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

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Worship Music

Yes, it has been about six weeks since I posted. A lot has happened -- got caught in a RIF at work, and been very busy at the church. However, I read a short book on worship music while I was away...

The book turned out to be a bust in my opinion. Even though it had the endorsement of a man I truly respect, J. Ligon Duncan III, IMHO, this book was not very compelling.

Before I go much further, I want to say that I agree, by and large, with many of the arguments in the book; i.e. that CCM is inappropriate for worship, and that many (if not most), CCM/modern worship songs are insipid and totally narcissistic. Where I feel that the author went afoul of a solid argument is when he began with the mantra that 'drums' are somehow part of the devil's music.

Now, he did not say that in those words, but he intimates it heavily throughout. And the old boogie man of the 'backbeat' somehow conjuring up Satan in the church is simply not true.

His argument for using classical music is that it is so far removed from anything evil that it is safe to be used in the church - although, in it's day, this music too was frowned upon by many within the church.

This is written from a Western man's view of music - drums and music of the type that he disparages, are used in other parts of the world where people have always used drums as part of their heritage. they also do not have organs, pianos and the other western instruments.

As I said earlier, I agree that CCM has no place in the worship life of the church, and I am a staunch believer in hymns, and even Psalter singing, however the arguments put forth by Mr. Lucarini just don't hold water from a musical standpoint. I would have enjoyed a much more theological argumentation, as opposed to the almost 'mystical' perspective that a certain beat and instrumentation is inherently evil.

Sadly, as I work through the changes in our worship style; attempting to jettison some of the inherited CCM and replace it with more solid modern hymns and Psalter singing, these types of books are really useless. I am going to pick up Michael Horton's A Better Way. This was recommended by a pastor that I truly respect.

I have also found Hughes Oliphant Old's books to be quite useful -- his Worship book is fantastic, as is his Leading in Prayer workbook.

Books such as Dan Lucarini's simply provide no useful theological argumentation - but instead, rely on the same arguments that the CCM folks use to introduce the drivel that they call worship music. I think there is a better way, and I believe that we can use arguments that transcend the 'drums are bad' mentality.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Are You Plugged In?

So, the final question that I posed on a long ago post was: where do non-denominational churches find fellowship and support?

There are many groups that provide fellowship and accountability, but when you are just starting out, or you are a small church that does not fit the 'denominational' mold, it can be challenging to find support and fellowship. (Make no mistake, 'non-denominational' is much like a denomination)

I will tell you, from personal experience, that you must have this support; it is vital to the life of the pastor and his family that he have someone he can turn to for fellowship, prayer, emotional and spiritual support, and friendship.

I struggled early on in my ministry because I did not have this support structure, and I just wanted to post a few thoughts here about it:

1. Seek out a local pastoral fellowship, or alliance. Most all towns have one, and many times they are not well advertised. YOU must make the effort to find a group, and get plugged in. The group may not fit you exactly, and there may be some within the group who disagree with you on some points of ministry, but this is a good place to learn tolerance as well as the ability to articulate your faith and the reasons why you take a position that you have.

2. Do some web work, find a group that shares your perspective in ministry and join it. Some of these may just be an on-line community, but it is still a good outlet for support. And again, be prepared for discussion! Don't shy away from, or be adversarial to honest, open debate! You will grow tremendously as you learn to disagree in a godly manner.

3. Attend a pastor's conference. Even if you attend alone, the good ones will not leave you alone. You will meet people from all over the country/world, who will become confidant's and counselors.

4. Finally, do not allow your pride to tell you that you can do it on your own. I found my greatest challenge to be maintaining a perspective when I had no outlet or access to other pastors. My fellow elder at our church is fantastic, and I could never do it without him, but we both need the interaction that comes with engaging fellow ministers in discussion, debate, and counsel.

If you are at a small-church and have not done any of the above, I highly recommend that you get plugged in and maintain ties with fellow pastors. It will greatly ease your burden!

May God bless your work!

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Are we just nuts?

How can you tell when a society has jumped the proverbial shark when it comes to insanity?

Well, when you juxtapose this story with this one

Now, anybody with at least four brain cells functioning, please tell me which of these two is a more real and present danger?

Thursday, October 01, 2009

TEC Strikes Again

Abortion, a blessing?

As the writer says -- "What more need be said?"

Incredible -- simply incredible!

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Church Growth

So, I come to the question of "How do you stay true to Biblical truths when the church down the street grew from 5 - 5000 in the same timeframe by giving away a car and flat-screen TVs?"

Well, it is fairly straight forward -- recognize a couple of things:

1. - Churches have traditionally not been 5000, 6000 and up. There were a few but overall, churches tend towards 150 - 200. This is a size in which the pastor can come to know all the members. It is also a size in which people have an opportunity to be involved in ministry as opposed to being spectators at their own church.

2. - Staying true to Biblical truths has nothing to do with how big your church is. This myth has been propagated and circulated by those within the CGM leadership. It is in their best interest to lead everyone to believe that a healthy church is one that doubles their congregation regularly. This sells conferences, and books on CGM. A healthy church can be very modest in their growth, yet be true to Biblical truths. They can also be modest in their growth (numerically) as they grow spiritually.

When we compare our church to others they will inevitably look either much better or much worse than they truly are. In some small churches, every other church is 'missing it', and 'only we' have it figured out. Bad idea! In other small churches, they believe that they are bound for failure because all the churches around them are growing at a much larger rate. Another bad idea!

Truth be told -- most churches in our country are smaller, and most churches do some things well, and others poorly. Do not compare yourself to the most successful or the least successful church in town - compare yourself to the Biblical admonition that we have.

Remember, what you 'win' them with, you will have to 'keep' them with. If you bring people in by giving away a TV, then next week you will need to give away something better, and you will be stuck in a world of responding to the congregation rather than responding to the Holy Spirit's leading, and the clear direction given us in the Bible.

Stay the course!

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Thoughts on Staffing



So, to continue on our series -- "Why Do Small Church Pastors Quit?", I thought I would address staffing. This is a biggie in a small church, but I believe the "desperate" need for staff is based upon a fallacy.

Now, before you respond, understand that I am not saying that staffing issues are not a real concern, but the desperation associated with staffing often is.

Here is the fallacy -- "If I want to be 'successful', I must address EVERYONE'S needs, (or potential needs), right out of the chute."

Watch how you define success!

I know pastors who planted churches and worked feverishly to 'hire' staff for every conceivable position; before they had even thought about the purpose and mission of their church in the selected locale! Now, I will state that all churches exist to be a place for God's people to gather and worship Him corporately -- but why in a specific locale? Is it because there is a dearth of churches in the area? Or maybe, the area has a specific need that a church could bring to the fore, such as a food pantry, and a place where souls would get fed as well. Determine what type of ministries you will have and what your church will look like before rushing out to hire people.

All too often what you end up with in many of the so-called CGM type of churches is a professional staff of employees who deal with the needs of the church -- everything from a pastor of "facilities" (what kind of prayer request might a lavatory bring?) to every specialty ministry under the sun (for example, I know of some places that have a pastor for single men from the ages of 25 - 40).

So, what is a small-church pastor to do? What if he cannot afford to hire a 'heavy-hitter', or someone with a resume that highlights him/her as an up and coming superstar?

Well, here is a novel idea: find someone in the church that has a passion for a ministry and train them up. Now, they will make mistakes, but any pastor who thinks he never made any mistakes is fooling himself. Also realize that you may have to remove people from ministries where they do not work out. Honestly, this is why it is 'easier' to have a professional staff that you can simply fire, as opposed to friends that you love and care about who may have to be removed from their ministry for any number of reasons.

Here is what we have found -- when someone from within the church is involved in ministry, they have a real connection with the other members of the church - they are not employees -- they are not people who are there for the paycheck, but are part and parcel of the family.

Please understand that I am not saying that everyone who is a hired employee will have these issues/attitudes, but it is much more likely to happen when they have very little connection and history with the church and its members. The other issue with a hired staff is that they, like any other human being, may find a better position, and sadly, many today have left churches that needed them, for better, and greener (if you get my meaning), pastures.

I am NOT saying that we should not have any staff -- but I do believe that the Western Church has gone way overboard in this area. They have professional music teams, professional youth and senior pastors, professional sound crews etc. And most times, it is all for the sake of a polished, and all too often, sterile, environment. I believe that a senior pastor should be paid, if possible, as the other positions I mentioned, if these can be managed, but I believe that the people who grow into these roles should, as much as possible, be grown organically, rather than putting a search on Monster.com.

