Tuesday, November 29, 2011

The Sin of Unbelief

In Mark 6:5-6 we read, "And He could do no mighty work there (Nazareth), except that He laid His hands on a few sick people and healed them. And He marveled at their unbelief." When Jesus returned to His hometown He wasn't welcomed with parades or banners. No one was proud of the hometown boy. Instead, they were offended by Him. They called Him illegitimate. And worst of all, they didn't believe who He was. They utterly rejected Him.
We don't often consider unbelief to be such a big deal. But J.C. Ryle in his Expository Thoughts on the Gospels points out several truths about this grave wickedness. First, it is the oldest in the world. Adam & Eve's sin in the garden was essentially a sin of unbelief. God had told them that if they ate of the fruit they would die. They didn't believe Him.
Second, it is the most ruinous of all sins because if the consequences of it. Unbelief brought death into the world; unbelief kept Israel out of the promised land for 40 years.
Third, it is the most foolish sin. Unbelief is a choice; a choice that is made in spite of the plainest evidence, in spite of the clear testimony of scripture and the testimony of the Spirit. Ryle says, "It is neither the want of evidence, nor the difficulties of Christian doctrine that make men unbelievers. It is want of will to believe."
Finally, unbelief is the commonest sin. Everyone, believer and nonbeliever alike, wrestle with this sin. Either we commit it with our minds and lips, or we commit it with our lives.
Unbelief is a grave, dangerous sin. Let us guard our hearts against it. Let us, as Ryle exhorts, "...go on watching our hearts, even after we have believed. The root of unbelief is never entirely destroyed."

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Who is the Master of Your Fate?

I read a post this morning on facebook. A dear friend wrote, "[I'm] not the master of my fate, nor the captain of my soul. And I'm very, very OK with that!" She also put a smiley face at the end of it because that's how she rolls.

The phrases "master of my fate" and "captain of my soul" come from a poem entitled Invictus, written in 1875 by William Ernest Henley. At the age of 17 Henley's leg was amputated just below his knee. He refused to let this hinder him and lived an active and full life. Invictus, which is Latin for unconquered, is his manifesto, his explanation of his refusal to be defeated by illness. He writes:

Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds and shall find me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.

As a follower of Christ I find Henley's words both admirable and heartbreaking. There is much to admire in a man who refuses to be defeated, a man who rises above hardships and tragedies and overcomes them by the sheer force of his will. I want to be a man like that. I want to rise above.

But my life proves to me that I can't. Certainly there are things I can overcome. Certainly there are adversities that I can face and declare that they "shall find me unafraid." But at the end of the day I cannot declare that I am either the master of my fate or the captain of my soul. The reason is that I do not possess an unconquerable soul. My soul was conquered by mankind's greatest enemy--sin. Sin possessed me, overwhelmed me, ruled me and lorded over me. I was born into it and I embraced it. It was my identity, my purpose.

The wonder of my life is that my soul has been conquered once more. Not my by sin but by the One who gave His life to free me from my sin. The One who is truly master of my fate and captain of my soul. King Jesus has conquered me. He has drawn me irresistibly to Himself, He has taken my sin and my shame and my wickedness and my wretchedness on Himself. He has borne the just and right penalty my sin earned. He has taken it away and remembers it no more. Before such love, before such splendor and eternal majesty, I am conquered.

And because of this greatness I can face the "bludgeonings of chance", with my head "bloody but unbowed." I can stand with hope and joy, I can be unafraid to stand before a holy and just God because the One who conquered my soul has cancelled the record of debt that stood against me with its legal demands. He has set it aside, nailing it to the cross.

I am not Invictus; I am not unconquered. And I am very, very okay with that. For I have been baptized into the One who is, the One who conquered my soul with His greatness. I glory, I rest, I exult in the fact that Jesus is the master of my fate. Jesus is the captain of my soul.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

The Power of God's Word

This past Sunday I was reminded once again of the power of God's word. We've been working our way through Mark's gospel since May. This week we were to begin chapter 4, where Jesus begins teaching in parables. After the first parable recorded (Parable of the Sower), the disciples asked Jesus why He began teaching with parables. To me, this was a logical place to begin the study of the parables; before we dove into them we needed to understand why Christ used them. To that point He hadn't used parables-why the change? And so we studied Mark 4:10-12.

Now that text may not ring a bell in your mind. It didn't in mine either. I've never preached from that text. In fact, I'm not sure I've ever heard a sermon preached from it either. Here's what it says: "And when He was alone, those around Him with the 12 asked Him about the parables. And He said to them, 'To you has been given the secret of the kingdom of God, but for those outside everything is in parables, so that 'they may indeed see but not perceive, and may indeed hear but not understand, lest they should turn and be forgiven.'" Not exactly one of those "wow" passage of scripture is it? No, "for God so loved the world", no "for by grace you have been saved", not even "while we were yet sinners". But that was the next portion of scripture so we dug in. We studied why Jesus taught using parables.

And here's the remarkable thing; it was an incredibly well-received sermon. Several people told me they had been blessed, one man told me it was the best sermon he had heard me preach. And I don't say that out of pride or anything like that; I say that because those words completely reaffirmed to me the power of God's word. There was nothing in that text that seemed to leap off the page. There didn't seem to be much there that was useful for teaching, reproof, correction or training in righteousness. But that's precisely what happened. People weren't blessed because of my masterful exegesis or my impressive homiletic skills. People were blessed because the word of God was presented.

There is immeasurable power in God's word. And so often where I fail as a teacher of the word is that I don't lean all my weight on the scriptures. I worry that maybe what I say won't be relevant, that what is said on Sunday won't matter much on Monday. And that's a wretched, wicked sin because it is a declaration of the insufficiency of scripture. God's word is sharper than any two-edged sword, every word of it is inspired and useful. And when I am faithful to present it, people will be blessed.

Fellow teachers/preachers of God's word, may we never stray from the text. My opinions don't matter, my viewpoints don't matter--they can't change hearts and work the work of repentance in the hearts of sinners. But there is supernatural power in God's word. When we are faithful to present it, God is faithful to bless it.

Father, thank You for the incredible blessing of scripture. May I never present what I think to the world; may I never present my opinions. May I only preach Your word; may I ever rest in the sufficiency of it; and my I trust You to give the increase. Amen.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Why Pray?

For the last few weeks, I've taken Sunday evenings at the church I pastor to discuss the idea of defending the Christian faith. The Bible obligates us to be ready to give an answer for the hope we have within us, so it's pretty important that we can do that. We've covered topics such as the reliability of scripture, the existence of God, the divinity of Christ and, most recently, we discussed the problem of the Canaanites, i.e., how could God condone what appears to be cold blooded murder of men, women and children in Joshua 6? We've had some great studies together and the series has been well-received.

