Wednesday, July 21, 2010

First things first

This is like a chicken or egg question...which comes first, devotion to Christ or serving the needs of others? Some of you are already saying, “why not both?” Why make the distinction? These are questions on my mind after reading John 12: 1-8.

After raising Lazarus from the dead, Jesus visits his home where he also finds Mary and Martha. Over dinner, Mary took a pound of expensive perfume, anointed his feet and wiped them with her hair. Naturally, the house was filled with the rich aroma of this expensive perfume.

Judas Iscariot, who later betrayed Jesus, protested that this impulsive display was wasteful. The perfume could have been sold and the money given to support ministries to the poor. John reveals that Judas did not really care about the poor, he had a mercenary motive. He was taking money from the money bag. Jesus then said these words that many quote: The poor you always have with you, but you do not always have me. What did he mean?

It’s very easy to sympathize with Judas’ point of view. And yet Jesus seems to be saying that devotion cannot be measured in ministry, or dollars and cents. Devotion to Christ comes first because we can do the right thing for the wrong reason. Devotion comes first because it is the fuel that sustains and empowers ministry to others. Devotion comes first because Jesus warned that on the last day many will come saying, “Lord, Lord did we not prophesy in your name, and do many mighty works in your name? And then the Lord will declare to them, I never knew you, depart from me" (Matthew 7: 21-23).

On the other hand, devotion to Christ without serving others, is other-worldly and impractical; busily serving others without devotion and love for Christ distorts that ministry into a burdensome, joyless task.

The danger that we all face is the danger of doing the work of the Lord without the Lord of the work at work in us. It’s no wonder we are called to first love God with our heart, soul, mind and strength and our neighbor as ourselves (Matthew 22: 34-39).

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Church in Turkey under fire

For all the attention Turkey has gotten lately, very few Americans are aware that the Roman Catholic bishop serving as apostolic vicar of Anatolia was stabbed to death and decapitated last month by an assailant shouting, “Allahu Akbar! I have killed the great Satan!”

There are fewer than 60 Catholic priests in all of Turkey, and yet Bishop Luigi Padovese was the fifth of them to be shot or stabbed in the last four years, starting with the murder of Fr. Andrea Santoro in 2006, also by an assailant shouting, “Allahu Akbar!” (An Armenian journalist and three Protestants working at a Christian publishing house — one of them German, the other two Turkish converts — were also killed during this period.)

What’s going on? Why has traditionally secularist 
Turkey, with its minuscule Christian community (less than 0.2 percent of the population), lately become nearly as dangerous for Christians as neighboring Iraq? And why has this disturbing pattern of events so far escaped notice in the West?
Click here for details

Living and praying like Jesus

I am almost finished reading through Ed Dobson’s book, The year of living like Jesus: My journey of discovering what Jesus would really do.

Just like A. J. Jacobs, who wrote The year of living biblically, and who spent a whole year trying to obey the bible as literally as he could, Dobson decided to spend an entire year trying to literally live the way Jesus would have lived. It is amazing to discover how complicated and challenging it actually is when a person says, “I want to live like Jesus.” In his reflections on prayer, Dobson had this to say about praying in Jesus' name:

“On many occasions I’ve been asked to pray at public or political events where many different kinds of religious and nonreligious people attend. At these events people prefer you not pray in the name of Jesus. After all, the name of Jesus is offensive to some. Still, I always pray in the name of Jesus. I feel that to do less would be tantamount to being ashamed of Jesus.
Is “in the name of Jesus” a magical incantation? Does it guarantee that God will answer our prayers? I don’t think so. Then what does it mean to pray in the name of Jesus? It means that we are praying in the merits of Jesus. It means that we are praying in the power of Jesus. It is the recognition of our own helplessness when we pray. It is the recognition that for prayer to be effective we must pray in his name. It is a reminder that our dependence is not on church or theologies, but on Jesus!” Pg. 86

Friday, July 16, 2010

The wife of your youth

In our time marriage is being redefined as a relationship between two people, instead of a covenant relationship between a man and a woman. Pastor Ray Ortlund shares a refreshing, biblical perspective on the beauty of marriage as God intended. I pray it blesses you as it has my wife and I.

