Monday, August 31, 2009

Daily Devo - Monday, 08/31/2009

"By Faith, Noah being warned by God concerning events as yet unseen, in reverent fear constructed an ark for the saving of his household..." Hebrews 11:7a

A Leap of Faith

Martin Luther, the leader of the Reformation, once said “The true, living faith, which the Holy Spirit instills into the heart, simply cannot be idle.” Faith demands action—it demands obedience.

Probably one of the more powerful "classic" illustrations I’ve ever heard on this topic involved a small boy’s lesson in faith. One night a house caught fire and a young boy was forced to flee to the roof. The father stood on the ground below with outstretched arms, calling to his son, "Jump! I'll catch you." He knew the boy had to jump to save his life. All the boy could see, however, was flame, smoke, and blackness. As can be imagined, he was afraid to leave the roof. His father kept yelling: "Jump! I will catch you." But the boy protested, "Daddy, I can't see you." The father replied, "But I can see you and that's all that matters."

J. Gresham Machen, the Presbyterian theologian, once wrote, “The more we know of God, the more unreservedly we will trust him; the greater our progress in theology, the simpler and more childlike will be our faith.” Great faith doesn’t mean you must become a theologian—it simply means you follow after God. The little boy jumped simply because he knew his father was there and loved him. Noah acted because he knew God was holy as well as merciful. What do you know of God?

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Friday, August 28, 2009

Daily Devo - Friday, 08/28/2009

"The soul of a sluggard desires but has nothing" Proverbs 13:4.

Buried Alive

Have you ever stopped to consider what has become of your life? As my own children continue to mature my wife and I marvel at how quickly life passes. If it be God's will for us to live a normal life span then half our lives are already passed. Knowing this, my mind keeps returning to the question 'how will I use the remaining portion of my life?'

One of the greatest enemies to a life well-lived is idleness. We have been granted this life to serve the King of kings but so often we waste it on laziness and sloth. Augustine said that idleness is the burial of a man alive. The idle man may be breathing, but he certainly is not living. Idleness is a poison that slowly robs a person of strength and life.

George Whitefield, a great evangelist from a bygone era, was far from idle. He regularly preached to thousands, founded an orphanage, and was constantly traveling two different continents on evangelistic crusades. His life was virtually lived speaking to crowds--or on horseback or sailing vessel to get to the next speaking venue. Often he would preach several times per day. This hectic schedule eventually killed him. As he began to slip physically his friends tried to persuade him to lessen his itinerary. He responded by saying 'I would rather wear out than rust out'.

What about your life? Is it being rusted and wasted away? Perhaps you have seen a thousand movies, but have you served the King with diligence? Maybe you have an impressive gamer score, but have you impressed the Savior with your service? Could it be that your life is dedicated more to shopping, football, or 'chillin' with friends than to the one who created and saved you? A life well-lived is possible only when we offer it in service to God.

Don't just exist--begin to live!


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Thursday, August 27, 2009

Daily Devo - Thursday, 08/27/2009

“It is good to be near God. I have made the Sovereign LORD my refuge." Psalm 73:28

Getting away from God

My conversation with the man at the restaurant took a predictable course. For almost an hour we talked about politics, family, and work. I knew that it was only a matter of time before the expected question would come, followed by the inevitable comment. After talking about his line of work, he asked me "so, what do you do?" After telling him I was a pastor, he responded by saying , "yeah, I've kind of gotten away from God lately".

I understand that comment and have great sympathy for those who make it. Christians must take such opportunities to gently and lovingly present God's truth and call such individuals back into Christ's fold. However, I am also aware that within that sincere comment resides a subtle dishonesty of the Deceiver. Satan loves it when we minimize our situation. Instead of admitting open rebellion, we prefer to merely think of it as 'getting away from God'.

The stark reality, however, is that the further we are from God the closer we are to Hell. We don't get to New York by traveling West to California, nor can we legitimately claim to have "gotten a little away from New York" when we are speeding towards the California state line. Heaven and Hell lie in opposite directions.

Yet no matter how far we are from God the great promise of Scripture is that if we draw near to God He will draw near to us (James 4:8). Christ came to save us from the lowest depths and no one is beyond hope. When I have conversations similar to the one above I boldly share this wonderful promise--although as I do I also refuse to spiritually 'pat' this person on the back. Too often well meaning Christians say "oh don't worry, your just backslidden. " I think Scripture prefers they realize just how close to Hell they really are--and just how far Christ was willing to reach to rescue them.


