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.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Thou Hatest Wickedness

  One of the most popular questions I get is “What do you recommend for reading?” Of the authors that I read two rise to the top, God and Spurgeon. I read more of God’s word than I do of Spurgeon’s stuff, but rarely a day passes when I do not read Charles H. Spurgeon. Although the language in my copy is old I get a lot of comfort, encouragement, conviction, and doctrinal teaching from Spurgeon’s little book “Morning And Evening.” 

This morning’s selection produced conviction. With conviction of sin still on my mind from last Sunday (1 Samuel 7:3-6), I want to share what I learned from Spurgeon this week on that topic. Here is one of the daily morning passages from C. H. Spurgeon’s “Morning and Evening.” 

May 29 (Morning)

“Thou hatest wickedness.” — Psalm 45:7

“Be ye angry, and sin not.” There can hardly be goodness in a man if he be not angry at sin; he who loves truth must hate every false way. How our Lord Jesus hated it when the temptation came! Thrice it assailed Him in different forms, but ever He met it with, “Get thee behind me, Satan.” He hated it in others; none the less fervently because He showed His hate oftener in tears of pity than in words of rebuke; yet what language could be more stern, more Elijah-like, than the words, “Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye devour widows’ houses, and for a pretense make long prayer.” He hated wickedness, so much that He bled to wound it to the heart; He died that it might die; He was buried that He might bury it in His tomb; and He rose that He might for ever trample it beneath His feet. Christ is in the Gospel, and that Gospel is opposed to wickedness in every shape. Wickedness arrays itself in fair garments, and imitates the language of holiness; but the precepts of Jesus, like His famous scourge of small cords, chase it out of the temple, and will not tolerate it in the Church. So, too, in the heart where Jesus reigns, what war there is between Christ and Belial! And when our Redeemer shall come to be our Judge, those thundering words, “Depart, ye cursed” which are, indeed, but a prolongation of His life-teaching concerning sin, shall manifest His abhorrence of iniquity. As warm as is His love to sinners, so hot is His hatred of sin; as perfect as is His righteousness, so complete shall be the destruction of every form of wickedness. O thou glorious champion of right, and destroyer of wrong, for this cause hath God, even Thy God, anointed thee with the oil of gladness above Thy fellows.

Dear  reader, I pray that God will give you and me an honest hatred for our own sin. And I pray that he will give enough grace and wisdom so that we can take an honest personal inventory of our spiritual lives. Oh, that we would repent like God’s children, Israel, who said “We have sinned against the LORD” (1 Sam 7:6). 

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Eastertide Astonishment

Curiosity tends to get us running. On New Years day seven years ago I was taking a little break on the couch watching college football. It was cold, the wind was howling, and I didn’t want go anywhere. But then the phone rang. “THE STEEPLE BLEW DOWN” said the voice on the phone. “Unbelievable!” I thought to myself. Then I said, “I’ll be there in a minute.” I went to see for myself and unfortunately the phone report was accurate. The steeple was dead! 

Whether it is a blown over steeple on New Years, or a risen Lord on Easter, these reports needed to be verified and once verified then the implications set in. The steeple garnered a local article in the newspaper. And our men did a fantastic job of taking care of everything, including the rebuilding of the steeple. And we are very thankful to them for their work. Likewise, the report of Jesus’ empty tomb was verified by Peter and its implications spread out much farther than a local news paper story.

Peter’s response to Mary, Joanna, and Mary’s report in Luke 24:12 gives us a peek into what kind of man he was. “Peter got up and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen wrappings only; and he went away to his home, marveling at what had happened.” Peter didn’t disregard the women’s report like the other apostles did (v. 11). No, he got up and ran to Jesus’ tomb to see with his own eyes and they were right. Jesus is risen from the dead! And from His resurrection flows endless blessings!

