Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Overcoming Adversity

As we were spending some time in prayer this morning at church, the passages read really hit home.  One of them was from Nehemiah 4.  The wall is beginning to be rebuilt by this point, and the people are moving along quite well.  Nehemiah has them positioned strategically throughout the city, working hard to complete the work.  However, chapter four begins this way: "Now when Sanballat heard that we were building the wall, he was angry and greatly enraged, and he jeered at the Jews."

In the midst of victory, there was opposition.  This opposition took the form of words first, as Sanballat and Tobiah began to mock the Jews.  They called the walls "heaps of rubble", and declared that even if only a fox were to walk on the wall, he would break it down.

This hit home because often when we find ourselves moving forward in the will of God, adversity will present itself.  At the beginning, this will often come in the form of attempted discouragement.

You can't do it.

It's too hard.

Give up before you look like the fool.

Even if you complete the task, it will all fall apart later.

These words, unfortunately, are often the attack of Satan.  Sure, he uses people.  Sometimes those people even profess to be followers of Christ.  Most people when they see something which looks impossible want to give up, but that is not our call.  We are called to press forward.

Nehemiah knows what to do.  In verse 4 we see the words "Hear, O God".  Then, in verse 6, "So we built the wall."  He offers the enemy to God, and continues the work.  They didn't allow the jeering to stop them.  They didn't slow down their efforts.  They moved forward.

This made the enemy mad.  It always does when we refuse to give in to discouragement.  So then Sanballat and Tobiah go another route.  They decide they need to marshal an army and attack.  Verse 9 gives us the response of the Jews: "And we prayed to our God and set a guard as protection against them day and night."  They do the two things we should all do; pray and prepare.  They again offer their enemies to God, and are watchful.  They trust God, and continue the work.

We read until verse 14, where Nehemiah stand before the people with an important lesson.  "Do not be afraid of them.  Remember the Lord, who is great and awesome, and fight for your brothers, your sons, your daughters, your wives, and your homes."  The battles we face, the wars we fight, the temptations we struggle with, the victories so hard to achieve; we need to remember that we fight these not only for ourselves, but for those around us.  The Jews needed to remember that though they were building this wall for themselves, it was also for brothers, sons, daughters, wives and homes.  Victory was going to have a lasting impact.  So what should they do?  "Remember the Lord, who is great and awesome."

Perhaps you are facing some of the same things I am right now.  God calling us forward, but people around shouting discouraging words.  What should we do?  It was in our benedictory reading.

"Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.  Be sober-minded; be watchful.  Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.  Resist him, firm in your faith."  

Monday, February 25, 2013

Suffering for the Church

I am preaching on Colossians 1:24-29 this week, and verse 24 really struck me.

"Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ's afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church." - Colossians 1:24.

As I was studying through this passage, the commentary by William Barclay really draws out some profound insights.  Let me share a little bit.

"Paul begins this passage with a daring thought.  He thinks of the sufferings through which he is passing as completing the sufferings of Jesus Christ himself.  Jesus died to save his Church, but the Church must be upbuilt and extended; it must be kept strong and pure and true; therefore, anyone who serves the Church by widening her borders, establishing her faith, saving her from errors, is doing the work of Christ.  And if such service involved suffering and sacrifice, that affliction is filling up and sharing the very suffering of Christ.  To suffer in the service of Christ is not a penalty, but a privilege, for it is sharing in His work."

I hope this gets your mind working like it did mine!  Are we willing to suffer for the Church?  Are we willing to join Christ even in this way?  This may be one of the more difficult things for Christians today to grasp; that at times God wants us to suffer for there we get to join Christ in the most difficult aspect of His service.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

The Best Marriage Advice I Can Give

Marriage can be very difficult at times, and anyone who has been married for longer than a week will tell you the same thing.  It just is.  This year my wife and I will be celebrating our 10th Anniversary.  I'm pretty excited about the last 10 years, and even more excited about the 10, 20, 30...well, you get the idea.

Let me tell you, my marriage is fantastic.  I know it from the inside out, obviously, and I've never seen another marriage which I would compare.  Most of this has to do with having a wife who is extremely gracious, forgiving and patient.  Frankly, I feel sorry for other married men for having to settle for less than the best.

My best marriage advice has, for us, worked well.  I'm not saying there haven't been bumps along the road, but they have always drawn us closer together, not further apart.  So this is my advice: Focus on Jesus.  In my life, my wife is the second most important person, and she wouldn't have it any other way.  I am the second more important person in her life, and that is how I want it as well.  Our top priority is Jesus Christ.

In Scripture Husbands and Wives are given some commands, like "Husbands, love your wives as Christ loved the Church and gave Himself up for it."  Then it tells wives to "submit to your husbands", even to respect them.  Let me assure you of something; our marriage isn't this good because my wife always earns my love, and it certainly has nothing to do with me earning her respect or submission.  I have failed many times in the last 10 years, as has my wife.  There have been times when loving her was difficult, and when respecting me would have been impossible, but for this one thing; we don't love and respect because the other deserves it.  We do it because God told us to, and He comes first in our lives.