A few weeks ago I asked people to submit any questions they had on this topic. Could be questions they've been asked and didn't know how to answer, or it could simply be questions they've wrestled with themselves. One of those questions is the title of this post: Why Pray? It's a great question. If one believes that God is sovereign, that He is going work all things according to the purpose of His will (Eph. 1:11), then why do we pray? Why ask for specific things if He already knows what we need? Why ask Him to do specific things if He already knows what He's going to do? So I listed some reasons why we should pray.

1, We're commanded to. Pray is an obligation. 1 Thess. 5:1 tells us to pray without ceasing. So before anything else, we have to see that prayer is something that we are supposed to do. God expects it of us. But that just sort of moves the discussion back doesn't it? Why does God command us to pray?

2, God works through prayer. Over and over in scripture we see that God works when people pray. Several specific things we can mention, ways that God works when we pray: Matt. 26:41, prayer helps us overcome temptation; Luke 10:2, the kingdom is advanced when we pray; Eph. 6:18, people are blessed when we pray; 2 Thess. 3:1, the gospel goes out and triumphs when we pray.

3, Prayer affirms our relationship with God. Ps. 46:10, God tells us to be still and know/acknowledge that He is God. When we spend time in prayer we are reminded about who God is--and who we are in Christ.

4, Prayer is Fellowship with God. John Piper wrote a book entitled God is the Gospel. His premise is that God is the gospel. So the title was very well chosen. His point is that the purpose of the gospel isn't to obtain things from God; it's to obtain God Himself. The highest treasure, the greatest goal of Christianity is to know God, to be able to experience His presence, to be swept away by His grandeur, His majesty and splendor. When we pray, we are fellowshipping with this great and awesome King.

5, Prayer blesses God. In the OT incense was burned in the temple. It had a sweet aroma that pleased God. In Rev. 5:8 we read that the 24 elders who surround the throne hold golden bowls full of incense in their hands; and that incense is the prayers of the saints. Our prayers are pleasing to God, they bless Him. What an amazing thought! That something I do can bless God!

6, Prayer teaches us God's will. In 2 Cor. 12, we read of Paul's thorn in his flesh. And while we often focus on Paul's declaration that God's grace is sufficient, how did Paul come to this revelation? As he prayed that God would remove it, vs9 says, "But He said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness." Who said that? God did. That means that through prayer, Paul was able to discern God's will regarding this hardship. Prayer teaches us God's word.

7, God answers prayer. We should pray because God answers our prayers. Of course there are times when the answer is no. But there are also times when the answer is yes. Jesus' parable of the persistent widow (Luke 18) reminds us that God, who is loving and faithful to us, will certainly answer the prayers that we offer.

8, We get to. Finally, we should pray because we get to. It's easy to take prayer for granted. It's easy to forget that our sins had separated us from God. It's easy to forget that nothing we could do could bring us back to Him. Eph. 2:13 reminds us that through the blood of Jesus, we who were separated have been brought near. We can go into the presence of God through our Great High Priest, King Jesus.

Father, thank You for the gift of prayer. Help us not to take it for granted, nor forget the exceedingly high cost that was paid in order to secure this great privilege. Make us men and women of prayer, for the glory of Your name. Amen.

Monday, July 18, 2011

My Wife is Awesome

So apparently I haven't blogged in a couple months. And since my inbox and facebook hasn't blown up with people demanding I return there isn't a huge compulsion to do so today. However, I started this thing, darn it, and I need to be consistent.

So here's what's on my mind today. My wife is awesome. I don't mean that in a silly, aw-shucks kind of way. I mean seriously awesome. Mind-blowingly awesome. People often comment on how hard it must be to serve as a pastor--had a guy tell me the other day he would rather be whipped with a switch than have my job, and I wasn't quite sure how to respond to that (thank you? you're welcome? I was sort of at a loss there)--but let me assure you that the pastor's wife has the hardest job of all. In addition to everything else she has to do, she has to listen to her husband gripe/complain/whine. And let me tell you, my wife is so gracious to let me do all this.

In addition, my wife does an amazing job of taking care of our 3 kids. If you've never spent day after day in your home, tending to several children who daily demonstrate the utter depravity of the unconverted human heart then you have missed a blessing. Kelly handles the stresses of this job with grace and humility.

Something else that makes my wife awesome is that she is way smarter than I am. Anyone who knows us would certainly agree. But this amazingly intelligent woman has chosen to use her intellect, and the previous 10 years of her life, not pursuing a career, not continuing her education--both of which are lofty and noble goals. No, she has laid that aside for a season so she can devote herself to her kids. That, boys and girls, is what we call selfless underappreciated sacrifice.

You know why else she is awesome? Just now she started texting me quotes from Tombstone. Seriously, how awesome is that?

Here's another reason she's awesome. She's so stinking pretty. I mean, look at that picture of her. No kidding, have a look. OK, that's long enough. Quit staring at my wife. Kelly is amazingly beautiful. I'm not sure why she settled for a guy who looks like me but let me tell you, I'm glad she did.

So in summary, let me just state that my wife is awesome. Babe, I love you so much. I'm so grateful for you and so thankful for the last (almost) 13 years. It's been a great start to the rest of our lives. Now come give me a kiss.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Lost, Funerals, and Loving the World

This morning I was listening to K-Love on my way to the office and one of the DJs was talking about some friends who had just gotten the complete series of Lost on DVD. What made it such a neat gift for them was that they had never seen it before. Not a single episode. So apparently I'm not the only person in America who has never seen a single episode. Anyways, they started watching (wait, now I am the only person who's never seen an episode). And they got into it. Really into it. Like watching 2-3 episodes per day every day into it. And talking about nothing but Lost all the time into it. The DJ said, "They were telling me, 'It's all we talk about! When we're at the table, when we get up, we wonder what will happen to Butch and Linda and Gilligan (or whatever the names of the cast were--wasn't there a Jack in there somewhere?) and the rest of the gang.

My first reaction on hearing this was, "How sad." And don't misunderstand-I got no beef with Lost. Seemed to be a great show, lots of people enjoyed it, all that. And I'm thrilled for everybody that got into the smoke monsters and unanswered questions. But I couldn't help but think how sad it is that this couple who professes Christ, who have surrendered their lives to Him, who have sworn their allegiance to the King of Kings are spending all their time talking about something that didn't happen.

And I post this because as soon as I thought about how sad it was that they were doing this, I was immediately reminded that I do the same thing. Maybe I'm not crazy into Lost. But how many times per day do I check my facebook page? "Ooh, I wonder if anyone commented on my witty status? Maybe someone will think I'm cooler now!" How often do I spend time thinking about the things of this world rather than the Savior of this world? What a waste of a life that could be spent pursuing Christ and His glory.

