Thursday, September 12, 2013

Something worthy of posting

The story is told that Albert Einstein was once scheduled to speak at an event, but showed up and told the assembled crowd, "I have nothing to say. If in the future, I feel I have something to say, I will return and say it." He later did return and make a speech, when he felt he had something to contribute.Not that I have Einstein's intellect, but I have struggled to have something worth saying in this space for the last little bit. I've wanted to have something to contribute which would be uplifting and encouraging when the darkness seems to be spreading across our culture. I've been busy and thus tired and thus tending to depressive for too long. So rather than broadcast that, it seemed better to just be quiet.

But even when I feel pretty dark, God has been and will continue to work, both in me and in others. He is not limited by my moods, my schedule, or my energy level. Which encourages me. If life and godliness depends upon me, I am already lost. Thank God it does not!

A few weeks ago, I had the privilege of baptizing my eldest son, John. He has shared his testimony with me and the church family and I believe his faith is both real and deep. Being baptized was simply the next step in his spiritual growth, but it was one I was blessed as both his dad and his pastor to be able to participate in. How good and gracious God has been to me!

Here's the video:


Tuesday, March 12, 2013

The Privilege to Preach

When I was a seminary student, my favorite classes were those with J. Scott Horrell and John Hannah. Dr. Horrell taught systematic theology and became a dear friend and mentor to me. He took Karen and me on our first missions trip (to Mozambique!), hosted us in his home, hired me as his grader, and generally loved me like Jesus. Of such men, the world is in woefully short supply. Dr. Hannah taught us all about ministry under the guise of teaching Church history. He and I were not friends, though I loved to listen to him and respected him deeply (and still do). There is so much that you are shoveling into your brain in those years, that it actually takes a few afterward to sort through it all. But one of the things that stands out in my memory is Dr. Hannah's comment: "Gentlemen, remember that preaching the Gospel is not just your responsibility. It is also your privilege."

I've turned that over and over in my mind in the years since, trying always to bear in mind that what I get to do as a pastor is a rare gift to be treasured, not a job, not a burden, nor something I do for which others should feel pity. I was reminded once again of the privilege this past weekend as I shared the Gospel at a Wild Game Feast in Buckeye, Arizona and then returned on a late night flight to preach 1 Corinthians 6:1-11 at home. What right do I have to stand before God's people and have them listen to me? None. What standing do I have that they should listen? None. And yet... And yet... God has called, I have obeyed, and He has blessed me with opportunities I could not imagine.

Here therefore is my prayer: "Lord, help me to remember the privilege, even on days when I am tired or frustrated, or depressed or even just bored. Help me remember that this is something I not only have to do, but something I get to do as well. Amen."

Three Cheers for Church Discipline

Those of you reading that title must think that I have perhaps: a) taken leave of my senses; b) become a hard-line fundie, who loves whacking people publicly for their sin; or c) become hopelessly irrelevant in a modern church-going context, since the disciplined person(s) will, likely as not, simply go on down the road to the next church, probably a larger one, at which they can disappear and not bear the stigma of facing correction. Nevertheless, though option a) always remains a strong contender, I'll assure you that none of the above is the case. Moreover, I think that the restoration of discipline to the appropriate place in the life of the Church is of supreme relevance, because I believe that is the distinct lack of it which is at the root of many of the Church's problems in our day.

So without further ado, here are three reasons to celebrate appropriate, restorative, biblical discipline by the Church:
  1.  Protection. One of the things which is even now wracking Roman Catholicism is the priestly sexual abuse scandal. Men who should have been immediately defrocked and removed from office were allowed to continue, even being moved from place to place so that they could find fresh victims. I am not so naive as to think such sins are strictly a Roman Catholic phenomenon(though this particular type is admittedly less common among evangelicals). Nevetheless, appropriate discipline serves to protect the people within the church from continually being victims of sin The good of the Body demands we protect its people.
  2.  Purification. Sin is like cancer, always seeking to spread to new people. Churches which never discipline or do not seriously pursue it soon find themselves wracked by divisions and problems. Sin can even become part of the culture of a church, such that no effective ministry can be done because so much time is dealing with the results of sinful behavior. 
  3.  Witness. Nothing is more thoroughly scandalous to me than the fact that, by many measures, Christians live their lives in a way indistinguishable from unbelievers. For example, the fact that many "Christians" watch porn and have sex outside of marriage leads many to think that Christians are not against sin, they are only against those forms of it in which they themselves are not participating. Thus we come across not as those who want to rescue people from sin and its results, death and hell, so much as self-righteous hypocrites who simply don't like other people and their sins. For our Gospel to be good news, it must be accompanied by the power of a life well-lived in submission to the Jesus we claim to follow. And our failure to discipline sin means that too many people see no distinction between the Christian life and their own as an unbeliever.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Sleep Sound in Jesus

I try to work my way through the whole Bible every year. I'm more successful some years than others, and I find it much easier to wade through Matthew, for example, than the more confrontational passages of, say, Isaiah or Ezekiel. But I know that is more of a problem with me than with the Word, because even when I read the long-familiar I find fresh words there (I wonder how much I would know of God's holiness if the prophets were as familiar as the Gospels?). It never ceases to amaze me that the Word is always new for those with eyes to see and ears to hear.

