Thursday, December 28, 2017

Merry Christmas, Happy New Year

This week’s post is more of a non-post. Instead, I just want to take a moment to wish each of my readers a (belated) Merry Christmas and a timely Happy New Year.

Whether our years are happy or not, may we find joy knowing that Christ was sent and He will come again. Until then, let us be about knowing Him, serving Him, and loving Him.

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Knowing God, Part 3

In the first two posts of this brief series, I have focused on how little any of us truly can know about God (not that we shouldn’t try) and that knowing information does not necessarily translate into love – which is what we are called to do. (You can read the first post here and the second here.) This week, in concluding the series, I want to briefly cover the progression of how we can know God now and how doing so impacts our future (i.e. eternity).

The Bible Is God’s Gift So That We Can Know Him

Much of what we know about God is from the Bible. Furthermore all of what we know about Him can be confirmed by the Bible. For instance, perhaps you have heard that Jesus died on the cross. That can only be known because of the Bible. Sure, some ancestor of one of the apostles could keep the verbal story alive, but I have never heard any person make a claim to be a direct descendant of someone who saw Jesus crucified. Even if a direct descendant existed, we would do well to confirm what was being said. On the other hand, we can know of God by looking into the night sky (or any other aspect of nature). Seeing all of the stars on a clear night should allow us to pause and ask how the stars came to be. The Bible provides an answer. So, the Bible is a gift from God that allows us to know about Him and learn to know Him.

Jesus Came As a Man So We Could Know God Better

Many have asked a question about why God would do something (i.e. allowing evil or even creating mosquitoes), or what He might do in a situation (the idea behind WWJD?). Of all that Jesus came to do during His life on earth, one aspect was to show how God would live as a human. (His life was far more than to come to model behavior for us, but He no doubt did provide a model while He lived here.) He answered many questions that the Jews of the 1st Century were asking, but certainly not all of them. 2000 years later, all of our questions are still not answered, but there is no doubt that in reading the stories from the gospels we can see God far better by realizing that He lived among us than we could if we simply had words on a page about Him. That is, we can begin to know God as a person because He lived among us rather than only knowing about an impersonal being who is out there somewhere. (Please note, God has never been impersonal toward man. While direct contact with man is not in every chapter of the Bible, His relationship with man is documented in Genesis 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 11, 12...and so on, all the way through Revelation 22.

Jesus Rose From the Dead So We Can Know God Eternally

The fact that Jesus lived does not generate a great deal of debate. Who He was, what He did, and why He came can generate endless debate. But, I would suggest that if Jesus came and died without the resurrection then the story, and subsequently, our ability to intimately know God would have suffered greatly. Someone needed to bridge the gap between us and God and while the death paid the price for our sins, without the resurrection, we would have little, if any, hope in that truth. For instance, Jesus told His disciples that He was going to prepare a place for them. But then He dies. So, the resurrection provides the hope that He truly is preparing a place. But what need would there be for a place to be with God if we were not to know God? Again, as I mentioned in the first post of this three part series, we will never know everything about God. He is infinite, we are not. But without the resurrection, the question of why we would want to know Him would be very valid.

So, we can know (about) God because of the Bible. We can know Him better because Jesus came, and we can know Him eternally because of Jesus’ resurrection. But to be able to know and to truly know are different. And that brings us to the concluding remarks of this series.

Many Will Know God Intimately Because They Are His Children

John 1.12 tells us that all who receive Him (Jesus) have the right to become children of God. That statement comes from the Bible, is possible because Jesus came to earth, and is achievable because Jesus rose from the dead and brings about a tremendous reality – adoption by God as our Father. And unlike fathers on earth, God is the perfect picture of what a Father is to be. We may not always understand His actions, but we can be certain that His motive is about His righteousness and His love for us. A part of that righteousness and love will be for God to share Himself with us for all of eternity where we will not only know be with Him physically, but we will be able to know Him intimately. Again, not perfectly, but deeply, personally, and in a way that is more complete than we can imagine.

As I have stated many times, a Christian’s goal should not be to die to “go to heaven” it should be to be with God. That goal is possible because of Jesus who is not only the truth and the life, but is also the way for us to know God (Father, Son, and Spirit) in a manner too unfathomable for our limited minds. So whether you know a lot about God, a little about God, or are somewhere in the middle, take time to know God (not just know about Him), and let Him reveal Himself to you as a loving Father would his child.

If you are interested in knowing God better, consider reading the book Knowing God by JI Packer. This book will teach you about God, but does so in a way that you will know Him better.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Knowing God, Part 2

In last week’s post, I attempted to prove that regardless of how much we may know about God, the amount is minuscule compared to how much can be known. I do not mean for that statement (or the post) to provide an excuse for not desiring to know about God. Indeed, God has given us the Bible so we can definitively know certain aspects (attributes) of His being – even if we cannot know them fully. However, the crux of this brief series is that while knowing about God is important, knowing Him is what truly counts.

As a pastor and seminary professor, people expect me to know about the Bible. They expect me to know about God. But a knowledge of God is not the only qualification for either of those roles – at least, it should not be. In Matthew 7, Jesus says that a day will come when many will stand before Jesus having cast out demons in His name, done mighty works in His name, and even referred to Him as Lord (vv. 21-23). However, Jesus warned that some have no place in His Kingdom despite those facts. Again, the words to which I refer are from the lips of Jesus. His reason for rejecting them – “I never knew you.”

Why would Jesus not know these individuals? Because they did not know Him! They obviously knew about Him. They knew about His power for miracles, to cast out demons, and even managed to call Him Lord, but saying the word and living accordingly are not the same. The reality is that we can teach ourselves and others much about God without capturing the essence of who He is and what He desires from us. And what He desires is a relationship with us – not a series of facts about one another, but an intimacy with one another.

Next month I will be travelling to teach others about God and ministry. I have flexibility in my topic so a few months ago I decided the best use of the time is to teach from the book of Mark. I chose Mark because it is short enough to briefly cover over a few days, yet robust enough to give the pastors and church leaders an opportunity to get to know Jesus. Yes, I will teaching them facts and truths that Mark recorded, but my real aim is to make sure they leave knowing Jesus better. I can teach a great deal of information over the few days I am there, but what I hope I do is create a love for Jesus and who He is. We can teach information, but we cannot force love.

Over these past few years, what I have come to realize is that whether I teach all I know to this group next month, to the students at the seminary each semester, or to the church I lead every week, some people who may be learning information for the first time already know and love Jesus more than I ever will. I concluded the previous paragraph with one statement about information and love, but here is another. We can know information, but it may not produce love. However, if we know God, it should lead us to better love Him. And that should create a desire to know more about Him as well.

