Saturday, December 18, 2010

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Strategy for Christmas

The United States is Christmas crazy. I mean that literally. You have heard the Christmas carol Twelve Days of Christmas, but the actual statistics state that the official Christmas season is five weeks long! Retailers depend on Christmas sales to make a profit for the year, and they start to decorate and promote Christmas items before Thanksgiving. Many people depend on seasonal Christmas jobs to augment their income and make ends’ meet. Tragically, there have even been Christmas shopping fights and fatalities. Our culture is Christmas crazy!

We should not have an ad hoc mentality when comes to Christmas, blindly going with the flow and taking what’s easy instead of thinking ahead and devising strategies for action and engagement with the culture. As Christians, and hopefully as thinking Christians, we should think things through and be prepared for what may even seem routine – like Christmas. If I were to ask you, “Are you ready for Christmas?” Would you immediately think of…

  • Christmas shopping
  • Christmas decorations
  • Christmas cards
  • Christmas baking
  • Christmas travel plans
  • Christmas parties

There is certainly a sense in which all of those things play into our preparedness for the Christmas event, but they should only be a part of Christmas and by no means the most important part. Instead of all the above, are you prepared to ensure that your family, friends, and co-workers understand that Jesus Christ is indeed “the reason for the season”? We need to have a strategy for Christmas, and the strategy must go beyond presents, pictures, pageants, and parties. Do you have a strategy?

Your answer may be “Why on earth would I need a strategy for Christmas?” The answer is simple. Have you ever wanted to take advantage of the Christmas holiday to have a family talk about the real meaning of Christmas or maybe to speak with a friend about the season’s reason and before you realize it you’re cleaning up wrapping paper on December 26th and thinking to yourself, “I can’t believe it’s already over?!” That is why we should think this through before it’s over. That is why we should have a Christmas strategy. It’s good to have a plan.

The answer to the “how” question is just as simple, but it’s more involved. The simple answer is that Christians should have a Biblical strategy for Christmas. (By the way, we should have a Biblical strategy for everything, but this is Christmas time so we’ll limit ourselves for the moment.) That’s the simple part of the answer, now let’s delve into the more involved aspect, and I’ll do that by asking some (more) questions.

Should we celebrate Christmas?

Perhaps your Christmas strategy is to have no Christmas at all! Many of this nation’s founding families were Puritans, and they refused to celebrate Christmas. It would be difficult to find more orthodox believers than the Puritans. While I certainly do not agree with all of their theological positions or some of their legislative policies, I would be hard-pressed to find another group of people who dearly loved the Lord and desired to honor Him. Don’t believe all the caricatures and stereotypes about the Puritans. If your only exposure to them is The Scarlet Letter then you are misinformed. If the name Puritans can only conjure up images of prudish, boorish, modern-day hypocrites and witch trials then you have been duped. There is much more to the Puritans than all of that, and much to imitate. Should canceling Christmas be one thing in which they are imitated?

The Puritans’ refusal to celebrate Christmas may be distilled down to a couple of reasons. First, they felt the holiday had fallen into abuse. Instead of being a day that was devoted to Christ and Christian celebration it had become a day of wanton partying. The day had become associated with drinking, reveling, and its focus had shifted from the Savior to only merriment, and usually corrupt merriment. Everything but Christ was emphasized, so the Puritans abandoned Christmas.

The second reason is that they considered it wrong to celebrate and emphasize Christ’s incarnation only once a year, as opposed to having that marvelous truth before our eyes throughout the year. As Christians, the Puritans argued, the glorious truth of God being made flesh so that He might die on the cross as atonement for sins should not be reserved for acclaim in only December; instead it should be commemorated year round.

I don’t think we should dismiss the Puritans’ reasoning as quickly as some may like to do, because the holiday is less of a “holy day” and more of a “time off of work so let’s have a good time day.” I agree with the Puritans on both counts. I think it is inarguable that Christmas is abused, by non-believers and believers alike. The day is used as an excuse to party, be greedy, or get charge happy. Even for those who don’t get drunk, are not greedy, and who don’t get (too) charge happy, the celebration has less to do with Christ and more to do with “the season” or the “spirit” of Christmas (and that isn’t a reference to the Holy Ghost). Christmas is seen as a time to feel good about yourself, your neighbors, family, anything and everything but Jesus Christ being made flesh. This is a theologically rich holiday, but the theology is either left out or given scant time, while Santa, snow, presents, and “Christmas spirit” are the primary focus.

This ought not to be, but while I agree with the Puritans’ reasoning I do not agree with their strategy to just call the whole thing off.

How then should we celebrate Christmas?

If we are going to celebrate this holy day, how should we do it?

#1 – We Must Celebrate Christmas with Honesty

We should start with honesty, and in so doing we should honestly admit that there is no good reason for exchanging gifts at Christmas. There is no Biblical reason why celebrating Christmas must involve a decorated tree, concerts, plays, or people traveling all across the state, country, or globe just to be together on the 25th of December.

Now, before you label me as the ultimate Grinch, let it be known that the giving of gifts, the decorating of trees, and the assembling of families, even over great distances, are all truly wonderful traditions which I thoroughly enjoy, BUT if your Christmas celebration is dependant on any or all of those things then you need a new strategy.

Honestly, what we have done as Christians is combined the celebration of Christ’s birth with an entire season of consumerism, commercialism, and just plain busyness. This is often one of the most hectic and crazy periods of the year, with families running in all different directions to make it to every concert, cantata, office party, and so on, that many people feel relieved when the 26th comes around.

This ought not to be.

#2 – We Must Distinguish Fact from Fiction

A second stoke in our strategy wheel should be the distinguishing of fact from fiction. It isn’t uncommon for people, including Christians, to know so little about Christmas, or to at least have quite a lot of fiction mixed in with the facts. Where do we arrive at the facts? From Scripture! It is a sad state of events when the story of Christ’s birth – not only the story about the baby in the manger but the Man on the cross – becomes lost in the shuffle of wise men, gifts, drummer boys, elves, Santa Claus, flying reindeer, and the rest. That must not be allowed in Christian homes or in our churches. (Getting Christ lost in the shuffle must not be allowed. This is not a screed against St. Nick, Rudolph, et al)

A lot of fiction swirls around the wise men. The fiction starts with their number. We don’t know that only three Magi came to worship Jesus, and we definitely don’t know that their names were Balthazar, Melchior, and Gaspar. We don’t know that they visited Jesus on the night of His birth. In fact, the text clearly shows that they were not there on that holy night.

Here are the Biblical facts, and those are the only ones we can and should trust. We know for sure that Magi from the east – most likely Persia, modern day Iran – came to Jerusalem in search of the newly born King of the Jews. We know that this troubled the already paranoid Herod, and that, after counseling with his religious cohort, he sent the wise men off to Bethlehem. We know that when they arrived in Bethlehem Jesus and His family were not in a stable or an inn but in a “house”, and that Matthew refers to Him as a “young child” not a babe in swaddling clothes as Luke does when he recounts the holy night of Jesus’ birth. We do know that the wise men brought costly gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh because that is what one does when he visits the king. He brings gifts. We know that they worshipped the Christ-child, and
that is a fact which we should emulate. We should be as aware as they were, and worship the one who was born King of the Jews, the one who was born to “save his people from their sins.”

