December 23, 2011

Death.



Death. The mere fact that the title of the post along with it's first word consisted simply of that one word will have a good many of you considering the writer to be a person or rather morbid character. It's not a popular topic. On the one hand, we glory and revel in it, just so long as it is confined to our video games, TV shows, and movies. But do we want to have real conversations about it? Do we want to delve into the reason it exists, how it affects us, what happens afterword, and so on? No. We embrace the idea in our entertainment because it is “real”, yet this same reality is something we are constantly running from. There is no end to the number of ways in which we are trying to extend our lives, make our later years more painless, and eliminate from ourselves the appearance of being old. Most of us want nothing to do with the idea that one day our life here on earth will be over. Furthermore, even those willing to entertain that notion and consider will very rarely contemplate the fact that death is truly imminent for us all.
Contrast this with the Scriptures handling of our life. The Psalmist says in Psalm 39:5, “You have made my days a mere handbreadth; the span of my years is as nothing before you. Each man's life is but a breath.” The majority of us not being familiar with measurements of biblical times, let me introduce you to a little measurement known as the handbreadth. It literally means the breadth, or width, of your hand. So roughly three inches on average. And that is what he says your life is like. Your life is like that. It is short, vapor like. James 5:14 would say it like this, “What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.” These two verses obviously are not the entirety of the biblical teaching on life and death. But they give us a very accurate portrait of a consistent biblical theme. That being, life is short. Death is near, and -even for those given a long earthly life- our lives are but a vapor in the bigger picture of eternity.
Before going any further I would like to make two broad generalizations. I am going to clump the majority of the human race into two categories. First, those accept death as natural and just roll with it. Secondly, those who find it strange, scary, and unnatural. Then, finally, I hope to stamp out both of those wrong views of death that I believe most people fall into, and replace them with a biblical view. The reason I believe this is a healthy and right thing to do is based primarily on Ecclesiastes 7:2-4, which says, “It is better to go to a house of mourning than to go to a house of feasting, for death is the destiny of every man; the living should take this to heart. Sorrow is better than laughter, because a sad face is good for the heart. The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning, but the heart of fools is in the house of pleasure.” Solomon tells us here that it is more profitable for our souls to be at funerals than weddings and happy feasts, because we are there faced with the reality that this will one day be our funeral. One day we will too be gone from this earth. And this pause forces us to deal with God. It is time each of us put aside our foolish pursuit of earthly pleasure and dealt with God, our Maker and Creator.
I first want to deal with my first group of people, those who simply accept that death is normal. I want to deal with them first because quite frankly I have spent a good bit of time living with this assumption myself. Certainly we know that death comes to all men, why then, would we not see it as normal? Why does it bug us when someone dies? Why are we so taken aback and wrought with remorse over the death of those close to us? And why do we feel sorrow over the death of young children, even if we did not know them or their families? We know that everyone dies eventually, why can't we just accept it and move on with life? The answer is because death is not natural. We know from Genesis 3 that sin comes into the world because of sin. Romans 6:23 would tell us, “the wages of sin is death.” And we know we are all going to pay that wage, “Sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned.” (Romans 5:12) We have all sinned, and therefore, we all die. But wait—if we die as a result of sin, does that not mean that without sin we would not die? Of course. God did not create us for death. Jesus said in John 10:10, “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” God is a God of life, He is the life-giver and Creator of all life. Jesus statement there in John 10:10 is a contrast of Himself with Satan, the “thief,” who comes to destroy and kill. Death comes to us all, yes. We sin, we rebel against God. God cannot tolerate this rebellious affront to His holy nature and must justly punish it. We are therefore subject to eternal damnation. God didn't create us for this purpose but we have, if you will, volunteered for it or asked for it. Death is not natural, it is the consequence of rebellion against a holy God. There is nothing more unnatural than that. However, God has dealt with this rebellion, which leads me to the second group.
There are those whom the subject of death absolutely petrifies. The avoid all talk on the subject, the simply would rather “think about happy things.” And yet Solomon is clear in Ecclesiastes 7 that such an opinion is unwise. So what's up with this? We know that death comes to all, yet we also know know that it is not good or natural. The pain and separation it causes, the sorrow, these are all results of our falleness. Where is the profit in knowing this? It comes in a couple of layers. First, from this should come a true fear of the Lord, which is the beginning of wisdom (Proverbs 1:7, 9:10). It is good to know our place in this universe. We are a rebellious people, deserving of eternal punishment, and death here is where we transition from this temporary life into eternal death, apart from the grace of God. But those last six words are key. Because God has not simply said “to Hell with you all!” He has instead, while we were yet His enemies, sent His Son to earth to die for us (Romans 5:8). We deserve unending punishment for our rebellion. And yet God has laid on Jesus the iniquity of us all (Isaiah 53:6). My sin deserves a death that never ends. But Jesus absorbs that. He has died in my place, for my sins. To believe that and repent of my sins and follow Jesus is to receive eternal life (John 3:16, 36). Because of Jesus' sacrifice I can die to my sins, rather than for my sins (1 Peter 2:24). He has made me a citizen of heaven (Philippians 3:20), allowing me to echo with Paul in Philippians 1:21, that “death is gain.” Instead of fearing the grave, I can know that the ultimate pain of eternal separation from God is removed, the sin that broke my relationship with God is taken care of (1 Corinthians 15:57).
So where does this leave us? First, for the one who does not believe in Jesus, it leaves you in a very bad place. Death for you brings a worse death. One that is forever, and is without relief (Luke 16:19-31). If you reject the claims of Christ you are under condemnation (John 3:18). Your sin separates you from God, and because of it, you stand condemned. You do not have the relationship with God that you were created for. Jesus words to you are simple to understand. Repent (Mark 1:15), that is, agree with God about your sin. Quit making excuses and trying to justify your wicked rebellion. Agree with God that you are a sinner and place your trust in Jesus Christ. Those who believe Him are given the right to be called the children of God (John 1:12). Jesus has died for your rebellion, in order to reconcile you to God (Romans 5:10), you must believe this or you stand condemned for eternity because of your rejection of Him (Hebrews 10:26-27).
Conversely, for the Christian, we can embrace death as the time we will meet our Savior face to face. It truly is the gain Paul speaks of. The cares of this life are no more, and we are in the presence of our Savior. But this does not mean we ignore the very real pain that exists in and around death. The death of our physical body is a reminder that while our souls have been redeemed, our bodies are still perishing, and creation is still groaning, waiting for it's redemption (Romans 8). We must face the reality that many we love and cherish are perishing without the hope of eternity with Christ that we have. These things are real. They are still real even with Jesus as our Savior. To ignore them is to ignore the urgency of Jesus' message of repentance. We must preach Christ to a dying world, because without Him there is no reconciliation to God. Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life, there will be none with the Father who did not come through Him (John 14:6). I want to leave you with a few questions. One, where is your citizenship? Are you living as a slave to sin or a bondservant of Jesus Christ? Two, are you ready to die? Are you living your life in such a manner that if Christ were to call you to Himself today that you would be ready? Have you valued Him above all else, taken up your cross and followed? And three, how have you viewed this world around you? Do you see a world full of inconveniences for you, that you just want to die and be rid of? Or do you see a lost world desperately in need of the Gospel—the Gospel that you have been entrusted to share with the world? In the words of John Piper, “don't waste your life.” Because someday you will die. And there are no second chances.

