Thursday, January 29, 2009

God and a Sleepless Night

I was reading Esther 6 today, and once again I was surprised and amazed at the providence of God as evidenced in this passage.  God's power and timing are demonstrated in their perfections in such a way as to protect Mordecai from the evil intentions of Haman.  On the very night before Haman was to ask for Mordecai's killing, the Lord caused the king to be unable to sleep (God did that).  In an attempt to induce sleepiness on himself, he asked for the royal chronicles to be brought to him and to be read.  I wonder how many scrolls there were in the royal library, but the very one that could save Mordecai was chosen (God did that).  Just hours before Haman is to walk into the royal palace to request regal permission to destroy Mordecai, God was preparing the king to deliver Mordecai and the Jewish people (God did that).  And I think it is hilarious how God even used Haman, the hater of Mordecai and the people of God, to honor Mordecai before the people. Humor is all over this!  And God did it all!

Even though God's name is not found in this passage, God is all over this event.  God is the unnamed mover and controller of all events, even to the point of keeping a king from sleeping and the choosing of a scroll to be read to the king.

The providential goodness of God has been such a blessing to me personally over the years.  I cannot think of another biblical truth (outside of the gospel itself) that has given to me more comfort, more strength, more help, and more serenity than to know that God is sovereignly watching over me and taking care of me.  In times of sickness, illness for family members (including a terminal diagnosis of my son), uncertainty about financial resources and life's direction cause times of struggle and pain.  But the one truth that has brought me more calm in anxious moments is that God has chosen me for Himself, and He is watching over me to bring good and glory through my circumstances.  He does not promise ease, convenience, or the fulfillment of personal preferences.  But He does promise to be faithful and true to us, to His promises in Christ, and to His own nature.  Nothing that is eternally damaging can happen to us; all is good seen from the perspective of eternity.  My mother drilled this truth into me as I was growing up, and I have sought to pass it along to my children.

So, no matter what the day may bring, no matter the difficulty or the hardship, God is with us. And God is controlling the events that control us.  Some day, some how, in some way God's glory will shine through my life and experiences.  This is THE HOPE of the providence of God in human life.  Thanks be unto God!  Amen!

Sunday, January 25, 2009

A Baby Boomer Advises Generation "Whatever"

"Baby Busters", "Generation X", "Generation Millennium" - I haven't heard what the present generation designation is.  I don't know, I guess I got lost along the way of designating generations, or perhaps we ran out of monikers.  My ignorance may be explained by the fact that I quit reading those Church Growth publications that have articles entitled, "How to Make your Puny Little Church into Megachurch within Six Months - Guaranteed!"  It seemed to me to be fallacious to "guarantee" growth (defined by numbers only) without referencing our use of Scripture and our dependence upon God.  But alas, I digress...back to my point.

I would like to speak today to the "Whatever the Latest Evangelical Generation is Called" Christians, and say, "Be careful what you rebel against and to."  Speaking as the official designated spokesman of the Baby Boomer evangelicals (who promised to get it right since the previous generation had messed everything up - - psst...did you know that every generation when they are in their 20's thinks the previous generation messed everything up and the "up and coming" bunch will straighten everything out; you know, sort of like "A Change we Can Believe in."  Hmmm, we'll see...).  The older I have gotten the more certain I am that the previous generation was not as dumb as I thought, and I was not as smart as I thought at age of 25.  In fact, the older I get, the less likely I am to trust my opinions.  My cultural and ministerial arguments from 30 years ago seem to have lost their fizz.  Is it possible...oh no, I can't believe I'm saying this...that we did not know what we were talking about 30 years ago? As is always the case, the answer to this is - there was some good, and there was some bad. Keep everything in perspective and be humble.