And a small-church pastor should not worry over filling every possible ministry position immediately, work with what you have -- develop your own people, they have a connection to the church and to you. Decide which ministries you NEED, and then work on filling them - the church can grow into other ministries as God provides the skills and workers.

Also, be very careful that you do not take those four people who are volunteer junkies, and work them to death - spread out your ministries amongst people -- we are having a ministry 'fair' at our next potluck, and we are going to highlight the ministries that we have available -- therefore, people who may not know much about the variety of ministries and needs at our church will have a chance to get involved.

I am no expert on staffing, or church growth -- but I do know that the church in America is far too enamored with professionalism, and far too laissez-faire about developing the Body of Christ in a local environment. It is easier to hire, it is easier to fire, but it really insulates a pastor and church from having to develop the ability to work together as a body and practice body life as Paul directs us to.

So, go on and hire, but do it wisely, and as much as possible, develop the gifts and talents that God has already placed at your disposal within your local body.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Money...

So, the next question in the list of 'Why Small Church Pastors Quit' is one that involves the root of all evil: of course, I speak about money...

Now honestly, this is not a bugaboo for me, as I am not paid by our church - I have a regular 40+ hour / week job which supports me and my family. However, I have many friends who have experienced this problem.

The opinions I am about to express are just that, opinions, however, I have seen this situation enough to feel fairly comfortable with talking about it.

First and foremost -- pastors: if you are in this for the money -- get out now and save yourself some real headaches!

So, having said that I would like to bring to fore a few points:

1. - Why is it assumed almost universally within certain traditions (whom I will refrain from mentioning here) that poverty is related to godly? Many feel that, because their pastor is squeaking by on a salary that does not adequately feed his family, he is somehow becoming transcendent through that experience!

Most pastors in this situation are simply becoming disillusioned. Nowhere in the Bible does it say that poverty is next to godly, as a matter of fact the writer of Proverbs says this -- Proverbs 30:8, 9 -- give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with the food that is needful for me, lest I be full and deny you and say, Who is the LORD? or lest I be poor and steal and profane the name of my God. C'mon church! Give your pastor a break, pay him decently -- is it unreasonable that he be paid the average of what the congregation makes?

2. - Why is it that every purchase that the pastor makes is scrutinized by his flock? As if, it is still their money and they have say over what he buys! God forbid that he buy a new ANYTHING -- used is good enough for him! Yet, the congregation is happily spending their wages any way they see fit, and are happy to provide the pastor with their discards!

Now this is (maybe) a bit hyperbolic, but not much -- I have seen this in more than one situation. Pay your pastor a decent wage, and then shut up about how he spends the money -- I am not suggesting NO oversight; (for example, a quarterly trip to the Bahamas might indicate a problem), but if he buys a new car -- why do you view it as a sin?

3. - Why is there more money spent on carpeting than on upkeep of the pastors family? Is it pride in a building? What about the man who, week in and week out, provides pastoral care to you? 1st Timothy 5:17, 18 - Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching. For the Scripture says, You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain, and, The laborer deserves his wages.

Bottom line: Pay the pastor a livable wage - I fully recognize that the other extreme is alive and well, (no man is worth 1M/year), but this post is about small-church pastors and most of them make well under the average salary in America.

And again, please heed this warning -- if you are in the business of pastoring for the cash -- get out now; I don't need your help! Heed Paul's warning: 2nd Corinthians 2:17 -- For we are not, like so many, peddlers of God's word, but as men of sincerity, as commissioned by God, in the sight of God we speak in Christ.

All of you small-church pastors out there, I pray that you are well-loved and supported by your congregation. I have been blessed by mine!

Monday, August 10, 2009

Loss of Key Persons

One of the things that will burn a small church pastor out is the loss of key persons within the core team. We experienced this as we worked through our first few years.

What often happens, as I stated in the last post, is that a church gets planted with a lot more emotion than planning, and therefore things have not been thought through.

So, what happens? Well, the folks heading up some portion of a key ministry realize that their four children have no Children's Ministry for a while as teachers are identified, and curriculum is sought and studied. (This is simply one example).

And so, they begin looking around at bigger, established churches and seeing that these churches have a ministry ready-made for their children. Off they go to that church.

Now, let me say that I understand that to a degree -- parents want their children to have a good Children's Ministry, but the reality is that a small-church drained of key personnel, AND their children never can get their ministries off the ground.

It might be youth, it might be a choir, but any of these things can strip a church of key members. Now, I will be blunt about part of the reasoning -- people are not as committed to a church as much as they are committed to a program, or perceived needs that their family has. Part of the issue there is that you did not do adequate planning and communication during the initial plant stage. People rarely understand what it takes to plant a church - there is sacrifice, frustration, and many other emotions that will occur.

You must understand that you are battling the social conditioning that we have created around the church that intimates that we are there for YOU -- and whatever needs YOU deem important. Long ago the church ceased, by and large, of being a gathering of God's people to worship Him, and became a social event with all the bells and whistles of a secular club.

Now yes, churches still worship God -- but many times the staff is professionally paid, the lights, music, setting all TV quality and the 'event' short enough to satisfy the most ardent football fan.

And when one plants a church that has none of that, it is a true disadvantage, and one will have a difficulty in maintaining members. So, enough of the problem -- what can one do about it?

Well, first and foremost -- be crystal clear with the people working with you -- "We may not have a functioning [children's ministry/choir/worship team/youth] for a while, are you committed to helping build that up?"

Second, don't try to compete with the local mega-church -- understand the focus of your ministry and stay true to it. You may shrink, but if you try to be all things to all people by adding every ministry that the local dotcom church has you will quickly exhaust your budget and your people.

If someone wants to be on a 90 person choir, well then you may just have to tell them that you won't be forming that sized choir for a while (especially since your church is 30 in number!), and they may have to find a church that provides them with that opportunity.

The greatest danger for a small-church pastor in this area is the attempt to be something that you are not, or do not yet have the funds to be. Don't over-extend your own time or the churches resources attempting to keep one or two key families, identify others who are committed to the church and work with them to bring them along.

We have had several key families leave for some of the reasons stated above, and have maintained friendships with them -- they have been a blessing to the churches where they have gone, and everyone ended up fine. Trust that God will provide for you, and that He will bring into your church those with the necessary gifts to provide the needed ministries.

At the end of the day, stay focused on your commitment to God -- NOT to the many felt needs that are out there. This can only lead you to burn-out, or compromise in some manner.

If you stay true to God He will make clear the ministries you are to have, and the size church that you will become.

May God Bless Your Work!

Monday, July 27, 2009

Friends

I realize that I have posted on some of these topics before, but as I have changed and grown (hopefully), I wanted to repost some thoughts. So, as you may remember, my first question on the last post was:

How many friends do you have to lose while attempting to do the right thing?

Answer - I have no idea -- but I do know that this can be debilitating for a small-church plant/pastor.

Many people go into church-planting with a pastor/friend that they know and trust. Sadly, all too often, the idea of starting a church, or planting one, is romanticized by all involved. Their motivation might be that they will finally have a church in which they can contribute at a level they desire. Or, it may be that they came out of a broken church and finally have a chance to 'do it right'.

There may be many motivating factors, but what I have found to be true in most cases is that the people are not united in their desire to plant a church for God's glory. And when a pastor and the people around him are not united in that goal - the fallout is usually numbered in friendships.

In our case, none of us really knew what we were doing -- we truly wanted to do the right thing, but because so much of our initial impetus was emotion, the right thing was not the SAME thing in everyone's mind.

Therefore, as the church became more 'traditional' in it's perspective, many people left or had a change of heart, usually taken out on the pastor, because the church was no longer unique, or to use a more realistic, but baser word, the church had ceased to be 'fun' for those involved.

Now, to be fair -- as the pastor, I too struggled with the exact same emotions, and it truly was not until I REALLY read the Bible and spent time in prayer with fellow elders, and sat at the feet (figuratively) of many great teachers that I even had an inkling of what the church is really all about.

I was eaten up with making the church in my image, just as much as the others were bent on making it in their image -- no one was innocent on this. But, what finally prevailed was the overriding desire to honor and glorify God, and lift Christ up so that all men would be drawn to Him -- and that was a consensus that the church came to together.

