Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Thanksgiving


"Give thanks to the LORD, for He is good.  His love endures forever."


Psalm 136:1-26

The season of giving thanks is once again upon us.  On this one day that is set aside each year, families and friends will gather joyfully together and feast upon the bounties and provisions with which they have been so richly blessed.  Inside homes all across our nation, the delightful aromas of roasted turkey and stuffing and baked pumpkin pies will tantalize the senses and cause some to recall earlier memories of other Thanksgiving holidays.  Smiles and laughter will fill the air and a feeling of celebration will fall over all the participants, uniting them in a brief moment of family closeness and the necessity of it as they think of those who are unable to be with them.

The cause for the Thanksgiving celebration should not be limited to only one day each year.  It should be that we are reminded daily of the blessings God has poured out upon us, and the richness of His mercy and grace.  Each morning we should rise to the heavenly aroma of His gracious presence and look with anticipation to the day when all of His children will rush to the table that has been prepared for them; a table holding delicacies beyond their imagination.  The feast that awaits us defies the meager meal that is prepared by our hands on this day, for it is one that will last for an eternity.  Jesus will have all His family gathered around Him and His greatest delight will be that not one of them is missing.

I pray you will all pause a few moments before tackling the feast that awaits you and remember the ones who have left a vacancy at the table.  Whether they are service men and women in foreign lands, a family member too far from home to be there, or the less fortunate whose daily struggles of survival make it impossible to share in such a celebration, leave an empty chair at your table as a reminder of them and pray that one day they, too, will partake in the greatest Thanksgiving celebration of all time.

May the Lord our God bless you and your families.  May your prayers of thanksgiving be a pleasing aroma to Him.  And may we all be united one bright and glorious day as we are joined at His table to praise and thank Him for eternity!

Have a great day, everyone!  We will be thinking of you!

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

"I Can't!"



“ ‘Ah, Sovereign Lord,’ I said, ‘I do not now how to speak; I am only a child.’ ”

Jeremiah 1:6


From the moment we are born, life’s challenges begin.  As infants, our emotional and physical needs are lovingly tended to by our parents.  But there comes a time in our development when we are faced with certain demands that only we can overcome.  My youngest grandson, Isaac, is currently facing such a challenge in learning to walk.  He is able to lift his body from a squat into a standing position, but when encouraged to take a few steps, he adamantly and stubbornly refuses.  We all know he is able and no matter how many times we tell him, “ you can!”, he has not convinced himself.  He would prefer to keep his feet firmly planted, grinning from ear to ear, then quickly frown and sit back down when offered assistance.  He does not yet trust us to catch him if he falls.  

I would prefer to keep Isaac little because he is probably my last grandchild.  I know that one day he will be tearing around the house after his siblings and eventually he will be running out into the world to build his own life.  But for now, Isaac is saying, “I can’t!”, and I have recently found myself echoing his sentiment.

The appearance of standing alone can often cause us to want to sit back down and refuse to take another step.  We are able to fool ourselves into believing there will be others who will offer a hand to balance and assist us, when in reality, we must often brace ourselves and go it alone.  This past week I have been telling the Lord, “I can’t!”  And while I was telling Him, “I can’t!” I found myself stumbling around in the darkness of the past with “what if” and “if only”.  My prayers have been full of pleadings to drive these thoughts from me and to restore and renew my faltering faith and trust.  It has been a struggle wrestling with Him.  But with His help I am overcoming, and by His strength and helping hand, I will take another step, and another, until I am back in the race running for all I am worth.

This morning my “I can’t!” has become, “I can, with Your help, Lord.”  I realize that I am never alone in spite of what I perceive.  Others may fail me.  I may even fail myself and others from time to time.  But my God, Who understands my human frailty, will always be standing in front of me with outstretched arms urging me to take another vital step.  He will also catch me if I stumble and begin to fall.  After all, the finish line is not too far away and the prize that awaits me is beyond my comprehension and worth every obstacle that is thrown in my way.

“I can do all things through Christ Who strengthens me.”  Thank you, Lord.  You just proved to me that “I can!”

Recommended reading:

1Kings 19:1-21
Esther 4:1-17
Isaiah 40:31; 41:10
Jeremiah 1:4-10
John 8:36
Hebrews 12:1-3; 12:12
Galatians 2:20
1Corinthians 9:24-27
Philippians 4:13
2Timothy 4:7-8; 16-18

Friday, November 13, 2009

Ready Or Not, Here I Come!


“Behold, I am coming soon!”

