Tuesday, February 28, 2012

When Is Indecision Loveless and Sinful? (A Lesson from Bonhoeffer) By Pastor John Piper

Have you ever been paralyzed with indecision? I have. It is not a good trait of leadership.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer breathed the air of crisis most of his adult life. This would eventually make the issue of decisiveness a matter of life and death. And even before that moment it was an issue of love.
Everywhere Bonhoeffer looked in the Europe of 1934 he saw Christian indecisiveness. The “deutsche Christen,” the global ecumenical movement — everyone but Hitler. Nazism’s strangle hold on the church in Germany was almost complete, and no one seemed willing to act.
Bonhoeffer and his friends soon would. A “Confessing Church” would emerge free from the coercions of the Third Reich. A “Barmen Declaration” would be published. But for now Bonhoeffer pleaded for action.
On April 7, 1934 he wrote a letter to Henry Louis Henriod, the Swiss theologian who headed the ecumenical  World Alliance. He pled for support for the pastors and Christians in Germany who knew (to their peril) their church was no longer a church. Here we learn a lesson about the perils of indecision. Bonhoeffer wrote:
A decision must be made at some point, and it’s no good waiting indefinitely for a sign from heaven that will solve the difficulty without further trouble. Even the ecumenical movement has to make up its mind and is therefore subject to error, like everything human.
But to procrastinate and prevaricate simply because you’re afraid of erring, when others — I mean our brethren in Germany — must make infinitely more difficult decisions every day, seems to me almost to run counter to love.
To delay or fail to make decisions may be more sinful than to make wrong decisions out of faith and love. (Eric Metaxas, Bonhoeffer, [Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2010], 218)
Every pastor, every parent, every leader of any ministry should think and pray earnestly over that last sentence.

Monday, February 27, 2012

If it's too good to be true...

Finish the sentence...then it's too good to be true! This is how I feel after reading Romans 8: 1-4. 

When God looks at us in Christ we stand completely innocent, free of guilt, free from wrath. We are no longer condemned criminals on death row. We are free. 

How was this accomplished?

Weakness of the Law
For centuries, the law commanded and the law condemned law-breakers and the law pointed to a Righteousness and a Sacrifice that would someday come (Romans 3:21), but the law could not remove condemnation from sinners.

If there was to come a time when sinners could experience "no condemnation!" – when the ungodly could be justified by faith – then God would have to do something besides give a law. And what he did was send his Son in human nature, as our representative and substitute and there on the cross in the suffering of his Son, God condemned sin!

Jesus paid it all
Whose sin? Jesus had none (see "likeness of sinful flesh," v. 3). Not his. Ours. This is the Gospel. This is Christianity. All of us were under God's condemnation because of our sin.

But, as Romans 5:6 says, "While we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly." What does that mean – he died for the ungodly? Now we see what it means in Romans 8:3. It means that God poured out on his Son the condemnation that we deserved. He condemned sin (my sin!) in the flesh (Christ's flesh!). Do you believe this?!

Not everyone can say, "There is now no condemnation over my life." Only those "who are in Christ Jesus." Some are in him and some are not. Paul assumes this everywhere in his writings. There are those "in Christ" and there are those "outside." Paul is not a universalist.

He says explicitly in Romans 9:3, with grief, that there are those who are "accursed, separated from Christ." The opposite of the precious phrase "in Christ" (en kristõ) is the terrible phrase "[separated] from Christ" Where are you? In Christ? Or separated from Christ?

Gospel in a few words
I pray that all who read these words would receive Christ. It does seem too good to be true, but it’s true: Our sin separated us from God; nothing we do could remove us from under the wrath of God; God sent his Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and he condemned sin in his flesh through death on a cross. Everyone who trusts Christ’s work and reject their work will find forgiveness and deliverance from death. This is the good news of the gospel.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Iranian pastor to die for converting to Christ

We need to pray for Christians who are suffering death and loss of human rights in many places in the world.

Check out Newsweek's online copy, The War on Christians, for evidence that the Devil is angry with the growth of the church in other parts of the world.

The church in North America has nothing to fear because we have so compromised with the world that the Devil is happy with the American Church. He won't touch us!

Please click the link below to see Franklin Graham's interview with Greta Van Susteren. An Iranian pastor is about to be executed because he converted to Christ. Please let your friends know about this and pray for the salvation of this man, his congregation and his family.


Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world. And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. To him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen. (1 Peter 5:8-11 ESV)

Some things are worth the struggle

Like you, I have a certain aversion for conflict in the church, especially, when the conflict is driven by low priority concerns: music, clothes, and internal committee debates.

But I do enjoy the struggle congregations go through trying to clarify their vision and mission for the sake of the gospel. Some things are worth fighting over. 

For example, Acts 15: 1-11, the gospel is bearing rich fruit in Antioch. People are coming to Jesus by the thousands but some of the Pharisees who had become believers, and who struggled with the concept of grace wanted to add to the gospel.

They believed in Jesus, but it was Jesus, plus Moses. They wanted new believers circumcised according to the Law of Moses. Their demands were not only a distraction from the mission; they were capable of destroying the mission.

In steps Peter: 
And after there had been much debate, Peter stood up and said to them, "Friends, you know that in the early days God made a choice among you, that by my mouth the Gentiles should hear the word of the gospel and believe. And God, who knows the heart, bore witness to them, by giving them the Holy Spirit just as he did to us, and he made no distinction between us and them, having cleansed their hearts by faith. Now, therefore, why are you putting God to the test by placing a yoke on the neck of the disciples that neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear? But we believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will."

Imagine what would have happened if the herd instinct had taken over the leadership. If they all caved in to the need to get along, think the same way, and at all cost avoid conflict. The message of Christ would be tainted, rendered impotent and the revival in Antioch would have come to a screeching halt. 

I wonder how many gospel movements in churches have stopped because the leaders do not have the gumption to face conflict head on, stand on principle and stand for the gospel.

When do you take a stand? Take a stand when it is clear the gospel mission of the church is about to be sacrificed for internal, self-centered, consumerist ideals. And when you stand for gospel ideals expect to be criticized, misquoted, rejected; expect people will walk away from the mission, you may even lose your job. 

But if this is all that happens to you be encouraged. The apostles risked their lives for the sake of the gospel. Their sacrifice still does not compare to Christ's sacrifice for the sake of the world. 

So my brothers and sisters in the gospel, take a stand; bear the shame, carry the cross, stand for the gospel. Remember what Jesus said: “A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master. It is enough for the disciple to be like his teacher, and the servant like his master. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household? (Matthew 10:24-25 ESV)

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

They don't know what to do with it!

Madison Ave, with its ability to sell just about anything, from toothpaste to five dollar foot longs, does not know what to do with Lent, and I love it! 

Christmas, Easter, Thanksgiving has fallen completely into the ad-man’s hand, manipulated like a piece of putty and reshaped into a massive ad campaign to buy stuff. 

But they don’t know what to do with Lent.
Against the clamor to get more, spend, Lent quietly calls those who will listen to prayer, repentance, ashes, renunciation, fasting, a focus on finitude, sin, death, with the goal that we would emerge from this season purged of the world, or at least less saddled by this world and more equipped to live as pilgrims.

This is the most counter-cultural expression of the church and this is why Christians around the world, around America, around Chicago, around Evanston,
should in droves participate in this journey with Christ
all the way to his glorious resurrection.

If Lent suddenly became chic, cool, popular then I would encourage us to put the brakes on and do something else.

The fact that they ignore it means we must celebrate it. Isn't it great that no one will walk up to you uttering banal phrases like, "Happy Lent! Happy Ash Wednesday!"

If you are near First Presbyterian Church of Evanston, and you are not part of a worshiping fellowship, you are welcome to join us for Ash Wednesday observance and other Lenten practices over the coming weeks. Here's the information:

Weekly Taizé Prayer Services:
Wednesdays at 7:30 p.m.
Ash Wednesday, February 22 - April 4
Maundy Thursday ~ April 5 at 7:30pm
Good Friday ~ April 6
Family Workshop
Service of Darkness: Lux Aeterna by Lauridsen ~ 7:30pm

Our 40 Days of Prayer conclude with the
Easter Celebration
On April 8 at 9:15 & 11 am

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

God, what are you doing?

In short, this is what the ancient prophet Habakkuk was asking. God was at work in the world but God’s ways were incomprehensible to him.

Have you ever felt this way? I am sure you have. And I am sure you have heard people in your life express frustration, confusion, anger, disappointment and cynicism about God’s ability or inability to act.