The one thing that continues to gnaw at me is this important fundamental idea - young people and young adults seem have to a built in propensity for rebellion against the bunch that precedes them, but the young folks must be careful what they rebel against and what they rebel to.  In the case of young evangelicals today, the enemy is not the previous generation, traditionalists, or Baby Boomers.  I have heard some young evangelicals speak with such tenderness about lost people, then turn definitely angry talking about the "traditionalist, no-change, stick-in-the-mud" Christians at the local church.  Every time I hear something like this I think of Jesus' command for Christians to love each other and the Apostle John's teaching in his First Epistle that true Christians love other Christians.  Faithfulness and biblical ministry are not determined by reacting against other Christians.  Mainstream Evangelicals for years have tragically determined their beliefs on certain things by reacting against other groups (i.e. "Roman Catholics" and "Pentecostals") rather than simply studying and believing the Bible.

I admit that the previous two generations (an opinion I hold myself, and perhaps no one else) our collective popular evangelical beliefs have been set by Strong's Concordance rather than books on Systematic Theology. If we can't find the word in Strong's, then we assume the Bible has nothing to say on the subject represented by that word.  The upshot of that is that the previous evangelical community became rather somewhat unbiblical in some ways in both doctrine, Christian living, and ministry.  So, here come the new evangelicals to save the day; they are going to show those old codgers how to get it right.  So, they rebel, and what is the chosen battlefield of the new generation of evangelicals?  "Cigar smoking, alcohol drinking, and global warming, and no more hymns in church" - HUH?!  Is this the strategic and important sign of reformation of the modern evangelical church?  Is this what the Reformers meant when they said the church must continue to reform?  I say again to the new evangelicals - please, I beg of you, my dear, precious brothers in Christ, be careful what you rebel against and what you rebel to.  You are setting a course for generations to come.  Your generation will reap a harvest of whatever you sow.  What harvest will come to such unwise decisions such as these?  I will give a passage of Scripture and be done with this diatribe - Galatians 5 says that Christ set us free.  Amen and Hallelujah!!!  Yes, we must not be legalistic or bound in works theology.  But Galatians 5 also says we are free to serve each other in love.  Let's try to use our freedom in Christ for sacrificial love which takes others into account (see Philippians 2:1-8 for the greatest example of this).  Let us seek to be wise, considerate, courteous, and caring with all, including those "stick in the mud" Baby Boomer Christians - yuck.   Amen!

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Pulpits, White Coats, and Mystic Entertainers

Where is the power base in a community?  There was a time in early American history when the pastor standing behind the pulpit was the power person in the community (this was probably not as true in the frontier areas).  This was true for two reasons:  first, the pastor was the most educated man in the community, and second, there was an acknowledgment by the community at large that God was sovereign and to Him they were accountable.

But that all changed with the inculcation of scientism which defined the era now known as modernity.  The change began to occur in the late 19th century and certainly became full-blown in the 20th century.  Essentially, science was considered by the community to be the context of truth, and scientism (scientific method based on the assumption that reality is only defined by material nature; this is in contrast to early scientists in Europe who based their scientific method on the created order) became the order of the day.  Thus, the power moved from the man behind the pulpit to the man who wore the white medical coat.  Studies have shown that people today trust those who wear the white medical smock.  Whether or not we realize this, this is the consequence of the effects of scientism in modernity.

But now things are changing again.  The advent of Eastern Religious thought garbed in western ideology (or I should say preferential philosophical desire) resulted in New Age teaching, Post-Modern religious blubbery, and radical individualism (meaning, "I make my own religion, thank you very much!").  Now, who bears the power of the community?  It may be argued, in light of recent developments, that those who become popular through entertainment and media become the voices of truth to the masses.  It is almost as if one assumes that one on television, or anyone in the movies, or anyone who sings songs in the pop culture, becomes suddenly an expert on everything.  And these mystic entertainers tell us what to drive (God forbid that we drive SUVs), and what to eat (i.e. "We must defend the defenseless chickens from that great tyranny known as 'Kentucky Fried Chicken"), and how to save the planet (Lord knows how many times someone tries to make us feel guilty if we don't try to save the planet). These mystic entertainers have become the power-brokers for radical environmentalism and, perhaps, the instrumentation of political and social engineers.