I John 2:15 says, "Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world the love of the Father is not in him." Read that again, slowly this time. You don't have to be a theologian to interpret that one. Pretty plain. John says very plainly that we are not to love the world, that if we do love it then the love of the Father is not in Him. Consider the implications of that verse. We can say that we love Jesus, that we've given Him our lives, all that stuff. But if I still love the world with the same fervor then the love of the Father isn't in me. This is why we must constantly guard our hearts, make sure that our joy is in Christ and not in the world. Because when we let the things of the world begin to take hold there's a problem.

I suppose this really stuck with me today because I'm preaching a funeral in a couple hours. And funerals really help bring things into perspective. See, the thing I always remind myself when I'm at a funeral is that one day I'll be the one in the casket. One day, I'll be the one laying there while my family listens to a preacher. And on that day it won't matter how well I understood the plot of Lost, it won't matter how many comments I got on facebook, and it won't matter how well liked I was. All that will matter is what I did with Christ. Did I love Him above everything else? Did I serve Him with gladness? Was Jesus my righteousness and my joy? That's what matters.

Father, thank You for Your love. Thank You for Your salvation. Help me to love You more. Help me to be swept away by You, to be caught up in how amazing You are. Help me to love you so greatly that everything else in my life fades into the background. Amen.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

In which my Idolatrous Heart is revealed

Following Jesus is a lifetime journey. It's not something we do one time and then stop. Jesus said he who endures to the end will be saved. That doesn't mean we endure to earn salvation but that we endure to prove it. And as we walk this journey, as we are continually conformed to the image of Christ, there are times when we are reminded of just how far we still have to go. Times when the searchlight of God's holiness shines on our lives--brutally and clearly--and we see things in our hearts that we didn't know were there. Happened to me this week.

It's tax season, everyone's favorite time of year. And ever since I've pastored Kelly and I have never gotten a refund. Ever. Rather than a refund we've actually had to pay in every year. So this year I expected the same. I hoped that it would only be a few hundred bucks but really hadn't given it much thought. Worrying about it wouldn't change it, right? So Kelly goes to the guy who does our taxes yesterday. Calls me on the way home with good news. This year we don't have to pay in. Better still, we're getting some money back. Now not to get off subject but how sad is it when we get excited that the government gives us some of our money back? Or has my friend Jonathon Baird says, "Yay, the government is paying me back my interest-free loan!"

But this isn't a post about the sad state of our tax system. It's about the sad state of my heart. I was glad to hear that we didn't have to pay in. Even more glad that we're getting a refund. It's not a ton of money, but it's certainly enough to help out. And I was sort of relieved. Very relieved, actually. I began to think about some of the things we could do with the money. We could put some towards some unexpected medical bills we've recently had to deal with. We could put back a little for some tires on the car. We could take the van in to have the front end inspected, figure out why it's been shimmying.

With each addition to the list I felt a little better. A little more peace, little more relief. My day had brightened considerably since I found out I would have a few extra dollars in my pocket. And therein lies the problem--I was finding peace and happiness in something other than Him. Rather than finding my joy in the fact that King Jesus has saved me and that He has promised to provide for me, my joy was found in the fact that I'm getting a check from Uncle Sam.

Please don't misunderstand. I'm not saying its wrong to rejoice in the Lord for His provision. Nor am I suggesting that it's wrong to be relieved when you're able to pay some bills. The problem is that my heart was happier because of money I was getting. But regardless of whether or not I was getting a refund, God was still on the throne. My sins had still been nailed to the cross. I had still been buried with Christ and raised to walk in newness of life. My sins had still been washed away by the blood of Jesus and my name was still written in the Lamb's book of life. And I still had a God who had promised to supply my needs. But rather than resting in these things, rather than finding my peace and joy and relief in the truths of God's word, my joy was wrapped up in a few bucks.

Paul's desire was that he would never boast in anything except the cross. God reminded me this week that it's easier to say that than to do it. My prayer, my aim, is that I'm won't boast in refund checks, in superficial abilities, in my discipline, in my position, in any of that; rather I will rest in the finished work of King Jesus on the cross. I will boast in my Savior who love me and gave Himself for me. And I will trust in His provision. I will look to Him for my joy. And I will violently remove all idols from my heart and bow before the only one Who is worthy of praise.

Father, thank You for Your love, mercy and patience. Forgive me of my idolatry. Forgive me for looking to any other source but You for joy and peace. May I boast only in the cross. Amen.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Space Junk, Sin, and other Things of a Destructive Nature

I read an article the other day about near tragedy that was averted in space. Seems that the men aboard the International Space Station had quite the close call. A piece of space junk came dangerously close to them; so close, in fact, that they considered rerouting the station's trajectory. Images of gigantic pieces of discarded technology came to mind as I tried to figure out what could be so serious that they would attempt an avoidance maneuver. And then I discovered the culprit--according to the story, what struck fear in the hearts of the astronauts in space and the controllers on the ground was a six inch piece of debris. That's right, six inches. Not six feet, not some unimaginably large piece of garbage; a little 6 inch piece of trash was enough to raise the specter of an avoidance maneuver. I'm not sure what all that would entail but I'm pretty sure that changing the trajectory of the space station is slightly more complicated than parallel parking my minivan.

Like me, you might be wondering, "Why make such a big deal about something so small?" And the reason is simple--this wasn't just a six inch long piece of garbage. It was a six inch long piece of garbage traveling at 5 miles per second. I'll give you a moment to try and wrap your noodle around that. That, as we say in the south, is putting the hammer down. The reason the astronauts were prepared for an avoidance maneuver wasn't because of the size of the object; it was because of the damage it could have caused.

And that's what really struck me about this story. For the sake of such a small piece of debris, they were willing to go to all the trouble of changing the flight path of the International Space Station. Seems like much ado about nothing--until you consider the damage this tiny piece of debris could have caused. In light of that, an avoidance maneuver would be the least they could do, right?

Now here's the point. The bible describes something that is even more dangerous, contains even more potential for damage than a lightening fast piece of space debris--sin. Sin kills, it maims, it destroys; it separates us from God, it hinders our walk and it ruins our testimonies. But we rarely treat it that way. Sure, we'll try and avoid the "big" sins. We won't run around on our wives--but in the secrecy of our homes, with a few clicks of a mouse we'll indulge the flesh with pornographic fantasies. We won't murder anyone--but we'll hold grudges and simmering anger deeply in our hearts and refuse to lay them aside.