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Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Is there a place for Arminians in the pulpit?

As a pastor I take the seriously the teaching ministry of the church. As a committed Calvinist (of the Spurgeon & Whitefield variety), I want to ensure that this teaching is in accord with the biblical doctrines of grace. As someone who is committed to plural teaching voices, I also insist that others be allowed into our church's pulpit to challenge and equip the congregation.

This past Sunday I asked a dear friend to deliver the morning and evening sermons. This young man currently serves in two congregations and spends much of his time in evangelistic ministry. He is also a committed Arminian. In fact, we would disagree on several issues. For example, I passionately and fully believe that "Lordship salvation" is the only view of salvation that is consistent with the teachings of the New Testament. Or, as one would say these days, 'John MacArthur is my homeboy'. My young friend rigorously opposes Lordship Salvation and follows the teachings of Zane Hodges and Charles Stanley.

Still, this young man loves Jesus Christ and passionately wants to serve him. He eagerly desires to see others saved and strives to bring glory to God. He desires to be holy and offers himself daily as a servant to advance the Gospel. He is also thoroughly committed to the power of God's Word and has devoted his life to advance its teachings.

Even so, to what extent, if at all, should a Calvinistic pastor allow an Arminian speaker into his pulpit? I should note that I have not always exercised proper control. As I mature into this role I do feel the need to use more and more discretion regarding who ascends into the pulpit. Still, I do feel that we can, at times, open our pulpits to men who are "less than fully" convinced of the doctrines of grace.

But I value your thoughts on this issue. As it stands now, here are some of my guidelines.

1. This should not be a regular experience.
2. The speaker must agree not to consciously go against our leadership's teachings.
3. The speaker must agree to intentionally stay away from the points of controversy.
4. The occasion must be followed up by the regular pastor with deeper teaching on points of agreement/disagreement.

For you other guys in the ministry, or who are perhaps theologically astute on these issues, what are your thoughts?

Daily Devo - Wednesday, 08/26/2009

“You snakes! You brood of vipers! How will you escape being condemned to Hell?"Matthew 23:33

An uncomfortable subject

Talking about Hell will make you friends about as well as eating cheeseburgers will make you physically fit. It is an ugly subject and therefore not welcome in most circles--even in most Christian circles. As such, believers generally have one of three responses to it: (1) they use it to beat others down spiritually, (2) they ignore it, or (3) they deny it altogether.

Hardcore legalists can't seem to shut up about it. They grumble and complain about "sin" (which is something others do) and "sinners" (people other than themselves) and then pronounce that such people deserve Hell and had better repent. One almost suspects there is even a glimmer of hope that the sinner will actually get what is coming to them. Like the Pharisees that Jesus was referring to, there is a marked absence of love and grace in their message.

Yet most Western Christians don't seem to think about Hell at all, and one rarely hears a sermon mentioning the subject. After one funeral I was actually chided by a fellow minister because I mentioned it. He told me "That is not something people need to hear when they are grieving". This minister, like most Christians, would rather deny this reality than deal with it openly and honestly.

Still others, calling themselves Christian, try to deny Hell altogether. They speak incessantly about how a loving God would never send millions of people to such a nasty place. They redefine Hell as "not experiencing God's blessings" and deny that it is a literal place of eternal torment from which there is no escape. Never mind that Jesus spoke about Hell more than any other biblical figure--these false teachers would lead people to believe that Jesus died to save them from something that does not even exist.

But Hell is a real place and real people are currently suffering there. The Christian believer must never allow herself to sideline this essential element of the Gospel. The 'good news' is that Christ has overcome the 'bad news'. To withhold mentioning Hell is to withhold offering the wonderful joy of Heaven. Why is it that we think we are so much wiser than Jesus by refusing to mention that about which he freely and often spoke? As Christians we must remember that we live our lives on the shore of eternity and at any moment will be swept into its eternal waters. To refuse to warn other their impending doom--along with the opportunity of salvation from that doom--is the worst sort of apathy and hatred imaginable.

I am reminded of a quote by William Gurnall. In a sermon titled The Christian's Labor and Reward he wrote, "Your soul (poor man) is hastening quickly to its last and eternal state, which will either be in heaven or hell. The happiness of the one is invaluable, the misery of the other is intolerable, and both are interminable ["without end". If you do not stir yourself, and that soon, to take hold of eternal life, hell is ready to take hold of you."