Peter was not the only one to verify the report about the empty tomb. Cleopas and his friend reportedly met the resurrected Jesus (vv. 31-35). Eventually, all eleven Apostles saw him too when the risen Jesus appeared to them explaining His rising from death and causing them to believe it (Luke 24:36-48). Then He was with them forty more days (Acts 1:3) after appearing to hundreds of others (1 Cor 15:6). 

The implications of Jesus’ resurrection seem to be endless. Perhaps the first natural implication was what Jesus called the apostles to do. Namely, to be witnesses of Him and His resurrection; eye witnesses if you will. This was vital to the Apostolic ministry. For a fact to be verified in a Jewish court of law it required two or more witnesses. When Jesus sent his witnesses out He made sure that there would be no reason for doubt so he sent twelve eye witnesses to proclaim “these things” (Luke 24:48). It should be noted that Jesus even sent the ones who were not interested in the initial report from the ladies; curiosity didn’t strike them like it did Peter. 

Is it merely a coincidence that Peter, who denied Jesus the night before his death, was perhaps the first of Jesus’ inner circle to sincerely consider the resurrection with an open mind? The Bible tells us that he was “marveling at what had happened” after he looked inside of Jesus’ tomb. He walked home astonished that his Lord was not in the tomb. This same apostle who denied him was later restored by Jesus (John 21:15-19), and later God used the apostle who ran to Jesus’ tomb and looked inside to write epistles to the church, you know them as 1 Peter and 2 Peter. In 1 Peter he wrote: 

          Blessed by the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy       
          has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ 
          from the dead, to obtain an inheritance which is imperishable and undefiled and will not 
          fade away, reserved in heaven for you, who are protected by the power of God through a 
          faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time (1:3-5). 

Dear Christian, in the wake of Easter Sunday continue marveling at our risen Lord, Jesus Christ. Maybe you can relate to someone like Peter who was often outspoken and even slipped into fearing people over following Christ, but no matter who you are Jesus’ resurrection and its endless blessings and implications should always astonish you. 

Thursday, April 3, 2014

You Can Learn A Lot from A Doggy

For two whole years Paul stayed there in his own rented house and welcomed all who came to see him. He proclaimed the kingdom of God and taught about the Lord Jesus Christ—with all boldness and without hindrance” (Acts 28:30-31, NIV). 

Ochoco creek flows ever peacefully, the ducks, trees, new flowers, and green grass all remind me of our Creator. A gorgeous brittany runs toward me, so I ask his owner if I can pet him. Permission was granted so I kneel by the orange and white pup and wait for him to approach me. Not a word is spoken to the dog as I gently rub under his chin, but I do have a short conversation with his owner. As they slowly walk away I head back to the church building, praying as I go. 

I need to take more walking prayer-times through the park. During this one I may have missed an opportunity to tell a dog owner about Christ. I can’t lie, I feel guilty, but the thought of witnessing to this man didn’t even register as we conversed. As I walked the bike path back to the church building I thought to myself, “I should have said something, I should have tossed some gospel seed out.” Dear reader, gospel opportunities come and go everyday, let’s aim to be faithful in those moments today. 

In the moment is where a dog lives and breathes. Dogs do not stew over the past or hold grudges, and they are not anxious over the future. A dog’s life exists in the moment. And a good dog is faithful to you in the moment. On the other hand, humans often live in the past or make plans to be faithful in the future, but today often gets lost. We enjoy talking about how to witness to someone but don’t do it much. Here is an idea. To be a faithful witness in the moment take a  conversation about dogs, quilting, or any topic, and introduce a new thought. Something like, “Isn’t it amazing to be out in God’s creation today and to know that you are a part of it? And did you know that He who created all of this died on a cross so that we can have new life?” 

