Sunday, September 30, 2012

How We Relate to the Church is How We Relate to Jesus!

Our generation celebrates selfish individualism. “Since the rise of  modern individualism," notes Dr. Graham Cole, "it comes as so natural in the West to think first of the atom and next, if at all, of the molecule. Or put another way, we concern ourselves with the one and next, if at all, with the many. However, as we shall see, the accent in the scriptural revelation is otherwise. God is making a people for himself.”[1]

This was Jesus perspective. The way we relate to the church, specifically local identifiable churches, is how we relate to Christ.  When Jesus revealed himself to Paul he said,  “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” And [Saul]  said, “Who are you, Lord?” And he said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting" (Acts 9:4–5). Note the sequence of thought. Paul was aggressively persecuting the early church. But Jesus said it was really himself that Paul was persecuting. "Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting ME?"

Brothers and sister, how we relate to the local church is how we relate to Jesus. At least that is way he sees it. 

[1] Graham Cole, He Who Gives Life, (Wheaton: Crossway 2007) pg 35

Monday, September 24, 2012

What Sexual Sins Should You Confess to Your Spouse?

Often married people, or those engaged, feel guilt about past sexual sin. They wonder just how much they should  tell their spouse or fiancĂ©? Some wonder whether to say anything at all.

Here is a helpful post from the Christian Counseling and Education Foundation (CCEF) that addresses this important subject. I think you will find it helpful.

Monday, September 17, 2012

God's Word Will Test You!

Joseph's Dream
Psalm 105:19 says "The word of the Lord tested [Joseph]." What does the Psalmist mean? In what way did the Word of God test Joseph?

At age 18 Joseph had two dreams. He saw his brothers and his parents bowing down to him. Then trouble came. Joseph shared the dream with his brothers. They became jealous and sold him to Ishmaelite traders who sold him to an Egyptian Lord, Potiphar. Joseph was now a slave. More abuse followed, and Joseph ended up a in an Egyptian dungeon. All of the while the Word of God was "testing" him.

The "word of God" was the dreams given to Joseph in his youth. Would he cling by faith to the hope communicated to him by God, or would he give into his miserable circumstances? Over twenty years passed. Eventually, God exalted Joseph to Pharaoh's right hand. His long-forgotten brothers came looking for food. Not recognizing Joseph, but acknowledging his authority, the dream came to fulfillment. They bowed down to him. They acknowledged his Lordship.

In the same way, the word of God will test you and I. What has God promised? He makes his promises knowing every detail of our future. As with Joseph, no event happens by accident. Sometimes decades pass. We go through storms and problems that test our confidence in God's Word. But, if God has spoken to us, his word will eventually come to pass. In the meantime, the word of God, his promise, is testing us. Will we be faithful? Will we trust God? Will we cling to his promises?

Let's ask God for faith to do so.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Are You Really Born Again?

Love is the test of Spiritual authenticity. In other words, a growing ability to love with God's love authenticates our New Birth. 

Many things in life are difficult to discern. From the outside they look the same––fool’s gold, fake Gucci purses, counterfeit $100 bills. The Christian life works the same way. The apostle John wants us to know that there is a fool proof test of New Birth––growing capacity to love.

This my surprise you. If we are saved by faith alone through grace alone how can love be the test? Listen to 1 John 3:14, "We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brothers. Whoever does not love abides in death." 

Why is love the test? Here is the answer. New Birth means “spiritual life.” It is resurrection, a passing from death to life. This begs the question, "what does it mean to be spiritually alive?" “Spiritual life” means that God has opened the lines of communication with us. God speaks to us. What does God communicate to all those truly born again? It is something unique, something that sets them apart. It indicates that they belong to him. 

Note: God does communicates with some unbelievers, i.e. Nebuchadnezzar, Balaam, Judas, etc. But there is one special subject he never opens to unbelievers. That subject sets believers apart. It also motivates love. 

Here is the unique subject. To the regenerate, God communicates the glory of God in the face of Christ (2 Cor. 4:6). Another way to say this is that God reveals his goodness to them.

Where do we see this goodness? The glory of God in the face of Christ is most clearly revealed in the cross of Christ. This knowledge usually comes in ever deepening waves. The effects are manifold and go on forever. This is the assumption behind these statements by the apostle, John. 

1 John 2:9–10 "Whoever says he is in the light and hates his brother is still in darkness.  Whoever loves his brother abides in the light, and in him there is no cause for stumbling." 

1 John 4:7–8 "Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love." 

Are you growing in love? 

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Do you Serve the Work of the Lord or the Lord of the Work?

Serving the Work of the Lord
Any Christian ministry, whether part time, full time, or volunteer, can be taxing. I know. I was the owner of a small business for 25 years. I have been a full time pastor for 11 years,  and in my experience, full time ministry is much more demanding than owning and operating a small business. 

This presents us with the very real possibility of losing sight of Christ even while we are engaged in "serving him." This was the experience of the church at Ephesus. “‘I know your works," Jesus warned, "your toil and your patient endurance, and how you cannot bear with those who are evil, but have tested those who call themselves apostles and are not, and found them to be false. I know you are enduring patiently and bearing up for my name’s sake, and you have not grown weary. But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first" (Revelation 2:2–4). 