You see, it doesn't take much sin to ruin us. In I Corinthians 5 Paul warned the church against this attitude. In vs6 he says, "Don't you know that just a little leaven leavens the whole lump?" The church was proud of their accepting attitude towards sin and sinners. And Paul says, "That's the wrong idea! Sin is dangerous, it has the potential to destroy you. Rather than embracing it, you need to be planning an avoidance maneuver!"

Just as the astronauts were willing to completely change the trajectory of the space station to avoid this tiny piece of debris, I need to be willing to do whatever it takes to avoid sin in my life. God hasn't called to be pretty good. He's called me to be holy. Because of the substitutionary death of Christ on the cross, and because I've surrendered to Him and turned from my sins, I am positionally holy. But God calls me to practical holiness, to living on the outside according to who He's made me to be on the inside. To be holy means I must shun sin, I must turn from it, I must always be ready for avoidance maneuvers. Doesn't mean I lock myself in my home and never leave. Means that I seek to avoid anything that could make me stumble into sin. And do that not so that I'll be holier than someone else or so I can earn God's favor. I do that so I can bring honor and glory to my Great King, to please the One who loved me and gave Himself for me. I encourage you, make sure that you don't overlook the danger of sin. Be ready with an avoidance maneuver. And spend each day in the pursuit of holiness--to the glory of our King.

Father, thank You for loving me and saving me. Keep the dangers of sin ever before me, and help me to continue to run to You for strength and wisdom to overcome sin. Help me be who You have created me to be, for Your honor and for Your glory. Amen.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Winter clothes and other transitory things

Last night Kelly began taking the kids' winter clothes out of their closets and putting them away until cold weather returns--which is always a tricky proposition in Arkansas. It may be 90 degrees next week or it may snow. But we've always been the kind of people who give a strong, Celtic laugh in the face of danger so we're going ahead with the plan.

When you change out the seasonal clothes it's a time of transition. You are transitioning from one season to another, one need to another, one time of year to another. And as I was looking over all the winter stuff I was reminded that all our lives are times of transition. When you're an infant you are transitioning through various stages of helplessness. You transition to a person who can communicate, move about independently, and control your bowels--all of which prove marvelously useful in the years to follow. As you grow older and begin school you are continually transitioning through different grades and different social situations and different friends.

The transitions continue through college as you study a discipline that you'll use to gain employment. Often during this time you transition into marriage. And with time, you'll transition to parenthood (which is often accompanied by frustration-hood, lack of sleep-hood, and extreme gratitude to God for such amazing gifts-hood).

Life is a series of transitions. Right now I've got a pile of winter clothes that need to be put away. Before long there will be a pile of summer clothes. Right now we're getting ready to transition Owen to Pre K. But before I know it we'll be getting ready to transition Lily into college. Life is a series of transitions. And those transitions happen faster than we realize. James 4:14 says, "What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes." Sounds pretty transitory to me.

So here's the point--we can either fight against these transitions or we can embrace them and make the most of them. We can realize that this transition, this life we live, isn't going to last forever. And we can seek to make the most of it. Charles Spurgeon said, "God gives His people life, not as the clock ticks, but as He helps them to serve Him; and He can make them to live much in a short space of time." I don't know how long I'll be a misty appearance on this earth. I don't know what transitions I have before me. But what I do know is this: I won't be here forever. So I need to make the most of the time God has given me. And I need to realize that this world is not my home. I've been made for a different home. A home where I'll find eternal rest and eternal joy in the presence of the One who loved me and gave Himself for me. May our lives be lived for His glory. And may the transitions remind us of our temporary stay here.

Father, thank You for the gift of life. Thank You for the gift of time. And thank You for the gift of transitions in our lives. You use these to gently remind us that our time here is short, and that this world is not our home. Help us to live passionately, to embrace the life You've given us--but help us also to hold to it loosely, knowing that we are here but for a moment. Help that moment be used to bring great honor to Your name. Amen.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

In which we seek to destroy self-reliance

Ask a group of Christians what matters most, what is the most important thing for them to become more like Jesus and you'll probably get similar answers. Things like prayer, reading the Bible, and sharing our faith with others will dominate the list. And those things are monumentally important in our daily walk with Christ. We're called to evangelize, to pray without ceasing, and to regard the Bible as inspired and useful for making us more like Jesus. But there's something else I would add to that list, something that is just as important as anything on that list. And, that is, as the title might suggest, the importance of destroying self-reliance.

Self-reliance is, as you might have imagined, relying on yourself. And in our culture its put forth as a virtue. "Believe in yourself", we are told; "trust in your heart"; "visualize the life you want to have and it will be yours." Now the problem with this is obvious--it leaves out Jesus. And rather than teaching self-reliance, the New Testament emphasizes a complete reliance on Jesus.

One of the most well known illustrations of this is found in 2 Corinthians 12. As Paul describes a struggle he has faced with a messenger from Satan, and his prayers that were offered to God seeking that this be removed, he reveals that God says, "My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness." God essentially says that only when confronted with our weaknesses do we run to Him for His power. And its crucial for us to take hold of this in our lives. The only way we learn to trust in the strength of God is by being forced to see that our own strength is insufficient; the only way I learn to rely on God is by the systematic destruction of self-reliance in my life. Paul goes on to say in vs10, "For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong." Paul recognizes what God is telling Him. And he embraces it. He says, "Lord, if the only way to strip away self-reliance is by You demonstrating to me my own insufficiency, then I will glory in those times."

Now that might seem cruel. It might seem heartless that God would expose us to these types of situations. But rather than being cruel, it is actually a demonstration of the great love God has for us. You see, God wants what is best for us. And that doesn't mean He wants what we think is best for us but that He wants what He knows is best for us--and what is best for us is a life given over to bringing Him glory. And the only way this is accomplished is when our lives are devoid of self-reliance, when we boast gladly of our weaknesses, knowing that when we do so the power of Christ will rest upon us.

God loves us enough to put us through that sanctifying surgery, for lack of a better term, that strips away the reliance on self. And that's not an easy process. There is no general anesthesia for that surgery. But it's a worthwhile surgery. And the reason is this; the less I rely on myself, the more I rely on my Savior. That's huge for us because when we rely on ourselves we will do all we are capable of; when you "believe in yourself" you'll do all that 'yourself' is capable of. But when I rely on Jesus, I can do all things through the One who is giving me strength.

Now does this take away the pain of those times of insults, hardships or betrayals by friends? Of course not. But as a follower of Christ I must learn to embrace those things because I know that God is using them to destroy self-reliance.