What is a Christian to do in such situations?  First, we must learn what the Christian faith is in its fullest extent.  This is commonly referred to as a "worldview" in the modern era.  The Christian faith says something about ultimate reality (God), the nature of material reality (creation), the nature of truth and morality, the purpose of history (God's sovereign will achieved in the incarnation of Christ applied redemptively in human history through the church and the ministry of the Holy Spirit), and the meaning of death and eternity.  Every Christian can and must be ready to respond to these great questions if they want to present themselves as a logical, consistent, biblical Christian.  Second, the Christian must courageously link himself to the teachings of Scripture for authority and instruction.  The Berean Christians have become model Christians in this regard (see Acts 17) where they even put Paul to the test of Scripture. Finally, we must exercise integrity in living out this vision.  The Christian must resist the temptation to accommodate the spirit of the age (and the pressure of media, political parties, unions, and other organizations) if one is to live an eternal life focus.  As one has quaintly put, "If we marry the spirit of the age in which we live, then we will become a widow in the next."  May God help us to look to the Lord in these things; He is the sovereign of heaven and earth.  Amen.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

The Tyranny of the Pseudo-Relevant

One of the great plagues that has come upon the modern American evangelical church (and God forbid that international churches seek to emulate the Christian evangelical church on this point) is the absolute intoxication with relevancy.  Relevancy is the great eleventh commandment that drives the evangelical, ministerial engine.  Everything that is deemed "relevant" is unquestioningly adopted as, well...relevant.  And it is invariably linked with that great text of all texts for ministry, missions, and evangelism...drum roll please..."I have become all things to all men that I might win some", which many cool and relevant Christians who want to be effective in ministry interpret to mean, "I have become relevant in all things that I might win some."

There are two BIG problems with the embedded idea of man-centered relevancy in Christian ministry:  first, relevancy means nothing until we determine who defines what is relevant (and in the case of Christian ministry, God determines relevancy), and second, there is no biblical evidence (and I mean absolutely no biblical evidence) that man-centered relevancy is God's chosen means of reaching people for Christ (perhaps we need to talk about what "reaching people" really means, but that is for another blog entry).

Pseudo-relevancy in Christian ministry asks people what is relevant to them (man-centered), then it modifies its worship, Bible study, preaching, ministry, and service to accommodate this so-called relevancy.  The bottom line is that the unregenerate sets the agenda for the church. Doesn't anyone see a problem with this?!  Can you imagine Lot doing a survey in Sodom asking, "We are going to start a Baptist church in Sodom.  What seems to be relevant to you Sodomites? We want to build a need-meeting ministry at the 'What's Happening Church'.  Our motto is:  'We are a church for everyone!  So, tell us your expectations of our church, Mr. Lost Sodomite."  What foolishness, and yet this methodology is applied every day in the American church in the name of evangelism and "reaching people."

How much we need to hear the voice of God in Scripture calling us to a biblical ministry.  A biblical ministry is declarative in nature.  It declares what God has done in Christ redemptively. It declares that what God has said is true.  Sinners have lost their mental and spiritual balance because of sin.  They are, in fact, dead in sin (Ephesians 2:1).  How can sinners know what is relevant to them? Christ has sent the church with the message of God's redemption in Christ. Let us preach this message with love, with prayer, with tenderness, with gentleness, with tears of compassion, but with bold resolve.  Ours must not be a ministry of the interrogative ("What would you like our church to do for you?").  No, ours is that ministry that bears the authority of being called and sent by God as ambassadors for Him (see 2 Corinthians 5:18-20).

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Ties and Blue Jeans

There are a few advantages to being a minister for more years than I would like to recount.  As I count the number of AARP invitations I have gotten in the mail, I am also reflecting on the strange and often bizarre way that church was and is done.

