Sunday, March 23, 2014

Lord, Where's My Stuff?

“Delight thyself in the Lord, and he shall give thee the desires of thine heart.” (Psalm 37:4)

I don’t suppose there’s anyone who has looked at that verse who didn’t wonder why God hasn’t given them the desires of their heart. All of us have had something that we wanted more than anything else and though we prayed long hours with tears streaming down our faces, it didn’t come. Where was the Lord? Why didn’t he answer? Did we somehow fail to delight ourselves in him? How does one delight himself in the Lord anyway?

If you read the rest of Psalm 37, you’ll see that even as he was writing this song, David was struggling with some of the same thoughts. Look at verses 1 and 2. Do you think he would’ve said something like that if he’d never questioned why evil people appeared to prosper, even as the just suffered at their hand? (Psalm 37:12) The saints of David’s day were facing the same problems as the saints of today.

When we begin to look at it in context, we being to realize that the promise of the desires of our heart doesn’t necessarily mean right now. We don’t have standing to go to God and say, “I’ve delighted in you, so where’s my stuff?” Though some preachers will tell you that’s exactly what you ought to do. Psalm 37:7 uses words like rest, wait, and fret not. And then Psalm 37:10 states, “yet a little while, and the wicked shall not be.”

What’s David saying? Don’t worry about all this bad stuff that’s going on because of the wicked, because the day is coming when they won’t be here, but you will. That’s not that the Lord won’t give us a partial fulfillment of this promise now, but the ultimate fulfillment will come when Jesus takes his proper place as King of all heaven and earth. The wicked will be cut off and nothing we desire will be denied us.

Of course, our desires will be much better than they are now. That’s why it is important to consider what it means to delight ourselves in the Lord. If we’re going to get a partial fulfillment now, we need to learn to delight ourselves in the Lord and we need to manage our desires. Not everything we desire is good for us.

Psalm 37:3 gives us a hint at what it means to delight ourselves in the Lord, “Trust in the Lord, and do good….” As does Psalm 37:5, “Commit thy way unto the Lord; trust also in him….” But we can look at the rest of the Bible for help as well. When we look at the other places the word delight is used, we often see it used with the concept of obedience to God and meditating on the law of God. Obedience and trust go hand in hand. If we delight ourselves or take pleasure in someone, don’t we trust that person? Don’t we trust that if we do what they ask us to do that good things will happen?

The word delight is used once in the New Testament. Look at Romans 7:22. Here again, we see this concept of obedience to the law of God. So often, we hear people talk about our freedom in Christ and how we don’t have to follow the law. But what many of them really think is that we can ignore the law. Such is not the case. The saints delight in the law of God, even as we struggle with our fleshly desire to sin. We delight in the law of God because it is the instructions that God has given us. By delighting in the law of God, by obeying the commandments he has given us, by meditating on his word, so that we know what he has told us to do, we are delighting in the Lord. Only then can we expect any fulfillment of the promise to give us the desires of our heart.

But what you discover when you begin to obey the Lord and to meditate on his word, your desires start to change. That’s not to say that God will tell us what he’s willing to give us and our desires will be only those things. What God is willing to give us is far more than we can comprehend. Rather, as we draw closer to God, the things we shouldn’t desire will become less important to us. And the things that are left will be things that it won’t be offensive to God for us to ask for. We may not receive everything we desire, because God is still allowing evil to exist on earth, but we can be sure that the Lord desires to give us those things.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

It's None of Our Business

You may have heard that Mark Driscoll is having problems right now. Without going into the details, his book marketing strategy has been seen as unethical, and perhaps, illegal. I’ll let others sort that out. Now, a letter of apology has been making its way around the Internet. I’ll let you read the letter, if you like.

But what I find more interesting than the letter is the response that some people have given it. While my doctrinal views don’t completely align with those of Mark Driscoll, I felt the letter was very appropriate for the situation. Others did not agree. One person suggested that Mark Driscoll make himself accountable to someone outside his own congregation.

