Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Doctrine? Not Important – Apparently

Over the past few months I’ve been thinking about folks I know who are looking for a church to attend. As I’ve listened to them describe their search I’ve heard about music and preaching and friendliness and outreach; but one thing I’ve not heard one person discuss is doctrine – what this or that church actually believes.

As I’ve checked out church websites I’ve also been struck by the absence of clear statements of doctrine. I’ve also noticed that many churches don’t even have their denominational affiliation on their website – making it more difficult to discover what a church actually believes.

If we’re going for the lowest common denominator it’s only a matter of time before we get there – and what will we have then? Nothing.

Monday, April 29, 2013

The Velvet Prison

The Velvet Prison takes many forms; the consumerization of Christianity (that’s when church and Jesus is all about me), the privatization of religion (for “religion” read “Christianity”), the reigning values (to echo Francis Schaffer) of personal peace and affluence), and Biblical illiteracy within the professing church, to name but a few.

When I hear well-meaning friends predict with assurance that a time of physical persecution will come in the West I can only ask, “Why? Why would anyone have any need to physically persecute people who are already in prison? We are just like the world, we may say we are followers of Jesus Christ but our actions are not in harmony with our words. We play by the world’s rules.”

I recently had a conversation with a coworker that went something like this:

“Frank, it seems that when you are around me that you are a bit nervous.”

“Well Bob, I’m not sure how to act.”

“Why is that Frank?”

“Sometimes I want to say, ‘Praise the Lord it’s good to see you’, but I know that you are not supposed to bring religion into the workplace.”

I may have previously shared about knowing a hospice worker who would not share Jesus with dying people because it was against company policy. While I’m thankful to say that she eventually changed her mind, that remains one of my all-time great examples of what has happened to the way we think and the way we view the lordship of Jesus Christ – His lordship is trumped, more often than not, by the world.

One need not put people in physical prison if you already control their minds and actions – let them feed and clothe and house themselves as long as you control their minds and actions.

I shared a bit with my coworker about winsome and sensitive expression of faith at work and I’ll have some follow-up conversations. Yes, I have been embarrassed by Christian coworkers who are more Tabasco Sauce at work than salt and light, and I have been embarrassed by the work ethic of Christians from time-to-time; but I have also seen many wonderful Christian witnesses in the marketplace that have been characterized by love and concern for others and by a clear articulation of the Gospel in words as well as deeds – contrary to some, we need both – there is no Biblical way around it. Jesus talks about those who are ashamed of Me and My words.

The First Century proclamation of the Gospel contains the declaration that Jesus is Lord, that He has all power and authority, that He is the Son of God and that our citizenship is in heaven. To the First Century hearer in the Roman Empire this proclamation is in juxtaposition to the claims of the Emperor and his empire – for the Emperor claimed to have all power and authority, he claimed to be a son of god, and the empire claimed all the loyalty of its citizens. The early Christians knew that they could have but one lord, I wonder if we know that?

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Psalm 24

The earth is Yahweh’s, and all its fullness, the world, and those who dwell in it. For He has founded it upon the seas and established it upon the rivers.

Fact: The earth is God’s.

Fact: We all belong to Him.

Fact: God made the earth and all that is upon it.

There is a “but”, but the “but” doesn’t change the facts. The “but” is: But we have rebelled against God, we have joined the ranks of the enemy. Because of this the psalmist writes:

Who may ascend into the hill of Yahweh? And who may stand in His holy place? He who has clean hands and a pure heart, who has not lifted up his soul to falsehood and has not sworn deceitfully. He shall receive a blessing from Yahweh and righteousness from the God of his salvation. This is the generation of those who seek Him, who seek Your face – even Jacob.

Yet there is a “but” beyond the “but” of rebellion, it is but “God so loved the world”; while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly…but God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:6, 8).

We can receive the love of God and be reconciled to Him in Jesus Christ or we can continue in rebellion. We can allow Jesus to cleanse us and purify our hearts and draw us into intimacy with the Trinity, or we can continue lives consumed in falsehood and deceit.

