Wednesday, November 25, 2009

"The Already Not Yet" Aspect of the Christian Life

The Christian’s dilemma could be best characterized by the “already not yet” reality of the Christian life. As those who have trusted in Christ for our salvation, we stand before God in a positional state of “grace” (Romans 5:1-2). What this means is that we are no longer condemned, exonerated from wrath, covered by the blood of Jesus, promised an inheritance, and so forth. That’s the “already” aspect of being saved.

But then there is the “not yet.” Here in this life, we still struggle with the flesh, a battle with sin that reminds us that we are not yet perfect, nor ever will be in this life. We must rely on God’s ongoing forgiveness and grace and the empowerment of the Spirit to have any measure of victory over our sin. So as Paul said, we “press on,” we labor and strive to be holy and set apart for God. In Philippians 2, Paul says we should “continue to work out” our salvation. Not work for, but work out. We don’t earn our salvation, rather we are to demonstrate that we’ve received it by faith and that this Spirit-led faith compels us to change and grow spiritually. In other words, we seek to become like Jesus in character and conduct, and with the help of the Holy Spirit, seek to win souls and conform our lives to God’s will.

In sum, we are saved by grace, we stand in grace, and we grow spiritually by God’s grace which we need everyday in our lives. In one sense we are perfect in our standing before God, but still in the practical sense, not yet freed from our ongoing battle with sin. This is why we still need “daily grace” to forgive and cover our sin. Thanks be to God who gives us that abundantly.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Heart and Hands - What I Want to Copy and Paste from Jesus

I have found that after several years of ministry that there is no replacing personal time with God and a personal touch with people. As for the former, there is much to discover within the recesses of God's heart that cannot be discovered by mere experience but only in private consultation. I see his character within the pages of His revelation, but until I have stopped to ponder it over and again in my mind, I no nothing of it in any real tangible sense. It's just knowledge until it sinks deeper into my soul and takes root and shows itself in my consciousness, motives, and intentional activities. Perhaps this is what is meant by "participating in the divine nature" (2 Pet. 1:4). Not merely an awareness of God but a partnership and fellowship within the secret activities of the heart. Perhaps I am never more like God than when I am simply with him, enjoying the sweetness of joy that comes from a conversation that saturates the dry parts of my soul. This is where he reveals to me his heart in such a way that it changes mine. Truly this is what Brother Lawrence meant when he wrote "Practicing the Presence of God." I've noticed that even the Savior himself went up to the mountainside to pray. There's nothing like recharging with the Father. I want to know his heart.

As for the latter, God has been reminding me of what really matters in ministry. Nothing replaces quality time, purposeful interest, active listening, genuine encouragement, and timely follow-up. These are the things that touch the hearts of people. It expresses care and love, and it cannot be substituted in any way. It is the heart of a shepherd that people crave. For whether we pastors know it or not, we represent in some mysterious way the Chief Shepherd in a surrogate sense. We are "under shepherds," entrusted with the flock of God to whom we will give an account. And people can see right through us. They can sniff out a fake. But for the one who is the real deal, they will be quick to entrust their lives to you because they know you care.

How have I represented him? Have I shown others his heart? Do I reflect His compassion and come alongside others with an empathy and sympathy that would communicate His presence? These are the questions I must ponder. They are gripping. And I'm afraid that there are times when I fall way short of His holy calling. Paul said, "who is equal to such a task?" I know what he meant. And I know what Jesus meant when he said, "apart from me you can do nothing."

The temptation to do ministry "in the flesh" is there daily. Pride is a constant battle as I'm sure it is for most people. One must intentionally humble oneself to be used rightly. It's not that one should just pray for humility, but rather one must knowingly seek to place oneself in a humble state, looking for a way to lower oneself. God intentionally came to earth not as a man but as a baby. It was a purposeful choice. He pondered his path and took the low road. That's what we all must do. That, in some slight way, may be what Paul meant when he said that Jesus "emptied himself" (Phil. 2) -- he did not consider his equality with God something to use to his advantage, but became like one of us (except for sin). He went into the trenches with people, touched the untouchable, consoled the unconsolable, listened to those overlooked, gave grace and attention to those who called out for help, and did it all with dirty feet and unwashed hair. He also gave his life away...

That's what a shepherd does, and that's how he should minister to his flock. Lord make me like that. Make me like you in prayer, and make me like you with people.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

A Powerful Definition of Christian Counseling

I ran across this definition of what it means to receive counseling in the church by John Piper, and I felt it was instructive, insightful, and encouraging to share with you. May you be the "church in action" today on this weekday -- encouraging each other daily as the Day approaches.