November 26, 2011

Reading with the Holy Spirit


Peace

Gently on my roof I hear the rain
It drips on down the window pane
My weary eyes gaze through the glass
I wait and hope this storm shall pass
This falling flood reflects my soul
Where deeply I have sensed a hole
It has come to where my body aches
Because so oft my heart does break
They say out yonder looms the sun
Oh I pray those days would come
That grey times from me would flee
And my heart instead be filled with glee
But indeed I know my need is more
Than my circumstances have in store
My deepest longing is for joy
But life's schemes are so coy
They steal from me that which I seek
And make my place here feel so bleak
In spite of this I thank the One
Who gave for me His only Son
And so I need not clear skies
I need the One who for me dies
To wreck my joy pain may endeavor
But my joy in Him endures forever
In circumstance it's found no longer
So even when the storm grows stronger
I know that I can still find peace
For at last I've been released
From this dark cloud inside my heart
And I am glad to with it part

November 23, 2011

Honor, Love, Fear.


“Honor all people.  Love the brotherhood.  Fear God.  Honor the king.”  1 Peter 2:17
I love that verse.  It’s in the middle of a section where Peter deals a lot with submission.  Submission to government, submission to masters, submission of wives to their husbands, and so on.  And I love this verse because in 11 words we’re told basically what we need to know in order to live our lives in a godly way.

“Honor all people.”  Do we do that?  No.  We judge people for the simple fact that they are different than us.  We condemn people because of their outward appearances.  We call people -who God created- ugly; or refer to them as a “waste of air.”  Really?  Is that congruent with how the Bible would speak of us?  Genesis 1:26-27 talks about God doing what?  Making man in His own image.  And in verse 31 He refers to that as “very good.”  Interesting.  God has declared that man being made in His own image is very good…and I call it ugly.  Now obviously, you can bring up the fact that in Genesis 3 man sins and the image of God in us is marred (Colossians 3:10 says it is being renewed in Christians).  But even at that, in our sinful state the Psalmist would still affirm that each of us is knitted together by God in our mother’s womb (Psalm 139).  We are still, each one of us, a unique creation of God.  A creation so valued an loved by Him, that in spite of our sinful rebellion and hatred of Him which made us His enemies (Romans 5:10), He loved us enough to send His Son to die in our place (John 3:16).  So if everyone is created by God…in His own image…and loved by Him so much that He sent His Son to be killed for them-what right do I have to despise those whom God has loved?  Do we confront sin in people’s lives?  Absolutely.  Do we have any right to do so in a condescending way?  No.  To do that simply makes you a Pharisee, for whom Jesus had some pretty harsh words.  We need to share God’s heart for this fallen and sinful world.  That is, not one of condemnation, but rather one of love and compassion.  Honor people so as not to be a stumbling block between them and the cross.

“Love the brotherhood.”  If we’re bad at honoring people, then we’re awful at loving the brotherhood.  The old joke is that Christian firing squads align in a circle.  Sad, but true.  We are far from the exhortation of Paul in Philippians 2:3-4, “Let nothing be done out of selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let each not look out only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.”  God loves everyone, but we see pretty clearly throughout Scripture that He has a special love for His people (Deuteronomy 10:14,15; Malachi 1:2,3; John 10:25-29; Ephesians 2:4,5; Revelation 21:3).  We need to look out for our brothers and sisters in Christ.  These are the people for whom Jesus loved so much as to bear the wrath of God on their account (Isaiah 53:7).  And I get mad at people and break fellowship because I don’t agree over what kind of music to play in church?  I judge my brothers and sisters for wearing sweatpants to church?  I get upset over the carpet being a little mud stained instead of being glad that the person with muddy boots is part of the fellowship?  We are no better than anyone else!  We all are wretched sinners and deserve the wrath of God; yet Christ took that on the cross for us…this should be the basis of our fellowship and our joy in each other!  In the book of Philippians, Paul’s most personal letter, we see a man who loves the ones he is writing to.  He has a deep, genuine affection for them.  Why?  Philippians 1:5 tells us it is because of their fellowship with him in the gospel.  Jesus is what unifies us.  The church so often looks like the world.  Our friendships are based on common interests and experiences.  We hang out with people because we like the same things or do the same things.  Be it football, baseball, hunting, fishing, knitting, sewing, cars, beer, photography, gossip, coffee, technology, of course this list could run on for days.  But all of these things change.  Our interests change.  Our experiences change.  Where we live can change.  All of these superficial basis’s of commonality and friendship are shifting and will change.  (Which, I believe is perhaps one of the strongest arguments against age-segregated Sunday School, Bible studies, etc….but that will wait for another day).  What doesn’t change?  God.  And what He has done for us, in Jesus.  That is the only constant, firm, unmoving foundation for our relationships.  We need to love as Christ has first loved us. And this must first extend to the body of believers.

