Wednesday, November 11, 2015

The War On Christmas

Unless your head has been in the sand for the last few weeks, you've already heard the annual rumblings about the War on Christmas. 
I too have wrestled with concerns about what seems to be a blatant attempt to wipe away the true meaning of the Christmas season. It seems that nothing is sacred anymore, that there is a group of people who are absolutely unwilling to acknowledge what this holiday is about. 
And those people are Christians. The war on Christmas is not when people say "Happy Holidays" instead of "Merry Christmas." It's not when cities refuse (or aren't allowed) to put up manger displays. It's not when people call Christmas Trees "Holiday Trees." That's all pretty dumb but it's not a war on Christmas. Only a simpleton would think that forcing someone to say words, regardless of whether or not they know what it means or why they're  saying it, would constitute the proper observance of Christmas. No, it's not those who don't follow Jesus who are engaging on a war on Christmas. It's Christians. You & I, fellow believers, are the soldiers in the war on Christmas. How?
--When we refuse to live as we are called. Christmas celebrates the birth of Jesus, right? And why did Jesus come? To guarantee a holiday where we go into debt to buy junk for our kids that they'll be tired of in two weeks? That's may be how we celebrate it, but that's not why Christ came to the earth. Jesus came to seek & save the lost. He came to save sinners from our sin, to adopt us into his family and radically transform us into his image. Philippians 3:16 tells us to live up to what we've already attained, i.e., to be who God has declared us to be in Christ. That's the point of Christmas, and so when we refuse to do this we are living in open defiance of the purpose of our salvation. I'd call an open rebellion against your rightful ruler an act of war, wouldn't you?
--When we refuse to commit to the local church. Many of us have this mountain man idea of Christianity. The local church is a place to stop in from time to time to get supplies, stock up on coffee & tobacco & sugar, then head back out to live on our own. The problem is the idea of doing Christianity on your own isn't an idea we find in the New Testament. Jesus died for individuals, but he also died for the church. In other words, he died for individuals so that they'd come together and make up the church. And when we refuse to commit ourselves to that local body--to submit to the leadership and to one another, to serve and be served, to give of our time and spiritual gifts and money and die to ourselves for the sake of others--we are rebelling against that for which Jesus died! If we refuse to commit to the local church we are living in open rebellion against our King--an act of war.
--When we refuse to share the gospel. Christ's birth was the beginning of international mission trips. Or maybe intergalactic trips. Or inter dimensional. Whatever. The point is that the one with the good news came to where those who needed it were and shared it with them. And just before he ascended back to heaven our King gave us marching orders: "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you." Jesus came to save sinners, then sent saved sinners to tell others sinners about how they can be saved. And that's been our calling ever since. If we refuse to share that gospel with others we are living in open rebellion against our King--an act of war.
The War on Christmas is a real thing--but we're fighting the wrong enemy. Let's stop expecting lost people to act like saved people. Let's don't demand that others treasure what we treasure. Instead, let's show them--by our lives and our words--the matchless glory of King Jesus. Instead of getting in a tizzy about someone not saying Merry Christmas, let's show them why Jesus is greater and more majestic and more wonderful and more beautiful than anything else in this world. Let's repent of our rebellion and recommit ourselves to being who Jesus has declared us to be, who he died to make us.
Now if anyone needs me, I'll be at Starbucks having some coffee.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

I Don't Like Cranberry Sauce

Need I say more?

I don't like cranberry sauce and I'm not ashamed to admit it. Seriously, take a look at that stuff. The only thing that should hold its shape after being dumped from a can is Spam & dog food--both of which are more appetizing than cranberry sauce. 
Unfortunately, this gelatinous pile of goo has become a Thanksgiving staple. I'm not sure who made that decision but I'm certain of 2 things: 
1, I wasn't consulted & 2, it's downright unAmerican. Seriously, can any rational person argue that our native friends introduced the pilgrims to this stuff? Of course not. But we continue this horrible charade year after year.
Imagine for a moment, though, that my distaste of cranberry sauce led me to quit celebrating Thanksgiving. Imagine that I threw a hissy fit when I saw it on the table and walked out of my family's celebration, vowing to never return until the cranberry sauce was thrown away forever. That would be pretty silly wouldn't it? More than that, it would be selfish. I may not like cranberry sauce. But there are others around the table who, for reasons known only to them & God, do. What difference does it make, really, if I like it or not. I'm not the point of Thanksgiving. The adult thing to do is to simply smile and appreciate that those around me are enjoying their meal.
Here's the point of this rant. There are actually 2 points. 1, I don't like cranberry sauce. But 2 (and this is the really important one), there are a lot of things in churches that are like cranberry sauce. Not in the gelatinous, holds its shape in an unnatural way kind of thing. But in the 'If I don't like it it's OK to not participate' kind of way. 
I say that because through the years I've learned that while no one would think it's acceptable to boycott Thanksgiving just because you don't like one of the dishes on the table, for some reasons we think it's OK to boycott fellowshipping with our brothers & sisters in Christ when there's something in the worship service that we don't like. 
For example: "They don't sing the songs I like." "They sang that song too many times." "It's too hot." "It's too cold." "The preacher preaches too long." "The preacher doesn't preach long enough." (just kidding about that last one-nobody says that, ever) "That person took my seat." "That person didn't speak to me." "That person won't stop speaking to me." "I'm not being fed." "They don't bring it down to my level." "It's too loud." "It's not loud enough." "There are too many little kids." "There are too many old people."
On and on it goes until we get this huge list of reasons why we can't be a part of this church, or why we can't fellowship with that church. You know what all those things actually are? 