A long time ago in that little church on the hill outside of middle America the trendy motif was the necktie.  Neckties spoke of tradition, reverence, conservative values, and (until the 70s when those awful paisley prints on ties became popular) conservative fashions.  I remember hearing in "yesterday's" church, "We never did it that way before" - the seven last words of the "funding fathers" (and as long as the funding fathers of the church kept the budget balanced, no one dared challenge them).  But then the 60's and the 70's washed over the little church like a tidal wave colored by hippy freedom and libertarian possibilities.  The little church that had nursed itself on evangelical pragmatism intoxicated with a passion for numbers could not resist the "whatever works" mentality of the new era.  Suddenly acoustical guitars were replacing the organ as the primary instrument of melodious accoutrement behind stained glass windows.  In the summer, when the windows of the church were opened, the soft strains of "Cum Ba Yah" could be heard across the valley as the sanctuary choir sang sincerely and sweetly even though they had no idea what "Cum Ba Yah" meant - they traded their "Ebenezer" for latest contemporary chorus.  Suddenly the evangelical landscape was dotted with Christian bookstores selling Jesus t-shirts, bumper stickers; the air waves were filled with Christian music that followed cultural trends, and preachers learned to market the gospel instead of preach the gospel.  The neckties had turned into blue jeans.  Now it was the blue jean era where God was cool, doctrine was out, preaching turned to sharing, and the worst thing a church could do was to not be "cutting edge."  Once, if a young man entered the church with long hair, earrings, a dirty shirt, and blue jeans with holes in them, you would send him to the pastor. Now he is the pastor!

Now church is niched for age groups, life experiences, and whatever seems to be trendy and culturally fashionable.  Now people in the church, wearing their blue jeans and flip-flops, drinking their lattes from Starbucks want nothing to do with neckties or their dad's way of doing church.  Today is the day when anything goes in church except what has been done in church from the last generation.  It is basically a form of modified teenage-like rebellion.  The contemporary Christian scene has institutionalized the attitude of "I don't want to think, act, talk or be like my dad."  One of the most surprising elements of this not-so-impressive trend is how angry younger aged Christians are with anything related to the previous generation.  They despise patriotism to America, the moral and ethical values of their parents, and expository preaching.  They want nothing to do with the established church; church planting is all the rage.  
Of course, nothing is as consistent as change.  The question is, "What does the coming generation rebel against?  What comes from the 'Latte, blue jean, flip-flop' church?"  I'm kind of scared, kind of curious, kind of ready to close up shop.  Some days that little cabin on the mountain looks really, really good.  

Monday, January 12, 2009

Who Needs the Bible?

Unfortunately this is the day when subjective religious experience is the trendy thing.  It is common to hear evangelicals use language like, "God told me", "I got a word from God", and my all time favorite, "the Lord led me to...". Our modern evangelical sensibilities seem to allow for any and all religious experiences validating them because, well...we had the experience!  No one can say anything against our own testimony right?  I am reminded of a man I once knew who humorously called attention to this lunacy by saying, "It must be the will of the Lord; it seems so right to me."  Of course, he said this with a wry smile and a twinkle in the eye.  We could never misread God, could we?  Certainly if we are sincere and totally committed to Christ (and throw in a little fasting and prayer), then God will talk to us directly right?

Being a minister has its advantages, not the least of which is the junk mail I get.  In recent days I keep getting junk email.  Recently I got a piece of junk email designed to excite and scintillate my spiritual senses.  The email promoted a meeting that I just have to attend if I want to be in God's will.  The tease came in the form of seminar titles:  "Direct Encounter with a Supernatural God", "Engaging the Revelatory Voice of God", and that can't miss seminar called, "The Breaker Anointing:  Releasing the Prophetic Breath of God."  Hey, this conference will tell me how to meet directly with God, get a revelatory word from God, and release the power of God's breath through my life.  Hey, when you have all of this, who needs the Bible?

Well, that's the problem.  The Bible now has become the manual for "whatever I want to find there."  I teach biblical hermeneutics in the college setting, and I find students often fall into the fallacy of "The Bible means what I want it to mean."  But students hold no corner on that mistake.  Students must line up behind pastors, youth ministers, deacons, and Sunday school teachers who do this regularly.  In fact, we have been "using" the Bible for years - we call it the priesthood of the believer (i.e. the Bible says what I think it says, and doggone it, nobody better tell me different, because I am a BAPTIST  who believes in the priesthood of the believer!  I'd like to have few words with whoever popularized, but prostituted, that oft maligned doctrine.) Where does the objective, propositional truth of God's Word come into play?  As Baptists get together to "share what the Bible means to me" (when in fact this is often a pooling together of our ignorance), when do we stop to do healthy exegesis of the text?  Doesn't the text mean what the author meant it to mean?  Shouldn't we find out what the author meant by the text before we apply the text to our lives?  I should think so.