“Fear God.”  This echoes Proverbs 1:7, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge.”  Now I could not tell you how many times I have heard it said that this doesn’t mean fear, but simply “respect” or “awe.”  So, in light of that, a few years ago I decided to bust out the old concordance and check out both the Greek and Hebrew words…and I found out this really funny thing…the both meant “fear.”  Could respect and awe be included?  Absolutely.  But the basic meaning was to have a real and literal fear.  Should we not?  Correct me if I am in error, but if I-a small, tiny, miniscule creation-have offended the Almighty, Omnipotent, Sovereign, Creator God of the universe…I have reason to fear.  Especially in the knowledge that He is just and hates sin.  Now, I also know that Christ has died for me, propitiating God’s wrath towards me (Romans 3:25), and because of this there is no condemnation for me (Romans 8:1), and I can boldly approach the throne of grace (Hebrews 4:16).  But I still ought to be working out my “salvation with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12).  I need to be ever mindful of both my sinfulness and God’s mercy.  And aware of the fact that His mercy has given me not the ability to sin freely, but to freely follow Him (Romans 6:1-2, 14; 1 Peter 2:16).

“Honor the king.”  The rampant absence of this among the “Christian right” is quite honestly a very shameful thing.  People bomb abortion clinics, slander the President, bash homosexuals, and chastise as unpatriotic or un-American anyone with whom the disagree (there recently has been the development of the “Christian left“ as well…they are present at protests such as Occupy Wall Street, etc…this group another set of problems equally as great.   Perhaps I will address those at another point).  All of this under the guise of “protecting Christian values.”  Do not get me wrong.  I am in no way for apathy, pacifism, or sitting idly by while the government grows out of control.  We have a very unique situation in our country where we have not only the opportunity, but truly the responsibility to stand up for what is right and to work for the changes which may be necessary.  We can elect people to office who agree with our values, and we charge them with the responsibility to carry out their duties in a way that represents us well.  What I am saying is that to disrespect and slander those who are in authority is totally, completely, categorically, and undeniably unbiblical.  You cannot look at Romans 13, 1 Peter 2, and other places and with any intellectual honesty say to dishonor or disobey authority is “okay.”  (There are some obvious exceptions, such as in the case that we are told not to preach the Gospel…but we’d have to be doing that before anyone would be telling us not to).  God Himself has established authority.  At times to bless a nation, at other times to judge it.  Does that make them good?  No.  Does that mean that just because he is President now I will be voting for President Obama’s reelection in 2012?  Nope.  But we need to get over the idea that we are the center of the universe and anything we disagree with or think is wrong is okay to be slandered, ripped to shreds, or disrespected and dishonored.  The people writing the Bible lived under some of the worst dictators in the Roman empire.  Peter himself was executed under Nero.  Yet, he is the one saying “Honor the King.”  We need to bear these things in mind.

In summary, I think the big point is that we are to follow our God.  We are to reflect His character.  We are to esteem Him above all else, and others above ourselves.  Do we call out sin?  Yes.  Can we do so in what at times is a mocking way?  I think there is a time and a place for that, sometimes even Jesus’ used satire to illustrate the absurdity of our sin.  Should we work for social reforms and desire godly leaders for our cities, states, and countries?  For sure.  But of far more importance is the message of the Gospel.  Christ and Him crucified.  God reconciling man to Himself on account of Jesus.  We need to be lights to this dark world.  That starts by loving God, pours out into loving His people, and overflows into loving this world that so desperately needs Him.

November 15, 2011

A world of resources...

Hey folks.
This isn't meant to be a lengthy post full of original thought, I just want to point out a few things that perhaps ought to be obvious, but are often times overlooked, especially by your truly.

We live in a world full of informational resources.  By that I mean that you have, at your fingertips, on your PC, laptop, phone, tablet, etc., more access to information than any other generation in history.  In a matter of seconds you have the ability to pull up resources on topics that would have taken you days or months of library searching to amass information on just 20 years ago.  That is crazy, isn't it?  How much crazier is it, then, that we fail to utilize this?  I personally tend to be a little puzzled by people when they claim they want to know more about something but just don't know where to look.  Hello, the world is at your fingertips, this is the 21st Century.  But instead of ripping people's laziness to shreds...which I am apt to do...but rather, I want to suggest that there are a multitude of resources that you not only can utilize, but rather you ought to utilize.  That being said, there is also a lot of garbage out there.  So I want to offer you some suggestions of websites and a few books that I have found profoundly helpful.

http://www.desiringgod.org/  Is a collection of resources, primarily from John Piper.  Hundreds of video and audio sermons, transcripts, articles, essays, interviews, and poems.

http://theresurgence.com/  A ministry branch of Mars Hill Church in Seattle devoted to information for leaders.  Tons and tons of info on everything from music, to preaching, to church planting, to counseling, and beyond.  Incredibly helpful.

http://thegospelcoalition.org/  Another collection of resources, ranging from video sermons, many interviews and round table discussions, along with articles and blogs.  Focused on the proclamation of the Gospel.

http://pastormark.tv/  If you appreciate the ministry of Mark Driscoll...which I certainly do, this is the place to find all his content in one spot.

