Tuesday, March 31, 2015

IF SOMEONE POLLED your church with the question, “which preacher do you listen to most frequently,” how would you respond?  Some would point to their pastor. Others might suggest a minister they hear on the radio or by podcast. But if we are honest, none of these win the contest. Believe it or not, the individual who has the greatest access to our heart, the one who preaches to us most frequently, is not who we thin.  

It is the Devil.

Satan preaches a sophisticated, seductive, and manipulative message. He has one goal, to either convince you that the Lie is true, or to convince you that the Truth is a lie, and we are usually unaware that he is the one speaking. For example, he speaks to us through our newspapers, through television, blogs, email, the radio, popular music, the movie industry, magazines, our consciences, NFL commercials, and yes even at times through our friends. He is the “Prince of this world.” God has given him control of the media, and through this megaphone he preaches persuasively.

How do we know if we have been listening to the Devil’s lies? The fruits are ominous and varied. We become discouraged when life doesn’t go as we had planned. We feel unneeded guilt over a careless comment that hurt someone we love. We compare ourselves to others and then feel worthless. We give into hopelessness or fear as we observe cultural change. Some even yield to the despair that this life is all there is.  The Devil knows how to “preach it,” and we are often the victims.

But God has provided us with a mighty spiritual weapon. It is the gospel. Hidden in its recesses are crucial truths. When applied they shatter the Devil’s vicious deceits. Hidden in the Gospel argues that preaching these truths to yourself 24 x 7 matters greatly.

In other words, God does not want us to listen to ourselves or the Devil. Instead, he wants us to preach to ourselves.  Listening is passive. Preaching is active. For example, when I don’t feel loved by God, I preach the truth to myself. It transcends feelings. Before the foundation of the world God chose me and set his love upon me. He didn’t choose me because I performed, but despite the fact that I didn’t. He sent his Son to live a perfect life in my place, and to bear the wrath that I deserve at Calvary. It is rare when this exercise does not kindle feelings of being loved in my heart.

I wrote Hidden In the Gospel to help the average Christian cultivate this discipline of preaching the gospel to themselves. By the gospel I mean everything that God has done, or will do, to save us. It stretches from eternity past to eternity future. This gospel starts with election and ends with the new heavens and new earth. It includes the doctrines of election, Christ’s incarnation, his active obedience, penal substitutionary death, his resurrection, ascension, return for final judgment, and the creation of new heavens and earth. Hidden in these wonderful doctrines are truths, whose marvelous application each Christian needs to preach to themselves daily.

So, which preacher do you listen to most? Hopefully, it is not the Devil. I wrote Hidden In The Gospel to convince you that it should be yourself.  

Monday, March 16, 2015

Is Retirement A Twilight Zone?

The Useful Retiree
THE CHRISTIAN CHURCH has uncritically bought into the concept of retirement. This column and those that follow will take a critical look at this idea. 

Some have defined retirement as a twilight zone, a phase of life in which the individual is “too old to work, but too young to die.” There is some truth in this assessment. Eventually everyone becomes “too old to work,” at least full time. That is because advancing age means less energy and stamina. It means a loss of physical strength. It might also mean problems with hearing or vision. For some it might mean decreasing cognitive abilities.

But, it is also a stage of life were people are “too young to die.” One of the blessings (and also problems) with modern medicine is that it extends this period— sometimes far too long. Physically and mentally unable to work or contribute, the aging body just keeps ticking and ticking. For many “too young to die” us a euphemism for extended misery.

For example, my church just went Christmas caroling at a local “memory” facility for senior citizens. Those listening were anywhere from fifty on up. All suffered from either significant dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. In each case “too old to work but too young to die was appropriate.” It was depressing because we all realized that this might someday be either us or someone we loved. A healthy fifty year old friend whispered in my ear. “My wife and I have decided we would rather ‘go out’ on our motorcycle.”

I sympathized. 

God's people need to rethink the assumption of retirement at age 65 to decades of relaxation and leisure. for those healthy enough to contribute, is this a biblical lifestyle? 

In the coming columns I want to motivate those in their thirties to prepare for retirement differently. I want to motivate those in their fifties to think about retirement differently. I also want to motivate an army of seniors to give their fourth quarter to Christ and the advancement of his kingdom. The gospel promises that they will gain their lives to the degree that they are willing to lose them. 

What are your thoughts? 

Thursday, March 5, 2015

A New Approach to Death and Dying!

MY NINETY YEAR OLD MOTHER, like so many of our elderly, is now languishing in a "memory
facility" in Oregon. She is overweight, unable to walk, and slowly losing her mind. Dementia has changed her once sweet and amiable personality into someone largely unrecognizable to those who have known and loved her.

In the same way, my beloved mother in law suffered a stroke in her eighties. Modern technology was able to "bring her back" from a situation that would have killed her forty years ago . She lived five more years, but her physical condition was miserable. She was unable to talk, walk, or toilet herself. We were glad for one thing. It was a time when my wife, Judy, was able to share the gospel with her, but her quality of life was almost unbearable.

Modern medicine is wonderful, but it has one drawback. Sometimes it allows us to live longer than we want. The  treatment of our aged is a subject largely ignored, but it is one that is in great need of vigorous discussion.

In his New York Times best selling book, Being Mortal, Atul Gawande, a surgeon, had done us all a favor. He opens  with these words. "I learned about a lot of things in medical school, but mortality wasn’t one of them. Although I was given a dry, leathery corpse to dissect in my first term, that was solely a way to learn about human anatomy. Our textbooks had almost nothing on aging or frailty or dying. How the process unfolds, how people experience the end of their lives, and how it affects those around them seemed beside the point. The way we saw it, and the way our professors saw it, the purpose of medical schooling was to teach how to save lives, not how to tend to their demise."The rest of his book remedies this void. He writes at a sufficiently sophisticated level to appeal to medical professionals. But, he also writes for the average lay man like myself.

I for one, I am thankful that Gawande has projected this crucial subject for public discussion. This book include the importance of educating more physicians in gerontology, the need to know when to give up and embrace hospice care, why the elderly are so depressed in nursing homes, etc. He writes well. At times I was moved to tears.

One disclaimer. Although he doesn't like it, he is soft on the subject of physicians assisted suicide. But the good in this book greatly outweighs the bad.  I heartily recommend it anyway.