While there may be people outside his congregation that deserve and apology and an apology doesn’t remove any legal obligations that might exist, you’ll be hard pressed to find anything in scripture that says a pastor must be accountable to anyone other than the church and the Lord Jesus Christ, who is the head of the church. And when I say church, I mean that local visible body of baptized believers that he pastors. There are differences in how individual churches choose to govern themselves, but it appears that, at Mars Hill Church, it is the Board of Advisors and Accountability that is authorized by the church to hold their pastor accountable.

Short of any legal concerns, for those of us outside of that church, it is none of our business. Mark Driscoll is accountable to that church and he wrote a letter to that church. It is not my place to criticize the letter he wrote to them or to question his sincerity.

That’s one of the things I hate about the view of “the church” being everyone who ever accepted Jesus Christ as their Savior. People take that as authority to stick their nose into the business of a church they have nothing to do with. You won’t find them visiting the sick of that church, or even attending their worship services, but they’re all too eager to tell them how long the rope should be to hang their pastor.

There’s nothing wrong with talking about the things we can learn from this situation. Don’t do what Mark Driscoll did by allowing a ghost writer to plagiarize material, for example. Or when you do something wrong, do like Mark Driscoll and apologize. But unless you are a member of Mars Hill Church or some other institution that has authority over Mark Driscoll, it is not your place to decide what should be done to him. That is especially true for Christians. If Christians can’t recognize the value of forgiving someone after they apologize, no one will.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Sinning Baptists

A few decades ago, Baptists were known for their hellfire and brimstone preachers who spoke of the evils of drinking, dancing, and going to the movies. People were excluded from the church frequently “for heresy” and many eventually apologized to the church and were welcomed back into the fellowship (though some did not). But today, the world is a different place. No longer do the Baptists who drink hide it, just in case the preacher comes around, they post pictures of it on Facebook. And many have lost sight of why dancing was considered wrong. Many people have the idea that as long as the dancing doesn’t happen in the church building, it is okay. If you read Psalm 149:3 and Psalm 150:4, it seems like that if there is anywhere that dancing is okay, it ought to be “in the congregation of the saints” (Psalm 149:1). And as for movies, now churches bring them in and show them on the big screen in the auditorium.

It’s a kinder, gentler church environment, but are we better off for it? I’m not sure how to answer that. Some say we are. Some say that it really wasn’t necessary for the preachers of the past to take such a hardline approach, because it is the Holy Spirit who convicts of sin and our responsibility is to love people. Telling people that what they are doing is wrong will just run them off—perhaps to a church that doesn’t teach the truth, or out of church altogether.

One approach that seems to work for pastors is to take the high road. Just preach through the Bible. Pick a book and preach what it says. When a pastor gets to Matthew 19:9, he’s going to preach about adultery and divorce, no matter how many in the church have been involved in those things. And it isn’t he who is picking on them; Jesus is the one who said it.

It doesn’t work that way on the Internet. Even if you write posts by moving chapter by chapter through the Bible, people will pick and choose what they read. If you write about the Book of Jude, people are going to read what you say about homosexuality, not what you say about “[giving] all diligence to write unto you of the common salvation.” And if you participate in social media, others will pick the topic and you are left to either participate or not. If you mention what the Bible says about what people are doing, it may be seen as “judging.” But if you say nothing, either they won’t realize you are reading their posts, or they’ll assume that you approve of their actions.

I struggle with this every time I post something on the Internet. If I post what I really think about some of the things I see, I’m likely to make someone angry. If all I do is post things that are all touchy feely and nice, I might as well not post anything at all, because people don’t read that stuff. So, since I don’t know how to answer my own question, I’ll end with a quote from the first Baptist, “Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (Matthew 3:2)

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Why Would God Make Man?

When I was a kid, I used to play in the dirt. I had a few favorite places. I had a spot on the hillside. I had a hole in the chicken yard. Sometimes I would go over to the neighbor’s house and play in the pigpen. It’s a wonder I’m still alive.

As you get older, you begin to realize that dirt is something people avoid. People who make lots of money don’t have to play in the dirt. They pay other people to do the dirty jobs. A few will play in the dirt, just for the fun of it, but having money and respect means you get the choose when you get dirty. The boss never gets dirty. That’s for the common worker.

We know that Jesus, who is God, chose to humble himself as the lowest human being he could be. (Philippians 2:5-11) We also know that God sent his Son because he loved the world. (John 3:16) But why did God create man in the first place? And what does that have to do with dirt?

