A Chapter Revision Excerpt

Marty at Outside Preaching EventAmong the many things I have been working on since leaving Trinity Church as its Senior Pastor is a revision of my 2012 book, Picking A President: Or Any Other Elected Official. Some might think it odd to revise a book that is only five years old. Let me tell you why I’m doing it.

  1. This election, more than perhaps any other, demonstrates a need for this book. We simply need better candidates to vote for. Period.
  2. The time to read and study a book like this is four years before the next election. That gives activists and political types time to find candidates with sound character and believable problem-solving abilities.
  3. Recognizing those candidates means a population that is tuned into asking the right questions long before candidates are placed on a ballot. That takes time, introspection, and hard work by each of us. If we want to recognize better candidates we need to be better and more informed people.

So here is part of the revised 21st chapter of a probably-differently titled book. (Front-runner for the new title? Mr. and Mrs. Candidate, You’re Fired!) All chapters in the book are based on a chapter in the book of Proverbs. As always, it is always best to read the chapter in Proverbs that corresponds to the same chapter in the book.

Proverbs 21   God Overrules Rulers.

The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the Lord;
     he turns it wherever he will. (1)

When justice is done, it is a joy to the righteous
     but terror to evildoers. (15)

No wisdom, no understanding,
     no counsel can avail against the Lord.
The horse is made ready for the day of battle,
     but the victory belongs to the Lord. (30-31)

Proverbs 21:1, 15, 30-31

______________________________

Proverbs 21:15 echoes the things we learned in chapter 20. The role of the righteous leader is twofold:

1) to do justice and thereby bring joy to those who desire to do righteousness and

2) bring terror to those who delight in evil.

A good government is one that maintains a balance between personal freedom and the common good.

But if Proverbs 21:15 echoes chapter 20 (esp. Prov. 20:2, 8, 18, and 22), it also gives a powerful corrective to thinking that any human ruler’s power is ultimate. The point of the first verse is that the heart of the king is in God’s hand. This is both a mystery and a great comfort. Even if your candidate is not elected, even if according to your best judgment, the worst of two evils is elected, a believer need not despair. Listen to the wise words of another generation commenting on this passage:

God can change men’s minds, can, by a powerful insensible operation under their spirits, turn them from that which they seemed most intent upon, and incline them to that which they seemed most averse to, as the husbandman, by canals and gutters, turns the water through his grounds as he pleases, which does not alter the nature of the water, nor put any force upon it, any more than God’s providence does upon the native freedom of man’s will, but directs the course of it to serve his own purpose.

Even kings’ hearts are so, notwithstanding their powers and prerogatives, as much as the hearts of common persons. The hearts of kings are unsearchable to us, much more unmanageable by us; … but the great God has them not only under his eye, but in his hand. Kings [or Presidents and Congressman] are what he makes them. Those that are most absolute are [still] under God’s government; …49

A farmer (“the husbandman”) directs water by digging canals. So God directs the heart of rulers. And the Scriptures are filled with examples (Exod. 10:1-2; Ezra 7:21; Neh. 2:1-8; Isa. 10:5-7; Isa. 45:1-6). With absolute certainty, the writer reminds us of a great mystery. God is sovereign over all. The final two verses of the chapter come full circle.

30 No wisdom, no understanding,
      no counsel can avail against the Lord.
31 The horse is made ready for the day of battle,
      but the victory belongs to the Lord.

This is the perspective and the comfort we need in all our political involvement. Trust God. Even as you work to ensure that good people are elected, never forget that God is forever sovereign. There is no wisdom, no understanding that can stand against the Lord’s purposes. People can make their plans, but God can overrule all of them. Political operatives can wheel and deal, but in the end, God will “cause all things to work together for the good to those who love Him and are called according to His purposes” (Rom. 8:28). And that is comforting news in the midst of our sometimes frustrating (maddening!) political process.

Make sure that you are one who loves him, the sovereign God of the universe, above all things. We will not change the world through lots of political activity. We have responsibilities and duties in that sphere, but they are only one piece of a larger picture.