I have lost a lot less friends in recent years, and I would encourage the small-church pastor to really plan and think about his church BEFORE planting, or even taking an existing one on. Ensure that you understand the purpose of the church, and the perspective of the congregation. Do not over commit on anything until you have a clear and detailed idea of what the church needs to do to get to the place of a God-honoring institution.

The church is a place where God's people come together to worship and honor their Lord, and a place where the visitor and/or lost will hear a clear and consistent proclamation of the wonderful, soul-freeing gospel weekly. The messages will be Christ-centered and not man-centered, the families will be drawn together to worship, not split into thousands of shards that have nothing to do with one another, and the music will be God-honoring, and Christ-centered -- not man-honoring and worldly-centered.

Surround yourself with people who understand what the church exists for, and weed out those who are looking to make a name for themselves. Find team-players who want to succeed to God's glory, and do not become a despot in your pastorate, but give those who have been gifted, a place in real ministry.

These are but a few common-sense ideas, nothing unique here -- but let me encourage small-church pastors who are ready to throw in the towel. If you will work at building a God-honoring church, and find others who want to work at that as well, you will lose fewer friends than I did..

May God bless your work!

Monday, July 20, 2009

Why do Small-Church Pastors Quit?

As a note before I post this I want to answer a few questions:

1. No, I am not considering quitting.

2. No, I do not have any particular person or incident in my mind -- I just have recently heard some comments that stuck in my craw and I wanted to get my thoughts out...

With the above comments firmly in mind let us now go on to our post:

====================================================


I hear a lot of people talking about pastors who quit the ministry. Some say that they burn-out because of an unbiblical method of church planting; if one was 'truly' trusting the Lord, then the strength of the Lord would carry them through.

While this comment can be true, all too often it comes from a layperson or someone with a nice staff and an assistant, who have no idea how mind-numbing and physically draining small-church ministry can be. These folks seem to insinuate that those who face bone-weary burn-out are somehow trying to do things 'their way'.

A small confession here -- I used to buy that; but then I planted a church...

Here are some of the questions that are not well-understood by those outside of small-church ministry.

* How many friends do you have to lose while attempting to do the right thing?

* How many key persons leave to attend a church that has more 'functions' for their family.

* How does one build a church when resources leave for already established places?

* How does one support their family on a pittance of what everyone else in the church (usually those telling you to 'have faith', or 'trust in the lord') make in their vocation?

* How does one cover all the needs in the church when there is no full-time staff, only a volunteer staff, that is usually at their breaking point as well?

* How do you stay true to Biblical truths when the church down the street grew from 5 - 5000 in the same timeframe by giving away a car and flat-screen TVs?

* Also, if you are non-denominational, who supports you? There is no denominational support group built in.


These are but a few thoughts -- but I want to ponder them and in my next post put down some ways that we have managed, within our small church, to combat the above contributors to 'burn-out.

We certainly do not have all, or even most, of the answers. But, I would hope that this post and the next one might encourage someone who needs it.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Hope Part II

In the previous posts, I have covered a lot of ground as regards God's providence, and the subject of death and dying. I now would like to close out this series by finally looking at the great hope that Christians have - ‘Our Eschatological Hope’.

Three things I would like to cover in this post:

o What is the physical resurrection?
o What is heaven?
o How does the Reality of our Hope manifest itself in our life now?


As I said last post, we simply cannot understand eternal life, death, dying or suffering without having a Biblical understanding of these terms. So, we have looked at providence, we have looked at suffering, we have looked at death and now we look at the final state of man.

So, let us start by looking at two passages of Scripture that will set the tone for the rest of the post.

Romans 8:18 – 25 -- For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. 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. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.

1st Corinthians 15:50 – 58 -- I tell you this, brothers: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting? The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.


PHYSICAL RESURRECTION

What is the final state of the believer and unbeliever. I am not discussing the spiritual state exclusively, but also the physical state. Well, we see in these passages, and in many others, that there will be a physical resurrection. When people think of heaven and the eternal state, they have a tendency to think of chubby little Hallmark angels and clouds as opposed to the Biblical concept of heaven being a place inhabited by people with bodies; physical bodies.

Paul clearly and unambiguously states that we will be raised into glorified bodies, not dwelling for eternity in some sort of ethereal, gauzy existence. And we will dwell on a New Earth and in a New Heaven, in our glorified bodies, serving, worshiping and dwelling in the presence of our God forever.

When a believer dies, they are taken into the presence of the Lord in a spiritual state – as Jesus told the thief on the cross -- "Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise." And we also find this in the parable of the rich man and Lazarus – Lazarus is carried away in the bosom of Abraham to heaven. So, when we initially depart from this plane of existence, we will be in heaven, but we will not be complete; the culmination of our resurrection will happen when the Lord returns, and soul and body are reunited in a glorified and perfected state.

1st Thessalonians 4:15 – 17 -- For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord.

Even those who are alive when Jesus Christ returns will die in a sense, as their mortal bodies put on immortality, and their perishable dirt sacks are replaced with imperishable perfected bodies. So, yes, Virginia, there is a physical resurrection – and those who have departed first, those dead in Christ are raised first, and then those remaining will be translated into immortality.

The unbeliever will also be raised, but tragically, it will not be to bodies that have been glorified and perfected and in the presence of God forever, but to bodies that are bound for hell and pain. The unbeliever will be cast into the Lake of Fire with Satan and His minions, and there their worm will never die. They will forever be plagued with suffering – a suffering that is caused by being unprotected from God’s Wrath by the only mediator that is accepted, Jesus Christ.

WHAT IS HEAVEN?

So now we know that there will be a physical resurrection, but where will we be dwelling in our perfected bodies? Well, we will be dwelling in the New Heavens and the New Earth. And while there is a difference of opinion in how this new creation will take place, whether or not God will actually do away with the old creation completely, or simply restore and regenerate the old I will leave up to a discussion at a later date.

In the Revelation, as John was given the vision of the New Heaven and the New Earth, his descriptions were marked with the presence of jewels and crystal clear gold, and precious stones. It is obvious that John was trying to find words that would describe the beauty of heaven. What we do know is that it will be beyond anything that we can dream of, or imagine in this life.

"OK, so it is beautiful; but what and where is it?" Well, I think Wayne Grudem says it well “Heaven is the place where God most fully makes known His presence to bless.” We know that God is omnipresent – He is everywhere at all times in a way that we cannot understand, but He has always had places where He especially manifested His presence – in Israel it was the Tabernacle for example. So, Heaven will be the locus (if I may use that word) of His presence.

Will we recognize loved ones when we enter into this blessed place? Well, all I will tell you is this – Peter and the disciples recognized Moses and Elijah when they spoke with Jesus, and the disciples recognized Jesus Himself after His resurrection. What does that tell you?

HOW DOES THIS MANIFEST ITSELF NOW?

So, we have taken a brief look at heaven, the resurrection from the dead, and now we must ask ourselves, how should this knowledge impact our life in the here and now? Is there any impact in our lives? Well, let me put forth a few ideas quickly for you.

Colossians 3:1 – 4 -- If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.

If you have been raised with Christ – if you are truly one of God’s children, what should you set your mind on? It is a sad truth that we Christians are as worldly and materialistic as the basest of pagans. We strive for, get consumed with, and suffer from, the same desires as the world. We do not set our minds on the things that are above. Yet, if we truly understand and believe the truth about our eschatological hope, should we not be a people who have their gaze fixed on the things above? What goes into your mind, what do you watch on TV, what do you desire above all other things?

Philippians 3:20, 21 -- But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.

Are you anxiously awaiting our Lord and Savior, do you live as though He could return at any time? Do you recognize that your citizenship is in heaven, above and beyond the earthly ties of citizenship – can you identify with the body of Christ around the world, or are you a person who is xenophobic and hateful towards those outside the pale of your earthly citizenship? We who are in Christ are all citizens of the same place!

Matthew 6:19 – 21 -- “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on 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 destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

Like the Colossians passage, this one stresses that we are not to store up things on this earth, but store up our treasures in heaven. Do you do that? Are you storing up your treasures in heaven – are you living in and for Jesus Christ, or are you abusive and self-centered, grabbing all the gusto in this life, to the detriment of your family; are you willing to get that promotion at work through the denigration of someone else; are you socking away all of your grain in the barn, to the neglect of God?