Some people will tell you that God’s creation of man had something to do with God’s glory. Though God is glorified by man, I have a hard time believing that is why God created us. He had plenty of glory without us. And we’ve been an awful lot of trouble. And yet, Jesus humbled himself and made himself obedient to death, just so we could be saved. He will be glorified because of it, but it is the love of God that caused him to make that choice.

Now think about that dirt again. And think about when God created man. Look at Genesis 2:7. God formed man from dust and then he breathed into that dirt the breath of life. I’ve often looked at this passage and thought about how low man is. We’re nothing but the dust of the ground. But think about how low God had to make himself, to give us life. We have this image of God stooping down and shaping the dust. Then he bends over it and breathes into it. Man is the only part of creation that God had to touch, and we were nothing but dirt. Where is the glory in that? And if it weren’t bad enough, most of us will reject him. Where is the glory? What makes it worthwhile for God to humble himself to make us, and then humble himself to pay our sin debt? Why didn’t he make something else?

When we look at it in terms of God’s love instead of his glory, it starts to make sense. Unlike us, who don’t experience love until we get to know someone, God loved us before we were made. In fact, God has the ability to make those he loves. So it isn’t farfetched for us to say that the reason God would stoop down to form man from dust and breathe in to his nostrils is because of God’s love for man.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

I'm Going on a Mission Trip...Probably

Our church is planning a short-term mission trip this summer and my intention is to go. I’m excited because we’re going with the intent of helping a BMAA church planter. The BMAA is where much of our church’s mission money goes, so helping a BMAA church planter with a project is one way to multiply the effectiveness of the money we’re already sending.

I’ve helped church planters and churches before, but not with quite the level of organization it appears we’ll have for this trip. This will be a new experience for me, because when I’ve helped church planters in the past, I’ve just shown up with tools and work clothes. I don’t remember there ever being a T-shirt, and there wasn’t a fund-raiser because you paid your own bills.

For this trip, the cost is expected to be $400 per person. The handout we were given says that participants are expected to pay only $200 of that and the rest will come from fund raisers and existing funds. If I go, I intend to pay my own way. I realize there’s something to be said for allowing others a blessing by giving for part of the expense. But I have sufficient funds to pay my own way, so maybe those who give will receive a greater blessing by giving to support those who can’t.

I’m looking forward to it. It’s been a while since I’ve been on a vacation that didn’t involve visiting family or sitting through meetings. Not that those are bad things, but this will be different.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

A Blessing is Like a Package

A blessing is like a package. Someone tells about something good in their life and others say, “What a blessing that is!” Or someone will ask how a person is doing and that person will say, “I’m blessed.” We throw the word around, but what does it really mean to be blessed? And what does it mean to bless God?

Jesus said, “Bless them that curse you.” This was in the sermon on the mount and a few verses earlier he had named off the blessed—the poor in spirit, those that mourn, the meek… And then he had talked about the need for us to live in such a way that we are a stark contrast with the sin that is going on in the world. One way we do that is to bless the people that curse us, but what does that mean.

A blessing is the opposite of a curse. An example of a curse is, “I hope he wakes up and can’t talk.” Someone might say that after learning that the lead in a play went to someone else. A similar example of a blessing would be, “I know he’ll do a good job.”

You may be thinking, if that’s all a blessing is, that doesn’t sound like what people are talking about when they say they are blessed. A blessing, as with a curse, is only as powerful as the person who backs up the words. Consider a witch who is trying to curse someone. In witchcraft, this is done by invoking the name of some being of the spirit realm. Their belief is that if you know the name of the demon or spirit, it must obey. The curse would only be powerful if that demon has power to carry it out.

Enter God into the picture. He spoke and the world came into being. He is incapable of lying, because when he speaks, what he says is so becomes so, if it wasn’t already. If God were to say, “that man isn’t going to be able to talk when he wakes up tomorrow,” That man wouldn’t be able to talk when he wakes up. If God says, “that woman will be healed tomorrow,” that woman would be healed. We can't force God to do something by calling his name, but if he says it will happen, it will happen.

