Friday, December 23, 2016

Manage To Make It Round

"How could a major controversy arise on a subject exhaustively studied for centuries in which there was a clear consensus among evangelical Protestants? Part of the answer is that evangelical Christians have become ignorant about church history. With what can only be called pride, many have thought that they could dig all of God's truth out of the Bible by themselves. They neglected the treasures of insights into God's Word that have accumulated from the labors of brothers and sisters over the centuries. They have insisted on reinventing the wheel in our generation--and they have not managed to make it round." - W. Robert Godfrey, from Reformation Sketches, page 80.

I have one of those sicknesses that prevents sleep. Usually it's my thoughts that keep me from rest. Today it's phlegm, so I might as well say something. And since next year (just over a week away) marks the 500th anniversary of the Reformation launch, I think of church history - God's activity among His people in space and time. I am not a historian. So I can't recommend the very best works and resources for your education (other than the Bible). But I will list a few options with which I am familiar.

1. A Pastoral Overview of Church History - 6 Sermons by Douglas Wilson.

2. Church History in Plain Language by Bruce Shelley

3. The Biography Section at Monergism

4. The One Year Christian History by E Michael and Sharon Rusten

5. Essential Church History by Adam Murrell

6. Any history books by Stephen Nichols or Carl Trueman


Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Not A Bad Epitaph

"He meant to disturb people."
Iain Murray, commenting on the preaching of Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones,
at the 2014 Together for the Gospel Conference. You may listen to the
entire discussion here.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Christ Alone

"We must think of no other God than Christ; that God which speaks not out of Christ's mouth, is not God. . .We seek God everywhere; but not seeking him in Christ, we find him nowhere." -- Martin Luther, from Tabletalk, #182

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Sunday Post for Shepherds - When You're Not Singing the Psalms on Sunday

Unlike some, I do not advocate Psalms-only singing. But when we're not singing them, they do still remain the standard and should set the trajectory for what we are singing and what we commend to our people as worthy to be employed in biblical worship and in teaching Bible truth. God defines His relationship to us. We are idolaters by nature, meaning that we imagine what kind of relationship we want with God and then imagine that's the one we have. It isn't. You and I are not sovereign. The congregation is not sovereign. Your people's feelings and likes are not sovereign. Your church's traditions are not sovereign. Your denominational leaders are not sovereign. So let's trust God enough to sing the Psalms and songs like them.

To the Christian Rich - Open Your Hands

"If there is a poor man with you, one of your brothers, in any of your towns in your land which the Lord your God is giving you, you shall not harden your heart, nor close your hand from your poor brother;  but you shall freely open your hand to him, and shall generously lend him sufficient for his need in whatever he lacks. Beware that there is no base thought in your heart, saying, ‘The seventh year, the year of remission, is near,’ and your eye is hostile toward your poor brother, and you give him nothing; then he may cry to the Lord against you, and it will be a sin in you. You shall generously give to him, and your heart shall not be grieved when you give to him, because for this thing the Lord your God will bless you in all your work and in all your undertakings. For the poor will never cease to be in the land; therefore I command you, saying, ‘You shall freely open your hand to your brother, 
to your needy and poor in your land.’"
Deuteronomy 15:7-11

Read through the Scriptures. God has always seen to the well-being of the poor. God is hospitable and generous. He has much, so He gives much. Be like Him.  

Persons Prepared and Placed

"A violent physician for a violent age" - That's what one of Martin Luther's closest friends and co-laborers called him. His name was Philip Melancthon. I thank God for rough men, made so by God, and strategically located in time and space to serve His purposes. These are perhaps the most rare of creatures, whose default setting is truth, not peace or self-preservation.

Then He said to me, “Son of man, go to the house of Israel and speak with My words to them. For you are not being sent to a people of unintelligible speech or difficult language, but to the house of Israel, nor to many peoples of unintelligible speech or difficult language, whose words you cannot understand. But I have sent you to them who should listen to you; yet the house of Israel will not be willing to listen to you, since they are not willing to listen to Me. Surely the whole house of Israel is stubborn and obstinate. Behold, I have made your face as hard as their faces and your forehead as hard as their foreheads.  Like emery harder than flint I have made your forehead. Do not be afraid of them or be dismayed before them, though they are a rebellious house.”  Moreover, He said to me, “Son of man, take into your heart all My words which I will speak to you and listen closely.  Go to the exiles, to the sons of your people, and speak to them and tell them, whether they listen or not, ‘Thus says the Lord God.’” - Ezekiel 3:4-11

Monday, November 21, 2016

To the Christian Rich - Befriend the Needy

"The poor are shunned even by their neighbors, but the rich have many friends. He who despises his neighbor sins, but blessed is he who is kind to the needy" - Proverbs 14:20-21.