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Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Daily Devo - Tuesday, 08/25/2009

“Is not my Word like as a fire.”
Jeremiah 23:29

Fire and Ice

Bumping into an old acquaintance, I asked him about his church. I had heard he had been attending a church well known for its faithful and engaging teaching. “Oh, I don’t attend there anymore. I couldn’t stand it any longer”. Asking about the problem, I received this response, “The sermons were way too long and the pastor was always harping about ‘spiritual growth’ and ‘getting rid of sin’. I needed to take my family some place that was more positive.”

Hearts that refuse to be set on fire by Scripture have never been warmed by Christ. Far too many people attend churches that tickle their ears or give them a message that is little more than sanctimonious truisms. “Encouragement” has come to mean we tell people they are already on the right tract and that God is pleased with them. The Bible’s repeated theme of holiness is left by the wayside. Such churches will tell people that Christ came to save them, but refuse to say what Christ offers to save them from. Thomas Watson once said “it is almost better to be under no preaching as to be under such preaching as will not set us on fire.”

The Bible is not meant simply to inform, but also to inflame. It is designed to thaw frozen hearts and to make us burn with a hatred of our sin and a love for Jesus. Scripture tells us that God is a “consuming fire” (Deut 4:4; Hebrews 12:29) who commands His people to “fan into flame” (2 Tim 1:6) their faith and dedication to Him. We should allow every sermon we hear and every passage we read to warn us, rebuke us, convict us, encourage us, and equip us to burn passionately in our love for God.

We are either fire or ice. Either we are inflamed with a love of God, or we are frozen solid in spiritual apathy. What is the spiritual temperature of your heart?

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Monday, August 24, 2009

Historic vs Emergent Faith

Here is a little video I had fun making. Enjoy!

Daily Devo - Monday, 08/24/2009

“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ.” Ephesians 1:3

True beauty

As I write this devotional I am sitting on a little peninsula overlooking a small lake in the Hiawatha National Forest. Two loons are floating on the lake’s glassy surface singing a melody to one another. The green thick forest completely surrounds the deep blue water. There are no homes or docks befouling the shore line and no public beach to disturb the scenery. In fact, there are no other human beings in this place at all. Here I experience nothing but nature in its undisturbed beauty.

It is moments like these that God impresses Himself mightily upon the human heart. Creation clearly manifests his power, majesty, creativity, and goodness. If I knew nothing else about God, this little lake in the middle of an unspoiled forest teaches me that there are no limits to his power and that he must be a good God. He made all this simply for the pleasure of creating something that is as detailed as it is beautiful.

Such places in nature are indeed beautiful and reveal much about our glorious God—but the beauty of Christ outshines even this. The heavens declare the glory of God and the earth his handiwork—yet Christ declares the very fullness of God. Sitting here in the midst of this natural beauty my mind’s eye begins to see something of the unsurpassable supernatural beauty of our Savior.

Jesus’ love is unlimited;

His power is unrestricted,

His mercy is everlasting,

His grace is sufficient,

His worth is immeasurable,

His beauty is unequaled,

His authority is supreme,

His wisdom is unmatched,

His pardon is freely given,

His sacrifice is undeserved,

And His name is above every other name.

On this small lake in the middle of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula my spirit’s eye has seen the beauty of the Savior.

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Sunday, August 23, 2009

Lessons from our vacation

Lessons from our family vacation:

#1 - Two week vacations are essential. Due to schedule conflicts we were unable to have a two-week vacation this year. We still got in two weeks over the Summer, but these were separated from each other by about a month. By Wednesday I finally felt like I was actually relaxing, but on Thursday I felt unable to keep my mind from re-entering "work mode". This was probably just the natural realization that the vacation was soon ending.

#2 - One week for pastoral reflection is needed each year. I didn't get to read and meditate on the Word nearly as much as I intended. I only got through about five theological works. After all was said and done I am okay with this since the purpose of this vacation was to spend time with the family. In that sense I am able to reenter work physically and emotionally refreshed--but still cannot enter it mentally refreshed. I am learning that it is absolutely essential to spend several days each year in quiet reflection and solitude. Pastors need down time to soak deeply into good books and to write. Few realize the mental drain that teaching ministry places upon a pastor.

#3 - Time reconnecting with the family is precious
. PK's (pastor's kids) get the brunt of everything. This past week I spent so many good hours with the family. For the first time in a long time we just sat and talked on and on. I was able to spend a few hours in one-on-one's with each of the kids individually, and we spent much time sharing meals, playing games, and hiking on the beautiful trails of Northern Michigan.

