“Resolution One: I will live for God. Resolution Two: If no one else does, I still will.” - Jonathan Edwards -

Monday, February 25, 2008

Yesterday

I have been speaking on the cost of discipleship (read my last two posts), and yesterday after the service a young lady came up and gave her life to Christ. What is amazing is that we do not have altar calls at our church, I will even say (as I have been teaching through this series), that one is to count the cost of knowing Christ. I truly believe and have seen that the Holy Spirit regenerates a heart, and not persuasive, and often manipulative words, from a pastor.

This young lady came forward, spoke with me, obviously understood what she was saying and prayed with me. It is so incredibly humbling to be a small part of God's work on Earth -- what an honor to be able to share in the glorious moment of a new believer coming to Christ!

Thursday, February 21, 2008

The Cost of Discipleship - Part II

I closed out the last post by looking at the Scribe who approached Jesus, anxious to follow Him 'anywhere'. However, as we saw, Jesus is not moved by his apparent piety, clearly stating the cost of discipleship.

Jesus’ teaching may have moved this man, or the miraculous healing of the leper may have amazed him, but Jesus knew his heart. The Scribe makes the pious statement that He will follow Jesus wherever He goes, but Jesus outlines the reality of following Him. The Scribe might have thought that it would be exhilarating to follow this man who healed people and was an incredible teacher, but he had not given much thought to the reality of following Jesus.

In today's world, we have gladly brought this guy in and maybe even put him in a leadership position, (he was, after all, a Scribe). At a minimum, we would have him as a member of our church before you knew it. But Jesus knows the heart of man, and penetrates to the crux of the issue in one statement. Just like the rich young man in Matthew 19, Jesus looks beyond the pious words to the heart and makes the statement that He does not live a lavish life, but one of discipline, not having a big home or a even, at times, a place to lay His head. Interestingly, we do not hear from this Scribe again!

So often one can get caught up in the moment and make vows and oaths to God, but once they have calmed down, they are still unregenerate; they simply got caught up in the 'hype' that often surrounds altar calls! I have heard many people say that this person or that person is saved because "They said the sinners prayer with me", but there was never any indicator that they had been regenerated, and often times these self-same people go on to live lives that make it obvious that their 'commitment' to Christ was but a fleeting moment of emotion.

This is why emotional, manipulative methods that get people to ‘come down front and accept Jesus’ are non-Biblical – Jesus is basically telling this man, "Count the cost – here is what life with Me is like.”

In Luke 14:26 – 33, Jesus says it this way: “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple. For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’ Or what king, going out to encounter another king in war, will not sit down first and deliberate whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? And if not, while the other is yet a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks for terms of peace. So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.

Believe me, He is not fooled by our pious words! He says in Matthew 15 that the people honor Him with their lips, but are, in actuality, far from Him! You see, there is a cost to discipleship – and that cost is death to self, and a new life in Christ. I fear that we have done away with this vital teaching because it is not the type of teaching that packs the house. And our churches have suffered because of it – we have churches that have a membership roll of hundreds or thousands, many of whom never darken the doorway of the church, but at one point said – “I will follow Jesus anywhere”.

The church no longer talks of the cost of discipleship, it might cause people to find another place to have their ears tickled, but it is those who are truly redeemed who can grasp the incredible gift of salvation found in Jesus Christ, it is these people who are not offended by the cost of discipleship.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer says, in his incredible book, “The Cost of Discipleship” -- "Christianity without discipleship is always Christianity without Christ. It remains an abstract idea, a myth which has a place for the Fatherhood of God, but omits Christ as the living Son. … There is trust in God, but no following of Christ."

