Training the Heart to Not Fight with God

Reading with the Pastor
Matthew 22  and  Psalm 27

Jesus confounds his enemies. One by one they come. First, the Pharisees joined by the Herodians (vs. 15), then the Sadducees (vs. 23). Finally, the Pharisees return (vs. 34). Each one questioner tries to trap Jesus in some way. But one by one he dispatches them with incisive wisdom and superior command of the Scripture.

They should have known better. Jesus even said so.

“You are mistaken, not understanding the Scriptures nor the power of God.”  (vs. 29)

In the end, all those who will not believe, go slinking away.

“No one was able to answer Him a word, nor did anyone dare from that day on to ask Him another question.”  (vs. 46)

Remember, you never had a better idea about anything in your life at any time in your life than the idea that Jesus has for your life at every moment of your life.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart
and lean not on your own understanding.
In all your ways acknowledge Him,
And He will make your paths straight.     (Proverbs 3:5-6)

Here’s a song based on Psalm 27 that you might want to give a listen. Counsel: Read the Psalm before you listen.

The Power of Discouragement


The Saints & the PoetsAll of us can identify with the power of encouraging word. Someone spoke into our lives at a particular moment and their encouragement was exactly what our thirsty spirit needed to carry on with a task or to hang on in a relationship, or finish a job that we had begun. 

But it works in reverse also doesn’t it?

Many of us can identify with being discouraged about something we wanted to do, some dream we had for our lives, some achievement we hoped to attain when someone poured cold water on us and doused the flame of our zeal, sometimes—forever.

Here’s one of those stories. Shun Lee Fong, a writer, actor, filmmaker and speaker writes the following in the book The Saints & the Poets.

“My grandfather, when he was a boy, was told by one of the his school teachers that he shouldn’t sing because he didn’t have the voice for it, and so he never sang again–until just after my youngest sister was born, at which time he sang a lullaby to her . . . with a voice as beautiful as an angel’s. It only took one careless comment, and all that beauty and music inside him was stilled for most of his life.”

What a tragedy! One word from a teacher and his voice was silenced for more than two generations in his family. 

Discouraging words are powerful. Too powerful.

Today’s Reading with the Pastor chapters were Matthew 15 and Psalm 20. In Matthew 15 we are told the story of another encounter that Jesus had with the Pharisees and in this one, Jesus sought to correct the burdensome and discouraging teaching of the scribes and Pharisees together. He speaks to them (vss. 1-9) and then he turns to the crowd and the disciples and encourages them with an explanation of his teaching (vss. 10-20).

Why?

Because Jesus knows the value of correct teaching and an encouraging word.

Remember that. And follow Him with all your heart.

“And may the Lord answer you in the day of trouble!
May the name of the God of Jacob set you securely on high!”

Psalm 20:1

Why Christianity over Atheism?

Red Leaders 2Some time back, I was involved with in a discussion with an atheist friend who tried to make the point that Christians as a group are some of the most immoral people they knew. Those weren’t the exact words but that’s a good approximation of the gist of what he said. It got me thinking.

Did he really mean that? Or was this a piece of hyperbole thrown out in frustration? Personally, I don’t get it. Yes, I know so-called Christians that do not represent Christ well. (I’m sure that I don’t sometimes.) But does atheism produce Mother Teresa’s? Does atheism produce Rich Mullins’s (who though he could have been filthy rich), was living on $25,000 a year and poured all of his music royalties into an Indian reservation in Arizona? Does Atheism produce Amy Carmichael’s (started dozens of orphanages all over India and served there without furlough for 58 years?) Does atheism produce more admirable, altruistic citizens of the planet than theism and Christianity? I don’t think so.

We become what we worship and the preponderance of evidence is that atheism, with notable exceptions, tends to produce many more, shall we say, less-than-safe citizens of the planet. My friend mentioned the Crusades, an admitted black mark against the Church and Christianity, but I would argue that they happened precisely because the church had lost the Bible and was not being guided by the teachings of Christ. On the other hand, the atheistic societies of China, the Soviet Union, and Cambodia killed millions and millions as a direct application of their godless worldview.