In fact he complained, “Why do you make me see iniquity, and why do you idly look at wrong? Habakkuk 1:3

From his vantage point he thought God was either weak, slow to act, or simply did not care.

If you have never read Habakkuk then take a few minutes and read all three chapters. Notice how unlike the other prophets who delivered their message to the people around them, this prophet engaged in dialogue with God.

The first chapter is a prayer or an extended complaint to God about the moral and spiritual decline of Judah.  

God’s response puzzled him even more: “I am raising up the Chaldeans (Babylonians) to take care of the situation.” Habakkuk 1: 6-11

The prophet is shocked.  “How could a good and just God use a more wicked nation to punish a less wicked one?” (Habakkuk 1: 12-17)

 God makes it clear that both nations are to be judged and appropriately punished for their evil acts.

 Although Habakkuk did not fully understand, he learned to rely totally on the wisdom and justice of God to bring about the proper resolution in ways he could never have imagined. This God is certainly worthy of Habakkuk’s praise and worship, which is how the book ends:
            Though the fig tree should not blossom,
                        nor fruit be on the vines,
            the produce of the olive fail
                        and the fields yield no food,
            the flock be cut off from the fold
                        and there be no herd in the stalls,
            yet I will rejoice in the LORD;
                        I will take joy in the God of my salvation.
            GOD, the Lord, is my strength;
                        he makes my feet like the deer's;
                        he makes me tread on my high places. (Habakkuk 3:17-19)

Habakkuk moves from complaint and confusion, to faith and implicit trust in the goodness and faithfulness of God. Look again at his closing song of praise and ask yourself, could I do what he did? Could I thank God in the midst of my pain, my loss and my problems? 

I think so. Walk by faith in God's sovereign grace, trust the Lord, and even when the times are hard you will receive his strength to carry on. My grace is sufficient for you; because my strength is made perfect in your weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9). 

Monday, February 20, 2012

Ability...not disAbility

It's possible that many of you have seen this before. But when I saw this video clip a few days ago, I was speechless.

The life of Patrick Hughes challenges our assumptions about many things:
Quality of life
God's Sovereignty
Ability vs. Disability

You might also want to see: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QkNw0nleVLM
What questions/thoughts does his story raise in your mind?

Friday, February 17, 2012

Are there reliable principles for reading and interpreting Scripture?

Yes. Thankfully, Scripture is not a book reserved for elites, or an inner circle of “super-saints.” All of Scripture is the word of God for the people of God.

As you continue reading through Scripture in 2012, as you sit in worship and listen to preaching grounded in Scripture, here are 5 principles to keep in mind as you love God and keep his commandments.

1. Read the bible with an attitude of prayer
The human heart is a prolific idol factory. The human heart is easily deceived and is often given to evil (Jeremiah 17:9). The natural response to God’s truth as it is unveiled is to suppress the truth, deny the truth, excuse it, rationalize it away and sometimes obey it.

Do what David did: pray before, during and after reading and hearing Scripture:

With my whole heart I seek you; let me not wander
from your commandments! (Psalm 119:10)

Blessed are you, O LORD; teach me your statutes! (Psalm 119:12)

Pray that the Holy Spirit would unclog your ears, remove scales from your eyes, and give you the spirit of humility and a teachable heart that is quick to obey.

2. Remember that the bible points to Jesus
Don’t read the bible as a book to validate your experience or support some narrow political point. Jesus often reminded his accusers, “You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life (John 5:39-40; Luke 24:25-27).
The writer in Hebrews makes this point: Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world.
(Hebrews 1:1-2)

3. Let Scripture interpret Scripture (This is my favorite principle)
What do I mean here? If you believe that all of Scripture is inspired by God and is profitable for the church’s life, and does not contradict itself, then the passages of Scripture that are less clear should be interpreted with reference to those that are more transparent in meaning.

I do this all the time. For example, on February 26 and March 4th I will be preaching through I Corinthians 5-6. Paul talks about avoiding sexual immorality or porne. What does he mean by this? In order to understand his words, I simply read what the rest of Scripture means by sexual immorality. It is a big word that involves any sexual practice that does not comport with God’s will for God’s people: Fornication, adultery, beastiality, pedophilia, lust, rape, homosexuality, incest, pornography, prostitution, etc.The same thing could be done with just about any subject or teaching. Study all that the bible says about the subject so as to have the “mind of God on that subject.” This avoids slipping over the edge into basing one’s life and experience on one or two ideas of Scripture.