This is just a very small selection of the many, many resources available online.  As for books, I would highly suggest the following:

Doctrine: What Christians Should Believe, by Mark Driscoll and Gerry Breshears

The Holiness of God, by R.C. Sproul

Don't Waste Your Life, by John Piper

Pierced by the Word, by John Piper

A Basic Guide to Interpreting the Bible, by Robert Stein

For those of you who know me know I'm a book nerd...I tried to restrict these five to books that anyone can read, and all of which were exceptionally helpful for me in such a way that I believe they also will be to you.

With any of these things, there is another caution to give.  It is very easy to become so saturated in "Christian stuff" that we forget about the Bible and the God of the Bible.  Our primary source of spiritual food, as it were, needs to be Scripture.  God has given us the revelation of Himself in written form; I can read every book published and read every article written, and listen to every sermon preached-but if I am not reading the revelation of God Himself and praying for the Holy Spirit to open my eyes to it's truth, then all the rest of it is mute.  So view these things as resources to help you understand what God has said and what it means, and how it applies in your life, but do not ever let it replace time in God's Word.  That being said, I encourage you all to take advantage of these things that God has blessed us with in the 21st Century.  I am grateful for these things, they are gifts.  Use them wisely.

October 30, 2011

Warming Love

This dead feeling inside chills me to the bone 
Walking through this wilderness, my trek is made alone. 
There seems to be no one to stand by my side 
The voices in my head, do nothing but chide. 
Where are my friends who used to be 
All around, when my life had no responsibility? 
I relished that loose and carefree life 
But now circumstances, cut close bonds like a knife. 
People who were once counted on 
Are nowhere to be found, they are all gone. 
My soul is weary of these burdensome days 
Why does life so often seem like a maze? 
I wish I could find my way out 
Instead, so many days are filled with great doubt. 
But deep down in my soul I know 
That a peace from God will grow.  
Trusting in His perfect sovereignty 
I know He hears this sinners plea.  
He has pursued me when all others fail 
His grace it is violent, His love tears the veil. 
So when it seems that I walk all alone 
I can know He has cared, for my sins has atoned. 
I really deserve the separation I fear 
Yet instead of leaving, He wipes away tears. 
Indeed He has placed me, in His family 
And I know I'm secure for all eternity. 
So this dying inside, this abandonment felt 
Is not nearly as great as the grace He has dealt. 
Surely I am safe in His perfect arms 
Even this bone chilling cold, will do me no harm. 

Church isn't about you.

Consumer driven. Seeker sensitive.  Terms which, along with a myriad of others, describe much of the American evangelical landscape. The stereo typical poster child for this type of church is the booming mega church in the suburbs. But in all reality, even many small rural churches operate in such a way as to suggest that church is about the consumer. The consumer, of course, is not called by such a “worldly” name when it comes time for board meetings, talks among leadership, etc. Instead the more acceptable titles such as attendee or even member are in place. This makes our dialogue far more impressive and “Christian” sounding. We talk about needing to “meet people’s needs” or to “speak to them where they’re at.” Perhaps we even try to “help” the believers gathered. But are these things the point of church? Is church where I come to get my weekly “feeding” from the pastor? Is it where I come to have my emotions moved by the music? Do I attend church because I like the people there, or feel comfortable? I have not even begun to touch the many reasons people attend church or participate in a local body; neither have I hit on many of the reasons churches function in the way they do. I have attempted to throw out a wide sampling of rather common statements, because I imagine there will be one, or perhaps several things in there that either you personally identify with or have come into contact with in your church experience. My purpose in doing this, really, is to call them all into question. Is church a place where I go to be entertained? Is it where I go to be built up or encouraged? Is it where I go for spiritual food? Or is none of these the correct answer? I will address two people groups, the first being “lay people”, or attendees, or as I would think most accurate, consumers. The second group would be those of influence or leadership in the church who actually decides what a service looks like, how the budget is structured, where priorities are, what goals are, etc.
My question for the first group is really quite simple. Where does the Gospel figure into your attitude toward church?  If this seems an odd question, perhaps a bit of rephrasing would be of benefit. When I evaluate my reasons for going to church, how does my perception of Jesus’ life, work, and words affect that? Let’s break this down it logical order. First, for any of this to make sense you must be a believer in Jesus Christ. That is, not merely a believer that He existed and was a good guy. But rather, that He is who He said He was and is. He is the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father (God) except through Him (John 14:6). This is accomplished because Jesus, through His perfect life and divine being was the only sacrifice acceptable to God for the punishment of our sins. Jesus went to the cross and bore the wrath of God for us (1 Peter 2:24), and being raised to life on the third day, has given to those who believe the right to be reconciled to God and called children of God (John 1:12, Romans 5:10). So Jesus has reconciled us to God. Why has God done this? According to Ephesians 1:12,14 it is “to the praise of His glory.” God does this to bring Himself glory. We, who were enemies with God, have been saved by Him to bring Him glory-that is amazing! So how are we to live in light of this? Well first, we are to stop obeying the sinful desires that we used to be in bondage to; rather, we ought to present ourselves as slaves of God’s righteousness (Romans 6:12,13). We also are to walk in the good works that God has prepared for us (Ephesians 2:10). But perhaps our greatest callings are wrapped up in two things that we often refer to as great-the great commandment and the great commission.
“Jesus said to him, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’” Matthew 22:37
Jesus here is quoting from Deuteronomy 6:5. This command, along with the command to love our neighbor as ourselves, sums up all of God’s law! How is this possible? Because if we are constantly giving our all to loving our God and treating others properly, then we will have given sin no foothold.
Jesus’ giving of the great commission is but a few chapters later, and here Jesus says,
“All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always even to the end of the age.” Matthew 28:18b-20
So we are to love God with all our heart, soul, and mind. Furthermore, we are to make disciples of all the nations teaching them to obey Jesus’ commands and baptize them in the name of our Trinitarian God. You might call this our purpose and our mission. Our purpose is to love God, and our mission is to make disciples. Everything we do ought to be run through these filters. Does it help me love God? Does this demonstrate a love for God? Does this make disciples? Am I in a position to teach others about, or point them to, Jesus?
Now to bring this back around to my attitude about church. If I am to be loving God and others, and making disciples…how in the world can I follow this thought process and end up in a place where I am looking for a church to meet my needs or find a place where I am moved or uplifted? When did the focus shift to me? So God chooses to save me for His glory, gives me a mission to reach others that is rooted in a love for Him and for those in need of reaching, and somehow church is about me? How does that work? It doesn’t. Why would you look for a church that makes you comfortable? Paul says in 1 Corinthians 14:26 that all things in relation to our dealings with the body of Christ, including it’s corporate meeting,  are to “be done for edification.” Not the glory of me. Not the comfort of me. The good of others. Paul in this spot is coming off of three chapters of teaching the Corinthian church about spiritual gifts and reminding them that they are all part of one body, and that each of them has a responsibility and an obligation to use their spiritual gifts for others good and God’s glory. It really is selfish robbery of me to walk into church week after week, “be fed”, and leave without doing anything to build up and edify the other parts body. If your right hand decided to call in sick to work one day it would be a very inconvenient day for you. If it quit working entirely you would be at a place where you might be better off to have it amputated and have a prosthetic put on in it’s place, rather than continuing to nourish it by allowing it to still be attached. Are you a lively hand, or a dead one? Do I go to church in order to meet with others and praise God, with the intention of using my gifts to aid the body, or simply to get my weekly feeding or emotional high so that I can leave?
Secondly, to those who put a service together…this part will be shorter. But are people challenged to use their gifts? Is there opportunity in the church for the exercise of people’s gifts, or is there an “in” crowd who gets called upon for all the work?
Furthermore, is the service structured and oriented in such a way as to point the people to God, or does it focus on them? To be sure, our response to God needs to be addressed, but our response will not be right or proper if there is not due attention given to the character and nature of our Lord.