Here is another fiction: the innkeeper was a cold-hearted miser who said “NO!” to a needy family. We don’t know anything about the innkeeper. We don’t even know if there was an innkeeper. It’s not like the owner of the Holiday Inn refused shelter to Joseph and Mary. There have been countless sermons and not a few songs about this heartless, money-grubbing, hell-bound innkeeper, who was probably the father of Barabbas (I write that sarcastically), yet all we know is that “She brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.” That is all we know!

We have to separate fact from fiction.

#3 – We Must Think about the Details

It’s been said that “the devil is in the details.” Maybe he is. I am certain that God is, and I know that we should be, especially as we devise a Christmas strategy. We have to think about the details concerning gifts. I love exchanging gifts at Christmas. Buying someone an anniversary or birthday gift is nice; just as a house-warming, new-baby, or retirement gifts are fun, but those all pale in comparison to Christmas gifts. I enjoy Christmas shopping. I like to wrap gifts, place them under a tree, and watch them be opened. That is a wonderful tradition, and I believe that it is so enjoyable to exchange gifts at Christmas because of how much we’ve been given.

That does not mean that a neck-tie, gift card, or a book are comparable to God’s gift of Christ, but it does make me want to be giving; hopefully not just on the 25th of December. So I do not think it sacrilegious to exchange gifts at Christmas. I do think it is immoral to be greedy; even if you’re “greedy” on others’ behalf. Before you buy your first gift, plan out how much you should spend. Notice I said “should” and not “want.” You may be able to afford spending as much as you want, but that may be more than you should. Christmas is not like winning the lottery, so plan and shop accordingly.

#4 – We Must Celebrate Christmas Evangelistically

December should not be the only time in which you talk with your family, friends, and co-workers about Jesus Christ, but Christmas affords us a golden opportunity to speak about Christ with folks who would easily tune you out the other eleven months of the year. Without doubt Christmas is over-commercialized. No question that the big-boned, bearded gentleman from the North Pole receives the lion’s share of the press during Christmas, but it is still Christmas, not Clausmas! What a wonderful opportunity to praise God for Christ, to magnify the name of Jesus, to declare “Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us” (Matthew 1:23). And why is God with us? As the angel told Joseph: “She shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name JESUS: for he shall save his people from their sins”.

How shall He save His people from their sins? “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. For God sent not his son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved…For the wages of sin [is] death; but the gift of God [is] eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (John 3:16-17; Romans 6:23). You see, it’s impossible to honestly speak about Christ’s birth without also speaking about His death. As remarkable as His birth was, His death, burial, and resurrection are just as fantastic.

Explain to people, starting with your kids if you have any, why Christmas should be celebrated, and that you celebrate the wonderful truth of the incarnation year-round!

#5 – We Must Honor and Glorify Christ

“Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31); that includes how we celebrate Christmas. I’ve saved this for last, because we have to follow the other strategic points if we are to glorify and honor Christ at Christmas. We must honestly celebrate this holy day. Christmas does not depend on the pageantry. All of that stuff has its place, but it is not of primary importance. We must separate fact from fiction. The Bible is our guide to truth, including truth about Christmas. We don’t need to be sappy to make Christmas special; it is already that, so let’s stick to the factual story and leave the fiction out of the celebration. Think about the details. How much should you spend, and on what should you spend it? How much time should you devote to concerts, cantatas, plays, and parties? How far should you travel, if at all? If you don’t think through the details, then you will drown in them. We must celebrate Christmas evangelistically. Don’t forsake this perfect opportunity to proclaim the Gospel. If we do all of that I believe we will honor and glorify Christ at Christmas.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

A Passion for Souls

1 Corinthians 9:19-22:

For though I be free from all [men], yet have I made myself servant unto all, that I might gain the more. And unto the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might gain the Jews; to them that are under the law, as under the law, that I might gain them that are under the law; To them that are without law, as without law, (being not without law to God, but under the law to Christ,) that I might gain them that are without law. To the weak became I as weak, that I might gain the weak: I am made all things to all [men], that I might by all means save some.

Paul's great object was not merely to instruct and to improve, but to save. Anything short of this would have disappointed him; he desired to see men renewed in heart, forgiven, sanctified, in fact saved. Have our Christian efforts been aimed at anything below this great objective? Then let us correct our ways, for what good will it be at the last great day to have taught and moralized men if they appear before God unsaved? If through life we have sought inferior objects and forgotten that men needed to be saved, then we will be held accountable.

Paul knew the ruin of man's natural state and did not try to educate him, but to save him; he saw men sinking to hell and did not talk of refining them, but of saving from the wrath to come. To accomplish their salvation, he gave himself up with untiring zeal to spreading the Gospel, to warning and beseeching men to be reconciled to God. His prayers were persistent and his labors incessant. His consuming passion, his ambition, his calling was to save souls. He became a servant to all men, working for them, feeling a woe within him if he did not preach the Gospel. He laid aside his preferences to prevent prejudice; he submitted his will in things indifferent, and if men would just receive the Gospel, he raised no questions about forms or ceremonies. The Gospel was the one all-important business with him. If he might save some, he would be content. This was the crown for which he extended himself, the sole and sufficient reward of all his labors and self-denials.

Dear reader, have you and I lived to win souls to this extent? Are we possessed with the same all-absorbing desire? If not, why not? Jesus died for sinners. Can we not live for them? Where is our tenderness? Where is our love for Christ, if we do not seek His honor in the salvation of men? Lord Jesus, saturate us through and through with an undying zeal for the souls of men.

(Spurgeon's Morning & Evening devotional as produced by Truth for Life ministries)

Monday, November 22, 2010

From Mecca to Calvary

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Thabiti Anyabwile describes his journey from Mecca to Calvary, how he went from submitting to Allah to following the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. He mentions "the long version" of his testimony, and you'll be able to listen to that audio file by clicking here.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Faith-focused & Cross-centered

We are creatures of habit, and our habits reflect our true selves because we all build our daily lives around our priorities and passions. We make time for what we truly value, building habits and routines around the things that really matter to us. As believers we should lead lives that are faith-focused and cross-centered. A faith-focused, cross-centered life is made of faith-focused, cross-centered days. How do you apply your faith in every area of life? The answer is to preach the Gospel – the unshakable faith foundation – to yourself. Here is what matters most: You’re forgiven! You have hope! Your hope is based on Jesus’ sacrifice. Let today – and every day – be governed by this one defining truth. Here are five practical ways to do that.

1. Memorize the Gospel – Store up God’s Word in your heart (Psalm 119:11). Then, no matter where you are or what you’re doing, you can pull them out and be strengthened by their truth. Not good at memorization? That’s no problem. Don’t give up. Work at it. God isn’t keeping score. It may take you longer than someone else, but it’s worth the effort. (2 Corinthians 5:21; Galatians 2:20-21; Romans 3:23-26; 5:6-11; 8:31-34; Isaiah 53:3-6)

2. Pray the Gospel – The Gospel should be at the center of our prayer life. We may boldly approach God only because we are accepted in God’s beloved Son, through His work on the cross. Thank God for forgiveness of sins. Be thankful that because of the cross you’re reconciled to God, and have been given the Holy Spirit to dwell in you, lead you, guide you, and empower you to follow after Christ.