4. Think deep and long about Scripture
This means you can’t be in a hurry when reading. A superficial reading of Scripture will produce a superficial way of life. This is why I decided back in 2008 to begin this blog as a way to think about and write about what God’s word says to me. I also keep a journal of prayers that grow out of my reading of Scripture. I have found that this method helps Scripture stick to the walls of my mind.

5. Resolve to read AND obey Scripture
This is the litmus test. What good is it to read through the entire bible; have the ability to quote verse after verse so as to dazzle your friends, but do not obey it? It profits nothing.

Scripture is not like the Chicago Tribune or the New York Times--read the editorials, the sports page, the Home and Garden section, scan the headlines-- then recycle the paper. Jesus said, “If you love me keep my commandments.”

How can a young man keep his way pure? By guarding it according to your word. Psalm 119:9

And then James nails it: But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing.
(James 1:22-25)

Lord, help all who read these weak thoughts of mine, be led to read your powerful words and in so doing are changed. In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, amen!

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Just in time for Sunday!

Josh McDowell is coming to First Pres. Evanston this Sunday and will be speaking on the subject, Bible: Fact, Fiction or Fallacy. 

Here's a summary of a post I found on Ed Stetzer's site that is worth reading. Click here for the entire article, which by the way was written by New Testament scholar, Craig Blomberg.

The New Testament (NT) contains four biographies of Jesus (the Gospels), one history book of the early church (Acts), twenty-one letters (Romans to Jude), and an apocalypse (Revelation). While the letters and the apocalypse contain references to historical events, the Gospels and Acts are written as straightforward historical narratives. These are the NT books about which it makes particularly good sense to ask the question, "Are they historically reliable?" Twelve lines of evidence converge to suggest strongly that the answer is "yes."

First, we have over 5,700 Greek manuscripts representing all, or part, of the NT. By examining these manuscripts, over 99 percent of the original text can be reconstructed beyond reasonable doubt.

Second, the authors of the Gospels and Acts were in an excellent position to report reliable information. Matthew and John were among the twelve disciples Jesus Himself chose; Mark was a close companion of Peter and Luke (who also wrote Acts) and traveled extensively with Paul.

Third, these five books were almost certainly written in the first century, within sixty to seventy years of Jesus' death (most likely in a.d. 30). Even if one accepts the later dates, the amount of time separating the historical events and the composition of the five books is very short as compared to most ancient historical and biographical accounts, where many centuries could intervene between events and the books that narrated them.

Fourth, ancient Jews and Greeks meticulously cultivated the art of memorization, committing complex oral traditions to memory. Even before the Gospels or any other written sources about Jesus were compiled, Jesus' followers were carefully passing on accounts of His teachings and mighty works by word of mouth. This kept the historical events alive until the time they were written down.

Fifth, the ancient memorization and transference of sacred tradition allowed for some freedoms in retelling the stories. Guardians of the tradition could abbreviate, paraphrase, prioritize, and provide commentary on the subject matter as long as they were true to the gist or meaning of the accounts they passed on.

Sixth, the fact that these writers had distinct ideological or theological emphases does not mean they distorted history, as is often alleged. Oftentimes the very cause that a historian or biographer supports requires them to write their accounts accurately, for they know that their cause will be undermined if they are charged with bias or distortion.

Seventh, Luke's prologue (Lk 1:1-4) closely parallels the form and content of other works of generally reliable historians and biographers of antiquity, most notably Josephus, Herodotus, and Thucydides. The Gospel writers clearly believed that they were writing historically accurate works, not fiction or embellished history.

Eighth, the so-called hard sayings of Jesus support their authenticity. If the Gospel writers felt free to distort what Jesus originally said in order to increase the attractiveness of Christianity, why would they preserve unmodified His difficult and easily misunderstood teachings about hating family members (Lk 14:26) or not knowing when He would return (Mk 13:32)? The fact that they let these teachings stand indicates their faithfulness to recount true history.

Ninth, the fact that the NT does not record Jesus speaking about many of the topics that arose after His earthly life, during the time of the early church, supports its historical accuracy. For instance, early Christians were divided over how or whether the laws of Moses applied to Gentile converts (Ac 15). The easiest way to settle the controversy would be to cite Jesus' teachings on the matter, but the Gospels record no such teachings. This silence suggests that the Gospel writers did not feel free to play fast and loose with history by putting on the lips of Jesus teachings that could solve early church controversies.

