Friday, September 30, 2005

The joke is on me...

So, I'm at church, not the church I go to now, another church, a big, big church, located somewhere really sunny.


I'm at church, not the church I go to now, another a church, a big, big church, located somewhere really sunny, standing outside a bathroom, waiting I think for my sister to come out. (Understand... this story takes place a long, long time ago.) A lady comes up to me, wheeling a paralytic. (Writing that, it doesn't sound very politically correct but I guess I don't know the right way to say it. It's in the Bible, so that should make it o.k., besides I think you'll see this story is about my problems, definitely not his.)

Moving on...

She asks me to take her friend to the bathroom.

Now you need to know two things.

One, I have what you might call a hyper-sensitive conscience about some things, and helping people is one of them. First thing that came to my mind was the story of the Good Samaritan. Sure the guy wasn't lying on the side of the road, but in my mind, having to go the bathroom pretty much constitutes an emergency.

Two, I'm not real sharp. In other words, I want to help and I'll try to help but most of the time I don't have any idea how.


I ask her what to do. She doesn't have a clue.

I wheel him in.

Oh, I forgot. He wasn't just paralyzed. He couldn't really talk. He could kind of moan but that was about it.

Well, back to the story.

I'm standing there, hands on his wheelchair, looking at the urinal, wondering what to do when I see what looks to be a seatbelt across his waist. I figure, might as well start by unstrapping it.


He starts to fall, I guess that's the best word to describe it, out of his wheelchair. Looking back, I remember arms flailing about. But, now that I'm thinking about it, that memory has to be false. After all, he was paralyzed.

Probably the reality is, my arms were flailing about. You see, I started to freak out.

I know I'm weird, but to me at the time, my anxiety made sense. I'm thinking I'm breaking him. And I definitely don't want to be known as the guy who broke the paralyzed man. Plus, he seemed pretty upset. He kept crying out, "No...No...No..."

It all seemed to be happening so fast. I have no idea what to do.

An usher comes into the bathroom, I know he's an usher because he's got a little label above the pocket on his jacket that says usher, I think I'm saved, and I start yelling, "Help me! Help me! Help me!"

He looks at me, looks at the man, puts his head down, runs into a stall and I say to myself, "Pharisee!"

Finally, after what seems like forever...(it probably was only ten seconds..but you wrestle with a paralyzed man and tell me how long it feels)...some kind soul comes to my rescue.

Now I've got to be honest.

Details from this point on are a bit sketchy. I think I've tried to block it all out. You ask me what happened, how we got him to the bathroom, I can't believe it myself, but I have no idea. All I know was that we did.

And oh yeah, there's one more thing, turns out he wasn't yelling out "No...No...No..."

He was yelling, "Let me go...Let me go...Let me go..."

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Unanswered Prayer...again

Exodus chapter 2:
Setting: Egypt.
Problem: God's people...slaves, being treated cruelly.
Response: They begin to pray.
Exodus 2:23,24, "During that long period, the king of Egypt died. The Israelites groaned in their slavery and cried out, and their cry for help because of their slavery went up to God. God heard their groaning and he remembered his covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. So God looked on the Israelites and was concerned about them."
Sounds good, right?
You might think the story's over. I mean God heard their prayer. Isn't he going to deliver them right away?Not quite.
For one takes awhile.
For another, when God does send Moses, things don’t get better right away. In fact, Exodus chapter 5, Moses and Aaron go up to Pharaoh to deliver the people and Pharaoh says No way! "Who is the Lord that I should obey him and let Israel go?" I don’t know God and I am not going to let Israel go.
Some answer to prayer, huh?
But it gets worse. Pharaoh, instead of letting the people go, makes their situation more difficult.
"That same day Pharaoh gave this order to the slave drivers and foremen in charge of the people: ‘You are no longer to supply the people with straw for making bricks; let them go and gather their own straw. But require them to make the same number of bricks as before; don’t reduce the quota. They are lazy, that is why they are crying out, ‘Let us go and sacrifice to our God.’ Make the work harder for the men so that they keep working and pay no attention to lies."
The Israelites in charge of the work get so mad about all this that they go to Moses and say, ‘May the Lord look upon you and judge you! You have made us a stench to Pharaoh and his servants and put a sword in their hand to kill us."
O.k., let's recap.
Setting: Israel...enslaved in Egypt.
Problem: The Egyptians treating them cruelly.
Response: God's people begin to pray.
Result: Their situation gets worse.
What? Why doesn't God answering their prayers the way they want Him to? Why does God allow Pharaoh to deny their requests? Why does God go through this whole thing with the ten plagues?
Answer: Exodus 7:17,18 "Thus says the Lord, ‘By this you shall know that I am the Lord: behold I will strike the water that is in the Nile with the staff that is in my hand, and it shall be turned to blood…"
Exodus 8:10, Moses says to Pharaoh, "May be it according to your word, that you may know that there is no one like the Lord our God."
Exodus 8:22, "But on that day I will set apart the land of Goshen, where my people are
living in order that you may know that I, the Lord am in the midst of the land…"
Exodus 9:14,16, "For this time I will send all My plagues on you and your servants and your people, so that you may know that there is no one like Me in all the earth…But indeed, for this cause I have allowed you to remain, in order to show you My power, and in order to proclaim My name through all the earth."
Exodus 10:1,2, "Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘Go to Pharaoh, for I have hardened his heart and the heart of his servants, that I may perform these signs of Mine among them, and that you may tell in the hearing of your son, and your grandson, how I made mockery of the Egyptians, and how I performed My signs among them, that you may know that I am the Lord."
The reason God didn’t answer His peoples prayers right away, i.e. the way they wanted, is because He had a plan to exalt His name among the nations.
"Our fathers in Egypt did not understand Thy wonders; they did not remember Thine abundant kindnesses, but rebelled by the sea, at the Red Sea, nevertheless He saved them…" why? "for the sake of His name, that He might make His power known."
God’s mercy to the Israelites was grounded in God’s desire to glorify Himself. Romans 9:17, "For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, ‘For this very purpose I raised you up, to demonstrate my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed throughout the whole earth." As I think John Piper puts it, "The point of the ten plagues and miraculous Red Sea crossing was to demonstrate the incredible power of God on behalf of His freely chosen people, with the aim that this reputation, this name would be declared throughout the whole world."
If you look over at Joshua 2:10,11 you see one example of how this happened, even as all this was occurring. You remember Rahab. She lived in the city of Jericho. She was a harlot. A great sinner, but she ended up converted. The reason? Joshua 2:10, "For we have heard how the Lord dried up the water of the Red Sea before you when you came out of Egypt…and when we heard it, our hearts melted and no courage remained in any man any longer because of you; for the Lord your God, He is God in heaven above and on earth beneath."
When you are struggling with unanswered prayer, when things seem bleak, when it seems like you are talking to the ceiling, remember this, God will glorify Himself. If you or don’t understand how God is going to do that, that doesn’t mean that He is not going to do accomplish His will.
We've got to trust Him.
If God is in control, which we know He is, and if God is doing what He is doing for His own glory, what do we know when He doesn’t answer our prayers the way we want? One - He’s going to use our unanswered prayer for His glory. And two - if He doesn’t answer our prayer the way we want, it must be because He being the all-wise God has a better way to glorify Himself. He has a goal – His own glory. And He knows how to accomplish that goal better than we do!

