Thursday, September 29, 2011

Mission Month 2011 Pastoral Letter

The phrase “disciple-making church” is redundant. The church of Jesus Christ exists for a very simple reason, to make disciples of all nations. When we turn our backs on this purpose we turn our backs on Jesus, the one to whom all authority has been given.

The church does not exist to restore the family. The church does not exist to preserve the moral order. The church does not exist to promote any political party’s agenda. The church does not exist to host worship gatherings. The church exists, plain and simple, to make disciples (i.e. devoted followers) of Jesus. This purpose may be plain and simple, but it is also world changing.

I believe God is beginning a momentous work within our midst. I believe he is directing us to rediscover who we are and what he wants us to be. This process will produce a refreshing simplicity of knowing that God wants us to be nothing more and nothing less than a family that makes disciples.

The aim of Mission Month 2011 is to remind us of the international emphasis of our disciple-making agenda. The Lord Jesus instructs us to make disciples of all nations. This adventure of seeing men and women and boys and girls become disciples from every tribe, tongue and nation will shape all that we do as a church family, even the seemingly insignificant things. In Romans 14 and 15, Paul is directing us to accept and welcome those who are different from us and the motivation behind this instruction is the Lord Jesus who:

…became a servant to the circumcised to show God’s truthfulness, in order to confirm the promises given to the patriarchs, and in order that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy (Rom 15.8-9a).

This final phrase serves as the theme for Mission Month 2011, because in it we are reminded that as Jesus was motivated to be a selfless servant “in order that Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy,” we too must be encouraged as individuals and as a church family to be selfless servants so disciples can be made from every tribe, tongue and nation. May the grace of God in the example of Christ lead us to a renewed energy to selflessly serve a church that exists in simplicity to make disciples of all nations.

Grace and Peace,
Pastor David                   

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

A Call to Prayer

Frankly, it amazes me how little effort most of us are willing to exhibit when it comes to the matter of corporate prayer. We are meeting this Wednesday in the sanctuary at 6:30p to engage with God in corporate prayer. These are difficult days for many of us. Please come pray for those for whom these days are especially difficult. Are these days filled with difficulty for you and your family? Be encouraged to prayerfully lean toward God all the time, but especially during difficult times. Consider these words from Stan Grenz and I hope to see you this Wednesday evening.    
The church of Jesus Christ faces many challenges today. Yet the greatest challenge is not what might initially come to mind. The greatest challenge is not that of urging Christians to speak out on the great social issues of the day or to engage in political action, even though such involvements are crucial. Nor is our greatest challenge that of encouraging each other to be more fervent in evangelizing the world, even though evangelization ought to be of concern to every Christian. Rather, the greatest challenge facing the church of Jesus Christ today, and therefore every local congregation, is motivating the people of God to engage in sincere, honest, fervent prayer (Stanley Grenz, Prayer: The Cry for the Kingdom, 1).

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

An Eastern Orthodox Summary of the Gospel

In the July edition of Christianity Today, David Neff interviewed Bishop Kallistos Ware, the metropolitan archbishop of the Eastern Orthodox Church in the U.K. Ware had just visited North Park University and Wheaton College, where he lectured on the relationship between Evangelicalism and Orthodoxy. Neff asked the Archbishop to succinctly summarize the Christian message. This was his moving summary. I’d love to hear your thoughts.   

I believe in a God who loves humankind so intensely, so totally, that he chose himself to become human. Therefore, I believe in Jesus Christ as fully and truly God, but also totally and unreservedly one of us, fully human. The love of God is so great that Christ died for us on the cross. But love is stronger than death, and so the death of Jesus was followed by his resurrection. I am a Christian because I believe in the great love of God that led him to become incarnate, to die, and to rise again. That's my faith. All of this is made immediate to us through the continuing action of the Holy Spirit.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Prayer and the Full Armor of God

At the conclusion of his letter to the Ephesians, Paul teaches us concerning the primary tactic God’s people should use in doing battle against the enemy and the forces of evil he seeks to energize (6.10-20). Paul coaches us with these imperatives,
Be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power …
Put on the full armor of God …
Stand firm …
Take up the shield of faith …
Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit …
Having obeyed Paul’s instructions, we are now prepared to receive his final and climactic exhortation.
And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people. Pray also for me, that whenever I speak, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should (6.18-20, NIV).
It seems as if the paragraph concerning the Full Armor of God (6.10-17), is designed by Paul to prepare us to go to battle in prayer as we obey the encouraging words that follow (6.18-20). Prayer is the context in which the Armor of God is designed to be effective. Prayer is the way we take our stand against the devil’s schemes. Prayer is the way we struggle against the authorities, the powers of this dark world and the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Please consider enlisting in the battle against evil that will occur through the prayers of God’s people. Gathering to Pray happens at SBC on Wednesday evening at 6:30PM! We will sing, pray, receive communion, and pray some more.  Pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests (Ephesians 6.18a, NIV).

For further encouragement to spend time in prayer with our gracious Abba in heaven, view this short video.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Nothing Other Than Prayer

“We do not drift into spiritual life; we do not drift into disciplined prayer. We will not grow in prayer unless we plan to pray. That means we must self-consciously set aside to do nothing but pray” (D.A. Carson, A Call to Spiritual Reformation, 19). These words from Don Carson, encouraging us to set aside specific time for nothing but prayer have the weight of Scripture behind them. The Psalmist practiced the discipline of scheduled prayer.

Seven times a day I praise You, because of Your righteous ordinances (Psalm 119.164, NASB)

Evening, morning and noon I cry out in distress, and he hears my voice (Psalm 55.17, NIV).

