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Hall of Tyrannus

a place to discuss and learn together what it means to bring the truth of Jesus Christ into a secular world by words and deeds

Location: Central Asia or Kentucky--quite a range huh?
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  • Tuesday, May 29, 2007

    Who is Jesus?: Thoughts from Luke 8:19-56

    Read Luke: 19-56 here.

    In Luke’s Gospel account, more than any other (I think), we find the question “who is Jesus?”. Jesus comes onto the scene and does the unexpected or the impossible and people of all kinds have to ask “who is this guy?”. A few examples:

    Luke 5:21—Who is this who speaks blasphemies? (Pharisees)

    Luke 7:19—are you the One who is to come? (John the Baptist)

    Luke 7:49—Who is this who even forgives sins? (people at Simon the Pharisee’s house)

    Luke 8:25—Who then is this who commands even the wind and the waves? (disciples)

    Luke 9:9—Who is this about whom I hear such things? (Herod)

    And, then, as times goes on Jesus asks the question of others:

    Luke 9:18, 20—Who do the crowds say that I am?... Who do you say that I am? (Jesus to Peter)

    In the passage at hand, several answers can be found to the question ‘Who is Jesus?’. Of course, there are more good answers but the ones we have here are worthy of much consideration.

    1. He is the One who came to establish a new family.

    In verse 21, Jesus says, “My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and do it.” Jesus is bringing people into a family. The family of God. Paul writes in Romans that we are children of God and fellow heirs with Christ. We don’t follow a general or a president or an earthly dictator when we follow Christ. We follow the king of the universe who, after his resurrection, called his disciples brothers. We follow our savior, with whom we are co-heirs of God. We follow the One who has restored us to the family of God.

    2. He is the One with power over weather

    In verses 22-25, we read the familiar story of Jesus calming the storm. Jesus was fast asleep. No anxiety, no worry. When his disciples woke him, he spoke but a word and the wind stopped. The storm stopped. Of all the things we humans fear, weather is one of the biggest. We are powerless to change or control it. Anyone who knows farmers knows that all the work you do for crops is useless if it doesn’t rain. We are, in many ways, at the mercy of the weather. But here is Jesus. With no effort and one word commanding the weather. He moves the disciples from a time of worry and danger into a time of calm and peace.

    3. He is the One with power over demons

    Of all the stories of Jesus work, I think his encounter with Legion is one of the best to show who Jesus is and what he is all about. He goes out to a desolate place. A place no Jewish person would go. He goes to a man who is naked and crazy. A man who is feared by people. A man who the rest of the word has written off as lost. If ever there was a lost person it was Legion. No hope. But Jesus goes to him and, again, with a word, he frees him of his demons. He restores him to his right mind and clothes him (verse 35). Jesus is the shepherd who, at great cost to himself, will go into the briars and cliffs and find the one lost lamb and bring him into the fold of God.

    4. He is the One with power over disease

    As Jesus is passing through the crowd a woman touches his clothes. The hem of his garment. The woman has spent all she has to be free of her disease. A disease that would have rendered her unclean in the eyes of the Pharisees. This time Jesus doesn’t even speak. The believing woman touches his robe and is healed. Jesus could have left it at that but he didn’t. He called attention to her and then he called her “daughter”. One commenter remarks that this is a unique instance of Jesus calling a woman daughter in the Gospels. How tender and kind he is. He did what none of the doctors could do. He showed his power over our weak bodies and the ailments that we have. He also restored the woman from uncleanness to cleanness.

    5. He is the One with power over death

    In verses 40-42 and 49-56, we read the story of Jesus raising a girl from the dead. Again, Jesus comes to a hopeless situation. Everyone has given up. They are mourning the girl’s death. The father’s friend tells him not to trouble Jesus on the account of dead girl (verse 49). Jesus says that no, there is indeed hope. He speaks, “child arise” and the girl lives. With a word, restores the girl from death to life.

    Of course all of these things point to one answer. Only God, Himself, can do these thing. Jesus is God in flesh. He is savior of sinners. He is the one who has authority over all nature and sickness. He is one with power over demons, sin, and death. He is the One who came to reconcile lost people to the family of God.

    The Lord’s Table

    As we come to the Lord’s Table to take communion together. Let’s contitue to think about this question, ‘Who is Jesus?’.

    First, we come to the table as people who have answered the question, “who is Jesus?”. In the Heidelberg Catechism, question 81 asks, ‘For whom is the Lord's supper instituted?’. The answer , in part, is given: ‘For those who are truly sorrowful for their sins, and yet trust that these are forgiven them for the sake of Christ; and that their remaining infirmities are covered by his passion and death; and who also earnestly desire to have their faith more and more strengthened, and their lives more holy’. Of all the things that might separate us, they pale in comparison to this thing that unites us. We all would surely say, with Peter, that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God. We would all confess that our only hope for salvation lies in Jesus. By eating the supper, we confess that we do follow Jesus and depend on him for all nourishment and all provision. In the supper, we show that we have answered the question, ‘Who is Jesus?’.

    We also come to the table as people who need to have this question answered over and over again. We need to say to ourselves and hear it said to us that Jesus is the Christ. We need to hear it said that “this is a trustworthy saying that Christ came to save sinners.” We need to be told again and again that “while we were dead in our trespasses, Christ died for us.” We need to be told that because He rose from the tomb, we shall also rise from the dead. In the words our Lord used to institute the supper, we have the answer: This is my body, broken for you. This is the blood of the new covenant poured out for you. Again, the Heidelberg Catechism offers words of wisdom. Question 75 asks, ‘How art thou admonished and assured in the Lord's Supper, that thou art a partaker of that one sacrifice of Christ, accomplished on the cross, and of all his benefits?’ The answer, in part is thus: ‘…that his body was offered and broken on the cross for me, and his blood shed for me, as certainly as I see with my eyes, the bread of the Lord broken for me, and the cup communicated to me; and further, that he feeds and nourishes my soul to everlasting life, with his crucified body and shed blood, as assuredly as I …taste with my mouth the bread and cup of the Lord, as certain signs of the body and blood of Christ’.

