Friday, January 2, 2015

An Old Worn Out NIV: On Personal Bible Reading

The greatest gift that was ever given to me is from God. It is given by His grace and through faith. It is salvation. And those of us who have this great gift are His workmanship; we are created in Jesus so that our lives would reflect God’s goodness and glory, rather than our sinfulness (Eph 2:8-10). Another great gift that was given to me came from my parents in 1982. It was purchased at the Bible Bookstore in Saint Helens. It is a brown NIV Bible with tiny print, and it was my first Bible. It went with me each Sunday as we met with the saints of Yankton Baptist Church. I read that little NIV a lot by myself. I remember reading Jesus’s sermon on the mount while sitting on my bed and struggling to fully comprehend it. 

Now, 32 years have gone by and not much has changed in my ability to read and quickly understand the Bible. Bible interpretation can be difficult; I suggest that one major reason why we don’t read the Bible routinely is because we often read it just for comprehension, like it were a textbook. We are, however, to read it in order to be fed by God. 

Bible reading, as Pastor Willard Fenderson aptly said, was not to master the Bible but that we would be mastered by it. When we read the Scriptures God shepherds us. For example, in our reading we might discover a sin we need to repent of, a truth that we need to learn, or a promise from God. Here, in Bible reading, we are fed by God Himself. Yahweh said it this way: 

“Be careful to follow every command I am giving you today, so that you may live and increase and may enter and possess the land the LORD promised on oath to your ancestors. Remember how the LORD your God led you all the way in the wilderness these forty years, to humble and test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands. 
He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your ancestors had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD. Your clothes did not wear out and your feet did not swell during these forty years. Know then in your heart that as a man disciplines his son, so the LORD your God disciplines you” (Deuteronomy 8:1-5). 

Jesus quoted a verse from the above passage, and note its context: “Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. The tempter came to him and said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.” Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God’” (Matthew 4:1-4). 

Yahweh said it, and Jesus said it too: God feeds us with the Bible, which brings life. The analogy teaches us that just as we need to be fed food to survive, we need to be fed the Scriptures to survive. Likewise, what happens to one who does not eat food also happens to one who is not fed the Holy Scriptures. Did you eat today? Did God feed you with His Bible? 

Therefore, based on this teaching from both Yahweh and Jesus, I suggest that you make Bible reading part of your daily routine just as you routinely eat breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Read your Bible to be fed. As good as devotional books can be, they cannot replace Holy Scripture, because devotionals are not God-breathed. Let the Bible be your primary food source. And if you do not have a Bible, please take a pew Bible. It is the church’s gift to you, and it is a great gift. 

Over the years I’ve received a lot of gifts, some good, others not so good. But the one that sits up on my shelf to this day is the brown NIV from my parents. 1982 was a long time ago but my Bible has not begun to rot or perish; the pages may be falling out, but I still get it down and read it. Even though I cannot fully comprehend it, God still masters me by it, and I am fed. “Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.” 

May God bless you in Christ Jesus our Savior!

Saturday, December 13, 2014

It's All Going to Burn: Reflections on Wealth, Health, and Prosperity

For the past eight years I've written a monthly devotional letter to the church where God has graciously placed me as pastor. I count it a privilege to write these, and by God's grace I've been able to write them most months. Please keep in mind that this post along with the majority of the others published on here were originally written to the saints at Prineville Community Church. And I'd like to thank my friend and elder for the title "It's All Going to Burn." It originated with him as he reminds me often that we need to keep our eyes on God in heaven, since most everything else is temporal. Further, thanks for reading and don't be afraid to leave a comment. Chris

Second Corinthians is one of the Apostle Paul’s most personal letters. In it he writes about the nature of Christian ministry, including the victory that God gives us in Christ (2:14-17) despite our suffering (4:8-18, 11:16-33). Those two things do not seem to go together, but Paul reasons that in Christ we truly win, even though we may look like we’re losing:

“Therefore we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day. For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal” (2 Cor 4:16-18). 

Decay harms everything but God, and though the world is trying to preserve everything, everything is still decaying. Your body is dying. However, Scripture tells us to not lose heart even though we are dying because Jesus rose from ultimate decay, and God promises that we too will live after our death (4:14). Christ’s resurrection gives us stamina or “heart” in life. But it is easy to forget truth that isn’t visible to us just yet. Just as it is easy to focus on our present difficulties, it is easy to forget to praise God for the greatest gift of all, eternal life in our Savior. I challenge you to praise Him for the things that are unseen, eternal, and unharmed by decay. 