Cranberry sauce. 

On Sundays we come to sit at this table that is groaning under the weight of the glory of the gospel. We prepare to feast on the riches of our great King, the one who loved us and gave himself for us. Or at least, that's what we say we're going to do. In reality we must be there for ourselves because as soon as we see that dish of cranberry sauce, we push away from the table exclaiming, "I'm out!"
Just as it would be silly to refuse to celebrate Thanksgiving over a dish we don't like, it's equally silly to refuse to belong to a body of believers over things that aren't done exactly to our liking. Just as it would be selfish to refuse to celebrate Thanksgiving for that reason, it's equally selfish to refuse to be a part of a local body over peripheral things that don't matter. 
Our hearts betray our own selfishness. Whether it's personal preferences regarding worship services or our favorite theological positions we often refuse to fellowship with other believers, either in our body or in other local congregations, over things that are about as significant as cranberry sauce. 
Now don't misunderstand--there are things worth breaking fellowship over. But that list is much shorter than we realize. Jesus shows us this in Mark 9. John reports to Jesus that the disciples found a man casting out demons. They shut him down because, according to John "...he does not follow us." In other words, this guy was eating cranberry sauce. He's not like us, not with us so he must not be doing it right. Jesus' reply is so powerful. Mark 9:39-40, "Do not forbid him, for no one who works a miracle in My name can soon afterward speak evil of Me. For he who is not against us is on our side." 
Does Jesus say that doctrine doesn't matter? Of course not. His point is that this guy was bearing obvious fruit. So rather than throw a fit and shut him down, rejoice in the work of God.
In our churches there will be things we don't like. Unless it's a doctrinal issue that compromises the gospel, it's just cranberry sauce. There will be theological disagreements in the body. Unless it threatens to keep someone out of heaven, it's probably just cranberry sauce. So celebrate the Savior. Celebrate the diversity of the body--diversity of preference, of opinion, of thought. Rejoice in the common ground we share; that we are great sinners, but we have a great savior, a savior who is greater than our sin!

But don't eat cranberry sauce. 

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

What I Want My Kids To Know

As a parent I'm constantly trying to find the balance between teaching my kids and boring them to death. Pretty sure I don't do a very good job of it so I thought I'd just write some things down for them and let them keep them on file. Which is probably a nice way of saying they'll never look at them again. But here goes.

1. We live in a world that is consumed with a desire for things that don't matter. So much of the things our culture says are valuable are worthless. So much of what our society says we have to chase after are things that simply won't last. This doesn't mean that everything in our culture is evil, just that so much is eternal meaningless. We are called to live for the things that matter eternally, not the things that will fade away as quickly as morning fog. Learn to look beyond these things that don't matter. I know it's so hard! And not because you're a kid--it's hard for adults to do this to! Ask Jesus to help you learn to see things as he does.

2. We are called to love this crazy culture like Jesus does. It's easy for people who follow Jesus to look down their noses at people who don't. Don't do that. Ever. Jesus never approves of you and I thinking we're better than others. Because we're not. The blood that can wash away their sins is the same blood that washed away ours. In other words, apart from the blood of Jesus we are no different from the worst sinner imaginable. So love those around you. Especially the ones who don't love back. Why? That's exactly what Jesus did. Remember Romans 5:8? God demonstrates his love in that while we were yet sinners--rebels, haters of God, living in disobedience to him--Christ died for us. 

3. You are good enough. There are many times in our lives when we don't feel like we belong, that we aren't good enough for this person, or this group of people, or this activity, or this job, or whatever. Never let someone make you doubt your worth. You are good enough. Now that doesn't mean you can do whatever you set your mind to. That's stupid. When I was about 6 I set my mind on flying. I got a handful of feathers and jumped off the couch, flapping my arms as hard as I could. Know what happened next? I soared through the air like Peter Pan. 
Just kidding. I hit the floor, split my chin wide open and cried for my mama. Just because you can't do what others can do doesn't mean you aren't worth as much. Your worth isn't determined by what you can do--it's determined by the fact that Jesus died on the cross to save you. Your worth is found in him.