Before we close this blog article I would like to lead us all in a prayer (Don't get excited, it's not the prayer of Jabez!).  "Lord, deliver me from trying to get information from You concerning things you have already spoken about in Scripture.  Keep me from such prideful thoughts that I can be absolutely right on everything at any one moment.  Dear Lord, forgive me for thinking I am smarter than the many Christians who came before me and some of who left good confessions, creeds, and biblical resources to help me study my Bible.  And Lord, teach me how to accurately and humbly study the Scriptures with good hermeneutical and exegetical techniques that I may see wondrous things from Your written revelation.  Then, dear Lord, give me the wisdom to see how all of this applies to my life, and give to me the grace to seek to apply Your truth to my life.  And finally, Lord, when I think the next time that I have a new revelation from You, please put cotton in my mouth to shut me up."  Amen

Monday, January 5, 2009

The Importance of Balance in Biblical Interpretation

I suppose there are some important things one learns after 35 years of ministry. Amazing, simply admitting that I have been in ministry for 35 years makes me feel old. Alas, I digress...One of the important observations I have made in these many years of ministry is the vital necessity of balance in biblical interpretation.  

But what do I mean by balance in biblical interpretation?  Balance in this context involves the mature interpretive skill of seeing two related contrasting truths that give a broader, fuller, and balanced understanding of the full biblical teaching on a subject. A good example might be the twin, but distinctive truths, that God wants Christians to trust Him for their financial survival, but He also wants Christians to work hard to earn a living. Both of these truths are in the Scriptures, and they are clearly taught there. One can find Scripture verses that obviously tell us to not be anxious about anything, including money.  In fact, Jesus exhorted believers to not serve "mammon" or money in His teaching in the Sermon on the Mount.  Jesus repeatedly warned about the danger of greed and worldly concern about money (i.e. parable about the sower - see the soil that had thorns).  But the Ten Commandments clearly affirms private ownership in its prohibition on coveting, and Paul commands that one should work hard to provide for one's family.  This Pauline commandment was made in such strong terms that Paul stated if one neglected or refused to do such, then he was to be treated like an unbeliever (1 Timothy 5:8) (WOW!).  So, who is right;  Jesus or Paul? The answer is - both are right.  They are giving two important contrasting (not contradicting) truths that together give a balanced biblical perspective on a vital issue. Jesus was not teaching that the believer should be lazy and not work, nor was Paul teaching that we should not trust God with our financial needs.  Taken together these teachings give a full expression of biblical instruction on these issues.  

Another significant example of this is the role of faith and works in salvation found in both Paul's writings and the Epistle of James.  It sounds like Paul discounts works in salvation altogether, and James discounts faith as a basis for justification.  But a closer observation of both authors reveals that each contributes central ideas regarding the necessity of both faith and works in their proper place in the overarching subject of salvation.  So let me pull some central ideas together that need to be regarded as central to this topic of balance and biblical interpretation.

Warning:  To neglect balance in biblical interpretation not only results in a misunderstanding what the Bible says about the topics involved, it sets the stage for aberrant teaching and ultimately heresy itself.  Every cult I know is partially created because of unbalanced teaching.  It is a requisite that we maintain balance in our understanding of Scripture.

Example:  I saw an example of unbalanced Scriptural study not long ago in a marriage where the husband took the biblical idea of husbandly and fatherly authority way out of proportion.  He used it to dominate over and dictate to his wife and children.  His mistake was that he forgot LOVE, and it was destroying his wife and children.

Suggestions:  So, how can Christians protect themselves from falling into unbalanced interpretations of biblical teaching?
1.  Look for opposite and contrasting truths.  Ultimate truth is so large that it is composed a many sub-truths.  These sub-truths taken together form the large composite of the ultimate truth.  Without a complete view of all sub-truths, one does not get the big picture of ultimate truth. 

2.  Be honest with yourself.  Let's be honest, there are some truths we like and some with which we struggle.  Those truths that seem to be contrasting with our basic personality and emotional constitution are as important as those truths that fit easily within our natural makeup.  When you study the Bible, be honest with yourself and the text.