3. Sing the Gospel – It doesn’t matter how well or how poorly you sing, a Christian’s heart should be overflowing every day with the song of Calvary. Not all worship songs are created equal. Many are more centered on ourselves than on Christ. Sing songs that focus more on what Jesus has already done than on what we need or want God to do. Here is an example of what I mean. It's the hymn Cross of Jesus by Keith and Kristyn Getty:

Cross of Jesus cross of sorrow
Where our sinfulness was laid
Perfect love on you was broken
As the way to God was paved

Cross of love - the scar of heaven
Cross of love - that heals my soul
Let me not forget such mercy
Let me give the life I owe

O what language shall I borrow
As I praise You faithful friend
How for us You bore our suffering
In Your love which has no end

Died that I might be forgiven
By a power not my own
With His glory set before me
Cross of Jesus lead me home

Make the Gospel the sound track of your day.

4. Review the Gospel – Always remember how the Gospel has changed you. Be reminded of how marvelous God’s salvation is. Remember and be encouraged that God is faithful! (Philippians 1:6)

5. Study the Gospel – To grow in your passion for Jesus has done, increase your understanding of what He has done. The Gospel is life-changing, world-altering truth. You’ll never exhaust its depths. Read the Bible with your eyes peeled for the Gospel. Camp out in the Gospels, Colossians, Romans, and Galatians. Read books like The Discipline of Grace and The Gospel for Real Life by Jerry Bridges and What is the Gospel? by Greg Gilbert.

Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. A faith-full life is made of faith-filled days. Keep drawing near one day at a time by memorizing, praying, singing, reviewing, and studying the Gospel.

I've read all the above in the book The Cross-Centered Life. I'd encourage you to read that book as well. The contents of this post have been particularly helpful to me.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Cling to the Cross!

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"Nothing in my hand I bring, simply to the cross I cling." Praise God for the truth that for our sake God made Christ to be sin, who knew no sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God. Consider the awesome truth of the Gospel through the words of Keith Getty's hymn The Power of the Cross:

Oh, to see the dawn
Of the darkest day:
Christ on the road to Calvary.
Tried by sinful men,
Torn and beaten, then
Nailed to a cross of wood.

This, the pow'r of the cross:
Christ became sin for us;
Took the blame, bore the wrath—
We stand forgiven at the cross.

Oh, to see the pain
Written on Your face,
Bearing the awesome weight of sin.
Ev'ry bitter thought,
Ev'ry evil deed
Crowning Your bloodstained brow.

Now the daylight flees;
Now the ground beneath
Quakes as its Maker bows His head.
Curtain torn in two,
Dead are raised to life;
"Finished!" the vict'ry cry.

Oh, to see my name
Written in the wounds,
For through Your suffering I am free.
Death is crushed to death;
Life is mine to live,
Won through Your selfless love.

This, the pow'r of the cross:
Son of God—slain for us.
What a love! What a cost!
We stand forgiven at the cross.
Come to Jesus and cling to the cross.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Election Day 2010

Here is a politics quiz that I first saw at the always interesting, informative, and intelligent blog Doses of Reality. I was a little surprised by my results, as you see below. Personally, I'd describe myself as an economic moderate and a social conservative. This gives us insight into polling data. The wording of questions and the choice of answers to which we are limited do not always provide an absolutely accurate description of someone's beliefs and/or views. Basically, this quiz got it right. I am best described as a Republican, but it isn't completely on the mark. Keep that in mind next time you hear polling data results, or a preacher (like myself) quotes the Barna research group, etc.

Now use 5 - 10 minutes and take the quiz. It's fun, and I'm interested in how you scored. Oh, and much more important than reading this blog or taking this trivial quiz, be sure to vote!

You are a

Social Moderate
(41% permissive)

and an...

Economic Conservative
(70% permissive)

You are best described as a:


Link: The Politics Test on Ok Cupid
Also: The OkCupid Dating Persona Test

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Bill Cosby and the Lady from North

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This is hilarious! Comedy doesn't have to be vulgar or mean. Of course, someone with no clue helps, like in this case. Cosby is a classic!

Friday, October 29, 2010

God is Love

Currently I am researching the differences between Islam and Christianity for a brief Sunday school series I've (un)originally entitled The Crescent and the Cross. The seed for this series has been the recent conversion of a Kurdish man, a former Muslim. His name (now) is John. Speaking with this new and dear brother in Christ, as well as having been inundated with news reports of Islam since 9/11, has prompted me to finally write such a series of lessons. This has involved a lot of reading:

As well as some listening, not just to John, but to R.C. Sproul and Abdul Saleeb in their teaching series "The Cross and the Crescent". (Which explains why my series title is unoriginal!)

I've been surprised to learn of many similarities between Islam and Christianity. Of course, the similarities are not concrete. Here is what I mean. I have often heard that Christianity is loved-based and Islam fear-based. Technically that is true, but that simple statement belies the fact that love is replete in the Koran. One of the ninety-nine beautiful names for God in the Koran is al-Wadud which means "He who loves." Every surah (chapters of the Koran, of which there are 114) except one begins with the words, "In the name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful." BUT in the Koran love is something God does, not that which God is. Similar but not concrete.

In the New Testament we clearly (and gloriously) read that God IS love! Love is not just an activity of God, love is His essence! His love is neither accidental nor conditional. As Paul wrote, under the Holy Spirit's divine inspiration, in Romans 5:8, "But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us." And in the same chapter wherein we read that Gos is love (1 John 4:8) we also read, "Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son [to be] the propitiation for our sins." (1 John 4:10)

This is what makes God's love so amazing. He IS love, and He shows me His love. Me. I am a sinner. I do not just commit sins. I am sin. Sin is my nature (Ephesians 2:1-5; Romans 8:7; Mark 7:15; Romans 5:12). BUT God shows His love for me (and for you) in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Praise God for His powerful, unconditional, purposeful, redeeming, sanctifying, and satisfying love for me, a chief sinner whose best righteousness is nothing but filthy rags! God shows us His love because He is love. Meditating on this deep love of the Father (yes, my Father!) caused me to begin to sing in my heart the marvelous hymn of Stuart Townend - How Deep the Father's Love. If you have never heard it before, you need to hear it. If you are familiar with the hymn, praise God for it, and never allow yourself to become familiar with the matchless truth it edifies. Sing with all your might to our great God whose gracious love is deep and amazing.

How deep the Father's love for us,
How vast beyond all measure
That He should give His only Son
To make a wretch His treasure

How great the pain of searing loss,
The Father turns His face away
As wounds which mar the chosen One,
Bring many sons to glory

Behold the Man upon a cross,
My sin upon His shoulders
Ashamed I hear my mocking voice,
Call out among the scoffers

It was my sin that held Him there
Until it was accomplished
His dying breath has brought me life
I know that it is finished

I will not boast in anything
No gifts, no power, no wisdom
But I will boast in Jesus Christ
His death and resurrection

Why should I gain from His reward?
I cannot give an answer
But this I know with all my heart
His wounds have paid my ransom

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Questions for Leaders

Kevin DeYoung's blog-post today has whetted my appetite for J. Oswald Sanders' book Spiritual Leadership. I've heard of it but never read it. That must change. DeYoung listed a few leadership questions that are found in Sanders' book. They are questions for leaders and those who would be leaders. This list is as convicting as it is insightful. See for yourself.