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Unanswered prayers, part two

To understand why God doesn't always answer our prayers, we have to start by understanding that to understand why God doesn’t always answer our prayers the way we want we have understand we are not always going to fully understand why God doesn’t always answer our prayers the way we want.
How do you like that?
Or let me say it another way, if we are really going to come to terms with why God doesn’t always answer our prayers the way we want him to, we have to understand something very basic: God is God and we are not.
We’re not always going to understand everything about the way God works because He is God.
His thoughts are way above ours. He can see the whole puzzle at once. We can only see a part. He is perfect in wisdom. We are not. He understands absolutely everything. We have a hard time understanding the simplest thing.
I’m not trying to be overly simplistic here, but this is important: It should not be surprising to us that we can’t fully understand everything God does because we’re not God.
As parents you know your children have lots of desires, and most of the time, they really want you to fulfill those desires. You say no to them and they get upset... sometimes they get really upset. You try to explain it to them, and yet there are times when they just can’t understand your reasoning.
Why? Maybe...because they are children.
They don’t know as much as you do.
I remember taking my oldest daughter to the doctor a number of years ago. I could see the fear well up in her eyes. She hates shots. She begged me to take her away. She couldn't understand why I didn’t. If I had answered her cries the way she wanted, I guarantee momentarily she’d have been pretty happy, she would have thought I really loved her; but in reality, by not answering her cries, by forcing her to receive the shot, it meant I love her more, not less.
We don’t trust God fully because we can fully explain everything He does, we trust God because we know who God is.
With my daughters, there are times when I have to say no to them, and they don’t understand it, so I stoop down and try to gently explain my reasons to them. And God does that with us. He doesn’t always say look, I’m God you’re not, end of discussion. We’re going to see there are plenty of reasons in Scripture why He does what He does. But and here’s the key, I also know with my daughters that’s it’s not really helpful for me to stoop down and explain absolutely every decision I make to them, because McKenna’s only six and Cambria’s only four and Caitlyn is only two.
Sometimes you are in the grocery store and you’ll see parents with their children and the child really wants a candy bar, they always have those just at eye level for children, and the dad or mom says no, and the child begins to argue. They go back and forth, back and forth, no, yes, no, yes. And the parent gets down and tries to have a conference with the child explaining all his reasons. Then when that doesn’t work, they start making threats. "I’m going to leave you at the grocery store."
Don't you want to go over there, and say, "Look, you are the parent. And you are the child. That’s it. End of story."
That may be a bit rude, but it’s really important that children understand that. There are times when you are not going to have time to explain everything. When they are running out onto the road and about to be run over by a car, you are not going to have time to sit down and have a conference about why you are yelling no, don’t do that. And really it’s not even beneficial for them to always have to have an explanation for everything because if you are always sitting around having to explain why you did what you did, then neither of you are going to be able to move forward to do what you need to do.
And you know, in our relationship with God, it’s not harsh for Him to say, "I’m God and you are not." It’s helpful.
Look, if I try to be God, I’m going to tire myself out because I can’t be God. I don’t know all the stuff He knows. I can’t understand all the stuff He does. And so I need to focus on being who I am, a creature. And I need to remember the fact that though I can’t understand everything He is doing, He does because He’s God and I am not.
As one writer explains, "It should fill us with joy, that infinite wisdom guides the affairs of the world. Many of its events are shrouded in darkness and mystery, and inextricable confusion sometimes seems to reign. Often wickedness prevails, and God seems to have forgotten the creatures He has made. Our own path through life is dark and devious, beset with difficulties and dangers. What a comfort it is that infinite wisdom directs every event, brings order out of confusion, and light out of darkness, and to those who love God, He causes all things, whatever be their present aspect or apparent tendency to work together from good."
Let me be real practical here. When you are on your knees and you are struggling with unanswered prayer, you need to remind yourself who God is and who you are. Great example of what I mean over in Psalm 22.
David is struggling with unanswered prayer. And he cries out, "My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken me? Far from my deliverance are my words of groaning. O my God, I cry by day, but Thou dost not answer; and by night, but I have no rest." When God didn’t seem to answer David’s prayer, he struggled, it hurt, but notice what he does next, "Yet Thou art holy, O Thou who art enthroned upon the praises of Israel. In Thee our fathers trusted, they trusted and Thou didst deliver them. To Thee they cried out, and were delivered; In Thee they trusted and were not disappointed." He begins to reason to himself, he remembers who God is, and although he may not completely understand what God’s doing, he found hope when he remembered who God is.
When our prayers aren't answered the way we like, we should learn to do the same!