Monday, November 7, 2016

Another Reason Why the Christian Life is So Hard

Because, "Those whom the Lord loves He disciplines. 
And He scourges every son whom He receives."
Proverbs 3:11-12, cited in Hebrews 12:6

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Sunday Post for Shepherds - Sing the Psalms with Your People

Every church, when she gathers on the Lord's Day, should be singing the Psalms, because the Apostle Paul says so (Ep 5:19; Col 3:16), and because it was the hymnbook of Jesus, and because the Psalms are the word of God sung and teach us much about Him, and because they express real Christian life under the sun, and because they call us to reality, and shape our expectations as they work against our modern day joy joy-all victory-yeah rah- pure happiness false theology in this broken world where the devil is the prince of the power of the air and almost nothing functions as it should. Hardship is real. Depression is real. Pain is real. Loss is real. Suffering is real. Perplexity is real. Death is real. Failure is real. Agony is real. And their reality in the believer is often not the result of personal sin. And all of these have their rightful place in the Christian experience. God, by the Psalms, teaches us to relate rightly to Him in our genuine struggles and losses. He shows us how to worship Him in our pain. And as Carl Trueman so rightly puts it, He shows us what miserable Christians can sing.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

The Dead Do Live

"The gospel is not a gospel about bad people becoming better. The gospel is about dead people coming to life."  
Jason Meyer, preaching Ezekiel 37, to Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis, MN. 
Hear the entire sermon here.

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Can I Get A Witness?

"I'm too old to be this dumb, 
I'm too old to be this dumb."
From the song Empty As A Drum by the Turnpike Troubadours, 
from their album Goodbye Normal Street

Thursday, September 29, 2016

A Reason Why the Christian Life is So Hard

Michael Horton
"The reason why the Christian life is so hard, is so difficult, is because we can't help but fight them [sins]; not because we're good but because we're in Christ; because we're new creatures. That's what's so hard about the Christian life. On the basis of God's action we're called to action. But it's not to complete Christ's mission. It's to come to terms with Christ's mission and work every day. What Paul is saying here is stop letting sin bully you. Stop letting sin push you around. 'For sin shall not have dominion over you, for you are not under law, but under grace.'" -- Michael Horton commenting on a portion of Romans 6.

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Christ Must Needs Be True God

Christ must needs be true God, seeing he, through himself, fulfilled and overcame the law; for most certain it is, that no one else could have vanquished the law, angel or human creature, but Christ only, so that it cannot hurt those that believe in him; therefore, most certainly he is the Son of God, and natural God. Now if we comprehend Christ in this manner, as the Holy Scripture displays him before us, then certain it is, that we can neither err nor be put to confusion; and may then easily judge what is right to be held of all manner of divine qualities, religion, and worship, that are used and practiced in the universal world. Were this picturing of Christ removed out of our sight, or darkened in us undeniably there must needs follow utter disorder. For human and natural religion, wisdom, and understanding, cannot judge aright or truly of the laws of God; therein has been and still is exhausted the art of all philosophers, of all the learned and worldly-wise among he children of men. For the law rules and govern mankind; therefore the law judges mankind, and not mankind the law.
Martin Luther, from Tabletalk, pages 163-164

Saturday, August 6, 2016

The Trinity, Wedding Vows, and the Postelwaite Question

My family and I recently attended a wedding during which we heard vows authored by their speakers. Following the ceremony I heard much praise given for what was spoken, and much of it I too thought was very good. What troubles me is what was missing, and is often missing in vows written by a Christian woman -- a pledge to respect her husband and therefore obey him. The vows always include promises to love. This makes sense coming from a Christian man since Ephesians 5 gives the command for husbands to love their wives. However, in this most popular of wedding texts, the Apostle does not command wives to love their husbands. He tells them to be subject to them [See Ep 5:22-24 (NASB); or in the ESV - submit to them. (Submit is also the translation in the NIV)].

Earlier in Ephesians 5:2 we are all told to "walk in love." So I am not arguing that a woman is not obligated to love her husband. She is. He is her nearest and dearest neighbor, and she is to love him as she loves herself. But in the particularities of marriage, the obligations specific to her are those of respect (Ep 5:33 - ". . . and the wife must see to it that she respects her husband), and obedience (". . . wives ought to be subject to their husbands in everything" - Ep 5:24).