4. You are not good enough. This one is not a typo. I want you to understand that you're good enough in the eyes of others--you're not less than anyone. But all of us--you, I, your mom, everyone you know--none of us are good enough for God. I don't mean that he doesn't love us, I mean that he's so holy and so perfect that none of us can measure up to his standard. The amazing, life changing, incredible, almost too good to be believed news of the bible is that since I'm not good enough, Jesus came to make me good enough. He lived the life we can't live & died the death we deserve. And he did this so that we can be remade into his image. Everything you want to be--as a man, as a woman--every desirable trait finds it fulfillment in Jesus. And he wants us to be like him. Don't let others look down on you, but stay humble before God. We can call on him, but only because we've been saved by his grace & mercy. Never rely on your own abilities but rest fully and joyfully in the finished work of Jesus. 

5. I don't think I'm a very good parent but I really, really want to be. Here's the thing-parenting is hard. There are times when it's easier than others but some days are tough. Some days I lose my cool with you guys. Some days I'm selfish. Some days I'm just lazy. I'm sorry for those days. When I'm a crummy dad, it's not because you've done something wrong. It's because, even though I love Jesus and want to be like him, I still sometimes choose sin. I want to be an incredible dad to you, because God is an incredible father to me. I screw up a lot--but never let that cause you to think unwell of God. Simply recognize that this is one more way that God is better than anything in this world, including your sinful dad.

6. You are an amazing child. Did we cover that already? Too bad. Read it again. And believe it. You are incredibly and wonderful and are, apart from being forgiven by God, the greatest thing to ever happen to me. 
Lily-you are artistic and kind and caring and imaginative. You are creative and more courageous than I ever was.
Emma-you are strong and fierce and fearless. There are times that you are a literal tornado of emotions that threatens to overwhelm me. But the fact that you love to hug more than anyone I know helps all that even out.
Owen-you are brave and sensitive and compassionate with a strong sense of right and wrong. Your heart for others is so big! And you're a pretty good hunting buddy too.

7. You are loved beyond your capacity to understand. Seriously, you have no clue. One day you will. Right now you just can't get it. But always tuck that away; no matter what happens in your life, no matter how things go on the playground or the lunchroom or in the office--know that there's a ruggedly handsome man (maybe exaggerating a bit there) who loves you more than you'll ever know. It is literally impossible to put into words how much you mean to your old dad.  Never forget that.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Of Headlines, Hearts, & Depravity

“Kendall Jenner Goes Braless in this Wardrobe Malfunction Waiting to Happen”

This is a headline I saw recently. This is news. This is worth writing a story about. And this—this is what’s wrong with our country. This headline sums up in 11 words the depravity of the human heart. Simply put, we “other” everyone else for our own benefit and pleasure. We put them into categories that we would not put ourselves into, for the sole purpose of treating them in a way that we wouldn’t want to be treated. We sort our fellow man/woman, like cattle at a sale, according to what we want from them or want them to do. And then we treat them accordingly.
Women are no longer beings made in the image of God, fellow humans worthy of honor and respect. They are clickbait for headlines. We take pictures of kids—and that’s what she is, by the way. I don’t care that she’s a legal adult. She’s a freaking teenager who probably isn’t sure how to match her own socks. We take these pictures and plaster them online, hoping that horny old men and hormonally charged teenagers will click on them and leer. We’ll write articles about why it’s probably her fault for dressing that way. But who can blame her? This is what our society says matters. This is how we tell women they can be valued. We’re drunken tourists on Bourbon Street shouting “Show me your tits!” to every woman we see. And then we call them  sluts when they do. 
We call children fetuses. We say they aren’t people and so don’t deserve the same rights and dignity that we do. We say “You don’t know when human life begins” and somehow that’s presented as an intelligent argument. Think through that for a second though. Imagine a loved one was in the hospital and the doctor comes in with these words; “We aren’t sure if he’s alive or not.” Would any sane person say, “Guess we should pull the plug, doc”? Would any rational mind honestly concede that “We don’t know if they’re alive so it’s ok to go ahead and terminate” is a viable argument? 

Our problem is that we “other” everyone else. And until we stop, until we realize and acknowledge that everyone—man, woman, boy, girl, black, white, baby, elderly—everyone bears the image of their creator and is therefore worthy of being treated with dignity and respect we’ll continue to be stuck in this same place.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

It is finished

As I was preparing for this Sunday's celebration of the Lord's Supper I came across these words in A.W. Pink's The Seven Sayings of the Savior on the Cross. Read, and let your heart sing.

"'It is finished.' That to which so many types looked forward, that which so much in the tabernacle and its ritual foreshadowed, that of which so many of God's prophets had spoken, was now accomplished. A covering from sin and its shame--typified by the coasts of skin with which the Lord God clothed our first parents--was now provided. A more excellent sacrifice--typified by Abel's lamb--had now been offered. A shelter from the storm of divine judgment--typified by the ark of Noah--was now furnished. The only begotten and well believed Son--typified by Abraham's offering up of Isaac--had already been placed upon the altar. A protection from the avenging angel--typified by the shed blood of the Passover lamb--was now supplied. A cure from the serpent's bite--typified by the serpent of brass upon the pole--was now made ready for sinners. The providing of a life giving fountain--typified by Moses striking the rock--was now effected."