I must have had both as I read Psalm 3 a few weeks back, because it struck me then and I have been chewing on it since. It's a Psalm written by King David as he is quite literally fleeing for his life. His kingdom and all that he has built is burning down around him as his son Absalom overthrows him and sleeps with his wives, Shimei curses and throws rocks, and the man "after God's own heart" is back where he spent the last years of Saul's kingship-as an outlaw on the run. Yet David, like Paul and Silas years later, decides to sing to the Lord:
O Lord, how many are my foes!
Many are rising against me;
many are saying of my soul,
there is no salvation for him in God.

But you, O Lord, are a shield about me,
my glory, and the lifter of my head.
I cried aloud to the Lord,
and he answered me from his holy hill.

I lay down and slept;
I woke again, for the Lord sustained me.
I will not be afraid of many thousands of people
who have set themselves against me all around.
~Psalm 3:1-6 ESV
What struck me most was verse 5: "I lay down and slept; I woke again, for the Lord sustained me." In that act of sleeping, David demonstrates his faith. When I am filled with anxiety and fear, the one thing I don't do is sleep, or least, not well. Yet David sees in both his sleep and his awakening the Lord's care and protection. I confess that I spent too much of my pastoral life worrying and too little of it praying and then sleeping on it. Here is another area passage that I will have to grow into, because I know that if I really trusted the Lord as I exhort myself and others to do, that is exactly what my response would be-to seek the Lord in prayer and through the Word, and then to sleep soundly, knowing it He who keeps watch over me. And if David can do it when thousands literally were seeking his life, surely I, filled with the Holy Spirit, can do it when no one is?

Monday, December 24, 2012

At just the right time: A Christmas Meditation

The following is adapted from my Christmas Eve message:

We wait all year for Christmas to come and now, it’s almost here. Tomorrow is Christmas. It’s time to worship and celebrate the coming of the Son. Since I am tasked with a significant role each year in leading the celebrations that we make at Chilli Bible, I get the magnificent luxury, each year, of spending significant time thinking about the wonder and meaning of Christmas, about why we celebrate and how.

I really can’t quite imagine what it must have been like, all those generations back, to stand or kneel beside a manger in a little barn and, amidst the animals, the mess, and the exhausted but beaming mother and father, knowing that the little child staring up at you with eyes that can’t yet focus is nevertheless the Creator God and Savior of humanity. The awe of being there must have been intense. And the incongruity of seeing God in baby clothes, never mind seeing Him face-to-face, lying helpless in a feed trough, must have been almost literally mind-blowing, a reality too overwhelming for your brain circuits to process.

And yet…And yet, it was the fulfillment of centuries upon centuries of prophetic expectation, given with enough detail that every priest in the land knew the place and family of Messiah. Every pious Jew would have known he was coming and anticipated it with joy. But for many of the years of Israel’s long and troubled history, it must have been like living through a year in which Christmas might come, only to get to the end of the year and find that it didn’t come after all, and to think, “Maybe next year.” And then, finally, it did come, at long last.

In a verse we don’t normally associate with Christmas, the Apostle Paul describes Christmas this way:
But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. ~ Galatians 4:4-5 
 “When the fullness of time had come” carries with it the idea that Jesus didn’t just show up on the scene in some sort of grand and glorious divine surprise. He didn’t arrive because God had failed to account for humanity’s Fall into sinfulness and so God then decided to intervene on a whim. No, Jesus’ coming was part of God’s explicit plan from before there was a humanity, even before there was time itself. John tells us in Revelation that “the Lamb was slain before the foundation of the world” (Rev. 13:18). God knew that given the choice, humanity would reject the path of obedience and continued communion with Him and go its own way. He knew the Fall would happen. He planned therefore for the coming of the Messiah even before He made either people or the universe they would inhabit. And down through the years between the Fall and that first Christmas, the words of the prophets echoed closer and closer, like the footsteps of a man approaching down the tiles in a darkened hallway, until finally, he stepped into the light at just the right time, in accordance with all that God was doing in His grand plan and in a way that would make his arrival both unmistakable and fulfill all the prophecies He had sent to His prophets.

 And Paul reminds us here in Galatians 4 that "God sent forth His own Son." Jesus was not a mere man, specially empowered by God to fulfill certain tasks and purposes, like Moses or Joshua or David or Abraham. No, he was a man, but far more than that. He was the actual incarnation of the Second Person of the Triune God. He is God in the flesh, Deity with a fingerprint and toenails and taste buds. He was "born of woman, just like every human being, so that He might share their nature and thus be capable of bearing their sin, for as Gregory of Nazianzus taught centuries ago, “what is not assumed is not healed.” He had to be fully God to be capable of saving all humanity by his death. He had to be fully human to be a perfect substitute and sacrifice for human sin. Thus God took on a fully human nature.