It seems to me that God commands to each sex what comes most unnaturally to them. Men desire to respect. Women desire to love. So God commands against our natures, because it is necessary.

Open Range is a favorite movie of mine. At the end of it, in the scene pictured here, Charles Postelwaite (or Charley Waite, as he prefers to be called), a newly engaged man, is saying goodbye to his fiance Sue Barlow. Charley is going back to the range to retrieve his cattle before settling down with his bride. Before parting he asks Sue to ride back home, before the sunlight is gone, while she can still see the town. She is hesitant, so Charley asks her, "How is this [marriage] going to work if you won't do what I say?" Excellent query! The answer is, it will not work. It will fail. Whether they stay together or not, it will fail in a hundred ways. Sue loves Charley. But will she obey him? Probably not. And when disrespect and disobedience is the pattern; when disregarding his instructions is frequent; when ignoring his ways is not abnormal, a husband may lose affection for his wife.

As a related aside, I am for strong, thoughtful, expressive, resourceful, creative, and tough Christian women/wives. I love the Proverbs 31 woman, who, by the way, is called "an excellent wife" (verse 10). But none of these fine qualities require rebellion against God and husband. 

Submission, ladies, means moving in the direction of your husband. It means learning and adopting his values. And it means doing what he asks of you. Wives are given as helpers. So help him. God says he needs it. "Then the LORD God said, 'It is not good for man to be alone; I will make him a helper suitable for him.'" (Ge 2:18). "For indeed man was not created for the woman's sake, but woman for the man's sake" (1 Co 11:9).

These things are not in the nature of a fallen woman. Fallen women desire to rule over their husbands. It's a part of the curse (Ge 3:16). But a Christian woman, who has God the Holy Spirit, and is being redeemed day by day, may be the respectful helpful wife God intends for her own progress and fulfillment and for the good of her husband and children.

I realize this kind of talk brings up a myriad of questions and emotions; so many "what ifs" and "yes, buts," etc. And I will write on none of them today. Besides, nothing Scripture says will invalidate what else it says. Marriage is God's arrangement in which there is a head and a helper. This reality is grounded in the Godhead itself where there is a Father, a Son, and a Holy Spirit; all of equal worth and dignity but nevertheless operating in different ways; including the way of submission.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

A Troubadourian Supplication

"May we all get to heaven before 
the devil knows we're dead."
The Turnpike Troubadours, from their song Before the Devil Knows We're Dead, from their album Goodbye Normal Street

Sunday, July 17, 2016

"I Know What I Am"

I like old country music, and Texas/Outlaw Country in particular. I find a connection with these folks that I have not found in the Church - pain. We in the Church tend to fearfully cover that, or pretentiously advertise it. Life in a fallen world hurts. The Bible says so, repeatedly. I know it to be true. So I connect with the stories told by the old country song writers. Seems real to me. And I need real.

Yesterday evening I heard this, and commend it to you. It's not the typical story put to song by an old-time country music singer. It's better. And while Kristofferson theology is a bit sketchy, the testimony given is worth a listen, I think. Enjoy.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Sunday Post for Shepherds - Pauline Preaching

"I was with you in weakness, and in fear, and in much trembling, and my message and my preaching were not in persuasive words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith would not rest on the wisdom of men, but on the power of God."
 The Apostle Paul, 1 Co 2:3-5

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Trained and Untrained - Part 2

"There's no tough," is a part of Creasy's framework for high performance. In other words, there is no substitute for training. We do this, don't we. We are unwilling to do a hard thing the right way so we offer substitutes that come easier to us, even to our own precious children. A list of examples of such useless offerings is next to limitless. And if our parents related this way to us we are even more prone to relate this way to our children. Did you have regular meaningful conversations with your parents about the most important realities, like God, for example? If you didn't, raising your children in the good way will probably be much more difficult for you, sometimes seeming impossible. I have no memory of such a conversation with my father. I do have memories of substitute offerings. I have been largely untrained, and it has cost me and my family; because relating rightly to our children is not a natural skill, but a learned one. I am thankful to be able to see the problem. Overcoming it is the ongoing challenge.

Faithful biblical parenting is demanding, but it is not terribly complicated. It has to do with being a Godward helpful influence through modeling, yes, but in a large way also through conversation. We see this in some of the Scripture's earliest descriptions of the way believing parents are to operate, such as in the early chapters of Deuteronomy where we are told to take every opportunity to be in conversation with our children. We see it in the Proverbs, many of which are presented as a father speaking with his son (beginning with 1:8 and continuing from there). The Apostle Paul uses this format to instruct and counsel his "son in the faith," young Timothy (Cf 1 Ti 1:18 & 2 Ti 2:1, etc). This is the model -- a Godward parent in helpful verbal communication with his or her children.