    As surely as we touch the bread and feel it, Jesus Christ came as God in the flesh. Flesh that could be touched and felt. As surely as bread and wine nourish our physical bodies, it is only the flesh and blood and Jesus, of which we partake by believing in him and having a part in his sacrifice that nourishes us spiritually. In the supper, we have a most clear answer to the question, ‘Who is Jesus?’.

    We also come to the table as those who want to ask this question of others and show them the answer. Of all the things that a person must deal with, this question is the most important in all of the world. Who is Jesus? What your life is like now and forever depends on how you answer this question. We want others to encounter Jesus and answer for themselves—You are the Christ, the Son of God. The supper gives us a way to answer the question. Paul said that as long as we do this “we proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes again”. Like the man called Legion, we have been rescued from the more horrible conditions. We have been cleaned and restored. We have had our minds transformed. We have been grafted into the family of God. All of this happened and is happening because of Jesus’ death and resurrection. So as we take the bread and the cup, we proclaim Jesus’ death. Just as Legion went out and told everyone what God had done for him, so we also tell what God has done in Jesus for us. As we take the bread and wine, we proclaim that we have a part in Jesus sacrifice and that we will have part in his resurrection. In the supper we answer the question, ‘Who is Jesus?’.

    So let’s eat and drink together and celebrate who Jesus is.

    Wednesday, January 17, 2007

    Minister in Weakness...Seriously?

    Recently I posted about a little incident my family had over a few days and how my own pride and other character flaws came out. I concluded the post by commenting on how we are always with our weaknesses and how we carry the name of Jesus in our weak bodies and that Jesus knows this. Paul makes it very clear in 2 Corinthians that the reason we are weak is so that God gets the glory from any ministry we do. So I stand by my words. I believe them, objectively. I want God to write them on my heart so that I can honor Him by living and serving with my human weaknesses. But as I thought about this I couldn’t help but wonder if I really want to minister from a perspective of weakness. And, on a more general note, do we have any hope in America of producing people to do foreign missions from a perspective of weakness?

    Let me start by acknowledging that we are all weak. Everyone is weak in many ways. I believe when the Bible delineates between the weak and others it means those who recognize their weakness and those who do not. So we really don’t have a choice but to minister in weakness in the big picture. However, our perception of our ministries and others perceptions of them may not acknowledge, let alone embrace, weakness.

    I should begin with myself. Without spending a lot of time in this post on what I consider my ministry (hopefully this can come later), suffice it to say that my educational credentials are a big asset. I bring a Ph.D. to a place where there are few. There are even fewer US-earned Ph.D.’s and there are basically no westerners holding Ph.D.’s who want to be a part of the university. So right away, I come into the picture from a posture of superiority. I have something to offer. Now, I believe my education is nothing less than a gift from God. I believe it is possible, right, and good to use it in a way that honors Him and that I could do that anywhere in the world. But the fact remains that it gives me something to offer. Something that gives me an “in” to places that would otherwise be closed.

    Think, also, about the broader missions activity from America. It is, by and large, from a perspective of strength and power. It is true. Friend, if you have a blue passport you have a power that many people in the world do not. You come from the richest and most powerful country in the world. You come from a country where people have enough disposable income to fund huge missions projects. This cannot be overlooked. I have no way to know the statistics but the vast majority of our missions efforts must be tied to bringing help to the poor. Again, I must stop and qualify what I am writing. We must be about helping the poor. God has a heart for the widow and the orphan and we are to treat the least of these as we would treat our Lord. It is non-negotiable. But helping the poor is not the problem. I am afraid that the problem is that we have inextricably linked providing for the less fortunate or destitute with sharing the Gospel. Think about it. How much easier is it to conceive the notion of bringing food to the hungry and then sharing the Gospel than the idea of sharing the Gospel with your socioeconomic peers? There is a reason that people will do ministry to the homeless on weekends yet feel overwhelmed by living out a visible faith in front of their boss. It is much more difficult when you bring nothing extra to offer.

    Consider this for minute. If you go to the person who has the same job as you, as much money as you, as much education as you, as nice a family as you do—what then? You have only one thing to offer and that is Jesus. No promises for better living. No money for community projects. No educational credentials. Just Jesus. See, it gets a little uncomfortable doesn’t it?

    In concluding, let me say again that we are to about helping the poor. We are to be about welcoming those marginalized by society. We are to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and visit the prisoners. By all means do these things. Let me also say that those who do these things in America and around the world have my utmost respect and I pray God’s blessings on your work. But in our system of doing foreign and domestic missions, is it possible that the relative wealth and affluence of a large portion of evangelicals has become a crutch? Is it possible that we are more comfortable with the destitute, not because Jesus was comfortable with such people, but because we know we have something else to offer these folks? We have the Gospel PLUS food, medical help, job training, or fill-in-the-blank. I say these things not to produce guilty consciences or condemn the work that is going on. I say them because have examined my own motives and often found them deficient. I say them because as long as we feel that we need the Gospel PLUS anything, we are being prideful.

    May God create hearts in us that are more like His. Hearts that long of for justice. Hearts that long to see the poor lifted up and the hungry fed. Hearts that yearn to see the widow and orphan come to the table to eat. But let our hearts also want these things for the right reasons. Let our hearts be strong and courageous in knowing that we can show Jesus to the less fortunate by our actions but that they need Jesus no less than we do. Let us know that all people need Jesus and that our confidence in proclaiming the freedom he offers need not be in anything apart from Jesus, himself.