3.  Listen to other Christians.  We Christians need each other.  Let's listen to each other as we share together the Word of God.  Often we will find that others have a perspective of a passage that we missed and desperately needed.  Not all Christians have discerning insight into biblical passages, but Paul taught us in 1 Corinthians that we are the Body of Christ made up of many different types of members.  We need to listen to each other.

4.  Be humble.  Don't think at any one point in your Christian journey that you understand everything about anything.  Christians are learners (disciples), and we will learn (we should learn) until the day we die on earth.  And in heaven we will continue to learn for all eternity.  Don't become obnoxious by stating or implying that you know it all.  Keep learning!

Summary and Conclusion:  My Systematic Theology professor in seminary years ago used to say he learned much about boats and water when he was growing up in Holland.  He remarked one of the most important things he learned was that it really did not matter which end of the boat one fell off of, he still got wet.  Let's be careful as Christians about extremism in biblical interpretation.  To be faithful to the text of Scripture we must give attention to balance.  Amen!

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Reminders to Those who Preach

In Acts 4:4, the Scripture says, "But many of those who had heard the message (word) believed..."

Peter had been preaching Jesus Christ in response to the gathering crowd.  A man had been healed in the previous chapter, and many came expressing their amazement. Then Peter preached Jesus, the crucified Son of God, to the people.  The Jewish priests, the temple guards, and the Sadducees came and arrested Peter and John, taking them into custody and putting them into jail.  Then our text is given, "But many of those who heard the message (word) believe..."

Here we have some gentle but important reminders to those who preach the Word of God to the people.

First, preachers should preach Christ.  This is what Peter did; he preached Christ.  But what does it mean to preach Christ?  Does preaching the crucified Christ simply mean to recount the historical crucifixion of Christ?  No, the text says the people believed the message or word about Christ.  Peter said several significant things about the crucified Christ.  He called Jesus the "Prince of Life (3:15)", he referred to Christ's resurrection (3:15).  Peter talked about the power of Jesus' authority and the faith engendered in Christ by the working of God's grace (3:16).  He referred to God's foreknowledge and prophetic word (3:18), and he implied God's sovereign power to fulfill this prophecy regarding Christ (3:18).  He talked about repentance and forgiveness of sin (3:19).  He talked about eschatological hope and judgment (3:20-23).  What a powerful sermon!  Here we learn that to preach Christ means to preach the doctrine of Christ.  It is sad to observe that many modern preachers feel and act like doctrine is the obstacle (even enemy) to ministry and preaching.  But we must preach Christ by preaching all that Christ is and has done.  It is only by such method will sinners be saved.

Second, people come to believe in Christ through the preaching of the Word of God about Christ.  When preachers preach Christ to the people, the Spirit of God is pleased to move in a sovereign way for the salvation of sinners.  The salvation of one sinner is evidence of the sovereign power of the Spirit of God, but when many are brought to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ, then we are seeing the sovereign work of God in great expressions of joy.  But people come to the saving knowledge of Christ by virtue of the preaching of Christ.

Third, it is clear from our text that the Spirit calls people to believe in Christ in a saving fashion.  Salvation is linked to believing in Jesus Christ and all He is and has done.  This implies a great inner change in the mind and heart and will of the sinner. Only the Spirit of God can make such a change, but this change does occur because of the work of the Spirit through the preaching of the Word of God.  People are called to believe the message about Jesus, and they will express that belief in personal trust in Him.  Ministers must remember that the ministry of the Word deals more with exclamation marks rather than questions marks.  The question marks of doubt and cultural sensibilities will never save the soul.  The preacher must not put his finger to the wind to see which way the social wind is blowing before he speaks.  He must have a "thus says the Lord" tone to his preaching.  He must know the Word, and he must preach the Word authentically, earnestly, lovingly, and prayerfully.

Finally, the ministry of preaching always has two effects:  some believe and some don't.  This has always been true in the context of preaching the truth.  Some believe, some have faith, and some don't.  The minister in his preaching cannot determine who will believe and who won't.  This is the doing of God in the sacred hall of the individual soul.  This is the mystery of the working of God in the lives of people.  The minister cannot determine who will believe, but we say with Paul, "How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard? (Romans 10:14)"  Thus, we need preachers.