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Unanswered Prayer...

It is very easy to get discouraged about prayer.

You know how it goes. You hear a message about the power of prayer. You go home and you start to pray, and nothing seems to happen. After a little while, you say forget it, prayer doesn’t work - at least not for me.

I mean, we read these great statements on prayer and we hear these sermons motivating us to pray, so we go to prayer and God doesn’t do what we ask.

He doesn’t answer when we want Him to. He doesn’t answer the way we want Him to.

Understand, I’m not just talking about silly prayers. I’m not talking about God help me win the lottery prayers. I’m talking about significant prayers. Prayers that seem, as far as we can tell, to be for what is best. Prayers that we think, God should want to answer.

If you’ve struggled with unanswered prayer, (or maybe, better 'answered differently than I like prayer') you are not the first.

I like reading through the Psalms because David’s so honest. He cries out time and time again, “How long O Lord?” He writes at one point, “Will you reject me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? I wrestle with my thoughts every day and have sorrow in my heart. How long will my enemy triumph over me?” God don’t you care? I’m crying out to you and you are not answering. How long does this have to go on?

He gets even more blunt in another Psalm. He says, “But I, O Lord have cried out to Thee for help, and in the morning my prayer comes before Thee. O Lord, why dost Thou reject my soul? Why dost Thou hide Thy face from me?” In other word, God why won’t you answer my prayer? David was a righteous man, and yet he says at points, it doesn’t seem like my prayers are effective or can accomplish much.

I remember, a couple years back, Marda and I were reading a biography about a man named George Mueller. Now, if you know anything about George Mueller you know that he was a man who lived his life to glorify God by demonstrating to the world that God still answers prayer. As you read his biography you are struck one with how devoted he was to prayer, and two how often God answered his prayers in amazing ways. And God really used his story to motivate us to pray.

We began praying faithfully for Marda’s little brother Eric who had wandered away from the faith. A year later Eric died. As far as we know he never truly came to Christ. Honestly, that set us back. We prayed and it didn’t seem to accomplish much.

I was at conference recently and one of the speakers was saying that he recently challenged his congregation to begin fasting and praying on a regular basis. Afterwards he was meeting with a small group in his home, and some of the folks there were saying to him, "Pastor we don’t want to do this." When he asked why, they responded, "Because it always seems like when we pray and when we fast bad things happen."

Those kinds of attitudes aren’t unusual. Some Christians are afraid to pray because they afraid of what God might do in response to their prayers, and other Christians are slow to pray because they figure, God’s going to do what God wants to do anyway.

This is a significant struggle. Why doesn’t God always answer our prayers the way we want?

Honestly, answering a question like that wouldn’t be so hard if we didn’t know certain things about God. Scripture makes clear that God is not weak. He is king. He rules over the earth. He does as He pleases. Job 42:2 explains, “I know that Thou canst do all things, and that no purpose of Thine can be thwarted.” Psalm 115:3 says, “But our God is in the heavens; He does whatever He pleases.” Isaiah 14:27 explains, “For the Lord of hosts has planned, and who can frustrate it? As for His stretched out hand, who can turn it back?” Daniel 4:35 tells us, “He does according to His will in the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and no one can ward off His hand or say to Him, ‘What hast Thou done?’” He has control over the hearts of men. Solomon says in Proverbs 16:9, “The mind of man plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps.” Then in 19:21, “Many are the plans of a man’s heart, but the counsel of the Lord, it will stand.” And again in 21:30, “There is no wisdom and no understanding, and no counsel against the Lord.” He is God and there is no other. Jerry Bridges sums it up when he writes, “Nothing is so small or trivial as to escape the attention of God’s sovereign control; nothing is so great as to be beyond His power to control it. No detail of your life is too insignificant for your Heavenly Father’s attention; no circumstance is so big that He can not control it.”

There’s hope in that.

If God wasn’t in control then prayer would be meaningless, because when you pray you are asking God to do something about your situation. If He was not powerful, He couldn’t do anything about it, so why pray to Him about it. Prayer is powerful and it can accomplish much because God is powerful and can accomplish much.

But if God is in control, and if God really does have the power to do something about our situations, than we’re faced with another problem. Why doesn’t He always answer our prayers the way we want Him to? Why do we have to cry out with David, “How long O Lord? Will you hide your face from me forever?”

It’s not because He doesn’t hear us. I’m not talking about unbelievers here. We know why their prayers go unanswered. Jesus tells us real pointedly, “God doesn’t hear the prayers of unrepentant sinners.” But, we know that’s not true for us as believers. God promises those who are believers that He does hear our prayers. The Psalmist describes God as the prayer hearing God. And the writer of Proverbs tells us that God delights in the prayers of the upright. God hears us. It’s not because He doesn’t care about us. Peter describes believers in 1 Peter 2:9 and 10 as “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession…for once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God, you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.” And Paul says in Ephesians 2 that we are saved because of the great loved with which God the Father loved us. And the writer of Hebrews promises us that because of Christ we can “draw near with confidence the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and may find grace to help in the time of need.” Jesus Himself encourages us to pray in Matthew 7 by saying, “Ask and it shall be given to you, seek and you shall find, knock and it shall be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it shall be opened. Or what man is there among you, when his son shall ask him for a loaf will give him a stone. Or if he shall ask for a fish, he will not give him a snake will he? If you then being evil know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more shall your Father who is in heaven give what is good to those who ask him.”

But and here’s the rub, if it’s not because He doesn’t hear us, and it’s not because He doesn’t care about us, why doesn’t God always our prayers the way we want Him to? Why do so many of our prayers seem to go unanswered?

What do you think? More tomorrow...

Monday, September 26, 2005

Sometimes being positive is just so negative...

I don't usually do this, but I don't know how I can't.


