Why didn’t you stop me? Why did you allow me to choose what is cheap instead of what is really valuable?

God loves us. And the thing is, He’s an expert in life. He created us. He knows all. So he knows what is best for us. We, on the other hand, have a real hard time figuring out and choosing what is most valuable. Given a choice between our comfort and God’s glory, most of the time, we’d choose our own comfort. Given a choice between pleasure and holiness, most of the time, we’d choose our own pleasure. And so when God doesn’t answer our prayers, we struggle. Man if God loved me he’d give me this. He’d let me do that. No, we’ve got it all wrong. It’s because God loves you that He’s not answering your prayer. He’s not going to let you buy the cubic zirconium.

God loves us so much He's willing to sacrifice our comfort and our pleasure so that we can really have what’s best.

But slow down you say, how so? How does unanswered prayer work for my good?

One and this is so basic, but it's often good that God doesn't give us what we want because what we want right now isn’t what’s best for us.

Picture being Joseph, sold into slavery by his brothers. If you were Joseph, you might be praying, God just get me back to my family, get me out of slavery, right now. But God doesn’t do that. And it’s a good thing...because in the end what happens? After having been falsely accused, thrown in prison, left for dead, Joseph ends up being second in charge of all of Egypt. If Joseph did pray to be freed from prison and sent home, it's a good thing God didn't answer that prayer the way Joseph might have wanted at the time.

Two, unanswered prayer is good for us because it keeps us humble, and it teaches us to depend solely on God.

Paul points this out over in 2 Corinthians 12:8. Paul here is talking about an unanswered prayer. He had a thorn in the flesh. And he says, "Concerning this I entreated the Lord three times that it might depart from me. And He has said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, my power is perfected in weakness.’ Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, that the power of Christ may dwell in me." Paul could have said, God don’t you care? I’ve served you all this time, and this is what I get? But he doesn’t. God says look I want you to be weak so you rely on my grace and on my power. And so Paul instead of complaining about his weaknesses, decides to boast about them, because this weakness, this unanswered prayer, puts God’s power on display.

God doesn’t always answer our prayers right away because He wants us to be persistent. He wants us to depend completely on Him. Jesus when he talks about prayer, often talks about just this, persistency. God wants us to pray without ceasing, to pray always and not faint. If we are responding to unanswered prayer correctly, we don’t give up. We get on our knees and go back. Then we get on our knees and go back... and you know what, that’s good for us. It’s go to be forced to your knees time and time again.

Listen to George Mueller. He writes, "One or the other might suppose that all my prayers have been…promptly answered. No; not all of them. Sometimes I have had to wait weeks, months or years, sometimes for many years….During the first six weeks of year 1866 I heard of the conversion of six persons for whom I had been praying for a long time. For one I had been praying for between two and three years; for another between three and four years, and for another above six years; for the fifth above fifteen years; and for the sixth above twenty years…In one instance my faith has been tried even more than this. In November 1844, I began to pray for the conversion of five individuals. I prayed every day without one single intermission, whether in sick or in health, on the land or on the sea, and whatever the pressures of my engagements may be…two remain unconverted…But I hope in God, I pray on and I look for the answer…"

You know human nature. What happens when things are always easy? We often get proud and we often get lazy. God doesn’t want that for us. He wants our best. He wants us to completely depend on Him.

Three, unanswered prayer is a trial, it’s a test of faith, and we know what Scripture has to say about how good trials are for us.

James 1:2-4, "Consider it all joy my brothers when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, that you may perfect and complete lacking nothing."

Unanswered prayer is one of these various trials, so you could say consider it all joy when your prayers go unanswered because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance. You know by not answering your prayer God is promoting your spiritual good. Waiting on God produces spiritual strength. He’s teaching you to endure. And if you do that, you’re going to become more mature in Christ.

Remember George Mueller? He learned to rejoice when his prayers were not immediately answered because of his complete trust in the wise purposes of God. George took unanswered prayer as a sign of God’s love because by doing so, God was strengthening Mueller’s faith. That’s how we should view unanswered prayer – it’s a sign of God’s love.

Four, and we’ll stop here, unanswered prayers are good for us because we rejoice more when our prayers are finally answered. As someone has written, "The more prayers and searchings of heart come between our needs and our supplies, our afflictions and reliefs, the sweeter our reliefs and supplies thereby made to us."

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Lord We Cast Down Our Idols

I keep thinking how strange it would be to go to church and see some little old man sitting there with an idol. I can just picture him singing Amazing Grace while holding his wooden god... maybe even closing his eyes trying to worship, singing, while trying to stuff a banana in his god's face.

It doesn't take a Master's degree in biblical counseling to know that guy is going to have a hard time growing in his relationship with God until he stops bringing his idol to church. It's impossible to sincerely worship God while feeding your idol.

I wonder though if that isn't the reason so many professing Christians aren't enjoying God more, aren't growing more, aren't learning more. They don't bring Buddha to church or anything like that, but still they've got their idols: approval, money, family, self. And though they are at church, singing, they're still clinging to their god, feeding their idols.

As we come to worship, let's remember the admonition of the apostle John, " on guard against idolatry..." 1 John 5:21