As leaders in the first-century church, the Apostles continued the Old Testament pattern of regular times of prayer with God’s people. 

One day Peter and John were going up to the temple at the time of prayer – at three in the afternoon (Acts 3.1, NIV).

The Apostle Paul devoted himself to what the first century church called, “the prayers.”

… always in my prayers making request, if perhaps now at last by the will of God I may succeed in coming to you (Romans 1.10, NASB).

… [I} do not cease giving thanks for you in my prayers (Ephesians 1.16, NASB)

We give thanks to God always for all of you, making mention of you in our prayers (1 Thessalonians 1.2, NASB).

In each of these instances Paul is referring to a disciplined and specific time that he, along with others, prayed.

Jesus himself understood the necessity of regular times of prayer.

But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed (Luke 5.16, NIV).

This list of Scriptural proofs could go on and on about how God’s people, during times of desperate need pursued God in prayer as individuals and as a group (cf. Daniel 6). When is your regular disciplined time of doing nothing else aside from prayer? As a church family we have set aside Wednesdays at 6:30pm for corporate prayer. Nothing more. Nothing less. Wednesday evening is for prayer. Nothing can replace the power of God that is only experienced when we gather together to pray. What could be more important? Please join us in the sanctuary, this Wednesday at 6:30pm for our weekly Gathering to Pray. We will sing. We will pray. We will receive communion. We will pray some more. Please come enjoy the presence and grace of God with us. If you need even more encouragement, please watch this testimony from Pastor Jim Cymbala about the Tuesday Night Prayer Meetings at The Brooklyn Tabernacle. His testimonies about this crucial evening in the life of their Church, have encouraged me to move our Wednesday evenings in this direction.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Listening to the Prayers of Our Ancestors

We learn to pray by listening to others pray. When Jesus' disciples asked him to teach them how to pray, he simply prayed in their presence. We learn to pray by praying in each other's presence - by hearing how each of us prays and by praying ourselves with our brothers and sisters. It is also important to allow our brothers and sisters from Christian history to teach us to pray. Speaking of the vital importance of tradition, G.K. Chesterton wrote: 
Tradition means giving votes to the most obscure of all classes, our ancestors. It is the democracy of the dead. Tradition refuses to submit to the small and arrogant oligarchy of those who merely happen to be walking about.
Similarly, we must not only allow our living brothers and sisters in Christ to teach us to pray, but those who "have gone one before us" have much wisdom to offer and a vital ministry to perform. This is the role of prayer books and collections of written prayers in shaping our understanding of the prayer tradition. Within our tradition The Valley of Vision offers a stimulating collection of prayers and devotions from the Puritans. This collection is intended by Arthur Bennett to stimulate our own prayers. So may this following prayer of confession and petition teach us and stimulate us to pray. 

I have sinned times without number,
    and been guilty of pride and unbelief,
of failure to find thy mind in thy Word,
of neglect to seek thee in my daily life. 

My transgressions and short-comings
present me with a list of accusations,
But I bless thee that they will not stand against me,
for all have been laid on Christ;

Go on to subdue my corruptions,
and grant me grace to live above them.
Let not the passions of the flesh nor lustings of the mind
bring my spirit into subjection,
but do thou rule over me in liberty and power.

I thank thee that many of my prayers have been refused--
I have asked amiss and do not have,
I have prayed from lusts and been rejected,
I have longed for Egypt and been given a wilderness.

Go on with thy patient work,
answering 'no' to my wrongful prayers, and fitting me to accept it.
Purge me from every false desire, every base aspiration,
everything contrary to thy rule.

I thank thee for thy wisdom and thy love,
for all the acts of discipline to which I am subject,
for sometimes putting me into the furnace
to refine my gold and remove my dross.

No trial is so hard to bear as a sense of sin.
If thou shouldst give me choice to live in pleasure and keep my sins,
or to have them burnt away with trial,
give me sanctified affliction.

Deliver me from every evil habit, every accretion of former sins.
everything that dims the brightness of thy grace in me,
everything that prevents me taking delight in thee.
Then I shall bless thee, God of Jeshurun, for helping me to be upright.
(Valley of Vision, 77)

This prayer should awaken a spirit of repentance within us, as should these words from Ezekiel. 
Therefore, you Israelites, I will judge each of you according to your own ways, declares the Sovereign LORD. Repent! Turn away from all your offenses; then sin will not be your downfall. Rid yourselves of all the offenses you have committed, and get a new heart and a new spirit. Why will you die, people of Israel? For I take no pleasure in the death of anyone, declared the sovereign LORD. Repent and live (Ezekiel 18. 30-32, NIV). 

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Prayer: Evidence We Are Being Revived

Revive us, and we will call on your name (Psalm 80.18a). 

Last week these words from the Psalmist stuck out to me like a sore thumb. For the last five weeks, we as a Church family have felt a renewed call from the Lord to pray. To cry out to him for his Kingdom to come - for his will in heaven to be known on earth - for zeal for his agenda and not ours - for revival. Frankly, this final petition has weighed heavy on my heart as a pastor. My thinking was something like - If I just pray hard enough, revival will come to our church. If I can just convince SBC to pray with enough fervency, then revival will finally happen. It was as if prayer for revival was the X-Games in the sport of prayer - reserved for only extreme sort of folks who are world-renown for the vast number of "Father God's" they can fit into an offertory prayer. 