Revelation 22:7


Perhaps the most common game we played as children, and one our children continue to play, was Hide and Seek. One person would be chosen as “it”. He would close his eyes as others ran and hid, count to a predetermined number, then holler, “Ready or not, here I come!” Everyone had to make it safely back to “base” without being “tagged” or they were out of the game. The play continued until all players were in, then another was chosen as “it”.

I love watching my grandchildren play this game, especially the little ones. Their perception of the environment surrounding them is so much different than ours, for they are apt to believe a leafless shrub or a skinny tree trunk will hid them from view. Their concept of time has also not been fully developed and as the others have found their place to hide, they are still scurrying around looking for a good spot. Sometimes they huddle next to one of the older kids - much to their frustration. But the biggest giveaway, and the one that gives me the greatest pleasure, is their giggling that refuses to be contained and bubbles up from their toes, spilling out into the sunshine. It is a sound I will always cherish.


I recently came to believe that Hide and Seek must be an international children’s game. In one of their newsletters, Voice of the Martyrs told the story of Indonesian children who wear T-shirts with the phrase, “Ready or not, Jesus will come. I am ready. What about you?” imprinted on them. To these children, there is a broader and more important message behind a simple game of Hide and Seek. They have chosen to use it as a means to reach the hearts of their countrymen. With wisdom defying their age, they understand that men attempt to hide their sin from the Seeker Jesus Christ. But the difference between the childish game and the reality of life is even more evident in that they also know there is never a hiding place He can not find. (Rev. 6:15-17)


In a nation that is predominately Muslim, and one that is increasingly persecuting Christians, the boldness and courage of these children leaves me in awe. If our own nation had sunk to the level of Indonesia and their lack of religious tolerance, would we, as parents, put our children in harms way by having them don such a message? As disturbing as the answer seems, I can honestly say most would not. But Christians in places such as Indonesia understand that to be afraid and silent bears no fruit, and to do nothing will not further God’s kingdom.


The message these children bring to the mean streets of their nation is that our Lord could return at any moment. It is a question of readiness, one that asks, “Are you prepared to meet your God because ready or not, Jesus WILL come.” They know it is not a game. It is a reality. It is also an invitation to ask them about the message’s meaning which, I am sure, every one of them is joyfully prepared to give. They understand the futility behind “hiding” and are equipped to point the way to “base” where their Seeker, their Savior, will be waiting with laughter and open arms.


There will be a time, one that I believe is coming soon, when the game of Hide and Seek men are playing with God will end. Although it defies the rules of the childhood game we played, the only way to win is to allow the Seeker to find you and claim you as His own. There is no loss by doing so. What awaits you is a great and eternal reward and a crown of victory placed upon your head.


“The Spirit and the bride say, ‘Come!’ And let him who hears say, ‘Come!’ Whoever is thirsty, let him come; and whoever wishes, let him take the free gift of the water of life…
He who testifies to these things says, ‘Yes, I am coming soon.’

Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.” (Rev. 22:17, 20-21)


I am ready. What about you?



 

Monday, November 9, 2009

"Grunge Christianity?" - by John MacArthur

Under the link http://www.gty.org/Resources/Articles/A172 John MacArthur responds to the downgrading of Christian ministers and ministries and its effect on life changing evangelism and discipleship. Please consider this short, but thought provoking article…Pastor Paul Guay.

Grunge Christianity?

James 4:4;John 15:18-19;John 17:14-16

Counterculture’s Death-Spiral and the Vulgarization of the Gospel

John MacArthur


One of the favorite topics on the evangelical agenda these days is how the church should “engage the culture.” Do Christians need to imitate the boorish aspects of a quickly-decaying civilization in order to remain “relevant”? Some evidently think so.

We keep hearing from evangelical strategists and savvy church leaders that Christians need to be more tuned into contemporary culture.

You have no doubt heard the arguments: We need to take the message out of the bottle. We can’t minister effectively if we don’t speak the language of contemporary counterculture. If we don’t vernacularize the gospel, contextualize the church, and reimagine Christanity for each succeeding generation, how can we possibly reach young people? Above all else, we have got to stay in step with the times.

Those arguments have been stressed to the point that many evangelicals now seem to think unstylishness is just about the worst imaginable threat to the expansion of the gospel and the influence of the church. They don’t really care if they are worldly. They just don’t want to be thought uncool.

That way of thinking has been around at least since modernism began its aggressive assault on biblical Christianity in the Victorian era. For half a century or more, most evangelicals resisted the pragmatic thrust of the modernist argument, believing it was a fundamentally worldly philosophy. They had enough biblical understanding to realize that “friendship with the world is enmity with God. Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God” (James 4:4).