He lived, as Paul says, “under the law,” meaning he was fully subject to God’s law and the penalties those who violated it incurred. The fact that He is God could allow Him no “King’s X,” no special exemption from the requirements that He, as God, had placed on His creatures once He became one of them. He had to keep the Sabbath, just as He required of His people. He had to be circumcised, observe the feasts, make the sacrifices required on the appointed days, attend worship at the synagogues and the Temple. He had to conduct himself in relationship with others just as He required of us. And when he was falsely accused of blasphemy, which was the crime for which he was eventually wrongfully condemned to death, He had to go the cross. It was the penalty God had decreed, so it was the penalty His Son paid. Jesus lived his life, from beginning to end, subject to God’s law.

And then as you look at this verse, you see that marvelous transition, that magnificent conjunction, which in Greek is the little word “hina,” but appears in the ESV simply as “to” and “so that.” If you’re in a scholarly mood, it’s a conjunction giving the purpose or result of God’s plan being carried out, which is: “to redeem those under the law so that we might receive adoption as sons.” Under the terms of the divine Law, we all stand condemned. We all justly deserve death for the rebellion and treason against the God who made us that we commit every time we sin by word, thought, or deed. So God sent the Son to redeem us, to purchase our lives with His, to satisfy the righteous requirement of the Law in a way that does not result in our death, but in His. And he did all these things, according to His magnificent sovereign plan so that we might receive adoption as sons. God might have redeemed us in order to make us servants. He might have simply set us free to follow our own desires, but freed from the penalty of sin, like a banker who cancels a debt but doesn’t want much to do with you afterward. Instead, he redeemed us to make us His sons! He sent the Son to His death so that we could be joint heirs of all that He possesses and all that He is with His only begotten Son, Jesus.

What can we say? How can we ever exhaust the need for worship of the God who has worked such great salvation for us? Though we celebrate Christmas once a year, every day ought, for the Christian to be in some ways, a Christmas celebration; a life lived in light of the fact that Jesus Christ came into the world to save us from sin and death by becoming sin and tasting death for us. Thus, we have life that is truly life. Thus we have reason to say to one another today, and every day, “Merry Christmas.”

Merry Christmas to you. Merry Christmas!

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Christmas in Newtown

Last week, a murderer went on a rampage in a locked schoolhouse, killing 26 people before turning the gun on himself. And whenever things like this happen, the question is always asked: “Where was God?” That question is often asked, but it is seldom given a good answer. As a Christian, I believe that the Bible provides good answers to many of life's toughest questions, including that one. And one of the answers is provides, believe it or not, is Christmas. I can tell you that I love Christmas as much as the next guy. I love the stockings, the tree, the candy, the spiral hams, the parties, the Christmas music, the gifts, the cold and snow that hopefully will show up then. I love it all! I’m still a big kid, basically, when it comes to Christmas.

But Christmas, as anyone who has listened to Linus each year could tell you, isn’t really about any of those things, nice as they are. What it’s really about is how the God who made us loved us and invaded our world. He came on a rescue mission to put right the world we broke (and continue to break) and to do it in a way that doesn’t involve destroying all of us for the evil that lurks in our hearts. Christmas is about that, about God not only loving us, but loving us enough to wade into the darkness of this world and take that very darkness and the punishment it justly deserves upon Himself so that the world and its people would be healed from it and restored to relationship with Him. Christmas is about how God isn’t removed, watching us from a distance, like some absentee landlord, but willing to wade into the muck and mire of human life as one of us to deliver us from the destruction we by nature bring on ourselves and everyone around us.

Ever since the Fall in the Garden, every single human human being has flung himself or herself headlong into rebellion against God. That rebellion takes many forms, from pride, coveting, lust, greed, and other common, nigh unto "respectable" sins, to the darker ones like hatred, immorality, wrath, idolatry, rage, adultery, murder, and yes, schoolhouse shootings. All of it is fruit from the same tree, which is a twisted heart, bent away from God. Which is why whatever "solutions" we come up with to prevent the next example of this kind of evil may succeed in the short run, but will not eliminate evil from our society. As Solzhenitsyn said, "the line of good and evil cuts through every human heart. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?" There are only two solutions: either eliminate all the dark hearted people (which is all of us!) or change the hearts of men.Without changed hearts, we will never run out of tragedies and examples of the deep evil present within human beings. Next week will probably bring another one. In fact, so will a good look in the mirror.

But the joy of Christmas is that Jesus came, just like God promised over and over and over through the Hebrew Scriptures. He is the Seed of the Woman, the son of Judah, the true Passover Lamb, the son of David, the Son of God, who had a ministry that began Galilee and ended with his rejection and death. God used heinous evil committed against His own son to bring restoration from and forgiveness for evil to all who will trust in Him. That is what Christmas is all about. That is the reason we celebrate Jesus’ birth, the certain knowledge that all the things in the world that are not as they should be will not always be the way they are. Indeed, we human beings, who have the most the do with the reason the world is the way it is, have the opportunity to be made right. That is God’s reason for Christmas, His Christmas gift to us.