Tuesday, April 30, 2013

An Illusion of Necessity



But godliness with contentment is great gain, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content. (1 Timothy 6:6-8)

Let me be the first to admit, I struggle with discontentment and regularly fight the urge to elevate so many things to the level of necessity in my life while trying not to covet the stuff that others have. I do not believe that I’m alone in this struggle; otherwise Scripture would not address the interaction between our hearts and treasures so many times. Yet, when I break through the struggle, I remember how blessed and thankful I am for the Lord’s abundant provisions; the purpose of this posting.


According to Scripture, food and clothing is the bare minimum for contentment. We have been blessed with so much and are rich in comparison. Paul’s words to Timothy at the end of the epistle must be considered:

As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy. They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, thus storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly life. (1 Timothy 6:17-19). 

My satisfaction must be found in Christ alone. Nothing else will provide fulfillment. Pastor and author Matt Chandler says it well, “No change of job, no increased income, no new home, no new electronic device, or no new spouse is going to make things better inside of you.” God’s rich provisions should result in thankfulness and an outward/eternal focus, bringing enjoyment rooted in Him.  

Danielle and I have had to become much more intentional in our stewardship and have learned to do with less since Nathaniel’s birth a year ago after going down to one income. Yet, we have seen the Lord’s provision and blessings throughout the year. Although our house is nothing fancy and the furniture is wearing/worn out, it has been such a joy and blessing to open our home to others (usually college students) for meals, game nights, or just to talk. This is what we want Nathaniel to experience regularly growing up. I found myself discouraged tonight thinking about recent car repair expenses and a newly identified repair need in the near future, yet I am thankful for Lord’s provisions in past repair needs and trust Him for future ones. How blessed we are to have two running vehicles when so many can barely keep one running. We are blessed to support different missionaries serving around the world. Our bills are paid each month. Finally, we are blessed that Danielle is able to stay home as a full time mom. We know that this is not possible for every mother, but we cannot comprehend how much we would have missed with Nathaniel changing daily if he had been in day care or with a sitter. No new furniture, fancy cars, or other gadgets can replace this. 

The Lord is so good and I am so thankful for His provisions, even though I can forget it at times.
 
Ever since last Sunday’s sermon on money and treasures, I have been thinking about Big Tent Revival’s song Two Sets of Jones’ (1995). While it is an old song, it has a powerful message.


 
Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there you heart will be also. (Matthew 6:19-21)

May our hearts be fixed on our Lord Jesus Christ, the only source of satisfaction. May we trust our loving Heavenly Father to provide all of our needs in His time and not our own.

Monday, April 29, 2013

The Aroma of Christ



But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere. For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, to one a fragrance from death to death and to the other a fragrance from life to life. (2 Corinthians 2:14-16) 


The richness of 2 Corinthians 2:14-16 is not fully apparent until the historical context is understood. In the Roman Empire, triumphal processions were held after a great war victory. The victorious general would lead, followed by his army, and then the prisoners of war. The air would be filled with the smells of burning incense from the censers and the aroma of rose pedals being cast onto the parade route by onlookers. To the returning army, it was the sweet aroma of victory and celebration, but to the nostrils of the prisoners it was a pungent odor and reminder that death was at hand. An odor with diametrically opposite meanings. The gospel and lives of Christ followers have the same effect today.


As faithful and obedient Christ-followers, we take the gospel message to the world around us by proclaiming the ministry of reconciliation through His atoning death for our sins and bodily resurrection from the grave (2 Corinthians 5:20). We are His ambassadors….His aroma as we spread the fragrance of the knowledge of Him everywhere. For some the sweet aroma of the gospel message is welcome as they are saved from their sins and become new creations in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17). We are His aroma as we live for Christ in accordance to His Word, marked by love. Yet, as we know, the same gospel message and Christ-like lives are pungent to those who reject it and us. The gospel and Christians reminders of the truth they try so hard to suppress- they deserve death (hell) because of their sin (Romans 1:18, 32).