    Sunday, January 14, 2007

    Thoughts on Luke 1:26 to 56

    This post is a short teaching I did on Luke 1:26-56. This sort of thing is not really keeping with the theme of the blog but I thought I would post in case anyone is reading :)

    Maybe you have heard the little joke about the boy in Sunday school. His teacher asks him, “What is brown and furry, lives in a tree and eats nuts?” The boy replies, “I am fairly sure it is a squirrel but I’ll say Jesus.” More and more I feel like that little boy. In my childhood, I read, heard, memorized and learned many Bible stories. Often they were learned individually in a stand-alone context. They were about David or Moses or Job or Noah. This wasn’t altogether wrong but it was incomplete. As I grow older and read the Bible and read what others write about the Bible, I keep thinking, “Before, if you had asked me what this story is about I would have said David or Moses or Job or Noah. But now, at the end of the day, I am going to go with Jesus.”

    The same is true about the story found in Luke 1:26-56. It is the story of what God is doing through Jesus illustrated in one part of this story that involves Mary. When I learned this story there were several themes that were usually present. Mary is faithful to believe God and God works through her. Be like Mary and be faithful and God will work through you. Mary was just a teenager in a very difficult social situation. God uses the weak things of the world, God will use you. This is especially effective if teaching teens. Look at Mary and her faithfulness, straighten up and be like Mary. Now, I do not want to belittle anyone who taught these stories or imply that this is totally wrong. But I do think this approach is misguided. I think it misses the big picture. I think it puts too much attention on the reader and not enough attention on the story—the story of what God is doing and will do.

    Why do I think this? Of course, one reason is the rest of the Bible. But within the text I see three things that tell me this story is not ultimately about Mary. The first is Mary’s response to the angel. The second is the angel’s comment about the miracles of Elizabeth and Mary. The last is Mary’s song of praise when she is with Elizabeth.

    Mary was greatly troubled

    The angel says to Mary, “Greetings O favored one, the Lord is with you.” O favored one or it could be said one who is full of grace. This is great, right? Mary just found out from an angel that she is favored (full of grace) and the Lord is with her. But Mary was greatly troubled at this saying! How could it be? Could it be that Mary knew the weightiness of these words? Might she have realized that was not worthy, in and of herself, to hear such a greeting. Perhaps she knew that if she was full of grace it was because it came from God alone and that there would be a reason that pours out His grace on her. She knew that she couldn’t be the focus of what was going on. She wasn’t.

    Nothing will be impossible with God

    The angel goes on to tell Mary what will occur. He tells her that she will bear the very Son of God and that her son will reign forever. He tells her that she will remain a virgin yet by the power of the Holy Spirit conceive this child. He tells her about her cousin Elizabeth and how she has conceived in her old age. Then after detailing these miracles he says, “For nothing will be impossible with God”. Nothing will be impossible with God. The same Greek phrase used in the Greek Old Testament when the angel spoke to Sarah. Nothing will be impossible. With Sarah and Elizabeth (and Hannah) God looks down on His servant and creates life where there is none. He does what these women are powerless to do. He creates life in their womb. Through Isaac would follow the lineage that would eventually lead to Jesus. The world would be blessed.

    Both of these miracles were almost a foreshadowing or precursors for Mary’s conception. With Sarah and Elizabeth God created the life and miraculously gave women well beyond child-bearing age to ability to give birth but still through human conception. With Mary it would not be so. Mary would remain a virgin and conceive. There would be question that this was God’s action. Nothing like it happened before or since. God would create life in Mary. Neither Mary nor any human would have a hand in creating the baby. This baby would be Jesus and through him God would offer salvation to the world.

    This brings us to another point. Where else to we see this language used? The place that comes to mind is Matthew 19:26. When Jesus sends the rich young ruler away his disciples ask ‘who can be saved?’. Jesus answers that with man this is impossible but with God nothing is impossible. I think Jesus uses the same language because Mary’s situation mirrors salvation. There is no way, apart from God, that a virgin could bring forth a child and who child would be Savior. Likewise, there is no way, apart from God, that this Savior would come to spiritually dead people and offer hope, life, forgiveness and freedom.

    Mary’s Song of Praise

    Mary’s beautiful song of praise to God also tells us something. Mary gets it. Mary understands what is going on here. We can talk about whether or not she always understands Jesus’ work and there are good reasons to believe that she might not have. But right here when she is with Elizabeth, she gets it. I believe this is one of the big ways that Mary is full of grace. She has been given the grace understand what God is going to do through Jesus. What a gift! Then she turns to her Lord and she praises Him with one of the most beautiful passages in Scripture. It is so complete in interweaving the Old Testament teaching about the Messiah. It is so eloquent. It brings together the words of the Prophets in a succinct way.

    I said that Mary “gets” what God is doing. Why? Notice her prayer found in Luke 1:46-55:

    46 And Mary said,

    “My soul magnifies the Lord,

    47 and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,

    48 for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant.

    For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed;

    49 for he who is mighty has done great things for me,

    and holy is his name.

    50 And his mercy is for those who fear him

    from generation to generation.

    51 He has shown strength with his arm;

    he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts;

    52 he has brought down the mighty from their thrones

    and exalted those of humble estate;

    53 he has filled the hungry with good things,

    and the rich he has sent away empty.

    54 He has helped his servant Israel,

    in remembrance of his mercy,

    55 as he spoke to our fathers,

    to Abraham and to his offspring forever.”

    As I read this, one detail jumped out to me, for some reason. Notice all the subject verb relationships. With three exceptions, all the verbs have for their subject God. Mary’s song is about what God is doing. It has not one word about what she will do. No, Mary sees what is going on and she praises God for what He is doing and what He has done. She gets it. Just as God looked down on Mary and, in an impossible way, created in her, so has He looked down on a fallen, dead world and sent the Life that is Jesus into it in an impossible way. So praise God that through Jesus He has shown the strength of His arm. Thank God that through Jesus he has filled the hungry with good things. Praise the Father that, through the Son, He has exalted us of low estate. Praise God that in Christ He has remembered His mercy to His servants and that this mercy is forever.