Decay makes it hard to remember the things we cannot see, thus our applause and praise is often a result of getting new and shiny possessions. Months ago I was invited to speak at a community event. Everything was going okay until I began to wrap up my message; it was then that I spoke extemporaneously for three sentences. Speaking sentences that are not planned can be dangerous for preachers. We are God’s servants, not servants of our own mouths (2 Tim 4:1-2). But for a moment at this event I was a servant of my mouth, and I’m very ashamed. 
The words that came from my mouth weren’t inherently bad. I spoke of a visible thing that God gave to my family, not an eternal one. The room exploded into exuberant clapping and amens. I was shocked, blindsided, and left stammering for a minute. When my mind finally caught up with my mouth, I realized that even though God had given me this decaying thing, that He had not given that thing to all the applauders in the room. In fact, there were many believers in that room who go without it. They had prayed like me, but never received. I am deeply troubled at the amount of praise that shiny new visible stuff gets, especially when other Christians go without it. We tend to question our own faith when God gives a visible thing to a brother or sister but not to us. To be sure, I’ve doubted the genuineness of my faith in Christ because of the visible stuff that others get. At one point in my past I was angry. I thought, “Why is it that my brother can open a book to find a $100 gift but I can barely pay my rent?” Questions like this one along with foolish tests of God tend to make us wonder if we are honestly genuine Christians. Furthermore, I’m grievously troubled when I visit the bedside of a person who is near death to find them doubting their salvation since they are dying. They doubt because they were taught that if they had enough faith, God would give them health, and He hasn’t. Dear Christian, with all due respect, this teaching is terribly false and must be rejected.  

Setting false teaching aside, we must be sensitive toward the minds of other believers when we talk of our visible things. Our default mode is to assume that there is something wrong with us because God hasn’t given us the decaying visible stuff that He gives to others. But in comparison to the eternal and unseen things, who really wants the visible stuff? As I ponder this line of thinking one question comes to mind: 

• Would this sort of prosperity thinking work anywhere other than in 1st world countries like America? No! God didn’t prosper the early church with health and wealth. Except for John, all the Apostles were put to death. Paul suffered with his thorn in the flesh, although his faith was amazing (2 Cor. 12). Many Christians lost their homes and their jobs because of their strong and genuine faith in Christ; it was never the other way around (1 Peter 1-2).

I believe that we often praise Him for that which we see, and we often doubt Him when we don’t receive it. Sadly, the stuff which we can see that tends to make this life easier will burn up (1 Peter 3:10-12). On the other hand, may we never stop praising Him for the things that we can only see by faith, these are His priceless gifts that He gives to all who follow His Son, Jesus Christ.  

Lastly, I type all of this out with a repentant heart. I’m your pastor, and I need to grow. It is easy to allow my eyes to come off of the Lord, even for just three sentences while I’m speaking. Sadly, the fruit of a pastor’s words can lead to bad thinking in the church’s life. I pray that God will cause the people that heard me that day to forget what I said about the visible shiny thing, but to remember when I spoke His words concerning that which can only be seen by faith. Furthermore, may God richly bless you with invisible blessings as you draw near to Him this Advent season. May God allow you to speak of these things among your friends and family as you’re gathered together. Let’s praise Him for the best stuff, that is, the invisible, eternal things, that have no decay. 

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

A Word About The New Blog Title: "Letting Texts Talk"

"Letting Texts Talk" is a fitting name for this blog because my aim in life is to proclaim the Word of God. To let texts talk is what God has called me to do (2 Tim 4:1-2). Thus, the majority of the posts on this blog are not my own thoughts, but attempts to expose every person to the Word of God. And my hope is that all who read these posts will learn to tremble at His Word.

The new blog title, "Letting Texts Talk" is a quotation from Engaging The Written Word of God, by J. I. Packer, where he writes:

The church must be Word-oriented: that is, God's people must always be attentive and obedient to Scripture. Scripture is God's Word of constant address to them, and woe betide them if they disregard it (see 2 Kgs. 22:8-20; 2 Chr. 36:15-16; Isa. 1:19-20; Jer. 1:23-26; Rev. 2:4-7, 15-17, etc.). God's people must learn to 'tremble at his word' (Ezra 9:4; Isa. 66:5), listening, learning, and laying to heart; believing what he tells them, behaving as he directs them, and battling for his truth in a world that denies it.  
Preaching, as an activity of letting texts talk, alerts Christians to the fact that God is constantly addressing them and enforces the authority of Scripture over them. The church must live by God's Word as its necessary food and steer by that Word as its guiding star. Without preaching, however, it is not conceivable that this will be either seen or done (246). 

