Wednesday, October 28, 2015

You Are Not Alone in The Fight

Halloween tends to remind us about spiritual warfare, at least it does for me. The verse quoted frequently for spiritual warfare is; “Our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness [...]” (Eph 6:12). These are good reminders, but what can we actually do about it? We often attempt to work through them alone but spiritual struggles are not just hidden within individuals, nor are they to be fought alone. The spiritual struggles we engage in involve the whole church, and are visible since they include people. 

An example of spiritual battle is the one that occurred on Crete. Titus was the appointed pastor to the small island, and his first job was to engage in spiritual warfare. That is, there were “many rebellious people, idle talkers, and deceivers, especially those with Jewish connections” (Titus 1:10). This battle against the gospel was obvious to everyone, and it included many churches on the island, and it had to be stopped. Moreover, we can learn a lot about engaging enemies by reading Titus but there are two items that prove to be especially helpful: First, nobody is in this battle alone. Second, this battle is frequently visible. 

You are not alone. By taking a step back we realize that the spiritual fight for the gospel includes more than just one individual. This is why Paul wrote this letter to Titus which was then read to all the churches on Crete. Paul wasn’t going to handle this by himself, nor was Titus. In fact, no one can engage such things alone, not even you or me. 

We are not to engage in warfare alone. Paul specifically told Titus to recruit faithful elders to stop the rebellion (Titus 1:5-11). Please note the “s” on the end of “elder” in verse 5. That is, each local church was to have more than one elder so as to engage the enemies together, and when we engage the enemy together we often win. On the other hand, sometimes we face struggles as individuals. Perhaps you may be evangelizing a person and they keep refusing to trust in Christ. That is heavy stuff; we are not to engage in these struggles alone. Bring it into the light by teaming up with a Christian brother or sister for prayer, or talk to an elder. 

Whatever the fight may be, from any color of temptation to those people who are trying to get you to doubt your faith, please get the help that you need quickly. The church exists to help one another. This is why we emphasize ministries like grief share, Sunday school, and our worship service. We need each other, and the enemy tends to stay away when we are gathered. You’ve never seen a pack of coyotes try to devour a herd of deer, but we all know what happens when a pack gets a young deer by itself. 

Speaking of deer, here in eastern Oregon they are fairly visible. If you’ve ever lived on the west side of the Cascades you remember that the deer over there are not as visible through all of the brush, which makes them harder to hunt. So like the deer around here our spiritual enemies don’t really lurk in the brush, they are visible. We often think that spiritual warfare happens in some other world, a demonic world, where God and the devil are fighting each other. But when we read the Bible we learn that isn’t the case so much. As it turns out, it isn’t the case at all. The church’s enemies are visible. Titus was facing very real and visible enemies. They were the false teachers. Likewise, Paul instructed the Ephesians to put on the full armor of God, and to pray for him as he preaches the mystery of the gospel (6:18-20). Make no mistake, anytime the Bible is read, taught, proclaimed, lived out, memorized, or meditated upon, you are engaging in spiritual war, and it may be with a person close to you. And the very thing that we pick up to engage in this war, is the very thing that protects us. Ephesians teaches us that our armor is truth, righteousness, the gospel, salvation, and the word of God (Eph 6:10-17). So it shouldn’t surprise us when we read that Titus was to give careful instructions to his men, so that they would use the word of God to stop the enemies of the gospel. Thus we use the word of God to guard the gospel.

The marvelous thing about all of this is that we have no reason to be fearful. We have every tool that we need to engage in this war, specifically, the Bible and prayer. Importantly, you have a church family who loves you and does not expect you to struggle through life on your own, in fact, Christian living is impossible to do alone. You need the church and the church needs you. Also, remember that you can usually see and hear your enemies. Unfortunately, we are exposed to the world which provides a variety of temptations, along with people who are trying to get us to stop believing in the gospel of Jesus Christ. Be sure to bring those struggles to the light. Furthermore, as we engage others face-to-face or online remember that our aim is that they would become healthy in the faith (Titus 1:13). When Jesus draws unbelievers to himself, that is the true victory. So let’s not worry about those Halloween ideas of spooky invisible spirit worlds, let’s face spiritual life together today, and plan on victory in Jesus. 

Sunday, March 1, 2015

For The Interests of Others

"Then Hiram king of Tyre sent messengers to David with cedar trees and carpenters and stonemasons; and they built a house for David. And David realized that the LORD had established him as king over Israel, and that He had exalted his kingdom for the sake of His people Israel" (2 Samuel 5:11-12).

Loving our neighbor as ourselves isn't easy, but with God it is possible. We see love in the life of David, who is at the center of the story in 2 Samuel 5. It is here that we read of the third and final anointing of David, which unites all Israel's people under him. Life in Israel with David as king is what life should be like. That is, David was different than Saul. He was a king who loved God so much that he believed Him and was good to His people. But David's God was better than David, He loved His people so much that He gave them a king for their sake.