Next week, I will conclude this brief series by sharing the progression of how God has made Himself known and what that means for us in the future.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Knowing God, Part 1

One of my goals this year was to read one book per week. I am slightly behind pace (although if you count a few books I finished for other purposes, I have met the goal). My list includes several leadership books (Christian and otherwise), biographies (Christian and otherwise), history (several related to events and people around the American Revolution), baseball (past stories and concepts on how the game is changing), several Christian Classics such as The Imitation of Christ, Paradise Lost, etc., as well as others on topics such as personal productivity. Additionally, I am seeking to complete reading the Bible again. The exercise in reading has been good for me this year, but I need to take another approach next year.

One book I recently finished was The Mortification of Sin by John Owen. This book, and several others, has been a part of an emphasis I have led at our church to read some Christian Classics this year as we marked the 500th anniversary of the Reformation.  I have been familiar with this book for years, but like many of the others our group read this year, I had not read it yet. The book was convicting in a few specific ways, but perhaps the most important reminder it provided was how little I know my God.

For several years, I have made the comment (teaching, preaching, etc.) that God is so infinite that even after “we’ve been there ten thousand years” (to quote Amazing Grace) we will still not have exhausted all we can know about God – and we never will for all of eternity. I believe that. However, as Owen painted the picture of God, I received a fresh perspective on this very idea.

I don’t mean to say that I know nothing about God. Nor will I pretend that I know nothing about the Bible which provides us with an opportunity to know about God, which, in turn, can lead us to better know God. But as important as the Bible is (and it is!!!), it paints only a part of the picture. And, the truth is, even if someone knows the Bible perfectly, their knowledge of God is only slightly greater than the person who knows nothing about God.

Think of it this way. If Person A knows 10 facts from the Bible (not just God, let me expand to the full Bible – as it is God’s written Word), and Person B knows one thing about the Bible (the word God – I must have one fact to make the calculations possible), then person A knows 10 times as much. Person C knows 100 facts from the Bible, so this person knows 10 times more than Person A. Person D knows 25 facts from the Bible. A graph of this scenario, based upon the most facts known, would look like this:

Let us remember that this graph is based upon facts known from the Bible. Again, that is important, but our goal is ultimately to know God. So, let us transition our thinking to the next level and stipulate that these facts are specifically about God. With that established, let us now remember my statement from earlier that we can never know all of God – we cannot know everything about God (facts), nor can we know or all of who He is. For the sake of argument, however, we must use a number. So, let us add three more markings to our graph. Person E knows 1000 facts. Person F knows 1 million. And the grand total to be known about God is 1 billion. (Again, this number is presented just for the sake of argument, the fullness of God is immeasurable and unknowable.) With these three additions, notice how the graph looks now:

What we see is that each number on this graph when compared against a billion facts is unseen. My point, and Owen’s point, is that even if we know a great deal more than some others, we know nothing in comparison to what is available (not what is possible, for we can never know all – remember God is infinite).

This idea should be humbling to all of us. I have a doctorate in ministry, so I may know more about the Bible than some, even most, but it does not mean that I have a mastery of knowledge about God. More importantly, it does not mean that I know God better than anyone. Yet, God is my Father, and wants me to know Him intimately. And He wants the same for you. Knowing God, not just knowing about Him, should be our aim – and that will be the focus of next week’s post.

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Recreation, Abiding, & True Re-Creation

I am usually a very focused person. I have many goals for myself – both for the short and long terms. If you read my series from earlier this year, you saw how my Vision, Mission, Strategy, and Steps fit together to inform and guide my decisions on what I should be doing. But amidst all that I have planned to do, and all that I want to do, I have come dangerously close to omitting two items from my life – recreation and abiding.

As for recreation, it is not that I do not enjoy life, but I do not take much down time. I am blessed to live within several hundred feet of my office, so I am able to eat lunch with my wife and we often do so while watching a comedy of some sort on television. However, in the evenings, I may sit near her, but I am often doing something like grading assignments for the classes I teach or planning/preparing for PTC (Pastor Training Community). Effectively, I have my full time job as pastor while also serving as an adjunct professor and leading a new organization in addition to personal responsibilities we all have. I know many people who are busier than I am, but, for me, what I have lost for most of this year was being intentional about finding a time for fun. I may be busy, but I must make time to enjoy my life, which includes enjoying my wife and having some time to do things I like – such as reading (without the pressure to meet my reading goal for the year) or playing a video game. But as important as the recreation may be, it is the next item that deserves my attention in the coming years.

As I mentioned in the last paragraph, I have three different roles leading others in ministry-related matters. I pastor a church. I teach future church leaders various aspects of administering the church. And I am organizing an organization to train pastors and church leaders in underprivileged areas around the world to have the knowledge and skills necessary to lead their churches. All of these are very important, and I believe God has called me to each one. But He has also called me to abide. In a recent look at John 15, I have been convicted that I have been so busy working for God that I have not spent as much time with God in 2017. Again, I have met or will meet most of the major goals I set this for this year, but as John 15.4-5 suggest, my work will be fruitless or amount to nothing if I am not abiding in, and with, Jesus. We can all get by for awhile, and may fool ourselves into thinking we are fine over a longer period of time, but the words of John 15 are directly from the mouth of Jesus, so I (we) can either choose to believe Him, or be duped by our own misunderstandings.

Of course, how a person defines abide is important. Truly it means to remain, and I have no intentions of abandoning Jesus in a formal sense. However, if I am not fully engaged with Him then I am not fully abiding (remaining) as I wish to be. Again, if my Vision is to “Become the man God wants me to be” then how can I do that without spending time with Him and know how He is leading me in the moment, not just the bigger picture of the year.

So, I am making a conscious decision today to better abide in the coming year. I have had many good moments with Jesus in 2017, but not as many as I would like to claim. But if I am to be fruitful in 2018 and beyond, I must abide deeply with my Lord. Of course, I must take time for myself, my wife, my family, and my friends as well, but I must take time to be intentional with Jesus so He can be intentional to me. For, if I only focus on working and recreating, then I will miss out on the “re-creation” that He has in mind for me. And, as a child of God, He is far from being finished with me yet.

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Being Thankful for "These Things"

Economic disparity is a reality. But its impact is partially perception. I have never been in a position where I was surrounded by people of great wealth, and until last year I had not been surrounded by those with next to nothing. But last year on a visit to Kenya, I began to realize how much some people really have despite having so little.

In Matthew 6, Jesus talked of our focus needing to be on the Kingdom of God. “Seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness and all these things will be added to you” (Matthew 6.33). What are the the “these things” to which Jesus refers? The previous verses answer that question. Verse 25 says we should not be anxious about what we will eat or drink. Verse 28 says we need not worry about our clothing. And we can imply that shelter could be included because of a mention of barns (for storing food) in verse 26. All of “these” items are mentioned just after Jesus says we cannot serve both God and money (v. 24).

Of course some families are larger and need more food, more clothing, and a larger structure for shelter. But most people have a desire for better food, better clothing, and a better dwelling place whether or not better means bigger. But God does not promise us better – even if we seek it. What God promises us is Himself if we seek first His Kingdom and His righteousness. If we seek God, He will add “these things” to us. If we seek “these things” we may get something, but we will miss God, and will miss out on what He may give us instead.

