Sunday, November 3, 2013

Together for the Gospel

Only let you manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come to see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel (Philippians 1:27, emphasis mine).

Paul’s challenge to the Philippian church is also a challenge to our local churches two millennia later. Much internal conflict and complaining exist over issues of preference and not biblical truth today. In order to turn the world upside down for Jesus Christ (Acts 17:6), we must lay our preferences aside and strive for unity, including between ethnicities and between generations (i.e. boomers, millennials, etc.). 

…make my joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose. (Philippians 2:2, NAS)

For followers of Jesus Christ in the local church, a life worthy of the gospel is a marked by love and unity in purpose. My local church has summarized this purpose through four key elements: exalt the Living God, explain the Word of God, encourage the family of God, and extend the love of God….so that everyone who is touched by God through our ministry will come into a personal and growing relationship with Jesus Christ. After explaining the “what”, Paul transitions to the “how” and “why” in the following verses.

Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. (Philippians 2:3-4)

Simply stated, we (young and old) must move beyond our own desires and personal preferences. It is essential that local churches move beyond arguing over facilities, music styles, worship components, or whether coffee should be permitted in Sunday services. Rather, we must strive together for the proclamation of the Word, personal holiness, discipleship, and reaching a hell-bound world with the gospel of Jesus Christ- the ONLY hope this world has! 

Jesus Christ is our perfect example in this area. “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross (Philippians 2:5-8)”. The Majestic Lord, immense in power, worshiped by angels, and Who’s voice shook the temple foundations in Isaiah 6 to “And she gave birth to her first born son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn (Luke 2:7)”. Music styles and coffee seem so insignificant in comparison.

Finally, our attitudes inside the church will affect our witness outside the church.

Do all things without grumbling or disputing, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world. (Philippians 2:14-15)

We all have personal preferences, inside the church and life in general. Yet, for the furthering of the gospel, the health of local churches, and ultimately for the glory of Jesus Christ- we must lay these personal preferences aside and stand firm in one spirit, striving side by side. 

Friday, September 27, 2013

The Coming Storm

I really enjoyed the Terminator* movies as a teenager. In the science fiction plot line machines take over in the not-too-distant future, and the remaining humans are forced to resist and fight for survival, being led by John Connor. Throughout several movies, terminator cyborgs are sent to the late 20th century from the future to kill Connor before birth, as a child, and as a teen- eliminating (terminating?) their future struggle against the humans. Obviously they are unsuccessful. Connor’s mother, Sarah, is seen preparing John to lead the future war in T2. I believe similarities can be identified when reading 2nd Timothy and the Terminator storyline. 

Like the movies which foresaw a future apocalypse with a remnant of mankind fighting for survival, the Apostle Paul wrote to Timothy about a future world: “But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God,  having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power (2 Timothy 3:1-5a).” Paul saw the day where society would degenerate while evil people would go from bad to worse (3:13). Like Sarah Connor, Paul instructed and trained Timothy and the future church about how to approach these coming days.

Paul clearly stated persecution would come for those who choose to obey Jesus Christ and live for Him (3:12). Our response today must be to obey Jesus Christ- whatever the cost, by remaining strong in the Word, rooted and prepared for difficult times. After recognizing that evil will increase, he instructs Timothy to “continue in what you have learned and firmly believed, knowing from who you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation in Christ Jesus (2 Timothy 3:14-15).” He continues, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man (person) of God may be complete, equipped for every good work (2 Timothy 3:16-17). Scripture must remain our foundation during this spiritual war, present and future. We must know it, we must obey it, and we must teach it. Through it we will know the Lord, understand how to live a righteous and pleasing life for Him, live as ambassadors for Jesus Christ by proclaiming the gospel, and instruct those coming after us to obey Him. 