#4 - I didn't realize how disconnected I had become.
Our children are growing up so terribly fast. The days when they naturally idolized mom and dad are over. We have entered that much more difficult period where we must actually earn their respect by living a consistent life of maturity, compassion, and godliness. My children are also beginning to experience issues pertaining to young adulthood---romantic feelings, fears of death, and worries about the future. This past week brought into focus the challenges that lay ahead for me as a Dad.

#5 - Despite my failures as a dad, my kids are amazing
. I was deeply humbled at the level of godliness my children demonstrated. They certainly sin and struggle, but all three show a marked desire to follow after God and live their lives to His glory. They eagerly study His word and experience a sense of shame when they behave in a manner unpleasing to God. The growing level of spiritual maturity in my children is a wonderful gift of grace from our very good God.

#6 - My wife is an amazing support.
Amy continues to be the glue that holds everything together. She has this amazing ability to remind me of my responsibilities without usurping my authority. I deeply value the respect she has of me, her patience with my faults, her commitment to Christ, and the family ministry to which she has dedicated herself.

#7 - I can actually grow a beard.
Perhaps not nearly as serious as the above, but for the first time in my life I have a beard! Everyone I know hates it, especially the wife and kids. But since I can't get over the uniqueness of the situation it is here to stay for a while.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Faith Alone in Christ Alone

Faith Alone in Christ Alone

William Gouge is one of those writers-of-old that deserves a modern audience. I've been reading through his massive Exposition on Hebrews and was blessed by the following quote:
So corrupt is man in soul and body, in every power and part of either, and so polluted is everything that passeth from him, as it is not possible that he should of and by himself do anything that is acceptable to God: by faith looketh upon Christ, applieth Christ and his righteousness, and doth all things wherein he hath to do with God, in the name and through the mediation of Jesus Christ. Thus man by faith pleaseth God. Out of Christ, which is without faith, it is impossible to please God. This manifesteth an absolute necessity of faith." [1]
It immediatly brought to mind a section of the Cambridge Declaration:
There is no gospel except that of Christ's substitution in our place whereby God imputed to him our sin and imputed to us his righteousness. Because he bore our judgment, we now walk in his grace as those who are forever pardoned, accepted and adopted as God's children. There is no basis for our acceptance before God except in Christ's saving work, not in our patriotism, churchly devotion or moral decency. The gospel declares what God has done for us in Christ. It is not about what we can do to reach him.
How blessed is this Gospel truth!

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Thursday, August 20, 2009

Calvin and the Simplicity of the Gospel

John Calvin & the Simplicity of the Gospel

As times we can act as if God's truth is difficult to understand. Yet the reason so many are drawn to its truths--whether they be brilliant philosophers or hard-working migrant workers--is because its teachings make sense. This past week I have been reading some of the sermons of John Calvin from his series on Genesis. In the section on Gen 5:21-24 (where it mentions that "Enoch walked with God"), Calvin writes,
"But [Enoch] walks with God. In other words, he sees clearly that there are opportunities for debauchery everywhere. He sees that some pamper themselves in their delights and lusts, others abandon themselves to their whoring and drunken sprees, others to their plundering and bloodthirstiness. There is no decency and uprightness. He sees all that. He then collects his thoughts and realizes, "Now God did not put us here in that condition to be separated from Him, but he wants us to walk before His face and acknowledge Him always as our Judge."
The vast universe and the existence of life itself is founded upon one simple principle: we were intended to have a relationship with God and things will only work properly when we do so.

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Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Daily Devo - Wednesday, 08/19/2009

"Enoch walked with God, and then was no more, because God took him away." (Genesis 5:24).

The Anatomy of a Friendship

"Walking with God" involves more than repentance and redemption. Truly, repentance is the first step in this walk even as faith reaches out for the saving grace provided by Christ. The destination of this walk is ultimately a radically God-centeredness and Christ-likeness which encompasses our entire life. Indeed, this is the great reality to which redemption has awakened us.

Marcus Dods once wrote, "Enoch walked with God because he was His friend and liked His company, because he was going in the same direction as God and had no desire for anything but what lay in God's path. We walk with God when He is in all our thoughts; not because we consciously think of Him at all times, but because He is naturally suggested to us by all we think of; as when any person or plan or idea has become important to us, no matter what we think of, our thought is always found recurring to this favorite object, so with the godly man everything has a connection with God."