Bonhoeffer made the distinction between ‘cheap’ grace and ‘costly’ grace in his book; here are a few more passages that bear repeating -- "cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline. Communion without confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ." In contrast to this is costly grace: "costly grace confronts us as a gracious call to follow Jesus, it comes as a word of forgiveness to the broken spirit and the contrite heart. It is costly because it compels a man to submit to the yoke of Christ and follow him; it is grace because Jesus says: "My yoke is easy and my burden is light." "

The second man we read about is one who seems to have a reasonable request – “I need to go and bury my father.” I mean, who could refuse such a request? Yet Jesus says that the dead should bury the dead. What does Jesus mean by this seemingly heartless response? Well, there are several thoughts on this – the first is that the man was saying – “Let me wait until my father dies and I claim my inheritance”. This was known to have been a colloquialism meaning just that; the Jews would have buried someone the same day that they died, unlike today in the West.

Some would say that the man’s father was not yet dead, but aging, and he wanted to wait until his father HAD died before embarking on the journey of discipleship with Jesus, and finally, some say that Jesus means that we are to let the ‘spiritually’ dead bury the dead. And in some sense this is also true; but I believe that what Jesus is saying is something contained in all of these perspectives. He is calling this man to drop his earthly concerns and follow Him now!

The call to discipleship is one that is immediate and all consuming. We cannot have one foot in the realm of the world and one foot in the realm of the kingdom. We are to be IN the world, but not OF it – and it would seem that this man had the concerns of the world consuming him – he was asking Jesus to allow him to delay his following until he had taken care of the earthly concerns that he had. Jesus’ answer is unequivocal – following me will require that you leave behind your inheritance, letting the spiritually dead bury the dead, and take up your cross and follow Me.

In the case of the first man, he was reacting to the hype of the events taking place around him, he was, like the seed that lands in rocky ground, [Matthew 13], sprouting up quickly (i.e. “I will follow you wherever you go”), but has no root and when hard times come, it withers.

The second man is like the seed that falls amongst thorns; it sprouts up, but the cares and concerns of the world choke the seed and it dies. This man could not leave behind the cares of the world.

Paul talks of leaving behind worldly cares and concerns in Philippians 3:7 – 11 -- whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.

Friends, do we understand that Jesus Christ calls us to a life of discipleship? Those who know Christ as their Lord and Savior, the redeemed, are called to a life that is perceptively different from the world's. The call to discipleship impacts all aspects of our life: in our marriage we are called to self-sacrificial love, the marriage being the very picture of Christ and His redeemed bride; it calls for sacrifice of our time to help build the kingdom, proclaiming the gospel and helping to build up the body – many who go by the name Christian do not give financially, or time-wise to the church to assist in the ministries that she performs. Often many who would call themselves disciples will spend hours watching a sporting event, or sitting at a computer or playing an instrument, but will not give up any of their time to do anything within the church.

Our lives should reflect the fact that we are captive to Christ; does your life? Are we being conformed to the image of God’s Son, as it says in Romans 8, or do we look, for all intents and purposes, exactly like the world, our biggest differentiator being that we spend a few hours at church on Sunday?

Are we disciples at work? Are we disciples at home with our family? Are we disciples when we are out with our friends? Jesus took these two men today to task – He did not let them get away with a cavalier statement about being His disciples, but clearly explained what the life and concerns of a disciple are to be. I wonder how many of us would still claim to be His disciple if we truly examined the cost?

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Cost of Discipleship - Part I

I spoke this weekend on the Cost of Discipleship. It seems that this is a topic that has gone out of favor amongst the Christian community. I have heard a variety of reasons, mostly those that have to do with 'chasing away seekers', I even had one person tell me that it was this type of preaching that was hurting the church!

It would seem that some believe that the way to get someone to come to Christ is lull them into it through good music, designer coffee, and a rational 'discussion' that enables them to weigh all the options and make a decision as to the 'validity' of the claims of Christ!

And you would definitely not tell these people that there is a cost to discipleship! So often the message, implicitly, or explicitly from Christians, is that once you come to Christ EVERYTHING gets easier. If you want to be richer, prettier, more athletic, and have a winning smile, just come to Christ! This is often the message posed to people but it paints an unrealistic picture of discipleship (true discipleship)

True discipleship is a call to die to self! That is not a popular message, so it is often muted, or ignored.

Yet, in the passage I spoke on this weekend, it would seem that Jesus Himself approached things rather differently. I spoke out of Matthew 8:18 - 22. This is an interesting juxtaposition from the immediately preceding verses.