1. Have you ever broken yourself of a bad habit? To lead others, one must be master of oneself.

2. Do you retain control of yourself when things go wrong? The leader who loses self-control in testing circumstances forfeits respect and loses influence. He must be calm in crisis and resilient in adversity and disappointment.

3. Do you think independently? While using to the full the thought of others, the leader cannot afford to let others do his thinking or make his decisions for him.

4. Can you handle criticism objectively and remain unmoved under it? Do you turn it to good account? The humble man can derive benefit from petty and even malicious criticism.

5. Do you possess the ability to secure discipline without having to resort to a show of authority? True leadership is an internal quality of the spirit and requires no external show of force.

6. Have you qualified for the beatitude pronounced on the peacemaker? It is much easier to keep the peace than to make peace where it has been shattered. An important function in leadership is conciliation—the ability to discover common ground between opposing viewpoints and then induce both parties to accept it.

7. Can you induce people to do happily some legitimate thing that they would not normally wish to do?

8. Can you accept opposition to your viewpoint or decision without considering it a personal affront and reacting accordingly? Leaders must expect opposition and should not be offended by it.

9. Do you find it easy to make and keep friends? Your circle of loyal friends is an index of the quality and extent of your leadership.

10. Are you unduly dependent on the praise or approval of others? Can you hold a steady course in the face of disapproval and even temporary loss of confidence?

11. Do your subordinates appear at ease in your presence? A leader should give an impression of sympathetic understanding and friendliness that will put others at ease.

12. Are you really interested in people? In people of all types and all races? Or do you entertain respect of persons? Is there hidden racial prejudice? An antisocial person is unlikely to make a good leader.

13. Do you possess tact? Can you anticipate the likely effect of a statement before you make it?

14. Do you nurse resentments, or do you readily forgive injuries done to you?

15. Are you reasonably optimistic? Pessimism is no asset to a leader.

16. Do you welcome responsibility?

17. Do other people’s failures annoy us or challenge us?

18. Do you direct people or develop people?

19. Do you criticize or encourage?

20. Do you shun the problem person or seek him out?

It would be easy to read such a list and conclude, "I'm not a leader and never will be." That may be easy, but it would not be right. Use tools such as this list to gauge where you are, and how you can and should improve. At least, that's my plan.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

The Purpose for Living

I have posted before how I enjoy reading Spurgeon's morning and evening devotional. The radio program Truth for Life produces a revised an updated format of Spurgeon's devotional. I wanted to share today's, which is taken from Ecclesiastes 1:7,

All the rivers run into the sea; yet the sea [is] not full; unto the place from whence the rivers come, thither they return again.

"Everything on earth is on the move; time knows nothing of rest. The solid earth is a rolling ball, and the great sun itself is a star obediently fulfilling its course around some greater luminary. Tides move the sea; winds stir the breezy ocean; friction wears the rock: Change and death rule everywhere. The sea is not a miser's storehouse for a wealth of waters, for as by one force the waters flow into it, by another they are lifted from it.

Men are born to die: Everything is hurry, worry, and vexation of spirit. Friend of the unchanging Jesus, what a joy it is to reflect upon your changeless heritage, your sea of bliss that will be forever full since God Himself shall pour eternal rivers of pleasure into it. We seek an abiding city beyond the skies, and we shall not be disappointed. The passage before us should teach us to be grateful.

The ocean is a great receiver, but it is also a generous distributor. What the rivers bring, it returns to the earth in the form of clouds and rain. The man who takes everything but makes no return is out of joint with the universe. To give to others is still sowing seed for ourselves. He who is so good a steward as to be willing to use his substance for his Lord shall be entrusted with more. Friend of Jesus, are you rendering to Him in proportion to the benefit you receive? Have you been given a great deal? Where is your fruit? Have you done all you might? Can you not do more?

To be selfish is to be wicked. Suppose the ocean gave up none of its watery treasure; it would bring ruin upon our race. God forbid that any of us should follow the ungenerous and destructive policy of living for ourselves. Jesus did not please Himself. All fullness dwells in Him, but from His fullness we have all received. Oh, to be like Jesus and no longer live for ourselves!"

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Red October

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My Cincinnati Reds have won their division for the first time since 1995. They will be playing in the post-season for the first time since 1999 when they faced off against the Mets in a one game playoff for the wild-card slot. They lost.

Their last winning season was 2000, so this year has been an unexpected thrill ride. I assumed the Reds were a season or two away from realistically contending with the Cardinals for the division crown.

I was wrong. The Reds are the divisional champs. The Cards are the d

Friday, September 24, 2010

New Sheriff in Town

I look back on it now and can't help but smile and shudder at my own arrogant stupidity. It was the early '90's and I was an E-4 corporal in the US Army, having just been assigned to lead third squad of third platoon in Delta Company (TOG). Third squad was the entry squad for the unit's new soldiers, "newbies" we called them (at least that is one moniker that I can still use with a clear conscience). As the soldier improved in his job proficiency and overall maturity, he was not only promoted in rank but usually promoted to a different squad. Third squad was for the newbies, or for the soldiers who just didn't "get it." So the NCO's in third squad were tasked with the job of helping the new guys develop, and riding the duds so they would either get it or get out.

Which brings me to my act of arrogant stupidity which still causes me to shamefully smile at myself and involuntarily shudder for a second. On the first morning of my first day in leading third squad I walked in to the barrack's room where the men had assembled. Roughly closed the door behind me, and menacingly stared at the troops. When the staring stopped I introduced myself, "Ladies, there's a new sheriff in town."

(SHUDDER) I wouldn't shudder so much now if I hadn't been so serious then.

Hopefully, I've learned a lot about leadership since 1994, but I cannot hear or read that phrase "new sheriff in town" without recalling that moment.

I think there will be a lot of shuddering anguish this Sunday in the DFW area, because the Houston Texans, who look like a legitimate contender for the AFC South crown, will be hosting the Blunder Boys; their in-state opponents, heretofore known as the Dallas Cowboys. Only two games into the NFL season, it is already apparent that the Cowboys are not even Texas' team, let alone America's team; not this year, anyway. As Roy Johnson writes at (that's where I found the cartoon):

He's still got the best stadium in sports. And his team's unis are pretty cool, too. He's still got the Ring of Honor and the history made by the iconic figures who've coached and played there. He's still got the star. And he's still got the Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders. But Jerry Jones, for the first time ever, no longer has the baddest NFL team in the state of Texas.

That would be the Houston Texans.

And those rights will be stamped, validated and deep-fried when the 2-0 Texans put a whuppin' on the 0-2 Cowboys in Sunday's shootout at Reliant Stadium.

That sound you hear? It would be Jerry Jones' head exploding.

That's right, the eyes of Texas are not upon the Boys. The team named for the state now owns the state. Or at least bragging rights.

Being from Indiana, I don't really have a dog in this fight, but I will be pulling hard for the Boys. The Texans have been dominated by my Colts since they joined the League - and the AFC South. This year looks different. I hope Wade Philips can prepare his team, and that Romo will lead his team to victory over the Texas upstarts. That's what I hope, but it's not what I think will happen.