He speaks of a man like that in Luke 12:16 – 21 -- And he told them a parable, saying, The land of a rich man produced plentifully, and he thought to himself, What shall I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops? And he said, I will do this: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry. But God said to him, Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be? So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God.

Brothers and sisters, the siren song of worldly goods and desires beckons to us constantly and tirelessly, and it is hard to ignore that call. Let us keep our mind fixed on the things above, anxiously awaiting the glorious return of our Savior, praying that the Holy Spirit would strengthen and guide us through the rocks and shoals of this world’s treacherous and deceptive waters. And may we all say, Maranatha – Come Lord, Jesus!

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

The Hope

In the past six or so posts we have examined God’s providence in detail, going from a basic definition of His providence to the providential care that He shows, even in the death of His saints. These posts have been difficult for me, as many in our church are going through hard times.

A providential God simply does not compute to those weaned on the American god who is, more or less, simply there for the good times – a god who promises nice cars, big homes, and a lack of suffering – the god of many in our modern world.

But the god advertised by many churches is simply not the God of the Bible – the God who sent His children into exile for their promiscuous love affair with idols; the God who did not allow Moses into the Promised Land because of disobedience; the God who allowed Job to be sifted, yet never snatched out of His hand; the God who has called many to suffer for His name over millennia.

This God is one that many who call themselves Christians would not recognize. Sadly we have become enamored with the comfortable god, the one who would never allow his children to suffer. But, the comfortable god is not the God of the Bible – the God in the Bible is mighty and frightening, He is in control of all things, and He is inscrutable in His ways ofttimes.

So, as I approach the final posts in this series, I wanted to quickly review the last few posts.

In my initial post on this subject, I ruminated on the fact that death, as is defined by most all of us, is an event in time. It is something that happens at a point in time, and can be delineated by a clock. What is one of the basic questions that always gets asked by the lead character in a police drama? What is the “time of death”.

All of us have this view of death, not just the lost – few people live in the mindset of eternity – that death is not an event, but a state in which all men find themselves as they march through life.

However, Paul had this mindset – we find him speaking of all being dead in their trespasses and sins before being made alive in Christ. [Ephesians 2 & Colossians 2]

I proposed a working definition of death a few posts ago. Here it is again - " Death is the state that we find ourselves in due to Adam’s sin. While physical death may occur at some specific date and time, we have all been born into, and live in a body of death until, in Christ, we are redeemed into eternal life."

This definition will really help us as we walk through this world. If we could but keep our minds fixed on Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, then we would spend much less time worrying about the many issues and problems that confront us in this life, and much more time in the Word, in treating one another as we should, and in living fearlessly for Christ. We all face the danger, in our fallen nature, of becoming far more consumed with us and far less consumed with Christ.

Most relationship issues that I deal with are overwhelmingly centered around pride, and striving in this world. In marriage for example, men are to serve their families self-sacrificially, as Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her, and women are called to serve under their husbands, yet we all struggle with the pervasive nature of pride and sin.

So, marriages in today’s world end up (up to 50% in the church!) in divorce, because the parties will not die to self, and live in Christ. People do not have a proper understanding of death – they strive under the delusion that our world has served up, loaded with sugar and additives, that our existence on this planet involves us being happy and getting the most stuff while we have the chance, rather than us being dead to self and living for Christ – Paul says in 2nd Corinthians 2:15, 16 that we are ...the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life.

And yet, we have so bought into the world’s ideas that we jettison our role as salt and light, and an aroma of Christ, and climb aboard the desire train – living lives of blissful, or desperate, materialism.

As Christians, if we could but grasp the reality that we are dead, and that it is Christ who lives in us, the church would be a vastly different place. Marriages would be healed, broken friendships would be reconciled, and pastors would not be striving for bigger, better, and more more, more. Oh, the message that the church could send to a world not only consumed with, but in slavery to, materialism! It is sad when the world looks into the church and finds not only the same disease that affects them, but the haughtiness and pride of a people who believe that they somehow deserve the better ‘things’ in life.

If we would simply get a handle around the fact that we are not our own, but bought with a price, a price that included our death and rebirth through the power of the Holy Spirit, maybe we would once again be true salt and light to this sad, self-centered and dying world!

Rather than run on in this post, let's leave this here, and pick it up in the next post which will begin to discuss our eschatological hope - a hope that reaches beyond the grave into eternity itself.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Death - Part II

We looked at death as a state of being in the last post, and in this one we will look at why it is inevitable and undeniable?

Romans 5:12 -- Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned…

1st Corinthians 15:21, 22 -- For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.


Death is the result of sin – the sin of Adam, our father. Not just physical, but spiritual death was ushered into the world through the disobedience of the first Adam.

When someone dies, we are again reminded of that first sin of Adam, and the fact that the whole of creation groans for it’s redemption, looking forward to the return of the Savior, to the new heaven and new earth. Many Christians claim that when a fellow Christian dies we should not mourn; as if the act of mourning is somehow sinful. Believe me, I have done enough funerals to know that Christians mourn!

In reality, Paul says – 1st Thessalonians 4:13, 14 -- But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep.

When a loved one dies, we mourn, for our loss, for the fact that we miss them, for the very real fact that death is a reminder of man's fallen condition. However, having said that, we do not mourn LIKE those who have no hope, for we know that death for a Christian is a transition from here to heaven.

2nd Corinthians 5:6 – 8 -- So we are always of good courage. We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord, for we walk by faith, not by sight. Yes, we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord.

So, we now have a working definition of death, and we understand why death is, so let us now take a brief look at the reality of death and life for the Christian.

THE HOPE SET BEFORE US

So many today, even within Christendom, want to remove the pains and inconveniences of life. Some go so far as to say that these are caused by a lack of faith! But truth be told, these people are misled and misleading – like Job’s misguided and misinformed friends, they view pain, suffering and death exclusively as God’s punishment for their personal sins, whereas the Bible says that all people will undergo these things because of our sin nature that is inherent within mankind, and even more, Christians will undergo suffering and death for God’s glory. Much like Job’s suffering brought glory to God!

Having said that though, what is the hope of the Christian?

Well, first and foremost let us look again at 1st Corinthians 15:20 – 23 -- But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ.

Yes, death is a state of being, and yes, it was introduced into the world by the sin of the first Adam, but here is the great hope for all who are called by Christ – death has been defeated! Think about this; Jesus Christ came down to this earth, setting aside all of the glory that was rightfully His, and lived amongst man. During His first incarnation, He suffered – rejection, weariness, hunger and thirst, betrayal and many more things. Just as we are called to suffer, He suffered for righteousness sake. And then, He was nailed to a cross and suffered death – for sins that He never committed! He lay in the tomb for three days and was raised. It was as if we had died with Him – when He was raised, so were we. Into a newness of life!

Jesus was the firstfruits, and we will follow. Yes, when we die physically, our bodies will lie in the ground; but on that day when He returns, we will experience a resurrection like His – we will be in glorified bodies and will live in eternal joy in the presence of our Lord and Savior.

And in the interim, for those in Christ – they will dwell spiritually with Christ until they return with Him and like us, will be assume glorified bodies. So, when we lose a loved one who is in Christ, we can take comfort in knowing that they are in the presence of Christ; just as the thief on the cross, truly they will be in paradise – awaiting that glorious day when we will all be like Him, and know as we are known – when every tear shall be wiped away and we shall dwell in the light of the Lamb forever!

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Death

The last few posts have found us examining God’s providence and the purpose, place and probability of suffering in the lives of God’s children. These are not simple topics and I pray that God’s Word has comforted you as we have examined these subjects. In this post, the third installment of this series, I will post some thoughts regarding death and dying from a Christian perspective.

This is a subject which, we in the USA, hate to even contemplate. We see many death-defying products on the market today, and people are in a mad scramble to never grow old, nor to experience pain, death or even a hint of dying. But, the truth is that death is 100% terminal – everyone gets it, and succumbs to its inexorable pull.

So, let us look at this uncomfortable subject from the perspective of the Bible. Let us see what comfort the Word of God brings to this subject.

When most people define death, they think of it as an event – i.e. “Death is the ceasing of life functions”, or “Death is when the brain stops responding”, “Jane Doe died at 5:47pm”. Death is defined as an event in time, when in reality, as this post will examine – death is not an event – it is a state of being we all live in, until and unless Jesus Christ draws us to Himself and we turn to Him in repentance and faith.