Tenth, the testimony of non-Christian writers supports the details of the Gospels and Acts. About a dozen ancient Jewish, Greek, and Roman writers mention Jesus. Taken together, their writings attest to the basic contours of Jesus' life. Many names of people and places, as well as the exploits of first-century political and religious leaders, are attested in other writings of the day.

Eleventh, archaeology regularly confirms details about geography, topography, customs, artifacts, buildings, tombs, inscriptions, and graffiti that are mentioned in NT--the Gospels and Acts in particular.

Twelfth, the portions of the NT that were written before the completion of the Gospels and Acts confirm the historicity of these five books. For instance, Paul, James, and Peter show multiple signs of quoting or alluding to teachings and actions of Jesus in letters they wrote before the Gospels were written.

Craig L. Blomberg
Ph.D. University of Aberdeen

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Asleep at the wheel

Jonah asleep
Jonah makes it to the port of Joppa, finds a ship getting ready to sail to Spain; pays the fare, gets into the bottom of the ship, finds a comfortable spot and falls asleep. All seems to be going well so far. Not so fast!

          For [God] commanded and raised the stormy wind,
            which lifted up the waves of the sea.
            They mounted up to heaven; they went down to 
            the depths;       
            their courage melted away in their evil plight;
            they reeled and staggered like drunken men
            and were at their wits' end.
          (Psalm 107:25-27)

The sailors try to figure out why the gods are angry with them (Jonah 1:7). Eventually, they determine that Jonah is the culprit. When they questioned him, this is what he said:

I am a Hebrew, and I reverence the LORD, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land. He is God above all gods. He controls the sea and the dry land (Jonah 1:9).

When the mariners heard this, fear grabbed their hearts. Jonah had done something to provoke this powerful God. "What have you done?" For the men knew that he was fleeing from the presence of the Lord, because he had told them (Jonah 1:10).

Jonah’s confession is theologically sound. He talks about God in a way that the mariners cannot; but unlike the sailors, he does not talk to God. He quotes theology, but he does not pray. He references God, but does not obey God. He is religious but only in a dead, lifeless way.

Jonah represents you and me. Jonah is the religious, church person. He’s the Methodist, the Presbyterian, Pentecostal, the church attendee. But he doesn’t come across well in this scene. He sleeps while people in the world are drowning. They are seeking after God; he is running away from God.

Cities like Pittsburgh, Chicago, New York, Los Angeles, Tehran, Beijing, and Moscow are teeming with millions of people seeking help, caught in a storm, drowning, calling out for help. Where is Jonah Christian? Sleeping. What is our responsibility for the people with whom we rub shoulders? Where in this story are we like Jonah?

Christian on the run

God at work
It’s hard to miss: the Lord is the first to be named in Jonah. The first voice you hear is God's voice and guess whose voice you hear at the end (Jonah 4:11)? Frequent mentions of  Lord in Jonah indicate that God is the central actor.

LORD, translated as Yahweh is used twenty-five times, God, thirteen times, LORD GOD, once, for a total of thirty-nine references about God in a book that only has 44 verses! The atmosphere of the book is quite different from say, Ruth, where the narrator mentions the Lord only at the beginning and the end, or Esther, which makes no mention of God. This is a story about Jonah, but it would be more accurate to say this is a story about God's work in the life of Jonah. 
God's Call
Try to imagine the bad blood, the vitriol, the hatred that nations felt toward Assyrians. They were known for violence and terrorism. It is quite understandable that an Israelite prophet would reluctantly accept a missionary call to this city. This would be like asking a Jew who lost his family in the Holocaust to now go to Germany just after the fall of the Nazis and bring God’s message.

We are reluctant
God said, Go to this city, Jonah and preach against it because its wickedness has come up to me (literally, in my face Jonah 1:2). This phrase, evil coming up to God demolishes the argument of God-haters who charge that God is not good, God is not great and does not have the power or inclination to address evil and wickedness in the world.

God is good and great choosing to work through his servants to effect change in the world. Unfortunately, God’s servants are unreliable; they injure God’s fame through sinful and disobedient living. Jonah rose up to flee and run away to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord instead of going to Nineveh (Jonah 1: 3).