Many times people struggle with this, but I believe this is a strain not in their marriage, but in their relationship with God.  If I love God with all my heart, mind, soul and strength, I will love my wife whether she deserves it or not, because loving my wife is an act of worship to God!  That is the long and short of it.  So when I don't love my wife the way I should, I am failing in my worship to God.  Now, maybe she did something she shouldn't have, said something hurtful, or didn't respect me the way she was supposed to.  But my love for my wife has nothing to do with that, and has everything to do with God.

Therefore, when I don't love my wife as I've been commanded, I am committing idolatry.  I have chosen to worship self rather than God.  As hard as that may seem, it is the truth.  A tough truth, but truth nonetheless.

So my advice?  Love God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength.  Put your marriage into that framework, and see what God can do for you and your marriage.  

Monday, February 11, 2013

The Mind of Christ

Kinlaw’s book, The Mind of Christ, is a well written book on the inward work Christ needs to do in every Christian, particularly our minds.  Though a short book, it is nonetheless a worthy read. 
Kinlaw begins the book by stating that all can have this work, as it is a work of God, and not man.  In chapter 1 he calls it the “forgotten theme” of the Bible, and begins with the Old Testament, paying particular attention to Abraham.  He tells us that we are to have the mind of Christ, which is the opposite of the mind of the world, or the “carnal” mind, which is opposed to the work of God.
He continues in chapter 2 talking about Abraham’s righteousness, pointing out that Abraham’s righteousness is not based on believing what is right, desiring what is right, or even in doing what is right.  The inward is what matters to God, not the outward.  The title of the chapter is an important question which he attempts to answer here: “Doing Right or Being Righteous?”  He points out that Abraham did what was right according to the law, but still was not righteous.
In chapter 3 Kinlaw begins to take us into the New Testament with a journey through the gospel of John.  In this chapter his intent is to introduce us to Christ, and points out the four-fold presentation of Jesus given to us in John’s gospel.  Jesus is presented as the rejectable King, the humble King, the servant King and the self-sacrificing King.  He tells us that if we are going to get the Mind of Christ, we must start with understanding who Christ is, as well as His life’s purpose.
Chapter 4 continues the journey in the gospels, this time turning to Mark.  Here, instead of focusing on Christ, the attention is turned to us, and the Disciples in particular.  We must not only understand who Christ is, but who we are.  Going through the gospel of Mark, particularly the second half of the gospel, Kinlaw points out the desperate need the Disciples had for the Holy Spirit.  Despite Jesus’ teaching and living with them, they still displayed the carnality of the world.  The key, we are told, is Jesus’ comment to Peter: “You do not think as God thinks.”
Chapter 5 is all about the spiritual life versus the carnal life.  Here we are taken to Romans 8.  He discusses the tug-of-war in believers who haven’t had this infilling of the Spirit’s power.  The carnal life, Paul tells us, will lead us to death, while the life of Christ through the Spirit is true life.  The need of every believer is to be entirely transformed by the power of the Spirit, giving themselves over to the will of God.  This must be a complete surrender to God. 
In chapter 6 we are taken to I Corinthians, where Paul is telling the believers what they are, or ought to be; “saints” and “holy” are the terms Paul uses.  The problem which is pointed out is that while the Corinthian church has begun the journey of redemption, they have not completed it.  Their carnal spirits are coming out in their attitudes of jealousy, their quarreling, and their immorality.  They are on their way to what God has in store for them, but have not yet reached it.  Kinlaw again uses the example of the Apostles, who lived and served with Christ, yet still needed the Holy Spirit.  It was Pentecost which turned them around. 
In this chapter we are given John Wesley’s path of redemption, which is important to the entire book.  This idea of having the mind of Christ, and being completely transformed, needs to be put into a logical order so that the reader knows it’s not something for a few, but for all.  It is God’s plan of holiness for every believer.  Kinlaw does a good job of pointing this out.  “There’s nothing defective with our conversion experience, but conversion only starts us on the path of further insight into the real nature of our relationship with God.  As we mature in the Christian life, we realize more keenly our dependence on God for everything that we do.” (pg. 95)
Our last stop in the New Testament in found in chapter 7, as we are taken to the book of Philippians.  Kinlaw points out that in this book is found one of the key verses concerning having the mind of Christ.  “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus.”  He points out four negative characteristics of the carnal mind which Paul points out in Philippians; self-interest, vain conceit, grumbling and questioning.  These are the things which separate the mind of Christ from the mind of the world.  The mind of Christ is sacrificial, and that is what we need to be as well.  We need to be willing to give complete control to God, sacrificing all for Him as He did for us.  This is what will give us the mind of Christ.
In chapter 8 Kinlaw takes us right back to where the journey began; Christ.  Understanding now that it is the will of God that every believer take this journey, we read about the “Arm of the Lord,” which came to intercede; to bring the sinner and grace together.  As that was Christ’s aim, so it is ours.  If we are going to be able to live as Christ did, the focus needs to be on His willingness to sacrifice all.  The burden which He carried for the lost needs to also burden us. 
All in all, I thought it was a useful book.  Kinlaw does a good job of taking us repeatedly to Scripture, pointing out that struggling with the carnal nature is normal for believers, but it isn’t the end here in this world.  In the seventh chapter, he points out something which is important to this study; if we say only in the next world can we know true victory by having the mind of Christ, we are wasting it.  “In another world, such a life would be far less valuable than it is here.” (104)  Not only is this important to the study, but should show us what this is all about.  The point of having the mind of Christ is for us to fulfill the work of Christ.  We cannot do this without His burden and willingness to sacrifice.  Those things are entirely against everything in our nature.  So, if we are going to do His work, we must have His mind.  We must do our work in His power and wisdom.  Only then can we be successful in our endeavors to be an intercessor. 
If I were to say anything negative about the book, it would simply be that while Kinlaw points out that having the mind of Christ will make us more like Him, He doesn’t go into a lot of detail.  While he does do a good job of giving us illustrations from people’s lives, such as Amy Carmichael and Josef Tson, we still aren’t taken to how it will show in our own lives, apart from sacrifice and intercession. He spends a lot of time telling us what we shouldn’t be, and not as much time telling us what it looks like when we experience the mind of Christ.  It is hinted at, but never really spoken of in any great detail.  Mind you, this is probably not something easily explored in such a small book, and probably wasn’t his aim anyway. 
This book would be good for both pastors and laymen alike.  While I enjoyed the book myself, there was little that I haven’t read elsewhere.  That being said, it is probably one of the better books on this for those who don’t do as much reading, as it is simple, precise and a very easy read.  