In those verses Jesus approaches two people who, it would seem, would have been outside the pale of God's 'acceptance'; a leper, and a Roman Centurion.

The first would have been an outcast considered unclean, and adjudged by God as accursed (see Numbers 12 and 2nd Chronicles 26). This rotting, stinking walking corpse would have been in constant torment, separated from the family of God (Israel) and forced to live in the outer areas of town.

The second man was an avowed enemy of God and His people -- a man who oppressed and subjugated the nation of Israel. And this was no ordinary man in the Roman ranks, He was a centurion -- a leader who commanded the men who were oppressing Israel!

Yet Jesus heals the one, and heals the servant of the other. This would have been shocking in that day and age.

And then this week we see a SCRIBE approach Jesus, and make a wonderful profession as to his willingness to follow Jesus. Now, you would think that after Jesus had been willing to heal the aforementioned two, then He would gladly welcome this scribe. But, Jesus does something unexpected -- He challenges the scribe; "Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” Interestingly, we never hear from the scribe again.

The second man makes a seemingly simple request - "Lord, let me first go and bury my father.” but Jesus, in a seemingly callous way, says “Follow me, and leave the dead to bury their own dead.”.

It would seem that Jesus is acting in an irrational manner, wouldn't it? Yet, when this passage is examined we find a profound message. First, in the case of the leper and the Roman Centurion, we see those whom Jesus came to save -- the ones who were outside the gates, doomed to death and avowed enemies of God.

Are we really any different than the leper? We were, before Christ, clothed in the stinking rags of our own righteousness, outside the gates with no hope of entering in, separated from the people of God and cursed with an incurable disease. Yet, like the leper the redeemed are drawn to Christ to say "If you will, you can make me clean", and He has said "I will, be clean".

And likewise, we are reflected in the Centurion -- an enemy of God and His people (witness Paul); one who oppressed God's people. Yet, Jesus brought healing into our lives, even with our enmity towards Him -- "For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life.

Now, what of these next two? Well, the Scribe seems to have been caught up in the moment -- I am sure it was an exciting time; this rabbi had come down from the mountain and healed two men, the crowds were growing, and in his exuberance, the scribe exclaims "Jesus, I will follow you anywhere". Sadly, in today's church we would go no further and instantly put him in a leadership role (he was, after all, a scribe!). I see this in many cases where a celebrity or sports figure (what is the difference anyway?), has a salvation 'experience' and the next week is preaching to throngs of people. But Jesus informs the scribe that following Him may not be what the scribe thinks it is. There is a cost to discipleship. And it does not matter if you are a scribe or a leper, the cost is the same -- “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself?"


As I said previously, we never hear from this scribe again.

I just realized that this post is getting a bit lengthy, even for me, so I will continue these thoughts in my next post.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Puritans!

Monergism has a new site.

This site has a number of free Puritan books available on-line.

Here are some of the names available -- Thomas Watson | Thomas Brooks | Thomas Boston | John Bunyan | Stephen Charnock | Richard Sibbes | Thomas Goodwin |Thomas Shepherd | John Robinson | Thomas Case | John Owen | William Bridge | John Ball | John Flavel | John Howe | Richard Baxter | Hugh Binning | Thomas Gouge | Joseph Alleine | Richard Alleine | William Bates | John Colquhoun David Clarkson | Richard Steele | Jerremiah Burroughs | William Gurnall | Thomas Adams | Matthew Mead | Philip Doddridge | Isaac Ambrase | Benjamin Brook | William Guthrie | William Perkins | Herman Witsius | Walter Marshall | Henry Bullinger.

If you have never read the Puritans, I highly recommend this site to introduce you!

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

The Blind Eye

This infuriates me.

The incredible hypocrisy of Mendell in his statement -- "We are shocked, saddened and sickened by what we have seen today," Mendell said. "Operations have been immediately suspended until we can meet with all of our employees and be assured these sorts of activities never again happen at our facility." -- is simply amazing. This type of abuse has been recorded over and over again for well over ten years.