I heartily agree with J. I. Packer, and pray that the Lord would grant that more of our preaching would be “an activity of letting texts talk.” 

Saturday, November 1, 2014

On Thanksgiving (And The Civil War)

"Having said this, he took bread and gave thanks to God in the presence of all, and he broke it and began to eat" (Acts 27:35). 

The nights are cooler, the leaves are falling, and my dogs recently tasted pheasant feathers; Fall has begun. Fall brings Thanksgiving, which is only two days before the Civil War. Unfortunately, Beaver fans have to look back to 2007 to find a Civil War win. But if that is what it takes to muster up gratitude to Oregon State, I’ll take it.

Speaking of gratitude, I'd like to focus on giving thanks. First, I perceive a problem. For example, we often hear well meaning individuals say “have faith!” This statement makes us ask “have faith in what?” I’ve heard similar statements at Thanksgiving, for example, “Be thankful!” or “I’m thankful for life.” Friends, this is a time when Christians ought to be able to communicate clear gratitude to their God. God should receive thanks for what He has done in us, so that everyone at our Thanksgiving table can hear about our God.

Our God receives thanks in Acts 27:35 when Paul thanked Him directly among many other men. Notice that he does not thank the men who loaded the food onto the ship, nor the owners of the food, but God alone. Our gratitude must be given to someone, so I suggest that you give it first to God for all to hear. Let’s not leave the whole family in a fog as to whom you are thankful. Otherwise, they may assume that you are thankful to the earth, or to the turkey who gave its life so that they could eat. Let’s thank God directly to honor Him, and He will hear it.

Our God receives thanks in Acts 27:35 for what He has done. Paul, who had been shipwrecked, gave thanks for the food God provided. This reminds us of Jesus; He often paused in prayer to thank the Father for food. It is good to thank God before our Thanksgiving meal. But shouldn’t our gratitude extend beyond food? 1 Corinthians 1:4 says “I thank my God always concerning you for the grace of God which was given you in Christ Jesus.” And as we read further from verses 5 to 9 we notice that this church received much from God, so much that they had every gift (v. 7). God’s grace saved them and gave them all they needed, and for that Paul thanked God directly.

Lastly, our God should receive thanks for all things. Ephesians 5:18-21 says, “And do not get drunk with wine, for that is dissipation, but be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with you heart to the Lord; always giving thanks for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God, even the Father; and be subject to one another in the fear of Christ” (Ephesians 5:18-21). We who are in Christ must be thankful to God always and for everything. We must be thankful for the pain and the joy, the weakness and the strength because through it all we are made more like Christ. Now, let’s thank God that we don’t have to look back to 2007 to muster up gratitude toward Him, for His grace is apparent each day.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Sovereignty And Prayer

God’s sovereignty is striking, especially in regard to my prayers. Like getting hit by a right hook from George Foreman, God’s sovereignty can leave me in a daze. For some people God’s sovereignty renders prayer useless or at best puts someone into a cosmic stalemate with the Sovereign God. But I do not think that is true, because God’s sovereignty and prayer dovetail together nicely. We pray because God is sovereign. 

King Nebuchadnezzar may seem like an unlikely place to begin a study of God’s sovereignty, but we can learn much from this king. Nebuchadnezzar was a king with great pride. He attempted to receive worship that belonged to God alone. God humbled Nebuchadnezzar by taking away his kingdom, his throne, and even his sanity for a period of time. Through this, the king learned an important lesson about God: “But at the end of that period, I, Nebuchadnezzar, raised my eyes toward heaven and my reason returned to me, and I blessed the Most High and praised and honored Him who lives forever; For His dominion is an everlasting dominion, And His kingdom endures from generation to generation. All the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, But He does according to His will in the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of earth; And no one can ward off His hand Or say to Him, ‘What have You done?’” (Daniel 4:34-35). 

When God confronted Nebuchadnezzar with His supreme sovereignty, the king gave up seeking his own glory and humbly submitted to God. Like Nebuchadnezzar, we also must learn that God’s rule is over the universe. God governs all creatures and events. This is not only in the book of Daniel, but is also found consistently throughout the Scriptures. In Genesis 1 we learn that God created the universe and all that is in it. He is the King of His Creation because He created it. And the almighty Creator King has somehow given us a way to speak directly to Him: prayer.