    Just as God looked down on Mary and, in an impossible way, created in her, so has He looked down on a fallen, dead world and sent the Life that is Jesus into it in an impossible way.

    Sunday, January 07, 2007

    It's the Little Things, Really

    If you have read this blog, you may have noticed that the location is Central Asia AND KY. Well, now we are back in Central Asia. This is a post about adjusting, living in another culture, etc. There may be more of these in the future.

    It is funny. I have only lived overseas for a total of six months or so. I am not yet fluent in the local language. But, it seems, from the time we decided to live and work overseas, a lot people suddenly considered me an expert on cross-cultural living and related topics. This was a strange thing. I was trying to figure things out, feeling stupid most of the time and others automatically assumed I sort of knew what was going on. Or at least they assumed my thoughts would be worth hearing. Once we had spent a few weeks and months here and I would get questions about living overseas (we are not talking about a huge amount of questions but just a few here and there) I would generally answer them the same way, at least initially. I would give the same advice that a dear friend and sort of mentor of mine gave me, I reword it something like this—“whatever you have to do in the US, you have to do overseas and things won’t be as convenient in doing it.” This is not profound to many ears. It is most certainly not spiritual to many ears. And to many ears, it is silly. That’s okay. Each day I am more convinced that this is a great starting place to think about living cross-culturally. Of course, the not convenient part will vary wildly from one place to another but still, this is a good place to start. Let me share one time I used this approach to share my “wisdom”.

    At our company’s summer conference we met a young couple. The lady was expecting fairly soon. They told us that they wanted to continue education and, after the baby was born, begin planning to teach overseas. The baby would likely be a few months old by that time. The young lady was doing the talking. Her husband would teach and she would decide what to do as time went on. At first she would devote herself to caring for the baby and keeping the home. Then, perhaps, other opportunities would arise. She was educated and could possibly teach. Then came the question—“So you guys went overseas with a baby (15-month-old). What is it like? What kind of advice would you have for us if we do it?” My wife shared a little with them and gave some good solid comments. Then it was to me. I said, “Just remember whatever sorts of things take up your time here, those same things will take up your time there.” Sort of blank stares. I went on, “If you have to change a diaper here, you have to change it there. If you have to be sleep deprived because of the baby’s schedule here, you will be sleep deprived there. Those things don’t suddenly change just because you are living overseas.” A little light crept in the blank stares and maybe they decided I wasn’t crazy. “That makes sense. That is good to think about,” she said.

    But, even though it makes me seem unspiritual and of little faith to many people, I will continue to offer this advice or conversation as a starting point and this is one reason why:

    A week ago we had no water in our apartment. The water stopped on a Wednesday. I asked around the building and I thought that the neighbors also had not water. Well, I had asked mainly kids and I was wrong. It not at all uncommon for the water to be off to the whole block for a few hours or a day and then come back on, so I was not surprised. We toughed it out a couple of days and used up our stored water. Then I started carrying water. Heating water for dishes, baths, etc. Being so careful to use all usable water for the toilet. It went on. Then on Saturday I found something out. It was not the whole building; it was four apartments, our apartment, the one above and the two below. A pipe was bent and full of sand needed to be cleaned. Oh. I should mention, at this point, that my wife had “encouraged” me investigate the matter further earlier in the week. She had “encouraged” me to try to get it fixed and ask more neighbors than I had asked. I didn’t. I was convinced that I had covered the bases and now we just had to tough it out.

    Now the story gets even more complicated, or amusing depending on your perspective. Saturday was December 30. This is the day before the New Year celebration which coincides with another huge cultural holiday, making it one of the biggest holidays of the year here. So on Saturday, there would be no one willing to work and on Sunday there would be no one sober enough to work and on Monday there would be no one awake enough to work. You get the picture. Because of me and my hesitance to do something, I had locked us into at least three more days without water.

    Since this is long already, let me back up further. All week, especially after the water dried up (that’s how they say it here) my wife and I had not been getting along well at all. We had argued about a lot things. We had not talked a lot. Now with the stress of giving two kids baths, doing laundry, cooking, etc. with no water we were really going at it. This brings us to Sunday night. Here we were five days without water, sitting at home while the city celebrates. We were watching fireworks out the window with our older daughter. Not talking much. Then something else unexpected happened. Our daughter threw up. Not a little. A lot. In fact, I am convinced it was as much as she could possibly have thrown up. It got on all her clothes, the couch, the floor, my wife, eventually a bath towel and some on me. So now we have a toddler covered in vomit, a towel covered in vomit, a living room to clean up and (you may be ahead of me here) no water and no easy way to do laundry. Okay, now what? Of course it was not the end of the world. We got our daughter undressed, washed her up with water that was warm no the stove and put her in her pajamas. We rinsed the clothes in the tap outside (it was near freezing at that time) and then heated some water and washed them by hand. We dealt with it. As an interesting side note, we got along very well during this little mini-crisis. Not one cross word. We handled it, by God’s grace.

    But away from the details and back to where I started. What sort of advice would prepare you for this? What sort things could someone have said to us to get us ready for this? What spiritual wisdom could be imparted to ease this time on the field? Well, nothing would have perfectly prepared us but my dear friends words were about as good as anyone could have done. It is the little things that get to you in the US that will get to you “there”. The things that are hard in the US are hard “there” and often much harder because of fewer conveniences, in this case, reliable water. If you fight with your spouse in the US, you will fight “there”. It will be the little things that add up and that will potentially accumulate to a breaking point.