We will change the world by not “leaning on our own understanding, but in all our ways acknowledging him,” and watching him direct our steps (Prov. 3:5-6). In every election there is a candidate who is better for the country, county or city—always one that is better than the other. We have a responsibility before God to elect men and women who will lead wisely and well. But there is one Judge and Ruler who was never elected. He rules with might and power, with wisdom and righteousness, and his will is ultimately unassailable. Trust him. He, unlike every human governor, is always worthy of our complete trust.

Prayer:

Lord, Your word declares that You laugh at the folly of earthly rulers who raise up any plans against Your Anointed (Psalm 2:1-4). You warn the kings of the earth, all who govern, to show discernment and to bow down in worship of You as their sovereign Lord. And one day, Your word declares that every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that You are indeed Lord of heaven and earth (Isa. 45:23; Phil. 2:10; Rom. 14:11).

Help me to trust You and Your word, not only for that future day, but for every day that I breathe between now and then. Help me to not be anxious over who wins or loses a particular election. But help me to do my part to ensure that worthy men and women have the opportunity to serve. Amen.

Questions:

  1. Are you anxious about the upcoming election? Have you taken your anxiety to God and asked him to calm your anxious spirit (cf. John 14:1-6 and 1 Pet. 5:7)? If not, do it now.
  2. Does the candidate feed your tendency to be anxious and “earth-bound” by the type of rhetoric he or she uses?
  3. Does the candidate’s platform give an indication that “the righteous will rejoice and evil-doers will fear” if their policies are implemented?
  4. Does the candidate have the support of knowledgeable men and women who you respect as being on the side of righteousness?

It Was One of TV’s Longest Running Shows

ER

ER 2

15 Years (1994-2009)
331 episodes 
It introduced actors like George Cloney, Juliana Margulies, Anthony Edwards and so many others. 

It won 23 Primetime Emmy Awards, including the 1996 Outstanding Drama Series award, and received 124 Emmy nominations, which makes it the most nominated drama program in history.[1] ER won 116 awards in total, including the Peabody Award, while the cast earned four Screen Actors Guild Awards for Outstanding Ensemble Performance in a Drama Series.[2]  (paragraph and statistics pulled from the wikipedia article on ER)

It was ensemble drama at its highest and multi-textured best with complex plotting, believable human characters with flaws and idiocies on full display as well as heroism and selflessness. Most episodes could bring tears and laughter and angst in rapid fire sequences to the conscience of an audience as well as a generous, if sobered hope.

There were people to root for, root against, despise and love. There were situations that challenged the ethics of the viewing public as well as every prejudice and perspective you ever had.

Yes, the doctors were too pretty. Yes, the nurses too. And yes, some of the plotting was overly contrived. It was TV. But at its best, it strove for honesty.

So why am I sitting here writing about a show that ended 7 years ago? Because I am re-reading a book (Cultivating a Life for God, by Neil Cole) that I have recommended for years and the author quotes a powerful episode from ER. It is a story about the potential of the local church.  Here’s the quote:

Dr. Mark Greene (played by Anthony Edwards) is in a particularly cynical mood and challenges nurse Carol Hathaway (played by Juliana Margulies) to see if there are as many sane patients as kooks who come through the emergency room. Dr. Greene, believing that the number of kooks far out-distances the number of sane patients, wins the contest. I will do my best to portray this episode accurately from my memory.

In the midst of the episode, black Physician Assistant Jeanie Boulet (played by Gloria Reuben) uncovers an unconscious patient’s torso to reveal a Ku Klux Klan tattoo over his heart. She asks Dr. Greene to find someone else to care for this patient but he declines. Later, the patient regains consiousness and is actually a very gentle and polite man. When Boulet enters his room, cold and indifferent, to give him sutures, she ask him to lower his gown and at first he is reticent and asks for a different nurse. She insists and he lowers his gown revealing the tattoo. He then asks her a most profound question. He asks, “Do you believe in the power of God to change a life?” She retorts, “What does that tattoo have to do with God?” He said, Well, I was hoping you wouldn’t have to see that tattoo, that’s why I requested another nurse. It’s not something I’m proud of. But the Lord Jesus Christ has changed my life. … once there was nothing but hatred and fear in me [but] God has changed me and I have love and faith. … do you believe in the power of God to change a life?”