When the Christian believer falls into sin he cannot rest till he has resumed his place at God's side and walks with Him again. The follower of Jesus Christ endeavors to hold all her life open to God's inspection and in conformity to His will. She has a readiness to give up whatever He has commanded against. She feels an overwhelming loneliness without a close daily fellowship with God and senses a cold and desolate feeling when she is conscious of doing something that displeases Him. Walking with God means that we recognize Christ has saved us from our own misery and death and has given us eternal life. Those who walk with God willingly give up their former "pleasures" for the ultimate pleasure of being by Christ's side.

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Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Daily Devo - Tuesday, 08/18/2009

"Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved." (Acts 4:12 ESV)

The Orphan's Rescuer

Being in a relationship with God implies that we have been made right with God. Turning away from our sins is certainly the first step, but forgiveness and salvation only happen through the grace and mercy of Jesus. His death on our behalf made salvation possible. Considering the extreme suffering he endured for us, our hearts should overflow with love and gratitude for him. Consider the following story:

An orphaned boy was living with his grandmother when their house caught on fire. The grandmother perished in the flames. The boys cries for help were finally answered by a man who climbed an iron drainpipe and came back down with the boy clinging tightly to his neck. Several weeks later, a public hearing was held to determine who would receive custody of the child. A farmer, a teacher, and the town's wealthiest citizen all gave the reasons they felt they should be chosen to give the boy a home. But as they talked, the lad's eyes remained focused on the floor. Then a stranger walked to the front and slowly took his hands from his pockets, revealing severe scars on them. As the crowd gasped, the boy cried out in recognition. This was the man who had saved his life. His hands had been burned when he climbed the hot pipe. With a leap the boy threw his arms around the man's neck and held on for dear life. All fell silent as the custody issue was now resolved--those marred hands settled the issue.

Many voices are calling for our attention. Among them is the One whose nail-pierced hands remind us that He has rescued us from sin and its deadly consequences. To Him belongs our love and devotion.

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Monday, August 17, 2009

Daily Devo - Monday, 08/17/2009

When Enoch had lived 65 years, he became the father of Methuselah. And after he became the father of Methuselah, Enoch walked with God...". (Genesis 5:21-22).

Walking with God

One of my favorite authors was a pastor and theologian who lived in the 1500s. John Calvin was one of the leaders of the Reformation and an amazing preacher. Preaching through Genesis he came 5:21-24. He noticed a sharp contrast between Enoch and the other men mentioned—and he also noticed how evil mankind had become. Commenting on this passage he wrote, “at this time lifestyles were wide-open. The license to do evil was so great and the scorn for God was such that it was a miracle that any remained constant in their desire to worship and honor him.”

It is no great mystery that human beings are evil. What is amazing is how any can become good. Sometimes we are bit sloppy when we use the word “good”. Usually we mean “compared to others, this person is pretty good”. The problem is that the Bible never compares us to others—it always compares us to God.

Enoch understood this. For 65 years Enoch lived as an evil man. Perhaps he was better than most, but he eventually came to understand that when compared to God he was truly evil in his heart. At the age of 65 Enoch repented and began “walking with God”. That is an expression of intimacy, connectedness, and close friendship. Faith in God—which is faith in Jesus Christ—involves our heart, soul, and mind. True faith results in a turning away from sin and a turning towards God.

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Sunday, August 16, 2009

Worshipping with Billy Jean

I saw this video on an other blog this morning and my heart leap with praise. That God would grant such talent to an 11-yr old is amazing. It is also a joy and comfort to see the fruit of hard work and dedication. As I watched the video, I just kept saying "I praise you Father because we are fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, know that full well" (from Psalm 139:14). Being set free by Jesus is a wonderful thing--now even the Michael Jackson tune of Billy Jean can move us to worship.

HT: Justin Taylor
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Friday, August 14, 2009

Daily Devo - Friday, 08/14/2009

"I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content." (Philippians 4:11 ESV)

The Mouse in the Satchel

Diogenes had a problem. As a brilliant philosopher during the time of Plato, he rejected the opulent culture around him that feasted on pleasure and comforts. Over time he began to remove himself from this pleasure-seeking way of life. A point of liberation came when he watched a mouse running around, not bothering about finding anywhere for its nest, not worrying about the dark, showing no particular desire for things one might suppose particularly enjoyable. It was through watching this mouse that he discovered a way to live.