There's a new sheriff in town; well, in Texas anyway. That's where I hope he stays.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Come On Baby (Don't) Light My Fire

Great post by Tony Reinke on the current conflagration planned by the Dove World Outreach Center. (Which, after reading this and hearing about their unChristlike plans for September 11, I find to be a creepy bunch.) His response to the lunacy of the DWOC is wonderful, not because I agree with it, but because it is Biblically based and argued.

September 11th is four days away, and it will mark the ninth anniversary of 9/11. As a large portion of the world mourns, one church in Florida plans to celebrate with “Burn a Qur'an” day. How many copies of the Qur'an it will take to make a newsworthy flame I’m not sure, but I am sure the media will be there when the pile is lit. The top US military commander in Afghanistan, General Petraeus, says this anti-Muslim act will only vex America’s ene … Read More
via Miscellanies.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Your Personal Testimony

In conjunction with my two previous posts on sowing the seed which is the Gospel, I wanted to provide a post on preparing your personal testimony. The following is excerpted from the book Tell the Truth by Will Metzger.

The content of our message is Christ and God, not our journey to faith. Our personal testimony may be included, but witnessing is more than reciting our spiritual autobiography. Specific truths about a specific Person are the subject of our proclamation. A message has been committed to us – a word of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:9).

Why is it important to distinguish between Gospel truths and testimony? In an age of religious pluralism, we find many who are testifying. I’ll never forget the time when I had been speaking to a young man about the change Christ had made in my life. His sincere response was, “Listening to New Age music does the same for me.” What would you have said in reply? If our witness has no truth content, we can expect the typical response: “That’s interesting. I’m glad for you, but what you have isn’t for me.” Can you imagine the apostle Paul saying, “I just have this warm feeling in my heart”?

Preparing Your Testimony

This is your spiritual biography. Many Christians do not always know the date when God brought them into His kingdom, but this does not mean you have nothing about which to testify. Be winsome, honest and wholesome. Never go into details about sins. After a person has heard your story, will they know truths about Christ or only know you better? Good evaluation questions to keep in mind after hearing a testimony are “How much did I learn about Christ? How much about the speaker? Which was more prominent?”

Use some of the phrases under each heading to help you focus on important things.

1. What I Was Like:

My family, friends, interest were…

My most important value was…

My religious background and attitude about Christ were…

2. What God Used to Begin to Open My Eyes:

I was awakened to my need (people, books, circumstances)…

What I thought or noticed (about myself, God) at this point was…

3. What I Saw/Understood:

The aspects of the Gospel that touched me were…

I came to understand that Christ…

I saw my need was…

4. How Christ Has/Is Affecting My Life:

What changed was…

My desires now are…

I’m now doing…

A difficult area of obedience is…

Believers are called to pray for the lost to be saved (1 Timothy 2:1-6 ). Charles Haddon Spurgeon provides us with a fantastic example of that. He was one of the greatest preachers of the 19th century. He pastored a church in London that actively evangelized its community. The following is quotation is from Spurgeon’s book The Soul Winner which is still in print. It may also be read online at this link - This particular quote has to do with praying for lost souls to be saved. Pleading with God for lost souls to be saved should be high on every believer’s prayer list.

One more thing, the soul-winner must master the art of prayer. You cannot bring souls to God if you go not to God yourself. You must get your battle-axe, and your weapons of war, from the armoury of sacred communication with Christ. If you are much alone with Jesus, you will catch His Spirit; you will be fired with the flame that burned in His breast, and consumed His life. You will weep with the tears that fell upon Jerusalem when He saw it perishing; and if you cannot speak so eloquently as He did, yet shall there be about what you say somewhat of the same power which in Him thrilled the hearts and awoke the consciences of men. My dear hearers, especially you members of the church, I am always so anxious lest any of you should begin to lie upon your oars, and take things easy in the matter’s of God’s kingdom. There are some of you – I bless you, and I bless God at the remembrance of you – who are in season, and out of season, in earnest for winning souls, and you are the truly wise; but I fear there are others whose hands are slack, who are satisfied to let me preach, but do not themselves preach; who take these seats, and occupy these pews, and hope the cause goes well, but that is all they do. (Emphasis in the original.)

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Word of God Speak

I treasure 2 Timothy 2:15-21. I cannot say that it is a more valuable section of scripture than any other, but it is certainly one that has greatly affected me

This text teaches us all that life on earth is not a script which we meaninglessly follow. Instead, life on earth is a time of deciding whether we will live for God or not, and then living out what we have decided. Since God will examine what kinds of workers we have been for Him, we should build our lives on His Word and build His Word into our lives. God's Word alone tells us how to live for Him and serve Him. Believers who ignore the Bible will certainly be ashamed at the judgment. To avoid that shame we must be consistent and diligent students of God's Word, or else we will be lulled into neglecting a relationship with God.

That is our true purpose for living.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

The Gospel Outlined

Last Saturday I was privileged to address students ranged in age from middle school to college, and my topic was sowing the seed of the Gospel. (Which explains my previous post!) This post, and perhaps another one, are parts of an information packet which I distributed to the conference attendees.The four questions and answers listed below are from Greg Gilbert's marvelous book What is the Gospel?

Saving faith is based on basic truths of the Bible. The presentation of these truths must be clear and accurate.

Four Critical Questions

  1. Who made us, and to whom are we accountable?
  2. What is our problem? In other words, are we in trouble and why?
  3. What is God’s solution to that problem? How has He acted to save us from it?
  4. How do I – myself, right here, right now – how do I come to be included in that salvation? What makes this good news for me and not just for someone else?

Four Crucial Answers

  1. We are accountable to the God who created us.God
  2. We have sinned against that God and will be judged.Man
  3. But God has acted in Jesus Christ to save us.Jesus Christ
  4. We take hold of that salvation by repentance from sin and faith in Jesus.Response

An outline of the Gospel will help you clearly and accurately present the Gospel. Do not think that you must memorize this outline and regurgitate it in order to evangelize. But you must be able to communicate the truths of the Gospel to evangelize, and an outline will help you do that.

Who is God?

He is the loving Savior.

The Bible teaches in 1 John 4:8, 16 that God’s very nature is love. The Old Testament prophet Jeremiah wrote that God loves us with an “everlasting love.” God is loving, kind and merciful. He is also…

He is the just Judge

Psalm 75:7 teaches that God is the judges of all men, and He will judge truly (Psalm 11:7; 33:5). Exodus 34:6-7 shows that God is compassionate, gracious, and slow to anger; that He is full of love and forgiveness. It also clearly teaches that He will “by no means clear the guilty.” God’s love does not cancel out His justice and righteousness.

He is the Creator

God created all things and therefore owns all things. “The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament sheweth his handywork,” (Psalm 19:1). The world and everything in it sprang from the mind, word, and hand of God! Colossians 1:16, “For by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether [they be] thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him, and for him.” Because He created us, God has the right to tell us how to live. (Romans 9:20-21)

God loves man and wants to show him mercy. God is just. He cannot and will not overlook man’s sin.

What is man’s problem?

Man is guilty because of his sin nature.

Every man is bound to sin because every man is a born sinner. “There is none righteous; no, not one…For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God,” (Romans 3:10; 23). Just like dogs lick their vomit, and pigs roll around in the muck; man sins. Sin is our nature. “Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned,” (Romans 5:12; c.f. Psalm 51:5).

Man is separated from God because of sin.