Prayer and revival, however, are spoken of differently in Psalm 80. Revival, being brought back to life, that is, precedes calling on the name to Yahweh for deliverance. Did you catch that? Calling on God for salvation-power is evidence that we have been and are being revived. This was refreshment for my thirsty soul. As a Church family we have been pursuing prayer with a measure of fervency that I have not known in some time. After seasons of prayer like we are presently enjoying, we often judge the "effectiveness" of the season by what we see God accomplish after we have prayed. I believe "the effectual, fervent prayer of the righteous one avails much," but I want us to remember that the season of prayer itself is evidence of the life-giving power of God among us. We have been praying. We are feeling a renewed commitment to boldly come before the throne of grace. This, in and of itself, is clear evidence that God is at work in our midst. He is reviving us because we are calling on his name. Amen.

Please make plans to attend our Combined Worship-Driven Prayer Meeting with Cornerstone Church. We will gather at SBC at 6:30pm.

For further encouragement on prayer, please enjoy another sermon clip by Pastor John Piper
Prayer: A War-Time Walkie Talkie              

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Combined Worship-Driven Prayer Meeting

In the introduction of 2 Corinthians, Paul reminds us that God is the God who comforts. He is “the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort.” He “comforts us in all our troubles.” “If we are distressed,” Paul says, “it is for your comfort and salvation.” In fact, the word “comfort” appears nine times in 2 Corinthians 1.3-7. Beginning in verse 8, Paul recounts for us a time in his life when God’s comfort was desperately needed.

Paul and his “entourage” had undergone various trials, massive trouble and unbearable pressure as they worked to spread the gospel of Christ over the province of Asia. Things became so bad they believed God had providentially determined their deaths. They learned to rely on God, however, and he delivered them. Listen to the words of Holy Scripture.

Indeed, we felt we had received the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead. He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us again. On him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us, as you help us by your prayers. Then many will give thanks on our behalf for the gracious favor us in answer to the prayers of many (2 Cor 1.9-11).

Did you notice Paul’s carefully nuanced language? God was the one who had delivered and the one he was trusting to deliver in the future. But the Apostle still acknowledged the role prayer played in their deliverance. They had set their hope on God who will continue to deliver them, as the Corinthians help them by their prayers. “Then many will give thanks on our behalf for the gracious favor granted us in answer to the prayers of many” (2 Cor 1.10-11a). These words speak unashamedly about the significant role of prayer as God’s will is accomplished on earth. It was through the prayers of the Corinthians that God delivered Paul and his associates from the perils of death. Prayer is significant. Prayer moves the hand of God. Can you imagine a more important task? Please join us for a combined worship-driven prayer meeting of Somonauk Baptist Church and Cornerstone Church. We will gather at SBC at 6:30pm

For further encouragement to pray please watch the attached sermon clip from Pastor John Piper.           

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

The Pastor: A Memoir - The Priority of Place

I'm thinking about adding another item to my "Bucket List" - things I want to do before I "kick the bucket." I want to meet Eugene Peterson - shake his hand - maybe even give him a hug - if he appears to be the hugging type, and thank him for the gentle and wise guidance his writings have offered this young pastor. This is why I was thrilled to learn Harper One has published his The Pastor: A Memoir.

I have always loved places. For a very long time I have loved the Church. And I have come to understand the Church needs to love the place in which God has situated her. The doctrines of Creation and the Incarnation compel us to love and serve the places we are in the way God loves and serves the places where his presence is made manifest. The writings of Eugene Peterson have confirmed in me that these complementary loves for the Church and her place are close to the heart of God. Listen to his wise words.
Place. But not just any place, not just a location marked on a road map, but on a topo, a topographic map - with named mountains and rivers, identified wildflowers and forests, elevation above sea level and annual rainfall. I do all my [pastoral] work on this ground. I do not levitate. "Surely the LORD is in this place, and I did not know it." Get to know this place.
I don't want to end up a bureaucrat in the time-management business for God or a librarian cataloguing timeless truths. Salvation is kicking in the womb of creation right now, any time now. Pay attention. Be ready: "The time is fulfilled ..." Repent. Believe.  

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Thinking About Conversion Narratives

Conversion has been on my mind lately, specifically narratives of conversion. My conversion narrative used to go something like this. When I was seven years of age (I’m not really sure if I was six or seven, but I always chose the certain age of seven because it wasn’t too young or too old and I had to be certain of my age to give my story legitimacy.), I attended a Sunday evening service in which the Pastor preached on sin. At the age of seven, or possibly six, or maybe even a young eight, I came “personally aware of my own sin” and how my sin had made God angry. So righteous was his anger that he was planning on sending me to hell - forever. But God’s angry plans were changed forever that night because after we returned home that evening I told my earthly father as we watered the backyard strawberry garden that I wanted to be "saved." So we went into my bedroom, knelt on the red carpet next to bunk beds with red bedspreads and I repeated the sinner’s prayer. After my dad gave me a bear hug we came out of the bedroom and walked into the kitchen where my mother was pulling pizza muffins out of the oven and shared with her the good news that “Jesus was now in my heart.” Details like the strawberry garden, the colors in the bedroom and the pizza muffins are crucial because they lend credibility to my story. The conversion story needs as much integrity as possible because this conversion story is all about me. It’s about me as an individual. It’s about my knowledge, my sincerity, my ability to understand and most important, my capacity to tell a convincing story.

As I recall this story, for which I am thankful, it’s not about the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. It’s not about God’s love for me a rebellious sinner. It’s not about a present life with God that begins changing me right away. It's not about grace. It is only about this. I am bad. God has to send me to hell. I can force him to let me into heaven if I pray these specific words with sincerity.