We are the light of the world 
You are the only Jesus some will ever see, the song says. Is this true? Jesus said, let your light so shine before others that they may see your good works and glorify your father which is in heaven (Matthew 5:16).

Paul sums it up this way: How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” (Romans 10:14-15)

Do you get it? God is reaching people through us! What are we doing to share Jesus with our neighbor? Who might you bring the good news of Jesus to this week? Or are you like Jonah, scared, running away from God’s assignment to be a witness to those who are lost and dying without Christ? 

Monday, February 13, 2012

How then shall we live?

At First Pres of Evanston this is an important question and not just an academic question that philosophical types debate in university halls. This question gets to the heart of what it means for God's people to be a counter-cultural community seeking to live the gospel's demands. 

Lent at First Pres, Evanston, IL
Ash Wednesday and Lent begins in a few short days and a group of men and women within the fellowship of First Presbyterian of Evanston, IL, are working tirelessly to prepare our congregation to walk through the forty days with our eyes fixed on Christ.

Ash Wednesday services begin on Feb 22 with Taize worship and Communion every Wednesday at 7:30pm.  Furthermore, new small groups are in place to study Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians. Leaders are trained and folks are registering to study Scripture together. 

Lent is a time of self-examination; taking stock of our lives and remembering the set number of our days. We are finite, God is infinite; we are mortal, God is immortal; we are prone to sin and idol making, only God is holy and only God is worthy of worship. Lent is a time to re-calibrate one’s life toward heaven and to listen as God speaks through Scripture.

Scripture vs. culture
February 26 and March 4 brings us face to face with a set of challenging issues facing the Corinthian church: how they used their bodies in intimate ways, and how they failed to hold each other accountable for those intimate practices. These themes are tough. Just like the Corinthian culture, we are living in a very open and sexually expressive society. 

How do we live our lives in ways that reflect the priorities of Christ’s kingdom? How do we express purity and holiness in a world that celebrates impurity? Why are God’s people called to be different from the culture?
What we must not do is deny the holistic way God sees our lives. We are physical and spiritual beings. Every good and perfect gift that comes to us from God has being tainted and distorted by sin. Sexual intimacy is one of God’s good and perfect gifts that bear the marks of sin's distortion. 

Scripture's road map
Scripture is the guide, the measurement and means to help us discern how to live our physical and spiritual lives to the glory of God. Scripture helps us reclaim all the good gifts of God, including sexual intimacy.

Paul said, do not allow the world to squeeze you into its mold; instead be transformed by the renewing of your mind (Ro 12: 1-2). God promises a new heart and new mind and it is through hearing and doing God’s word that Christ is formed within the church. So we dare not minimize God’s word. God told Hosea, “My people are destroyed from lack of knowledge (Hosea 4:6).”

Many lives are being destroyed daily because of lack of knowledge of God’s truth, or an outright rejection of God’s truth. At First Pres. Evanston, we are committed to loving God, serving people through the gospel so that their lives are transformed through Christ. And the principal way God does this is by taking away our hearts of stone and giving us tender hearts of flesh (Ezekiel 11:19; 36:26). This change of heart opens up new possibilities for transformation, obedience and faith in Jesus Christ (I Corinthians 6:11).

Increasingly, the challenge before us is how shall we live? Will we live under the authority of Scripture, or will we live according to what seems right in our eyes (Judges 17:6)?

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Amos: Mere religion is deadly

These biting words of Amos 5:18-27 are consciousness-raising. It is so incredibly easy to spend our precious time dawdling on things that do not matter to God. Talk about having a blind spot! Amos would not let the people of his day comfortably gather in their solemn assemblies while the powerful and rich press the poor and weak into the ground.

What happens inside of you when you hear God say: "I hate, I despise your feasts, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies. Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them; and the peace offerings of your fattened animals, I will not look upon them. Take away from me the noise of your songs; to the melody of your harps I will not listen."

That's right. All the religious religious activities that we so easily fight over might just elicit a yawn from God. As long as justice is denied or ignored and religious activities take priority, God will say, "Stop!"

"Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever flowing stream."

When we read Amos' words we should press the pause button we call ministry and ask ourselves questions:

Why are we here?
Who are we called to serve?
Are we pleasing God or are we pleasing ourselves?
What has God given us that must now be used to change the world for even one person?