God is holy and detests the sight of evil (Habakkuk 1:13). Man is a sinner, therefore sin causes a great separation between God and Man. Isaiah 59:2, “But your iniquities have separated between you and your God, and your sins have hid [his] face from you, that he will not hear.” By sinning, man has earned spiritual death (separation from God), and physical death for himself (Romans 6:23). Every person is born spiritually dead; in need of being spiritually reborn. Every person will eventually experience a physical death. The person who dies physically never having been reborn spiritually will die eternally, but that eternal death is not eternal sleep or annihilation. It is eternal punishment in a very real and awful place called hell (Mark 9:43-49; Revelation 20:10).

The bad news of man’s sin and God’s just judgment is not the end of the story. We are all sinners destined to be condemned, but God has acted to save sinners!

What has God done?

What is the solution to man’s problem? There is only one, and that is Jesus Christ, who conquered sin, death, and the grave on the cross.

Who is Jesus Christ?

He is no ordinary man. Jesus was the fulfillment of Isaiah prophecy recorded in Matthew 1:23, “Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us.” Jesus is both completely human and completely God (John 1:1, 14; 20:28). Being completely human and completely God, Jesus lived a perfect life. He was tempted in every possible way, but He never sinned (Hebrews 4:15). Jesus is the Messiah-King. The one promised in 2 Samuel 7:11. The one predicted in Isaiah 9:6-7, and the one presented in Luke 1:32-33; 2:7.

Jesus died on the cross in our place.

Jesus is not just the King, He was the suffering King. Jesus said that He came not to be served but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many (Mark 10:45). John the Baptist declared, “Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world,” (John 1:29). Jesus died on the cross, but He was no mere martyr. He was the only acceptable sacrifice for mankind’s sin. Paul said in 2 Corinthians 5:21, “For he hath made him [to be] sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.” The apostle Peter wrote that Christ bore our sins while He hung on the cross (1 Peter 2:21-24; c.f. Isaiah 53). He suffered there for us so that we would not have to experience the wrath of God in hell forever. He was our propitiation; in other words Jesus Christ’s substitutional sacrifice on the cross satisfied God’s just and righteous judgment on sinful man (1 John 2:1-2; 4:10).

Jesus has risen from the dead!

The death of Jesus was not the end of Jesus. All of this is good news because King Jesus the crucified is no longer dead (Luke 24:5-6). He rose from the dead, conquering sin, death, and the grave. The resurrection proved that every claim Jesus made was true. The resurrection proved that Jesus’ substitutional sacrifice was accepted by God. The resurrection is a key component of the good news (1 Corinthians 15:1-4). Speaking of the Lord Jesus, Paul wrote in Romans 4:25, “Who was delivered for our offences, and was raised again for our justification.” And he also said, “Who [is] he that condemneth? [It is] Christ that died, yea rather, that is risen again, who is even at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us,” (Romans 8:34).

This is good news; the best news, but it raises a significant question: “How does someone come to be included in that salvation?

What must man do?

Christ has paid mankind’s penalty for sin. He has risen from the grave in victory, but this does not make men automatically free from their sins. The finished work of Christ on the cross is only for those who personally receive Christ as their Lord and Savior.

Respond with faith in Christ…

Christ’s own words are, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand: repent ye, and believe the gospel,” Mark 1:15. The command to repent and believe is the only right response to the good news. Faith is not believing in something you cannot prove. Biblical, saving faith is reliance; a rock-solid, truth-grounded, promise-founded trust in the risen Jesus to save you from your sin. Abraham exhibited this kind of faith, and it is described in Romans 4:18-21. Saving faith is not just knowledge, because even the demons believe and understand truths about Jesus (James 2:19), but no demon will be saved. True faith is a careful decision to trust in Christ finished work on the cross and what He teaches in the Bible (Luke 14:27-33).

…and in repentance from sin.

Faith is turning to Jesus and relying on Him alone for salvation, repentance is the flip-side of that coin. It is turning away from sin, hating it, and resolving by God’s strength to forsake it, even as we turn to Him in faith. As Peter preached, “Repent ye therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out,” Acts 3:19. Repentance involves both turning from sin and turning to God (Acts 26:20; 1 Thessalonians 1:9-10). Repentance does not mean an immediate end to sinning, but it does mean that you will no longer live at peace with your sin. A believer will continue to struggle with sin until he is glorified. Genuine repentance is fundamentally a matter of the heart more than it is a mere change of behavior.

Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you shall be saved!

Recommended Reading

  • The Holy Bible – by the Holy Spirit – Read it to learn it. Learn it to live it. Saturate your mind and your heart with this book, and you will become a soul-winner.
  • Becoming a Soul Winner – by Darrell W. Sparks – An excellent booklet of 13 doctrinally sound and practical lessons that encourage the proclamation of the Gospel.
  • What is the Gospel – by Greg Gilbert – Are you able to clearly communicate the good news of Jesus Christ? Small, short, and clear, this book will help you to plainly and Biblically explain the Gospel. This book is useful whether you have been a Christian for a week or seven years.
  • The Gospel for Real Life – by Jerry Bridges – Like more of the above. Useful book.
  • One Thing You Can’t Do in Heaven – by Mark Cahill – This author is passionate about sowing the seed, and his book has plenty of interesting accounts and practical guidelines for sharing the good news.
  • The Master Plan of Evangelism – by Robert Coleman – Classic, practical book on making disciples.
  • Tell the Truth – by Will Metzger – Teaches “God-centered” rather than “me-centered” evangelism. The appendices are loaded with practical tools for sharing the Gospel.
  • Talking with Catholic Friends and Family – by James McCarthy – Useful resource if you are trying to reach anyone who is Catholic or has a Catholic background.
  • The Gospel and Personal Evangelism – by Mark Dever – Biblical, practical teaching from a man who practices what he preaches.
  • Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God - by J.I. Packer - Modern classic which deftly and Biblically handles the issue of divine sovereignty and human responsibility.
  • ACTive Evangelism - by Derek Prime - Practical exposition of the book of Acts; "putting the evangelism of Acts into practice."

Keep in mind that reading books is like eating fish, you have to pick out the bones! Only the Bible is 100% reliable and infallible. I do not agree with or endorse every idea in the books listed above except for the Bible, but I have benefited from them. I think you will too. Read with an open mind, and check everything against God’s Word.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Sowing the Seed

The scene of a farmer with a seed bag slung over his shoulder, walking up and down the furrows of his field broadcasting his seed, would have been a familiar one to all who heard this parable. They may have even been able to see this very sight off in the distance as Christ spoke. The point is this: the figures which Christ used in the parable were recognizable. Jesus was taking the known and laying it next to the unknown so that those who had ears to hear might learn the mystery of the kingdom.