New life in Jesus Christ is everything. It gives us new eyes to see with, new attitudes, new goals, new passions, and new directions. In these new directions God tells us to make disciples. We begin by telling others of Christ, this is evangelism. The “others” in your life may be your children, spouse, parents, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, neighbors, friends, or a new acquaintance. And since we’ve been made new in Jesus witnessing to them should happen with ease. Fortunately, everything in this world can be related to God in most conversations. If it is a good thing, He is the cause of it. If it is a bad thing, He is the Redeemer. And since everything is created by Him (either directly or indirectly) we are constantly reminded of Christ. So in order to be a faithful witness, in the moment, we simply pick something and remind people of Christ. If they are interested in discovering more we explain who Jesus Christ is, and what His death and resurrection accomplished, and how it comes into play for sinners. 

Sinners are everywhere and they are everyone. Thus, we have opportunities to plant gospel seeds wherever we go. To be sure, God does not require us to lead everyone to Christ by our direct witnessing. Sometimes it takes numerous times for someone to come to faith. Faithfulness for us is to tell others about Christ, that’s it. Tell the story about how you came to trust Christ as your Savior. Use some of your favorite verses, relax, and trust God to do the changing as the Bible teaches, “I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow. So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow” (1 Cor 3:6-7, NIV). God will make them grow. Salvation is a work of God. We want it to happen immediately but who among us likes to make a snap decision? I don’t. And so we should not expect someone else to make a snap decision when so much is at stake. Be yourself, try to listen to see what God is doing in them, call them to Jesus, and let them count the cost of following Jesus. 

Speaking of Jesus I’d like to tell you another story. About 4 years ago I received a phone call from a man who was desperate. He had been released from the Oregon State Penitentiary. He had no money, no food, and needed some more nights at the Econo Lodge. When I got to the front desk I paid the clerk for two more nights and inquired on the ex-con’s whereabouts. When I got to his room I knocked loudly on the door and the door opened. I didn’t spend much time with the fellow. He didn’t seem interested in Jesus Christ, nor that Paul had been a prisoner too. The bible and the books that I gave him were not received well. I prayed with him and politely let myself out. I walked away happy, I knew I did what God wanted me to do. I kept praying for this guy and tried to follow up but wasn’t able to find him. Instead, he found me at Grocery Outlet last fall. He told me his story. Sometime after he met me he gave his life to Christ, joined a local church, and began serving God. Praise God! My part was simple. Like a faithful dog living in the moment, I took a few minutes to plant a seed when the opportunity arose. Little did I know that God had chosen this gentleman to be one of His children and that He was using me to plant a seed. He will use you too. 


God uses us to communicate to others who His Son truly is and what His Son has done for them. Then we pray that the gospel seed might sprout and give way to a new life in Christ. Let’s be faithful today, living in the moment like a pup by using every opportunity to speak of His blessed Son the Lord Jesus Christ. He will use you. 

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

My Deliverer

     

     Good music is powerful; the words can be a blessing. Rich Mullins sang one of my favorite songs, it gives me courage whenever I listen to it. This is how it begins: 

Joseph took his wife and her child and they went to Africa 
To escape the rage of a deadly king
There along the banks of the Nile,
Jesus listened to the song
That the captive children used to sing 
They were singin' 
"My Deliverer is coming - my Deliverer is standing by
My Deliverer is coming - my Deliverer is standing by"


We see our “Deliverer standing by” in the third Psalm which King David wrote when his son, Absalom, betrayed him. Traitor Absalom gathered many among the Israelites who then attempted a coup. In this text we observe David bringing his terrible distress to Yahweh, placing his confidence in Him, and crying out to God (his Warrior) for deliverance. Now, for just a moment place yourself in David’s sandals. You are up early in the morning, wondering what your son’s next move will be to win the battle that he began against you. Anxiety begins to set in before you get out of bed. Your mind’s eye sees the many faces of former friends who are now enemies. These who were once your people are duped by Absalom’s wickedness, and now they want you to die. This dilemma floats into your mind as you get dressed and then are too anxious to eat breakfast. However, something comes over you. You recall that your God wins every battle, and He alone battled the evil Egyptians by doing the impossible and delivering His children (Exodus 14:1-31). Just as God delivered His children then He delivers His children now. Keeping that in mind, you write something like this: 