As I study 2 Corinthians 2:14-16 I am reminded that I am not responsible for how others will respond to the knowledge of Him. I am to live obediently in Him, proclaiming the good news of the Gospel, and leaving the rest to the Lord. For many, this will be a “horrific odor” and rejected; but to others it will be the sweet smell of victory and new life in Christ! Finally, it is the Lord who leads and I am to follow. One day I will follow the Lord in the final battle, as He leads the armies of heaven to victory when He returns to establish His earthly and eternal kingdom!


Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! The one sitting on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war. His eyes are like flames of fire, and on his head are many diadems, and he has a name written that no one knows but himself. He is clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and the name by which he is called The Word of God. And the armies of heaven, arrayed in fine linen, white and pure, were following him on white horses. From his mouth comes a sharp sword which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron. He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God Almighty. On his robe and on his thigh he has a name written, King of kings and Lord of lords…And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away. (Revelation 20:11-16; 21:3-4)

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Hare Today, Gone Tomorrow



Most are familiar with Aesop’s classic fable, The Tortoise and the Hare, where the speedy hare is beaten in a race against a slow tortoise. While the hare boasted of his great intentions, he was lacking in action, and as a result did not finish well. I find many parallels between this fable and the Christian life.

Like the boastful hare, we boast of great intentions but get distracted by many things- some outright sinful (e.g. sexual immorality) and others just desires/passions which keep us from whole-hearted devotion to Christ (e.g. love of money, sports, or sleep). The results can be devastating. In the past year I have seen marriages crumble, addictions form, and any desire for Christ grow cold. The hare lost because he didn’t take the race seriously, but rather chose to take a couple extra naps and eat a nice big meal; figuring he had plenty of time to win the race later on. However, he learned the hard way and lost. Within the church, many feel they can play around with sin and pleasures, having time to catch up and win later on. They rely on crash course Bible studies, a conference, and/or missions trip to a 3rd world country to “get them in gear” for the win. Ultimately, by relying on these sporadic “Jesus jolts” to sustain them will not work and they will not finish well.

The Christian life is a marathon, not a sprint. We need to live our lives accordingly. We need to live the life of the tortoise.

In the fable, the tortoise consistently pressed on during the race. He was not distracted and he did not rely on power boosts. His consistency resulted in him finishing well by winning the race. For us, we need to walk as children of the light (Ephesians 5), consistently striving for holiness and active obedience daily, cultivating a deeper relationship and love for Christ through daily Bible study and prayer, and active participation in the local church. This will result in a lifetime of loving others, serving others, making disciples, and having a tremendous kingdom impact pleasing to the Lord. The net outcome of this life marked by consistency will far surpass the occasional conference attendance or missions trip involvement. The church is in desperate need of more tortoises and less hares!

Paul admonishes the Corinthians to run their race to win: “Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified” (1 Corinthians 9:24-27). Let us run to win, plodding consistently through our lives as Christ-followers. May we be able to echo Paul’s words at the end of his life: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (2 Timothy 4:7).

May we all strive hard to run the race consistently and run it well with endurance, keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus through it all, not being distracted by the sins which so easily entangle (Hebrews 12:1). May we all celebrate together at the “finish line” one day in heaven!

Monday, April 15, 2013

Joy Comes in the Morning



Psalm 30:5b “Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning.”

Tomorrow marks seven years since Danielle and I received the telephone call which informed us that we would not be going to serve in Honduras as full-time missionaries. I vividly remember sitting on the edge of the bed telling Danielle the news, which was a blow to both of us. In the following days we would relay the news to family members, friends, church family, and our prayer support team; facing the same questions repeatedly- “why didn’t you get the call” and “now what are you going to do?”. The months following the news would be a time for mourning, reflection, healing, and reengaging in Rockford life, which we had started to pull away from when we were so certain that we were heading to Central America. 