Living in an oversize barrel, he gave away all his possessions. He eventually destroyed his last remaining item, a wooden water bowl, when he observed a peasant boy drinking water from his cupped hands. He was ridiculed by the citizens of Athens and mocked by the philosophers. Plato even called him a "dog" and (emphasizing both his brilliance and extremism) said he was "Socrates gone mad".

Diogenes wanted, above all things, to be content with life. He abhorred the desperate search for pleasure he observed in others even as he desperately sought to be freed from that pursuit. At times it seemed like he was almost free. Once, when finding a mouse eating the crumbs in his empty food satchel, he noted that he was still rich enough that some were glad to have what he left behind. Despite this, contentment alluded the man. Others saw him as an obnoxious beggar and ill-tempered man. He was easily provoked, highly irritable, and contemptuously crude and demeaning towards others.

Without Christ we can just as easily grasp contentment as we can grasp the Sun. The apostle Paul learned to be content not because he lacked everything but rather because he lacked nothing. He possessed that ultimate object of worth--a relationship with God through Jesus Christ. Diogenes thought he would find peace and satisfaction by making his home in a barrel, but Jesus tells us this peace belongs only to those whose home is in heaven.

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Thursday, August 13, 2009

Daily Devo - Thursday, 08/13/2009

"...the LORD had regard for Abel and his offering, but for Cain and his offering he had no regard. So Cain was very angry..." (Gen 4:4b-5a. ESV)

The oldest profession isn't what you think.

Nowadays when we use the term "professional" we mean someone who takes pride in their work and performs their duties responsibly. A plumber who shows up to the job site intoxicated is charged with "acting unprofessional". We apply this word to lawyers, electricians, teachers, and fast food managers--and just about any other job. For hundreds of years, however, the word 'professional' was only used for three occupations: medicine, law, and ministry. Our English word comes from the Latin term professio, which means a public declaration with the force of a promise. The oath to which the three great professions subscribed was viewed as larger then themselves--it was a life long mission which they were duty bound to perform no matter the circumstance they found themselves in.

Yet the term has an even older meaning. Some joke that the oldest profession is prostitution--but there is a profession (and a sin) that is much older than that. One of the first professions, or public oaths, was taken by Cain. In fact, two professions were made. One by Cain and the other by his brother, Abel. Abel made a profession of faith to God and publicly swore an oath to serve and obey Him. Cain made the same profession and took the same oath.

The difference is that only one meant it. Abel was willing to give God his heart and do whatever his Lord asked. Cain was only willing to publicly profess allegiance. On the outside he looked like he was fulfilling his promise to God, but on the inside he was only loyal to the oath to himself. Cain was the very first legalist recorded in the Bible. He was willing to serve God, but it had to be on Cain's terms. Faith is giving our hearts to God; legalism is given everything to God but our hearts.

Legalism is one of the oldest professions known to man. Over the years humanity has become quite the expert.

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Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Dealing with rumors

Being a pastor and community leader (I serve on the local public school board) I often hear rumors about me or my family. Many times these are so nonsensical that they become humorous (the most recent rumor is that I pulled my kids from the public school because the library contains Harry Potter books. This is interesting considering we own the entire series!). Other times the rumors can be quite vicious (such as the one that I refused to do a funeral for a grieving widow--honestly, I have never turned down a funeral in my life).

From time to time I take phone calls from concerned friends or congregants--sometimes they want clarification, other times they want me to take action to correct the rumors. Certainly there is nothing wrong with publicly responding to rumors. Some times the wisest path is to "correct a fool lest he be wise in his own eyes". Biblically speaking, there is "a time to speak". Yet there is also "a time to be silent". The same collection of proverbs that tells us to "answer a fool" also says "don't answer a fool according to his folly lest you be like him". There is a time to speak up and there is a time to simply ignore nonsense.

Rumors are nonsense. That is all they ever are. Fools speak about that which they do not know and are too lazy to find out for themselves. They speak of something as concrete fact which is nothing more than their own embellishment of a previous lie. Over time the falsehood grows bigger and bigger and then takes on a life of its own. Rumors, by their very nature, find their origin in Hell. The Devil is the father of lies and therefore a rumor is his cherish and well-clothed child.

It is for this reason that Scripture forbids believers from the practice of gossip. The writers of the New Testament mention this sin often and refuse to tolerate it. It is evil, destructive, false, and sinful--and something from which all true believers must remove (over and over again) from their lives. "How beautiful are the feet of those who share the gospel of peace", yet how wretched are the feet of those who would scandalize reputations or cause division with falsehoods.