Father, thank You for loving me, for saving me, and for committing to make me like You. Help me to see things through Your eyes rather than mine. Help me to remember the sufficiency of Your grace. And help me to glory in the fact that through times of hardship I am being made more like You. Amen.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Lessons on the Nature of Truth by Emma Cox

As we were heading out the door this morning Lily was telling me all about the new book she's been reading. And God love my Lily-bug, she tells stories like her mother. No detail is left out, no character is unmentioned--often I have to encourage her (in a loving, patient, dad of the year kind of way) to find the point. Don't judge me. So as she was telling me about one of the characters, Emma asked, "Is he good or bad?"

I was struck by the simplicity of her question. To her 5 year old mind there was a simple classification for this character: either he was good or he was bad. That's the way the mind of a child works, isn't it? There are good people and there are bad people. There is right and there is wrong. There is black and there is white.

I thought further about how as adults we are eager to outgrow such simplistic thinking. We pride ourselves on being able to identify moral gray areas. We pat ourselves on the back for our tolerance and our intellectual evolution. Others may view the world through so narrow a lens but we are able to look beyond that. We are able to see that "absolute truth" is a misnomer.

But lost in our self-congratulatory euphoria (which might be my new favorite phrase) is the fact that there are things as simple as right and wrong. There are things as concrete as good and bad. There is, as the photo suggests, a right way to do things, and a wrong way to do things. And maybe what the world needs is more child-like view of things. Please don't misunderstand: I'm not anti-intellectual and I'm not suggesting we all hold hands and sing "Kumbaya" around the campfire. But I am suggesting that sometimes we can overlook the obvious-that there is right and that there is wrong. That there is truth and that there is falsehood. There are moral dilemmas in the world. There are difficult decisions to be made. But there are also things that are true; not "sort of in a round about way" kind of true but "absolutely and without question or equivocation" kind of true. Jesus said in John 8:32, "...you will know the truth and the truth will set you free." According to Jesus, not only is truth a reality, truth is knowable. We can know truth. And as I thought about what Emma said, her simple understanding that there are things that are right/true and things that are wrong/untrue, I though about some of those things, some of that truth that we can know.

We know, for example that God is. Throw away all your smart sounding arguments and bid words. Throw out your philosophers and people who tell you what to believe. Now go and stand out in a dark place on a clear night. Look upward at the blanket of stars. Look at the innumerable lights in the night sky. Can you really conceive of such things just happening into existence? We know God exists because He has revealed His existence to the world. The heavens declare the glory of the One who spoke them into existence. Every cell, every strand of DNA shouts to the creative brilliance of our King. Every star that shines is a light that points us to the throne of the Master of this world. We know that God exists and we can hold to that with unshakable certainty.

We know that God is holy. His word declares to us His holiness, the perfection of His character. In addition to the testimony of His word we all have within us a desire for what's right, don't we? We are grieved when injustice is allowed to flourish, we desire to see the guilty punished and the innocent vindicated. That desire is there because we were made in the image of a holy God, a God who loves justice and righteousness. That desire that resides within our fallen flesh reminds us that God is holy.

We know that we are not holy. You don't have to be a theologian to understand this. We can argue about degrees of sinfulness but the bottom line is that we are all unholy; we are all guilty of sin. None of us can match the standard of Our creator. The answer to Emma's question about whether or not a character was good or bad is ultimately, "He's bad." And that's true for each of us. We are sinful people; sinful by birth and sinful by choice. This is truth. This is beyond debate.

We know that Jesus saves sinners. Now this is good news, isn't it? We know that Jesus Christ saves sinners. He came to this earth for that purpose. Luke 19:10 tells us that the Son of Man came to seek and save that which was lost. Jesus came to the earth to save sinners. His life was the life I couldn't live. His death was the death I should have died. And His resurrection was the proof of the truth of His words. Through faith we can be forgiven. Though we didn't live a perfect life, the perfect life of Jesus can be imputed to us. Though we didn't die for our sins, the death that Jesus died was a substitutionary death--He took our punishment in our place. And since He rose again, we who are dead in our sins can be raised to walk in newness of life.

We know that Jesus will return. The past, as they say, is prologue. That means that what has happened before is a pretty good indicator of what will happen next. God promised a Redeemer would come to save the world; and He did. That redeemer promised that He'll return; and He will. If all the prophecies of the Old Testament were proven true, if everything in the New Testament has been verified, why would we doubt that this same Jesus will return?

Jesus said that we will know the truth, and that knowledge of the truth will set us free. I encourage you to take hold of the truth; and as you do, experience the freedom it offers. Freedom from worry, freedom from guilt, freedom from anxiety or fear. The truth is that we have a God who loves us and has given Himself for us. We have a God who has promised to return for us. And we have a God who has promised to never leave us or forsake us.

Father, thank You for Your truth. Thank You that You love us, that You saved us, and that You'll return for us. Thank You that in a world of confusion and chaos, we can hold to what Your word tells us. We can hold to Your truth. Give us a childlike acceptance of what Your word says. Help us to see the world as You do-through the lens of right and wrong. But even more, help us to love the world as You do. Help us to share the good news with them. And use our lives to glorify Yourself. Amen.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

In Which We Learn About Reality

This morning started off like most weekday mornings at our house. I went into the girls' room to get them up. I told Emma it was time to get up and she said, "There's no school today", rolled over and covered herself back up. It's not that she was confused about the day of the week. She knew it was Tuesday. She further knew that Tuesday means school. However, she was making a declarative statement. She had decided that today would be a school-free day. Unfortunately, Emma had to learn a difficult lesson this morning: we cannot create our own reality. In Emma's world there would have been no school today. It would have been a day full of lollipops and gumdrops, video games and princess movies. But alas, Emma doesn't live in Emma world. She lives in the real world. And no amount of declarative statements, regardless of the force and conviction with which they are delivered, will allow us to change our reality.

The reason this stuck with me is that I see so much of myself in Emma's statement, in her desire to make things be as she wishes them rather than accept them as they are. How often have I done the same thing? How often have I tried to justify my own sinful behavior by comparing myself to others rather than to God's perfect standard? I'll say, "It's not that bad, not that big of a deal, not really that sinful." But no matter how often I say that, God's word is plain-all sin is abhorrent to God.

How often do we see this in other people? I read the other day where Bernie Madoff, the guy who swindled so many people out of billions of dollars said, "I'm not a bad person." My apologies, Mr. Madoff. I was under the impression that being a liar and thief, that stealing people's savings accounts, and college funds, that lying about it and covering it up and living in luxury at the expense of others did in fact make one a bad person.

We can't change our reality. But the good news is that we serve a God who can. Rev. 21:5, "And He who was seated on the throne said, 'Behold I am making all things new." We serve a God who was not only able to create the world we live in; He is able to recreate our world, to recreate our reality. And this isn't some abstract concept. This goes to the core of who we are. The reality we all live in is that we are sinners who are separated from God. The reality is that there is nothing we can do to change who we are. We are sinners by birth and sinners by choice. We return to our sins, like a dog returns to its vomit. But in Christ, who we are can be changed. 2 Cor. 5:17 says, "If anyone is in Christ he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come!" In Christ, our reality can be changed. Rather than being sinners, we are made into saints. Rather than being separated from Christ we are baptized into Christ. And who we are is no longer who we were.