As a dad of a one and a half year old, I realize the world Nathaniel grows up in will be far different than in the one I experienced. Increased difficulty and persecution will most likely come in his lifetime. Like the fictional Sarah Conner character who saw the storm coming and prepared her son, Danielle and I must prepare Nathaniel for difficult days ahead. We pray for his salvation at an early age and a heart devoted to serve the Lord all of his life. May we train Nathaniel to serve Him and one day change the world in the midst of dark times for the glory of the Lord and the furthering of His kingdom.  Finally, we all must be preparing for coming days of difficulty and persecution by growing in our knowledge and understanding of His Word. 

*By referencing the Terminator movies, I am not advocating their viewing. Some of the content may be objectionable and not promote the mind of Christ.

Originally posted as a Facebook note in May 2012. Updated and revised.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Soli Deo Gloria

I was deeply challenged and convicted by a recent conference session taught by hip hop artist Lecrae. For years I considered my calling as a nurse/educator/process improvement specialist subpar with those who have been called to full time vocational ministry, and struggled with wondering why I was not called to attend seminary and into vocational ministry. 

I’ve also been guilty of elevating those called into vocational ministry above those called to “secular” work: nurses, teachers, mechanics, lawyers, doctors, retail managers, engineers, etc. This mindset could not be further from the truth! There is not an “A” team and “B” team in the church. We are all part of a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, so that we may proclaim the excellencies of Him who called us out darkness into His marvelous light (1 Peter 2:9). 

As Christians, we are to be a gospel presence in the world around us (Matthew 5:13-16). We NEED the aroma of Christ (2 Corinthians 2:15) to permeate our hospitals, stores, public schools, farms, legal firms, theater companies, music outlets, factories, restaurants, and so on. Whatever our calling, we are His and are to bring Him glory (Colossians 3:23-24). 

I rejoice when I see others being called into full time vocational ministry. I need to rejoice and encourage more when I see others desiring to serve Jesus and being a gospel presence in whatever “secular” vocation they pursue.

Soli Deo Gloria!
(to God alone the glory!) 

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Never Give In

On October 29, 1941 British Prime Minister Winston Churchill was asked to give a speech at his alma mater. The 65 year old man rose and went to the podium as everyone present fixed their attention to this great leader. Then, Mr. Churchill began to speak, accented with his well-known lisp, saying “Never give in. Never give in. Never, never, never, never—in nothing, great or small, large or petty—never give in, except to convictions of honor and good sense. Never yield to force. Never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy." The great statesman continued for a few more minutes before returning to his seat.

Powerful words for a nation at war, powerful words for us as followers of Jesus Christ in the church today.

 Are you discouraged by the rampant wickedness in our society such as abortion, sexual immorality, and violence? Do you wonder what impact one “insignificant” person like you can make in such a dark society? Never give in

Is the person who you have prayed for years still hostile to the gospel, causing you to ask what’s the point of praying for them? Never give in.

Are your relationships crumbling and you want to throw in the towel? Never give in.

Is the person you are discipling not growing at the rate you had anticipated? Never give in.

Does a certain besetting sin continue to plague you regularly as you grow weary from fighting? Never give in.

Do you daily devotional times seem drab and dull? Never give in.

The Apostle Paul said “I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:14). Day by day we must press on- keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus, the Author and Perfector of our faith (Hebrews 12:1-2). It will be worth it in the end!

After British defeats in World War 2, Churchill looked ahead to victory, stating “Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duties and so bear ourselves that, if the British Empire and its Commonwealth last for a thousand years, men will still say, 'This was their finest hour.'” We fight for an eternal kingdom with millions of souls in the balance between heaven and hell. May the times of perseverance be our finest hours for the Glory of Jesus Christ.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Time bomb!

We're not a team. We're a time bomb!
This line was spoken by Dr. Bruce Banner, as earth's mightiest heroes were at the pinnacle of the inner-conflict engineered by Loki, the "god of mischief" in the Avengers movie. They allowed pride, personal preferences, and desires for personal gain create division; placing their mission in jeopardy. This conflict is not isolated to a superhero movie but is experienced by born-again Christians in our churches today.