Management is well aware of these practices; there have been hundreds of interviews with former and current employees at many plants which speak of these atrocities. What is amazing is that they are not similar acts, but IDENTICAL, leading one to believe that this is SOP for these plants.

The nonsense of having USDA inspectors and vets located on-site has been shown for what it is many times. Just the speed of the line makes it impossible for the inspectors to keep up, and anytime outside consultants or OSHA personnel show up, their visit is known for days in advance and the plant 'cleans up' for the inspection.

The USDA actually has the audacity to say this!

Why is that incredible? Well, because they have staff ON-SITE -- did they simply MISS the activities?

And then they lay the blame at the feet of the HSUS with this little self-righteous blurb -- "It is unfortunate that the Humane Society of the United States did not present this information to us when these alleged violations occurred in the fall of 2007. Had we known at the time the alleged violations occurred, we would have initiated our investigation sooner, and taken appropriate actions at that time."

Let me ask them this: Where were your inspectors when these events took place?

Christians have abdicated their responsibility as stewards of God's creation -- this is not about vegetarianism vs. non-vegetarianism, this is about basic humane treatment of animals. The animal rights groups that are out there often have agendas which are directly counter to the Christian beliefs (witness people like Peter Singer who believes that there is no difference between an animal and human beings), so do not think that I am saying these groups are correct, what I AM saying is that we are incorrect.

The two things that I often hear from the Christian community are:

(1) - "I don't know anything about meat preparation, and I don't want to" or
(2) - "God gave us the right to eat animals starting with Noah, so what is the point?"

There are several problems with this, but let's just look at one -- Where does God say ABUSE, MAIM, and TORTURE these animals before slaughtering and eating them?

It is high time that Christians (who seem to want to be involved in anything politically or socially which improves their lot in life) begin to speak out against this type of wanton and horrific practice. If you want to put your blinders on, and actually believe what Hallmark and the USDA are trying to pass off, then I pity you!

Go read up on the abuses recorded over DECADES within the meat-packing industry, and then tell me that this is an isolated incident!

Whether you want to continue to eat meat or not is not my concern, what IS my concern is that we Christians go blissfully through life, ignoring this issue.

Read up on the issue, take the time to understand where your food comes from, read Slaughterhouse, or Prisoned Chickens, Poisoned Eggs. Actually educate yourself before you react to this post.

We believe that we were made in the image of God (imago dei): do you really believe the God who created everything and saw that it was good does not notice our apathy?

Monday, February 04, 2008

Goodbye to a Companion



My companion, and partner on sermon writing sessions, my green-cheek conure, finally succumbed to cancer. He simply fell asleep on Saturday night and never woke up on Sunday. We had him 14 years, and have no children, so this is will be a hard few days or so. But, in honor of him, I wanted to repost something from last November:

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My beloved pet, who has been through many things with me, Isaac, a green-cheek conure, was diagnosed with lymphoma yesterday. We have had him around for 13+ years. He sat by me on many a day as I prepared sermons etc.

You can see him with me in the new picture to the right of this posting.

As I watch him deteriorate, I am driven to this Scripture:

Romans 8:9 - 22 -- For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now.

All too often we Christians think only of our own lives as regards redemption, but in fact CREATION will be redeemed! We need to understand the depth of sin and decay before we can truly appreciate the heights of God's salvific plan! My bird is dying because of sin, just as I am dying because of sin, just as the world is dying. When we understand that, it is then that we can begin to understand the incredible beauty of redemption!

Revelation 21:1 - 5 -- Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away. And he who was seated on the throne said, Behold, I am making all things new.

Friday, February 01, 2008

BUSY!

Well, I know I have not been writing on here much -- but I am really running at a quick pace right now...

I foolishly decided to start back up in taking some classes, so I am working through Calvin's Institutes: a LOT of reading! PLUS, I am taking Timmy Brister's Puritan challenge and I am trying to catch up by reading through 'The Bruised Reed' by Richard Sibbes.

Plus my 'other' job (telecommunications system engineer) is really picking up.... I will be back when I can catch my breath!