In a fashion uncharacteristic of Hollywood, ER set the testimony of a life changed by the gospel of Jesus Christ as the only sane one in the midst of wackos and crazy people (including some of the doctors themselves).

A little later in the episode, Boulet is still contemplating the question she as been asked.   (p. 12)

What do you think?

  • Can God change lives?
    bbb
  • Can He remove hatred and replace it with love?
    rr
  • Can He remove fear and replace it with confidence?
    dd
  • Can He make truth-tellers out of liars?
    vvv
  • Can He make dead-beat fathers responsible and reliable men and husbands?
    mmm
  • Can the gospel of Jesus Christ take unforgiving, bitter, and angry men and women and turn them into sweet and gentle forgivers with generous hearts toward all?
    fff
  • Can God bring grace into a man’s life so that his life takes a completely different turn into a new direction that stuns everyone who ever knew him before?

Christian, what are you waiting for?

  1. Go tell the world.
  2. Go live a transformed life by the power of His Spirit.
  3. Start with number 2.

Privileged for a Purpose

Privileged for a Purpose

 

priesthood-believer

Why did God choose you? Why did he draw your heart to himself? Why were you placed in a family or a situation where you heard the truth of the gospel and bowed your heart in belief? Why were you privileged to hear and understand and believe and receive Christ as Savior? The “penny dropped”; you understood your need for a Savior; you knew you needed to be rescued from the guilt of your sin and you trusted in the “Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world” (John 1:29).

You don’t have to guess about any of that. The apostle Peter removed all doubt. Writing to a group of persecuted Christians he marches through a list of royal privileges that are true of all those who follow the Risen Christ.

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. (1 Peter 2:9, ESV)

We, the people bought by the blood of Christ, are …

  • A chosen race,
  • A royal priesthood,
  • A holy nation,
  • A people for his own possession.

Before we believed, none of these things applied to any of us. But believing in Christ opened up a relationship of privilege, honor, and responsibility with the living God. Peter underscores the wonder and awe of this new relationship by reaching back and borrowing the language of Hosea in the very next verse.

Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.

Priesthood of Believers 2How are we to respond to the wonder of having no part in the family of God to being given the right to be called children of God (John 1:12)? Again, we don’t have to guess. Peter tells us. We have been given these privileges and rights and titles and callings that we “may proclaim the excellencies of him who called us out of darkness into his marvelous light.”

The answer to why God has made us a part of his family is that we might tell the world about him and what he has done for us. He wants us to bask in the wonder of being adopted into his family so that we will become passionate proclaimers of his greatness. This is why we were chosen; this is why we were given a royal priesthood; this is why we have been made into a holy nation; this is why he took possession of us to the praise of his glory, and this is why we have been entrusted with the ministry of reconciliation (cf. 2 Corinthians 5:17-21).

It is this passionate purpose that was to fuel the “priesthood of believers” in all generations, but for centuries, the privilege and power of this calling were obscured by the medieval clergy-laity distinctions that hardened and obscured its beauty and potential. In the “fullness of time,” the protestant reformation was the tool the Spirit of God used to chisel it out of the Scripture again, and through which the Church began the process of bringing it to light again. But what is it?

The doctrine of the priesthood of believers is that every follower of Christ has direct access to God without any other mediator than Christ so that each believer can respond directly to God and can minister to other people in the name of Christ. God has commissioned all believers in Christ to (1) “respond directly to him” and (2) “minister to other people” in the name of Christ. Clergy aren’t needed for this, believers are.

This is why Paul says, “I appeal to you … brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship” (Romans 12:1). We are invited, no, commanded, to function as priests in the holy task of giving ourselves to the service of God. This is why the writer to the Hebrews writes that we should offer up a “sacrifice of praise to God, … Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing God” (Hebrews 13:15-16). And right there in these verses is the outline of the tasks that churches and shepherds need to give themselves to in the equipping of the saints for ministry (cf. Ephesians 4:11-12).

The saints need to be trained and equipped in at least these three areas:

  • How to pray to and praise the Living God in the name of Christ,
  • How to do good in the name of Christ,
  • How to be hospitable in the name of Christ.