Glory to God for the finished work of Jesus! The work is accomplished and we need not-indeed, we must not-add anything to it.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

6 Characteristics of the Church

I love it when you see something you’ve never noticed in a passage of scripture you’ve read many times before. I was reading in Acts 9 this morning and couldn’t help noticing how the church is on display. Acts 9 is not a passage about the church, per se. It’s not a theological treatise on the qualifications of elders/pastors, it’s not a call to missions, it’s not an explanation of church polity. But I think that’s what got my attention; rather than a list of things a church is or should be, we see these things in action. 6 things stood out from verses 1-17.
—The church is persecuted. The text begins with Saul, breathing out threats & murder against the disciples. We’re familiar with Saul’s ‘Damascus Road’ conversion but it’s important to remember that the reason he was on the road was that he was in search of believers to imprison and bring to Jerusalem and put on trial for their faith. In other words, the story begins with the church being persecuted. It’s important for us to remember that this is promised to us in scripture. In John 15:20 Jesus warns his disciples that if they persecute him, they’ll certainly persecute them as well. In a culture that soaks up prosperity theology this is a jolting reminder. But persecution is the norm, rather than the exception, for the church. John MacArthur has noted, “Religious liberty is not promised [in Scripture] to Christians. Freedom is not promised to Christians. Persecution is.” Are we willing to face persecution for the sake of Jesus?
—The church is for bad people. In vs. 3-6 we read the dramatic account of Saul’s encounter with Jesus, and Jesus’ promise that Saul will be shown what to do, a clear allusion to his new life as a church planting missionary. Don’t forget who this is though. This isn’t “preaching in the synagogues” Saul. This isn’t “I’m going to write half the New Testament” Saul. This is “where are the Christians so I can imprison and hopefully kill them” Saul. That’s the Saul Jesus calls. Not the good one, but the bad one. It’s so important for us to remember that church isn’t for good people. Jesus didn’t die for good people. He died for sinners. For the worst of the worst—for people just like you and I. It’s been rightly said that the church isn’t a hotel for saints but a hospital for sinners. Christ died for the ungodly, Saul (then Paul) would later write; that’s who Jesus came for and so it’s who we must preach to and love and minister to.
—The church is Christ’s body. In verses 4& 5 Jesus makes a couple interesting statements. In verse 4 he asks Saul, “Why are you persecuting me?” Then in verse 5 he introduces himself with these words: “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.” Now the question is, when had Saul persecuted Jesus? Scripture doesn’t record that he ever interacted with Jesus prior to this meeting. So what did he mean? This is a clear reference to the union believers share with Jesus isn’t it? In I Corinthians 12:27 Paul writes, “Now you are the body of Christ, and individually members of it.” The church—all those who have been saved by God’s grace, through faith in Jesus’ finished work—is the body of Christ. Practically speaking, that an offense against the church is an offense against Christ himself. When we read of persecution happening to our brothers and sisters in Christ, we ought to be reminded that this isn’t an offense against them only. This is an offense against Jesus. And bringing it closer to home, when we don’t honor and reverence the church the way we ought to, we are failing to honor and reverence Jesus as we ought to. To say the church is the body of Christ isn’t just a Christian phrase; it’s a deep theological truth.
—The church is governed by Christ. In verses 7-9 we read maybe the most curious section of the text. Luke records that the men who were with Saul heard the voice of Jesus speaking but didn’t see him. Ever wonder why? Why would Jesus not allow them to see him as well? Or how about this; why did Jesus call Saul to this ministry and not those with him? We know it wasn’t because of any qualification Saul had. Jesus never calls us based on our worth. What was it then? Simple answer; we don’t know. We don’t know why Jesus chose Saul. We don’t know why Jesus chooses any of us. But we know that he does. And that’s a powerful reminder that Jesus—not us, not a committee, not a denomination, and certainly not a pastor—governs his church. He has certainly designated shepherds and leaders; but Christ alone governs his church. It’s not ours, it’s his. His blood was shed to purchase it, not ours. 
—The church hears from God. In vs. 10 we’re introduced to another character, man called Ananias. Jesus sends him to minister to Saul. He explains where Saul is and that Saul has seen a vision of a man called Ananias coming to lay hands on him. It’s clear, then, that Jesus had spoken to both of them isn’t it? What a joy to know that’s still the case. Jesus speaks to his church. By the Spirit and through the Word, God speaks to his people. He comforts us. He encourages us. He challenges us. He convicts us. He rebukes us. He affirms us. 
—The church forgives. Ananias was rightly concerned about going to this man. He diplomatically reminded Jesus of Saul’s reputation. Jesus affirmed his call on Saul’s life and sent Ananias there. And in verse 17 we read this: “So Ananias departed and entered the house. And laying his hands on him he said, ‘Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus who appeared to you on the road by which you came has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” Notice what he called him—Brother Saul. It couldn’t have been easy for Ananias to go to that house. Certainly there was the danger to himself. But even more, how difficult must it have been to go to the one who had caused so much hurt to fellow believers, some of whom Ananias might even have known, and extend the hand of fellowship to him? To put it into perspective, what if an ISIS member who was known for killing believers was converted and came into your church Sunday morning? Would we be willing to extend the hand of forgiveness to him? How difficult that would be! But wouldn’t it be Christ-like? Hasn’t Jesus kissed the hands that held the whip? Hasn’t he forgiven those who crucified him? The good news of the gospel is that whoever calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. If Jesus forgives, we must forgive. Ananias is the perfect example of what that looks like.