Elements of this narrative are true, but they are not as true as they could be. Some elements are downright false. The Gospel is not about me. The Gospel is the good news about what God did through Jesus to reverse the fall. And God is now calling us to repent and believe in what He did and will do through Jesus. The Gospel is about what God did for us, not what we have to do for God. Obviously, my own conversion narrative has been deconstructed and is still in the process of reconstruction. Previously my story was about one and only one event. Nowadays I like to think about that event as the first in a series of equally important events. God is saving me daily. Moment by moment his grace leads me to daily death and daily re-birth. By his Spirit God is shaping me into the image of His Son.

I am now convinced there is more diversity to “conversion narratives,” but I still believe there are some essential elements that all Christians should find in their stories. Also, these elements will take on a variety of forms. 1) New Birth to Sonship – A time where God awakens you with his Spirit to the new identity he is bestowing upon you in Jesus as a Son or Daughter of Jesus’ Father. Included in this “event” are repentance and faith in Jesus as Savior and Lord, leading to a life of following Jesus. 2) Community of Discipleship – In the New Testament conversion to Christ always leads to participation in his Body, the Church (1 Peter 1.22-23). Involvement in the Church affords us with more saving moments as the grace of God is made available to us through other members and through the sacraments of baptism and communion. 3) Kingdom of Citizenship – As we are graciously transformed through following Jesus, we will seek to live, proclaim, advance and embody his Kingdom on earth as it is in heaven.

Thinking about our own conversion narratives and going through the processes of deconstruction and reconstruction are crucial tasks. The Church needs to have one unifying narrative. That narrative is the life, death, resurrection, ascension and future return of Jesus to make all things new. Salvation is about that narrative becoming our narrative. And as we tell our unique stories of way the Jesus Story became our story we are collectively unified. 

Once again, I bless God for each element of my own story. I am thankful for the sermon on sin and for that saving moment of praying with my dad. But I equally bless God for my present family of fellow-disciples at Somonauk Baptist Church, for the Kingdom in which we are privileged to participate and for his kindness in revealing to me that my salvation was not my own doing. God did it. God is doing it. God will complete it. The freedom is sweet and saving.

What are some of your thoughts on your own conversion narrative? 

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Shut Up - Shut Up for Jesus!!

The third aspect of the fruit of the Spirit is peace, followed by patience and kindness. And the second to last is gentleness, followed by self-control. According to this apostolic description of the Spiritual life, there seems to be a certain serenity – a specific composure – an assured calmness that characterizes life lived in the Spirit. Jesus manifested the fruit of the Spirit more fully than any other human being. To be sure there were times when Jesus raised his voice. One thinks of the table-turning incident where our Lord raised his voice and a whip in judgment upon the Temple that had become a place where widows lose their life-savings. We should find it significant that Jesus reserved his harshest words for the religious leaders of the day who were failing to act with compassion. We should also find it significant that Jesus expressed these harsh words with relative infrequency. For most of his interactions Jesus remained calm. Even when someone in his presence was found to be in wrong, he dialogued with him or her in a reasoned and merciful way. He was rarely quick to make his point without first investing time with that person to gain the fullest understanding possible. If we are choosing to adopt a Jesus-shaped Spiritual life, his way of dealing with people will become ours.

I wonder sometimes if some other model, other than Jesus shapes our understanding of the Spiritual life. Maybe it’s because of their public status, but I rarely witness a Christian in the media exhibiting the composure and peace exemplified by Jesus and described in Galatians 5. Much of the time, we Christians come across as hasty and out of control. Some of us just need to calm down. Ironically, Christians most often turn up the volume when it comes to self-defense. Whether we understand orthodoxy as being attacked or our personal freedoms, we often “Stand Up – Stand Up for Jesus” in ways that do not resemble Jesus at all. According to an MSNBC report, secular companies even plan to upset us because angry American Christians are uniquely excellent at promoting the products they despise by telling every one about them! In fact, at E3, an Electronics Expo, Electronic Arts hired a group to stage a fake Christian protest to their soon-to-be-released game, Dante’s Inferno in order to create consumer momentum for the product. Furthermore, several publishing executives have confessed that Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code would have recorded mediocre sales numbers had Christians not promoted the book through their protests.

If we allow Jesus to define faithfulness in the world we may understand there are times we should “Shut Up – Shut Up for Jesus!”
To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps. “He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth.” When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly (1 Peter 2.21-23).              

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Just throw the lemons away!

Has anyone ever said these words to you? "When life gives you lemons make lemonade!" These words are usually said with a smile as if the speaker has answered every one of your questions and solved all the problems related to a very intricate and difficult situation. By the way, it is normal to want to punch the throat of this "one who spouts unhelpful clich├ęs!” One-size-fits-all remarks rarely do justice to the complexity of the problems that arise within this broken world. To go even a step further, quoting one-size-fits-all verses rarely bring peace to the pain some humans are enduring.

I had something happen this afternoon that was not extremely painful but was frustrating and difficult to endure. And as I drove away from the place where this “something” occurred I pondered, “Why did that have to happen?” Keep in mind what took place was not that big of a deal. But the disappointment was deep enough to cause that Lament-Psalm question, “Why, O Lord?” After I meditated for a few brief moments, the lemonade formula came to mind. And then I thought, “These lemons are rotten and probably would make disgusting lemonade!”

There are times we should simply dispose of the produce we receive from the fruit trees of this fallen world. Stop trying to find meaning in the pain or figure out what God is trying to teach us. Often there is no answer this side of resurrection as to why God has allowed certain “thorns” to steal our blood. But we do have the confident hope that he will one day overcome all our suffering and purge this world of all “lemons.”