I was reading an article in Newsweek I think, or maybe it was U.S. News and World Report, called What Makes a Televangelist Tick? where the televangelist was trying to explain why he gets criticized so much for being so positive.

Now I don't want to be negative but talk about an adventure in missing point. Or I guess really I could say it more positively, wow, he's really great at completely missing the point.

So, the interviewer asks: "You get criticized a lot for your relentless positivity—why?"

And he responds,

"I think maybe it's because it's not old school. People are used to being beaten down, they're used to [churches] condemning people to make them feel bad so that they'll repent, so they'll know that they're sinners, but I think there's a different approach. The scripture says that it's the goodness of God that leads people to repent, so I take the approach that I'm going to say, "you know what, God is not mad at you; he's already sent his son; the price has been paid, if you'll just accept it.' Maybe some people think I'm not hard enough on 'em, but yet I talk about hard issues, I just do it in a positive way; I do it in a way that says, "Hey, you can overcome—it doesn't matter where you've been or what you've done."

Sometimes when I'm following someone in my car, I won't be paying attention and I'll accidentally get ahead of them. When that happens I have to keep looking in my rear view mirror to see which way they want me to go. From an outsider's perspective it may look like I'm leading but really I'm just following from the front.

To me, that pretty much sums up this quote.

What a perfect example of the way most people think about what it means to be positive and by the way, what it means to be negative. Being positive means telling people "hey you can do it..." Being negative means talking about sin.

So someone comes to the doctor with a massive tumor, being negative means talking to him about it? Um sir, I would tell you that you have a tumor the size of a basketball growing inside you but that's not really very positive is it - let's talk about how nice and sunny it is outside.

Being negative isn't talking about the massive tumor, being negative is making fun of the guy because he has a massive tumor, being negative is not pointing out the fact that there is a way of dealing with the tumor.

Honestly, sometimes being "positive" as the world defines it is the most negative thing you could possibly do.

Friday, September 23, 2005

A blog in which I talk to myself...

If we are familiar with the name of George Whitefield, we probably think of him first and foremost as a great preacher. And it's true, he was. God used him in a tremendous way in both England and America through his faithful preaching of the gospel.

Most of us aren't quite as familiar however with how tireless he labored to help the poor. In particular, he worked to start an orphanage in Georgia. Arnold Dallimore writes, "The trustees of Georgia granted Whitefield five hundred acres of land, and he shortly began the construction of the orphan house...He called the orphan hosue Bethseda, a biblical term meaning a house of mercy. The need was so evident that Whitefield could not wait for construction to be completed. So he rented the largest hosue in Savannah and filled it with orphan children. Not only did he provide them with a home, but they were likewise given schooling and training in obedience and Christian principles..."

As Whitefield went around the country preaching, he pleaded on behalf of the orphans. Benjamin Franklin tells an interesting story regarding Whitefield's powers of persuasion, "Mr. Whitefield...made large collections, for his eloquence had a wonderful power over the hearts and purses of his hearers, of which I myself was an instance...I attend one of his sermons in the course of which I perceived he intended to finish with a collection [for the orphans] and I silently resolved he should get nothing from me. I had in my pocket a handful of copper, three or four silver dollars and five pistoles of gold. As he proceeded I began to soften and concluded to give the coppers. Another stroke of his oratory made me ashamed of that, and I determined to give the silver, and he finished so admirably, that I emptied my pocket wholly into the collector's dish, gold and all."

Charles Spurgeon is well known as the Prince of Preachers. But what may not be so well known are his efforts on behalf of the poor. I believe I'm quoting George Grant, (forgive me if I'm wrong) who details his efforts, "In 1861 he erected a house for the elderly. In 1864 he established a school for the needy children of London. In 1866 he founded Stockwell orphanages. And in 1867 to those many enterprises was added still another, a hospital. Explaining his...activity on behalf of the poor, Spurgeon said, 'God's intent in endowing any person with more substance than he needs is that he may have the pleasurable office, or rather the delightful privilege, of relieving want and woe. Alas, how many are there who consider that store which God has given into their hands for the purpose of the poor and need to be only so much provision for their excessive luxury, a luxury which pampers them but yields them neither benefit nor pleasure....'"

These great preachers were of course only following in the footsteps of the apostle Paul who devoted a great deal of his time and energy to raising funds on behalf of the poor, suffering believers in Jerusalem.

I like to remind myself of these stories because I'll admit I sometimes have felt bad because of my intense desire to start an orphanage in Africa. I, and this is wrong thinking I know, but I have sometimes almost felt like hey I'm a preacher so maybe this is not right, maybe I shouldn't be so concerned about this. After all, what about Acts 6?

It sometimes seems (at least to me) like Acts 6 is brought up almost as an excuse not to be passionate about the good of the poor. Well, I've got to pray and read my Bible - I don't have time for such piddly matters.

But I don't think that's the point. No, I know that's not the point. The leaders of the early church were passionately concerned about the needs of the poor. It wasn't because the needs were unimportant or even below them.

I think it is so amazing that when Paul records his meeting with the "Pillars" of the church - the final charge he records them leaving him with was - "they only asked that I remember the poor. The very thing I was eager to do!" Paul didn't say, well I'm a preacher, I can't have a part in helping the poor.

What I'm trying to say, to myself, is that it's not (or should I say) it should not be unusual for preachers - for experts in theology - for pastors to be passionately concerned about the poor and to work hard at doing something about it.

Now, and again here I'm talking to myself but I'm on a roll here (plus I'm listening) so why stop, to get specific, one of the reasons I am so passionate about the starting of biblical orphanages in Africa is because of the unbelievable potential for Christ.

I'm all for starting seminaries, I'm all for starting theological colleges, but I mean, think about this. Honestly, long term it seems at least to me sitting here in front of my computer in America, (by which I'm recognizing my lack of knowledge about what's happening in Africa) but it seems to me if we're talking long term change a continent strategies, the work of reaching out to orphaned children seems like one of the best, most important works the church could possibly be involved in.