Only take heed to yourself, and diligently keep yourself, lest you forget the things your eyes have seen, and lest they depart from your heart all the days of your life. And teach them to your children and your grandchildren, especially concerning the day you stood before the LORD your God in Horeb, when the LORD said to me, "Gather the people to Me, and I will let them hear My words, that they may learn to fear me all the days they live on the earth, and that they may teach their children." 
Dt 4:9-10

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Trained and Untrained - Part 1

"There's no tough. There's trained, and there's untrained," says Creasy to his pupil Lupita. Watch it here.

Perhaps John Creasy has learned his teaching philosophy from the Bible which he reads regularly. I am not holding up this movie character as a model in general. But he does provide a useful illustration of faithful parenting. Our children are becoming what we are leading them to become. They are modeling what they observe in us. They are taking to heart our values reflected in our practices, attitudes, habits, speech, use of time, use of money, etc. And then there are the deliberate sessions with them in which parents instill particular lessons. Whatever it is we want them to learn, we must teach. Whatever it is we want them to understand, we must explain. And we must not expect from them what we have not taught and expounded. And we must be patient throughout, for there is much repetition involved, not unlike the way Father God regularly repeats Himself to me and for my sake. Apparently He thinks I'm worth the effort. Certainly to us our children should be worth no less.

I am not beginning this particular blog series because I have figured out parenting and have a handle on the sound practice of it. I am beginning it because I need to better learn the art of raising children and be vastly more consistent in it. Writing can be helpful to me in this regard. Perhaps the series may prove helpful to you as well.

Train up a child in the way he should go. . .
Pr 22:6

Thursday, June 23, 2016

He Brings Some Down

No one from the east or the west or from the desert can exalt a man.
But it is God who judges: He brings one down, He exalts another.
Psalm 75:6-7

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

What Would Love Do?

Pour out Your wrath on them; 
let Your fierce anger overtake them. . .
For they persecute those You wound 
and talk about the pain of those You hurt.
Psalm 69:24 & 26

It is a false kind of Christianity that assumes, if not insists, that God means a good reputation and pleasantness always for His people, and then wrongly judges those who do not have these. It is the testimony of God Himself that such nonsense is in fact nonsense. Woe to those who propagate the lies. Woe to the professing believer who lives as though this world is all there is. And woe to the ones who speak evil of those God is afflicting. And woe to the foolish that credit the followers of Jesus with causing too many of the troubles that fall upon them. And woe to each of us that takes no action to relieve said troubles, for, says David, "I looked for sympathy, but there was none, for comforters, but I found none" (v20).

If we're going to bear the burdens of our brothers and sisters in Christ (which is commanded as an expression and fulfillment of Jesus' love - Ga 6), it necessarily means carrying at least a portion of the weight that presently rests exclusively upon them. I suggest a weekly discussion with your family, (or if single, with yourself) to consider whom you may relieve, bless, and help. Consider thoughtfully their wounds and ask yourself, "If I were in their situataion, what would I need?" Pray and strive against the selfishness-fueled uselessness that marks so many of us. We tend to be a soft and silly people, whose values and pursuits and preoccupations are basically the same as those of the pagan. May God grant that we evermore be marked by sacrificial and refreshing neighbor love.

Jesus pronounces blessing on those who suffer for Him and what He loves; and makes them grand promises of reward (Lk 6:22; Mt 5:10-12); while He pronounces curses on those of whom all speak well (Lk 6:26). How far we are from the heart and mind of the Son of God, and the message of the Scriptures that reveal Him.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

The Faith that Embraces Flames

"Let this fact be deeply graven in our minds. Wherever the English language is spoken on the face of the globe this fact ought to be clearly understood by every Englishman who reads history. Rather than admit the doctrine of the real presence of Christ's natural body and blood under the forms of bread and wine, the Reformers of the Church of England were content to be burned." - From Five English Reformers, by J.C. Ryle, page 27, 1890.