So a blessing is like a package that is coming in the mail. We’re going to get it eventually, but it may not be here yet. While it may be true that a person who has some nice things going on in their life is blessed, the same may be true of the person who has some nasty things happening to them. Look at the people Jesus mentioned, again. “The poor in spirit, those that mourn…” Though we may not feel very blessed when we mourn, we are. The blessing is there in the Bible for us to see. “…they shall be comforted.” Comfort has already been promised for those who mourn. The package is on the way, but it hasn’t arrived yet.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Personality is no Excuse for Bad Bible


he article is titled Why English Majors Make Lousy Fundamentalists and is written by Morgan Guyton. Morgan is a Methodist preacher. He begins by saying that is personality type is INFP in the Myers-Briggs system and so doesn’t “like to deal with hard facts and logic” and doesn’t “understand or believe in the validity of impersonal judgment.” He also equates this with an English major. He then lists and comments on seven instincts of English majors when reading the Bible.

  1. Unsubtle communication is bad writing
  2. Narrators are supposed to have agenda
  3. It’s all about the metaphors
  4. We make analogies
  5. We expect characters to be complicated
  6. Poetry trumps grammar and history
  7. Every text has multiple voices

I’ll leave it to you to read his comments concerning each one. I think you will find that there is some truth to what he says. Large portions of the Bible are written as poetry. So, if we’re going to understand the Bible, we’re going to have to put our poetry hat on. And when you look at the gospels, we see the same story told from slightly different points of view. Metaphors are also important to our understanding of the Bible, or we’ll never have any hope of understanding the parables of Jesus. Analogies are important if we are going to use what we know from one part of the Bible to understand another part. As for characters being complicated, there can be no greater complication than a holy God who cannot look upon sin, who loves sinful man so much that he wants to have fellowship with him, whatever the cost. Is it significant that ekklesia is a compound word? I don’t think Jesus picked that word by accident. Can we say that the Bible has multiple voices? Take a look at the Book of Job. Of course the Bible has multiple voices.

But we also need to understand that the Bible has some cold hard facts. When you get over into the genealogies, for example, you can’t turn that into a metaphor. There is danger in trying to turn things into metaphors when God didn’t intend for them to be metaphors, just as there is danger in trying to take something that God intended to be a metaphor and forcing it to mean something that God didn’t intend. Part of the Bible is subtle, but some of it is as subtle as a Mack truck. Galatians 5:21 isn’t very subtle when it says, “they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.”

It is ironic that the writer justifies turning Genesis 1 into a metaphor by saying a literal interpretation is a “contradiction of modern science.” The best that science can do is look at the way things are now and speculate on a way in which those things could come to be. There are many scientists who believe in a literal interpretation of Genesis 1. If you want to know what happened during World War II, you would ask someone who lived through it, not someone who has only read about it. So, if you want to know how the world was created, don’t you think you should ask the person who created it? Besides which, the order of creation in the Bible and the order that evolutionary scientists suggest don’t match. If the Bible is the infallible Word of God, metaphor or not, the order of creation tells us that “modern scientists” have it wrong.

I’m not sure why the writer goes into a discussion of the word ekklesia under the heading “poetry trumps grammar and history,” but that’s what he chose to do. His claim is that it is more significant that ekklesia is a compound noun from ek (out) and klesia (calling), than it is that during the time of Jesus the word ekklesia referred to “an assembly.” But proper interpretation isn’t one or the other, but we’ve got to consider both. Take the words “horsefly” and “dragonfly.” A horsefly isn’t a horse that flies, but a fly that we often see on the back of horses. But a dragonfly isn’t a fly that we see on dragons, rather it is a fly that looks like a dragon. It takes more than just combining two words to understand what it means. So, an understanding of what people thought of when Jesus used the word is important. But there’s more to it than that. We also have to look that the context in which it is used. The vast majority of the times it is used in the Bible, the word ekklesia is referring a local assembly. Don’t take my word for that, go look. There are a few instances where it is used and the context doesn’t make it obvious that it is a local assembly, but nowhere is it used in such a way that using the word “assembly” to interpret it would not fit the context.