The previous two sentences are why I say that some of my friends in Kenya have far more than I have even though I may have more physical items in my silverware drawer than some of them have total possessions. As I currently teach on the doctrine of adoption in my current sermon series, I am trying to full embrace the idea of what it means to have God as my Father. Although I may refer to God as Father and believe in the theological truths of Him being Father, it does not mean that I have fully grasped what it means for God to be my father, not just the Father. Teaching on the story of the prodigal son this past week heightened my awareness that I often think, and live, as an orphan rather than as a child of God. (I do not mean to degrade orphans for they do not choose their status, I simply am referring to a mindset that develops over time – a mindset which may be understandable for a true orphan, but one that does not make sense for a child of God. Click here to review my sermon post for clarity.)

So, this week, I want to be more thankful for what I do have. I want to be more thankful for the “these things” while knowing that my Father may have much greater things for me. But whether or not He has them for me in this life, I want to seek Him more. I want to thank Him more earnestly for what I do have. It is not that I am not appreciate, but I want my “Thank you” to really be about my gratitude without any hint of “I wish I had a little more.” I am not perfect, and I want more, and will say that I “need” certain items which I may not truly need. But, if I am truly seeking first the Kingdom of God AND His righteousness, then I will learn to more content with what my Father has given me. As I become more content, I will be more grateful, and I will need fewer Thanksgiving holidays to remind me of how thankful I am for what I have been given.

That is truly the essence of what it means to have a happy Thanksgiving.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

A Child of God

“When you stop learning, you start dying.” That is a phrase I have said many times to many different people. It is for this reason that I struggle with those who have an attitude that God has nothing left to teach them. Whatever the exact words may be, the idea expressed is “I’ve read the Bible and know what it says.” Ok, so have I – that is, I have read the Bible. And I know what parts of it says, but I always come across parts that I have missed or perhaps missed the significance. The reality is that the more we study the Bible, the more we realize we do not know.

Last week, while preparing my sermon, I was struck by a phrase I have probably read 100 times or more. John 1.16 includes three words that just jumped off the page at me for the first time. Those words – “grace upon grace.” Now, I understand that grace is not just a one-time inoculation which allows salvation. I frequently mention Titus 2.11-12 which speaks of grace training us to live righteously. Training, as in an ongoing process. But currently I am exploring a doctrine I certainly believe by inference, but have not really studied deeply before. That doctrine is adoption.

The reality is that if you have ever made the statement “brothers and sisters in Christ” or called another church member “brother Bob” or said the Lord’s Prayer which begins with “Our Father” you infer that you believe in adoption as well for Bob is likely not really your biological brother and, more importantly, the Bible is clear that only be receiving Christ can we be in Christ and have God as our heavenly Father.

This past week I began a sermon series on the doctrine of adoption. As I continue to look into what the Bible teaches, I am becoming more and more convinced that adoption is the next step beyond (dare I say greater than?) salvation. I have long considered the possibility that God’s ultimate gift to us is our resurrected bodies which Christians will have for eternity. Such a body is only possible for those who believe – that is, those who are saved. I had not firmly settled on that idea, but now I am starting to see our resurrected bodies as a great gift, but not as the ultimate gift. The bodies are a gift as a result of our being a child of God. Such a gift is truly grace upon grace.

In my sermon this past week, I used the following metaphor to reveal my understanding of grace upon grace. All people must stand before God as judge. Those who receive Jesus (John 1.12) are declared “not guilty” (justified) during this life; those who do not receive Jesus (John 1.11) will stand before God after they die (Revelation 20.11-15). But for those who are “not guilty” God does not simply act as human judges who declare the verdict and then go about their business. Instead, God invites the person to be one of His children. What a magnificent thought! So, God’s grace is offered to save us from the guilt of our sin, but additional grace is given that we might not just be saved, but that we might be adopted – by God Himself.

So, if you are “saved” then you are a child of God. The question then becomes: How should we respond as one of His children? Next week, I will explore that idea briefly by contrasting the love of our Father with the mentality of the prodigal son from Luke 15.

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Asking God, “Why?”

Each time the news reports a mass shooting people respond with a variety of emotions and a slew of questions. Emotions may range from anger, bitterness, and fear on the one hand to concern and compassion on the other – even from the same person. Questions abound from “How could this happen?” to “How could God let this happen?” whether or not the shooting involves a church or “God’s people.” But the question that underlies them all is “Why?”

Over the past few days, details have emerged about the shooter in the recent shooting in Sutherland Springs, Texas. Likewise in the Las Vegas shooting approximately one month earlier, the investigation seeks to find a credible motive – that is, “Why did this person do what they did?”

The “Why” question is not only valid, it is necessary. Knowing why someone responded in certain manner may help to prevent others from responding in a similar manner in the future. Of course, no attempt can fix all of the issues, but any improvement is better than none.

But one “Why” question often tops all the others, even if the answer remains unknown. In the initial paragraph, I listed a question related to how God could have allowed this, or other shootings, but the question is less a matter of “How?” as it is a matter of “Why?” I do not have an answer. But as I mentioned in the previous paragraph, I think the question is both valid and necessary. Let me explain.

First, the question, “Why?” is valid, particularly for those who believe in God, because to believe in God means to believe in some aspect of His sovereignty. Many arguments happen each day on how sovereign God is, and events like the shooting in Texas help to stoke the fire of the argument. But the important part is that if someone asks God “Why?” then they believe that God has some measure of control (sovereignty), and thus the question is valid.

Second, the question, “Why?” is necessary because it helps us in the grieving. The five levels of grieving include both anger and bargaining. Much of the anger may be directed at the shooter in a case such as Texas, but he, too, is dead, so being angry at him seems incomplete. Thus, anger may be directed at God. Furthermore, if we can understand “Why?” God allowed such a tragedy, maybe we can bargain with Him to undo the situation or, at the very least, to prevent a similar tragedy elsewhere.

But, many feel guilty asking God why? Of course, not everyone feels guilty, but particularly pious people may begin to question their authority to question God. After all, God challenged Job for questioning Him (see Job 38-41). But the issue isn’t the question, it is the attitude? Consider that Jesus, while on the cross, asked God the very question, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me.”

Thus, if Jesus can ask God “Why?”, we can too. But, if we do, we must do so with the following understandings.

First, God is not obligated to answer us. He can and He may, but again, it is God who is sovereign, not us, so He does not have to answer to us – on this side of eternity or the other.

Second, make sure you want the answer. God may not answer, but if He does, it is up to the questioner to accept the answer. Titus 1.1 says God never lies (ESV, some translations says God “cannot” lie), so if He does answer, it will be the truth. The question then becomes whether or not you and I will accept the answer to our question. Sometimes it seems easier not to know.