So sometimes life will give us lemons and the only appropriate response is to use them to sharpen the blades on the garbage disposal.                

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Love is our priority because love is our future.

"And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love" (1 Cor 13.13, NIV). 
Today I listened to a sermon delivered by one of my favorite professors during my time at Dallas Seminary, Dr. John D. Hannah. Dr. Hannah isn't flashy. He is not the best communicator. He is not even that easy to listen to. But he helps his students love God better and that is why I chose the major I did and why I took as many of Dr. Hannah's classes as possible. One of my favorite classes was The Works of Jonathan Edwards. The main requirement of this class was to read and understand nearly 2,000 pages of Edwards' writings and sermons - an overwhelming task to say the least! As I listened to Dr. Hannah explain 1 Corinthians 13, I was reminded of my favorite book from that semester, Charity and Its Fruits. This book is a publication of a series of expositions he delivered to his congregation in Northhampton, Mass. in 1738. The final sermon in the series is worth the price of the book: It's title - "Heaven, a World of Love." Edwards explains that because God dwells most fully in heaven, heaven is rendered
a world of love; for God is the fountain of love, as the sun is the fountain of light. And therefore the glorious presence of God in heaven, fills heaven with love, as the sun, placed in the midst of the visible heavens in a clear day, fills the world with light. The apostle tells us that "God is love;" and therefore, seeing he is an infinite being, it follows that he is an infinite fountain of love. Seeing he is an all-sufficient being, it follows that he is a full and overflowing, and inexhaustible fountain of love. And in that he is an unchangeable and eternal being, he is an unchangeable and eternal fountain of love (326-327).
These are the words from a sermon preached by Jonathan Edwards! This Reformed Puritan who is best known for his sermon, Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God, also had an extraordinary appreciation for God as an infinitely loving being and we must not forget this distinctive feature of his theology. According to Edwards, the God who is angry at sin is also the God who is the fountainhead of all love. And because God is love, eternity will be a world filled with "oceans and oceans of love and love again." This is why 1 Corinthians 13.8 declares "Love never fails." Faith and hope will pass away, but love is greatest because it will never pass away. There is coming a day when there will be no more faith and no more hope because we will see Christ, the object of both our faith and hope. The permanence of love is why Edwards encourages us to think of eternity as a renewed heavens and earth filled with only love. So the famous "love chapter" can be understood as describing the God who is love and the world we will inhabit with him for eternity.

So imagine a world filled with patience and kindness. Think about a world that does not know envy, boasting or pride. Picture a human family in which no one is rude, self-seeking or angry and there is never any score-keeping or grudge-holding. Visualize a world in which everyone is protected and trustworthy. We must dream about these things now because one day our dreams will be reality!!

We must also dream about these things now because of what Paul commands us in 1 Corinthians 14.1. Paul says, "Follow the way of love." Through the power of the Spirit we who are promised a future of love, must make love our priority now.

Because in the end love will be the last thing standing we must make love our priority now.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

The Presence/Future of the Kingdom and the Nature of the Church

The Presence of the Kingdom and the Nature of the Church

One of the joys of my life is the Junior and Senior High Bible Class at Somonauk Christian School. This semester I am teaching New Testament Survey and I cannot overestimate the benefit of broadly and systematically studying the New Testament. Also, the students are a gift from God because they help me feel the presence of Jesus and his kingdom as we submit to his authority through studying and learning and growing to follow him better.

I have been blessed with several “in-depth” studies of the book of Acts. This time around, however, something previously undetected caught my eye (with the help of N.T. Wright). Notice the way Luke frames his narrative of “all that Jesus began to do and teach.”

To these (the apostles) He also presented Himself alive after His suffering, by many convincing proofs, appearing to them over a period of forty days and speaking of the things concerning the kingdom of God (Acts 1.5, NASB).

And he (the apostle Paul) stayed two full years in his own rented quarters and was welcoming all who came to him, preaching the kingdom of God and teaching concerning the Lord Jesus Christ with all openness unhindered (Acts 28.30-31, NASB).

With remarkable clarity Luke offers two “bookends” within which we should understand all that is found between. As Luke begins Acts (Vol. 2) (Luke 1.1-4; Acts 1.1), he wants the reader to understand that Acts is about Jesus and his kingdom. Within the span of the first eleven verses, he records that Jesus, over a period of forty days, appeared to his disciples and taught them concerning the kingdom. The questions the disciples asked Jesus regarded the kingdom. The promise Jesus offers the disciples pertains to the kingdom power they will receive through the Spirit to be Jesus’ witnesses to the remotest part of the earth. Jesus then ascends from earth into heaven to assume the King’s throne at the right hand of his Father. As both preachers and writers know, the introduction sets the stage for all that needs to be said, Luke clearly prepares us for the story he wants to tell – a story about what it looks like when “the kingdom of God comes to birth on earth.” So the kingdom of God is not another name for heaven – some place that is essentially far from us. Instead, the kingdom of God has come near; it has come upon us through the life and ministry and Jesus (Luke 11.20), a ministry that continues through the church because she has received the Spirit, the same kingdom power that enlivened Jesus. As we think about the kingdom, the words Jesus gave his disciples to pray are helpful in forming a definition. The kingdom is where the will of the King is gladly obeyed. This is why Jesus taught us to pray, “Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” So while I don’t believe we should equate the church and the kingdom, I do believe that within the church, God is demonstrating to the watching world what it looks like when the sovereign and saving rule of God is coming on earth as it is in heaven. Therefore, the church is pivotal within God’s kingdom story for the world.