    So talking about diapers or cleaning house or paying bills or going to the market will never seem spiritual to many people. It will never seem like something a bona fide “missionary” who has THE Call will worry about. But you should worry about it. Because the truth is that we are weak humans in the US and we are weak humans abroad. Jesus never promised to take away the weakness and make us super-followers on the field. He just promised to be with us always. So to anyone foolhardy enough to ask for my advice it remains the same. Maybe I would reword it once more—“the little things that expose your weakness and need for Jesus in the US will expose those things overseas. Whatever you struggle with in the US, you will likely struggle with overseas. It is the little things that will weigh on you. But Jesus isn’t ashamed on your weakness. He came in weakness for us men and our salvation. He welcomes the weak and uses the foolish things of the world to confound the wise. Most importantly, he did promise to be with us until the end of the age.” Not too spiritual or wise, I know, but that is the advice I am sticking to for now.

    Monday, November 20, 2006

    Thanks and a Prayer

    Well, the post about Randy was a hard one to post since it is so personal and real. But I posted it. It has gotten a few comments. Not a lot of comments, I know, but for my blog it is quite a few. They are comments with substance, too. Thanks for reading. For Randy and the commenters and all who struggle with addiction let us pray this prayer for victims of addiction from the Book of Common Prayer:

    Blessed Lord, you ministered to all who came to you: Look with compassion upon all who through addiction have lost their health and freedom. Restore to them the assurance of your unfailing mercy; remove from them the fears that beset them; strengthen them in the work of their recovery; and to those who care for them, give patient understanding and persevering love. Amen.

    Wednesday, November 08, 2006

    My Friend Randy and My Journey Through Revivalism

    NOTE: This post is a little long but I didn't want to split up the sections into separate posts. This is one of the most personal things I have ever posted. Please believe me that this is not simply finger-pointing. It is my own struggle to work through what Christian community is all about and what it means to bring the Gospel into the world.

    Some Background
    With the recent controversy concerning Ted Haggard storming in the media, I have been reflecting quite a bit on issues surrounding accountability, discipleship, and personal holiness. Many people around the blogosphere have raised great points about pastoral care and accountability for those in leadership and teaching positions. Of course this is critical (and all too often absent). Such accountability and discipleship are equally as important for lay people. In either case, what it boils down to, in many ways, is whether a church body is willing to love a brother or sister in spite of their sins and through their sins in a way that preaches forgiveness and the need to live a lifestyle of repentance. The sad fact is this is rare. Thinking about these things forced me to think about an ongoing situation in my life that I feel is related to these issues. It is the story of Randy (not his real name). Before I get into his story let me give you some of my background that will answer a lot of questions as to why I am thinking about this in this manner.

    I grew up in small denominational Baptist churches. These were not SBC, but a smaller, fundamental sort. The particular denomination is not really important. But from the time I can remember, I went to church. There were so many good things about these churches. The people were generally very nice and down to earth. The food was great when we had dinner on the ground. Music was important in these churches. The flavor of choice was gospel hymns/songs. Mainly the ones wrote in the 30’s, 40’s, and 50’s that are generally either evangelizing or about heaven. There was, of course, an altar call each Sunday accompanied by one of theses said gospel songs. Nothing unusual here. If you grew in the American Southeast in a rural area, you can likely relate very well. As is often the case, in my opinion, this altar-call experience reigned supreme. No one will stand up and call it necessary for salvation but if you don’t have it, you are suspect. If you have any problems or sin your life you need it—even if you have already had it once, or twice, or more. So I grew up seeing this and living it. I grew seeing that when people strayed or sinned or whatever they were pushed back toward church attendance and the altar. That was the answer. While these churches did teach that one could make a shipwreck out of one’s salvation, the general answer to these situations was that so-and-so didn’t really “get it”. Maybe got it in the head but not the heart. This was final. The one exception was the pastor. Pastors could and did visit and encourage people. I did not, personally, see examples to the contrary. You can hopefully now see how growing up with this and then later learning and reading about Christian community in other traditions would cause one to dwell on discipleship issues. Before going further let me say that this is not a total slam on the churches I grew up in. They are full of believers. They do a lot and stand for a lot that is good.

    Okay, up to present day. After a journey of sorts across five years that led me away from these roots and into learning more about the history of the church of Jesus, I find myself somewhat aligned with a similar church. I am not a member and it is not the church body I call home but I attended semi-regularly. There are a lot of great people there. It is independent and differs doctrinally but not practically from the churches I grew up in. Enter Randy. Randy and someone in my extended family staged an ill-advised Las Vegas wedding about two or three years ago. At the time she knew that he had problems with alcohol and cocaine. No one else knew or if they did, they didn’t tell me. Then began the roller-coaster of being sober, falling down, kicking his wife out of the house, wanting a divorce, making up, and so on. Randy has the capacity to make a fine living but his finances crumbled and he has been on the borderline of legal problems bankruptcy for some time. During all of this many people hoped Randy would “go to church”. Eventually, he did. He and his wife went to the church I mentioned. They would go semi-regularly. Randy’s in-laws were happy that he was “in church”. The pastor because of his relationship with Randy’s in-laws knew a lot about his situation. He knew what Randy was fighting.

    Going Forward
    One Sunday things were a little different. After the sermon, during the invitation song Randy went forward to the altar to “accept Christ” or whatever term you prefer. I was not there that Sunday. I can say with a high level of confidence that I believe Randy heard the Gospel in that sermon. Almost every Sunday I have been there, the Gospel is preached. I don’t know the conversation that went on between the pastor and Randy. I don’t know for certain how the congregants interacted with him. But really, I do know. It was all or nothing. Randy had come forward. He had prayed the prayer. He was in. The Lord would deliver him from all his woes IF what he had just done was genuine. And that is where almost everyone left the situation.