So, as you process this, and any tragedy (and we have certainly seen our share in 2017), ask the questions you must, including, and especially, “Why?” And, if you are bold enough to ask that question of God, know that the question is not sinful and God will not automatically smite anyone for asking. But the answer lies within His purpose and His glory, not ours. Thus, ask only if you truly want a response because if He does respond, He will accept you to embrace it as truth – as difficult as that truth might be to receive.

Thursday, November 2, 2017

The Importance of Luther @ 500

The number five hundred is quite common in our world today – especially in the realm of sports. For instance, the initial gauge of a team is how many games it is above or below .500 (in terms of wins and losses). Many races, including one of the most famous races in motor sports (Indianapolis 500) last 500 miles. Baseball players who hit 500 home runs in their career are in a rather rare club. And on it goes.

But 500 years is quite a milestone. On December 31, 1999, the world held its breath to see if every computer in the world would cease to function as we celebrated the coming of Y2K – just the fourth time that 500 years had passed from the time we recognized the birth of Jesus. Few markers stand the test of time – either in actuality, or in importance – over a period of 500 years. Once such marker is the Reformation, which “officially” began 500 years ago this week on October 31, 1517 when Martin Luther posted his 95 theses (challenges) against the Roman Catholic Church. Many have been introduced or had their understanding expanded by studying/reviewing this over the past few months. I am no exception. As I have considered the importance of the circumstances, and the events and people which followed, I am working toward a conclusion that I outline here.

Over the past couple of months, as I have been preaching on the five solas and other matters related to the Reformation, I have also been listening to various biographies and stories related to the American Revolution. Perhaps, this combination is why I have been considering the importance of Luther (as well as Calvin, Zwingli, and others) in an overall historical context. For the sake of argument, I am going to use Luther as my focus, but I realize others before him (e.g. Hus) and afterward (e.g. Calvin) were instrumental to the Reformation’s success.

But what of Luther’s significance? Is it possible that in the past 2000 years, he could be considered the third most prominent human figure? Jesus is the dominant figure in all of history and certainly that includes the last 2000 years. I would argue Paul’s influence in the first century (taking the gospel to the Gentiles, and writing approximately one-half of the New Testament books) as a case he could be considered the second most important human. So, who is third? To answer this question, let us take a moment to make a few considerations.

First, unless you are a big fan of history (church or otherwise), you can not likely name many individuals from 100 AD to 1500 AD. Some might say, King Arthur, but no proof exists that he was a real person. Augustine, Mohammed, King Charlemagne, Genghis Khan, and Leonardo Da Vinci are possible names that will surface. But otherwise, unless one has a deep understanding of history and/or knows a list of popes, the names will be few. Definitely, much of this period should be considered the Dark Ages. (By comparison, consider how many names are known prior to 1 AD – Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar, Augustus Caesar, Cleopatra, King Tut, etc. – and that is without mentioning any biblical characters such as Abraham, Moses, or David).

Second, we can look past the Renaissance to a world that includes many well known names from around the world. Americans can look at their money and be reminded of Washington, Lincoln, etc., while Napoleon, Churchill, Hitler, and others are well-known names from Europe. Asia has seen the likes of Stalin, Gandhi, and Mao. Again, we could go on and name others.

But although most of these individuals have names that are better known that Luther’s, it is the impact that matters. For instance, Washington, Lincoln, Napoleon, Churchill, and others in Europe and America would not likely be known at all if Luther had not paved the way for a different form of government, including democracy. The world is certainly smaller due to technology, but without Luther’s influence to empower individuals (particularly with the Word of God), would the West care, or even know about the East?

Again, I have not finalized my thoughts on this, but as I consider the possibilities, I am beginning to conclude that Martin Luther may be the third most important person (let alone Christian) to have lived in the last 2000 years. We must not worship Luther for his actions, but we must be thankful and honor him for taking a stand when and where a stand was needed. Again, not many aspects of history stand the test of time, but I suspect that in another 500 years, Luther’s name will still be recognized whereas some of those mentioned in the preceding paragraphs will be forgotten just as so many from 1500 AD and prior have been lost to us.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

The Source of Authority (Part 3 of 3)

Over the past two weeks, I have laid out a baseline for the Bible to serve as the authority for mankind – over and above self, science, or any other possibility (Part 1 and Part 2). This week, I conclude this brief series by providing one more reason I trust the Bible as my source, and why I believe others should as well.

Western culture, and especially Americans have an attitude towards learning that is reflected by two words, “So what?” In other words, we want to know “Why” the topic is important for us to learn. We are not the first culture to have this mindset (ancient Rome seems to have been the same, for instance), but we have taken the idea to another level. What we are wanting is a purpose for our learning. For instance, why do most teenagers struggle to understand algebra? Because “I am never going to need to know this, so what’s the point?” That is, “What’s the purpose?”

While we ask the question of purpose about many matters, most people rarely truly consider their individual purpose. We tend to allow ourselves to be used in any number of ways by any number of people. An analogy would be a tv stand my son once purchased at a garage sale. The stand is large – about 5.5 foot wide and 5.5 foot tall, and has many doors and cabinets with room for an old 32 inch tv. I am sure the stand was well used as a tv/component stand by the original owner, but my son wanted it as (primarily) a clothes dresser. And frankly, it worked well for that. Now, it is a place for storing various items while serving to separate one part of our basement from another. Three different owners, three different purposes. But the unit was created to serve as a tv stand. Our family has adapted its use for our purposes, but the original box and instruction manual were prepared by the company who manufactured the item and likely shows various electronic equipment set up within it (I presume, because I have not seen either the box or the manual).

Thus, the authority directs the original purpose. If this premise is true, then how do we define the purpose of humanity from the Big Bang? If humans appeared as, essentially, a random act, then what purpose can we really have? I suppose we are placeholders until evolution casts us aside because we become unwilling to adapt further (i.e. natural selection).

But what if humans were created? What if a Supreme Being intentionally created life, and within that life, a species known as humans? If this is true, then how might we know what intention that Being had for humanity? The answer: the Bible. The Supreme Being, according to the Bible, is God, who created humans in His image (Genesis 1.26-27) for the purpose of caring for the rest of Creation (Genesis 1.28-30). Thus, the Bible answers the question of “So what?” for humans and, therefore, can, and should, serve as the authority for how to live our lives.

However, just as humans have devised various ways to use different products for different reasons (e.g. the tv stand), we schemed to find different purposes and understandings for ourselves. Had we (beginning the Adam and Eve) not done this, the Bible would likely be about three pages long (effectively, the story of Creation in Genesis 1 and 2). However, because we looked elsewhere for authority, God had to paint a complete picture of how we violated our purpose, the effects of having violated it, how He fixed the violation, and what we are to do about it. Thus, the Bible is filled with over a thousand pages to help us know how to find and reclaim our true purpose – which is ultimately to give glory to God – both now and for all of eternity.