In A.D. 133 Aristeides, a teacher of philosophy presented a defense of Christianity to the emperor, Hadrian. Here’s his record of what the teaching of Christ was producing:

“Now the Christians, O King . . . have the commandments of the Lord Jesus Christ himself engraven on their hearts, and they observe, looking for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come. They commit neither adultery nor fornication; nor do they bear false witness. They do not deny a deposit, nor covet other men’s goods; they honor father and mother, and love their neighbors; they give right judgment; and they do not worship idols in the form of man. They do not unto others that which they would not have done unto themselves. They comfort such as wrong them, and make friends of them. They labor to do good to their enemies . . . As for their servants or handmaids, or their children if any of them has any, they persuade them to become Christians for the love that they have towards them; and when they have become so, they call them without distinction ‘brethren.’

”They despise not the widow, and grieve not the orphan. He that hath distributeth liberally to him that hath not. If they see a stranger, they bring him under their roof and rejoice over him as if it were their own brother; for they call themselves brethren, not after the flesh, but after the spirit and in God. . . .

And if there is among them a man that is poor and needy, and they have not an abundance of necessities, they fast two or three days that they may supply the needy with their necessary food.”

cited in John Piper’s A Godward Life, page 303-304.

Does atheism produce such people? Does atheism aim to produce such people? The church does. People who follow the example of Jesus do. Yes, the church fails, sometimes fails miserably. But the point is, she succeeds far more often than does atheism and atheism doesn’t even aim at the target. Christianity and every church that I have helped to plant over the last 20 years (well over 250 that I have worked with) aims to produce exactly what Aristides told Hadrain.

“So,” I said to my young friend, “I will hold on to Christ, even with all the answers I don’t have, because he and the church that he founded is the world’s greatest hope and the best thing that ever happened to the world.”

Desiring God

Rereading Classic Books

Desiring GodLast night, while re-reading for the fourth time, John Piper’s Desiring God, I was reminded why I am a “Christian Hedonist.” Buy the book and read it slowly.

Back in college when I first came to trust in Christ, when I first starting reading the Bible regularly (hours a day at times), and became entranced with the teachings of Christ, I remember the seed of what John Piper has termed “Christian Hedonism” and how it began to take root in my soul. I remember a paper I wrote for a Philosophy class on why men (mankind) do what they do. What is it that drives their motivations? 

I wrote that all men do what they do, even the corrupt and evil things they do because they think that that thing is what is going to give them happiness. We are misguided but the thing we want, happiness, is a good thing, a moral thing.

Then I read C.S. Lewis and his book Reflections on the Psalms, (similar to Piper), and his discussion of why praise of God and the command to praise God, is not God on an ego trip but God inviting us to deeper happiness and truer joys. Years later I would read Piper’s book Desiring God and there, with far more eloquence and depth of understanding than I had ever developed, Piper explicated and named the thing, CHRISITAN HEDONISM.

Last night, while re-reading Desiring God I came across this:

Christian hedonism is a philosophy of life built on the following five convictions:

  1. The longing to be happy is a universal human experience, and it is good, not sinful.
  2. We should never try to deny or resist our longing to be happy, as though it were a bad impulse. Instead we should seek to intensify this longing and nourish it with whatever will provide the deepest and most enduring satisfaction.
  3. The deepest and most enduring happiness is found only in God. Not from God, but in God. [My addition, “in a joyful embrace of obedience to an always good God.” (mps)]
  4. The happiness we find in God reaches its consummation when it is shared with others in the manifold ways of love.
  5. To the extent we try to abandon the pursuit of our own pleasure, we fail to honor God and love people. Or, to put it positively: the pursuit of pleasure is a necessary part of all worship and virtue. That is, 

The chief end of man is to glorify God
BY
enjoying him forever.

p. 23

Yes!

I am a Christian Hedonist and I commend the philosophy to you.

I commend you to live for your greatest joy.
I commend you to live for the best and most flourishing of life.
I commend you to find all your joys in Him.
You will only be satisfied when you are most delighted in Him.
So delight yourself in Him and find yourself satisfied.