Remember in John 2, when Jesus was at the wedding in Cana? The host ran out of wine. Jesus told them to fill 6 jars with water; when they drew the water out to serve it, it was miraculously changed into wine. Jesus changed the reality, didn't He? He made it into something completely different. And that's exactly what He can do in our live. When we come to Him in faith and repentance, when we bow to Him and acknowledge His rightful place as Lord and Ruler of our lives, He makes all things new. Who we are, where we're going, everything is changed. For that we ought to worship Him. Even when we have to go to school.

Father, thank You for being able to recreate my reality. Thank You for saving me, for forgiving me, for placing Your affection on me. Help me to live not in the reality I desire but in the reality You have given me. Help me to find my joy, my fulfillment and satisfaction not in other things but in You alone. Help me to rest in You, and be content with wherever you place me. Amen.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Of Grief and Despair. And Hope.

Tragedy struck our town this week. 3 young men were involved in a car accident. One of them, a 16 year old named Kynan Barrett, was killed. I didn't know Kynan. But those who did speak very highly of him. They speak of his friendliness to others, of his infectious smile. Teachers speak of his great attitude, and they joy they took from teaching him. When tragedy strikes, when our hearts break, our minds are flooded with questions. We wonder how this could happen, we wonder why it did happen?

I know those questions well. In August of 2007, Kelly and I moved back to Arkansas after pastoring in Oklahoma for 2 years. We had an incredible time there; the people at First Baptist Church in Wakita were amazing; they were patient with a 25 year old who knew nothing of how to shepherd a flock. They loved us and took care of us and we treasure the memories we made there. At the same time, we were excited about being close to family again. I was especially thrilled to be close to my grandmother again. Grandma practically raised me and I looked forward to being close to her again, and making sure that Lily had a great relationship with her great-grandmother. 2 weeks after coming back to Arkansas Grandma suffered a massive heart attack and died. To make matters worse, she died the night before I was to leave for a 10 day preaching trip to Kenya. There was no way I could attend her funeral. And in the days that followed I wondered, "Why would God do that? Couldn't He have waited until I got back? Couldn't He at least have let me be there for the funeral? Why did I only get 2 weeks with her? After all, I was serving Him the previous 2 years."

None of it made any sense to me. But what sustained me through that time, and what will sustain each of us through the tragedies of life, is knowing that even when things don't make sense to us they still make sense to God. Or said another way, "why?" is the wrong question to ask. The right question is, "Even though this doesn't make sense to me, does it make sense to God?" And please don't misunderstand; I'm not suggesting that we never go to our Father and tell Him we don't understand. I'm suggesting that what will sustain us as we walk through the valley of the shadow of death is not grasping for answers that we could probably never understand anyway. What will sustain us is knowing that even if I can't understand it, I serve a God who can. I serve a God who is able to work all things together for good. I serve a God who is able to use all things--even my times of heartbreak and despair--for His glory.

C.S. Lewis said, "...if God is wiser than we His judgment must differ from ours on many things...What seems to us good may therefore not be good in His eyes, and what seems to us evil may not be evil." The question in any time of tragedy is this; is God wiser than I? If the answer is no, then we despair without hope. But if the answer is yes then we despair-but with hope. We despair knowing that even in the midst of our heartbreak God is working out all things according to His sovereign goodness. That even if I'm facing something that I would never have chosen for myself, God has chosen it for me. And He is a Great and loving King, a King in whose hands I have placed my very eternity. And I've trusted Him with my future--I can trust Him with my present.

To those who mourn in times of tragedy I say, mourn. But not as those who have no hope. Cry for your loneliness and weep for the emptiness in your heart. But rejoice in a God who is so great that He is able to take unspeakable tragedies and work from them unspeakable goodness. There is no greater example than the cross of Christ. At Calvary, the Creator lay down His life for His creation. He died in their place, killed at their hands. Is there a greater tragedy than this? Morally, philosophically, is there a greater tragedy than a loving and benevolent Creator being murdered by those who created Him? And yet from this great tragedy comes great hope. For when Jesus arose victoriously from the grave, salvation was secured for all who would receive it. And if God is able to take the greatest tragedy and work from it the greatest miracle, the miracle of redemption, how much more can we trust Him to work out these light and momentary afflictions for His everlasting glory?

Father, thank You for being so much greater and wiser than we. Thank You for knowing all things and being surprised by nothing. Thank You for being so great and so amazing that You can take the heartbreak and tragedies we face and somehow work them out for Your eternal glory. Thank You for taking the greatest tragedy-the death of King Jesus-and using it to bring about redemption for all who will receive it. Comfort us when we mourn, strengthen us when we are weak, and help us to look to You for our joy, our comfort, and our peace. Amen.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

What Fishing Teaches Us About Evangelism

There are lots of descriptions for evangelism; churches today use all sorts of words and phrases to convey the idea of sharing the good news. But perhaps the clearest, most descriptive phrase used is how Jesus described it. In Matthew 4:19 He called Peter and Andrew in this way: "Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men."

In a culture where fishing played a major role, this is was an incredibly descriptive phrase for Jesus to use. It would have brought an image immediately to mind. In the same way, most everyone in our culture is at least somewhat familiar with fishing. And so Jesus' description of evangelism is equally clear to us. When He links evangelism to fishing, the lights come on as it were. We get what He's talking about. In thinking about this illustration, I began to jot down a few of the things that fishing can teach us about evangelism. Jesus said He would make us fishers of men. In other words, there are similarities between fishing and evangelism; there are things we learn about evangelism from fishing. What are they?

First, we have to go to where the fish are. If you want to catch a fish, you have to go to where the fish are, right? It's ridiculous to expect the fish to come to you. In the same way, if we want be fishers of men that means we have to go to where the fish are. In Luke 14 Jesus told a story about a man who threw a big party. He invited all the usual folks but they all backed out. His response was to invite the folks who wouldn't normally be invited to a party; the people that society didn't value too highly. And in vs23 he told his servant, "Go out to the highways and hedges and compel people to come in, that my house may be filled." Point is, he didn't sit back and wait for people to come to him--he went after them. In the same way, to be effective evangelists we have to go to where people are. To catch fish, you go to where the fish are; to catch sinners, you go to where the sinners are. Too many Christians have decided that they would never stoop to go to certain establishments; as a result the people in those establishments--people who are precious to God, people with eternal souls--those people don't hear the gospel. Jesus tells us to go to where the fish are, so to speak. Luke 19:10, "For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost." The Son of Man didn't come to sit in a chair and wait for His subject to come kneel before Him. He came in pursuit of them. To catch fish, we have to go where the fish are.