Mark 4:14-20:

The sower soweth the word. And these are they by the way side, where the word is sown; but when they have heard, Satan cometh immediately, and taketh away the word that was sown in their hearts. And these are they likewise which are sown on stony ground; who, when they have heard the word, immediately receive it with gladness; And have no root in themselves, and so endure but for a time: afterward, when affliction or persecution ariseth for the word's sake, immediately they are offended. And these are they which are sown among thorns; such as hear the word, And the cares of this world, and the deceitfulness of riches, and the lusts of other things entering in, choke the word, and it becometh unfruitful. And these are they which are sown on good ground; such as hear the word, and receive [it], and bring forth fruit, some thirtyfold, some sixty, and some an hundred

The Seed

“The sower soweth the word.” The word of God is the seed. Luke is just as explicit about that in his account of this parable. Luke 8:11, “The seed is the word of God.” This is foundational! This is critical! The only thing we have worth sharing; worth sowing in this world, is the seed of God’s Word. This means it is important for us to understand that we do not manufacture our own seed; we simply and exclusively use the seed which God has provided. The power of new spiritual life is in the Word, just as the power of plant life is in the seed. Remember what Peter wrote, “Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever” (1 Peter 1:23).

It is the truth of the Gospel that saves and that truth alone.

A few years back I heard a religious story done on the NPR program Morning Edition. The story was about “a new kind of Sunday school, where families from a range of religions gather to teach virtues to their young children.” I am all for Sunday school, and I believe virtues are wonderful. I am not, however, all that crazy about the teaching of the “Sunday school” featured in NPR’s piece. Read this excerpt from Barbara Hagerty's story:

Layli [the teacher] calls the children to the dining room table. In front of each child sits a little lamp shade.

“Remember how we talked about how religions are a lot like lamp shades?” she asks the group. “They may look different, they may be different colors or sit in different rooms, but they all have the light of God inside of them.”

The kids glue symbols of various religions onto the shades — a Christian cross, a Buddhist wheel, a star and crescent for Islam. Then Layli calls out, “Come to the light!” And the children, one by one, place their decorated lamp shades on a light bulb. (Emphasis mine)

That sounds charitable and peaceable, but it is actually damnable. It is a counterfeit gospel. Jesus Christ is the only Light of the world; not one light of many, and His light cannot be distorted or altered with any lamp-shade of man’s religion. Remember what Jesus said to Nicodemus in John 3? Nicodemus was using the lamp shade of Judaism, but Christ said “You must be born again.” In order for Nicodemus, or anyone else, to be born again the Son of man had to be lifted up on the cross; that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. Whosoever believes in him should not perish but will have everlasting life. God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Christ said (John 3:18), “He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.”

The only light worth coming to is the One True Light Jesus Christ, and whoever comes to Him will never be cast out.

The Sower

The seed is the Word of God, in particular the good news of salvation by grace through faith. The sower is any believer who broadcasts the Gospel seed. That seed may be sown by any number of methods: preaching a sermon, teaching a lesson, conversation over coffee (or whatever you drink), or sharing your salvation testimony. It may be communicated in an email, a letter (Anyone write those anymore?), in the break room at work, walking down the school hallway, at a friend’s house, or over the dining room table after supper. The seed should be sown everywhere and all the time. This doesn’t mean always “witnessing.”

This does mean that the Gospel must be proclaimed from your lips and with your life. In other words, the seed should be sown…

  1. Purposefully – our evangelism should be intentional and not only accidental. Sowing seed is every believer’s responsibility and privilege. It is a way of life and not only a church program. (Mark 16:15; 2 Timothy 4:5)
  2. Passionately – Christ wept over Jerusalem (Luke 19:41; 13:34); displaying His tender heart for the people who, for the most part, rejected him. The is a good reason why Psalm 126:5-6 is so well worn, because it displays the very heart of Christ – “They that sow in tears shall reap in joy. He that goeth forth and weepeth, bearing precious seed, shall doubtless come again with rejoicing, bringing his sheaves [with him].”
  3. Patiently – No seed which is planted bears fruit overnight. James illustrated the Christian virtue of patience with a farmer in 5:7, “Be patient therefore, brethren, unto the coming of the Lord. Behold, the husbandman waiteth for the precious fruit of the earth, and hath long patience for it, until he receive the early and latter rain.”
  4. Perspectively – (Yes I created an adverb for this post.) The Christian’s responsibility is to sow the pure seed of the gospel. We are not in charge of making it rain, making it take root, or making it grow. We are only accountable for sowing the seed. As Paul said to the church at Corinth, “I have planted, Apollos watered; but God gave the increase” (1 Corinthians 3:6).
  5. Prayerfully – Christ taught us how to pray in this area. He said, “The harvest truly [is] great, but the labourers [are] few: pray ye therefore the Lord of the harvest, that he would send forth labourers into his harvest” (Luke 10:2). As we pray for lost souls our prayers should be focused on God’s people, starting with me, being busy in the field.

Each Christian has the blessed responsibility to sow the seed of the Word. We are not responsible for producing the seed, the soil, or the fruit. We are only accountable for faithfully sowing the seed as far and as wide and as often as possible.

The Sowing

Mark 4:26-29:

And he said, So is the kingdom of God, as if a man should cast seed into the ground; And should sleep, and rise night and day, and the seed should spring and grow up, he knoweth not how. For the earth bringeth forth fruit of herself; first the blade, then the ear, after that the full corn in the ear. But when the fruit is brought forth, immediately he putteth in the sickle, because the harvest is come.

The parable of the growing seed is unique to Mark’s gospel, and it supplements Mark 4:14-20. The parable in verses 26-29 reminds us that we are to sow, sow some more, and continue sowing! This is the sole responsibility, authority, and privilege of the Lord’s churches! We are to be groups of Gospel seed sowers; scattering the gospel seed anywhere and everywhere; regardless of the soil’s condition. According to this parable we have no power, ability, or even awareness of whether or not the seed will grow, or, for that matter, how the seed grows. We are simply called to ceaselessly sow the seed. Our ignorance of how it works and our inability to make it work requires that we exhibit patience and trust in God, as well as His seed.

Farming requires faith, patience, and hard work. (I know this from observation, not experience.) A farmer has zero control over the environment. He can prepare the ground, plant the seed, and cultivate the field, but he can no more make the seed grow than he can make the rain fall. He can only do what he can do when he can do it and patiently trust God with the rest. That is why the following passages are a couple of my favorites.

Galatians 6:8-9

“For he that soweth to his flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption; but he that soweth to the Spirit shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting. And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not.”

1 Corinthians 15:58

“Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye stedfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord.”

We are able to not grow weary in well doing because we know that God has the power and the secret of life. I love what commentator John Philips wrote in his commentary on this passage:

The biologist can dissect the seed and expose and name its various parts. The geneticist can go even deeper into the structure of things and define the seed’s genetic code. He can clone and produce identical plants. He can breed and produce hybrid plants. But if no life is there it is all in vain. The most zealous believer can no more convert a soul than he could create a star.

Conversion is a miracle, as is all life. It is certainly no commonplace occurrence, and it is not something which should be taken for granted. Life is a miracle and it is owed to God. He has seen fit to use His churches to sow the life giving message of Christ crucified, buried, raised, and coming again. May we purposefully, passionately, patiently, perspectively, and prayerfully sowing the seed!

Saturday, July 24, 2010

RBC Youth Conference

For the fourteenth consecutive year the Rodgers Baptist Church will host a Youth Conference concurrently with their Missions Conference. The dates are Monday, July 26th – Wednesday, July 28th. As always, we are eager and excited to serve all those who are able to come. All youth in 6th - 12th grades and college students are invited to attend. Our prayer is that the youth conference will not only be fun but will also challenge your spirit for the cause of Christ.