So let me propose a working definition of death for our purposes in this post:

Death is the state that we find ourselves in due to Adam’s sin. While physical death may occur at some specific date and time, in truth, we have all been born into, and live in a body of death until, in Christ, we are redeemed into eternal life.

We simply cannot understand eternal life, death, dying or suffering without having a Biblical understanding of these terms. So, we have looked at providence, we have looked at suffering, now let us examine death from a Biblical vantage point.

If our definition is correct – that death is not an event, but a state of being; where do we get this thought?

Ephesians 2:1 – 7 -- And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience — among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ — by grace you have been saved — and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.

Colossians 2:13 – 15 -- And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him.


Notice that Paul did not say anything about an event – no, he is pointing out that the STATE of the person outside of Christ is death. You see, we have it all wrong, we are afraid of death the event, but what we should be doing is focusing on death as a state of being. If we understand that all who are outside of Christ are walking dead men, and all of those who are in Christ are ALREADY living eternal lives, it will change our perspective on the event of death and dying.

We who are in Christ have ALREADY died – and have been raised with Him! We may depart from this place, but we will be with the Lord, waiting that glorious day when all are resurrected and will stand before him. We can truly look at death and say, “Where is your sting?

No doubt, we will still experience a physical event, but to quote Thomas Boston; “I feel a sting, may the dying saint say– yet it is but a bee sting, slinging only through the skin – but, O death, where is your sting, your old sting, the serpent's sting, that stings to the heart and soul? The sting of death is sin – but that is taken away.

In the next post I will discuss why it is that we die, and conclude my thoughts on death and dying from a Christian perspective.

Monday, June 01, 2009

Suffering - Part II

To continue my thoughts from the last post -- we saw that suffering may be a direct result of sinful actions or decisions, yet, at other times, we cannot discern the reason behind our suffering. Sometimes we suffer in order to be tempered and refined, drawing out the dross in our lives, and causing our faith to gleam like pure gold.

1st Peter 1:3 – 7 -- Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God's power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.

In previous posts we have also looked at the secret and revealed will of God and how this should affect our understanding of suffering. Now I would like to close out this post by explaining why we can take comfort, even in the midst of suffering, in an all-knowing, all-caring, all-wise God and Father.

There are many Christians who are suffering, and many of them struggle with the 'why' of their suffering. As I have posted previously, there are several answers to the questions – why? Sometimes the answer is “I do not know”.

However, I would like to close out this post by telling you what I do know.

This world is full of trials and tribulations; yes, we suffer, get sick, grow old(er) and eventually die. And if the Lord tarries, there is not a person reading this who will not suffer these things; but having said that, there is something far greater that awaits the redeemed. I will post on this in more detail soon, but, I want to touch on it in the closing portion of this post.

The redeemed have a blessed hope! This hope carries them through the trials and tribulations of this life, and has carried several millenia of Saints through persecution, privation, and punishment.

I may not understand why you suffer, or why I am struck with a malady, but I do know one thing that is more comforting than a thousand great doctor reports, and it is this fact; God loves us and sent His only begotten Son to die on a cross for our sins. And while the physical affects of sin still work themselves out in mankind, those who are found in Jesus Christ have no longer to fear death and the grave, for these have been defeated – we have a home in heaven, prepared by our loving God, for His beloved children!

My dear friends, we WILL suffer while on this earth – of that we can be sure. There are many places that speak of that in the revealed word of God.

But listen to Paul as he wrote to the Roman church in Romans 8:19 – 21 -- For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. 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.

Paul says – “Hey, I know suffering – I live it every day. But, I do not consider my temporal suffering worth comparing to the reality of what awaits me in glory!” Paul had an eternal perspective – recognizing that suffering is a part of the fallen world, he nonetheless, turned his eyes towards the reality of Jesus Christ’s finished work on the cross, and what that had bought for him. Paul suffered much in this life, but it was nothing compared to the life He lives, even now, in Jesus Christ!

John tells us in Revelation 21:1 – 4 -- 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.

My friends, take heart, our Savior is nigh – He is coming – with His angels to take us unto Himself, that where He is, we might be also. And when that happens, there will be no more suffering, no more pain, no more death – all we can say is response is maranatha – Lord, come quickly!

If you are suffering, may I say to you that you can rest in the Lord? Trust Him in all your ways and He will make all your paths straight, never leaving nor forsaking you. Regardless of your suffering, our Father in heaven watches over you and will sustain you until He calls you home.

You do not have to take my word for it. Open God’s Holy Word and read of His love and care for His children. Read of His breathtaking promises to an undeserving people – He will be there God and dwell amongst them for all eternity. Take heart my friend, suffering is for a little while, but joy comes in the morning!

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Suffering

My last few posts laid the groundwork for the Providence of God. In this post and the next few, I want to address the reality of suffering in the life of the Christian.

One of the great frustrations I have experienced as a pastor is dealing with the fallout from the false teaching of the health and wealth purveyors. Many people live very broken lives because of their experience with the health and wealth 'gospel'. Much of this is due to the fact that this teaching has, as a foundational base, the false belief that all suffering is due to a lack of faith in the Christian.

That is one of the reasons for this post, but the second, and more important to me, is the fact that, as a church, Covenant Fellowship has recently been going through quite a time, with sickness, death and loss of jobs happening in rapid succession; therefore, I thought that it might be helpful to examine God’s providence in all stages of life, providing comfort and confidence in the great Hope found in our God!

So, before we go any further, let's examine what God's Providence is NOT.

1. God’s providence is not based upon the song - Que Sera Sera -- with the repeating refrain of ‘whatever will be, will be’. This makes God's Providence a blind, unknown, unfeeling force which causes things to happen. The atheist would be in total agreement with this mindset – the ‘forces of nature’ are driving the boat, a chance interaction of atoms, molecules etc. Suffering to this mindset is simply the happenstance of fate, not the guiding and governing of God.

2. Nor is suffering and providence simply the karmic outplay of events. Some think (as did Job’s friends) that God’s providential care is karmic in its outworking. Christians sound more like Hindus when they say things like, “That person got what was coming to them”, as if God’s providential plan is somehow working out the karmic balance of the Universe. Truth be told, if we got what was coming to us, we would all be in the same boat. No, God’s providential care is not a Christian balancing of the karmic forces. We see this refuted in the pleas of the psalmist as he sees the evil prosper and the good die, or suffer.

3. Then you have those who see suffering as an illusion – that it is not God’s providential plan that is being played out, but that we simply must understand that pain and suffering are illusory. This mentality sounds noble and lofty in many ways, but is unworkable in the real world. Buddhism and Christian Science promote this mentality. When suffering and tragedy strike, regardless of your belief in the illusory qualities of suffering, it still occurs.

I have stated, in an earlier post, that the definition of God’s Providence is “God’s works of providence are, his most holy, wise, and powerful preserving and governing all his creatures, and all their actions.” And we have now established that God’s providential care is not capricious, or arbitrary, but performed according to His most holy plan. His providential care is also not karmic or illusory. And we will see that this matters when it comes to the subject of suffering. We are not simply puppets in the hand of God, but are His beloved children, who are under His constant guidance, and loving care.

SECRET WILL vs. REVEALED WILL

As regards God’s providential care, we will find that there are two aspects of it that need to be addressed. First, in Deuteronomy 29:29 we read -- "The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law." This passage clearly states that there are aspects of God’s Will that are hidden from mankind, and there are aspects of His Will which are revealed to us – these are found in His word; much to the chagrin of many modern day so-called prophets who claim to have some secret extra-biblical ‘word’ revealed only to them.

Why is it important to understand these aspects of God’s Will? Simply put – we will not know nor understand everything that occurs in this world, as some things reside exclusively in the realm of God’s hidden will. And frankly, quite often suffering falls within this realm. Now, first let us look at suffering as regards the revealed will of God.

Some suffering results directly from our fallenness; i.e. a person suffers the ravages of drunkenness or drug addiction – in the Word, God warns of the damage of drunkenness – and man, fallen and self-centered, will ofttimes suffer from the ravages of a self-imposed disease. Or maybe one runs with a rough crowd, and suffers beatings and/or worse. God clearly warns about running with a bad crowd. You see, some suffering is simply caused by our self-focused decisions, decisions which all fallen man is susceptible to; there is nothing secret about why these things occur.