Second, we have to use the right bait. Now here's where we sort of go off the rails a little bit in the church. When we hear "fishers of men" we think about how we fish today. We think about using the right bait, about using the right kind of lures; we fish over here and wait for a nibble, fish over there, etc. We talk about how to 'set the hook' in evangelistic events, all that good stuff. One problem; in Jesus' day they didn't use a rod and reel (despite the picture above). They used a net. So it's pointless to talk about the right kind of lure; that's not what Jesus is referring to at all. Churches waste all their time trying to figure out the right lure--we've got to have the coolest music, the hippest graphics, the flashiest website--all that is fine and dandy. But it won't save anybody. The bait we use is simple; the gospel of Jesus Christ. Romans 1:16 makes a staggering claim; "I am not ashamed of the gospel of Jesus Christ for it is the power of God for salvation..." Consider the implications of that. The gospel--not the music, not the building, not the lights, not the cool shirt from Target with the cross on the shoulder that the ultra-relevant Pastor wears--none of that has any bearing on the saving of a soul. All that matters is the gospel. When we preach Jesus, lost people are saved. John 12:32, "And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to Myself." Jesus promises that when He is lifted up, when He is crucified, He will use that message to draw men to Himself. When Jesus is lifted up, people are drawn to Him. By the way, "drawn to Him" sounds an awful lot like being caught in a net, doesn't it? Now don't misunderstand. I'm not against a church striving for relevance and modernity. I am against a church thinking that those things are necessary for the salvation of a soul. The gospel--the message of a crucified, resurrected, and coming again Jesus--that message is sufficient for the salvation of the lost.

Third, sometimes you won't catch anything. If you've fished very many times you know that there are times when you won't catch anything. Just the way that it works. But one thing I learned while fishing on farm ponds is this: where are they going to go? Think about it, if I go out fishing one afternoon and don't catch anything I don't have to get all upset about it. Where will the fish go? They aren't going to walk to another pond. I just have to be patient and keep fishing. In the same way, we need to understand that in evangelism, sometimes we won't catch anything. There are times when we preach the good news, share the gospel, just do the work of an evangelist--and nothing happens. And that's OK. Because saving them isn't our job, it's God's job. Our job is simply to cast the net of the gospel. It's the work of the Spirit to pull them to Himself. If someone refuses to hear the good news, don't despair. You'll get another chance with them.

Fourth, there's a mystery to catching fish. I love to fish with my dad. Nothing like spending time with him, talking, being encouraged, and catching fish. But at times it can be pretty frustrating fishing with him. He can cast to the exact same spot I did and while I didn't even get a bite, he'll catch the fish. I don't know how that works I just accept that there is a mystery to it. In the same way, we have to accept that there is a mystery to salvation. We can preach the gospel with all the eloquence in the world, present a clear plan of God's love and be completely rejected. Other times we can stumble and stammer, not thinking we're getting out a clear message at all--and God will use that to bring a sinner to repentance. There's a mystery to catching fish. And rather than trying to figure it all out, I choose to rest in the sovereignty of a God who loves me and gave Himself for me. A God who has chosen to set His affection on rebels and traitors and has guaranteed to His gospel will bring them to repentance.

Finally, anybody can catch a fish. Bill Dance can catch him some bass. Sometimes I think that guy could cast into a mud hole and pull out a seven pound bass. But you know what? I can catch a bass too. Maybe not as big, maybe not as frequently; but I can catch a fish. Know what else? Owen can catch a fish. I might have to help him cast, maybe help him reel it in; but if he gets that cricket in the water, the cork is going down. Here's the point; anybody can catch a fish. You don't have to be Bill Dance; and thankfully, you don't have to be Billy Graham either. The power isn't in the presentation or any of that stuff. The power is in the message. If we are faithful to preach the good news, and to live the good news; if we are faithful to take the opportunities God provides for us, we'll catch souls for the kingdom of God. Don't let what you perceive as your lack of abilities hinder you from being a fisher of men. Don't think you need a seminary degree to reach lost sinners. Share the eternal gospel of Jesus Christ and people will be saved.

Father, thank You for the gospel. Thank You for letting us take part in sharing that gospel with the world. Help us to be faithful to share it, to take every opportunity You give us to tell people about Jesus. Help us to clearly and passionately present Jesus to the world. And glorify Yourself through us. Amen.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Book review time!
Albert Pujols is one of the most recognizable names in pro sports. And in their book Pujols: More than the game, authors Scott Lamb and Tim Ellsworth seek to help the reader gain a better understanding of this sometimes controversial, always electrifying star slugger.
The book is heavy on statistics, all of which are presented with the purpose of illustrating Pujols’ dominance as a hitter. It’s also heavy on quotes, both from Pujols himself and from those who have crossed his path; coaches, teammates, and pastors, for example. However, this reliance on quotes makes the book read less like a biography and more like an extended Sports Illustrated story. Another glaring omission was a lack of photographs in the book. When I read a biography, especially of a current sports star, I enjoy seeing images from his/her life. This book had none. Now this doesn’t make the book unreadable by any means, but it should be noted by those considering it.
All in all, Pujols is an enjoyable read. And the authors do a commendable job of portraying the star as more than just a baseball player. In the words of the man himself, “Baseball is simply my platform to elevate Jesus Christ, my Lord and Savior.” Albert Pujols is presented as an admirable role model; for both his amazing baseball skills and his unwavering commitment to Jesus Christ. He is presented openly and honestly, with no attempt to cover up or make excuses for his mistakes and sometimes surly reputation. He’s an amazing man-he deserves an equally amazing biography. This is not it.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookSneeze®.com http://BookSneeze®.com book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Playing School and Playing Christian

This morning after breakfast Lily began to herd her brother and sister into the next room. She had decided that they were going to play school. Now that sounds innocent enough but let me explain something about Lily. When she decides that they're going to play school, they play school. She makes her brother and sister sit still, assigns them work, etc. In fact, this morning she even had a copy of the roll from her classroom and was going down it deciding who was going to charge their lunch, who brought their lunch, and who was eating the school lunch. She gets very serious about playing school-and playing most other games as well. So as she began to bark out orders I reminded her not to lose her cool if Emma and Owen didn't follow every rule. "It's just a game", I said. "Remember that the point is to have fun."

Remembering the reason for what we do is pretty important. If I fail to remember the reason why I'm doing something then I'm liable to do it for the wrong reason; or worse yet, I'm liable to do it the wrong way. And one thing God's word makes plain is that the right thing done the wrong way becomes the wrong thing.