But the mainstream evangelical movement gave up the battle against worldliness half a century ago, and then completely capitulated to pragmatism just a couple of decades ago. After all, most of the best-known megachurches that rose to prominence after 1985 were built on a pragmatic philosophy of giving “unchurched” people whatever it takes to make them feel comfortable. Why would anyone criticize what “works”?

Whole churches have thus deliberately immersed themselves in “the culture”–by which they actually mean “whatever the world loves at the moment.” We now have a new breed of trendy churches whose preachers can rattle off references to every popular icon, every trifling meme, every tasteless fashion, and every vapid trend that captures the fickle fancy of the postmodern secular mind.

Worldly preachers seem to go out of their way to put their carnal expertise on display–even in their sermons. In the name of connecting with “the culture” they want their people to know they have seen all the latest programs on MTV; familiarized themselves with all the key themes of “South Park”; learned the lyrics to countless tracks of gangsta rap and heavy metal music; and watched who-knows-how-many R-rated movies. They seem to know every fad top to bottom, back to front, and inside out. They’ve adopted both the style and the language of the world–including lavish use of language that used to be deemed inappropriate in polite society, much less in the pulpit. They want to fit right in with the world, and they seem to be making themselves quite comfortable there.

Mark Driscoll is one of the best-known representatives of that kind of thinking. He is a very effective communicator–a bright, witty, clever, funny, insightful, crude, profane, deliberately shocking, in-your-face kind of guy. His soteriology is exactly right, but that only makes his infatuation with the vulgar aspects of contemporary society more disturbing.

Driscoll ministers in Seattle, birthplace of “grunge” music and heart of the ever-changing subculture associated with that movement. Driscoll’s unique style and idiom might aptly be labeled “post-grunge.” His language–even in his sermons–is deliberately crude. He is so well known for using profane language that in Blue Like Jazz (p. 133), Donald Miller (popular author and icon of the “Emerging Church” movement, who speaks of Driscoll with the utmost admiration) nicknamed him “Mark the Cussing Pastor.”

I don’t know what Driscoll’s language is like in private conversation, but I listened to several of his sermons. To be fair, he didn’t use the sort of four-letter expletives most people think of as cuss words–nothing that might get bleeped on broadcast television these days. Still, it would certainly be accurate to describe both his vocabulary and his subject matter at times as tasteless, indecent, crude, and utterly inappropriate for a minister of Christ. In every message I listened to, at least once he veered into territory that ought to be clearly marked off limits for the pulpit.

Some of the things Driscoll talks freely and frequently about involve words and subject matter I would prefer not even to mention in public, so I am not going to quote or describe the objectionable parts. Besides, the issue has already been discussed and dissected at several blogs. Earlier this year, Tim Challies cited one typical example of Driscoll’s vulgar flippancy from Confessions of a Reformission Rev. The sermons I listened to also included several from Driscoll’s “Vintage Jesus” series, including the one Phil Johnson critiqued in October.

The point I want to make is not about Driscoll’s language per se, but about the underlying philosophy that assumes following society down the Romans 1 path is a valid way to “engage the culture.” It’s possible to be overexposed to our culture’s dark side. I don’t think anyone can survive full immersion in today’s entertainments and remain spiritually healthy.

Let’s face it: Many of the world’s favorite fads are toxic, and they are becoming increasingly so as our society descends further in its spiritual death-spiral. It’s like a radioactive toxicity, so while those who immerse themselves in it might not notice its effects instantly, they nevertheless cannot escape the inevitable, soul-destroying contamination. And woe to those who become comfortable with the sinful fads of secular society. The final verse of Romans 1 expressly condemns those “who, knowing the righteous judgment of God, that those who practice such things are deserving of death, not only do the same but also approve of those who practice them.”

Even when you marry such worldliness with good systematic theology and a vigorous defense of substitutionary atonement, the soundness of the theoretical doctrine doesn’t sanctify the wickedness of the practical lifestyle. The opposite happens. Solid biblical doctrine is trivialized and mocked if we’re not doers of the Word as well as teachers of it.

We could learn from the example of Paul, who engaged the philosophers on Mars Hill. But far from embracing their culture, he was repulsed by it. Acts 17:16 says, “while Paul waited for [Silas and Timothy] at Athens, his spirit was provoked within him when he saw that the city was given over to idols.”

When Paul spoke to that culture, he didn’t adopt Greek scatology to show off how hip he could be. He simply declared the truth of God’s Word to them in plain language. And not all of his pagan listeners were happy with that (v. 18). That’s to be expected. Jesus said, “If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you” (John 15:18-19).