Psalm 3
A Psalm of David, when he fled from Absalom his son. 
(1) O LORD, how my adversaries have increased! Many are rising up against me. 
(2) Many are saying of my soul, “There is no deliverance for him in God.” Selah. 
(3) But You, O LORD, are a shield about me, My glory, and the One who lifts my head. 
(4) I was crying to the LORD with my voice, And He answered me from His holy mountain. Selah. (5) I lay down and slept; I awoke, for the LORD sustains me. (6) I will not be afraid of ten thousands of people who have set themselves against me round about. 
(7) Arise, O LORD; save me, O my God! For You have smitten all my enemies on the cheek; You have shattered the teeth of the wicked. 
(8) Salvation belongs to the LORD; Your blessing be upon Your people! Selah.

Notice verses one and two. Three times David mentions the number of enemies. He tells God that they have increased, that many are coming against him, and that many are saying that deliverance is impossible. This is war and in war enemies lie. David’s enemies wanted him to believe that his God would not fight, that he would be assassinated to make room for a new king, the traitor called Absalom. But unlike Absalom, Yahweh is ever faithful to His people. 

Since Yahweh is ever faithful David calls out to Him (v. 4) and He answers, and David slept until morning because God sustained him. When David rises, he is not afraid of ten thousand enemies that would come against him. Even though one little arrow could kill him he has no fear since God, who is his shield, surrounds him (v. 3, 6). But Yahweh’s blessings to his children do not end with shielding from evil; He attacks. “Arise, O LORD, save me, O my God!” David shouts his war cry. Though the enemies abound, our confidence is in our LORD, He is the one who breaks our enemies’ jaws and takes away their harmful power (v. 7). He is our Divine Warrior; yes, the One who parted the Red Sea, letting his children go free but destroying many powerful enemies. And when we, like David, cry out to the LORD our God, asking Him to wage our war we can relax with complete confidence. We are confident because “From the LORD comes deliverance” (v. 8a). Like the song above says, our deliverer is coming, He is already standing by.

Now, do you believe His word? Or, do you believe the lie that says, “your God will not and cannot deliver you?” When we’re alone with our thoughts in the night it is easy to believe a lie. Don’t believe it. Yes, we have much to overcome and we have real enemies, ones who want to see us quit believing and following Christ. We have enemies who would like to force us to believe and do that which is contrary to the Scriptures; they may attempt this by passing more laws. We have enemies who want us to leave the gospel of Christ behind to be yoked to their sets of rules toward a so-called salvation from a false god. In addition, we battle our flesh with its curious cravings and temptations toward sin and self. However, “From the LORD comes deliverance!” 


Would you believe that He can bring you out of the pit of sin or fight victoriously over your enemies? His glory is at stake. Just like the defeat of Israel’s enemies your holiness brings Him glory. Now, it is up to us to lean upon our Deliverer. And let’s show others how the victory of Jesus Christ over death (our biggest enemy) was won on the cross and through the resurrection. Death died, Jesus is risen and He will deliver us to the Father in heaven on that great day. Amen. 







Saturday, February 1, 2014

Dear Timothy, Bring the Books




     Having returned from a pastor’s conference I was once again reminded that good people never quit learning. After all, the reason pastors go to conferences is to continue to learn. By our simple presence at one we are stating that we need help; that we do not have it all figured out.
 
It is extremely refreshing to hear an excellent pastor who is 30 years my senior publicly expressing that he does not have it all figured out. This reveals his honesty and his continual dependence upon the Father. Now, since the most learned people do not have their learning career all sewn up, the rest of us need to keep learning too. And, we would do well to remember that the Apostle Paul was a life-long learner. This was something our conference teacher pointed out to us.