So, again, authority directs purpose. If humans evolved randomly, then no authority exists for our lives, and we have no reason to ask, “So what?” because purpose has no meaning. But, if we were created, then the Creator is the authority for our purpose. As such, any instructions the Creator left for us can be considered authoritative. Those instructions are found in the Bible which means the Bible can be trusted as the true source of authority for all of mankind. Our challenge, then, is to determine what the detailed instructions mean. While interpreting parts of the Bible is not always easy, the process is important if we are to truly discover how each of our individual purposes fit into the overall collective purpose God has for mankind.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

The Source of Authority (Part 2 of 3)

In last week’s post, I began this three part series by asking to what will we give our allegiance? To what should we submit? To whom should we obey? I began to make a case for the Bible being that authority, but this week, let me go a bit further by explaining why the Bible should be considered over a couple of other options.

Many people hold that authority comes from within – that is, they are their own master. But many who hold this approach do not limit their own authority to themselves, but project it to others as well. Such an approach makes sense only as their life continues because once they are no longer living, then all others who were under their authority are now “free” from that authority and must find a new authority for their lives. Of course, this scenario is constantly occurring as parents of young children (particularly) die, but in a grander scheme, true authority should remain in effect over an extended time – not just duration of a life.

Therefore, we need to look for truths that go beyond our lives to find authority. Some turn to science as providing some sense of authority. But science cannot be fully reliant as an authority because science, by definition, is based upon research and discovery. Science, then can uncover truth, but it cannot be truth itself. For instance, the Big Bang Theory is just that – a theory. If true, then somehow, the high-density, high-temperature “state” had to have a cause (i.e a force) in order to react. Currently, scientist are uncertain what this cause may be. Again, science can discover truth, but it cannot be truth – and thus, it should not be the authority for our lives. (Consider, too, that even on “known” issues, the truth changes often. Consider, for instance, how many different statements have been made about the cause for various types of disease only to be changed at a later time.)

So, I turn again to the Bible. Now, based upon the previous argument, many will declare that many aspects of the Bible are unknown, or misunderstood, as well. I agree. But, for instance, science always eventually confirms the Bible, and thus, the Bible should be held higher. (Archeologists continue to uncover “lost” cities and artifacts confirming information within the Bible that some previously contended showed the Bible to be in error.)

So, why trust the Bible? For me, I believe it is God’s Word. Specifically, it is God’s written Word, but it will never contradict God’s spoken Word. We know this because the Bible contains a good deal of God’s spoken Word, and Genesis 1, for instance, reveals that what we call nature obeyed God when He said, “Let there be....”

Now, I realize that what I am writing here requires an element of faith, but so does the theory of a big bang. Again, that is my point. We all choose something to be our authority. Our personal understanding and limitations (including our life span) should be proof enough that we cannot be the ultimate authority. Important aspects like science are insufficient to be our authority, although it can point towards authority. And while other matters may find the allegiance of some, I choose the Bible.

Before I close this post, I must share that my ultimate allegiance must be to God, not the Bible itself. To put the Bible above God would be idolatry, similar to my posts a few weeks ago of putting heaven above Jesus. However, the Bible is our source for authority because we can confirm our direction through God’s written Word. Many people claim to hear a “word from God” which completely contradicts the guidance God has left us in the Bible. Of course, God is not bound to the pages of Scripture; He is an infinite God who is still very much at work today. But I truly believe one reason He provided, and preserved, the writings contained in the Bible, is as a guide to understand Him now (throughout the ages) by knowing what He did then.

Certainly, we must be discerning, and as acknowledged above, the Bible can be misunderstood, and is often misapplied. But that is our issue, not God’s. That is our lack of understanding, not God’s lack of providing what is needed. Thus, we can trust the Bible as our authority. We can, and should, compare the teachings of man (especially) against the words God has left for us (sola Scriptura). As we do, we will see that our source of authority does not merely serve as an authority, but is truly a guide, which provides a sense of purpose to all who heed its words.

Next week, in part 3, I will take one last step in this series to show how the Bible is our guide to purpose, not just an authoritative tool of God as many people consider it to be.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

The Source of Authority (Part 1 of 3)

In the two prior posts I have attempted to briefly show why “Will I go to heaven?” is the wrong question; however, the intent of that question casts a shadow on this week’s post. Ultimately that question boils down to “Have I done right?” and or “Have I done enough?” The answer however is not about what we have done, it is about what Christ did for us. We could never be right before God without Jesus, which means we can never do enough either. However, just because we cannot do enough to earn salvation, we are not excused from serving because of our salvation. The question then becomes “How do I know what to do?” The answer is clear – we are do what the Bible says.

The previous sentence is easy enough to type (and easier to say), but it is not so easy to do. However, just because something is challenging does not mean it is not right. In this case, the essence of the question might be asked in a variety of ways, such as:
  • “As a follower of Christ, who or what do I obey?”
  • “To whom or what should I submit?”
  • “Where does my allegiance lie?”
These questions are a part of our daily routine, especially apart from religion.
  • “Do I obey the speed limit or drive faster (for whatever the reason)?”
  • “Do I stick to my diet or give into the temptation to eat __________?”
  • “Do I go to work or call in sick because it is such a nice day?”
  • “Do I listen to the advice of ________, or do I just do it as I intended?”

Certainly, many other questions could be added and not all of them would directly put our desires on trial. But oftentimes our desires are the issue! Therefore, we must choose where our allegiance lies, if/how we will submit, and/or who or what to obey. And thus, we are squarely faced with the bigger picture of how our current decisions impact not just the moment, but the future as well. And for the Christian, that means not only on earth, but eternity.

Again, nothing we do, or can do, punches our ticket into eternity apart from our response to what Jesus did for us on the cross. This post is not about earning our salvation, it is about responding to it. Specifically, the idea is about working out our salvation (Philippians 2.12), instead of working for it. The Bible is clear that those who claim faith in Jesus will find themselves serving others (e.g. James 1.22). Although the exact manner of serving, loving, and living a life for Christ may be different for each person, the basic characteristics of that service, love, and life are provided in the Bible. Consequently, for those who are asking questions about God, or how they should live, or if they should serve, etc., the source for the answer is the Bible, not because it is an important book, but because it is the written Word of God.

Next week, in part two, I will further elaborate on why the Bible deserves our obedience, and why it must be our source of authority.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

The Wrong Question (Part 2 of 2)

Last week, I began by sharing why I believe the question, “Will I go to heaven when I die?” is the wrong question for us to ask. The question primarily conveys an attitude of works – have I done enough to warrant a place in heaven. As I wrote last week, that question does not reflect the Bible’s teachings. We should serve because we are saved, but we cannot work to be saved (Ephesians 2.8-10). This week, I will continue that thought by focusing on three words most Christians, and a large number of people have said – “Thy Kingdom come.”