Viewing the big picture, we all suffer from the decision of our father, Adam. When Adam fell, we all fell, and therefore we are all now heirs to the inheritance of Adam’s fall – i.e. sin, sickness and death. So, all suffering is rooted and grounded in a known cause, sin, at the end of the day. The best, most noble, most Godly people in the world get sick, and die for the same reason that everyone else does, this is the legacy of Adam, whose sin and rebellion brought sickness and death into the world.

We know this because, as it stated in Deuteronomy 29:29, this fact is revealed in God’s Word; Romans 5:14 – “Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned…" 1st Corinthians 15:56 - "The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law."

However, with that being said – we often struggle with the suffering in our life, or the lives of our loved ones, when the cause of the suffering is rooted in God’s secret will. When I lost my daughter at 18 months, I could not figure that one out. When a godly person is lost before their time (in our eyes), we often ask God “WHY??” Robert Murray M’Cheyne, an amazing man of God died at the ripe old age of 29 years old. David Brainerd, the missionary to the Native Americans, suffered with TB most of his life before it took him at 29. And we can only ask “WHY?”

However, if we trust in a loving and caring God, while we may not understand the why of it, we can trust that God’s loving care was in it. When Huaorani warriors martyred Jim Elliot in an Ecuadorian jungle at the age of 29, it would seem to us to be a gross miscarriage of justice, or worse, a mishandling of the events by God. After all, Jim was down in Ecuador attempting to minister to those people. If that were your view, you would have to read, as Paul Harvey put it, the rest of the story. Elizabeth, Jim’s wife, and a group of missionaries continued his work in Ecuador, and many people in the Auca tribe came to know Christ, and some of the very same warriors who had killed Jim and his friends, became elders in the local church there.

To God be the glory – Jim Elliot understood this better than many people, as he said when writing of missions work being more important than life – “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose.

What of Joseph’s suffering, as I posted a few weeks ago? He suffered greatly at the hands of his brothers, his master, and friends, yet at the end of the day, it all worked out for God’s glory and the salvation of God’s people Israel. What about Naomi, Ruth’s mother-in-law? She suffered the loss of her husband and both sons, forcing her to return, with Ruth, to Israel from Moab. Did God have a plan for this woman, who insisted on being called Marah (bitter)? Well, let’s see – Naomi was forced to return to Israel, where Ruth met Boaz, they wed, Ruth had a son, named Obed – who had a son named Jesse – who had a son named David, through whom the Messiah came!

My friends, we all too often want an answer for all suffering, but truth be told, some things are simply hidden within God, but we can trust that His love and care guide us every step of the way as we go through the trials of this life. The so-called healers that claim all sickness stems from a lack of faith simply do not understand or appreciate God’s holy, perfect and wise providential plan for His children. Sometimes our suffering is a mystery.

I will continue this line of thought in my next post...

Monday, May 18, 2009

Providence Part II

In the last post on this subject, I developed a working definition of God’s providence; in this post I would like to examine why we can be confidant in His providential care.

What does the Bible say about God’s providential care of all creation? Listen to Elihu describe God’s providence in Job 37:1 – 13 - "At this also my heart trembles and leaps out of its place. Keep listening to the thunder of his voice and the rumbling that comes from his mouth. Under the whole heaven he lets it go, and his lightning to the corners of the earth. After it his voice roars; he thunders with his majestic voice, and he does not restrain the lightnings when his voice is heard. God thunders wondrously with his voice; he does great things that we cannot comprehend. For to the snow he says, 'Fall on the earth,' likewise to the downpour, his mighty downpour. He seals up the hand of every man, that all men whom he made may know it. Then the beasts go into their lairs, and remain in their dens. From its chamber comes the whirlwind, and cold from the scattering winds. By the breath of God ice is given, and the broad waters are frozen fast. He loads the thick cloud with moisture; the clouds scatter his lightning. They turn around and around by his guidance, to accomplish all that he commands them on the face of the habitable world. Whether for correction or for his land or for love, he causes it to happen…”

Listen to the Psalmist as he speaks of God’s providential care in Psalm 104 -- Bless the LORD, O my soul! O LORD my God, you are very great! You are clothed with splendor and majesty, covering yourself with light as with a garment, stretching out the heavens like a tent. He lays the beams of his chambers on the waters; he makes the clouds his chariot; he rides on the wings of the wind; he makes his messengers winds, his ministers a flaming fire. He set the earth on its foundations, so that it should never be moved. You covered it with the deep as with a garment; the waters stood above the mountains. At your rebuke they fled; at the sound of your thunder they took to flight. The mountains rose, the valleys sank down to the place that you appointed for them. You set a boundary that they may not pass, so that they might not again cover the earth. You make springs gush forth in the valleys; they flow between the hills; they give drink to every beast of the field; the wild donkeys quench their thirst. Beside them the birds of the heavens dwell; they sing among the branches. From your lofty abode you water the mountains; the earth is satisfied with the fruit of your work. You cause the grass to grow for the livestock and plants for man to cultivate, that he may bring forth food from the earth and wine to gladden the heart of man, oil to make his face shine and bread to strengthen man's heart. The trees of the LORD are watered abundantly, the cedars of Lebanon that he planted. In them the birds build their nests; the stork has her home in the fir trees. The high mountains are for the wild goats; the rocks are a refuge for the rock badgers. He made the moon to mark the seasons; the sun knows its time for setting. You make darkness, and it is night, when all the beasts of the forest creep about. The young lions roar for their prey, seeking their food from God. When the sun rises, they steal away and lie down in their dens. Man goes out to his work and to his labor until the evening. O LORD, how manifold are your works! In wisdom have you made them all; the earth is full of your creatures. Here is the sea, great and wide, which teems with creatures innumerable, living things both small and great. There go the ships, and Leviathan, which you formed to play in it. These all look to you, to give them their food in due season. When you give it to them, they gather it up; when you open your hand, they are filled with good things. When you hide your face, they are dismayed; when you take away their breath, they die and return to their dust. When you send forth your Spirit, they are created, and you renew the face of the ground. May the glory of the LORD endure forever; may the LORD rejoice in his works, who looks on the earth and it trembles, who touches the mountains and they smoke!

Remember the description of God’s providence; He is actively involved in sustaining and governing all of creation. Now, what about His children specifically; what of the redeemed? This same God whose providential care upholds the very universe itself, has promised His children that they would never be forsaken [Deuteronomy 31:6,8]; that He will be with them till the end of the age [Matthew 28:20] that their names are written on His palms [Isaiah 49:16]. This same God promised us salvation through His work poured out graciously on us, not through our own efforts and works [Isaiah 59:16; Ephesians 2:1 – 9]; Salvation through the life, death, and resurrection of the Second Person of the Trinity, Jesus Christ. This same God promised us that He was preparing a place for us in John 14. This same God has promised that He will return to bring His children with Him that where He is, we may be also.

This same God who has promised us salvation is the same one described in Colossians 1:15 – 17 -- He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities--all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.

We do not simply rest in God’s promises, but we actually rest in God himself. His promises are true and trustworthy because of who He is! Our comfort is not primarily found in the idea of a predetermined path, but trust in a loving Lord. We trust the one who is trustworthy, and carries out His purposes in a most holy, wise and powerful way. Even though we cannot always understand all the things that befall us, we can CONFIDENTLY say that we know that our God watches over His children, and nothing can separate them from His love! Which is not based upon our worthiness, but based upon His Son.

WHY IS IT IMPORTANT?

First, imagine if we were at the whim of ‘fate’ – what type of comfort can we take in knowing that nothing more than impersonal, unfeeling fate has directed our path? We have no comfort in that, do we? Now, contrast that with knowing that a loving, caring Father is watching over our every breath, our very hairs are numbered by Him! That brings comfort in a fallen world that is ofttimes chaotic and confusing.

It is also important because we know at the end of the day that nothing will separate us from the love of God. When we get a diagnosis that tells us all is lost, we know that all is not lost – that our loving Savior, in His providential care, will watch over and guide us – whether or not He heals us in this life does not change our eternity!

We also know that, because we are His, God will guide us in our decisions. Even when these decisions turn out in a way that seems counter intuitive to our plan, we can rest in the fact that our great Shepherd leads and guides us, even when the path grows exceedingly dark and narrow. If we are truly the sheep of His flock we can trust, even when things seem to be going badly, that He is watching over us.