All of this is said in realization that church is more than a weekly service. There are many places to exercise one’s gifting outside the walls of the church. Not all search for comfort is evil; it might even be okay to have an espresso machine on the back wall. This rambling post is merely meant to pose a question. Where is our focus? Do we come to church to be entertained, to feel comfortable, to be moved, to be fed? We shouldn’t. We should be gathering to join with other believers in focusing on our God. To worship him for who He is. In this our hope ought to be that He is glorified, and that others are edified. Church isn’t a place where I go to get satisfied by God-being the church is something we do because we are satisfied in God!

October 17, 2011

Fat Christians

Let me open with this disclaimer-I am in no way referring to the physical fitness (or obvious lack thereof) of many Christians. That’s another blog for another day. I honestly don’t know if I’ll ever get to that one, I’ll have to be getting pretty low on subjects to write about.
So, if I use the term “Fat Christians,” what am I talking about? Well, if I were clever like Pastor Todd over in Harrison, I’d turn it into an acronym…however, I am not so clever, and am terrible with acronyms. I am speaking rather to the tendency many Christians have to spend all week gorging themselves on “Spiritual food,” and spend no time exercising any of it. I must admit here to a bit of cynicism on my part that really is probably unhealthy and possibly sinful. I find it very easy to poke holes in most anything churches do. The old joke is that Christian firing squads are usually aligned in circles, and the last thing I want to do is be a part of that. I really do have a love both for my home church and for the church in general, and want it to thrive, to grow, and to be an accurate and genuine reflection of Christ to this world. That being said…
As “good” (good being in quotation marks because, 1-we/they aren’t actually better people…2-I am not including meaning the casual church attendee; I mean to talk more specifically to those who might be deemed “core,” “active,” or “genuine” believer…3- those, and honestly, I just like quotation marks) Christians, we attend church, go to a Bible study (or three), and if we’re super spiritual we might even invite over another family from church for dinner occasionally. Am I about to tell you to quit going to church? No. That would be in direct contradiction with Hebrews 10:25. Arguing against the Bible seems like a bad idea. Nor do I even want to begin to suggest that having Christians over for dinner or studying the Bible are bad things. To the contrary. Far from it. These are all good things, Biblical things, things worth doing.
However-since when are any of these things the marks of being a “good Christian”? Okay, before we go any further, I need to do two things. One, I apologize for my ADD writing today. If you can follow this successfully, you either have a highly functioning brain or an attention disorder. Two, where did the term “good Christian” come from? I started this blog using it because it’s common. But in addition to being common, it really is idiotic. The terms “good” and “Christian” are antithetical. The whole point of the Gospel, Christianity’s central message, is that I am not good. Because I am not good, I offend God. Because I offend God, I cannot have a relationship with Him. Jesus comes and because He, unlike the rest of humanity, was in fact good, He through His substitutionary death can pay for my offense. He then also, because of his resurrection from the dead, can impute to me His righteousness, His goodness. I have no goodness of my own. God accepts me not because I am good, but because Jesus is good. That being said, let us continue.
What, Biblically is to mark the life of a believer? Well in Galatians 5:22-23, the fruit of the Spirit. “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness,  and self-control; against such things there is no law.” (yet another side note: this is not the “to-do” list you learned it was in Sunday school. It’s a fruit list. Pear trees don’t decide to grow pears, they just grow pears. And you can tell when you see pears hanging from it that it’s a pear tree. Anyhow.) So a Christian is going to exude things like love. Joy. Peace. Patience. Kindness. Goodness. Faithfulness. Self Control. Interesting.