First, while the church is not the kingdom, the church is evidence to the world that the kingdom is already present. This leads us to wander if we understand the church as having cosmic ramifications? Or is it simply some optional weekly event that may or may not improve our “spiritual lives?” Second, the church is God’s advance preview for the world of what life will be like on earth when God’s sovereign and saving rule comes in fullness. Thirdly, we must never forget Luke’s assertion that the church is the continuation of Jesus’ life and ministry. Notice again, the beginning of Acts. Luke describes his gospel as an orderly narrative of all that Jesus began to do and teach. The church, therefore, is the continuation of Jesus’ presence and ministry for the world. Finally, it seems to me (and others), that the story of Acts is Jesus’ “yes” to the apostles’ question, about restoring the kingdom to Israel. Through the gift of the Spirit, Jesus is restoring the kingdom to Israel, but in a way that Israel did not expect. Israel failed to hear from the prophets, that when Yahweh poured his Spirit afresh upon his people (i.e. restoring the Kingdom) nations would become one with God’s people (see Micah 4.1-2; Zech 2.10-11).  This seems to be the narrative Luke tells in Acts. Through the Spirit-inspired ministry of the apostles and the early church, the nations are coming to the light God shined over Israel (Isaiah 60.1-6). Additionally, Luke’s sporadic descriptions of the church describe for us how the early church manifested the presence of the kingdom and also embody from Jerusalem to Rome the nature of God’s sovereign and saving rule.  So it seems imperative for the church to understand itself as evidence of the kingdom’s presence and a foretaste of the kingdom’s future.

May each of us participate with devotion and transparency within our local congregations empowered by the King’s presence and his promise to come again.  

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Guarding Against Bibloatry

Why do you love the Bible? I will freely confess to loving Bibles, but that is not the same thing as loving the Bible. Fourteen Bibles are presently stationed to the left of my desk and I have a specific love for each of them. Whether it be, the language, the translation, the notes, even the special binding - each of these aspects are things I find attractive about Bibles. It needs to be the right size. It must remain appropriately open as I teach and preach from it. You see the reason I love "Bibles" is because a copy of the Scriptures is the tool of my trade, pastoral ministry. I carry a copy to the coffee shop, into the hospital room, through the hallways of the nursing home, and up to the teaching lectern and the pulpit. Furthermore the Bible a pastor carries says something significant about his ministry. What passages are underlined? How easily does it open? Are the gold edges sufficiently missing - betraying a minister who "loves the Word?" What translation does He prefer? I can imagine construction workers having conversations about which power tools they prefer. Are you a DEWALT or a PORTER CABLE man? Pastors discuss Bibles in the same way!

But I am praying to be a man who loves the Bible for the appropriate reason. Our love for the Bible should necessarily be linked to our love for the God of the Bible. We should love spending time in the Word because it is through the Word that we encounter the God to whom the Word testifies.

Listen to the words of the Psalmist.
Let my cry come before You, O LORD; give me understanding according to Your word. Let my supplication come before You; save me according to Your word (Psalm 119.169-70).
Notice that for the Psalmist, the word of God is that which guides his prayer life. The word is a means by which he encounters the God whose Spirit inspired the word. So the word cannot be loved for its own sake. It must be loved for God's sake. Otherwise we are guilty of what I like to call Biblioatry - a love for the Bible that can be disconnected from our love for God. An ancient practice that guards against Biblioatry is lectio divina, or sacred reading. As early as the Third Century, Christians practiced this discipline of praying the Scriptures. Because of a desire to purge my life of Biblioatry I am researching lectio divina. An introductory book on this ancient discipline is Conversing With God in Scripture by Stephen Binz. I have added a link below. As I read the book, I hope to share my thoughts on the blog. But more than that, I pray the book increases my love for the God who gave me the Bible. May each of us love the Bible because in it we encounter to God of the Bible whom we are growing to love. 
Conversing With God in Scripture 

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Jesus' Spiritual Barometer

During our Winter Sermon Series, Disciple, we are exploring Jesus' definition of what means to be a Christian. And according to Christ, a Christian is one who follows Jesus. Salvation is about transformation and Jesus' call to salvation is something like this: "Repent and believe in Me (Who I am and what I am doing) and be thereby graciously transformed through following me." Each week, then, we examine a word - a theme that Jesus said would characterize His followers. So we have been exploring topics like Repentance, Kingdom, Justice, etc. and what Jesus has to say about these ideas. This week our word is "Love." Jesus said, "A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another" (John 13.34-35, NASB). Jesus also upped the love ante when He said the whole OT hangs on the two commandments to love God and to love people (Matthew 22.34-40). So for Jesus, the defining quality for a disciple - that "thing" for which Christians should have a reputation is love. Furthermore, according to Jesus, spiritual formation is about being graciously transformed into a better lover of God and others.  Today I read this quote by John Ortberg in his book, The Life You've Always Wanted.
The true indicator of spiritual well-being is growth in the ability to love God and people. If we can do this without the practice of any particular spiritual disciplines, then we should by all means skip them … It is possible to spend every waking moment “practicing spiritual disciplines” but doing them in such a way as to make us less rather than more loving. In that case, of course, we would be better off if we did none at all. 
What are your thoughts?

The Jesus Way of Political Engagement

“If Jesus is not Lord of all He is not Lord at all.” The call to discipleship is the call to submit all arenas of one’s life to the Lordship of Jesus. Jesus not only embodies for the world the nature of God, He also reveals what should be normative for humanity. There is, therefore no question – no corner of living that should not be surrendered to what Jesus’ life demonstrated as God’s way of Wisdom within this unjust world. Consequently, we should always be asking, “What does the way of Jesus reveal about how I should live in this situation?”