    Randy came back to the church semi-regularly. He was not baptized. I don’t know if anyone asked him to be or explained to him why he would want to be. Within a few weeks, he was a little dissatisfied with the church. This or that didn’t sit well with him and so-and-so talks so much about drug addiction. Excuses, but that’s what he said. It was not a huge surprise to me when he stopped attending. It was not a huge surprise to me when he fell off the wagon, again. Disappearing from home for a few days at a time. Spending money that wasn’t there. You know the story. Now, Randy is a grown man and he stands responsible for all his decisions. But at the time one thing weighed heavy on my mind—what has anyone from the church where he was “saved” done or said to him since he has fallen back into the habits of addiction? I am sure that my tone and wording so far have given away the answer—Nothing. Not one word about coke or alcohol. Not one question about it. Nothing. Even after he made yet another white-knuckle attempt at sobriety and attended church again, there were no questions. Randy’s wife even asked some men (one of whom is her family member) that do weekly door-to-door cold call evangelism and some visitation to come talk with Randy. It just wouldn’t work. Couldn’t do it for this reason and that. Nothing.

    Why is it like this? This is not a church for only beautiful people. There are a variety of socioeconomic classes, a variety of races, a variety of backgrounds represented there. There are people there with real problems. The church reaches out to people in the jail and to mentally handicapped people. But not really to their own, well sometimes. Why? In my opinion it is because the altar call reigns supreme and there is no room for being in a battle with open, ugly sin like addictions. If you really “get it” then you are delivered. Even if it took you 25 years to get yourself in your present condition, one trip forward guarantees results. See, to go and counsel someone and to love them in their sin would be to question the system. You might have to admit that this person is a follower of Jesus and is just really screwed up. You might have to admit that what he needs is not another trip to the altar but the love and support of the body as he wars against sin. But that doesn’t fit well. It does not reconcile with “just a little talk with Jesus will make it right”. So the best fit is to say that folks like Randy didn’t get it and that they need, you’re ahead of me on this I know, to get back into church. And on we go. My little side notes are making this longer but I need to insert another one. I am not entirely convinced that Randy believes the Gospel. I don’t know his heart, so I can’t know. I also know that he does not speak or act like repentance is anywhere on his radar and he refuses to admit his problems. But if you believe that going to the altar and praying gets you in then you have to treat him as brother and I haven’t seen that.

    Where We Are Now
    Since the time of his altar experience, life has been a roller coaster for Randy and his wife. Up and down with each down being nearer and nearer to either death or all out financial ruin. I went and talked with him about nine months ago. I offered my help and admitted I didn’t know what it would be. I told him I knew he had gone to church but if wanted to seriously talk about what it means to follow Christ that I wanted to talk with him about it. You know his response, “Yeah, that would be good sometime. Right now I just need to get my self together. If I can just get my thoughts and work straightened out then I can work on other stuff. But I do appreciate it.” I believe he did. I now see Randy regularly. We share meals. I talked to him this week after a binge. I told him he was killing himself. He agreed. He also said that he could drop the drugs and alcohol anytime he wanted. I asked him why he hadn’t. He said he had never really wanted to. (This will be familiar to anyone who has seen someone go through this.) I said that if he wanted help with the substance abuse I would find him that help. All he has to do is say the word. Cue the tape from nine months ago and play the response.

    My heart breaks for Randy. I have lost sleep over him. Partly because of the human pain he is in and partly because I am somewhat connected to the church that has let him down. My wife and I talk about the situation. We ask each other, ‘where is the power of the Gospel here?’, ‘how do we show him Christ’s love and be honest with him?’. I don’t have a lot of answers.

    Randy and his wife are in a new church now. A few weeks ago when Randy fell on his face again and then felt awful and swore it all off again, he said he talked to his new pastor. I have to say “said” because Randy lies often. But according to Randy, the pastor told him that the best thing we can do is learn from our mistakes and wished him well. I don’t know if that is true but I am inclined to believe it. I believe it because Randy and his wife “tithe” at this church. They are open about it. Randy told me it was the reason that his financing were straightening up. I attended this church once. Randy didn’t go with us that day. There was more talk and instruction given before passing the coffers than before passing the bread and wine. Maybe this is too harsh. I won’t explicitly connect the dots but they are there. I also learned that it is my words that “enact the power of the blood of Jesus” but I cannot get into that now.

    So here’s Randy with his altar call experience behind him stuck neck-deep in addiction and lies and he also awash in sea of misguided evangelism and revivalism. I want to say again—No church or pastor is responsible for Randy’s addictions or choices. He is. He stands accountable. But my heart breaks at the thought of him going to two churches and coming away empty. My heart breaks for him that on Sunday morning “while the music plays” he was a brother and good guy but on Wednesday when rents a hotel room and snorts $1,000 he is something else. All or nothing. Get it or don’t. God have mercy on us.

    Pray for Randy. Pray for me. I don’t feel at all innocent in this and I don’t have answers. I do know that Jesus is the answer. He is the answer for me, for addicts, for everyone. I just want to be able to live that out and preach it in words and deeds so that Randy can. Pray that God might open his ears and eyes and that the Good Shepherd would so inclined to walk out among the cliffs and briars and pick him and bring him into the fold.

    Saturday, September 23, 2006

    Madonna, a Humiliated Savior and the FCC

    NOTE: This post needs some editing. I will likely work on it some more and will hopefully put in some links to Scripture for some of the comments I make. However, I wanted to post it as-is for now, since I don't know when I will get the edits done.