If we don't, then our religious activities might really be more about us and peripherally about God. How does a Christian, or a church engage in this kind of honest soul-searching? How do we assess life and ministry in accordance with Amos' challenge? That's the question for all of us.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Transformation takes time

This Sunday (February 12), my message to God’s people at First Pres, Evanston, will be based on I Corinthians 6:1-8, Transformation takes time. If you are able, come and worship with us.

Transformation does take time. The process of change is not a ride on a bullet train. Going from rebellion to full-hearted surrender to Jesus is a process of growth. I like to say that every Christian should carry a sign that says, Under Construction.

In my reading of Joel, I saw three powerful incentives for transformation of the heart. I commend the three chapters of this powerful book to you.

Day of the Lord
This is a major theme in Joel. Five times he talks about this coming Day. For Joel, the “day” refers not only to a final day of judgment upon the nations (3:2) but also to God’s ongoing judgment of Israel, both past and future (1:15; 2:2, 11), and instances of his intervention between Israel and the nations.

Knowing that the Day of the Lord is coming is an incentive to carefully live our single, solitary life. One day--we don’t know when--we will be held accountable for the lives we have lived before God.

In Joel, the whole community must cry out to the Lord (1:13–20) and look to him—not merely with external actions but in sincerity with their whole persons. It is here in Joel that we learn the famous quote, rend your heart, and not your garment (2:13). Don’t hide behind pretensions and religious acts. God wants you to repent and turn away from all sin.

Holy Spirit in our midst
Joel sees a coming day when God’s Spirit will be poured on people of every race, class, and gender. Without the presence and power of God’s Spirit poured out on all flesh, preparing for the day of the Lord and genuine repentance doesn't happen. The Holy Spirit is THE agent of true change.

                        Return to the LORD your God,
                        for he is gracious and merciful,
                        slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love;
                        and he relents over disaster.
                        (Joel 2:13)
Lord, continue to remind me that you are Lord of every heart. Help me remember that I have these moments to live and then one day I will stand before you and account for my life. Lord, I repent of all my sin and all the ways I hide my sin. Send your Holy Spirit upon my heart and change me from deep within. I pray this for myself, my family, my friends and your church. Thank you for grace and mercy through Jesus Christ! Amen

Question: Which of the three incentives inspire you to live a transformed life?

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Josh McDowell preaching at First Pres

When I was 18 years old (that's many moons ago), I grappled with several tough questions about the integrity of my faith, the reliability of Scripture, the existence for God, the historicity of Jesus and questions about resurrection. Unresolved, these questions would have hindered my growth.

My sister gave me a copy of Josh McDowell's book, Evidence that Demands a Verdict: Historical evidence for the Christian Faith. His book was of immense help to me and my friends. His book also ignited in me a fire to read and develop a Christian worldview. I was able to share Christ and address some of the hard questions people ask about Christianity.

So you can imagine my excitement that he is joining us in worship next Sunday (February 19). I would encourage you to invite your friends and family members who may have questions about faith. 

Josh shares the essentials of the Christian faith in everyday language so that youth, families, churches, leaders and individuals of all ages are prepared for the life of faith and the work of the ministry.  This included leveraging resources based on years of experiences, new technologies and strategic partnerships.

He is the author or co-author of 127 books, including More Than A Carpenter and New Evidence That Demands a Verdict, recognized by World Magazine as one of the top 40 books of the twentieth century.  Josh McDowell Ministry is a division of Campus Crusade for Christ International.  

Worship begins at 9:15am. Don't hesitate to contact the church (847-864-1472, 8:00am-5:00pm, M-F) with questions about this event.

What Hosea teaches about marriage

In fourteen short chapters Hosea depicts Israel’s unfaithfulness with a number of images from family and nature.

Israel is like: a promiscuous wife, an indifferent mother, an illegitimate child, an ungrateful son, a stubborn heifer, a silly dove, a luxuriant vine, and grapes in the wilderness.

The big idea of Hosea could be summed up this way: Israel’s unfaithfulness and obstinacy will never be able to exhaust God’s redeeming love that outstrips the human capacity to comprehend.

Of all the Old Testament books, Hosea places great weight on marriage as a metaphor for God’s relationship with his people.