The question for us, then, is simple—do our church look like this? Are our churches doing these things? By God’s grace, we can. Let’s seek His grace to be who he’s called us to be, for his glory alone!

Thursday, July 9, 2015

What I've Learned in 20 Years of Preaching

20 years ago today I preached my first sermon. It was a Sunday night at Central Baptist Church in Prescott, Arkansas and I was scared out of my mind. The building's seating capacity was 300 or so but I'm certain there were at least 10,000 people there. At least, that's what it looked like from the podium. Somehow, though, I managed to get through the first of what has been many lousy sermons. 20 years later, I've learned a few lessons. So I guess you could say this post was 20 years in the making. Of course, the fact that when I started preaching there was no such thing as 'blogs' makes me feel old. And sad.
First, I've learned that God is far more faithful to me than I am to him. I don't know why God gave me this call, this desire to preach & teach his word but I know for certain it's not because of my unwavering faithfulness to him. I've tried to serve him with my life but I've not always been faithful. In fact, the times that I should have been most faithful are the times that I've tended to falter. Right after graduating from Central Baptist College (Go Mustangs!) I entered what has proven to be the lowest point of my life, spiritually speaking. I wasn't too interested in serving the Lord at that point. Pretty much quit going to church for a while too. I was cynical, skeptical and nowhere near where I needed to be with Jesus. The thing is, God knew about that when he gave me that desire to preach when I was a 17 year old kid who couldn't even grow sideburns. He knew that I'd fail then. He knew about every failure I'd be guilty of after that. But--and this is the staggering thing--he called me anyway. See, God's grace isn't given to us on the basis of how good we are or how good we'll be. It's given to us precisely because we aren't good and won't ever be. That's what makes it amazing. God looks at how jacked up we are and calls us to himself, and begins this process of making us more like Jesus-all the while knowing that we're still going to have times where we screw up. Over the past 20 years God has proven himself faithful to me over and over again. 
I've learned too that God's word is more powerful than we realize. I remember being overwhelmed when I first started preaching. I wondered how in the world I could be qualified to teach people who had been studying the Bible longer than I'd been breathing? How could I stand in front of them and tell them what to do? I was focusing on my ability to teach--which isn't a completely unimportant thing but it's not the main thing. What matters is not my ability, it's God's power. Charles Spurgeon liked the Bible to a caged lion--rather than needing men to defend it, one must only open the cage. The lion has power enough to defend himself! That's something God continues to teach me about his word. There have been times I've preached sermons that I was certain had been a blessing to others, had been powerful and well put together, etc. Those are the times that nothing ever really seems to happen. There have been other time I've preached where it feels flat, as though nothing I'm saying is having any impact. But without fail, those have been the times God has used his word to do amazing things. The lesson for me continues to be that the power doesn't lie with my ability, the power lies with God's word. 
I've learned I can't do this alone. There have been times over the last 20 years where I felt alone, like the call that God had given me was mine to bear alone. The problem though is that's not a biblical way to look at life. There's no biblical precedent for independent Christianity. God calls us to live in community with each other, to do life together. We do this through the church. The church is much maligned these days and is kind of an easy target. But it's important to remember that when we disparage the church we're talking about Jesus' bride. Jesus died for his church; there is an infinite love, bound up in the heart of King Jesus, for the church. And though there have been times I've forgotten it or taken it for granted, I'm so thankful for the churches I've been privileged to be a part of. I'm thankful for spiritual families who have been patient when I did dumb stuff and encouraging when I didn't mess up as badly as I could have. I'm thankful for the family I was raised in, for parents who who encouraged me to love Jesus and live for him. I'm grateful beyond words for my wife and children who bear the weight of being "The Pastor's Wife" and "The Pastor's Kids" with such grace.  Over and over again God has reminded me of my insufficiency, my inability to do this on my own. But I'm so thankful that he's always quick to remind me of Christ's super abounding sufficiency. Through his body, the church, God has continued to encourage and strengthen me. 
Finally, I've learned that what I don't know far exceeds what I do know. I don't want this to sound like false humility or anything because I've certainly gained a lot of knowledge (and hopefully some wisdom) over the past two decades. What I mean is that it feels like I'm just beginning to learn how deep is the well from which we draw. I'm just beginning to get a handle on the immeasurable depths of God's grace, of his goodness, his mercy & his holiness. I'm just starting to get hold of the majesty and grandeur of Jesus. The Christian life is not a life you can break down into simply formulas and patterns. It's a continual expansion of our knowledge of the surpassing greatness of Christ as we are further conformed to his image. I pray that, by God's grace, I'll continue to grow in my love for him and he'll keep chiseling away at me until, as David prayed, I awake in his likeness and am satisfied.
The past 20 years have gone by so fast! God is teaching me to number my days by showing me how quickly they pass. I'm so thankful for his goodness, and grateful beyond words that he's given me the privilege of teaching his word to others. I can only shake my head with amazement and echo Paul's words in I Timothy 1:17: "To the King of ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen."