I was wondering if any of us believe in anything for which, rather than deny it, we would ourselves be content to be burned.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Paying Honor to Jim Sanders - For Me Light, in a Dark Place

It's been a few years since I met the last person I have managed to keep as what I would call a friend, if that gives some indication of the small circle of folks who will tolerate me. Jim was in that tiny ring. I met James W Sanders in 2002 in Fayetteville, NC. He would have celebrated his birthday last Wednesday had he not died last November, on the 5th, at age 80. His birthday has me thinking about him. I believe he was good for the world. I know he was good for me.

Jim was intelligent and witty. When with him I laughed a lot, and heartily. Something like that means a lot to a melancholy someone like me.

Jim had means but lived simply, in a mobile home in tiny Erwin, NC, just north of Fayetteville. He loved his children - one daughter and one son; and loved his granddaughter also. He spoke of them regularly with a kind of healthy and humble thankfulness.

Jim read the Scriptures and prayed every day, and participated weekly in our church's Sunday gatherings. And he asked me a lot of questions, especially about the Trinity. He wanted to understand. I don't believe that's common in today's American and southern church. He also participated in a men's study group I hosted in my home. In my experience, that too is rare for a southern Baptist in his 70's. But like I said, Jim wanted to understand. He was teachable even in old age, and even by a young punk, like me.

Jim was a smart-ass in the best sense of the word, like Jesus in His cutting sarcasm. I loved that about him. He did not fear the faces of men.

Following my leaving Fayetteville, Jim and me kept in touch by phone. And I occasionally sent him pictures of my children since they didn't exist when Jim and me lived near one another. He was interested in how they were growing and getting along. And when we talked he always asked about my wife and my work. And he always pressed me to keep him in my prayers. Maybe better than most of us he recognized his dependent status.

This poor tribute certainly does not do justice to Jim or to what he has meant to me. But I offer it nonetheless. Maybe he'll hear about it, in heaven. 

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Sunday Post for Shepherds - Relieve the Poor, Free the Pastors, Support the Missionaries

Without taking time to cite the relevant texts, I nevertheless assert that God, by and in Scripture, assigns qualified men to govern His local congregations and tells those men what to do with His money given to His kingdom by His people. The big categories for distribution include the poor, the pastor, and the missionary. Relieve the poor, free the pastors, and support the missionaries. Our church budgets should reflect these divine priorities, which might mean that to come in line with God's agenda you will have to erase some budget lines that mean a lot to some of your folks. Explain that to them and then do it.

PS - These channels through which God means for currency to flow should also be priorities for Christian families and individuals. The God who gives power to earn money also gives us instructions on what He wants done with that income. Do your own study of Scripture. These channels are not hard to see there, in both testaments.

Saturday, June 4, 2016

To the Christian Rich - Consider the Indiscriminate Generosity of Jesus

And He went throughout all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction among the people. 
So His fame spread throughout all Syria, and they brought Him all the sick, those afflicted with various diseases and pains, those oppressed by demons, epileptics, and paralytics, 
and He healed them.
Matthew 4:23-24

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Because Origin Matters

Recently I was participating in a church gathering where I was introduced to Sovereign Over Us, a song written by Bryan Brown, Jack Mooring, and Aaron Keyes. I am quite out of touch with most things in modern culture, Christian or otherwise. So I don't know how long the song has been out and I haven't bothered to look into it. Anyway, I appreciate the song which may be heard here.

Apparently the origins of the song come from the writers' understanding of God as revealed in Jeremiah 29, particularly verse 11. The chorus contains these lines: "Your plans are still to prosper, You have not forgotten us. You are with us in the fire and the flood." Wonderful. But I do wonder if the authors of this piece, along with the many who sing it, realize that the God of Jeremiah 29 is with us in the fires and floods that He sends. The losses and pains of our existence are not accidents, or merely the results of a fallen world, or some other less than sovereign reality. Read the chapter. God is the source of the very pain in which He promises His presence. But that truth wasn't included in the song. Too bad, because it saturates Jeremiah's thinking.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

To the Christian Rich - Pay Well

When those hired about the eleventh hour came, 
each one received a denarius.
Matthew 20:9

Jesus has a category for extravagance in the payment of His workers. Do you? Or do you want as much from your employees as you can get for as little compensation as possible? Are their needs and desires and dreams parts of your considerations? Are you loving your neighbor, who by the way, is adding to your wealth? Such payment might decrease the amount you keep. So? That's the price for godly generosity (Mt 20:15). Your reward is in heaven.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

That's How I Feel

"And after all that I've done, 
I'm not half what I hoped that I'd become. 
There's still a long way to go."
Kasey Chambers, from her song Don't Talk Back, from her album The Captain

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Sunday Post for Shepherds - Consider Your Worth, Your Task, and Your Path

"I think it's a young man's error to overestimate his own importance, and also to underestimate the amount of time it takes to achieve good lasting change." - Carl Trueman, at the 2015 Westminster Preaching Conference, Philadelphia, PA

The statement above was given in answer to a question from an audience member regarding whether or not he should accept an invitation from his home church to return there to pastor following his upcoming seminary graduation. His concern was that the church had gone in a wrong direction; that it had become what is often called "seeker-sensitive" as a part of the modern times "church growth movement." I listened to this exchange just yesterday. 