This year’s theme is “Amplify!” and it is drawn from 1 Thessalonians 1:8 where Paul says of the young church at Thessalonica, “For from you sounded out the word of the Lord not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but also in every place your faith to God-ward is spread abroad.”

After being changed by the impact of the gospel, the Thessalonians became a sounding board of the gospel message. They were a channel through which the gospel was amplified. The sounding board picture is a good one because a sounding board does not create sound, it reflects sound. It is not the sound's source, but it amplifies the sound for others to hear. The young church in Thessalonica amplified the powerful gospel message. We desire to be, and we want to encourage your young people to be, sounding boards of the gospel!

Pastor Robby Pollard of Berean Baptist Church in Houston, TX will be our conference speaker. Join us each morning at 9am as we are challenged from scripture to "amplify" the glorious Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Our activities this year are a trip to Stonebriar Mall in Frisco on Tuesday, and an afternoon at Shenaniganz in Rockwall on Wednesday. The activities fee is $20. There is no charge for missionary kids. Registration begins Monday evening immediately following the service.

We have been busy with preparations and much in prayer for this conference. We are eager to serve you. Our desire is for God to be glorified and His people edified. Hope you can join us!

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Engaging the (American) Culture

Should American churches curse their collapsing culture or isolate themselves from it or engage it? The answer must be to engage their culture. Separation from sin does not equal isolation from the culture. Therefore we must ask: What is the Biblical way for engaging our culture?

Here are four Biblical steps of engagement.

#1 – Preaching, not Politicking

Preaching, not politicking is the main strategy for unleashing God's truth into an ungodly society.
  • 1 Corinthians 1:21 – “For after that in the wisdom of God the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe.”
The act of preaching and the content of the message preached seem like foolishness in the judgment of worldly wisdom. Both the strategy and the substance of gospel preaching run counter to what common sense might suggest is the best way to communicate truth to a sophisticated society.

Conventional wisdom says that if you want to get your point of view across in America, you must do it through the democratic process; campaign for candidates and lobby for legislation that reflect your point of view; harness the power of the Supreme Court and Congress and use them to halt the moral unraveling of the culture.

But preaching, in the public square and the private residence, not lobbying in the halls of congress, is the Biblical way, and the only truly effective way for Christ's churches to make His truth known. Incidentally, when Scripture speaks of “preaching” in a context like this, the reference is not exclusively to a message given from the pulpit. Paul is speaking of every kind of gospel proclamation; everything from open-air preaching to one-on-one personal evangelism. Whatever the venue, “preaching” is simply the clear and emphatic proclamation of the gospel. That's what Paul has in mind here.

That's your calling, in election years and in non-election years; when the President is pro-life or pro-abortion, you are called to stick to the message. Stay on point. Determine to make the message of Christ crucified, buried, raised, and coming again as the heart and centerpiece of everything you “preach”.

#2 – Gospel, not Law

Second, churches are to engage the culture with the Gospel, not Law, because the Gospel is what changes sinful hearts.
  • Galatians 2:21 – “I do not frustrate the grace of God: for if righteousness [come] by the law, then Christ is dead in vain.”
Paul was battling the error of the Judaizers who taught that the OT Law made sinners righteous. Paul answered their error by saying that if righteousness could be brought about by legislation, the whole Gospel would be unnecessary (Galatians 3:21). Paul’s argument dealt with the Law of Moses and its role in salvation. The law was given to awaken us to our sin, to reveal the exceeding sinfulness of sin, and to eliminate every possible option for salvation other than the transforming grace of God. The law didn't lay out a way of salvation, because law is totally impotent when it comes to transforming human hearts.

Now if that's true of Moses' law, which came directly from God, it is certainly true of earthly statutes that are the result of political wrangling and compromise. Law has its rightful place, and no righteous person would ever want to see a lawless society. But when it comes to the question of how Christians might transform an already evil-society, the answer lies in proclaiming the gospel, not in campaigning for legislation.

Laws have their rightful place in restraining evil and punishing evildoers. Romans 13:1-7 recognizes that. Even in the hands of such an utterly wicked ruler as Nero, the mechanism of government still functioned in that common-grace sense, to bring a measure of peace and order to the most fallen, sin-cursed society, but if your true goal is really the transformation and redemption of the culture, or more precisely, the salvation of individual sinners, law is not the proper tool for that; Gospel is.

#3 – Service, not Dominion

To influence your culture and community for Christ understand that preaching not politicking is how we make truth known, Gospel not law is what changes sinful hearts, and the third principle is: service, not dominion, is the most effective way to win people in any culture.Mark 10:42-45

Jesus is emphatic that His followers are not to seek greatness, or influence, or power in the kingdom of Christ by the raw exercise of authority over other people. Instead, Jesus says that the way to greatness is service. Be servants to others.

Let's be clear here: Jesus is not spurning the idea of legal authority or human government. Scripture recognizes and affirms the proper role of civil authorities, but here in this context Jesus makes a clear differentiation between the kingdom of Christ and the kingdom of Caesar. The two kingdoms are run with completely different principles. They operate in totally separate arenas. They function with exactly opposite strategies. They are pursuing entirely different goals. The way they leverage their power and influence is therefore likewise thoroughly and radically different. Christ and Caesar rule different kingdoms, by different principles.

During the turmoil that followed the British Civil War, the Puritan General and statesman Oliver Cromwell seized control. He became known as the Lord Protector of the Commonwealth, and he’d shout Bible verses during battle, such as Psalm 68:1: “Let God arise, let his enemies be scattered: let them also that hate him flee before him.”

But it would be wise to keep in mind what one historian wrote about Cromwell:
“His private morals were impeccable, [but] his public morals were no better than those of other rulers; he used deception or force when he thought them necessary to his major purposes. No one has yet reconciled Christianity with government.”
The problem, I believe, is the very thing Jesus highlighted in Mark 10:42-45 the kingdom of God is ultimately not advanced by the flexing of political clout.

#4 – Christ, not Moralism

The final principle for how churches should engage their culture is this: Christ, not moralism should be the primary substance of our message. Society is not going to be redeemed, or even influenced for good, by a moralistic message. The vast majority of the moralism we get from the religious right is lacking any clear reference to Christ or the Gospel. It is devoid of any Biblical authority, because it has been distilled into a purely political message. It is frankly indistinguishable from the teaching of the Pharisees.

Think about it: we don't abstain from every appearance of evil just because it's pragmatically expedient or rationally sensible to do that. We do it because that's what God's Word says to do. Remember that we are agents and ambassadors of Christ's kingdom. Christ crucified is the one proper subject and center of our message to a hostile world. Our first calling is to proclaim and glorify His name.

The weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds (2 Corinthians 10:4). Worldly wisdom and political strategies can never save either society or individuals. The advancement of Christ's kingdom has never depended on democracy or even basic civil liberties. Even in very recent history churches in nations that are politically hostile to Christianity have flourished, while churches in the free, democratic, West have become anemic.

If our energies are so focused on defending our civil liberties that we neglect to make the gospel clear, we'll lose our liberty anyway, along with the influence of the gospel. That is precisely what has been happening in America in the past half-century. It's time we woke up to that fact. Preaching, not lobbying, is how we are supposed to make the truth known. Gospel, not law, is what changes sinful hearts. Service, not dominion, is the most effective way to win people in any culture. And Christ, not moralism, should be the primary substance of our message.