This is the work of the ministry. Equipping the saints for their priestly role is at least this: training them to offer worship and prayer to God as they do good in the world, and show hospitality. We do these things because they ensure that the gospel is adorned with credible lives and causes the world to see our light “shine before others so that they may see our good works and give glory to our Father who is in heaven” (cf. Matthew 5:16).

Local churches that take this ministry seriously, who give real substantive thought as to how to equip the saints for these and other scripturally mandated activities (teaching, counseling, intercession to name a few) will change the landscape of the culture. When the saints function well in the priesthood that they have been given, the result is that “the excellencies of him who called us out of darkness and into his marvelous light” is proclaimed for all the world to see (cf. 1 Peter 2:9b).

A version of this article was published in the Summer 2016 edition of EFCA TODAY.

“What will the racist Christians do now?”

My friend at Insanitybytes2 has written a thoughtful post on the current culture clash between the East and the West. And to it, I would add for my doubting friends, Judeo-Christian culture, and Christianity, in particular, is not the enemy of the West. Radical Islam is. The link to her post is below.

“What will the racist Christians do now? Will they hate on gays or Muslims?” Those words and others just like them came through my facebook feed in response to the tragic shooting in Or…

Source: “What will the racist Christians do now?”

Bumper Sticker Enthusiasm

Sox vs CubsI was driving through the neighborhood yesterday and had what I considered an interesting thought. What if what people put on their bumper, or lawn, or FaceBook banner, or hung from a pole at their house, was a statement of the highest order of enthusiasm a person possessed? What would it say about us and the things that give us the most joy in life?

Humbling thought.

I thought of my own bumper.

I have a Philadelphia Eagles bumper sticker on the back of my car.

It’s an enthusiasm I proclaim to all the world.

Here are some of the enthusiasms I see all the time in our neck of the woods.

  • Cubs Flags
  • White Sox Flags
  • Cardinals Flags
  • Proud Union Home Signs
  • Watseka Warriors Signs and Banners
  • Chicago Bears Flags
  • Chicago Black Hawks Flags
  • and don’t forget the Chicago Bulls Logo
  • There also a smattering of Packers homes and Indianapolis homes and we know that because of the Green and Blue flags flying from poles and entryways to their homes during football season.
  • American flags are also easy to find, not just on holidays but all year long.

There are others but those are the predominate enthusiasms proclaimed on houses and cars in this part of north-east-central Illinois. On a bike ride the other day I saw a mailbox shaped like a fish. Do you think the homeowner is a fan of fishing? Another mailbox was festooned with a tractor. Do you think the homeowner might be a farmer?

We fly these banners without fear. We know that Cubs fans will sneer at White Sox flags and we don’t care. We know that fishing fans will smile and others will simply ignore our mailbox professions.

We don’t fear retaliation.
We don’t fear upsetting people.
We don’t care about standing out as different.
Those fears simply never come into play.

So why do we fear to just as boldly proclaim our enthusiasm for Christ?

Is it perhaps that we have a greater fear of man than we have of Christ? What does Jesus have to say about that? We don’t have to guess about that.

Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows. So everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven, but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven.

Matthew 10:31-33 (ESV)

In our day, “he who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” (Revelation 3:22)

Multiplying Disciples for the King

Monday Discussion

discipleship“Discipling leads to reproduction and finally multiplication, which are God’s design and method to reach the world. Because the church has largely ignored the process, the cause of Christ has greatly suffered.”  

(Bill Hull, The Disciple Making Church, p.13)

Questions:

  1. If the main task is to make disciples, how could the church ignore it?
  2. What will you do to become a multiplying disciple so you can help your church get back on task?

Weep, Weep, and Pray until Your Praying Turns to an Open Mouth for the Gospel

Monday Discussions on Mission

This post was originally written in July of 2010, almost 6 years ago. Has anything changed in your church since then? Is this still not one of the greatest failures of our churches in this era?

Thom Rainer is reporting that a survey reveals the following about American Christians. I haven’t had time to read all of the article but for the purposes of our…

Source: Weep, Weep, and Pray until Your Praying Turns to an Open Mouth for the Gospel