Jesus says, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied…Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God (Matthew 5:6, 8). There is a generation, a people, who seek the face of God; this is not a generation in a typical chronological sense, that is it is not confined to a 30 or 40 or 50 year period, but it is rather a generation birthed in God in Christ that transcends time and space and is on pilgrimage to the hill of Yahweh, to His holy place. In a world of smoke and mirrors, of vanity and deceit, this generation renounces “self” and takes up its cross and follows Jesus – it states in word and deed that its citizenship is in heaven and that it is looking for Jesus (Philippians 3:20 – 21). This generation knows that all that is and all that will be exists for the glory of God and that a day will come when all will acknowledge Jesus Christ as Lord (Philippians 2:9-11). This generation knows that the King of Glory (Psalm 24:7-10) comes today and is coming tomorrow.

This is a good day for us to lift up our heads and our gates that the King of glory may come in.

Monday, April 22, 2013

God Speaks, But Do We Listen?

This is another reflection from my friend Bill. 

God speaks to all of us and if we are willing to listen and obey amazing things will happen.  It is amazing how a simple prayer that I prayed for my mom to have peace was answered.

In early December 991 I was at home with my wife and children when God laid on my heart the need to go and see my mom.  When I told my wife she said, “Then go.”  I packed a few things, made flight arrangements, and flew to Bossier City, LA. 

Upon arrival I went to my sister’s house and then went to see my mom at the nursing home.  What I saw when I got to her room broke my heart.  The door to her room was open and she was sitting in a chair facing the door with no clothes on.  Thank God she did not know who I was or the fact that she was sitting there naked.  After letting the staff know how angry I was because of the lack of care for my mom, I left.

The next day I went back and, to my amazement, she knew me and was excited to see me.  We sat and talked and, at one point, she told me how unhappy she was about having hurt other people.  I asked her if she had ever asked God to forgive her and she said, “I think so.”  She also said she was very sorry for all the bad things she had done to my sister.  I asked her the same question – if she had asked God to forgive her.  She replied, “I think so.”

I said, “Mom, would you like to pray now and ask God for forgiveness and ask Jesus to come into your heart as your Savior?”  She said she would like to.

We prayed together and she asked for forgiveness and she asked Jesus to be her Savior.  We talked a little longer and I left.  The next day when I went to see her she had no idea who I was.

Two weeks after I returned home my sister called to let me know that Mom had passed away.  I hung up the phone and cried while telling my wife.  But then I stopped and told her that I wasn’t sad, that my tears were tears of joy and thankfulness.  You see, God had used me to give my mom the greatest gift of all:  “Eternal Life and Happiness with Her Savior.”

God is speaking; are we listening and obeying?

Comment from Bob: Many of us have relational barriers in our lives, Bill was willing to cross a barrier that many of us would not attempt - I think he could only do this because of prayer, listening, and a willingness to obey in the face of the risk of rejection. If we aren't praying then we won't have answers that we can listen for and commands to obey. Hearing from God is great but it is not enough, we need to obey - Bill had to get on a plane and fly to another state, then when his mom did not at first recognize him he couldn't give up, he had to go back the next day. No doubt seeing his mom and his sister brought back unpleasant memories, but he chose to obey, to reach out to his mom in Christ - we never know what will happen when we continue in prayer and intercession for others - even others who we have a "history" with.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Meditations on 1 John: XXI

No one who abides in Him sins; no one who sins has seen Him or knows Him…No one who is born of God practices sin, because His seed abides him; and he cannot sin, because he is born of God… [1 John 3:6, 9].

Continuing our reflection on the word “abide” in John’s first letter:

We abide in Christ and the seed of God abides in us. While we will pick this passage back up in a future post, in our survey of the word “abide” in John’s letter we see that as we abide in Christ and as the seed of God abides in us that we are delivered from practicing sin as a way of life – in verse 5 John writes, You know that He appeared in order to take away sins; and in Him there is no sin.