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

What Your Walk Says About You (especially when your knees pop)

Last night my daughter Emma told me that she's learned how to identify who is walking down the hallway simply by listening to their footsteps. She can pick out her mom & big sister without much difficulty because they tend to walk the fastest. Her little brother walks the softest so she's able to identify him quickly as well. But I'm the one who is easiest to pick out. Why? Because, in her words, "Your knees pop a lot." 
After grounding her for the rest of the week I started to think about what she had said. Unknowingly she had reminded me of an important theological truth: our walk says a lot about us. I'm not talking about our physical walk-although that's true as well. And apparently my walk says that I'm getting a little older. What I'm referring to, though, is our spiritual walk. The Bible often uses the word walk to describe our life with Christ. Colossians 2:6 says, "Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him..." Notice that Paul doesn't say "live for Jesus", but "walk in Him." In other words, those are synonymous terms aren't they? To walk with Christ means you're living for Christ. We see this idea throughout scripture. Genesis 6:9 describes Noah as a righteous man, then tells us that he walked with God. In Micah 6:8 we're told that God expects us to walk humbly with him, i.e., to live in simple humility before him. And in Ephesians 2:10 Paul says, "For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them." To walk in these good works obviously means that we do these good works. The point is this: to live for Jesus is walk with Jesus. And how we do so, how we walk with him, speaks volumes about us. Jesus reminded us in Matthew 7 that you will know someone by their fruits. Now he was speaking specifically about recognizing false teachers but the principle is the same, and we find it in other texts as well. In Colossians 1:10 Paul tells the church he is praying that the church will increase in their knowledge of Christ, "so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God." Galatians 5:22-23 remind us of the fruit of the Spirit, the external evidence of the internal transformation done by the Spirit in our lives.  
So if our walk is the same as our living for Christ, and our walk says something about us (as Emma so unkindly reminded me), then here are the questions we must wrestle with: What does my walk say about me? And more importantly, what does my walk say about Christ
--Do we demonstrate with our lives that Jesus is supremely valuable to us? It's easy to make that claim on Sunday morning, but much more difficult to demonstrate it with our lives.
--Do we show the world that we love Jesus more than we love sin? In the daily battle against sin, what wins in our lives? 
--Does our life give evidence that Jesus has our affections? Are we more taken with the things of the world than the One who made the world?
Our walk answers these questions. We can make claims and professions but what matters isn't really what we say-it's what we do. 
May we walk in humble obedience to the one who loved us and gave himself for us, demonstrating by our lives that he is greater and infinitely more valuable than anything in this world. 