The real reason that the question above is wrong is that it puts the focus on a place rather than God. A similar understanding is found among most Christians with relation to the church. When the word church is spoken a place comes to mind. For instance, churchgoers often say, “I am going to church.” That expression is meant that I am going to a place, but the church is not a place, it is a people. The same words could be spoken and have a meaning of, “I am going to be with the fellowship of believers,” but it doesn’t. The word “churchgoers” used just above, could likewise mean that the church (the people) are going out on mission, rather than going to a building. But again, the word has come to mean a group of people who go to a place.

Most everyone uses the word “church” to denote a place. Don’t we do the same with a phrase such as “God’s Kingdom?” But God’s Kingdom is not a physical space, or at least not a confined (nor contiguous) space. God’s Kingdom is where God is king; that is, wherever God rules. If we are serious about being with God in a place, then why should we wait until we die? We can be with Him in our current space just as easily as we can be in a future space.

If we tie this thought back to the original question, we may rightly consider that heaven is a place where God rules, so we want to go to heaven. But Jesus said that the Kingdom of God is at hand (Mark 1.15). Jesus came, in part, to bring God’s Kingdom to earth which is evident in the three words from His prayer, “Thy Kingdom come.” The idea is about God’s dominion spreading throughout the earth “as it is in heaven.” In one sense, God is fully in control of all that happens on the earth, but we certainly do not follow His will as perfectly as the celestial beings serving Him in heaven. Thus, our praying the prayer is a statement of our willingness to submit to God’s will here just as we will do in eternity.

Ultimately, “Thy Kingdom come” is not about a spatial relationship, it is about a personal one. Christians often talk about having a “personal relationship with Jesus” but sometimes act as if they are more interested in having a spatial relationship with heaven. Remember, heaven was a part of creation, so God is obviously greater. Thus, a better question might be: If Jesus was not in heaven, would you rather be in heaven or with Jesus? Personally, I will choose Jesus! If He made heaven, and doesn’t want to be there, imagine how much better wherever He might chose must be! (This scenario is hypothetical as Revelation 21 and 22 indicate that Jesus will be present in the new heaven and new earth.)

But while that question may be better, a simplified version of that question is what counts: Do I want to be with Jesus when I die?

If the answer is yes, why wait until you die? Start your life with Him today!

If you need more information on becoming a Christian, you can find many great websites on the web including this one.

Friday, September 29, 2017

The Wrong Question (Part 1 of 2)

As a pastor, I have been asked many questions. One question that is pervasive, although it takes various forms, could be simply stated as, “Will I go to heaven when I die?” As the title of this post suggests, I believe that is the absolute wrong question and I will explain why momentarily. However, to provide an answer to the question above, all I can truly admit to anyone is that I cannot know that answer for anyone but myself. 1 John 5.13 states that we can know that we have eternal life, but I cannot necessarily know about you nor can you know about me. We might suspect the answer, but God searches (and knows) the heart. You and I can only see the outside evidence. Certainly, the fruit of faith is important, but just as the fruit we eat can look deceptively good (or bad) it is the inside that truly matters.

But let me turn towards the primary reason for this post. In fact, 1 John 5.13 provides evidence for my statement about going to heaven being the wrong answer. You might not see it at first, and if so, it is because of a definition that many have entrenched in their minds. The verse says, “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life.” Do you see the answer now? If not, let me clarify.

Eternal life does not begin when we die – it begins when we “believe in the name of the Son of God.” Now that doesn’t mean we know the name Jesus, it means we have faith in the name and all that He represents. But the point here is that we have life when that faith begins, not when we die. Thus, when we ask, “Will I go to heaven when I die?” we are really saying, in some fashion, “Will I get to enjoy all God has promised once I die?” (More specifically, many people are asking “Have I done enough to get to heaven?” but that is a worse question, in my opinion, and deserves another post altogether.)

The reason that the earlier question is the wrong one is that Jesus has promised to be with His people always (Matthew 28.20), and sent the Spirit to guide us throughout our lives as Christians (John 14.16-17; 15.7). Furthermore, those who follow Jesus are children of God (1 John 3.1-2), and that benefit begins on earth...we need not wait for heaven.

I realize of course that this earth is not what heaven will be. Problems we face while living on this side of eternity will disappear completely on the other side. But that fact is true of eternity, not of heaven. Heaven is a place and may represent our concept of eternity, but heaven was created, just as was the earth. Thus, we need not focus on “going to heaven” we need to keep our focus on God, not a place we might idolize by our desiring to be there.

Ultimately, we must ask ourselves if our goal is to be in heaven or to be with Jesus. The two need not be mutually exclusive, but, I fear, for too many people heaven is the greater goal. For me, I do not care if I ever go to heaven and long as I am with Jesus. Eternity for me is about being with a Person, not being in a place. In Part 2 of this two-part series (next week), I will elaborate on this idea further.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Revolutions and The Reformation

Most individuals, including Christians, have a very limited understanding of The Reformation. I am certainly not an expert on the causes, the events, nor even the outcomes of The Reformation; however, I have studied each of those components in the past, and, particularly this year, have grown to understand and appreciate them so much more. Because the 500th anniversary of Luther’s infamous nailing of the 95 theses being celebrated next month, it is certainly fitting that our church, like so many others across the world, are teaching the primary principles (the 5 Solas) of The Reformation and other aspects of it as well (e.g. important people). But, make no mistake, the central theme of The Reformation was Jesus Christ.

The purpose of The Reformation was not to cause a revolution against the Church. A revolution is typically characterized as an attempt to overthrow an oppressive government or ruling system. Many such instances exist in history such as America fighting The (American) Revolutionary War against an oppressive England. Although many factors must be considered, taxation without representation was a strong theme – representing a type of oppression for the colonists. America’s success against a foreign power led to other revolutions such as The French Revolution (which was an internal fight against the tyranny of the monarchs). These, and other revolutions, usually begin with a group of revolutionaries taking up arms and fighting for their (perceived) rights. Sometimes, as in the American and French Revolutions, the revolution was successful. Other times, they were not. (Click here for a list of various revolts in history – you may be quite surprised at how many there have been.)

But the Reformation was not about bringing progressive change; rather, it was about restoring what had been – a re-forming of the Church to what she once was.* Luther and others were not seeking to overthrow the Church, they were focused on calling to attention some erroneous practices of the Church. The result was a branding of heresy against many of these individuals which led the Church to seek to destroy these ideas and, if necessary, the men who espoused them. Thus, the difference in ideals between most revolutions and The Reformation may begin with the direction of intent. Most revolutions seek change from without (e.g American colonies against England), while reformers wanted to make changes from within (Luther was a Catholic priest, for instance).

* Progress is typically considered positive change although what is defined as positive may be interpreted differently by various individuals or groups. To regress, on the other hand, means to go backward.

The Reformation was about making positive changes by returning to the past. It may have seemed like regression to some, but what one perceives to be the focus dictates their reality. The reformers focus was on the Bible (solus Scriptura), so going back to a previous time was not to regress. Instead, it was meant to capture what was best from a previous time and move forward based upon that reality (progress). The religious leaders, on the other hand, focused on the Church, so going back was a threat to their leadership. Thus, any return to the ancient past was regression.