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Movements that Changed the World

Recently I finished a book recommended to me called "Movements that Changed the World" by Steve Addison.  I thought it would be good to write a quick review here.  I really enjoyed the book, and found it gave me a lot of insight into the future of our church.  We are looking to plant a church in the near future, and this gave us some good insights into how we can go about doing this in the most effective way possible.

The sub-title to the book is "Five Keys to Spreading the Gospel."  These five keys are
                      - White hot faith
                      - Commitment to a cause
                      - Contagious relationships
                      - Rapid mobilization
                      - Adaptive methods

The author uses Scripture and history to show us how these things have been effective for the history of the church.  I love the fact that he uses so much history, such as Saint Patrick and the Moravians.  What I especially loved, considering my own church context, was his use of John Wesley and Francis Asbury.

The other thing about this is that the author doesn't just use history, but Scripture, showing how not only how these things are taught in the Bbile, but how they are worked out in the life of Jesus.

I recommend this book for church leaders as well as lay people.  It really isn't a "leadership" book as much as it is a book meant to give us the tools we need to move the church forward.

One other great thing about this book is the fact that at the end of the book, there is an opportunity to go deeper.  It has a book study in the back, going though each of these five keys with questions good for either individuals or groups.  Most books want you to buy both the book and the study, but here they are one and the same!

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Justification - What is it?

I was recently part of a class where the discussion was all about the doctrine of justification, and how the Catholics and Protestants see it differently.  For this discussion they had a Catholic theologian as well as a Protestant one.  To be frank, I disagreed with both of them.  Let me explain.

The Catholic stated that justification was the act of God declaring us to be righteous once we had believed in God, repented of our sins and began to live a righteous life.  Once this happens, God declares us righteous.  The Protestant was quick to point out that this was, in his view, a "works" salvation.

His response was that God calls us righteous, not because of our walk, but because of Jesus' righteousness.  In other words, we are declared justified, or right in the eyes of God, not because of what we have done, but because of what Jesus has done on our behalf.  The Catholic was quick to point out that God was therefore calling someone righteous who wasn't.  For this, this was an issue.

I agreed with the Protestant that the Catholic view represented above sounds too much like Pelagianism, the idea that we work for our salvation.  However, I also agreed with the Catholic's critique of the Protestant.  Will God truly call someone righteous who is not?

This is why I land somewhere in the middle, though perhaps it is in actuality far from both.  I believe that when God brings a sinner from the world of darkness and adopts the person into His family, He is declared righteous.  This isn't, though, because God "sees Jesus' righteousness" instead of our unrighteousness, but that Jesus righteousness is imparted into us.  This is still not a works salvation, because God gives me the righteousness of Christ.  I am inwardly regenerated, and made into a new creation.  Neither, though, is it that God declares me to be something which I am not.  I am indeed righteous, as the work of Christ on the Cross and through the Resurrection has been worked out in my heart.

This was something I stated in the class.  Then, a few weeks later, I was reading "John Wesley's Concept of Perfection" by Leo George Cox, and came across this.

“Yet though these two works are distinct [justification and sanctification], God does not justify any whom He does not sanctify.  God is not deceived in those He declares to be righteous, for He does not account them to be otherwise than they are.  The consequence is that God does not justify any except whom He sanctifies, at least initially, with the result that one who is declared righteous actually is made righteous at the same time, although the two acts of God are different works.”  Leo George Cox

This sums up my thinking on the matter, and gives me an even greater appreciation for what Jesus has done for me and in me.  What an awesome God we serve!