Speaking of people, a neighboring king named Hiram became friends with David. Although Hiram wasn't Jewish, he recognized the distinctiveness of David and David's God, so he wanted to do good to Israel. Perhaps he saw the power of God as Israel grew and though it best to became an ally to David rather than an enemy. Whatever the case may have been, he sent his timber and his men to build David a new house. After all, David was Israel's new king. And this would be the perfect time for pride to well up in King David since the king of Tyre recognized his authority. Was it David's popularity that made Hiram like him? Was it his military prowess? Or did David's promise keeping and loving God have something to do with it?

In His providence, God used Hiram to help establish David. Many years before all the elders of Israel anointed David he was anointed by Samuel to be the king of Israel (1 Samuel 16:1-13). God selected David; the most unlikely king there ever was. But through him God would someday establish His kingdom and, because God's promises never expire, David became king. And he knew it was Yahweh that did it. "David realized that the LORD had established him as king over Israel (2 Samuel 5:12a). It wasn't David's ruddy appearance or his military prowess, it was God who made him king over Israel, and his new custom built gift palace from Hiram the king was proof positive that the nations viewed David as such. But why did God do this? Couldn't he have just shown Israel that He loved them another way? Perhaps, but with David we learn that God uses men to be mediators between He and his people. David was there to extend God's love to the people.

Now, we all know that King David was far from sinless, but 5:12b teaches us something special. "and that He exalted his kingdom for the sake of His people Israel." Yes! David understood that God made him the king not for his own self-interests but for the interests of others.  We too must understand that we exist not just for hobbies, or to have fun, but to benefit other people.

We often use our positions for ourselves rather than for others. The employee who hogs as much free food and other nice things from the workplace isn't looking out for the sake of others. I once had a boss who screamed and cussed a lot, which never helped his employees, although it made him feel powerful. True power comes from God and living for the sake of others, which starts with your family.

David's example is not only instructive for us, but it also points us forward to another, better king that would be established for the sake of His people. The king came but his own people didn't recognize him so they killed him. But his death and resurrection were for the sake of His people. This king is Jesus Christ. Dearest reader, please remember that God loved his people so much and kept his promise so well that he sent Him, who is another David, only this One is perfect in every way and will not die.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

What's Love Got to Do with It?

“And this I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in real knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve the things that are excellent, in order to be sincere and blameless until the day of Christ; having been filled with the fruit of righteousness which comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God” (Philippians 1:9-11).

Think of someone you love deeply. How much could you say about this person? Seriously, how much? I expect that you could write pages or talk for hours about your knowledge of and experiences with the object of your love. The framed photos on the walls of your home tell of your loves. When we look at photos we remember times, places, and special moments with the ones we love. Love precedes knowledge. If we love something, we want to learn more about it. If we love someone we want to know more about him or her. Love is the pathway to knowledge.

For example, a mother can recall the details of the birth of each of her children. She can recall surgeries and sicknesses that each child had. She can tell you their achievements and failures, their likes and dislikes, their hopes and fears, and so on. She remembers all of that knowledge because love is the pathway to knowledge. When you love deeply you seek to know everything you can about the object of your love, as a mother knows the details of her children.

When Paul wrote his letter to the church at Philippi he begins by expressing how much he loves them and reminding them that he prays for them (1:3-4). He also reminds them of who they are in Jesus, and tells them that he loves and misses them (1:5-8). He says this in Christian love as a mother would write to her own child. Then in verse 9 Paul bursts forth into prayer for his people.

In his prayer he asks God to cause their love to grow greater every day (v 9). He wasn’t speaking of love as a mere sentimental feeling but as a growth in knowledge and in keen perception so that the Christian would be able to tell between right and wrong. Love precedes knowledge. Just as when we love someone, we want to know more about him or her, the same is true of our love for Jesus. When we truly love Jesus, we will want to learn more about Him (William Barclay 18).

Now, there is a result of this chain of love, knowledge, and discernment. It leads to righteousness. If we really love Jesus we will live to please Him; the more we love Him, the more we will stay away from what is evil but cling to what is right. Real love is not blind, it actually gives us spectacles to see and know the things that are excellent. And by choosing the excellent things, or that which pleases Christ, we become blameless and prepared for the day when He will return (vv 10-11).

Speaking of His return, are you prepared? In a wondrous way, love, knowledge, and righteousness work together to prepare you. Your love for Christ will grow as you know Him more. But if you don’t love Him you’ll have no desire to learn more about God, and no desire to please Him with your choices, this grieves Him. I liken it to my marriage; I want to know more about my wife because I love her. Now, I know much of what she likes and what she does not like. And the more I get to know her the more I love her and make choices according to what she likes. The result is that I bring flowers to her rather than wild mushrooms. I take her to concerts with the Bend Symphony rather than hip-hop concerts. And I do my best to not ignore her when she is talking to me because I know her, love her, and do not want to grieve her. Life with God is much the same. As you learn more about Him, and as you choose to please Him, you start abounding in love, and love leads to obedience. Jesus said it this way, “If you love Me you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15).

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.