Go here for the article

Thursday, July 15, 2010

The audacious claims of Jesus

Those who question the deity of Jesus, often say, "Jesus never said he was God or son of God."For some, Jesus was just a man, or even one of the angels. Adherents of Islam say Jesus was one of a line of prophets.
It's important that we get Jesus right. John 10: 30 is one of many references where Jesus declares his oneness with God the father. What do we lose if Jesus is not God? To deny the deity of Jesus is to imperil our eternal destiny.
In John 10 the religious leaders peppered him with questions, the main one being, "Are you the Christ? If you are, tell us plainly." Jesus reminds them, "Even if I told you, you would not believe me" (John 10: 25). The inability to see Jesus as the Christ, the Son of God, stems from spiritual blindness. Without spiritual rebirth, that only Christ can provide, they couldn’t believe. This is was not a mere flight of logic. So they were in a catch 22: in order to see Christ as God they needed to believe in the One who was standing before them; but as long as they rejected him they would never know him as Son of God.
This is why Jesus said, "My sheep hear my voice, and I know them and they follow me." Knowing Jesus as Messiah and God is to be in a relationship with the Great Shepherd who saves and keeps his own sheep. Then to validate his claim as God in the flesh, Jesus said, "I give them eternal life, and they will never perish and no one will snatch them out of my hand" John 8: 28. This is one of the great promises of Scripture: we are eternally secure in Christ. Jesus gives eternally life to those whom he chooses.
Jesus then refers to his Father as having the same power that he has to save and protect his children, "My Father who has given them to me is greater than all and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father's hand. I am the Father are one." These were fighting words to his enemies. Jesus' words thus amount to a claim to deity. Hence, the Jews pick up stones to put him to death. Jesus was not a mini-god, or a part of God. Jesus is one in essence and substance with the Father. The Nicene Creed (328 AD) is clear, [Jesus is] very God of very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father.

So here's the theological question: What do we lose if we confess Jesus as less than Son of God?

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

What it takes

Scripture repeatedly compares spiritual immaturity to infancy or subsistence on milk (Hebrews 5:12-14). We are called to grow up into Christ. Here's a wonderful article written by John Ortberg that you will find inspiring. After you have read it, let us know what you are doing to grow up into Christ.

Spiritual growth is not complicated. It’s measured by love. If someone asks how my spiritual life is going, the first diagnostic question is: Am I growing more or less loving these days? Click here for the answer

Monday, July 12, 2010

God sees and knows

To be ignored or devalued is a horrible feeling. To have your contributions discounted, your very person treated as nothing is painful. Unfortunately, our world grades people based on things like skin color, looks, education, where one lives, money, popularity and a host of other superficial markers. Some are gullible enough to buy into these standards and spend their lives trying desperately to measure up to some earthly value system and still never achieve full acceptance in the eyes of others.

But when no one else notices, mark it down, God notices. When no else remembers, God records. When no one else sees you or appreciates you, your name is engraved on God's hands. God knows your name, God knows your coming and your going; God knows the number of hairs on your head; God knows the number of your days, they are all recorded by God. The psalmist tells us that God even keeps our tears in a bottle (Psalm 56:8). God will reward us for acts that are done in His name. So be encouraged. There will come a day when rewards will come your way, not necessarily in this life but certainly in the life to come. 

Therefore, my dear sisters and brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain! I Corinthians 15:58

Saturday, July 10, 2010

The wonder working power of Jesus' words

This summer I am walking with Jesus through the gospels. Every day, I read two to three chapters, then meditate and pray about the text. I want to know Christ in a deeper way ( Philippians 3:10). As I read I ask myself a few questions:
  • What is the text teaching me about Jesus?
  • What does it encourage me to start doing or stop doing?
  • What application does it have for discipleship?
For example, this morning I read through John 7: 53-8:1-11 about the woman caught in adultery. Biblical scholars question whether this event actually happened in the life of Jesus because it is absent from all of the oldest manuscripts. But there is nothing in it unworthy of sound doctrine. It seems best to view the story as something that probably happened during Jesus' ministry but that was not originally part of what John wrote in his Gospel. 