If I have an unbelieving friend, neighbor, or family member and all they see of my “Christian life” is me running 800 different directions to stay busy, is that something attractive that points them to Jesus and makes them want to follow?
When a room full of Christians sit around with open Bibles and ask each other what this text means to them or how it makes them feel, does that encourage the body to embrace the objective truth and beauty of God’s Word and allow us to more deeply know and love our Savior?
Jesus lived a life both with religious people, teaching them, answering questions, and going to their homes, and with sinners, hanging out with them, teaching them, feeding them, and going to their parties. Why do we always try to make it one or the other?
I know this has been much meandering, but my point mainly is this: there is absolutely no point in knowing what the Bible says if we don’t intend to take it seriously and live it. We will be merely hearers, and so deceive ourselves, as James so nicely put it. So I think it’s time we take a long hard look at a lot of what we do, why we do it, how we do it, and if we really ought to do it. We need to quit making our programs, meetings, rituals, etc so sacred to us. Having your weekly Bible study isn’t life and death. Sharing Christ with someone going to Hell is. Going to Sunday School isn’t life and death. Mentoring a younger believer very well could be. We need to focus less on the stuff we do, and better understand why we do it. Because that will both help us improve what we ought to do, and eliminate what we ought to eliminate. Or to say it as I did at the start, we need to watch what we eat, eat a lot of healthy food, and exercise regularly. Don’t waste time with garbage, and get off the couch! End rant.

Okay, maybe not end. I may have more later when my brain is operational. (temporarily) end rant.

October 15, 2011

Thinking...first of a few posts on the subject.

So. It has been several months since my last blog post, a fact for which I feel I must apologize. I could throw out several excuses such as the busyness of getting married, a new school year, ministry, etc. However, I do not believe any of these is a sufficient reason for me to not be writing. I have been very convicted of late by my laziness and selfishness. If I am a member of the body of Christ, and writing is a gift He has given me (I assume it is, given past responses), then am I not obligated as a member of the body to use my gifting for the benefit of others? I most certainly am (see 1 Corinthians 12:7). So my lack of effort in this area appears to me to quite obviously be sin (James 4:17). I have not made a point of sharing the truth that God has shown me through His word, I have made little effort in this area of writing, or my life in general, of encouraging others and proclaiming the beauty of Christ and His Gospel. So this is my apology, and I intend to labor more earnestly in this area in the future. Please call me on it if I don’t.
To shift gears slightly, as you will see above, the name of this blog is Stopping to Think. Even the url cdubthinking.blogspot.com, contains a mention of that word Think. I have been, if you will allow the phrase, thinking much about thinking lately. Much of this has been spurred by my reading of John Piper’s book entitled, “Think: The Life of the Mind and the Love of God.” So before I continue, much of what I am about to say is in Piper’s book. I am inclined to word things differently, so I will probably quote little or none of it directly here, but many of the ideas are in fact borrowed.
In Christianity today, and I suppose at other times throughout history, there has been much “kick-back” against the place of thinking in our faith. We see faith and loving God as something that takes place merely in our heart, or our emotions, or our soul. But to bring in the realm of the mind, well, now you’ve just killed the whole premise of faith and love, right? Not quite. You see, we often look at faith and love as things which are entirely abstract, having no real grounding in this world of reality in which we live. Love is a mere emotion which comes and goes. Faith is an idea which makes us feel more secure either in our place here on earth, or in our eternal destiny. They are very fluid words in our culture, and have very little in the way of accepted and objective meaning. I can just as easily say I love my dog or have faith in the Seahawks as I can say that I love my wife or have faith that the airplane I’m riding in won’t fly apart 30,000 feet up. Same words; very different meaning. The problem we then encounter is we take our fluid interpretation of these words and attempt to apply them to Scripture. So, for example, when I am told to have faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, I can come at it with any of my various meanings for the word “faith.” Or if I am told to love the Lord my God, I have several different definitions of love from which to draw from. The problem when we do this is that we rip any objective meaning from the Scriptures and have begun the process of removing objective truth. Reading the Scriptures in this fashion makes understanding the true meaning absolutely impossible. And this is the problem many people will point out with the Bible-there are so many interpretations, who’s to know what’s right and what’s wrong?
But let us examine our idea here in a hypothetical conversation between my wife and I:

Andie: Will, please wash the dishes.
Will: What do you mean by the word, “wash”?
Andie: You know what I mean by the word wash, it means the same thing now as the last thirty times I used it saying I was going to wash the dishes!
Will: That’s all fine and wonderful dear, but while for you the word wash means to clean them thoroughly with soap and water and rinse them with clean water and then proceed to dry them to put them away; as you do regularly; my interpretation of that word means that if I place them outside and let the dog lick them and let the rain rinse them off that I have sufficiently executed my duties.

Now, if I do the dishes my way, have I done as I was asked? No, because Andie was the one asking. Therefore, she determines both the terms used and the meaning of those terms. My interpretation is of no value if it does not agree with her intended meaning.
So if I go to Scripture and read that I am to love the Lord my God; does my 21st Century interpretation of the word “love” affect what is meant by the writer of that verse? No. Rather, in order to understand the writer correctly, I need to attempt and understand what the original intent of the writer was. Scripture interprets Scripture, as Calvin would have it. So the question is this-do we read the Bible in order to understand what it means? So often I hear people say that we are to read the Bible because it is God’s roadmap for life, or an instruction book, or in a more secular sense, full of good teachings and sayings. However, Scripture itself attests to the fact that it is God’s inspired revelation of Himself. Is it useful for my life? Absolutely; in 2 Timothy the Apostle Paul makes that very clear. He also makes clear the point of the Scripture-to reveal to us Jesus Christ. The point of the Bible, God’s written Word,  is to turn our eyes to Jesus, the Word become flesh (John 1). So when we look at the Scripture we have to ask ourselves some questions as we wrestle through a text. We have to engage our brain. What is the first and greatest commandment? Matthew 22:37, “Jesus said to him, ‘You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’” Heart. Soul. Mind. Not one of the above. All of them. And all of them, in their entirety. All your heart, all your soul, all your mind. I will write soon about some specific ways to do this, but this is my challenge to you as you read the Word-think about it!
Psalm 119:15, “I will meditate on Your precepts, and contemplate Your ways.”

