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."