    UPDATE 10/20/06: It appears NBC will not show the mock-crucifixion scenes. This BBC piece gives details

    I am sure that you have likely heard of the upcoming broadcast on NBC of a Madonna concert during which she engages in actions that are openly blasphemous and offensive to the cross of Christ. These include hanging on a disco-ball crucifix and wearing a fake crown of thorns while singing. The behavior is outrageous and obviously a ploy to gain publicity. (note: I am not linking any of the available images of this concert because, frankly, they are offensive and if you need to see the pictures to take my word for it, you have missed the point already.) If you are on the mailing list of any of the major Christian family-values groups you have likely gotten an email or two advising you how to protest this broadcast and listing several reasons why your support is needed right away. Let me say right away that it may very well be a worthwhile activity to publicly oppose such displays as this. I am also sympathetic to the chorus of voices reminding the public that few, if any, other religions could be mocked like this on national network television. All of that is true. But I would like to delve into this a little deeper and ask ‘what or whom are we really protecting when we band together and assault the FCC and television networks with our petitions and demands about programming?’

    The immediate answer is that is often given, in some form, is that we are protecting the dignity and name of our Lord Jesus and standing up for our “rights” as Christians. But are we? And, further, is this one of our primary concerns as followers of Jesus? To either question, I would be hard-pressed to give an emphatic affirmative answer. Let me explain what I mean.

    When Jesus was on earth, one of the things that marked his short life was shame. It is all over the gospels. His family thought he was nuts. Religious leaders mocked him. He was often with undesirable people in undesirable locations. He had no home, no money, and was hated by many. In Isaiah 53, Isaiah writes that this suffering servant was like one from whom men hide their face. Then, of course, Jesus came to his ultimate humiliation when he was tried and sentenced to crucifixion. He was mocked, tortured, spat upon, hung up naked for the world to see and killed. But this was his cup to drink. This had to happen, so he endured the cross.

    When Peter jumped to his side with a sword in the garden, Jesus stopped him. When Pilate asked where his kingdom was, Jesus said it was not in this world. Jesus was quite content to bear his shame and reproach and we are invited to bear it as well. But that doesn’t fit well with American mindsets. No, it couldn’t be that enduring the shame of seeing ridiculous things like the Madonna concert is a good thing. Our neighbors know we are Christians. Our unbelieving family members know that we are Christians. We have to show them that we mean business in standing up for our team. So we appeal to government authorities and huge corporations to rescue Jesus. We must step in save him. But, remember what was written above, Jesus rebuked similar help in his last hours and refused to rely on earthly authority. I think we must figure out what it means to follow in his steps and be willing to share in his shame as well as his glory.

    So my appeal to you is this: As you contemplate how to react to this Madonna silliness (and countless other media events that will come up), ask yourself where your motives are. Are you really worried about protecting the good name of Jesus or are you a little more worried about you reputation as one linked to Jesus? Ask yourself if Jesus really needs the help of regulatory agencies like the FCC to defend his honor. Finally, consider how you talk about this event with friends, family, and co-workers (especially non-believers). When asked about it will you simply go on a rant about how “persecuted” Christianity is in the media? Will you lay out the attack plan of how to “teach the television stations a lesson”? Or will you take that opportunity to talk about how Jesus really did come to suffer. How he emptied himself and took the form of a servant. How he embraced the humiliation, mocking, and ridicule so that people like me, you, and Madonna might have hope? Will you say that yes, Madonna is mocking Jesus but that you love Jesus and are following him with all your life? Will you align yourself with your Savior at the cost of seeming a little silly in the world’s eyes?

    I hope we can do these things as Christians among the world. I think it is the right and Christ-exalting response. Because, you see, Madonna does on stage, Jesus has already been through worse and triumphed. Jesus doesn’t need petitions and legal action to protect him He never has and he has never called for them What he has called for are humble sinners who are willing to repent, place their faith in him and follow him, embracing the salvation he offers as well as the shame.

    Saturday, September 02, 2006

    More Audio...What is Ministry?

    This is sermon I had the privilege of delivering to a church in Manhattan, KS on July 23, 2006. It is the result of thinking about 2 Corinthians 4 for several months and trying to see how I might live it out. There is a part 2 and part 3 to the sermon. I have taught these in Sunday school and Bible study settings and hopefully they will develop into sermons also.

    From this sermon, the concept that I want to expand on is commending versus proclaiming. Hopefully, I will be able to devote some time to blogging about this concept and thinking through the implications.

    NOTE: For some reason the audio begins with me in mid-sentence. Mentally add something like this to the very beginning:
    In this passage, Paul writes that he has a ministry. In this context he is
    talking about his ministry as an apostle. It is worth mentioning at this point
    that this ministry is to non-believers AND believers. Paul brings the Good News
    to people who have never heard it so that as they respond to the Gospel they
    come together as the visible church...

    Click here to listen: "What is Ministry?"

    Sunday, August 27, 2006

    A Meditation

    Note: I wrote this mediation during Holy Week of 2006. I was not blogging at the time. I thought I would go ahead and put it up now. I benefitted greatly from reflecting on this passage and Hannah's situation. I hope someone else may find it helpful.

    A Mediation for Holy Week
    May We Approach the Cross with Hannah’s Attitude

    I had the pleasure and privilege recently of reading the story of Hannah and her baby son Samuel with my wife. The story is found in 1 Samuel chapters 1 and 2. As we read the story and discussed it, we focused on the contemporary issues and lessons, that is what God was teaching Hannah and those involved about Himself while this story was unfolding. But as I began to reflect on the story my thoughts turned to what this display of the power and glory of God could teach us as we live in God’s kingdom on this side of the cross of Christ. As I thought about the story this week while reading in the Gospels about Holy Week and what our Lord went through, one thing was impressed upon me: I am in the same situation Hannah was in and I want to have her attitude.

    I will not take the time to recount the entire story of Hannah. It is enough to say here she was without children and her physical condition was such that she would continue to be without children (1:6). To make matters even more horrific for Hannah she was not the only wife of her husband and his other wife, Peninnah, had borne children. Peninnah was not content to simply enjoy the children. She would go as far as to openly mock Hannah for her childlessness. So here is Hannah with no children and, in the hard world she lived in, seemingly nothing of value to offer her husband.