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

What I Learned (and continue to learn) From Storms

This spring has been one of the rainiest, stormiest springs that I can remember. And all the rolling thunder and flashes of lightning has brought back a lot of childhood memories. See, when I was a kid I hated storms. I would burrow under my blankets, no matter how hot it was—apparently, in my childhood mind 1/16 of an inch of cotton would protect me. Our house had those old single pane windows that would rattle at the slightest rumble of thunder. So I’d lay under my blankets until a really loud clap of thunder shook the whole house. You know the kind that you kind of feel in the moment just before it hits? Well when it hit I would set an Olympic record for Fastest Indoor Sprint to Mom & Dad’s Room. Thankfully I grew out of that fear. But thinking back on those days has caused me to realize that I learned some valuable lessons from the storms.
First, I learned that my parents loved me. When I would make a mad dash for Mom & Dad’s room it was because I was afraid. Mom & Dad knew this and they would encourage me that it was only thunder, there was nothing to be afraid of. They’d reassure me that everything was going to be OK. And they were right. Storms weren’t the only way way I learned that my parents loved me, but they were certainly one way I did.
On the other side of that coin, I learned that while my parents loved me, my parents wanted me to grow up. I suppose it would sound nicer if I said “mature” instead of “grow up” but the idea is the same. They were loving & encouraging but there were also times when they would lovingly & encouragingly tell me to get my tail back into bed and quit waking them up. Why would they do that? Simple. You can’t spend your life running from your fears. They wanted me to mature and be able to face my fears. And the only way to learn to face your fears is to face your fears. Storms weren’t the only way I learned that my parents wanted me to mature, but they were certainly one way.
I also learned that I can trust my parents. There were times when they’d let me stay in their room for a while & there were times when they’d kick my tail back to my room. But there were a few times when the storms got really bad. And what I remember is that when it got really bad I never had to run to them. When it got really bad they came & got me. We'd all pile into the closet and hide under pillows and wait for the storm to pass. I remember one time in particular when I knew it was really bad. Mom & Dad got us and piled us into the closet, even though that's where they had hidden our Christmas presents Santa had stored our presents. And that year Santa had brought me a GI Joe Phantom X-19. If you know what that is, congratulations, your childhood was as awesome as mine. If you don't, google it because it was an incredible gift for a little boy. That night, when they came and got my brother and I, I learned that when I needed their protection most I’d always have it. Storms weren’t the only way I learned to trust my parents, but they were certainly one way. 
Finally, I learned lessons for others. What I mean is that the lessons I learned weren’t just lessons for me to take to heart. They were lessons that I could share with others. I find myself reassuring my kids the same way Mom & Dad reassured me. I find myself kicking my kids out of my room the way Mom & Dad did me. Storms taught me that the lessons we learn in life aren’t just for us. They’re for us to help others.
Now what’s the point of all this? Simply this-the storms we face in life aren’t always physical storms are they? We face storms of doubt, heartbreak, fear, disappointment and a thousand other things. But just as I learned from these physical storms, I can learn from the storms of life as well. Storms teach me that I have a Father in heaven who loves me. In Matthew 11:28 Jesus said, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” Jesus bids us come to Him with the burdens of our lives, to lay them at His feet and let Him take care of them. God loves us-so much so that He was willing to pay any cost to redeem us back to Himself. Though we’re tempted to believe that storms are proof that God doesn’t love us or is angry with us, the fact is that God uses the storms in our lives to remind us of His great love for us. God also uses storms to teach us that God wants us to mature in our faith. The only way to grow in our faith is to be put in a situation where we must use our faith. In Mark 4, when the disciples were caught n a storm & had to wake Jesus up what did He say to them? “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?” In other words, the storm was an opportunity for them to flex their spiritual muscles, as it were, to exercise their faith. That’s still the case for us. God uses storms to teach us that we can trust Him. In Psalm 46:1 we read, “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.” Just as my parents would come & get me when it got really bad, God will come & get us when we need Him. There are times when He leaves us to face the storm, seemingly all alone, in order to strengthen our faith. But He will never let us fall. He comes to our rescue, always just when we need Him, and protects us through the storm. Finally, God uses storms to teach us lessons for others. God will show us truths about Himself not just for our benefit but for the benefit of others. We can encourage others through their storms with lessons God has taught us. Maybe God taught you about His faithfulness so you can hold up someone who’s afraid they’re about to fall. Maybe God strengthened you through the storm so that you can strengthen others through the storms they face.
Storms aren’t the only way God teaches us-but they are certainly one way that He does. I pray that God will continue to teach me about His greatness through the storms of life. And that I'll learn to rest in His perfect protection.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

I'm Officially the Worst Dad Ever

So this morning I became the Worst Dad Ever. It's official. No need to recount the votes or anything, it's a done deal. Here's how I earned this title.
My daughter loves to read. She doesn't read books, she devours them. This is a good thing. What's not a good thing is that when I looked at the book she was reading this morning I noticed the title was "The Necromancer." Necromancy is the art of black magic and/or talking with & conjuring up the dead. In other words, it's not something that is smiled on in polite society. 
But more to the point, it's not something that is smiled on by God. Leviticus 19:26 & Deuteronomy 18:10 both expressly forbade God's people from involvement in this. "But that Old Testament and we're under grace now", you might say. True enough. But Galatians 5:19-20 speak to the same topic. Point is, it's hard to figure how it's a good idea for a follower of Jesus to entertain themselves with something that is strictly forbidden in the Bible, right? 
So I told my daughter this, told her this wasn't the best choice of reading material and we need to find something else. And that, my friends, is when it got fun. She didn't yell, because she isn't a yell-er. She started sniffling, then silently cried for a while. She was upset because the book is part of a series and if she couldn't finish the book she wouldn't know how it would end and it was a cliffhanger and she'd already read the first two and it just isn't a big deal and she knows it isn't real so why can't I just finish it and you're the WORST DAD EVER! 
OK, she didn't actually say that last part. But she was thinking it. So I had a great start to my morning.
As much as I like giving my kids a hard time, I didn't enjoy this at all. I don't like knowing she's upset with me. I don't like knowing I upset her. So why stick to my guns? Couple reasons.
1, her happiness is not my primary concern. I want her to be happy. I want her to have the most wonderful childhood imaginable and have lots of happy memories and one day, when I'm old and gray, have her sit with me and we can laugh together about all the fun times we had while she was growing up. 
But her happiness isn't my primary concern. My primary concern is that I raise her in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. I'm charged by God to teach her what it means to serve Him. And part of that means I teach her about boundaries, and then enforce those boundaries. I want her to be happy. But more than that, I want her to be holy.
2, she doesn't always need what she thinks she needs. Children are convinced they know what's best for them, right? Ice cream at every meal, no bed time, and never, not ever, should they go to school. Just ask them. As parents we know that's not the case. They don't always know what they need. They don't always need what they think they need. And sometimes, the most loving thing I can do as a parent is to deny my children what they think they need to be happy. Even when it makes me the Worst Dad Ever.