But what a great story of the power of forgiveness and the call to live in holiness. Here's a woman supposedly caught in the act of adultery. Of course one has to ask, "where was the man?" Why did they only bring the woman?

As they dragged her to Jesus, they quickly quoted from the Law of Moses that she should be stoned. They were not totally accurate in their use of Moses. Leviticus 20:10 says, "If a man commits adultery with the wife of his neighbor, both the adulterer and the adulteress shall surely be put to death." Once again, where was the man?

John makes it clear that their actions were not noble. They did not care about righteousness. The woman was a means to an end. They wanted to test Jesus. Would he uphold the law of Moses or would he compromise its teachings? 

Jesus did not answer their question. Instead he stooped low to the ground and wrote in the sand. Finally, he spoke powerful and wise words, "Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw at her." These words exposed their own sinfulness. It's possible that they were at one time guilty of adultery or some other sin.

One by one, her accusers dropped their stones and slinked away in embarrassment. Jesus and the woman are left alone with an assortment of rocks at their feet. In the end, Jesus does not condemn the woman's actions, neither does he condone them. He says to her, "Go and sin no more." 

People today take one of two approaches to sin. They are either quick to condemn and call for death to the sinner (This week the government of Iran has come under fire for wanting to stone a woman caught in adultery. Iran's top human rights official said the Islamic regime is reviewing a sentence of execution by stoning for a woman convicted of adultery), or in the name of tolerance there is no such thing as sin. Either option is very unloving and betrays a lack of understanding about holiness and the call to repentance. 

Jesus' treatment of this woman's condition provides definitive guidance on how to deal with those who are caught in sin. He does not deny that the woman committed adultery. He forgives her and then invites her into a new way of living. 

Guided by the Spirit of Christ and the words of Jesus, may we in the church be compassionate toward those who sin, yet courageous enough to call each member of the body of Christ to holiness.

Continue Praying for PCUSA

The following is a summary report of some of the proceedings at this week's 219th General Assembly of the pcusa, meeting in Minneapolis. As you read the summary written by Presbyterians for Renewal, please take a few minutes and pray for this branch of Christ's body.
Click here

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Discerning the Will of God Concerning Homosexuality and Marriage :: Desiring God Christian Resource Library

Several years ago Dr. John Piper of Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis preached what I think is a very faithful and compassionate sermon on the subject of homosexuality and marriage.

Here's one of many helpful quotes from his message:

The other biblical reason marriage cannot be between two men or two women is that, on the one hand, the Bible defines homosexual behavior as “dishonorable” and “shameless” and “contrary to nature” (Romans 1:26-27), but on the other hand the Bible says that marriage is to be “held in honor” (Hebrews 13:4). Marriage does not produce shame. And marriage is not contrary to nature. There is therefore no such thing as homosexual marriage in the eyes of God. And there should not be in the eyes of his people—no matter what the state says.

Click here for more on the sermon, Discerning the Will of God Concerning Homosexuality and Marriage :: Desiring God Christian Resource Library

Here we go again

Since the early 90's, many in favor of gay ordination within the pcusa have fought long and hard to remove G.60106b from the Book of Order because it stands in the way of the ordination of homosexuals. In case you don't know, the current language that everyone is fighting over reads:
Those who are called to office in the church are to lead a life in obedience to Scripture and in conformity to the historic confessional standards of the church. Among these standards is the requirement to live either in fidelity within the covenant of marriage between a man and a woman, or chastity in singleness. Persons refusing to repent of any self-acknowledged practice which the confessions call sin shall not be ordained and / or installed as deacons, elders, or ministers of the Word and Sacrament (G-6.0106b).