A Story About the Church that Should Break Your Heart

thabiti-mug-shot

Thabiti Anyabwile is an African-American pastor, former Muslim, and a wise and truly biblical thinker for our age. God has raised him up and is using him to help the Church in America think rightly about itself. 

thabiti-book-coverIn his 2008 book published by Crossway Books under the title What is a Healthy Church Member? he begins his first chapter with a break-your-heart story. At least, I hope it breaks your heart.

Jenny surprised me when she started crying during our membership interview. The first twenty minutes of the interview were fairly routine. She recounted her childhood growing up in a Christian home, her high school years filled with fear, and a period of living as a prodigal during college. Then she recalled with some joy her conversion experience in a hometown local church.

So I did not expect her to sob at the question, ‘How was that church for you spiritually? Did you grow there?’

After pausing for a moment, she explained, ‘I expected that after my conversion someone would have helped me to grow as a Christian.’ She continued with a distinct trace of confusion and anger: ‘But it was as if people put me in a corner somewhere, as if they expected me to figure things out on my own. It was a terrible and lonely time.’”   [Bold emphasis added]

This breaks my heart because it is a clear example of a church that had no process of ministry for making disciples—which is the number one task of the church (see Matthew 28:16-20).

Babes in Christ need nurture to “grow in the grace and knowledge of Christ” (2 Peter 3:18). We can be busy doing a lot of things in the church, . . . a lot of good things, but if we aren’t multiplying disciples, we aren’t being faithful to Christ and the results are catastrophic:

  • People stay broken and stalled in their growth toward Christlikeness
  • The gospel’s power to change lives is muted
  • The Kingdom of God is anemically expressed
  • God does not receive the glory due His name
  • The world is not confronted with the truth of the gospel

People of God, 

 ..     Israel of God,

…          redeemed of the Lord …

…                      we must do better.

We simply must give attention and effort to caring for and loving the people of God with all their baggage and demands, with all their heartbreak and brokenness, with all their foibles and follies. If we don’t, we defame Him who died for us and rose for us and lives and reigns for us, and is coming back for us, because He has forgiven us and made us His own possession (Titus 2:14).

Beloved at Manchester Creek Community Church, we will. Looking forward to the year 2017 and the equipping of the flock for the works of the ministry. 

The Beginning of the End of Death

flat-line-image

That’s one way to think of Christmas. With the incarnation, with the God-man Savior, the plan of the Father to conquer sin and its effects, including death, is unleashed. Christmas is the beginning of the end for death. All those who rightly fear death can run to a Savior who rescues them from death and transforms death and its fears into celebration and life–eternal life.

Five months before he died, C.S. Lewis wrote a woman who feared that her own death was imminent. Lewis said, ‘Can you not see death as a friend and deliverer? … What is there to be afraid of? … Your sins are confessed. … Has this world been so kind to you that you should leave with regret? There are better things ahead than any we leave behind. … Our Lord says to you, “Peace, child, peace. Relax. Let go. I will catch you. Do you trust me so little?’ … Of course, this may not be the end. Then make it a good rehearsal” …

—quoted in Randy Alcorn’s book, Heaven

For some time, I have been telling my children that if I ever show signs of dementia or Alzheimer’s, I want them to get me a one-way ticket to a Muslim country, say goodbye and let me go to preach the gospel and die a martyr before I lose my mind entirely! I will have a glorious end; I won’t be a burden on the family, and they will have great stories to tell my grandchildren!

How can I and others live that way?

Because Jesus came to die for me and death no longer has any power over me, because my sins (that would have condemned me) have been covered by the sacrifice of Christ, there is no fear in death. 

Which reminds me of another great truth underscored by C.S.Lewis. In the book, a Severe Mercy, Sheldon Vanauken tells the story of meeting and developing a friendship with Lewis who presented the truth of the gospel in such thought provoking ways that Sheldon and his girlfriend, Davy, came to know Christ. Vanauken tells of the day they said farewell. Lewis and Sheldon, along with Davy were parting. Vanauken passed to the other side of the road at a street light and then above the din of the surrounding traffic, Lewis’s voice boomed out, “Besides, Christians never really say goodbye.”

That’s right. We are headed toward a great reunion. Death is swallowed up in the victory of Christ (1 Corinthians 15:50-57). Our death-conquering Lord forgives. And that is always a great message to remember and rejoice in at Christmas.