First of all, when would you rather start training someone to think biblically? If you had a choice - at age 2 or at age 46? We've got to reach the 46 year olds, I'm all for that. But honestly, we all know that the change process for a 46 year old who has been immersed in a pagan culture is going to be a whole lot slower (or at least different) than it would be for a 2 year old who hasn't picked up many of the bad habits and bad ways of thinking that the 46 year old has.

Second, we've got literally millions of orphans. When I was in Africa I began to learn of course that things are a lot more complicated than just going over and starting orphanages. (I hope I knew that before but what I'm trying to say is that obviously you need to get to know the culture, etc.) But anyway back to the point, we've got millions of orphans - without parents - in need of a home - can you imagine, can you even imagine a better opportunity to literally change an entire continent? "Please train me..." the kids are crying out. What might happen if somehow thousands of orphans were given the opportunity to grow up in a godly African family? If they grew up seeing Christlike behavior modeled in front of them? Grew up learning how to be part of a godly church?

Thursday, September 22, 2005

The Importance of Being Earnest...

I'm doing some teaching (Bible) at a local Christian high school this year, still pastoring Grace Church, but teaching part-time. It's fun and at the same time, a real challenge. For one thing, high school kids have no problem letting you know you are boring.
(Their parents are a little more subtle...)
If I were going to come up with a list of things I want most for my students this year, I keep thinking that one of the things I want most is that they would be earnest. I'm not talking a freaky earnest, you know buggy eyes and walking everywhere in a hurry earnest. I'm not talking a watch out you say something wrong I'll pounce on you earnest.
I'm talking a life is short, there is an eternity earnest.
I guess, I just don't understand a casual laissez faire attitude towards life. There are too many needs, too much to be done, too little time, too great a Savior, too wonderful a gospel, too much to learn, to just take that approach.
I think I remember Dr. MacArthur once talking about preaching with a kind of 'relaxed desperation.' Relaxed because you trust in the sovereignty of God, because you know it doesn't all depend on you, because you understand your place in the great scheme of things, because you believe in the Holy Spirit. But desperate because you know what's at stake and because you know God uses means.
That's the kind of attitude I think we should all develop towards life...that's what I'm talking about when I talk about being earnest.
Relaxed, but desperate.
God is sovereign but He uses me, earnest!

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Is your tongue under control?

"If anyone thinks himself religious but does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this man's religion is worthless..."

A couple questions to help you evaluate whether or not your tongue is out of control...

1.) Are you nasty?

James 3:8-10, "But no one can tame the tongue; it is a restless evil and full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father and with it we curse men, who have been made in the likeness of God; from the same mouth come both blessing and cursing. My brethren, things ought not to be this way."

The word for curse doesn't refer to profanity, but personal abuse. This is beating people up with your tongue.

Do you use your words to hurt others? Do you use your speech as a weapon? Do you say unkind things about other people? Is your speech nasty?

2.) Are you hyper-critical?

James 4:11, "Do not speak against one another brethren. He who speaks against a brother or judges his brother, speaks against the law and judges the law; but if you judge the law you are not a doer of the law but a judge of it."

Spurgeon describes the attitude of the man James is talking about, "Things that he would reckon vices in any other man are virtues with himself. If he could see in another man the selfsame action which he has just performed - if another could be the looking glass of himself - oh how he would thunder against him. He is the very first man to noice a little inconsistency. He is... the most upright of thieves, the most tremendously generous of misers; the most marvellously holy of profane men. While he can indulge in his favorite sin, he is for ever putting up his glass to his eye to magnify the faults of others."

Do you constantly speak about the faults of others, not because you are seriously and earnestly concerned about their good but just because you enjoy doing so? When you get together with your families do you spend a good deal of your time picking others apart? Think about the conversations you had yesterday, what did you spend most of your time talking about?

3.) Is your speech sick?

Ephesians 4:29, "Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment that it might give grace to those who hear..."

The word for unwholesome describes speech that is unhealthy, unproductive, corrupt, harmful, poisonous, destructive...It's the kind of speech described in verse 31, "bitter, mean, wrathful, vindictive, angry, clamorous, slanderous.

Does your speech help others grow? Is it fitting? Does it encourage others and give them strength? Or does it do just the opposite?

4.) Are you a dirty talker?

Ephesians 4:4, "...and there must be no filthiness and silly talk, or coarse jesting, which are not fitting but rather giving thanks..."

5.) Are you a liar?

Colossians 3:9, "Do not lie to one another since you laid off the old self with its evil practices..."

If you have more, please add...

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

I can not forget...

I'm amazed at my ability to forget.

I mean, my wife Marda will call me at work and ask me to bring me something home for her (and by the way, she knows to call me just before I leave) and yet even then, even if she calls me five minutes before I come home, I can't tell you how often I forget.

You know what I have to do if I'm going to remember?

I have to take action right away, immediately after she calls. I have to get up, go out and get whatever she wants and put it right there on my desk in front of my face so I don't forget. (And if I'm being honest - that doesn't always work.)

The same is true when it comes to God's Word.

We hear the Word every Sunday, yet we often have forgotten what we heard by Thursday. O.k., let's be honest, Monday.

It doesn't have to be like that.

We can remember God's Word. It may not be easy, but if God's Word is important to you, you are going to do whatever it takes to get it's truths into your minds.

A suggestion?

On Monday morning open your Bible to whatever passage you are studying in church. Read the verses out loud. Then look at the first word and ask yourself, what does that mean? Go through the verses phrase by phrase.

And then on Tuesday, you get up and you open your Bible to whatever passage we are studying and you read the verses out loud, think about the meaning of the phrases, and ask what difference do these truths make in my life?

Then on Wednesday, you get up and open your Bible and you ask yourself what specific ways am I failing to obey this passage? What practical difference should this passage make in my life?

On Thursday you come up with a plan.

Friday, share it with someone else.

Remembering God's Word isn't rocket science, it just requires desire.

What's your plan?