Even Jesus’ high priestly prayer included a thorough description of the Christian’s proper relationship with and attitude toward the world: “I have given them Your word; and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. I do not pray that You should take them out of the world, but that You should keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world” (John 17:14-16).

Whenever Jesus spoke of believers’ being in the world, He stated that if we are faithful, the world will be a place of hostility and persecution, not a zone of comfort. He also invariably followed that theme with a plea for our sanctification (cf. John 17:17-19).

The problem with the “grunge” approach to religion is that it works against the sanctifying process. In fact, in one of the messages I listened to, Driscoll actually boasted that his sanctification goes no higher than his shoulders. His defense of substitutionary atonement might help his disciples gain a good grasp of the doctrine of justification by faith; but the lifestyle he models–especially his easygoing familiarity with all this world’s filthy fads–practically guarantees that they will make little progress toward authentic sanctification.

I frankly wonder how any Christian who takes the Bible at face value could ever think that in order to be “culturally relevant” Christians should participate in society’s growing infatuation with vulgarity. Didn’t vulgarity and culture used to be considered polar opposites?

Sunday, November 8, 2009

The Divine Conductor

“And He who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God’s will.”
Romans 8:27


Like a symphony conductor, God orchestrates circumstances in the life of a saint. He either sends another to you with a message, or He directly sends the one for whom the Holy Spirit is interceding. It is at this crossroad that division is apt to come because it depends on the willingness of the saint who is being asked to assist in the intercession on God’s terms. He does not need our help, but He has asked us to be participants.

We often think it strange that we find ourselves thrust into situations affecting others; commonplace and ordinary circumstances that have little or nothing to do with us. Our patience is sometimes tested and brought to frustration levels because of the conditions of the lives of others and the choices they have made that adversely affect them. Their refusal to break the pattern of sin and discard their old way of life brings them back time and time again to the same point of failure. It is at this point of weakness and vulnerability that God may ask our assistance. But if, at that juncture, we maintain an attitude of superiority, or we are indefinite in our response, we will never be the effective witness He desires.

We are apt to wonder why it appears God places such hard cases before us when other saints seem to have an easier time of witnessing and see results we never see. We all want to rejoice in results, to the glory of God, but we are called according to His purpose, not our own. We should never question the orchestration of circumstances and people God brings into our lives for we may just be one of many He uses, and besides, God’s timing is His own. Nor should we assume the position of amateur providence and attempt to sort through and pick our own methods of intercession. Our intentions may be sincere but, if left to ourselves, we could talk until we were blue in the face and never reach the heart of a lost sinner; or we could inevitably make matters worse. Instead, we should bring that person before the throne of God where true intercession begins and step back to allow the Holy Spirit to do His work. In other words, we must never attempt to do His work for Him; rather we should allow Him to do His work through us.

The human side of intercession is the position we find God has placed us, or someone He has sent to make contact with us. It is there at that crossroad where the saint must make a decision. It is there where the human side of our involvement ends and the divine work of the Holy Spirit begins. If we choose the wrong path, someone may suffer impoverishment.

As the eyes of musicians remain fixed on the orchestra conductor as he draws by direction the instruments to a glorious finale, we, too, should keep our eyes and ears fixed on God as He orchestrates opportunities to bring other sons and daughters to glory. If we yield to what God has orchestrated and allow the Holy Spirit to direct us as He intercedes on behalf of the one He sent, we have performed our part to His satisfaction and the honor and glory remain His, as it should be.

Friday, November 6, 2009

The Gift

If you were being offered a gift that was beyond any other a man could give, one that was so precious, so priceless because the cost of it was beyond comparison; a gift that you could not only delight in now but for always; one that would give you endless joy, security, and peace and would make you richer than any king - would you reject it?

If the gift meant that you would never again have to struggle, never again have to fear, that all sorrow, worry and trials would cease - would you take it then?

If this priceless gift would mean a renewal of life, health never again affected or damaged, and peace of mind beyond comprehension - would you take the gift being offered?

The price of the gift has been paid in full by another, the conditions surrounding it have been met, and there is nothing more you need do except receive the gift and begin to enjoy it - would you still refuse to take it?

Many have refused it. Many have turned from the hand offering it, preferring instead to amass their own wealth, seek pleasures on their own terms, set their own standards and conditions, and attempt to attain life by their own merits. But they will always fail.