    Hannah was in a position that she could not remedy. No matter what she might do, she could not, in a million years, convince her body to bring forth life in the form of a newborn baby. It was beyond her power. Now Hannah was human. She was weak and broken. She spoke of her condition using words like anxiety and vexation. She said she was deeply distressed. She wept. She mourned. She went without sleep.

    But Hannah also did something else. She poured out her soul to her Almighty God (1:15). The priest Eli saw that she prayed but without the usual forms. He thought she was drunk. But she was pleading with God. She was petitioning the One True Giver of Life. She was begging His mercy on her life. She promised the Lord that if He should give her a son that she would dedicate his life wholly to God. God, in His abounding grace, answered her prayer and gave her a son, Samuel. Hannah made good on her promise and brought Samuel to the temple to live with Eli and minister and worship God in the temple. This miracle baby that Hannah had longed for and likely dreamed about was to live out his entire life away from Hannah. And Hannah rejoiced. Not because she did not love her son. Not because she hoped to, in some way, pay God back for the gift. No. She rejoiced at the power and glory of the God of Israel. She poured out her worship to God and delighted in His greatness. Read her words from chapter 2 verses 1 to 10:

    “My heart exults in the Lord;my strength is exalted in the Lord.My mouth derides
    my enemies,because I rejoice in your salvation.
    “There is none holy like the
    Lord;there is none besides you;there is no rock like our God.Talk no more so
    very proudly,let not arrogance come from your mouth;for the Lord is a God of
    knowledge,and by him actions are weighed.The bows of the mighty are broken,but
    the feeble bind on strength.Those who were full have hired themselves out for
    bread,but those who were hungry have ceased to hunger.The barren has borne
    seven,but she who has many children is forlorn.The Lord kills and brings to
    life;he brings down to Sheol and raises up.The Lord makes poor and makes rich;he
    brings low and he exalts.He raises up the poor from the dust;he lifts the needy
    from the ash heapto make them sit with princesand inherit a seat of honor.For
    the pillars of the earth are the Lord's,and on them he has set the world.
    will guard the feet of his faithful ones,but the wicked shall be cut off in
    darkness,for not by might shall a man prevail.The adversaries of the Lord shall
    be broken to pieces;against them he will thunder in heaven.The Lord will judge
    the ends of the earth;he will give strength to his kingand exalt the power of
    his anointed.”

    She is not melodramatic. She means it when she says that the Lord raises the poor from the dust and lifts the needy from ashes to sit with princes. She knows how it feels to be that needy. She also knows that salvation belongs to the Lord and she praises Him for it. Hannah makes it plain that she knows that God is in control when times are bad and when they are good (2:6, 7). The author makes it equally plain in chapter 1 verse 6. God was firmly in control of this heart wrenching saga and Hannah worships Him and exults in His sovereignty, His power, and His mercy.

    And so we are as we come to Holy Week, the most wonderful of all Christian celebrations. As we come before God and meditate on Calvary and the great and terrible events of Good Friday, we can look to the story of Hannah as a model. As we celebrate the resurrection of our Christ on Easter, we can look to the prayer of Hannah as a fitting way to worship our Savior. For we come to cross just as Hannah came to Shiloh, if not worse. We, in our flesh, are the needy in the ash heap. We are the poor, the broken, and the useless. We come as people who, apart from Christ, are dead in our sin with absolutely no hope of bringing the slightest hint of life to our flawed bodies. It is a hopeless situation and we cannot remedy it.

    But the remedy is there at Calvary. The Almighty God who gives life and takes it away decreed that He would make a way to give life to dead sinners who hate Him. He sent His own son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin in order that we may be able to worship and enjoy Him forever. When we realize this truth, that the man Jesus Christ and what He did at Calvary is our only hope, we will worship Him. When we realize that this is the grace of God poured out onto dead people to give them life, we will turn and exult in the Lord and His might as Hannah did. We will glory in the fact that we are alive in Christ in communion with God. We will rejoice with wide-eyed wonder at our weakness made perfect in the strength of Jesus. We will be awestruck by the fact that we, the dead bodies from the ash heap, are now princes—heirs of God the King and joint heirs with His firstborn, Jesus.

    Like Hannah, we will not stop there. When we realize that we are not our own because we were bought at a terrible, terrible price we will turn to God and offer Him the life that He has given us through His Son Jesus and say, “this body, this life, these talents that You have given me are Yours all the days of my life!”. It will not be a duty to God or some sort of trade with God. It will be the only response that makes sense. It will be the most joyful and worshipful response possible.

    Heavenly Father, as we stand now in the bring light of Christ and pray Hannah’s prayer that she prayed only in His shadow, we rejoice in Him. We are more thankful the means of grace and the hope of glory offered in Him than any of your gifts. Father, change our hearts and our minds to be like Hannah’s. Take our focus off all things besides our Lord Jesus. Let us seek Him beyond all the things of this world. Let us exult in His strength and seek His face all the days of our lives. In His name, Amen.

    Tuesday, August 22, 2006

    Another Example

    As I come across people blogging who seem to doing the sorts of things I want to talk about here (bringing the good news of Christ into a secular world by word and deed), I want to point them out and, when appropriate, comment. Hopefully, this is a regular thing I can do to point out what all is going on around the net and in our communities.

    Joe Thorn comments on his blog about an effort of his church. They attended a town festival and gave away water. Joe is very clear to point out that the water was given away with no strings attached. It was just helping neighbors so to speak. I think this is a great point to make and remember as we look for creative ways to engage people with the gospel. Check out the comments under Joe's post also. By the way, Joe has a quality blog that I would recommend visiting regularly.

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