July 19, 2011

God With Us

I wrote this the other night as I stood overlooking the lake as the sun went down.  Just one of those things that stirs my affection for Christ.  Psalm 19:1-3 (ESV) "The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork. Day to day pours out speech, and night to night reveals knowledge. There is no speech, nor are there words, whose voice is not heard."


The still lake waters rest,
and I tonight, have been their guest
The calm and rippling surface tells
of my Lord, Emmanuel
Who in beginning, from on high
separated surface from the sky
He who made the seas
which stretch beyond what I can see
He who crafts the rivers rush
And with this mighty power could crush
This minuscule rebellious man 
who has spit on God's good plan
And yet He chooses not to kill
but instead, my heart He stills
He satisfies my longing heart
His love is one that never parts
This true and everlasting Word
who's living water has secured
For me, eternal grace and trust
He is, Emmanuel, the God with us.

June 09, 2011

Desperate for His Presence

Exodus 33:15-16b, "And he[Moses] said to him[God], “If your presence will not go with me, do not bring us up from here. For how shall it be known that I have found favor in your sight, I and your people? Is it not in your going with us..?"
I am reading through the Old Testament in my devotions, and this passage struck me the other day as I read.  For a full background it would be good for you to stop here and go read chapters 32 and 33 of Exodus, but I'll try to give you enough context here to grasp the depth of this statement.
Following Israel's rebellion against God in the building of the golden calf for worship (in chapter 32), God tells Moses to get out of the way.  God's wrath is burning hot against the nation of Israel, and He is going to wipe them out to punish their rebellion and start over with Moses.  But Moses pleads for His people, reasoning with God-to which God responds in mercy and relents from His wrath.  However, as we move in chapter 33 we see God is still not happy with these people, whom He refers to as "stiff-necked."  In fact we see as the story builds, that God tells Moses that He will send an angel ahead into the Promised Land to clear it out, and that Moses is to take them in-without the presence of God.  Why?  "Lest I consume you along the way."  God basically tells them that if He dwells in their presence any longer He will be driven to kill them because of their constant, stubborn rebellion. 
And what is Moses' response?  Does he say, "okay God, thanks for clearing the place out." ?  No, he pleads with God to the point where he straight up says that he doesn't want to be going anywhere without God.  "If your presence will not go with me, do not bring us up from here."  Moses longs to to be in God's presence so much that he is willing to sit in the desert, to forgoe the Promised Land if going there would mean losing God.  He didn't desire God for the cool stuff He gives, like a land flowing with milk and honey (insert here anything that you prefer over God-pleasure, money, sports, tv, school...the desire for an easy life) but rather, he wants God because he knows God alone satisfies.  Man is created for relationship with God, and our sin destroys that relationship.  Moses understands this and pleads with God not to remove His presence from His people.  Do we pray like that?  Do we have such a longing for God that we are willing to give up things that we have longed for in order to see our relationship with Him grow?  Do we pray prayers for ourselves and others that we would see the beauty and majesty of God, that we would be satisfied in Him-and Him alone?  This is what we need.  We don't need "our best life now."  We don't need "heaven" in some abstract, floating on clouds strumming a hapr sense.  We don't need a land flowing with milk and honey, a better job, or an easy life.  We need Jesus.  Jesus Himself said in John 17:24, "Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world."  Jesus prays what for us?  That we might be with Him and see His glory.  He is all we need.

May 14, 2011

Do we really treasure Christ?

In Matthew 13:44 Jesus says, "The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field." 
What is the kingdom of heaven?  Jesus many times refers to it as His kingdom, essentially it is where believers dwell with God.  And Jesus says that this is so valuable that he compares it to a treasure we would sell all of our possessions to obtain.  
Is this how we value our relationship with God?  Are we so caught with Him that we would consider Him our highest treasure?  Would we be willing to forsake our jobs, our money, our lives, our reputations, our friends, our family, our popularity, etc for the sake of gaining Christ?  Can we say with Paul in Philippians 3:7-8, "But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ."  
Paul was a highly educated dude, he had power, had prestige, and very likely had a good financial situation.  He calls himself a "Jew of Jews".  And he says all of this is rubbish compared to knowing Jesus.  Now a lot of us would say that, too.  But would we walk it like Paul did?  Cause all those things he had before...he lost.  He was beaten, jailed, shipwrecked, accused of being a liar and a swindler, and ultimately was beheaded-why?  Because he valued Christ and His kingdom and preached the Gospel.  
How do we value Jesus?  We treat our faith in Jesus as a "private matter."  We walk in habitual sin and call it "freedom."  Even our "church lives" are centered on satisfying our needs, we want to feel spiritual, we want to feel good, we want to know how God can help make us better people, we cry out "don't judge me!" when someone calls us to holiness.  We don't give to churches or missions because we don't want to lower our standard of living.  We don't give our time because we are too busy watching Sportscenter or our favorite sitcom.  We don't disciple others because there are "professional" ministers to do that.  We don't study our Bibles because it's too much work and besides, it is confusing anyway.
Really?  That's our treasure?  Sounds to me like it's a part of our lives, and a small one at that.  Is Sunday Morning Christianity compatible with Jesus radical call to discipleship?  Jesus says people were going to hate us for following Him...are we?  If no one can tell the difference between us and the world, are we really following Jesus?  And if we aren't following Jesus, do we really believe He is who He claims to be?  It seems pretty difficult to reconcile the idea that someone who claims to be God Himself could have followers or believers in Him who didn't treat Him as God and obey Him and live life the way He tells them to.  In fact when the Apostle Paul writes his letter to the Romans, he addresses the issue of claiming to be saved by Jesus and continuing in our old lifestyle.  His response?  "May it never be!"  James, the brother of Jesus, would call such a faith "dead."
So my question for you is this:  do you follow Jesus with your life, or only with your words?  And if your life does not reflect your words, do you really believe what you're saying?  