Our personalities may influence the things we notice when we read the Bible, but one’s personality isn’t a good reason for bad doctrine. Maybe you don’t enjoy reading “the facts” of the Bible as much as someone else, but that doesn’t make them any less true. And maybe someone doesn’t get as much out of the poetry as someone else, but that is no excuse for skipping it. God didn’t give us the Bible so we could pick and choose what we want to read. He gave us the whole thing. Just as the words are from God, the literary form of the books is from God. Let’s take the time to understand what God is saying, even if he says it in a way we don’t enjoy reading.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Dangerous Backflow

The Oscars were last night. I didn’t watch it, and it appears I didn’t miss much. If the reports on the new are anything to go by, the highlight of the evening was that a bunch of actors huddled up for a group “selfie.” The Oscars, like all awards shows, are about people in the industry congratulating other people within the industry for how well they did. Why would they do something like that? Ultimately, it encourages people working within the industry to do a better job.

But for the rest of us, it is a reminder of how much influence Hollywood has. It is understandable that the people in the motion picture industry are interested in who won what, but why should anyone else care? By the time The Oscars happen, people have already spent the money they’re going to spend on the movies that have been nominated. You can attribute it to hero worship, glamour, fancy clothing or several other things, but the fact remains that Hollywood has influence.

Sadly, Hollywood has significant influence. The people with the most significant influence are the actors—the liars, the people paid to pretend to be someone they are not, the people selected more because of how they look and the sound of their voice than for the intelligence in their heads. Predominantly, the Hollywood people we see are well-spoken, attractive, likable people, so people listen to what they say, even when they are completely lacking in wisdom.

Cartoonist Gary Thomas showed it as the sewage of Hollywood being dumped into the minds of the American public. Though it wouldn’t help the cartoon any, a more accurate picture would show that sewage flowing back into Hollywood as well. Hollywood feeds on its own waste. The garbage that comes from the minds of those who have made it into the upper ranks of Hollywood feeds into the minds of the people who hope to make it to that level in their careers. The moral compass is broken. People define their own morals based on what seems good at the time and then they promote it like it is the truth. The people looking to make it in Hollywood listen to these people because their success is seen as evidence that they know what they’re talking about. By the time they do make it, their minds are full of the same sewage that fills the minds of the rest of Hollywood.

To make it worse, there are a lot of Christians who are turning to Hollywood as their source of truth, rather than looking to the real source of truth. And many don’t realize that is what they are doing.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

I Shouldn't Have Posted That

When you count up everyone, I do well to talk to more than a hundred people in a week. If you ignore the people I only asked how they were doing and didn’t have a meaningful conversation with, it drops considerably. Most of these conversations take place one on one or with a very small number of people. If I happen to say something I shouldn’t have, it might do some harm, but the damage is minimal

Facebook is different. Post something to Facebook and fifty people will see it within five minutes. If people start liking it or sharing it, you may have 150 people look at it within a couple of hours. Think about that. One post on Facebook says more to more people than a week’s worth of meaningful conversations.

But also think about this: Let’s say you let your guard down and you repeat a juicy piece of gossip. In regular conversation, you may have said it to one person and by the time you get to the next person, you might have thought, “I really shouldn’t have repeated that.” So, you don’t tell anyone else what you heard. Not so on Facebook.

That happened to me this week. I was reading through the news feed and came across a post sharing a link that talked about some allegations that had been brought against a particular motivational speaker. The man who had shared the link is a man that I believe to be a Christian, though he isn’t of the same denomination as me. I shared the link and within a few moments a friend that respect a great deal had commented saying that he didn’t think it was appropriate for a Christian to share something like that on Facebook. I deleted it immediately, though I wasn’t sure that I agreed with him, and I’m still not completely sure.

I did come to the conclusion though, that some people might take what I posted as saying that something was true that I had no way of knowing if it were true or not. It had the appearance of gossip, and my posting it could’ve easily caused it to spread to hundreds of people, rather than just a handful.

Even though Facebook is like a big conversation, it is good to remember that we’re talking to a lot more people all at one time. Some of these people may never respond to our post, but they read it. But there is a good side too. Unlike with normal conversation, you can take it back. Sort of. If you realize you said something you shouldn’t have, you can delete the post. If people have already read it, that doesn’t help much, but it sure beats 150 people thinking you are a gossip.