We know that because of God’s providential care, we may undergo trials and testing, but it is for His glory and purpose. We can look at trials as James does in James 1:2 – 4 – Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. Or as Peter says in 1st Peter – that the trials we go through test our faith, refining it like hold, to the praise, glory and honor of Jesus Christ.

It is important when we face tragedy in life. We all will, at some point, be faced with tragedy. But, if we can say with confidence that God is in control, we can trust that somehow, some way, His perfect, holy plan is being executed. As I wrote in the last post, the life of Joseph was marked with what seemed to him, I am sure, like tragedy; yet he ended up saving the lives of not only the people of Egypt, but his own family – the very people who had sold him into slavery.

And there are other examples found within Scripture; what of the tragedy of Lazarus’ death [John 11]? Through his death, God’s plan was executed in that, through his being raised from the dead, many people believed, and God was given glory.

And what of the most horrific tragedy in history? The death of Jesus Christ; what did this make possible? Well, only the salvation of an entire people for all eternity. All of this was according to the purposes of our glorious triune God!

When we live our lives in light of the providence of God, with a full confidence in that providential care, we will encounter the same trials, testing and tragedies that all others face. The difference is that we will not mourn as those who have no hope. Instead, we, like Job will say, “I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last He will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another. My heart faints within me!” – Job 19:25 – 27 –

Friday, May 15, 2009

Basics




I just returned from Alistair Begg's Basics Conference. I have attended for seven years and have never been disappointed; however, not every year has been as good as this year.

The speakers were; John Lennox, John Piper, and Alistair Begg. And each man challenged us.

I would highly recommend, if you were unable to attend, going out and listening to the available media from the conference.

As I scanned the blogosphere today, I was again reminded how quickly we draw our swords and go at one another within the body of Christ, all the while the glorious news of the Gospel is marginalized by sectarian or worse, fratricidal violence.

We have an enemy, not of flesh and blood, that we are encountering. Let us be about doing warfare with him, using the tools given us by God. Yes, when those who call themselves Christians are causing damage, let us point that out, but let us pick our battles carefully, and ensure that we are not attempting to advance our own hobby horse.

Listen to the message from John Lennox. What is important? Let us grow in maturity to separate the noise from the true problems in evangelicalism.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

The Providence of God

Over the next few posts I want to examine God’s providence in four, (hopefully), progressive stages. This post will examine God’s providence from a high-level. I want to look at, and hopefully answer the question:

How do we define God’s providence?

What spurred these posts was a series of difficult events that have affected our little church. I felt that the study would be helpful to those going through difficult times.

DEFINITION

So what do we mean by ‘God’s Providence’? The Westminster Shorter Catechism defines providence in the answer to Question 11: “God’s works of providence are, his most holy, wise, and powerful preserving and governing all his creatures, and all their actions.”

Notice what the Catechism says: we often think of God’s providence in a static sense – not in the sense of actively preserving and governing all things. We (most of us) believe that, while God controls the events in the world, he does so in a reactive way – responding to situations as they crop up, as opposed to the Biblical perspective that states that God is actively involved in a second-by-second upholding, and governing all things.

Then, we must ask, what exactly does He control? Many would say that God only does the good things, but has no control over the bad ones. While I would agree that God is not the first cause of evil, He uses the evil works of fallen man and Satan to fulfill His purposes. To paraphrase J.I. Packer “The nature of God's "concurrent" or "confluent" involvement in all that occurs in his world, as - without violating the nature of things, the ongoing causal processes, or human free agency - he makes his will of events come to pass, is mystery to us, but the consistent biblical teaching about God's involvement is overwhelming…”

While it is unbiblical to state that God is not in control of all things, it is equally unbiblical to state that God is the root cause of evil – rather He uses the evil that exists in this fallen world to make His perfect will come to pass.

Let us consider an example found in Genesis 50:15 – 20 -- When Joseph's brothers saw that their father was dead, they said, "It may be that Joseph will hate us and pay us back for all the evil that we did to him." So they sent a message to Joseph, saying, "Your father gave this command before he died, 'Say to Joseph, Please forgive the transgression of your brothers and their sin, because they did evil to you.' And now, please forgive the transgression of the servants of the God of your father." Joseph wept when they spoke to him. His brothers also came and fell down before him and said, "Behold, we are your servants." But Joseph said to them, "Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.

In the Scripture cited, Joseph’s brothers had committed an evil act, they admitted it; they had thrown their brother into a well, and then sold him to traders who took him into Egypt to be auctioned off as a slave. We can only imagine Joseph’s mindset initially; this young man who had had such grandiose dreams about people bowing down to him etc. He must have been traumatized, hurt and bewildered. Yet, God had a plan – and as Joseph rises in importance in the house of Potiphar, it seems that God HAS taken care of him, but wait! Potiphar’s wife trumps up a charge of attempted rape against Joseph and he is sent into prison… Where is God in all of this? Another evil deed – the lie of Potiphar’s wife has tossed our hero into the jailhouse! But wait, maybe the baker or the cupbearer will speak well of Joseph when they get before the Pharaoh? Nope, they forget about him! Does it seem like God has been involved in this at all? Does there seem to be a plan? No, at least not a good one!

And yet… Eventually Joseph does climb the rungs of power ending up as the second most powerful man in Egypt. And in this role he not only saves the lives of many Egyptians, but also the embryonic tribe of Israel! And in Genesis 50, we find Joseph explaining God’s providence to his frightened brothers. What THEY meant as evil, God meant for good. Their evil plan was driven by their jealousy of Joseph, the first cause of the evil was in their own hearts – yet, God used the evil deeds of the brothers to save the nation of Israel!

God is no absent watchmaker! Hence, the definition, again from the Westminster Catechism, which fits very nicely is “God’s works of providence are, his most holy, wise, and powerful preserving and governing all his creatures, and all their actions.”

More on this in my next post....

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Update

I did not fall off the face of the earth... I have merely been overwhelmed with events at church and work which have taken all of my time... I hope to have a new post this week...

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Current Series

I have begun preaching through a four week series on God's Providence. I normally preach through a book, (currently Matthew), in an expository manner, but our church has gone through some tremendously difficult times in recent weeks. Because of this, I felt that a study of God's Providence would be of benefit to the congregation.

The four sermons are tentatively entitled:

1. God's Providence; what is it? Why can we be confident in it? What does it mean for the redeemed?

2. The Suffering of the Saints; What can we know about this?

3. Death and Dying in the Providence of God.

4. The Eschatological Hope of the Redeemed.

I hope to post my thoughts on each of these as I finish the sermon...

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Theological?


I have written a few posts about my thoughts on pastoring. There are many more things that I could say, but I wanted to touch upon this subject today.

In the modern world, it seems to be a badge of 'honor' that a pastor does not have a seminary education. Many wear this as a indicator that they are uniquely gifted, or exceptionally smart. Some even use this as a way to show that they are able to connect to the common man in the pew. All of these reasons, I find, are nothing more than either ignorance or a false humility, veiling a prideful spirit.

Within some communities within the charismatic groups, and in other denominations, such as Calvary Chapel, there is a 'tradition' to ordain someone who is charismatic, (not necessarily in the 'gifts' area, but in the traditional sense of charisma), but untrained, depending upon their love of the Lord to carry them through as a pastor.

Now, I will admit right up front that I do not have a degree from Seminary, I am working on it, but I believe that this gives me a perspective that is different than writing from the 'Ivory Tower' of academia. I was ordained in a denomination which did what I spoke of above - that is, they ordained good teachers. Sadly, I bought off on the idea at the time, and have since learned the many pitfalls that proceed from this well-meaning, but wrong-headed practice.

In the role of pastor, one faces questions from all sides -- from the questions about aberrant practices within the church, to questions about living together, or homosexual unions which are socially acceptable. And there are many areas in-between, such as "what book would you recommend for one going through depression", or "what do you think of Christian psychology?"

Things like this should not be OJT learning experiences for a pastor, as the life of a parishoner may hang in the balance! Pastors need to not only be trained AND mentored, but they also need to conitnue in their training.

Another example is in the discussion of the Bible. If a pastor has no idea of the methodologies of translation, who is to say which translation is correct, or do we go 'with our gut'? Shouldn't a pastor not only have confidence in the Bible, but be able to explain why?