Fast forward seven years to April 14, 2013 as we sit in our living room surrounded by family and friends celebrating Nathaniel’s first birthday. Not only was it wonderful to celebrate our long-awaited son after a lengthy adoption process, it was an honor to experience it with those that we have shared life and ministry with in the last seven years, including a wonderful group of college ministry students/former youth ministry students that we have the privilege and blessing to call friends. I will not say that this would have been
impossible if we had gone down to Honduras, but highly unlikely. Yesterday was a tremendous reminder of God’s wonderful blessings and joy He brings as we strove to follow Him obediently after the Honduras life chapter closed.

So many friends seem to be facing tough decisions and “closed doors” (I hate that term) regarding work, school, and life issues.  These issues are not easy and can weigh heavy on hearts. For those in the midst these situations, a couple of suggestions:

  • Always obey the written Word of God. For the Christian to willfully violate the written commands of Scripture is to invite strict discipline and hardship  into their lives (Hebrews 12:5-11).

  •  Elicit prayer support (James 5:16, I Thessalonians 5:17, etc.). Danielle and I relied on the prayers of dear brothers and sisters after the Honduras chapter and throughout our adoption journey.
  •   Just do something. After prayer and study of God’s Word, don’t get stuck in the paralysis of analysis or self-pity. Make a decision and get moving. Don’t worry about making the wrong decision if the options do not violate God’s written Word. The fact is, we serve a sovereign God in complete control.

Proverbs 16:9 has been a “life verse” for many years. “The heart of man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps.” I am so thankful for Him directing our steps over the years, leading to yesterday’s birthday celebration for Nathaniel. God is good.

Addendum:

I just realized that our old blog site is still up (does anything ever really go away on the internet?). Here is an entry that I wrote during that season: Our Current Calling.

Casting Crowns' song Already There was a huge comfort during our adoption journey and powerfully speaks to God's sovereignty.


Saturday, April 13, 2013

Is Google Making Me Stoopid? Reflections on The Shallows by Nicholas Carr

The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains by Nicholas Carr is a book that had it's genesis in a 2008 article published in The Atlantic titled Is Google Making us Stupid?. The premise of the article and the book is that our brains are being rewired because of the internet, affecting our ability to think deeply, concentrate, and demonstrate reading retention.

Carr's book was excellent and his case was well made. One cannot argue that the internet does not serve many useful purposes and has many advantages. However, like the advent of the printing press and mass publication centuries ago, the internet is having a profound effect on how humans think and remember. For example, prior to the internet I/we used to commit information to memory to be accessed at a later time; but now are more prone to treat memory as an index system- remembering how and where to access the information rather than the information itself. Carr's other arguments include the structure of webpages and the distractions from following numerous hyperlinks, the necessity for brevity in text on a webpage, and how reading patterns have changed. As a result, concentration and rationalization has decreased dramatically, and we are often settling for brief encounters with many shallow topics rather than plunging deeply into any one of them. I find each of his examples to ring true in my own thinking and life. My brain is different than it was before online access was literally at my fingertips 24/7.

As a Christian and leader within the church, this book served as a powerful reminder and warning how a rewired internet brain affects biblical understanding and comprehension; affecting my walk with Christ.

One weakness in the book is that Carr never answered the questions "so what" or "now what". No remedies or suggestions were given for his observations contained in the 200+ pages. Yet, I have arrived at several personal action steps to use and retrain my brain:
  • when reading books- the iPad, computer, and phone need to be put away in order to reduce distractions and enhance concentration
  • for every 45 minutes of reading, dedicate 15 minutes to reflection and thinking about what has been read (I learned this from a Howard Hendricks book)
  • minimize distractions while at work: email pop up notifications on my computer, background music selection, accessibility of the iPad on my desk all affect my concentration and productivity
  • utilize a plain text Bible for much of my study rather than my study Bible to force me to think about a passage rather than jumping to notes/commentary for others to do the thinking for me (I also learned this from Hendricks)
  • devote time to Scripture memorization, a neglected area for my entire Christian life
  • write and blog more often, permitting me the opportunity to think deeper about topics and express myself
  • become more intentional in my internet usage; minimizing the time of mindless surfing
This is not an exhaustive list and will probably grow over time. I would really like to hear from readers how you believe that the internet has affected reading, thinking, and comprehension and any countermeasures put into place in your own lives (or your kid's lives) to combat it.