Monday, September 19, 2005

"Fanatically loyal..."

I've never cared quite enough about sports to be considered a fanatic by any stretch of the imagination. But I know people who are.
We've got people down the road from where we live who have flags for their favorite teams hung all over their living room. I've known people who have bought green cars and pasted Eagle stickers all over because of their devotion to their team. I've even seen grown men get emotional when they see their team lose.
I've been thinking about that kind of "fanatical loyalty" lately, ever since listening to a former Westminster prof, Edmund Clowney use it as an illustration of the the Hebrew word "hesed."
We might think that when the Bible talks about hesed, that kind of "fanatical loyalty" that it would be describing man's devotion to God. After all, it makes sense for us to be that committed (and of course, way, way more) to God.
But, Dr. Clowney said, and I love this, by far the majority of times hesed is used, it's used to describe God's complete devotion, "fanatical" in the best sense of the word, loyalty to His people.
It's pretty, scratch that, completely humbling to think of God as being committed to me, to us as believers. It's amazing to think of him as being "fanatically loyal" to me. It would almost seem impossible to believe...except for the cross.
The cross proves its true.
"He who did not spare His own Son but delivered Him up for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things..."

Thursday, September 15, 2005


Everybody wants it.

Fact is, many people think they have it. It's actually this desire for 'freedom' that many people use as an excuse for rejecting the God of the Bible. God's too constricting. They view doing their own thing as the path to true freedom.

But is it?

Experience says it not.

Just look at the lives of many of the people who proclaim their own freedom the loudest. Very often they are not free at all - they are enslaved by a desire for people's approval, by greed, anger, pornography, lust.

In rejecting God for one's own freedom, it's like they are saying they want to be free, then walk straight into a prison cell, closing the bars behind them, locking it and tossing the key.

We know that just from a quick glance at the world around us, but even more importantly we know that from the Bible itself.

"Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slavesof the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or obedience, which leads to righteousness?"

The irony is that sins says it will lead you to freedom but only leads you deeper and deeper into bondage.

Bitterness says "give in to me, you'll be your own person, you 'll show them...." and clamps the handcuffs around your wrists, chains you to the wall, making it impossible for you to ever move forward.

Pride says "give in to me, puff yourself up, you'll become a big, big man..." while taking a club, knocking you to the ground and making you very, very small.

Lust says, "give in to me, drink deeply of what I have to offer, and you'll find life itself..." while secretly poisoning the drink itself, making it a drink of death.

I'm kind of harping on this because before a person comes to Christ for freedom he needs to see his bondage. Everybody serves a master. If you are not a believer no matter how loudly you may proclaim your freedom, in reality, you are a slave to a master who hates you and you simply do not have the power to do real, God-honoring, soul-satisfying good.

There's a freedom that is much better than the freedom to disobey and do what you want and that's the freedom to obey and do what God wants.

We see that kind of freedom on display for us throughout the gospels as we look at the life of Christ - a freedom to truly love others, to be courageous, to be hopeful in the worst of trials, to not be dominated by people's approval.

That kind of freedom is a gift.

Praise God! In Christ we find what we've always wanted.

"Christ suffered and died so that we might be set free from the law of sin and belong to Him..."

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Bad language

I don't know if you've ever noticed how easy it is to slip into using extra biblical language to describe attitudes and behaviors the Bible calls sin.

It's also dangerous.

For one thing, the name we give a problem usually has something to say about its solution. If I call someone who is constantly complaining about themselves a person with low self-esteem for example, I'm saying that what they need is a higher self-esteem. If I'm using unbiblical terms to describe biblical problems it's no surprise if I look for unbiblical solutions. And if I look for unbiblical solutions it's no shocker if all I get is more biblical problems.

On top of that, if we look closely at many of the phrases we use to describe behaviors and attitudes the Bible calls sin, those phrases are basically just excuses. Instead of reminding us of the importance of dealing with the issue, the very terms we use to describe it, are ways we rationalize away actually addressing it.

To come at it from a different angle when we use extrabiblical language to describe behaviors and attitudes the Bible calls sin, we may be subtly be excusing ourselves from having to confront it in somebody else's life. I'll tell you this, I'd be a lot slower to talk seriously about what someone is doing if they are "bi-polar" than I would if they are being flat out self-centered. I mean, what kind of person would I be to talk seriously to someone who has a medical condition about changing? You don't go up and yell at paralyzed people because they can't walk.

If something is a medical issue we should call it that, but if it's not we better not muddy the waters.

Let's be careful to use biblical terms to describe biblical problems.

I guess what I'm saying, in the words of Jay Adams, is "Watch your language..."

Monday, September 12, 2005

On hating sin

Sin messes up our lives. It enslaves us, perverts us, and defiles us. It's an ugly, hideous, blood-thirsty beast that wants to destroy us.
So um, why don't we hate it?
I guess there might be a couple different ways we could answer that question.
It might be because we aren’t truly born again. Solomon says in Proverbs 8:13, “The fear of the Lord is to hate evil…” If a person doesn’t hate evil he doesn’t fear God and if he doesn’t fear God he won’t hate evil. Unbelievers according to the apostle Paul, “walk in the futility of their mind, darkened in their understanding, excluded from the life of God, because of the ignorance that is within them, because of the hardness of their heart, and they having become callous have given themselves over to sensuality…” (Eph.4:17ff)
Another reason may be because of a lack of faith in God. Even Christian can have weak faith. A person may not hate his sin because he doesn’t fully believe that God is omniscient. He doesn’t have an overwhelming awareness that God sees absolutely everything he does. He soothes his conscience by fooling himself into thinking that there are certain sins he can hide from God.
Still another reason for not hating sin may be because you think of yourself as less of a sinner than you really are. Sometimes people have images of themselves that don’t correspond with reality. If a person doesn’t think he’s much of a sinner, it’s not because he isn’t much of a sinner, it’s only because he is fooling himself into thinking he’s not much of a sinner.
I’m sure there are many other reasons why we not hate our sin the way we should, but let me give you what I think has to be one of the biggest.
Many times we don’t take sin seriously because we don’t take God’s judgment on sin seriously.
If a person is going to treat sin lightly he must refuse to take God’s judgment seriously. When you understand that God’s judgment on sin is absolutely right, that it’s not too much and it’s not too little, and that His judgment on the smallest of sins ultimately is eternal death; meaning that the smallest deviation from His law in God’s eyes is worthy of an eternity of hell, you understand how terrible it is to disobey God. When you understand that God isn’t being harsh or unfair when He judges sin like that; He’s being right; you begin to understand that sin is an awful, awful thing.