The Apostle Peter described Satan as a roaring lion on the prowl looking for those to devour (1 Peter 5:8). While he cannot touch our salvation and identity in Jesus Christ, he actively works to destroy the work and mission of the church. Instead of focusing on the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20), we spend much time arguing about interpersonal issues or preferences such as music style, decor, schedules, and programs. Fueled by pride and/or a desire for personal gain, the overall negative impact on gospel proclamation and disciple-making is significant. As Christians, we must not forget that we have one enemy, and he is not sitting in the pew across from us!

We must move beyond our personal conflicts and focus on the mission of proclaiming Jesus Christ to a lost world and making disciples, united as a team. 1 Corinthians 13:4-7, often referred to as the "love chapter" was addressed to churches and not a bride and groom. Imagine the kingdom impact when we love one another in the church accordingly: 

Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful, it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Likewise, let us make every effort to obediently follow Ephesians 4:31-32 "Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you."

I am convinced that great kingdom impacts will be made when we put our differences and preferences aside, working diligently as a team united under the cross of Jesus Christ. In the Avengers, the earth's future was at stake--in our battle, the stakes are much higher. The eternal destinies of millions weigh in the balance between heaven and hell. We cannot afford to lose sight of this truth!

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Get Out There!

"Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you." John 20:21

 The Great Commission is recorded five times in the gospels and Acts, each time with a different emphasis. Matthew notes the authority of our Lord (28:18-20), Mark stresses the final judgment (16:15-16), Luke the fulfillment of prophesy (24:45-47), John links our commissioning with the prior coming of the Lord (20:21), and Acts sets forth the program for world evangelization (1:8). I will focus on John’s emphasis for the remainder of this post.

The Father sent Jesus into the world and became human like us. He was born, He grew, He suffered, and He eventually died. He did not make His proclamation from a distance. He stepped out of eternity and engaged sinful man face to face. Jesus Christ, the eternal Son of God and second Person of the Trinity, left physical footprints upon this world! Prior to His ascension, Jesus turned this reality onto His followers-- commanding them to go out and engage the world face to face just like He did. As Christ-followers, have we fallen short in engaging the world around us to whom we are sent? 

We have been sent out by Jesus Christ (John 17:18), but many within evangelical Christianity are retreating from the world rather than invading it; ironic when we consider that the term evangelical communicates a commitment to the proclamation of the gospel. We have retreated to where it is nice or safe or nonthreatening. As far as anyone can tell from our actions, we are saying to the world that it can go to hell. I am convicted by Dr. David Platt’s comment in his book Radical, “…while some professing Christians have rejected universalism intellectually, practically they may end up leading universalistic lives. They claim Christ is necessary for salvation, yet they live their Christianity in silence, as if people around them will indeed be okay in the end without Christ.” (p. 142)

Something must change and it must start with our hearts. We must set aside personal preferences, agendas, distractions and fears to become consumed by our Lord, the gospel, and His Word so that we will go into our communities and make Him known. We must grow serious about engaging the world around us, following Jesus’ example as He engaged our world (Philippians 2:5-8). 

As we consider strategy, do we really need more special interest groups within our local churches, such as quilting bees, fishing and hunting gatherings, motorcycle clubs, or sports leagues? Why can’t we plug into the existing equivalents within our communities; building relationships and bringing a gospel presence to the world outside the walls of the church? Additionally, let’s find opportunities to become involved in local committees and boards. Let’s take part in book discussions held in local libraries and book stores. All of these are opportunities to go into the world as ambassadors for Jesus Christ (2Corinthians 5:18-20).

Dr. Howard Hendricks said that in the midst of a generation screaming for answers, Christians are stuttering. How true! We have the Word of Truth and the only hope for a lost and perishing world. We must get more serious about following Jesus into the world. I know that changes are necessary in my life and ministry. How about yours?