Want proof? Psalm 51:16, "For You do not delight in sacrifice or I would give it; You will not be pleased with a burnt offering." Consider what David is saying. The sacrificial system which was given by God, which was at the very heart of Israel's identity as God's nation is essentially said to be worthless. Why? vs17: "The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, You will not despise." David's point? The outward action of sacrifices is worthless without the inward reality of remorse over sin and brokenness at having rebelled against the Great King. When the purpose of the action is forgotten, the action becomes worthless.

Here's another example. Remember the Pharisees? If anyone could please God by rule-keeping it was these guys, right? They had scrutinized the law to the point that they could tell you everything you should (or shouldn't) do in every situation. They were fastidious about their rule-keeping. Surely they would earn God's favor, right? Matt. 23:27-28, "“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness." What a shot against their self-righteousness! Jesus just blasts them. Why? They forgot the purpose of the law. The purpose wasn't to give one a sense of self-righteousness but to utterly remove all traces of it. Rather than puff you up, the law tears you down. But somehow, they had missed that. When the purpose of the action is forgotten, the action becomes worthless.

What difference does all this make? Simply this: in my daily walk with Christ my eyes must not be on my actions; rather my eyes must be fixed on Jesus, the author and finisher of my faith. The purpose of the rules He gives isn't so I can feel self-righteous; it's so I can glorify Him in this world. How tragic that we take things that God has given us--things like reading His word and praying, things that can bring us closer to Him, make us more like Him, help us to glorify Him--and cheapen them putting them on a daily check list of self-righteousness. There's great danger in that. The moment I do that I'm simply playing at being a Christian rather than walking in the righteousness that Jesus has given me and resting in His finished work of redemption. I'm not reflecting the glory of my King, I'm trying to demonstrate my own goodness. And worst of all, I'm no longer enjoying the all-encompassing greatness of God. May we never play Christians-rather, may we be Christians.

Father, thank You for Your love. Thank You for Your patience. Help me to remember the reason why You call me to serve You. Not so that I can glory in my own righteousness, but so that I can glory in the imputed righteousness of Jesus, that Lamb of God Who takes away the sin of the world. Thank You for Your salvation and help me to rest in it rather than try to add to it. Amen.

Monday, February 7, 2011

In Which I Admit to Liking Opera

I understand that the opening thoughts of this post are fraught with danger. But I'm manly enough to face those dangers. And more than that I can defeat them. So here goes-I like opera. Now let me qualify that. I like it occasionally. And in small doses. And only certain pieces. La Donna e Mobile from Rigoletto, for example (BTW, fellas, that translates to "women are fickle". Now who can't agree with that?). Nessun Dorma from Turandot is another. Beautiful, powerful piece of art.

And so the other day I thought I would be all cultural and what not and added these songs to my playlist on Pandora. Now one might think that this is a great idea. However, I failed to take into account Pandora's rather loose grouping of songs and genres. Since I plugged in these songs that I enjoy I've been bombarded with caterwauling the likes of which one would scarcely believe possible. If that makes me an uncultured Philistine then so be it. There are some things no man can withstand.

It was during one of these sonic assaults that I realized the sin I struggle with and wrestle against behaves very much like these unwanted pieces of music. Let me explain. I wanted a couple specific songs in my playlist. But the specifics of the Pandora program is that you don't just get those specifics; you get other stuff with it. And sin behaves in the same way. When we are tempted to sin, when we are enticed by the wickedness that resides in our fallen flesh, we want that specific desire to be fulfilled; but we don't want any of the other things that accompany sin. Problem is, it doesn't work that way. Galatians 6:7-8 warn us, "Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life." See how it's a "part and parcel" sort of deal? We can't get the fleshly fulfillment from sin without also receiving the spiritual consequence of it. James says it this way: "But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and when sin it is fully grown brings forth death. (1:14-15).

So when I plug a sin into my life, when I choose to fulfill that lust, that desire, that act of immorality, there is a time of fulfillment in my flesh. Proverbs 9:17 says, "Stolen water is sweet, and bread eaten in secret is pleasant." There is a time of enjoyment, a time when the flesh is fulfilled and all seems OK. But then those acts of immorality begin to germinate; that sowing that we did begins to bring the harvest; a harvest of corruption and death. The lesson for us is very plain; if we would avoid the consequence of sin, we must avoid the action of sin.

Be careful what you plug into your life. Be careful what you allow to reside there. You might think it's just a small sin, just a little thing. But the fact is that the wages of sin-all sin-is death. Rather than find fulfillment in the temporal joys of the flesh run to the cross and find your fulfillment in the all-sufficient savior who loved us and gave Himself for us. Look to Jesus for your hope, your joy and your satisfaction. And if you listen to opera, by all means don't blog about it.

Father, thank You that You love me in spite of my sin. Thank You that You saved me knowing I would continue to struggle with sin, and fall to it. Help me to look to You for all things. And help me be mindful of the dangers of sin. Help me to be so taken with You that nothing in this world appeals to me. Amen.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Another book review

Time for another book review: Slave by John MacArthur. From the book jacket, "As followers of Jesus, we call ourselves "Christians." But the fact is this word appears only three times in the New Testament. So the Bible uses a host of other terms to identify the followers of Jesus...but there is one word used more frequently than any of these. Slave." With that, MacArthur begins a detailed and exhaustive study of the Greek word doulos which, according to him, has been mistranslated in almost every English version. The word is most often translated as "servant." The premise of the book is that that translation misses the point; and more importantly, influences our entire theology about both God and Christianity.

Regular readers of MacArthur's work will once again be engaged by his exhaustive and scrupulous attention to detail, as well as his in depth overview of the slave culture at the time the New Testament was written. Readers who are new to his work might be a bit overwhelmed at first but the information is presented clearly. This isn't a book that is written just for pastors or theologians; it's a book that is written for every Christian. MacArthur labors to help his readers understand the implications of being a slave of Christ rather than simply His servant.

I found this book very informative and very challenging. His premise is a simple one: "To be a Christian is to be a slave to Christ." He understands the controversial nature of this term in our culture but in his direct style, he confronts this head on. He contends that in order to properly understand our relationship with Christ, and our relationship to the Father, we must take on the mantle of a slave. However, I felt that this book could have been several chapters shorter and made the point more clearly. Some chapters feel like they were tacked on at the end, perhaps in an attempt to lengthen the manuscript. They're informative and enjoyable to read, but at times I struggled to see how they fit with the overall theme of the book.

Slave is a challenging book. The truth it contains is as vital as MacArthur presents it to be, and it should benefit anyone who would read it.

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