When Jesus’ disciples asked Him how to pray Jesus replied, 

     Pray, then, in this way: 

  Our Father who is in heaven, hallowed by Your name. 
        Your kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as it is in    
        heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our  
        debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And do not lead 
        us into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For Yours is the 
        kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen 
        (Matthew 6:9-13).

Jesus’ model prayer shows us that prayer and the sovereignty of God work in unison not in opposition. First, we recognize that our Father is in heaven, which is an elevated position of authority, and we should want His name to be honored in the world. Next, we ask that His kingdom would come and that His will would be done on earth. These are petitions that don’t just imply that God is sovereign but ask Him to actually fulfill His kingly plan, as a sovereign should. Next, we petition God for our needs for the day, recognizing full dependence upon Him. And we not only have need of food, but we have need of forgiveness so we ask Him for that too. Lastly, we pray that He will protect us from evil since only He is able to do that. And then we remember that this world belongs to Him, who is all powerful and deserves all glory for eternity. 

Therefore, if we follow Jesus’s instructions we humbly acknowledge in our prayer that: 
God is our Father authority who is lifted up high into heaven.
God’s name must be respected and dignified in the world.
God is king of His kingdom. 
God’s will is what we want to happen around us. 
God is the one who provides for our daily needs. 
God is the one who forgives us of our sins. 
God is the one who protects us from temptation and evil. 
The Lord’s Prayer overflows with sovereignty theology. 

Prayer reminds us that there is One who is much higher than us who is in control, and we must bring our requests to Him. Prayer aligns us with the Sovereign by asking that His will be done. Prayer celebrates God’s sovereignty since it wants His glory to be spread abroad. Furthermore, our prayers depend on God’s sovereignty. Think about it this way: when someone is fed up with the bad service in a restaurant he may call directly for the manager. The customer who needs service goes straight to the top. Likewise, whenever we have a need, we go to the top because He is always available to listen. He is the one who has the freedom to do whatever He wishes because He is sovereign, and he wishes to hear and respond to our prayers. 

Dear Christian, do not think for a moment that your prayers are useless. God cares for you, and He wants to hear you. Remember that He has sovereignly given you access to His throne, but not for you to just ask for whatever you want. Go to Him with godly requests, pray for honest needs, ask for His will to be accomplished in your sanctification, request His forgiveness for your sins, and ask for shelter from evil. He promises to hear and answer you. 

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Who Are You?

“But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; for you once were not a people, but now you are the people of God; you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy” (1 Peter 2:9).

Have you ever taken one of those online quizzes that asks a series of random questions to discover who you are? I admit, I’ve been lured into taking a few. According to them I’m 92% awesome, 4% southern (as in y’all), and should live in Cape Town, South Africa. But those answers fall short in describing me. I am not awesome; that is an adjective best used to describe God. I am not 4% southern, but I am 100% native Oregonian. And as for moving to Cape Town, I prefer living in Prineville. Obviously those quizzes are bogus, but we are drawn to them because we want to understand who we are, or want a confirmation of our self-image. 

Humans want identification. Fortunately, God tells Christians exactly who they are. 1 Peter 2:9 begins with “But you are...” setting us apart from unbelievers who were disobedient to the word by rejecting Christ (vv 7-8). Then comes the answer to the big question: Who are you? You “are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession” (v 9).  You are not just an individual but part of the people of God who are: 

A chosen race - We were selected by God to be a new spiritual people in Christ by faith. 

A royal priesthood - We are a new spiritual priesthood under our High Priest, the Lord Jesus Christ. This means we can approach God through Christ alone, offering sacrifices of praise (Hebrews 13:15). 

A holy nation - We are part of a nation not designated by political, geographical, ethnic, or genealogical identities. Our identity is in Christ. Above all the other ways we use to identify ourselves, we primarily belong to God and are set apart from the world by Him. We are holy as He is holy (1:16). 

A people for God’s own possession - We do not belong to us. We are God’s. He bought us; we belong to Him. 

So we’re a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people possessed by God. What does that mean? It means that we have a purpose. The remainder of verse 9 explains that God has set us apart as His holy people “so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light.” “God’s purpose in redeeming us is not simply our own enjoyment but that we might glorify Him” (Tyndale Commentary on 1 Peter, Wayne Grudem, 118). We exist to herald the excellencies of our awesome God who brought us out of Satan’s dark realm into His light. He made us His people by His mercy (v 10). So don’t let anyone or anything define who you are, settle for nothing less than God’s definition. 