"What is counseling? The God-centered, Bible-saturated, emotionally in-touch use of language to help people become God-besotted, Christ-exalting, joyfully self-forgetting lovers of people. Biblical counsel does not direct people to esteem themselves – it directs them to esteem God, and doing this means waging war. A Sunday sermon isn’t enough; neither is a weekly small group. To persevere in this fight, we are to “exhort one another every day, as long as it is called ‘today,’ that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin” (Hebrews 3:13). Hebrews teaches us that perseverance is essential in salvation, and that it is a community project. Satisfy your soul in the ultimate Treasure so you move away from comfort and toward need; fight for the salvation of your brothers and sisters in Christ; hold fast to the faith; encourage one another." ~ John Piper

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Speaking with Passion on What's Most Important

Recently I preached a series of messages on the Christian’s relationship to the governing authorities. It is not a subject that I am deeply endeared to but felt compelled to preach on as a result of encountering Jesus’ statement, “render to Caesar what belongs to Caesar” in Mark 12. In this statement Jesus legitimized human government, and in Romans 13 Paul expanded on it to teach us that government is something that God has sovereignly established on earth for the purpose of governing society, rewarding the good and punishing the bad, while providing a sense of restraint to evil and order to a sinful world.

His was not a statement of endorsement of all that an earthly government does, but merely an affirmation that God is the One who has established it for his sovereign purposes. Surely though, government exists for our good in the general sense even when it is not operated by godly people or is advocating biblical perspectives and policies.

It seems that on every street corner in this country the subject of politics, postmodern cultural warfare, economic and foreign policy, and health care are on the lips and minds of all who are alive and breathing. Opinions are as varied and strong as ever. The past two elections have seen more participation than in much of recent American history, and the intensity of the conversations and emotional weight that is thrown into them seems to be at all time high. I am a bit jealous of the intensity, to be honest, wishing that all Christians were mimicking it in our righteous living and in our conversations to all about how the cross saves believing sinners.

In a time like this, I believe that Christians have reached some fertile soil for sharing their faith. The firm foundation of absolute truth is a needed ointment to the disease of cultural relativism. People are longing for something stable, something true, something to believe in that is a much needed fix to the brokenness they are experiencing in the world, and they are fast coming to the conclusion that no political entity or process is going to be their salvation any time soon, no matter who is in charge.

We know the real truth however, that there is no salvation to be found in any earthly institution or authority, but rather true salvation is found only in the name of Jesus Christ. We don't need political salvation, but spiritual salvation. And this is where the blindness of Satan has captured many. For they think that if the economy is right, war is eradicated, and their political preferences all line up and are in place, that their lives are going to be profoundly fulfilled. They forget that spiritual matters are more important than anything else. And they don’t see that the personal sin issue is the biggest one of all.

All of what we see in the world comes right back to this. The spiritual nature of these earthly battles cannot be overlooked. There is a spiritual war going on here. The economic, cultural, social, and literal wars we are going through are merely symptoms of that greater spiritual warfare that hovers over them all. And without the right spiritual resolution, these things will only get worse. It could very well be that the common grace that God has used to restrain sin is being lifted a bit so that our world system is all the more in line with that which is described to come at the end.

I am no predictive prophet, but the feeling I have is that the time is short. The ground is fertile, and Christians need to be speaking God’s truth with a little more courage, purposefulness, and intensity than before. Come on Christian! Stand up. Proclaim the truth – speak the Gospel daily. Talk about the cross. Talk about forgiveness. Show unbridled love, a contagious joy, and an excitement about Christ.

Don’t despair. Don’t lose hope, and don’t place that hope in earthly temporal processes and institutions. Should we be voting and talking to our leaders about matters of right and wrong? Absolutely. We should do this as God has given us the miraculous freedom to do so. We should use the resources given to us to speak about matters of truth in areas such as abortion, medical ethics, marriage, and so on. Since these effect areas where we live, we must be engaged. Not consumed, but engaged. God’s truth is timeless and eternal, and is the standard by which all will be judged. So we better be speaking it with regard to all the practical areas of life. And to do this effectively we must also know our Bibles and know what God’s truth is (a plug for more biblical study).

There are some who spend all their days on the computer forwarding emails about political issues that bash this or that leader while their Bible sits on a shelf and their neighbors suffer in silence because no one is relationally loving and reaching out to them. My brethren, these things should not be. Merely making the world moral through political policies is not our ultimate goal – saving souls who are hell-bound without the Gospel of God’s grace is. This does not dismiss us or silence us from engaging on moral issues, it just rearranges our priorities so that the spiritual comes first in our minds before the earthly and temporal. And don't you think it might be important that before we speak one word about political issues in the coffee shop or the workplace, we must have already spoken ten words about Christ to our family members – our fathers, mothers, sons, daughters, aunts, uncles, cousins, grandchildren, and anyone else in our close quarters.

Remember this, God is in control of history. And He may be setting this world system up for His return. He is not responsible for evil, man is – but God orchestrates everything for His ordained ends. And He has commanded us to “hold on loosely” to this world and to go preach the Word! Go Christian – get up, get out there, and live and love radically for Christ. Fear not! The Lord is with you. He is mighty to save! (Zeph. 3:17)