The lament in Hosea is the lament of God for Israel his wife (Hosea 4: 1-3). The Lord wooed her, loved, called, her, and entered into covenant with her. But Israel spurned God’s love and faithfulness.

It’s hard to miss: the story of the bible is one story about God’s love-relationship with us. Scripture begins with a wedding between a man and a woman (Genesis 2: 18-25), and Scripture ends with a wedding (Revelation 21:2-3) between Christ and his bride, the church.

With metronomic consistency Jesus spoke about marriage this way: Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall be come one flesh? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together let no man separate (Matthew 19: 4-6). He never deviated. 

Similarly, the apostles who followed Jesus and wrote Scripture under the Spirit’s leading sustained the same description of marriage: one man, one woman, for life.

When Paul depicted the relationship of love between Jesus and the Church, he imaged that love through the lens of marriage (Ephesians 5: 22-33).

Marriage is not for the faint of heart. Just like the people of Hosea’ day, couples drift, become mired in selfish pursuits, seek fulfillment outside the marriage covenant, and unfortunately, some marriages fail.

The good news of Hosea is the story of a God who enables us to do and become more than we are capable of doing or becoming. The good news of Hosea is God’s faithfulness, grace and love.

The very last verse (Hosea 14: 9) ends with an appeal for wisdom: Whoever is wise, let him understand these things; whoever is discerning let him know them; for the ways of the Lord are right, and the upright walk in them, but transgressors stumble in them.

May God grant us wisdom in a time when the sanctity and purpose of marriage is being reshaped beyond God’s original design.  

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

From Preaching Today: Spiritual Apathy

A December, 2011, article in USA Today analyzed a surge in a group of Americans called the "spiritually apathetic." They aren't atheists. Instead, according to the article, "They simply shrug off God, religion, heaven, or the ever-trendy search-for-meaning and/or purpose. Their attitude could be summed up as 'So what?'"

The article pointed to the following statistics from recent surveys:
  • 44 percent of respondents told a Baylor University study that they spend no time seeking "eternal wisdom," and 19 percent said, "It's useless to search for meaning."
  • 46 percent of respondents told LifeWay Research that they never wonder if they will go to heaven.
  • 28 percent told LifeWay that "it's not a major priority in my life to find deeper purpose."
  • 18 percent denied that God has a purpose or plan for everyone.

One professor of religion concluded, "The real dirty secret of religiosity in America is that there are so many people for whom spiritual interest, thinking about ultimate questions, is minimal."

“For many, 'Losing My Religion' isn't just a song; It's life," USA Today (12-25-11)

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

When everybody is doing it

Daniel was among the many Jews transported from Judah to Babylon. He went from a monotheistic religion to a culture where many gods and idols were worshiped.

He went from a culture that tried to live by the authority of God’s word to a culture where people lived by the word of the king, or the authority of their own lives.

Almost overnight many things changed in his life: Daniel 1: 4-7
His name
His education
His language
His diet

How does one maintain biblical values and commitment to God in a majority pagan culture? The bible says that Daniel resolved, or made up his mind (Daniel 1:4). 

He couldn’t change the fact that he was in Babylon. He couldn't change the fact that he was in captivity; that his name would be changed; that his education would be tilted toward paganism. His captors controlled many things, except one thing, his mind.

They could not ultimately control his ability to choose.

They tried to force him to eat non-kosher foods

They tried to tell him and his friends who to worship

They tried to set limits on when he should pray and to whom he should pray

But they ultimately failed because he possessed something they could not take away: resolve.

To be resolved is to have a committed, determined, unbending disposition that enables a person say no to the things that defile and yes to the things that glorify God.

At the tender age of 19, Jonathan Edwards made up his mind to live a radically obedient life for God (click here to read them). His commitment changed 19th century America!

Every Christ-follower who wants to impact culture and be salt and light must have a similar resolve.

What are the boundaries to your life? Who will call the shots in your life regarding use of time, sexual practices, how money is spent, what is done with your body, what to watch on TV, what you read, or how to dress modestly? Having a determined, made up mind is critical if you are to stand for Christ in a majority pagan culture. 

When you choose to live a distinctly Christian life you will be challenged. You may be thrown into fire, thrown in a den with lions, you may even lose your life. But its worth it because your witness for Christ shines brightest when you stand up for Jesus. 

Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. Romans 12: 1-2

Reader: What are some of the resolutions you have made as a follower of Christ?