On Sunday of last week I was listening to a pastor explain to me that his co-pastor, a young man, was looking to leave their church to pastor another one. He said that the youngster was being careful to find a "healthy" church to pastor, and so was taking quite a bit of time with the search.

Two weeks back I listened to a good friend of mine speak to me about ministry possibilities for myself. Over the years I have found myself in and out of a variety of vocational pastoral roles but currently that is not my work. So my friend was attempting to be helpful by feeding me ideas, one of which was to plant a church, thereby avoiding the many hardships that come with laboring among an established congregation. 

In addition, I know a young pastor with a thirty year plan for his church. I'm wondering what that means for his understanding of today. 

And finally, to continue the testimony, five weeks back I resigned the very part-time church staff position I did hold for less than ten months (Cf Our Potipharian Prisons from 4/25/15). Since then I have thought a lot about who and what I am, and what my expectations should be, of myself and of a church, especially church leaders. What is Scripture's counsel on such things? I don't mean to try to answer fully in this post, but I do want to add to Trueman's comment.

I want to urge pastors to know themselves. How has God built you? What are your dominant spiritual gifts and your recurring tendencies? What is it that you do that God most uses to bless and strengthen believers? Are you getting to engage in that activity regularly? What can't you live with in a pastoral context? What do you believe about the nature and necessity of change? Are you a leader or a support staffer? Do you have biblical categories established for how to think about life? What are your weaknesses? Are you lacking courage? Are you looking at Jesus as your model for shepherding, and then looking at the Apostle Paul perhaps? These men would normally be fired from our churches; that is, if they could get hired by one. They simply did not think or operate in the ways American pastors are expected to today. And some of their ways would even be classified as sinful by many folks - like when they got angry at their people (and showed it); like when they called their folks derogatory terms (like Satan - Mt 16:23, and foolish - Ga 3:1-3, for example); and like when they expressed sadness, grief, distress, and you know, other real human and non-sinful emotions that are quite unpopular (and often considered un-Christian) in the victory-driven American Church of today. (For examples see Lk 12:50; Mt 26:37; 2 Co 2:4, 4:7-12; 6:3-10; He 12:5-11; Ja 4:8-10; Re 2:9-10). So I ask the pastors, what are you, essentially? I ask this question because it's the one to which I continue to return. For what has God built me and to what is He calling me then? (These realities are connected). For what has He suited me? In what context am I designed to be most effective and fruitful? These types of questions are important for another reason - there are many men in pastoral ministry that do not belong there. We may testify that we are called by God, inwardly (an immeasurable thing), but are clearly not equipped outwardly (quite measurable). If that's me, I need to find other work, then I will be free to serve a church in the ways I am actually suited, and as a volunteer. 

Here's what I think I've learned afresh, about myself, hopefully not presuming upon the Lord, His plans, His ways, and His intentions; and hopefully pushing pastors to examine themselves constructively. I feel forced into this myself due to my history, my age, my responsibility to my family, and the new transition time in which I find myself, again. So here goes - I am essentially a reformer. I do not want to start something new. I want to work on something old, even sick. So I am not seeking a healthy church to pastor. Healthy churches probably don't need a guy like me. I am not shy but I am an introvert. People sap my strength, none more than myself. I like books and dark rooms and projects. And while its been rare for me in a work context, I should probably be in charge. The one time I have been proved the most visibly fruitful and inwardly satisfying. And I tend to end up in charge anyway, even though my title doesn't recognize the reality and my intentions were not to lead. 

Looking back over 44 years, it is clear that it is not in my nature to take the path of least resistance simply because it is least resistant. I strive to take the best path, as I understand it. That's often the hard road. Also, my heroes are the Bible Prophets and the Protestant Reformers. These are the people with whom my soul most connects and resonates. One of my favorites of the favorites is Ezekiel, because of how God constructed him. He gets the assignment no one wants, and is told by God that the people to whom he is sent "will not listen to him" because they "will not listen to Me" and are "nations of rebels." That's hard for a preacher to hear. The prophet's audience has "a hard forehead and a stubborn heart." But here's the good news from God to His spokesman, "I have made your face as hard as their faces, and your forehead as hard as their foreheads. Like emery harder than flint have I made your forehead. . .And whether they hear or refuse to hear they will know that a prophet has been among them." Yes!