So, until God calls us home, let’s be a people filled with joy and let’s be found announcing the coming of the Kingdom of God. Our death-conquering Lord forgives. And that is always a great message to remember and rejoice in at Christmas.

How Harvard Shaped the Nation (long ago)

The following historical time-capsule is from Kairos Journal. It is a great reminder that great beginnings do not necessarily end well. Harvard had a great evangelistic thrust for the gospel at its inception but not so much anymore. Whatever the gain for the nation in terms of its present structure, it is a loss for the nation that such a spiritual heritage has been abandoned. 

All things spiritual tend to a downward spiral without constant spiritual and doctrinal vigilance. And that is a good lesson to learn for denominations, churches, and individual Christians too.

harvard-universityThe Rise of the Pastor-Scholar

When Sir Walter Mildmay founded Emmanuel College in Cambridge in 1584, he planted a seedbed for a new sort of minister: the preacher/scholar/pioneer. Wave after wave of committed graduates, who initially made vigorous attempts to reform the English church, soon set sail to settle colonies in America committed to the glory of God.1 The vision of Emmanuel College took root on the shores of the New World. Harvard College, the first university in North America, was greatly benefited by John Harvard. An Emmanuel graduate, John Harvard bequeathed half his fortune and his entire library to the school to ensure that an educated clergy served the needs of these intrepid pilgrims. The commitment of a university in service to Church and society contributed greatly to the brimming promise of the American experiment and ongoing renewal in England.

Emmanuel College emerged at just the right time. The Church of England was in dire straits at the beginning of the reign of Elizabeth I (1558). In the first full decade of her reign, an ignorant clergy often prevented the clear preaching of the gospel of Christ.2 Across England: “virtually everywhere preaching resources were inadequate and over-stretched.”3 Godly leaders drew attention to the need for able pastors. The problem was clear: from what well would the hundreds of competent preachers spring? The answer was simple: the universities.

For various cultural and political reasons, evangelicals gained control of the universities of Oxford and Cambridge in the 1560s. Realizing the importance of these institutions, they quickly placed their best theologians in teaching positions. Young men were schooled both in the Scriptures and in the budding theological writings of Calvin, Bullinger, and the confessions.4 Moreover, in Cambridge several new colleges were established to train godly clergy: Emmanuel (1584) and Sidney Sussex (1596).

The situation in England changed quickly and dramatically. In 1568, one bishop could write of the “abundant crop of pious young men in our universities.”5 By 1573 Cambridge could claim to have trained 450 preachers and by 1600 half the clergy in England were graduates.6

Of course, universities alone could not provide an educated ministry. Christians in Britain began schools to produce qualified candidates for ministerial service. Consequently, literacy increased dramatically; both pastors and people could actually read their Bibles. Their American counterparts took the project even further. When Second Church in Boston sought to call Michael Powell, a pious and literate but not academically prepared man, as their pastor, the Puritan town fathers opposed the move. “[I]f such men intrude themselves into the sacred functions [of the ministry],” they concluded, “there is danger of bringing the profession into contempt.”7

Thanks to the efforts of these 16th century English Reformers, pastors became the most respected thinkers in their communities. They realized that education matters, especially for those whose charge is to rightly divide the word of truth. Within a few decades, they turned England around and set sound foundations for America, in great measure because they harnessed the power of theological education. It is imperative that pastors today regain this ancient perspective—that they be dynamic, well-informed leaders of their churches and communities; if not, they risk being further marginalized to the boundaries of the culture.

Footnotes:

1  This exodus began to take place in the early decades following 1620.
2  For example, in 1560, a survey in the diocese of Peterborough revealed only nine competent preachers from 166 clergy. See Christopher Haigh, English Reformations: Religion, Politics, and Society under the Tudors (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1993), 268.
3  Ibid., 268.
4  For more on the expansion of Calvin’s influence in England and broader Europe, see Alister McGrath, A Life of John Calvin (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1990), 196-202.
5  Haigh, Ibid., 270.
6  In the words of Reformation historian Christopher Haigh, “the supply of educated evangelists boomed.” Ibid., 271.
7  Town father, Richard Mather, as recounted in Harry Stout, The New England Soul (New York: Oxford University Press), 57