So, how is a Christian to respond to rumors? Right or wrong, this is what I do:

1. Defend others against rumors. I aggressively seek to shut down rumors about another. Listening to a rumor without confronting the person is condoning it. When I hear someone spreading a rumor (Christian or non-Christian) I confront them and ask them to check with the individual in question first. Whether private conversation or public meeting, I firmly shut down anything that sounds like a rumor.

2. Ignore rumors about yourself. In most cases, I do nothing when I am the subject of the rumor. I do make an exception when the person spreading the rumor is a fellow believer (at least one I feel I know fairly well). Then the issue is more about loving confronting a friend. But I do not feel the need to respond to every quack who think he knows something. First off, I would be far too busy because there are far too many quacks around. Secondly, rarely does this approach work. People spread rumors because they don't like someone (have you ever heard someone spread a rumor about someone they loved and admired?). If a person chooses to have a deceitful heart there is little that I can do about it--other than to love and pray for them.

3. In the face of a rumor, live for the King. While reputation is important, godliness is much more so. I would much rather earn the pleasure of God by showing love towards someone who spreads rumors than to earn the pleasure of people by refusing to take a stand for fear of rumors. Others may serve a god of lies but believers are to serve the God of truth. Rumors may cause me difficulty but ultimately my reputation is etched in the stone of heaven. I will never fear that which cannot do me eternal harm.
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Daily Devo - Wednesday, 08/12/2009

"By faith Abel offered to God a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain, through which he was commended as righteous, God commending him by accepting his gifts. And through his faith, though he died, he still speak" (Hebrews 11:4, ESV)

In the Gospels Jesus talks about the 'wheat and tares'. This is an metaphor for a very unfortunate reality that confronts all of us. In this life the people who publicly align themselves with God are comprised of true and false believers. In a technical sense a "Christian" is someone who has true belief in Jesus Christ--but functionally many people claim this word for themselves even though they have never truly given their hearts to Jesus. Take Cain and Abel for example. Though these two brothers both professed faith in Christ, only one actually gave his heart to Jesus. Both were raised in the same family, heard the same devotions, attended the same worship services, and shared the same experiences. Yet their reaction to those experiences and truths was vastly different. In their adult life both boys continued to offer worship to God, but only one of them offered his heart.

Matthew Henry, commenting on this verse, once said “There is always a difference between those who worship the true God; some will compass him about with lies, others will be faithful with the saints; some, like the Pharisee, will lean to their own righteousness; others, like the publican, will confess their sin, and cast themselves upon the mercy of God in Christ.”
Abel was the very first martyr in the Bible. Giving God his heart earned him Cain's bitterness and rage--but it also earned him eternal life with God. One was wheat, the other a tare. Which are you?

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Saturday, August 8, 2009

Daily Devo - Saturday, August 08, 2009

"And immediately the king sent an executioner with orders to bring John’s head. He went and beheaded him in the prison" (Mark 6:27 ESV).

Thursday, August 6th, 2009. On this day the names of three men were released who had been beheaded by a radical Islamic sect known as the Boko Haram (a sect that is committed to the complete eradication of all non-islamic ideas and peoples). Led by a Muslim cleric named Mohammed Yusuf, last week the sect conducted a murderous raid where over 50 individuals were kidnapped and brought to his fortress enclave. Hearing that three of the men were Christian minisers, Yusuf ordered they be brought into his inner chamber. After beatens and torture, the men were ordered to renounce Christ and convert to Islam, or be killed imediately.

Reports are still coming in. From what we have been able to gather one of the pastors was a young seminary student named George Orjih. Already serving as a pastor in his homeland, the young minster entered seminary to receive further theological and biblical training. He had returned home just one day before the fateful raid took place. As the three pastors sat before the Yusuf, Orjih is said to have boldy preached the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the very man who had ordered his torture. This display of faith encouraged and strengthened the two other pastors, and all three refused to convert to Islam.

Enraged, Yusuf ordered the pastors be taken to the courtyard where they were slowly beheaded one at a time. The other Christian captives were forced to watch even as the Muslim radicals cheered and cried allah akbar in wild celebration.

The same Enemy who beheaded the first Christians is still actively at work trying to sever the message of the Gospel from this perishing world. May we become men of faith and courage as we boldly stand for the precious truth that Jesus is Lord.