One wonders at such an assignment, from God! But the Lord prepares His prophets. Chief in this preparation is the vision of His glory recorded in Ezekiel 1. The prophet learns the worth and glory of God (ch 1), receives God's word (ch 2-3), and so must speak it, even to those who will not hear. (God's thoughts are worth saying because they are God's thoughts. Whether or not people welcome them is not the issue for a preacher or any other truth-teller). This account reminds me much of the Apostle Paul, who also learned the worth and glory of God (Ac 9), received God's word, and then couldn't help but speak, testifying to the Corinthians, "I believed, therefore I spoke" (2 Co 4:13). That's not terribly complicated.  

Of course a personality like this comes with glaring weaknesses. Yet God continues to construct folks with a prophetic bent (See Prophets Push from 1/25/15). Should these kind of people pastor churches? Perhaps not, although the Bible Prophets did function pastorally in some measure, as did many of the Protestant Reformers, and of course the Apostle Paul. But it's really tough. Including in a cover letter that you're a task-oriented introvert will not land you a pastoral position. My point is that it's good to know who you are and what you're for and seek a role where that can be useful to folks for Christ's sake. Regarding themselves, the prophets seem to be fairly clear on this, as does Paul and certainly Jesus. The Protestant Reformers had more to figure out, seeing that they didn't receive direct revelation but needed, like us, to understand revelation previously given (the Bible) and then apply that to themselves in their context. 

So what to do? I'm not yet sure. But I'm considering enrolling in carpentry school.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

A Zellism

It's been a month since I last posted. That's no way operate a blog. I apologize to both of my readers.

"Faith is not faith which is not tried."
Katherine Zell (1498-1558), Reformer

And you shall remember the whole way that the LORD your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness, that he might humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart. . .
Dt 8:2

Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. . .
1 Pe 4:12

. . .the testing of your faith produces endurance. . .
Ja 1:3 

Friday, February 12, 2016

Tearing Down Idolatrous Accord

While on earth, Jesus did not get along well with everyone, made many enemies, and in fact was murdered by the most worldly powerful among them; and He's the Prince of Peace (Is 9:6). Where does this leave us?

Saturday, January 9, 2016

To the Christian Rich - Consider Your Wealth A Weakness

Material riches are a considerable temporal advantage, and a considerable spiritual barrier; an anchor dragging one down to hell.

For the sun rises with a scorching wind and withers the grass; and its flower falls off and the beauty of its appearance is destroyed; so too the rich man in the midst of his pursuits will fade away. 
James 1:11

Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a snare and many foolish and harmful desires which plunge men into ruin and destruction.
1 Timothy 6:9

You say, "I am rich, and have become wealthy, and have need of nothing," and you do not know that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked. . .
Revelation 3:17

Friday, January 1, 2016

God Over All: Meditations on Job's Hope

"Is there anything I can do for You, is there anything I can do?
For all the things You've done for me, is there anything I can do?

Is there anywhere I can go for You, is there anywhere I can go?
For all the places You've been for me, is there anywhere I can go?

Is there anything I can be for You, is there anything I can be?
For all the things You've been for me, is there anything I can be?

I'm willing to be used dear Lord whatever the price may be. 
So if there's anything I can do for you just make it known to me."

I grew up singing to God the lines above, normally at youth group events. I meant the words. I believed I had something to offer; that there was spiritual work to be done, by me, for Jesus.

I was arrogant. I was foolish. I was neurotic, and largely spiritually blind. I made promises I couldn't keep and held expectations I couldn't match with performance. I was terrified of failure and too ignorant to succeed. I wanted to exert strength for a God who was calling me to embrace my weakness. But men don't naturally value weakness. We hate weakness, especially our own.

I read my Bible a lot. And being a son of Adam, I was unwittingly drawn to its commands and to its "heroes." At 15 I committed myself to pursue Christian ministry as a vocation. I led the religious clubs in my high school and was awarded the "most-Christlike" award by my youth group. Apparently its members were also blind. But I understand. I played the part well, in some measure because I was sincere, and I think I was actually a Christian, meaning I had faith in Christ to cover my sins and get me to His Father. But I regularly functioned like a Pharisee, guarding the Law I couldn't keep and imposing my version of it upon others. I was sinfully hard on people, and generally merciless. I hate that guy. But I can't seem to kill him. So in this life, repeatedly wounding him is my lot. After high school I gained a religious studies degree at university and then off to seminary for the MDiv. That's the normal course for a fellow like the me of then.