A committee of the 219th GA meeting in Minneapolis voted yesterday to recommend to the full assembly of commissioners that this language be stricken from our constitution and replaced with the following language:

“Standards for ordained service reflect the church’s desire to submit joyfully to the Lordship of Jesus Christ in all aspects of life.” The governing body responsible for ordaining or installing a candidate “shall examine each candidate’s calling, gifts, preparation, and suitability for the responsibilities of office,” and determine the candidate’s ability and commitment to fulfill the requirements presented in the constitutional questions for those being ordained and installed.
“Governing bodies shall be guided by Scripture and the confessions in applying standards to individual candidates.”

The differences between the two statements are like night and day. The current language upholds standards for leaders in the church. The second statement is deliberately vague despite the fact that the idea of moral and spiritual qualifications  for church leadership is evident in Scripture.

Paul told Timothy that deacons needed certain qualifications before they were deemed ready to serve (I Timothy 3:8). They should be tested first- (I Timothy 3:10) and they should reflect a quality of home life that honors God (I Timothy 3:12), and finally, their lifestyle should reflect faith and commitment to Jesus Christ (I Timothy 3:13).

If the 219th General Assembly were to approve the committee’s recommendation, the proposed constitutional change would then need approval from a majority of the denomination’s 173 presbyteries. This has happened three other times and each time the presbyteries ratified/upheld the “fidelity and chastity” language in the Book of Order. 

The other matter that should be of concern are overtures or bills seeking to redefine marriage as no longer between a man and a woman, but between two persons. This issue will also be addressed this week.

These are serious times.  Our leaders are deceived and led astray by doctrines that are of this world and not of God's kingdom. Romans 12: 1-2

What then must we do?
Remain prayerful. Fast and pray for the pcusa 
Pray that the committee's recommendation coming to the floor of GA be defeated
Pray that hundreds of people would come to Christ through the preaching of the gospel in the pcusa
Pray that long-standing slavery to sin be conquered
Pray that spiritual dullness be replaced by vibrant joy

Pray that followers of Christ in the pcusa would remain vigilant and not cave in to societal pressures to conform
Pray that weak faith be replaced by bold witness,
Pray that a spirit of repentance would come over our leaders

Pray for the glory of God. In the end Christ will reign. The pcusa will not reign. So don't lose heart even though many disheartening and gospel denying actions are taking place. Christ will reign! 

Visit Presbyterians for Renewal  website for additional information and daily updates from GA

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

The intimate friendship of Jesus

How dry and hard you are without Jesus! How foolish and vain if you desire anything but Him! Is it not a greater loss than losing the whole world? For what, without Jesus, can the world give you? Life without Him is a relentless hell, but living with Him is a sweet paradise. If Jesus be with you, no enemy can harm you.
He who finds Jesus finds a rare treasure, indeed, a good above every good, whereas he who loses Him loses more than the whole world. The man who lives without Jesus is the poorest of the poor, whereas no one is so rich as the man who lives in His grace.

Great read for the summer

From Thomas A Kempis: The imitation of Christ

Thomas A Kempis on Anxiety

Today, I read a quote from Thomas A Kempis' Imitation of Christ and his insights about anxiety. Notice how he lifts up the sovereignty of God over all of life as the only solid rock from which to face our fears:

"To preserve peace in time of trouble our will must remain firm in God and be ever directed towards Him. This means we should be ever disposed to receive all things from the hand of God, from his justice, and from his bounty, with humble submission to his blessed will. Good and evil, health and sickness, prosperity and adversity, consolation and dryness, temptation and tranquility, interior sweetness, trials, and chastisements, all should be received by the soul with humility, patience, and resignation, as coming to us by the appointment of God. This is the only means of finding peace in the midst of great troubles and adversities."

I pray that as you read Paul's words in 2 Corinthians 4: 16-18, you will be encouraged to live fearlessly in these times.

"So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal."