In Matthew’s gospel we are blessed with a record of Jesus’ encounter with the world around Him and are reminded there is no sphere to which Jesus does not speak. The narrative I am considering can be found in Matthew 22.15-45 and can be divided into four segments.

The Empire: How Disciples Relate to Caesar (22.15-22)

Eternity: How Disciples Should Regard the Resurrection Life (22.23-33)

The Law: What Do the Scriptures Require of Disciples (22.34-40)

Christology: Disciples and the Lordship of Jesus (22.41-46)

I think one of the areas of life Jesus addresses, in which we often fail to appropriate His teaching, is the issue of how we engage civil and/or political authority. The attempted assassination of Arizona Congresswoman Gabriella GIffords, vividly reminds us of one wrong way to engage political authority. In fact, I think Jesus is pretty clear that followers of Jesus should never engage another with violence. Inappropriate ways of engaging civil authority can often be more subtle. A basic question each should ask is; “How does Jesus inform the way I engage the political system?” We must remember Jesus offers us authoritative teaching for the most basic issues. Does Jesus inform the way we talk about politics? Does Jesus inform the way you address those with whom you disagree politically? Furthermore, do you submit to the Lordship of Jesus as you talk about politicians whose policies you don’t support?

In Matthew 22.15-22 Jesus establishes for His followers a wisdom principle of respect and peaceful cooperation with political authority. As Jesus teaches, Matthew records the presence of the Herodians and the Pharisees, two powerful groups of people. The Herodians were friends of Rome and believed the purposes of God could be fulfilled through political power. The Pharisees, on the other hand, were anti-Rome and wanted the religious power of Israel to increase in such a way that Rome could be overthrown or at least weakened. Jesus accepts neither of these options as an appropriate way of being human in this unjust world. The way of Jesus is a bit more complex. Among his followers He endorses peaceful respect for government: Give back to Caesar those things that are Caesar’s. In other words, faithful followers of Jesus contribute to the good of society – they pay their taxes. The Pharisees, on the other hand, advocated a rebellion against Rome that included not paying taxes. So while Jesus advocated peaceful co-existence with government (something that did not sit well with the Pharisees), He also did not find any fans with the Herodians, by saying, “render to God those things that are God’s.” While Jesus is perfectly comfortable giving taxes to the government, He is certainly uncomfortable with rendering to the government only those things that should be rendered to God. It is no coincidence that immediately following this section of the narrative, Jesus concerns himself with loving God above all else (22.34-40) and His own unique lordship (22.41-46). I am amazed at the relevance of Jesus’ teaching for the thorny questions we face here in America? A good questions to consider is do we find ourselves tempted by the Herodian error – giving too much loyalty to political systems and theory, or the error of the Pharisees – not behaving with peaceful respect for the governement? From this narrative, a few application questions arise.

  1. When we engage the political scene do we do so with peace and respect for all human beings involved?

  1. Do we understand responsibilities like paying taxes as a means of following Jesus and contributing to the stability of society?

  1. Are we sufficiently guarded as we consider political “groups” who may desire from us an allegiance that should only be devoted to Jesus and His eternal Kingdom?

The Apostle Peter, who was ultimately crucified upside down by the Roman government, summarizes Jesus’ teaching with these words. “Act as free men, and do not use your freedom as a covering for evil, but use it as bondslaves of God. Honor all people, love the brotherhood, fear God, honor the King” (1 Peter 2.16-17, NASB). May each of us submit to Jesus as Lord over all aspects of our lives, including political engagement.   

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Happy Meals, Haircuts, Tooth Removal and Abba's Heart

After a brief respite, I resumed my duties today as the only adult in our home that will pull teeth. This was a significant one too – Alle’s left front tooth! She turns seven on Monday, so this is a birthday weekend which means yesterday we took her and four of her friends to McDonald’s for Happy Meals, presents, and that ultimate challenge to every child’s immune system – A Few Rounds in the Playland!! This morning, Yulinda and Alle also took a trip to the Hair Salon and both returned looking more beautiful than ever!! We then realized the removal of the tooth that Alle had been wiggling with her tongue and thumb was long overdue. This meant she had fifteen minutes to find a way to get the tooth to its waiting-for-the-Tooth-fairy position before adult intervention was necessary. She tried and tried and tried, albeit unsuccessfully. I was then faced with the unlovely proposition of holding my precious Alle’s quivering face in my hands. Her face being cutely bordered with its freshly bobbed hair made this all the more difficult. Furthermore, Alle’s eyes make her a candidate for Southwest Airlines commercials. They are strikingly large and grayish green with lashes whose thickness make all the thin-lashed ladies guilty of breaking the Tenth Commandment. As I held her face in my hands, she cried, “I don’t want Daddy to pull it out. I don’t want him to pull it out.” At this moment I felt a small twinge of what it must be like for our heavenly Father, when He allows temporary pain into our lives, which while it hurts, ultimately results in our good and will lead to resurrection. As I worked to inflict as little pain as possible upon Alle and to keep all my fingers attached to my hand, I kept thinking, “Alle, if you only knew how good it will feel after this is all over.” I think, just maybe, something similar runs through the Mind of heaven as we suffer. I believe our grief grieves God. I don’t believe He whines to the Community of heaven about “those sad wimpy kids of his” as our prayers for relief reach His listening ears. Instead, Jesus embodies for us a for-us Abba who longs to put an end to the suffering of His children and who will one day “wipe every tear from our eyes.” 