"He who wants to win the world for Christ must have the courage to come into conflict with it." Titus Brandsma - Dutch martyrin WWII

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If only political ads were still this cool

Friday, August 7, 2009

Should pastors marry nonbelieving couples?

Should pastors marry a nonbelieving couple?

I take it for granted that faithful ministers of the Word understand that we are forbidden to marry couples who are unequally yoked spiritually. Yet as a pastor in a rural area, I often get asked by nonbelieving couples to perform their wedding ceremonies. While many are not willing to go through marriage counseling (thus ending any chance of my performing the ceremony), some willingly submit to this even though they have no interest in spiritual conversations. They are kind of like those people who sit through a three-hour lecture on the benefits of time-sharing. They are willing to put up with the lecture in order to enjoy the free weekend at the resort.

Of course, I have heard and personally seen instances where this leads to conversion. At the very least gospel seeds are being planted. Yet my question isn’t about whether or not this or any other activity can be turned into an opportunity for evangelism (certainly it can). The bigger question is whether or not we can justify such a role for ourselves Biblically. Do the principles and teachings of the New Testament lend support to this practice, or do they suggest that such practices are out of bounds for a New Testament minister?

As I see it, we have two points of view:

1. We are justified in marrying a nonbelieving couple. The pastor has a “community role” that is larger than his role to his particular congregation. He represents Christ to the community at large and therefore should seek to engage in those roles and practices where the gospel can be presented (praying at community events, performing weddings, funerals, etc). Since “marriage is honorable in all things,” it is appropriate for a pastor to marry a couple—even if those individuals are unbelieving. We aid the cause of Christ by speaking gospel truth in these events.

2. There is no Biblical justification for a “community role” of a pastor. He is a pastor only within the realm of God’s people. Within the pagan community his primary focus is on evangelism. Performing marriages for nonbelievers is a relic from the church-state blend from which we are to separate ourselves. We are not priests for a community but rather teachers and shepherds for Christ’s flock. A Christian pastor is to provide blessing for those marriages that are centered on Christ. Christless weddings are something in which ministers of the gospel should not be involved. We harm the cause of Christ by performing a ceremony that only gives lip service to Jesus but that ultimately has not even invited Him to the wedding!


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Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Martin Lloyd-Jones & time away from the home pulpit

Did you know that in Martyn Lloyd-Jones' day it was common practice for ministers to be granted 13 Sundays away from their home pulpit? I assume some of these were for "vacation" (though perhaps that more of a modern concept), but the main idea was to allow the minister the opportunity to speak in other pulpits or to entertain guest preachers when they came through. In his first 12 months in the pastorate at Wales, Lloyd-Jones preached at 54 different places!

Now try imagining convincing your elder and/or deacon board (not to mention the congregation) to give you 13 Sundays (over 3 months) away from the pulpit! I'm sure it simply isn't going to happen and you would probably be accused of being lazy just for asking. At the very lest you may get someone (even in leadership) say something foolish like "that's what we pay you for".

However, look at the tragic consequences we have endured as a result: most churches are plateaued or dying, pastors burn-out, congregations receive only one very myopic perspective and become spiritually weak and lethargic, other congregations cannot be blessed by your minister, the Body of Christ stays segregated and fragmented, your pastor is forbidden from serving the larger Body of believers and is unable to continue to develop and grow (certain growth as a speaker can only occur in multiple speaking venues), he is shut-off from seeing fruit develop and the Spirit work through his giftedness outside his own local body, and he is virtually cut-off from deep spiritual interaction with other ministers.

OK, maybe thirteen Sundays is a little much considering the financial burden it would place on the congregation (e.g. having to pay pulpit supply). However, since most pastors only receive 2 or 3 Sundays off per year (for vacation, not for speaking elsewhere) I think we have sufficiently over corrected ourselves. Perhaps we could meet somewhere in the happy middle.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Which authors would make your list?

Which authors (living and dead) have most influenced your thought?

This was a question recently posed to me by a younger friend who is considering entering pastoral ministry. Honestly, I hate this question because it forces me to make a short list out of what should be a very long one. But I also love this question because it allows me the opportunity to spend time in my library just staring at the shelves and remembering which books have impacted me.

I'm going to spend the next few days (as time allows, which isn't much) thinking this through. Perhaps my readers will want to jump in on this one. Let's limit the number of authors to 5. Feel free to comment and live your list (roughly in order of priority).

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