Friday, September 09, 2005

The Way Up is Down

I’ll always remember, I was about four or five, going out to play tennis with my parents. One of the most frustrating days of my life. No matter how hard I hit the ball I could never get it over the net and I couldn’t understand why.

Years later I found out, my parents had me using a badminton racket. Real sweet. You ever try playing tennis with a badminton racket? It doesn’t work.

If you are going to excel at tennis, you need the right equipment. You can work on your form, you can watch all sorts of videos, you can sit down with Andre Agassi, you can learn at the best tennis camps, but I guarantee you, no matter how hard you try, you are not going to be all that good at tennis if you are using a badminton racket.

It’s that simple.

The fact is, many people are frustrated in their attempts to change because of something just as simple. I mean, they try and try to change, they read books, they watch videos, they go to counselors, they talk to their friends, they watch Oprah Winfrey, they listen to Dr. Phil, they work and work at changing, but everything stays the same. The reason is simple: they haven’t dealt with the most basic issue.

You could say they are playing tennis with the wrong racket.

They are proud.

And James explains, “God is opposed to the proud…”

You can’t change if God doesn’t help you, and God promises that He will not help you if you are proud. That's the bottom line. God doesn’t give His grace to everyone. In fact there is a type of person He actively resists, that He opposes. And that’s the person who is proud.

James chooses to quote Proverbs 3:34, but he had lots of options, because God makes it clear time and time again, He hates pride. One old saint calls pride the mother of hell. This sin is odious to God. Proverbs 16:5 says “the proud in heart is an abomination to the Lord.” The Psalmist promises, “…haughty eyes God will abase…” (Ps.18:27) “No one who has a haughty look and an arrogant heart will I endure…” (Ps.101:5) And David explains, “Though the Lord is exalted, yet he regards the lowly; but the haughty He knows from afar.” (Ps.138:6)

Until you and I deal with this root issue, this issue of pride, we won’t be able to deal with anything else. Pride will destroy us.

Do you think you can have real peace with others if Almighty God is against you? Do you think you can change in a way that honors God if God sets Himself up in opposition to you? Of course not! God hates high looks and He never fails to bring them down.

That’s the warning.

Here’s the promise. God is a giving God, and He is willing to help, but take note, James says He only “gives grace to the humble.”

If the first part of this verse is quite a warning, this second statement is quite a promise. God promises to help the humble.

Do you hear that?

James says He gives grace to the humble. That’s a fact.

Really he’s just echoing one of the primary themes of both the Old and New Testaments. Over and over again, we read of how God delights in stooping down and helping those who abase themselves before Him.

Listen to some of the wonderful promises of Scripture.

“The Lord is near to those who are brokenhearted, and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” (Ps.34:18)

“The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and a contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.” (Ps.51:17)

“For thus says the high and exalted One who lives forever, whose name is Holy, ‘I dwell on a high and holy place, and also with the contrite and lowly of spirit in order to revive the spirit of the lowly and to revive the heart of the contrite.’” (Is.57:17)

If it’s comforting to receive help from other people when you are confused, how much better to be promised help from God. Imagine what it would be like to have the most intelligent, most learned, most wise human being in all of history as your helper throughout life. Suppose he would be available to you in every situation and every circumstance. Suppose you could run every decision you made by him. You’d have such hope.

You believer, have something better than that. There’s no reason for despair. James says, God promises to help the humble.

That’s the theme of James 4:6-10.

That’s how James begins verse 6, and that’s how he ends in verse 10.

If you humble yourself before God He will give you grace, and if you humble yourself before God, He will exalt you.

What more could you ask for? God helping you and God honoring you. And it’s a promise, if you are humble.

Now these two verses are the bookends. Everything between, explains them. So if you are you looking for one key principle that will help you become a person of peace, that will help you live a life full of joy, a life that is blessed, a life that pleases God, here it is:

Humble yourself before God.

The first step to getting things right is getting things right with God.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Pride in Action...