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Worship Matters

I am still convinced that one of the reasons we are so disattisfied with worship in our churches is that for many of our brothers and sisters, Sunday is the only time they worship. Sadly, worship is reduced to the instructions listed in the bulletin.

It's no wonder we feel bored and empty. Listen. It's not about music, contemporary or traditional; it's not about service length, hymnal or words projected. These are smoke screens. The issue is we simply do not worship as a part of our daily lives. We don't worship God in the places where we live and work and experience life. We live in too much of a parallel universe, where our church life and our daily lives do not comingle. If we never worship all week then Sunday gathering becomes, "What's in it for me?"

Because of poor theology we are under the impression that worship is confined to those specific times of corporate worship when we’re singing. As such, churches have given titles such as “worship leader” or “worship team” to those leading us musically. Thus, people naturally conclude that the “worship” portions of the service take place exclusively when we’re singing. God’s Word, however, teaches us that singing is only one part of the worship service and that our prayers, affirmations, confessions of sin, Scripture readings, sermons, and singing are all parts of corporate worship.

Worship is the Christian’s all-encompassing service to our covenant Lord who has set us free to worship Him in beauty and splendor, holiness and freedom, so that wherever we are — in our closets, our homes, and our churches — we can worship Him in Spirit and in truth, with reverence and awe, according to His Word and for His glory (1 Cor. 10:31).

God is in control

"Wherever you go, God is sending you, wherever you are, God has put you there; He has a purpose in your being there. Christ who indwells you has something He wants to do through you where you are. Believe this and go in His grace and love and power."

The following article came to me from Presbyterians for Renewal. It reflects the writings of their pastor Ron Scates and his congregation, Highland Park Presbyterian Church in Dallas TX. Would love to hear your thoughts on the eve of what many think will alter the pcusa in a profound way. Please fast and pray for the pcusa.

"Reform from Within"
by The Reverend Dr. Ron Scates, Senior Pastor, Highland Park Presbyterian Church, Dallas, TX

Presbyterian evangelist Charles Finney was once reported to have said, "Every time there's a Presbyterian General Assembly, there's a jubilee in hell!" I'm no stranger to that feeling. What if the upcoming 2010 GA "goes south" in terms of biblical theology and/or morality?

Anticipating the probability of that, the Session of Highland Park Presbyterian Church, Dallas, spent the past year studying ecclesiology so that, should the Assembly attempt to dilute our Book Of Confessions and/or our Book Of Order, we would not react in knee-jerk fashion, but rather out of serious and deep thought concerning the Church, the pcusa, and the relation between the two.

Coupled with that (since 2009 was the 500th birthday of John Calvin), I personally read a number of books by or about Calvin along with my yearly read-through of the Bible. All of that has left me in the most confidant place I've been in my 31 years as an ordained Presbyterian pastor. I've come to these conclusions:

There is only one, holy, catholic, apostolic CHURCH. You don't get into it by leaving the pcusa, nor are you excluded from it by staying in the pcusa. (denominational acronym in small letters deliberately).

Denominations aren't biblical, nor are they "working" anymore (i.e., there was a consensus as to what it meant to be Presbyterian 60 years ago but there is one no longer). The current ecclesiastical scene is certainly post-denominational leaving me with much more of an interest in the global CHURCH rather than a para-chuch called "pcusa".

The issue of "apostasy" is no longer a deal-breaker for me. Both the OT and NT CHURCHES were rife with apostasy but God's call was always for "reform from within" not to mention that the pcusa became apostate 40 years ago by sanctioning something far worse to me than un-biblical sexual behavior: abortion.

My study of Calvin reminds me that he minced no words regarding the apostate state of the Roman Church but never considered anything but reform from within until he felt he was "shown the door".

As the largest congregation in our presbytery, Highland Park has a responsibility to protect the "lambs" (smaller congregations) who often feel intimidated by presbytery. If HPPC were to leave (and I'm confident we could buy our way out tomorrow), who would stand up for those who haven't the size, the power, and the money to do likewise? I will not run and leave the camp, and the lambs, to the Philistines. Although I recognize that God HAS called many out of the pcusa as a judgment against her waywardness. I and HPPC, will stay at our post until released by Christ.