So, preacher, go forth in the joy of the Lord!  "How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news of good things! (Romans 10:15)"  May God bless your work this day for His own glory!

Saturday, January 3, 2009

"Why did you ever send me?"

There is a question that Moses asks God in Exodus 5:22.  Moses had been called by God for a very special purpose on the mountain in Midian.  Moses had been extremely reluctant to obey the Lord for a number of reasons (all cogent).  And God had demanded that Moses go, even though Moses thought someone else could have done a better job.  So, Moses went back to Egypt perhaps timidly, reluctantly, and reticently.  But he was going, and he was going because God, the God of His fathers, had told him to go.  He was going because the God of heaven and earth sent him.

But from the moment Moses hit town everything went awry.  Pharaoh did not acknowledge the Lord's authority in Egypt (after all, Pharaoh thought of himself as a god).  Even the Hebrews, enslaved and struggling, didn't even believe Moses.  And to top everything off, when Moses made his move in the name of the Lord ("Thus says the Lord" Exodus 5:1 - this is the prophetic formula used by the prophets of the OT to add authority to their revelatory message), instead of everything working out well, everything fell apart!  Instead of making things better, Moses only seemed to make everything worse than they were before - not an auspicious beginning!

I wonder if one were to talk to Moses at this point of his journey and tell him the truth, what would Moses say?  What if one were to say to Moses, "It's OK, Moses; God has everything under control. God knew about all of this ahead of time, in fact, God made it turn out like this.  But God is going to use the problems of 'now' to bring about the blessings of 'tomorrow'."  Perhaps Moses would have said, "Oh sure, that's easy for you to say; you don't have to face the wrath of Pharaoh and the disappointment of the Hebrews!"  But God did have everything in control, and before the story ends, Pharaoh's army is defeated in the Red Sea, the Hebrews leave with parting gifts from the Egyptians, and the name of the Lord is honored where once is was unknown or despised. But Moses didn't have the benefit of reading the last chapter of the story like we do.  He was living the story, and this moment of the story was a moment of disappointment and concern.

I would like to make an observation and postulate on that observation for a moment.  My observation is that by virtue of a cursory study of Scripture (augmented by some empirical data based on human experience) it appears that it is the normal situation for God's servants to have problems.  I think Paul, the apostle, would confess that he had many more problems after he was converted to Christ and started serving Him.  What would Jeremiah say about this sitting at the bottom of a well, or what about Isaiah, who confessed "Who has believed our report? (53:1)", say about all of this?  Or, what would John the Baptist, who ended up in jail for speaking out against a politician, say about this?  Dietrich Bonhoeffer once offered the assessment of divine calling when he said that when Christ calls someone he bids him, "Come and die."  It seems the normal and common experience of God's servants to have problems, difficulties, and hardships because of their ministries.  

So, what is the servant of the Lord to do or think at such at time as this?  What should be our thoughts as we face disappointment, discouragement, and even depression over our ministerial circumstances?  What would we have said to Moses in his lowest moments?
1.  God is still on the throne, and we can trust Him to do what is right, best, and good.
2.  God will not abandon us in our hour of need; we can, and must, look to Him out of the context of our struggle.
3.  We must keep doing the right thing, in the right way, for the right reason, trusting in God for fruit.
4.  We must never expect life to be perfect; our perfection is in heaven.
5.  We must believe that God will provide for us in His way, in His time, for His glory.
6.  It is acceptable to be human and weak; learn to accept yourself as a weak vessel for God's service.  Jesus sympathizes with us and our weaknesses (Hebrews 4:15).
7.  Trust God to provide His strength and resources to do His will in, through, and outside of our weakness.

When we think like this, transferring the pressure of our ministries onto God, then we can work hard and smile.  The results are His.  Let us try to pray hard for each other as we seek to serve the Lord in every situation of life.  Amen. 