Perhaps nowhere is the danger of a self-sufficient attitude more clearly illustrated and addressed than in James 4:13-17 where James introduces us to a group of individuals who are planning for the future.
They have a strategy. “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there…”
They are planning for success. “…we’re going to trade and make a profit…”
And James is upset. That‘s why this verse begins, “Come now you who say…”
Now you have to understand that one of the ways James teaches is by giving a specific example in order to illustrate a broader principle. In other words, what he wants us to do as we read this passage is look at these men, and ask ourselves - what are they doing wrong? What mistake are they making?
Fortunately that question is not very difficult to answer.
They are not making a mistake by planning for the future. James says in verse 15 that they need to think about the future.
And they are not making a mistake by planning for success. They wouldn’t have been more holy if they had said, “Today or tomorrow, we are going to go into such and such a town, trade and lose money…”
Instead they are making the mistake of being arrogant. James pinpoints their problem in verse 16, “As it is, you boast in your arrogance.”
Here these guys had a good plan.
A plan that might have worked.
A plan that most non-Christians would have looked at and said, that makes sense.
And yet it’s a plan that James says is ruined because of their arrogant, self-sufficient attitude as they made it. Now be careful here - by ruined I don‘t mean that it didn‘t “work.”
Who knows?
They may have gone to such and such a town, spent a year there and made a profit. Lots of non-Christians do.
By ruined I mean it doesn‘t please God.
It doesn‘t take a seminary degree to figure out that is James‘ main point. Check out verse 16 and 17. “All such boasting is evil.” “Diabolos” literally - devilish. “So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.”
It’s easy to see the relevance of this passage for us.
We can have a good plan. We need a good plan.
We have a good goal. Nothing wrong with wanting success.
But even with the best plan, and the most worthy goal - there’s still one attitude that can absolutely ruin it. PRIDE! AN ATTITUDE OF SELF-SUFFICIENCY! “WE CAN DO THIS!”
Now knowing the danger of a self-sufficient attitude, the important question becomes (and this is where things get a little sticky) what does a self-sufficient attitude look like? If there’s nothing that can ruin our good plans for the future of this church like trusting in ourselves, what does it look like when we are putting too much trust in ourselves?
I say that’s an important question because we tend to think that a self-sufficient attitude is obvious; that the church that is being self-sufficient about the future knows it and can see it so easily - but I don’t always think that is the case. I mean honestly - look at what these men say - “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit…”
Which one of us would have (if you didn’t know this passage in James) stood up and said - that’s boasting, that’s evil, that’s sin!
I don’t know that I would have - seems rather innocuous.
That is probably why James clarifies why he has such a problem with what these guys are saying in verse 14.
The problem is not as much with the statement - as it is with the attitude. He identifies three characteristics of the self-sufficient person.
1.) We plan arrogantly when we put our trust in our great plans.
In trying to get at what is wrong with what these guys are doing it helps to look at James’s rebuke in verse 14. He’s telling them what they are not doing - this is where you went wrong - so if we just turn the statement on its head - we know what they are doing. And what’s the first thing he says? “You do not know what will happen tomorrow…” What’s that rebuke indicate? It indicates these businessmen were acting like they did know what was going to happen tomorrow. They were acting like they through their ingenuity and their planning could orchestrate what was going to happen. “Go here - do this - bingo! Make money.”
2.) We plan arrogantly when we put our trust in our abilities to carry out those plans.
Again, flip James’ second rebuke on its head.
“What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes.”
It seems success had gone to their heads - to the point where they probably thought they were really, really important. And so as they sat down to plan for the future, they just assumed, because they were such powerful businessmen - they could make happen whatever they wanted to happen. Say it! Plan it! Do it! Done!
3.) We plan arrogantly when we don’t verbally confess our complete dependence on God.
Verse 15, “Instead you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.’”
What’s the difference between what these businessmen were saying and what they should have said?
Three words. “If the Lord wills.”
We live only if God wants us to live and we will accomplish something only if God wants us to accomplish it! That’s what these businessmen were failing to acknowledge. James isn’t saying we are supposed to go around throwing these three words “If the Lord wills” around like a cliché; but rather - the failure to verbally acknowledge God’s role in our plans is indicative of a self-sufficient attitude.
What is arrogance? What does a self-sufficient attitude look like? It’s us as a church thinking and talking like we can accomplish great things for God because of the strategies we’ve developed and the abilities He’s given us.

Friday, September 02, 2005

Good isn't good enough...part four

When a person says to you, "I can be good apart from Christ" you immediately know at least one thing about him.

He doesn't really know what he's really like.

We know that because if he understood what he was really like apart from Christ, he would know that being good apart from Christ is impossible.

If you look carefully at the different calls to be good throughout the New Testament you'll notice that there is always a very particular order to the author's argument.

1.) Here is a person dead in sins.

2.) God saves Him.

3.) On the basis of that, they are called to be holy.

The problem with most unbelievers is that they mix up that order. They start with number three. Be good. And if you are good enough, you can go onto number 2 - God will save you and accept you.

One of the reasons they do that is because they fail to appreciate the significance of statement
number 1.

I'm convinced one of the biggest problems most people have is that they have no real idea what their biggest problem really is. It's not just that before God saved us our actions were wrong, it's that before God saved us we were wrong.

Think about how the Bible describes our pre-salvation condition.

Colossians 1:13, "For He delivered us from the domain of darkness..."

What does that mean? It means that apart from Christ we were in the domain of darkness. And what does that mean? It means we as unsaved people weren't neutral towards God. We belonged to His enemy. We were part of Satan's kingdom.

There are only two kingdoms in the world. There aren't three. There's not the kingdom of Satan, the kingdom of really nice, good, neutral people and the kingdom of Jesus. No there's the kingdom of Jesus and the kingdom of Satan, and a person can only belong to one or the other.

Those who belong to the kingdom of Satan, Paul says, Colossians 1:21, are "alienated and hostile in mind and engaged in evil deeds..." Alienated from who? Ephesians 4:18, "alienated from the life of God..." Hostile to who? God Himself.

That's not just what the unbeliever does, that describes who they are. And obviously they can't get what they do straight until something happens with who they are.

If someone is a spy for Saddam Hussein and has successfully infiltrated th CIA, does the fact that he looks like a CIA agent, dresses like a CIA agent, does some of the work of a CIA agent make him a CIA agent? Does it make him a loyal United States citizen? Of course not. He may be a very good spy and he may look an awful lot like a loyal United States citizen but his allegiance his elsewhere. And until that changes just because he dresses up like a CIA agent and looks like a CIA agent doesn't change the fact that he's not a CIA agent.

Or if someone dies and I am so upset by that fact that I decide to pretend like they are alive, does that change things? If I dress him up in a nice little outfit and I lug him around with me places and I sit him down and I try to feed him dinner, if I get one of those bicycles that has the seat in front and the seat in the back and I tie him to the back, does the fact that he has gone places and that he is going through the motions o fbeing alive, change the fact that he's dead. Obviously not, it's all one big show. There's no life in him and though I may force him to do some of the things that people who are alive do, no one in their right mind would go around saying that because he does some of those things, he really is alive.

Being good while rejecting Christ is impossible because it's only through Christ that we have the ability to do good.