That John is not talking about instantaneous perfection is evident from 1:9 – 2:1: If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous…

From a general focus on righteousness and sin John moves to a specific focus on love and hate: He who does not love his brother abides in death. Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer; and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him (3:14 – 15). Yes, if we hate we abide in death, but not hating is not enough! We are called positively to love for he who does not love his brother abides in death. We may want to be left alone and to leave others alone – but that is not enough! It is not enough to harbor no ill will or hate, it is not enough simply to do no wrong to others – we are called to love others and not to love is to abide in death.

The sin of commission may be obvious – to hate is evidence of not having eternal life abiding in us; but is the sin of omission obvious? Is it obvious that not loving our brothers and sisters is evidence that we are abiding in death?
John hones in on the subject by asking: But whoever has the world’s goods, and sees his brother in need and closes his heart (bowels of compassion) against him, how does the love of God abide in him? Perhaps we would like John to stop before he arrives at this point. Is it not enough not to hate, not to harbor ill will, not to do no harm to others? Why must John press the point that we are to love others? And then why must John insist on action? If seeing a brother in need means that I must give to that brother out of my resources (and maybe without a tax deduction!) then it is better that I not have relationships that may cost me not only time and energy but also financial resources – or so we might reason. Go away John!
The standard John sets in found in verse 16: We know love by this, that He laid down His life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. This is, of course, in line with the even as motif of John’s Gospel and his letters: we are to walk in the light even as He is in the light, we are to do righteousness even as He does righteousness, we are to love one another even as He loves us, as the Father has sent Jesus even so Jesus sends us – because Christ abides in us and we abide in Christ we are to live as Christ.
Chapter 3 concludes with two more abides: The one who keeps His commandments abides in Him, and He in him. We know by this that He abides in us, by the Spirit whom He has given us.
Our life in the Trinity is to be one of abiding, of union with God in and through Jesus Christ. This is to be, to borrow a phrase from Watchman Nee, The Normal Christian Life.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Psalm 23

Psalm 23 is a life-long companion. I can’t recall a time when I didn’t know it, though I can recall times when I didn’t know it. My mother must have recited the Psalm frequently for it to have been embedded in my mind, while I have no distinct memory of her doing so, it must have been so for I knew it from my earliest memories. From those early years it has been comforting; its words, its cadence, its story of assurance and of a journey well ended.

While rote familiarity may breed a lack of appreciation for this Psalm (though I recoil at such a prospect), intimacy with Psalm 23 beckons us into a lifelong relationship with our Good Shepherd. It is a Psalm that can be with us whatever our circumstances, whether we are high or low, anxious or tranquil, sick or healthy, in the prime of life or preparing to turn the last page. There is a sense in which these six verses say all that need be said about Yahweh’s love and faithfulness to His people, all that need be added is the Good Shepherd of John Chapter 10 – the Good Shepherd lays down His life for His sheep. What love, what care, what assurance we have that our Good Shepherd loves and cares for us, that He never leaves us or forsakes us, that He is ever with us, actively protecting us, covering us with His Presence, enveloping us in Himself.

Psalm 23 is a good place to live. For those who have yet to learn to meditate in the Law of Yahweh (Psalm 1) Psalm 23 is a good place to begin. For others who know not how to abide in the Vine (John 15) this Psalm is a good portal through which to enter with heart and mind. Are there some who struggle to pray? Let them pray Psalm 23. Are there those who wrestle with beginning their day in Christ? Let them begin with Psalm 23. Does anxiety buffet a brother or sister? Let such a one pause and meditate and evoke Psalm 23.

We see the span of Scripture from Eden to the New Jerusalem in this Psalm, and we see our lives from birth to death and beyond – it is a covenant Psalm about the covenant God and His people, and it is a Psalm about the covenant God who is the Good Shepherd who cares and seeks and loves not only the flock as a whole, but every individual sheep who He calls by name.

…he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out…the sheep follow him because they know his voice…I am the Good Shepherd; the Good Shepherd lays down His life for the sheep…and I lay down My life for the sheep – John 10.

What man among you, if he has a hundred sheep and has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open pasture and go after the one which is lost until he finds it? When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulder, rejoicing – Luke 15.