So offer your prayers for relief to the Father of Jesus and just maybe you will sense his longing love say to you, “If you only how good it will feel after this is all over.”

May the hope of suffering’s end enable us to endure present suffering and to work to diminish the suffering of others.                

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Who will preach the Gospel to Glenn Beck?

There is no way around it. Today's post must concern the importance of justice. As a Western Christian with a Reformed background, the concept of justice calls to mind images of courtrooms with judges handing down sentences. This is one and only one element of the biblical theme of justice. This Hebrew concept of tzaddiq is described by Nicholas Wolterstorff as "rectifying justice." This justice concept involves meting out appropriate punishment to a wrongdoer and caring for the victims. An equally important element of biblical justice is represented by the word, mishpat. Wolterstorff describes this idea as "primary justice." This kind of justice is "behavior that, if it was prevalent in the world, would render rectifying justice unnecessary, because everyone would be living in right relationship to everyone else" (Timothy Keller, Generous Justice, 10-11).

Both of these themes are everywhere to be found in the Hebrew Scriptures. They are used to describe who God is and what He delights in (Deuteronomy 10.18-19; Psalm 33.5; Jeremiah 9.23-24). Tzaddiq and mishpat are also to be found in the man who can be described as faithful and righteous before Yahweh (Job 29.12-17; 31.13-28). Furthermore, Jesus himself rooted his mission from the Father in a text from Isaiah which promised good news for the poor, the prisoners, the blind and the oppressed (Luke 4.18-19). In this Lukan text we have clear indication from Jesus as to why the Father sent Him. The incarnation was motivated by the Father's concern for social justice.

This is why Timothy Keller says: "If I'm not generous with my money, I'm offending God, which means it's not an option and it is unjust by definition to not share with the poor. It's biblical that we owe the poor as much of our money as we can possibly give away."

So if you are a follower of Jesus and a believer in the Bible, the next time a preacher or a politician or a talk show host tries to discourage you away from addressing issues of social justice, go proclaim the gospel of Jesus to them.      

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

We never retire from the Kingdom.

Today I spent a strange amount of time thinking about widows. As I have been exploring Luke’s Gospel, specifically chapters 20 and 21, this biography of Jesus includes significant references to widows. For example:

While all the people were listening, Jesus said to his disciples, “Beware of the teachers of the law. They like to walk around in flowing robes and love to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces and have the most important seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at banquets. They devour widows’ houses and for a show make lengthy prayers. These men will be punished most severely” (Luke 20.45-47, NIV)

And immediately following this prophetic oracle, this related narrative is included.

As Jesus looked up, he saw the rich putting their gifts into the temple treasury. He also saw a poor widow put in two very small copper coins. “Truly I tell you,” he said, “this poor widow has put in more than all the others. All these people gave their gifts out of their wealth; but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on” (Luke 21.1-4, NIV).

The chapter break in our translations is unfortunate because these two paragraphs are to be read in light of each other. The poor widow who is often appealed to as an example of how to give, is intended to be an example of one whose “house” had been devoured by the teachers of the law. These two texts are also to be read in light of the following prophecy of Jesus about the destruction of the Temple. More about that later.

But as I was studying these passages I received a phone call from one of our widows, Loretta. She was out delivering Meals on Wheels with another widow, Vera. As I concluded our conversation, I was overwhelmed with gratitude for the blessing that is mine to minister on behalf of a church like ours. We have been blessed with many ladies like Vera and Loretta, who in spite of the many difficulties they have had to endure; they haven’t ceased working for the cause of Jesus’ kingdom. May we rise up and call them blessed.   

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Who's afraid of Martin Luther King Jr.?

It’s the third Monday in January, so that means we are acknowledging the birthday of one public Christian for which we don’t feel the need to apologize. One of my “Significant Moments from the Day” was the realization that most of the Christians in my life, although they are thankful for holiday, don’t seem to celebrate or even acknowledge the day in any sort of public way. For example, of my 500 or so Facebook "friends," only three of them had any reference on their page to MLK. Now they probably do the same thing (nothing) on Columbus Day or President’s Day. But to me, this holiday should be different. The man was a devoted and public follower of Jesus. The man did an unimaginable amount of good toward equality in this country. These themes: justice, equality and peaceful resistance don’t seem to matter to many of the Christians in my life. But they mattered to Jesus (See his first pubic sermon in Luke 4). Why was this the first year our small Christian School chose to acknowledge the holiday? Why aren’t we more public in our acknowledgment of Martin Luther King Jr.? I’ve got some ideas. Anyone else?                    

Why blog?

Three different times I have committed to blogging, and three different times I was able to swing about six to eight entries, before the site resigned itself to virtual retirement. Then this past weekend Yulinda and I borrowed Julie and Julia from the Library and I was struck by how transformative the discipline of blogging was in Julie’s life. On a certain level the forced habit of sitting down every evening to write about her experience of cooking every recipe in Julia Child’s cookbook brought a measure of order to her previously chaotic life. Do you feel the need for order within the chaos of life these desperate days? I feel it. So I’m going to try it yet again. In order to develop a consistent discipline, most days I will simply record “Significant Moments from the Day” – items from the day that distinguished the day from others. Because much of my time is spent in the areas of Biblical and Theological studies, most of my writing will be in that small but significant corner of the cosmos. More than that, however, I hope this blogging experiment improves my skills as a writer and pushes me deeper into that discipline of critically evaluating each day in light of the call to follow Jesus.