Friday, January 2, 2009

In the Beginning God

Genesis 1:1 says, "In the beginning God..."  Now, it is very common to overlook a statement like this because it seems to carry no transcendent or practical significance.  But on further, and closer, inspection one begins to see that this is the fundamental explanation for life itself.  This simple, yet profound statement, gives insight and expression to the nature of meaning.

What do we know about the beginning?  Why does it matter?  It is obvious that no one was there to record the beginning.  That is to say, there was no reporter from the local newspaper or television station to give a live account and perspective of the beginning.  Because this lack of human presence in the beginning, many wrongfully conclude that the beginning is shrouded in myth and ethereal vagueness.

But this is not true at all.  God was there!  Are we to dismiss His testimony of the beginning as untrue, insignificant, or less valid than the perspective and expression of a limited, sinful, biased, mutable reporter?  I think not!

The real questions about the beginning is not what?, but who? and why?.  God is the all-knowing Knower, the all-being Essence, the all-sovereign Sovereign.  He is both the ultimate Cause and the ultimate Reason for ultimate reality.  He is not only the ultimate One who was there in the beginning, He is also the ultimate Purpose for the beginning.  And as such He is the ultimate Point of life itself.  God doesn't give explanations, He is the explanation.  To know Him is to know why.  If we know Him, we don't need any other "whys."  It is only when we know Him that we see the nature and significance of the beginning.  And only as we understand the beginning in the context of who God is that we begin to understand the now and the end as well.  It is only as we understand God that we understand time and life at all.

But to understand God one must understand God in the flesh - the incarnation of the Son of God.  The New Testament argues that the incarnate Christ made God known.  And as such He made life and its meaning known.  God in flesh is the only logical, reasonable, and biblical understanding for life.  Without knowing and grasping Him in flesh do we appreciate and see the meaning of flesh.  That is why time seemed to stand still on that night in Bethlehem when Christ was born.  Time stood still because in Christ, time took on its true meaning and purpose.

This is why Jesus revealed Himself to John the Apostle (Revelation 1, 21, 22) as the Alpha and Omega, the Beginning and the End.  This is why Paul presented Jesus Christ as being preeminent (Colossians 1), and this is why Paul said that we are made complete only in Jesus Christ (Colossians 2).

In Christ there is a reason for getting out of bed in the morning; there is a reason for living.  He is the reason for living.  Simply put - Jesus is the Reason!  And it is only as we come to know Him through illumination by sovereign grace that we come to see the meaning of the beginning, the now, the end, yea, life itself.  That is why we must understand the first statement of the Bible, "In the beginning God..."

Thursday, January 1, 2009

New Year Anticipations

I'm not sure which I like best, the ending of something or the beginning of something. Sometimes at the end (like the end of the year) one can reflect upon accomplishments gained. However, at the end there are also regrets and sadness over sin, failure, and weakness demonstrated in the living of life each day.

But the beginning of something is fresh and new.  I heard once that one can think of the beginning of the new year as a clean sheet of paper upon which one will write in the coming year.  But in some ways the new year is like the old year.  This year there will be blessings from God, joys (both anticipated and also surprising), challenges, struggles, temptations, trials, and even perhaps tragedy.  It is interesting how life changes, yet stays the same.  But no matter what happens this year, there are some key transcendent truths that will always remain the same:
1.  God will be sovereignly good intervening in human history (including the particular experiences of believers) providentially with wisdom, love, power, and grace.
2.  The gospel of Jesus Christ will still be true.  The rich, effectual consequences of Jesus' active righteousness, death, resurrection, and mediatorial reign are all in effect continuously and ever more.  Time and it's fluctuations cannot change the eternal gifts that God gives to His covenant people in and through Jesus Christ.
3.  The destiny of God's people is both secure and glorious.  As difficult as earthly experiences may be, nothing compares with the glory that will be shared with us by Christ in our eternal, heavenly home (Romans 8:18; 2 Corinthians 4:16-18).  And one day, in our flesh, we shall see our beautiful Savior in all His glory (The Beatific Vision!).  And as a part of His Bride, the church, we shall each share in the joy of that glory.  What a promise!  What a blessing!

So, as we begin a new year, we Christians are pulled evermore forward to the glorious colors of the transcendent sunset (sunrise?) of our future in Christ.  Rejoice!