Let me be clear: our actions cannot, have not, and will not ever save us or earn us favor with God.  That is purchased for us solely by the blood of Jesus on the cross and made certain by His triumphant resurrection.  Ephesians 2:8-10 would tell us, "For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them."  He saves us by grace, for His glory.  And what does He call us to?  The good works He has prepared for us to walk in.  Not to earn favor.  Not to merit salvation.  But to model to the world that this Gospel is real.  To proclaim that Jesus is my greatest treasure.  To present my body as a living sacrifice, acceptable to God.  He has already accepted me in Christ, showing me His love..  I now offer myself to Him in love, not to earn what He has already given, but in response to it.  
If you believe Jesus, if you trust Jesus, you will follow Jesus.  Follow Jesus.

May 01, 2011

Paul's Theology of the Church.

This is a little paper I wrote for our BTC class over in Missoula.  Not super thorough, being as it is (sans the footnotes) under 500 words.  I do think it covers some things that are important to keep in mind though, so I thought I'd post it for y'all to take a look at, perhaps I will elaborate on it at some point.


Paul's Theology of the Church
A short summary of the writings of the Apostle Paul concerning the nature and function of the church.
Will Dole


-What is the church?
Paul states in Ephesians 5:25 that “Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.” Following this line of thought, the church would consist of all those for whom Christ died; “the community of all believers for all time.”[1] Paul uses several terms to describe these people throughout his epistles. These include (but are not limited to) saints[2], the called[3], believers[4], and collectively, the body[5] and God's dwelling place[6].
We may conclude from Paul's writings that the church is both universal and local in nature. We see in places such as Romans 16:5 and 1 Corinthians 16:19 that Paul refers to “churches” meeting in homes; we also see in the above quoted Ephesians 5:25 that the “church” that Jesus died for is wide reaching both in terms of time and geography as His sacrifice was “once for our sins[7].”


-What characterizes the church?
Paul tells us the church, or the body of Christ, will be characterized by a number of things. Three of these are worthy special note, those being:
1)Love, which is to be genuine[8], focused on others and their well being[9], and unifying[10]. This love is not something that is natural to us, but rather is something that we are taught by God Himself[11].
2)Unity, which as seen above, is made possible by love. The root of this unity is in the fact that we serve the same God, have the same Savior, share the same baptism, and believe by the same faith[12]. Further illustrating the importance of unity is Paul's repeated use of the term “body” in reference to the church[13].
3)The exercise of spiritual gifts, which is for the common good[14]. These gifts are diverse in nature[15], vary from believer to believer[16], and are to be exercised with the unity of the body and love for other believers in mind[17].


-What is the function of the church?
Before any specific discussion of the church's function is entered into, it is important to note that whatever the church is doing, it ought to be with the intention of bringing glory to God[18]. Paul tells us that the gathering of believers should be orderly[19], and led by elders[20], some of whom labor in preaching and teaching[21]. It will also be marked by singing[22], baptism of believers[23], and partaking of the Lord's Supper[24].
Ultimately the body is to do more than the simply gather together. Believers also ought to be lights in the world[25] seeking to reach others with the Gospel[26].


-In Summary.
God is creating for Himself a people, grafted together of both Jew and Gentiles[27], loved and predestined by Him before the foundation of the world to be conformed to the image of His Son[28], to the glory, and for the praise of, His name[29].




Footnotes:

1-Wayne Grudem, “Systematic Theology”, page 1238
2-Romans 1;7; 1 Corinthians 1:2; Ephesians 1:1; Colossians 1:2
3-Romans 8:28; Galatians 5:13; Ephesians 4:1; 2 Thessalonians 2:14
4-1 Thessalonians 1:7; 1 Timothy 4:12; Titus 1:6
5-1 Corinthians 12:12; Ephesians 3:6; Colossians 3:15
6-1 Corinthians 3:9; Ephesians 2:22
7-1 Peter 3:18
8-Romans 12:9
9-1 Corinthians 13:4-7
10-Colossians 3:14
11-1 Thessalonians 4:9
12-Ephesians 4:5,6
13-Romans 12:4; 1 Corinthians 12:12
14-1 Corinthians 12:7; 1 Corinthians 10:32-33
15-1 Corinthians 12:4-5
16-Romans 12:4,6; 1 Corinthians 12:14
17-1 Corinthians 12:20; 1 Corinthians 13:1
18-1 Corinthians 10:31; 2 Corinthians 6:16; Galatians 1:5; Ephesians 2:12
19-1 Corinthians 14:40
20-1 Timothy 5:17; Titus 1:5
21-1 Timothy 5:17; 2 Timothy 4:2; Titus 2:1
22-1 Corinthians 14:26; Colossians 3:16
23-Galatians 3:27; Ephesians 4:5; Colossians 2:12
24-1 Corinthians 11:26
25-Philippians 2:15
26-Romans 10:1; 1 Corinthians 10:33; Philippians 1:18
27-Romans 11:17
28-Romans 8:29-30; Ephesians 1:4-5
29-Romans 16:25-27; Galatians 1:4-5; Colossians 1:18

About Me

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I love Jesus, my wife, and my kids. Writing and teaching are two things I have a passion for. Gardening and fishing are cool, too. I blog @ willdole.com, you can reach me @ contact@willdole.com