The ultimate point here is that The Reformation was not meant as a true revolution. Many who lived in the 1500’s may have seen it as such, and some today may believe the same. However, a study of the two words shows a great difference in purpose and in process. Certainly revolutions may be necessary at times, and perhaps (PERHAPS) the world may have eventually revolted against the Church in Rome had the reformers not been successful in their efforts (at least, as successful as they were, however you might consider it). 

But a revolution was not necessary and a return to the past did occur for many thousands of people. It was a return to the past that undoubtedly changed the projected future. As we adhere to those same principles today (sola fide, solus Christus, solus Scriptura, sola gratia, and sola deo gloria), we can continue to reform our future as we serve a King against which no revolution will prevail.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Disciples, Equipping, and Priests

One of the most amazing truths in life is how the Bible fits so well together. I am aware that some passages seem to contradict one another, but I have a high view of God and the Bible, so my view of those differences are we lack the proper understanding; God did not make a mistake. Many examples of God providing understanding to humanity at some point are evident. For instance, many towns/cities that are mentioned in the Bible are discovered by archaeologists after it has been deemed that the town simply “could not” have existed. More to the point, the Bible itself shows God revealing further understanding over time (consider the “mystery” Paul mentions in Ephesians 3.3 – the mystery referring to Jesus being God’s plan for redemption.)

Why do I mention how well the Bible connects to itself? Let me answer that by providing a key thought made by Jesus, by Paul, and by Peter.

Jesus: “Go therefore and make disciples...” (Matthew 28.18)
Paul: “And he equip the saints for the work of ministry...” (Ephesians 4.11-12)
Peter: “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, ...” (1 Peter 2.9)

How do these three statements relate? Well, a biblical understanding of the priesthood must include those who do ministry. According to 1 Peter, which alludes to Exodus 19.5-6, all of God’s people are priests. The Exodus passage is given prior to the distinction of the Levites being the designated tribe from which priests were called. Peter’s letter makes this clear as well – all are priests. While this idea may seem foreign in a culture that thrives on specialization (which certainly includes ministerial staff), the truth is that the Bible is clear that we are all to serve God, and, therefore, the term priest should not be reserved for paid clergy of any, or all, denominations.

And yet, some people are called to a higher position with the Church. Paul’s words remind us that God has called some to lead the church in a special way (as apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds and teachers per Ephesians 4.11). This leadership is to equip others to do the work of ministry. That is, these leaders are to prepare people to be serve God in a variety of ways. If we connect this idea to the previous paragraph, then these leaders are to equip people to be...priests. Most might initially think this is the work of a theological school, or even a monastery, however, the Bible is clear that the work begins within the context of the church.

So, church leaders are to equip others for the work of ministry (while being involved in the ministry as well). What is the work of ministry? Jesus made this abundantly clear in the last words recorded in Matthew's account of the gospel - make disciples. Effectively, the idea of equipping is certainly in sync with making disciples and making disciples is certainly a big part of the work of ministry that the saints are to do. So, the leaders make disciples of others who will then make more disciples. Some of those new disciples will become leaders who will do more equipping and more disciples will continue to be made.

By combining the terminology from the prior paragraphs, the following is a reasonable summation:

    All Christians are to serve God who has called these servants His priests. These priests 
    are to make disciples which simply means helping others what it means to be a priest 
    for God. Some of these priests will be specifically called by God to lead others in a way
    to ensure people are being prepared (equipped) for the task of ministry – that is, to 
    make disciples. 

While not all may be called by God to be a specific kind of leader, all Christians are called to lead, because as we serve as priests, others will be watching. And it is these others who need to be led to know who Jesus is, what He has done, and ultimately how to serve Him as a priest themselves.

Again, the Bible fits together perfectly. Many other instances exist, but as I preached this past week on the idea of God calling a “new” priesthood at the beginning of The Reformation, my mind was stirred to consider the thoughts I have shared here. As a pastor, many look to me (expect me) to serve in a way that they cannot. Because this idea has become so ingrained in (church) culture, I understand the premise, but if I/we clearly understand this teaching of the Bible, we must all do our part, and I must lead that process so that, ultimately, all will be serving as the priests of God we are called to be.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

The Idea of Hope


The word hope evokes many thoughts – most of which concern our immediate situation. Currently, many in the Houston area hope to be able to return to their homes soon while many in Florida (and the Caribbean in general) hope that the next hurricane (Irma) does not cause immeasurable damage over the rest of this week or so. On a less magnificent level, we hear the word hope used about gifts (I hope I get ...), sports teams (I hope my team wins), and other aspects of life.

In the previous paragraph, all uses of the word "hope" were as a verb – which I would guess is how the word is used 90+% of the time. But to what end? Frankly, it doesn’t matter how much one hopes for, or about, anything, it is not hope that will make it happen. Perhaps, what is necessary is skill, work, time, or some other idea, but to say I hope is really a replacement for saying “I wish” and wishing something to be true does not make it so.

However, humans absolutely need hope. But as I have used the word here it is a noun. And that is where the idea of hope excels. Again, we may hope (verb) something to be true, but that will not make it so. True hope (noun) on the other hand, is what allows us to press on when the storms of life come our way whether the storms are literal (as in a hurricane) or figurative (as in diagnosis of a disease, etc.). When we have hope (noun), the question becomes in what is our hope (noun) based.

Living in the world, and not of it, requires us to place our hope in matters beyond this world. While hope is different than faith, both are intertwined. Christians are to place their faith in Christ whose return Paul calls “our blessed hope” (Titus 2.13), not because we wish (hope as a verb) for it to come true, but because it certainly will happen in God’s timing as He has promised. It is that promise that should prompt us to remain hopeful (full of hope, noun) even as the world around us may seem to be falling apart – an idea represented by the phrase post tenebras lux (after darkness, light).

Life does bring challenging times. The people in the Houston, Texas area know that to be true right now. The people in Florida are bracing for similar destruction. Sometimes the catastrophe comes completely unexpectedly (e.g. a health issue); sometimes it is reasonably forecast (e.g. a storm), but regardless of how bad the challenge is, hoping (verb) changes nothing. On the other hand, prayer can. Why? Because authentic prayer is a revelation of where our true hope (noun) is found.

So, by all means, have hope. Encourage others to remain hopeful in whatever the circumstance. But don’t hope for the situation to be better, pray for God to do something – even through you – to make it better. Perhaps, your efforts can help bring others to the true hope found in Jesus.

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Curveballs and Humility

This past Sunday I preached a message on 2 Samuel 24. In the passage David orders a census, realizes it was sinful, is offered a choice of punishment, and eventually worships after paying for the right to do so. (You can read the message here or listen here, if you like.)