I don't consider a para-church called "pcusa" worthy of all the time, energy, and distraction from mission it would take to leave, so HPPC will most likely stay-no matter what happens-and continue to connect with any and all congregations, of whatever stripe, who are theologically orthodox and missions-oriented while being a biblical counter-witness to any and all bad theology generated by the pcusa.

HPPC is called to be more and more intentional about aligning herself with entities that track with majority-world Christianity, not those still mired in a tired, Western, Post-enlightenment, rationalistic, liberal theology that neither grows congregations nor makes disciples. We are partnering with groups like the World Reformed Fellowship and the Lausanne Movement that we might have healthy streams flowing into HPPC not merely the latest pathological pronouncements of the pcusa.

Personally, I'm not interested in fighting over women's ordination (a possible battle brewing in the EPC) or whether or not America is-or ever was-a Christian nation (a current PCA conflict). The only hills I'm willing to die on are those of the Person and Work of Christ and the infallibility/authority of Scripture. Where are those battles? Right under our noses in the pcusa. I'm not staying to fight and win, but to "stay, fight, witness" come hell or high water. (I've put a statue of St. Athanasius on my dashboard.)

Out of our study I experienced a loyalty shift. My loyalty is, first to Jesus and His One CHURCH, then to HPPC, then to the pcusa somewhere further down the line. I used to place my loyalty to the pcusa above any local congregation.
The Session of Highland Park is anticipating the probability of some bad news coming out of the 2010 General Assembly. Thus we are sending a pre-emptive letter to our congregation reminding them that bad Assembly actions are never "reality" until ratified by a majority of presbyteries (which may or may not happen), that newspaper headlines rarely get it right as to what actually has transpired at GA, and that Highland Park will never be bound by any un-biblical decision that any Assembly makes. Never!

Christ is over all

From John Piper's Supremacy of Christ

All the planets of your life—your sexuality and desires, your commitments and beliefs, your aspirations and dreams, your attitudes and convictions, your habits and disciplines, your solitude and relationships, your labor and leisure, your thinking and feeling—all the planets of your life are held in orbit by the greatness and gravity and blazing brightness of the supremacy of Jesus Christ at the center of your life. And if he ceases to be the bright, blazing, satisfying beauty at the center of your life, the planets will fly into confusion, and a hundred things will be out of control, and sooner or later they will crash into destruction.

… Oh, that the almighty God would help us see and savor the supremacy of his Son. Give yourself to this. Study this. Cultivate this passion. Eat and drink and sleep this quest to know the supremacy of Christ.

Summer Reading and thoughts on the importance of reading

Here's a great article from John Ortberg on reading; then check out some of the books below. Even if none of these books appeal to your intellectual appetite, I want to encourage you to pick up and read first, God's word, then other books that stretch your mind and grow your heart in deeper ways. Happy summer reading!
Bridges, Jerry The Great Exchange
Carson, D.A. How Long, O Lord
Clowney, Edmund The Unfolding Mystery
Dever, Mark (editor) In My Place Condemned He Stood
DeYoung, Kevin Just Do Something
DeYoung, Kevin Why We’re Not Emergent
Ferguson, Sinclair Children of the Living God
Ferguson, Sinclair The Sermon on the Mount
Ferguson, Sinclair In Christ Alone
Harris, Josh Boy Meets Girl
Harvey, Dave When Sinners Say I Do
Kauflin, Bob Worship Matters
Mahaney, C.J. Humility
McCulley, Carolyn Did I Kiss Marriage Goodbye?
McCulley, Carolyn Radical Womanhood
Ovey, Mike and Steve Jeffrey (editors) Pierced For Our Transgressions
Sproul, R.C. The Glory of Christ
Stott, John The Cross of Christ