At the end of their lives, they will mourn for their refusal of the gift that was once offered. They will long to go back to the time when they still had a choice before the offer was withdrawn. Then they will know the true value of the gift that had been offered them and they will forever grieve because they rejected it.

If you are reading this and you have yet to seize the gift that is being offered you, there is still time. The Gift Giver is patient and He will not force you to take it. But it is His will that you take it from His hand and begin to enjoy it now while you still have the opportunity. Continued rejection of His gift will eventually drive Him away, and what you could have had will be lost forever.

So, what are you waiting for? Take the gift He is offering you and begin to truly live. And while you are at it, invite Him in to stay, for the gift He is giving is only the beginning of wonders to come.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

The Church Divided

I recently heard a Pastor recount an event he recently experienced. He received a request to come to another town and give his aid in planting a new church. When he arrived, he took it upon himself to investigate the number of churches that currently existed in the community. The final tally revealed there were already one hundred Christian congregations that served the area. The result of his investigation forced him to ask the question why it was necessary to add one more. What progressed from that point, he did not say, but it compelled to the forefront a problem that has been nagging me for a long time. Why is Christ’s church divided, and what is it that makes it so?

Of course, there are obvious reasons that cause a split in congregations. To list them all here would require more space than is prudent and there is no need to write a thesis on them. The most legitimate reason is to plant a new church in an area that is in need, and the most disturbing, a turning away from sound doctrine and preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ in its fullness. There is no shortage of preachers who teach health, wealth and prosperity. Their message, “God has a plan and a purpose for you” is usually void of any solid teaching of what God expects from Christians. Then there are the churches that teach God’s Word evolves as times change, perverting it to suit the sinful natures of the congregants and giving them license to continue in their sin. The consequences of a sinful life are rarely taught, hell is never mentioned, and a head-count and full coffers are all too often the driving force in filling the pews. The list is endless and, I might add, nauseating.


However, I found it troubling that the Pastor I mentioned above also has a divided congregation. Two identical sermons are preached each Sunday because the older generation prefers hymns and dirges to the contemporary music the younger generation desires. Instead of the worship leader placating both by providing a good mix of each, this congregation of less than one hundred people has chosen to part company, and as one group files out, another group files in. In other words, the Pastor can see beyond and into other church’s shortcomings, but he fails to recognize a petty and disturbing problem within his own. If he has recognized it, he has chosen to let the flock lead the shepherd rather than the other way around.


There is never a valid reason for division in the church that is preaching the fullness of the Gospel and providing sound Biblical teaching. If this qualification is met, the congregants should be satisfied. However, because of the importance placed on certain things such as the type of worship service that is led (great music provided by big bands and large worship teams that stir the emotions, and entertainment that pleases the congregants), the real message is being missed. There is one church and it is Christ’s church which is comprised of all true believers who are in Christ Jesus. Christ’s church represents “one body” which is “not made up of one part but of many,” and is unable to function effectively if one part dictates its will over the other parts. To put it in simpler terms, no single part is more important than another. “If one part suffers, every part suffers with it… If the “ligaments” that hold the body together are weakened by division, the result is an unfruitful church. But if the body is held together, drawing its strength from its Head Jesus Christ, then there is unity and a common goal. (1Cor 12:12-27)


Satan has been very effective in causing unrest, petty arguments and breeding contention that tears apart the body of Christ. When Christians allow him to assume control over their emotions, the result of his interference spills over into the rest of the body. The conclusion is always division, and it is usually catastrophic. I have personally witnessed the destruction of a church that became divided. The Apostle Paul cautioned the Romans “to watch out for those who cause divisions and put obstacles” in their way to disrupt and destroy their unity in Christ Jesus (Rom 16:17). If in our commonality we remain devoted to Him and His will, the “obstacles” that are thrown in front of us are easily overcome by reason and through the strength of the entire body.


Jesus, in response to the false charges the Pharisees brought against Him, responded with this: “Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation, and every city or house divided against itself will not stand.” (Matt 12:25, NKJ) When a church finds itself in this position, the reaction is to divide itself and go their separate ways rather than to unite and solve the problems within it. Paul asked the Corinthians, “Is Christ divided?” (1Cor 1:13). The answer to his question should be clear to us: Never! His question should pierce the heart of every Saint and cause us to re-examine the petty complaints or arguments we may have that causes separation.

Jesus Christ is building an eternal kingdom, one that will last and never be divided. However, at this juncture, it is up to us to help hold it together until that great day, remaining united in all things of Christ. And if we are faithful in our endeavor to hold Christ’s body of believers together, there will not be a need to build another church.