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Burger King, Church, And A German Fellow

“This mystery is great; but I am speaking with reference to Christ and the church” (Ephesians 5:32).

In the spring of 1970 the Army stationed my Father in Germany. There he met a German fellow who liked America more than his own nation. He wore U.S. styled clothing, listened to American music, drove a Dodge Charger, and loved any American he would meet. It seems odd that a German would drive around his homeland celebrating America.

I believe Christians suffer from a similar problem. As Christians, we are part of the church, the bride of Christ. God calls us to be an active part of His church (Hebrews 10:25). Yet like that German who did not prefer his German culture, many Christians do not prefer the church and seek to replace it with all kinds of things. A quick list would include watching religious television programs, listening to podcasts or Christian radio, reading books, or taking trips to the mountains to try to find God on their own. These things are not wrong and can be valuable at times, but none of them can replace the church.

Some Christians have replaced the church altogether in their lives. This happens frequently in America where consumerist ideas abound. In our consumerist society, churches supposedly exist to win over people by making sure they feel all their needs are met. This approach to the church is selfishness, not Christianity. In a manner of speaking, the church has become like Burger King, where you can “have it your way.” Thinking of that German fellow, whether he got it his way or not, Germany was still his home. And whether Christians get it their way or not, the church is still their home.

Although the Burger King approach to church is appealing, when it comes to Christ’s church the Bible guides us as to what the church is and why it exists. There are three definitions of church in the Bible:

a. “A group of citizens assembled for socio-political activities, (assembly, gathering).” Long before this term was used in Christian Scripture it was commonly used in the ancient world to refer to gatherings of people, political or otherwise. This is not the church.

b. “The totality of congregations of Christians.” Within the pages of our Bible we see “church” used infrequently to refer to all Christian congregations worldwide. In one verse we see Jesus using “church” as such, “I will build my Church and the gates of hell will not overpower it” (Matthew 16:18).

c. “A congregation of Christians, implying interacting membership (congregation, church)” (These are the three citations given for ekklhsi÷a in Louw & Nida Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament Based on Semantic Domains. Accordance 10.4 (May 2014). The semantic domain numbers for the citations are: 11.78, 11.33, 11.32). In the Bible this idea is frequently communicated with the word “church.” This is the local church, and this is where we find ourselves.

Based on the third definition, let’s bring some focus to what Christ’s church is and is not. The church is not a building, nor is it a building or campus with stained glass, pews, a cross, a baptistry, and a steeple. The church is not a community prayer meeting, a television program, a Bible study, a favorite spot outdoors, a sermon read or heard anywhere, or just another civic club. The church is “a congregation of Christians” who interact as members of that local congregation (Louw & Nida, 11.32).

In the Bible there are only active participants in the church. God commands us to “... consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another...” (Hebrews 11:24-25). Church is not about “having it your way” but about giving yourself to benefit your brothers and sisters in Christ. It is about encouraging others and building others up for the glory of Christ.

The Bible also teaches that Christ died for the church. “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her, so that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of the water with the word” (Ephesians 5:25-26). The fact that He was willing to die for it tells us how important the church is to Jesus Christ. To be sure, I love our building (and its stained glass and steeple), our National Day of Prayer meetings, hiking in the hills, hearing preaching in any place, and 4-H. But Jesus didn’t die for buildings, hobbies, the National Day of Prayer, 4-H, or any community club or event. Jesus died for the church. And He loves his congregants who interact with one another. He prizes His body, the church. Do you?

Remember that German fellow who preferred America over Germany? That was his choice, but Germany was still his home. Dear Christian, if you have not done so already, go home. Perhaps you are reading this and have not met with the church you belong to in quite some time, I plead with you to go back to interact, grow in Christ, and encourage other believers. Come home to God’s family. Wherever you find yourself please settle into one of Jesus’ congregations. God designed you to be a part of a church so that you can grow into the person that Christ wants you to be. Remember, there is no replacement for person-to-person fellowship. There is no replacement for joining together in prayer with other believers. There is no other way that you can serve one another or sing praises together with a common confession, family, eldership, ministry, and Spirit than by being part of a congregation of Christians. You may not always “have it your way,” but it doesn’t matter because the church is much better than “my way” or “your way.” The church is simply heaven on earth.