The reason for the idea of the curveball relates to the idea that David effectively threw himself a curve – things were going well, but he decided to place his trust in the size of Israel (and specifically the valiant men who could wield a sword) instead of God. We all make decisions that seem reasonable at the moment only to discover later that we have erred greatly in our understanding or calculations of some matter. For David, his error cost 70,000 individuals their lives. David’s remorse AND repentance kept the situation from being worse, but for the families of those 70,000, life would never be the same. Fortunately, David’s overall response was one of humility, and therefore he was honored by God – not only in the act of sacrifice, but in making the place of sacrifice the future site of the temple.

Humility is such a difficult trait. Human pride (especially male pride) is consuming at times. This is especially true in the world of sports. Every athlete wants to make the heroic play and conversely, no athlete wants to be responsible for letting the team down. I have many images flooding my mind right now of various plays in all sorts of games where a player gets “beat” and looks for an excuse. Perhaps the official should have called a foul/penalty...perhaps a teammate should have helped...perhaps a coach made the wrong call, etc. While these excuses can be made in most any sport, baseball is an especially interesting game.

Baseball is a team game which is individually based in so many ways. Unlike a running back in football who must have the help of the quarterback (to execute a proper hand-off) and the offensive line (to block), a baseball player at the plate cannot (let alone does not) rely on anyone else to get a hit, draw a walk, etc. And yet, that player’s individual performance affects the team, just like a running back’s does or any other position from any team sport. While all sports have a way of humbling even the best of athletes over time, not having anyone to blame but oneself is mostly unique to baseball among team sports.

And because of that, baseball is often said to be a humbling sport. I can think of few instances that better exhibit this fact than when a pitcher unleashes a quality curveball to a batter that is expecting a fastball. If you have witnessed this moment in a game, you will see the batter react in any number of ways with buckling knees or swinging like a five-year old being among the most prominent reactions. Oftentimes, a strikeout pitcher will save this pitch for two strikes, and after “bending one” in for strike three, the batter simply walks to the dugout knowing they have been bested. It is this exact moment that reveals a bit of humility.

The previous two paragraphs could be true of any level of competition from age twelve, but consider a professional athlete. If we just consider baseball, approximately 800 people on earth are on the rosters of the Major League Baseball teams. 800 people out of over 7 billion people worldwide (that's one in ten million, not one in a million!). These athletes are the cream of the crop and do not like to be humiliated (of course, some are not very humble at all). But, in a given moment, you may see even the best of athletes tip the cap to someone else who is better, even if only in that moment. It is this humility that can actually cause someone to train in order to excel in future situations.

The events of 2 Samuel 24 were near the end of David’s life. He did not have many future situations. But the humility he showed to Someone (that is, God) who was (is) better can serve to help us excel now. We all make plans – some of which are good, and others which are not. But life throws us curveballs all the time. And sometimes, those curveballs are due to our own choices. Yet, the curveballs that stymie us are not a surprise to God at all. Thus we must humble ourselves to Him who is better because He truly has our best interest at heart (1 Peter 5.6-7). Just as David humbled himself before the Lord, we must too. Just as David eventually listened to the council of a trusted leader, so must we. And just as David worshipped when the Lord intervened, so must we.

For as Jesus said, when we humble ourselves before God, He will lift us up. But if we seek to exalt ourselves, we will indeed be humbled (Matthew 23.12, paraphrased).

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Stuff, Desire, and the Love of God

As I look around my office right now, I realize I have a lot of stuff. And, at present, that stuff is only partially organized. One semester has wound down, another is beginning. One season of the church has ended, and a new focus is about to begin. Plus, as I have recently mentioned, I have begun a new initiative to train pastors internationally. So, my desk (and extended desk) have piles related to various aspects of ministry – church, seminary, and training – as well as some personal notes here and there as well.

But looking past the papers, I see knickknacks such as a bobblehead bear with a golf ball and a few penguins in various decor from the days where I exclusively used Linux (the mascot is a penguin). I have a few momentos of my days playing baseball, a few pictures of my family, a set of headphones, a flashlight, and other stuff. Really, I have a lot of stuff. And that is just one part of one room. Behind me I have a ton of books on a bookshelf and I have continuously worked to fill those shelves with book I have read this year. I spend a lot of money on books and stuff. (Stuff must be a technical term, I am using it so much!) Oh, and, of course, I am typing this blog on my computer which has six books holding up a monitor with a few post its on it. Plus the keyboard, mouse, mouse pad, speakers, and general office “stuff” like pens, tape, kleenex, etc all of which is atop a desk which has a chair for me to sit. Just stuff – and a lot of it.

Why am I seemingly rambling about the stuff around me? This past week my friend, Reggie, preached a sermon entitled, The Love God Hates.” His primary text was 1 John 2 which, in part, speaks of the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, or as the ESV renders it the “pride of possessions.” Now, I don’t think many of us would list a pair of scissors as one of our prime possessions, but the fact is, that everything I see around me is something that was purchased (either with money or with time – as in something made). Reggie’s point was that we often put our focus on what the world offers (stuff like computers and books) rather than God. When we do lose focus, we not only distract ourselves from God, but we alienate ourselves from Him as well.

Of course, none of the “stuff” I have mentioned is necessarily bad. After all, how could I blog without a device connected to the internet (i.e. a computer, phone, tablet, etc.). How can I learn if without reading (and the Bible is one of the books on my desk – actually the one closest to me). As has often been expressed in similar manner, “it is not that we have stuff, it is if the stuff has us.” Reggie’s words on Sunday were a good reminder that we must be on guard of what we truly desire because even the stuff we have is not really ours (or won’t be someday). That great new phone – it will one day be trash. That new outfit – it may be out of style before long. That new car – it will sit in a junk yard several years down the road. After all, it is just stuff.

As humans we love stuff. But humans are not stuff. We are of value – not always to one another, but always, ALWAYS to God. The Bible makes that abundantly clear. And what is more amazing is that while humans usually discard stuff we no longer “love” because it is used or broken, God loves us because we are abused and broken. Romans 5.8 is one of the best verses in the Bible because it shows that God is not just another god. He is a “But God” kind of God. “But God showed His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5.8). God values us over all of the stuff He made. And He loves us even when we value our stuff over Him.

The God of the Bible deserves our affection. The God of the Bible deserves our devotion. The God of the Bible deserves us – totally and completely. You and I have a lot of stuff around us, but let us never lose sight that whatever we may have or hope to have in this world cannot begin to measure against how much God longs for us to be with Him.

Before this post leaves your mind, take a moment to look at the stuff around you. Take a moment to identify your stuff by name, then label all of it collectively as “stuff.” Finally, make the choice to realize that your stuff can be good, but it should never be your god because our stuff can never love us like the true God can and has. Let your desire before for God, not for stuff. If you and I will commit to desiring Him, our desires will eventually become God’s desires. And when our desires match His, He has promised to fulfill all of those desires for our sake and His glory (Psalm 37.4).