Notice Jesus commends them for their works. They are working hard. They are pushing themselves. They are doing the work of the Lord. 

But Jesus has a criticism. The have abandoned their first love. In the hustle and bustle of active ministry they have lost the tender intimacy of their relationship with God the Father. They have become man-centered rather than God-centered. They cannot find time for Bible study and prayer. They do not meditate on God's Word throughout the day. What is the cause? Idolatry! They are serving the work of the Lord not the Lord of the work. 

This is a very real temptation for both myself and every Christian reading this blog. Jesus gives us the solution. It is simple. “Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent" (Revelation 2:5). 

Monday, September 10, 2012

Do You Understand Our Staggering Hope?

Before he ascended into Heaven, Jesus spent forty days with his disciples teaching them about the Kingdom of God. 

A short time later Peter had an opportunity to share the gospel with a large group of Jews. Here is what he said. It gives us a glimpse of Jesus' pre-ascension instructions to Peter. 

“Repent therefore, and turn back, that your sins may be blotted out, that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that he may send the Christ appointed for you, Jesus, whom heaven must receive until the time for restoring all the things about which God spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets long ago" (Acts 3:19–21). 

"Heaven must receive Jesus until the time for restoring all things." What did Peter mean by that? Here is what he meant. Christ's second coming will mean a "restoration" of "all things" (the cosmos) back to its pre-fall condition. That means immortality––specifically no death, no sickness, no aging, or physical deterioration. It means universal holiness––specifically a new world populated by Saints with resurrection bodies, unable to sin, filled with the love of God, eager to pour out their lives in service for each other, unable to experience self pity, ungratefulness, or self-absorption. 

Most importantly, it means an eternity spent in the immediate presence of God. We shall see him face to face (Rev 22:4). 

For the sick, the depressed, the aged, the marginalized, the worried, those battling with internal sin, this is the best "News" anyone could possibly hear. This is what Paul anticipated when he wrote, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God" (Romans 8:18–19). 

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Does God wants to Communicate with You?

I am in the middle of The Theology of Jonathan Edwards  (Oxford) by McClymond and McDermott. Chapter nine makes the point that God is a Communicator, and the thing that God is most intent on communicating is his happiness (pg 130-31).

Is there anything we want more than happiness? God has hard-wired us to pursue our happiness. But here is the rub. Before conversion we pursue it in things, human relationships, "success," more money, etc. God has designed conversion to change all of that. At conversion God opens our eyes. We begin to see that relationship with God is our ultimate happiness, and that nothing else will ultimately satisfy. In fact, heaven is relationship with God. Wherever God is communicating his glory to a fortunate soul, that soul is participating in Heaven.

This communication from God about himself ruins us for this world. Afterwords, the world has little grip on us, for its power is the conviction that its allurements will ultimately satisfy. Here is how the authors sum up Edward's theology. "Revelation is not simply the impartation of knowledge or even happiness. It is participation in divine being itself. [Wow!]This is why Edwards preferred to speak of God's 'communication' of himself."

This is a long way from the average Evangelical's concept of New Birth and all that it entails. We try to fight the world's allurements with naked willpower. But God wants us to overcome it by the Holy Spirit's illumination. What the Holy Spirit always illuminates is the Glory of God in the face of Christ, and the place where that "illumination" is most apt to take place is at the foot of the cross.

So why does this matter? Pursue Christ! Read the Bible as if your life depended upon it. Ask the Father to send his Holy Spirit to you. Meditate on the glory of Christ throughout the day. Your happiness depends upon it.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Counter-Cultural Churches Flourish

In his book, Prophetic Untimeliness, author, Os Guinness makes the following important observation.

“Emphasize only the natural fit between the gospel and the spirit of our age and we will have an easy, comfortable gospel that is closer to our age than to the gospel—all answers to human aspirations, for example, and no mention of self-denial and sacrifice. But emphasize the difficult, the obscure, and even the repellant themes of the gospel, certain that they too are relevant even though we don’t know how, and we will remain true to the full gospel. And, surprisingly, we will be relevant not only to our own generation but also to the next, and the next, and the next.”[1] 

Guinness is right. The usual shrinkage in attendance and giving as a local church, or denomination, gives way to liberal theology, is prima facie testimony to his statement. For example, we bought our church building from an Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (ELCA) congregation. The congregation had shrunk down to about 30 people all over the age of 65. ELCA is the denomination that recently authorized the ordination of practicing homosexuals. True to form their once vibrant denomination is withering away. Why go to church if sin doesn't matter and everyone is going to heaven anyway? 

Our local ELCA congregation was suffering from the same problem. When I asked their pastor what he thought about penal substitution he respond, "What's that?" Nothing is more counter-cultural than a gospel focused on penal substitution. 

On the contrary, to the degree that a church is counter-cultural it will be strong, vibrant, and relevant. It will be filled with young and old, black and white, all set apart from the world, committed to the gospel, and willing to make large sacrifices to see it extended. 

[1] Guinness, Os, Prophetic Untimeliness, pg 20, (Grand Rapids, Baker, 2003)