But God is patient, and merciful. He has been content to take a lifetime to shatter the idols and images of self. His work continues. If 2015 hasn't been about that then I don't know what to make of it.  In an effort to keep this post on the brief side, I want to mention (with little explanation; maybe I can expand that in later posts) only two hard lessons from this past year of the divine scourge (Pr 3:11-12; Cf He 11-12).

1. God the Holy Spirit's work of sanctification might be more about teaching weakness than it is about instilling righteousness. By my best and most generous estimation, I am not a better man than I was 365 days ago, or twenty years ago. But I am more aware of my own profound weakness. And I am learning that any progress in holiness is necessarily gained through that weakness. And I am now sure of my all-engulfing need for God to act on my behalf. I cannot produce what He commands. I cannot, in the ways that matter most, change myself, improve myself, help myself, provide for myself, or sanctify myself. This fresh awareness has been shaping what I expect of myself, and others. From the first man Adam to the model of faith Abraham to King David to the Prophet Jeremiah to the Apostle Paul to us on this first day of 2016, the aim of God for His people continues to be our humiliation, not our glory (See Php 2, for example).

2. We are too weak to have recourse. This, like lesson 1, runs throughout the Scriptures and is written over every life. And it is a further comment on the one above about needing God to act on our behalf. Perhaps it is seen most clearly in Job's life. When the horrors of our existence are discussed by those given to philosophy, the old dilemma is often restated - that either God is good but not powerful, or powerful but not good - otherwise He would not permit said horrors. I have never heard of anyone suffering as Job did; yet, he doesn't seem to wrestle with his miseries in the usual way. He actually affirms God's sovereign power and God's comprehensive justice. He would say, I think, that God can do anything He wants, and that all He wants is right; and that's his struggle - the absence of recourse. What can a man do with God? How can a man move God? How might a man wrestle with God? Who can make a case against God? Job cannot. We cannot. And when we learn this in our distresses and pressures and losses and pains, perhaps we will behave as Job did when he prayed:

"I loathe my life; I would not live forever.
Leave me alone, for my days are a breath.
What is man, that you make so much of him, 
and that you set your heart on him,
visit him every morning and test him every moment?
How long will you not look away from me,
nor leave me alone till I swallow my spit?"
Job 7:16-19

When we take to heart that unless God acts, and in Job's case relents, we have no recourse, we might
request that He simply leave us be, and make the argument that we are not worth His emotional energies and divine activities toward us. Apparently Job didn't think much of himself, or even of humans in general. It appears he didn't consider himself worth God's attention in bringing good or evil upon him. And I think I hear the desperation in his plea - God please, please, "look away from me," and let me die and thereby gain relief. Why so much bother with me? Please, "leave me alone."

This reminds me of 1 Kings 19 where the prophet Elijah, in the distress God had brought upon him, prays It is enough O Lord, take my life. The divine beat-down is a soul-crushing, body-breaking,  overwhelming horror, designed that we might "learn not to rely on ourselves, but on God who raises the dead" (See 2 Co 1:8-10). God is impressed with His Son, not with me. And while I have longed to be impressive to Him, my gross failures have been good medicine. And they have caused me to become more impressed with Christ, who has Himself never failed and who has Himself been crushed by the full weight of the wrath of God for all of my sin. Isn't it astounding that He never tires of forgiving us. Clearly He is more committed to me than I am to Him.

I no longer make promises or pledges to God, in song or otherwise (which means I remain silent through many contemporary musical compositions). I quit that nonsense years ago. And I have given up on being spiritually impressive. Because when I look in a mirror, I do not see an able man, but a weak one. So the lyrics have changed, the song rewritten. Now it goes something like this:

Is there anything You will do for me; is there anything You will do? 
Since I have nothing to offer You, is there anything You will do? 

And is there anywhere You will go for me, is there anywhere You will go? 
Since I can go nowhere for You, is there anywhere You will go?
And will You be what I need today, will You be what I need?
Since I can't help myself today, will You be what I need?

I'd like to be used dear Lord, but I am frail and weak.
So if there's anything that You want from me, "Please grant it" is my plea.

"What a help You are to the weak!
How You have saved the arm without strength!"
Job 26:2