Now here's the point of all this. This experience this morning was a great theology lesson for me. Because I usually react exactly like my daughter. And I react that way towards my heavenly father. There are times when I get upset with God. I get frustrated with him. I'll feel anger towards him when things aren't going the way I think they should. When that happens there are a couple things I have to learn to keep in mind.
1, my happiness is not God's primary concern. If you check the Christian best seller list you'll probably get the idea that what matters more than anything else to God is that you're happy and your life is perfect. That's just not a biblical idea.  God's primary concern for my life is that I'm conformed to the image of Christ. The greatest problem that mankind faces isn't that we're unhappy, it's that we're unholy. Sadness doesn't keep us from God-sin does. That's why Jesus didn't die to make me happy. He died to make me holy. At the moment of salvation I'm declared holy before God and then God spends the rest of my life making me who he's declared me to be. That means that sometimes I'll be unhappy to the glory of God. Now the end result of holiness is happiness. Actually it's something greater than happiness-it's unending joy. Ps. 16:11, "You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore." Holiness leads to eternal happiness. But God will never sacrifice the end result--holiness--to give us temporal happiness. He loves us too much.
2, I don't always need what I think I need. Just as my kids think they know what's best for them, I tend to think I know what's best for me. The reality is that I don't always know what's best for me. But God does. And often, the most loving thing God can do is deny me what I think I need be happy. Again, happiness isn't what I need most. It's holiness. And God knows precisely what I need to be made more like Christ. He always has my best interests at heart. I don't always have my best interests at heart, even though I think I do. The tension, then, is to learn to trust him instead of my own instincts.
One other interesting thing I noticed. My daughter didn't say, "Dad, I don't like this. But I trust you. I know you have my best interests at heart and so I'll accept this. Thanks for loving me enough to do something I don't like." No, she huffed her way to school and I'm sure she's telling all her friends what a jack wagon her dad is. That's fine. The opinion of children who can't properly match socks doesn't much concern me. But wouldn't that have been the right response? 
Shouldn't that be my response to God? When he does things for the sake of my holiness rather than my happiness, when he withholds the things I think I need because I don't actually need them, shouldn't I thank him for it? Even if I don't like it, shouldn't I be able to look back at his faithfulness? Not just to me, but throughout scripture. Shouldn't I be able to see how he's worked in the past and let that guide me to trust him with my present and my future?
I may be the Worst Dad Ever. But I'm so thankful that God is the best father, and will do whatever is necessary to finish the work he's begun in me.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Good Enough Even When I'm Not

I finished this morning's run at one of the best paces I've ever managed. I'm not posting the pace because, A) I don't want to sound like I'm bragging, and B) It's not a pace that will win me any races. I was happy with the time but I've got friends who can run circles around me. Even though that's the case, I'm not discouraged. I don't want to burn my running shoes. I don't want to sleep in until at least 5 on running days. OK, I actually do want to do that. Point is, I don't let the accomplishments of others cause me discouragement. I don't even let my own failures get me down. I know there's another day to run and another road to run on.
What's interesting is that my mindset towards my walk with Christ is often the complete opposite of my mindset towards running. As I try to serve Jesus I fail often. I fail miserably. I fail as a dad, I fail as a husband, I fail as a pastor & I fail as a man. I lose my temper. I'm not loving. I'm selfish. I don't put my wife first. I complain about doing things I have to do. I covet. I'm not content. I worry and fret about the future. And like so many of my fellow believers I get discouraged. I look at all my failures and often I just want to give up. The thought process goes something like, "If I can't do any better than that then why bother at all? I'm a disappointment to Jesus and myself." Or maybe it's something like, "God must be so sick of hearing me confess this failure to him again. I must be such a disappointment to him."
Why is it that when I fail as a runner I'm really not that discouraged but when I fail as a believer I'm ready to throw in the towel? Why is it that I don't beat myself up over a slow time but I will wallow in guilt over sin? I don't know the answers to those questions but here's what I do know.

I know that I don't have to be good enough--Jesus was good enough for me. (2 Cor. 5:21)

I know that I don't have to meet a standard to be accepted by God--Jesus met the standard for me. (I Cor. 1:30)

I know that I don't have to pay for my sins--Jesus paid for them in my place. (I John 4:10)

In other words, I don't have to waste my time wallowing in guilt over my failures. I experience the conviction of the Holy Spirit, I confess my sins to God and I receive His forgiveness through the perfect life and substitutionary death of Jesus on the cross. I don't have the spend my days worrying about my sin. I'm free to run the race that is set before me with joy. I'm free to rest in the finished work of Christ as I strive to be further conformed to His image. I'm free of the burden of comparing myself with my fellow believers and can instead encourage them in their walk with Christ and be encouraged by them in mine.
Because of Jesus--His life, death, resurrection & ascension--I'm good enough. Even when I'm not. Because my goodness didn't come from me. It came from Christ. As the old hymn says, "Dressed in his righteousness alone, faultless to stand before the throne!"

May we rest in the incredible work of Christ today, and live by his grace and for his glory.