Here is the link to Carr's original article (I didn't hyperlink earlier because you may have never come back to this posting): Is Google Making Us Stupid?

Here is the link to the book on Amazon: The Shallows by Nicholas Carr

Monday, April 8, 2013

Fear God Not Man



It has been said that 16th century Scottish reformer John Knox feared the face of God so much that he feared no man. This is a powerful statement considering the intense persecution Knox faced throughout his life. As I examine my own life, and today’s evangelical church in America, we are in desperate need for the same statement to ring true with each of us. 

Scripture is clear, to please both man and God is mutually exclusive and cannot be done (Galatians 1:10). Rather, we are called to love the Lord our God with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength (Mark 12:30) which is demonstrated through our obedience to His commands (I John 5:3); including the commands of what to do, what not to do (mortification of the flesh), and how to conduct ourselves within the church. It is this last area which I would like to dwell on for the remainder of this note.

I believe that within the Christian community, we tolerate/accommodate too much sin in the lives of other professing Christ-followers. We avoid confrontation because we do not want to feel uncomfortable or offend the other person. Yet, this is contrary to Scripture:

  •  If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. (Matthew 18:15-17)

  • Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted.(Galatians 6:1)

  •  My brothers, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back, let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins (James 5:19-20)

Jesus taught His followers that:  “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple (Luke 14:25-26).” In comparison to our love for Christ, the love we have for all others is to look like hatred. As a result, when we take firm stands against ongoing sin in the lives of another professing Christian because of our love for Christ- it may appear as hate by some who do not understand the motivation (repentance and restoration). Likewise, we may be hated by others for our firm stance against sin.

Paul spoke very directly to the Corinthian church in regards to the handling of ongoing sinwithin a  professing Christian’s life (1 Corinthians 5). Specifically, he gives these instructions in verses 9-12 (emphasis mine):
 I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people— not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters, since the you would need to go out of the world. But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler—not even to eat with such a one. For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge?

 The goal of this approach is repentance and restoration for those engaged in an unrepentant pattern of sin. I appreciate Dr. Harry Ironside’s commentary on 1 Corinthians 5: “This man was in the circle of those who are “of God.” Somebody might say, “The way to help him is to keep him in the circle, let him sit down with you at the Communion table; do not be hard on him, try to win him back, throw your arms of love about him and sympathize with him.” The unrepentant man will be more hardened in his iniquity if you do that. Put him outside in the Devil’s domain, let him know that he has forfeited all title to a place with the people of God—that he has been put back into the world where Satan rules. That is what he means when he says, “Deliver such as one unto Satan for the destruction of the flesh.” What has caused all this trouble? The activity of the flesh. Very well, put him out in that sphere where he will find out that “it is an evil and a bitter thing to forsake the Lord his God.” When he finds himself abhorred by men and women who love Christ, when he finds his sin is a stench in the nostrils of Christian people, he may break before God. If, in spite of his sin, he has really been born again, he will break. If he has been a false professor, he will plunge deeper and deeper into evil things.” Ironside continues, “The greatest kindness that the people of God can do to a man who is deliberately going on in willful sin is to refuse Christian fellowship to him. As long as you treat him as a brother he will only be puffed up in his ungodly ways and it will be harder to reach him. But if you obey the Word, God will work toward his recovery and restoration.”

I believe that Christians within the American church need to learn to fear God over man and respond directly to sin within the body in gentleness and love. 

In conclusion, personal holiness has become passé in today’schurch, especially among the millennial generation. As a result/consequence, we look little different than the world around us. Unless we respond with a new resolve to address our sinning brother/sister as laid out into Scripture, the church in America may well slide into obscurity when the Voice of Truth and Message of Hope needs to be communicated in this most desperate hour.
 
For further reflection on this topic, Francis Chan preached a powerful and challenging sermon on this topic a few years ago. It has generated much thought and reflection in my life and is worth the approximately 45 minutes to watch.