During the last conference session the good pastor took us through 2 Timothy 4. He read “When you come bring the cloak which I left at Troas with Carpus, and the books, especially the parchments” (2 Timothy 4:13). We were struck by the Apostle Paul’s desire expressed in this verse. His life is near the end; he has almost completed his race and is now jailed in a cold dungeon where he needs his cloak. And he insists that Timothy bring the scrolls and the parchments. The man who has the equivalent of a triple doctorate, who founded many churches, who taught many people could have said “Oh, I don’t need any books written by man or parchments of Scripture,” but he does not. His longing for a copy of the Old Testament whereby he will learn from the Triune God of the universe is predominant. But is it predominant in my life and yours? Or are you willing to believe the lie that says, “Oh, I know; I don’t need any books, or bibles, or teachers, I learned all that and read all that already.”

On learning, Major League Baseball knows something that many are not willing to admit. Specifically, that no one is ever too talented or too old to learn. Every spring the youngest major league pitchers along with the oldest and the best return to pick up where they left off. They admit that they need coaches to teach them a new pitch and to hone their God-given talents.

Dear reader, we all need a coach to help us become the type of woman or man that God is growing us to be. The design of the church is such that we come together to admit problems and to learn about something that is old, or something that is new. We do not come together to count dollars, or people, or to garner praise. Toward the end of his amazing life Paul leaned on Timothy and Luke, they were his coaches. In addition, we notice that Paul never did much alone; faithful men who made him better always surrounded him. If Paul needed coaches and teachers, I do too. If Paul needed to keep learning and growing, I do too. No matter where we may be, let us all aim toward more fellowship and learning for the glory of Christ. 

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Living Acts 2:42 in 2014


“They were continually devoting themselves to the apostle’s teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer” (Acts 2:42).

Acts 2:42 provides a good pattern for the Christian life, that goes further than only daily bible reading. In Acts 2:42 we see that the early church spent a lot of time together. Their lives were in danger and so being together out of harms way was the best thing for them to do. Togetherness is still an important aspect of church today, and when we are gathered the four devotions spelled out in Acts 2:42 ought to be the center of our activity. These four devotions are to be ongoing (note the “-ing” in v. 42). It is through these “devotions” we hear from God, and draw near to Him, and draw near to each other.

For 2014 let us be:

1.  Devoting ourselves to the apostle’s teaching: This is referring to the Bible.  Christian men and women are marked by an ongoing devotion to God’s word. We hear the voice of God through our bibles and we obey Him.

2.  Devoting ourselves to fellowship: Fellowship happens when the family of God is gathered. In fellowship we get to know one another. In fellowship we are able to weep with those who are weeping, thus bearing one another’s burdens. In fellowship we praise the Lord together for the blessings we share. Courage and love come to us in our fellowship with one another. To be the church we must be together often.

3.  Devoting ourselves to communion: The specific wording in the verse is “breaking of bread” but we understand that this is one way of saying communion or Lord’s Supper. As a local body we have a pattern of devoting ourselves to communion on the first Sunday of every month. This is a good devotion. But let us aim to approach it with fresh hearts each time; communion ought to bring forth personal praise and celebration for the victory we have in Christ’s cross work.

4.  Devoting ourselves to prayer: It amazes me how easily prayer can be overlooked in our private lives and in our lives together. Let prayer saturate you! Approach God as your Father since He truly is. Pray appropriate prayers that are shaped by God Himself with the instructions and model that He gave us in Matthew 6:1-15. Let your prayers be influenced by other prayers in the Scriptures (for example, Acts 4:24-31; Ephesians 1:18-23, 6:18-20).

Furthermore, remember that your prayers don’t have to be long in order to be effective or right. Short prayers that are to the point are excellent. Also, many of us have certain things in place to encourage us to pray. For instance, we have prayer chains and our prayer times in our Sunday School classes and during our mid-week gatherings. Let’s approach our prayer times with hearts that are truly open to God on behalf of others. We don’t want to only ask God to remove difficulties, but that God would enlighten the eyes of their hearts that they would “know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, and what is the surpassing greatness of His power toward us who believe” (Eph 1:18-19a).