There are many 'pastors' who will use the Bible as their personal palette upon which to paint their ideas, and when a member of one's church asks why you disagree with someone's teaching, should it not be based upon knowledge and not just "I don't care for his teaching?" And should we not, as pastors be able to offer something more substantial than "Just have a positive outlook" when sitting at the deathbed of a loved one?

And should we not know history enough to be able to spot heresy when it is raised up? If there were more pastors who took their job as shepherd seriously, we would have a lot less craziness from the televangelists circle, and the insipid outgrowth of the CGM, and many more men faithfully shepherding the people that God has given them watch over.

We should love our congregations enough to be constantly growing in knowledge and faithfulness to the Word of God. As I said, I do not have a degree, but am working as hard as I can to get the knowledge. And i would say that if you are a young pastor, or even an older one, and do not have the necessary knowledge to properly pastor, then get it.

And by the way, some of those folks who have gone to seminary and got their degree in Church Growth or some other side discipline, you need to go back and get the Theology side of the house, if you do not have it.

We are called to be pastors, not pop psychologists, not stand-up comics, not motivational speakers, but men who handle the Word of God with due reverence and care and use it to change the lives of our congregations. Trust in God and He will do the work!

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

It is Well

Our church is going through a difficult time right now. It is not that we are having problems, but one of our people is very, very ill. At a church of our size, that seems to hit harder. But, I just wanted to post the lyrics to Horatio Spafford's hymn, 'It is Well'.

When peace, like a river, attendeth my way,
when sorrows like sea billows roll;
whatever my lot, thou hast taught me to say,
It is well, it is well with my soul.

It is well with my soul,
it is well, it is well with my soul.

Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come,
let this blest assurance control,
that Christ has regarded my helpless estate,
and hath shed his own blood for my soul.

It is well with my soul,
it is well, it is well with my soul.

My sin, oh, the bliss of this glorious thought!
My sin, not in part but the whole,
is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more,
praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!

It is well with my soul,
it is well, it is well with my soul.

And, Lord, haste the day when my faith shall be sight,
the clouds be rolled back as a scroll;
the trump shall resound, and the Lord shall descend,
even so, it is well with my soul.

It is well with my soul,
it is well, it is well with my soul.


Text: Horatio G. Spafford
Music: Philip P. Bliss

We love you Peggy!

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Example II


In the last post I spoke of being an example to the congregation in our dealing with the things relating to others. In this post I would like to think about what type of example we are as it relates to God.

There has been much argument, discussion, and posturing on the topics of dress, language and attitude behind the pulpit. And I have posted several times to state my disagreement with pastors who feel that gutter language, sloppy dress and casual attitudes somehow make them 'relevant'.

I am not a prude, believing that somehow we return to the glorious 'yesteryear' of society, having preachers in full suits, and everyone putting on a front at church. At our church, I don't wear a suit to preach, and I don't speak King James English. But, I try to be an example to the people who attend as regards God.

I wear clothes that are not:

(1) Distracting - For example, T-shirts with all sorts of stupid phrases non them.

(2) Sloppy/torn/dirty

(3) Age/Position Inappropriate - I am not eighteen, why would I dress that way?

Now - you may be saying, "That's fine for you, but you don't understand the make-up of our congregation". Well, you do not know the make-up of ours. We have bikers, semi-homeless, poor, handicapped, 'regular-joes', older people (the oldest is 75), younger people, and everything in between. We meet in a strip mall, between a country and western bar, and a Mexican restaurant.

Now, this is not about clothing -- that is the mistake made when discussing this subject. No, this is about attitude, and example. I find it interesting that when a 'pastor' goes out for a job interview, (this may not be universally true, but in my experience I have seen it), he will wear a suit, but the minute he gets into the pulpit, after having secured the job, he is dressed in cutoffs and a stupid T-shirt.

What statement does that make? Well, that he will wear a suit in order to impress the men who hold the keys to a position in the church, but when it comes to standing before God, whatever he pulls out is fine. Again, this is not about clothing. We could make this observation about clothing, language, actions etc.

What example we are setting when we act like a fool behind the pulpit? Are we not denigrating the Holiness and Transcendence of God? Are we not treating Him like just another person? Why is it that a pastor will act appropriately when interviewing, or being honored at an event, but then he will turn around and act foolishly when standing before God?

Pastors need to reread Isaiah 6, or Revelation 1. These men, when confronted by a Holy, Transcendent God were on their faces before Him. This is about something far greater than language or clothing, it is about (as Aretha says) R-E-S-P-E-C-T! When we disrespect God in our actions, we teach our people to be cavalier in their relationship with God. There is nothing special about teaching people to be casual in their approach to God -- the entire world does that, there is something that sets Christians apart as pertains to their approach to God! It is done with respect, and a holy awe that recognizes God's holiness.

Some would say " I am the way I am all the time, I have sown God into my life", and hence they say that they are more 'real' than the 'phony' pastors (who, by the way, are any pastors that disagree with them). I would say, rather than sowing God into our life, we are called to sow our lives into God. This will cause a change, we will approach the pulpit in an altogether different way. We will revere the Word of God, and actually use it for more than a jumping off point. We will honor the sacred desk, not dressing to be distracting or cool, but to be unnoticed as we read the word. We will keep in mind that we are to refrain from filthiness, foolish talk, and crude joking [Ephesians 5], and keep our discussion to God and His Word.

When we do anything different, we are being examples to the congregation -- sadly, we are being bad ones! Let us, as pastors, return to the role that we have been called, if in fact you have been called, and leave behind the entertainment, cult-personality driven attitudes that have so enfeebled many a pulpit.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Example



Let's look at 1st Timothy 4:12 again ... set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity..

We, as pastors are called to be examples; this requires that we are diligent in controlling our words and actions!

Many pastors (and I am not exempt from this), intentionally or unintentionally, create a congregation that is bound together, not by their love of Christ and the brethren, but by their common hatred. The attitudes and preferences of the pastor are often appropriated by their congregation - especially by those who are newer believers. And, being fallen men, we pastors often perpetuate our own biases amongst those that we are called to care for.

We are called to proclaim the glorious gospel of Jesus Christ, practice church discipline in a Biblical manner, and be pastors over God's flock that He has entrusted to us. We are NOT called to force people to vote for the correct political party, protest the world's events in a manner unworthy of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, hate the brethren, or the myriad other things that the modern Western church has become mired in.

Should we teach our people what the Bible has to say about the things of this world? Absolutely -- we are called to teach God's Word; but we are not called to inflame the passions of our people in order to get them to rally around 'our' cause; unless, of course, it is Christ's cause!

I have seen many well-meaning and naive people carrying signs full of invectives against people who disagree with them. Sadly they will often quote Scripture -- Scripture that they themselves do not adhere to! And so many times, at the head of the pack is the pastor -- rallying his troops, shouting in a megaphone, and spewing hatred everywhere.This man creates a following; not of Jesus Christ, but of his own hatred and fear!

Are there things we can, and even should protest? Sure, there are, and we have a right to do so -- we should desire to change our society to be more reflective of Christ. But there is a way to do that, and it is not through hatred and violence.

O, that we were governed by the Biblical convictions that we want to force others live by! We should be praying that when the lost witness our example and hear the gospel clearly proclaimed, that they will be drawn to Jesus Christ, not that our side will 'win'.

Let us be firm in the truths of Jesus' deity, the inerrancy of the Bible, the truth claims of salvation by faith alone, through grace alone to the glory of God alone, but let us not do drive-by ad hominem attacks on others within the faith who believe differently on the spiritual gifts, baptism, eschatology, or any of the other usual suspects. This type of leadership teaches our people to be suspicious of others who are in the faith. We should clearly articulate what we believe to be true, but it should never be done in a way that demeans other Christians.

Also, let us be clear about the situation with the world. They are lost; we are called to be in the world, but not of it, holding up Jesus Christ and His gospel in such a manner that some will be drawn to Jesus. There will always be those who are repelled by the gospel, but let us not repel everyone by hateful invective.

I realize that some of my posts do not follow this advice, and I must admit that I have work to do in this area. I do not want to create hateful people within my congregation. While I do not apologize for pointing out inconsistencies within the Body of Christ, nor do I mind exposing false teaching, I must be careful not to participate in character assassination, or ad hominem attacks that are poorly thought-out.

Let us, as Pastors, ensure that our words and deeds are reflective of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ.