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Posts from April 2011

When a Royal Marries a Commoner

William-and-kate-kiss This morning all around the world, millions of people gathered in front of their television sets, computer screens or smartphones to view the wedding of a Royal to a Commoner. The vast majority of people watching this event and taken by the splendor of the wedding have absolutely no connection whatsoever to those being married. In fact, most are not even residents of the realm of this royal family.

Yet, people watched.

News reports were aired live globally.

Merchants were and are making quite a bit of money off this wedding.

Of course, I'm talking about Prince William and Kate (oops - she's now only known as Catherine) Middleton.

This brought to mind another wedding. One that seems supernatural and almost like something from a fairy tale. It's hard to get our heads around it because, according to the story - we (Christians) are in this wedding.

In John's vision as recorded in Revelation 19, he saw and heard multitudes praising God because the wedding feast of the Lamb - literally "the marriage supper" - was about to begin. Of course, wedding customs in the days of John and other first century Middle Easterners is much different than our Western customs. 

According to the description on www.gotquestions.org, there were three major parts to the wedding customs of the day. First, a marriage contract was consummated between the parents of the bride and groom. The parents of the bride would pay a dowry to the groom or his parents. This was the betrothal period. In some countries, this is still the practice today. This was actually the period that Mary and Joseph were in when she was found to be pregnant with the Son of God.

The second step normally took about a year later (so much for quick engagements.) The groom, accompanied with his friends, would go to the bride's house at midnight by torchlight and parade through the streets. The bride would know this was going to happen and would be ready with her maidens. They would then join the parade and end up at the groom's home. Jesus spoke of this in his parable of the virgins in Matthew 25. It's also a picture of the "thief in the night" coming to receive his bride.

The third step was the wedding supper. This event could go on for days. You can get a picture of this in the story of the wedding in Cana as shared in John 2.

So, back to John's vision.

In this vision, he sees a wedding feast. This was a common scene during John's day, but in this vision, the bride and groom were unique. The groom was a Royal - a King. The groom was Jesus. The bride was a commoner - His church. I have to be honest, this illustration always confused me, because I never saw myself as a bride (still have a hard time with this.) However, as I have discovered the "rescue" motif of the Gospel, and realized that we (humanity) are the ones being rescued - with our hero, Christ Himself, coming to receive us . . . just like a thief in the night . . . the story begins to resonate.

The wedding feast of the Lamb is this third phase as described above. This means that the first two phases have already happened.

Phase One was consummated on earth when we, as invidual members of the Church, the body of Christ, placed our faith and trust individually in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord. There was a dowry paid. This dowry, paid to the groom's father (God), would be the shed blood of Jesus Christ on the cross on behalf of the Bride (that's us - remember, it's a debt we cannot pay.) Now, the Church would belong to Christ in the sense of betrothal and, lie the wise virgins in the parable, all would be watching and anticipating the return of the groom.  This is the Second Coming.

Phase Two is the rapture of the Church that will happen when He returns. The Bride (us) will be taken to the Father's house. 

Phase Three, and this is the good part, is the marriage supper.  

Wow!

This marraige supper includs not only the Church as the Bride of Christ, but others as well. The "others" include Old Testament saints who are going to be raisd at the Second Coming. Also, the martyred dead of the Tribulation who form the "multitude" will be there. 

The angel told John to write this. . .

And the angel said to me, "Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb. And he said to me, "These are the true words of God." (Revelation 19:9 ESV)

You may not have received your invitation to the wedding in London, but guess what? You've been invited to this one. . .and it's really a bigger deal.


Sometimes We Just Don't Get It (Churches, Christians & Stewardship)

Last night we once again studied one of the foundational elements of our Baptist Faith & Message. Unfortunately, the recording did not work, so there's no audio link. 

The subject of the night was "Stewardship." For starters, here's what the Baptist Faith & Message states:

God is the source of all blessings, temporal and spiritual; all that we have and are we owe to Him. Christians have a spiritual debtorship to the whole world, a holy trusteeship in the gospel, and a binding stewardship in their possessions. They are therefore under obligation to serve Him with their time, talents, and material possessions; and should recognize all these as entrusted to them to use for the glory of God and for helping others. According to the Scriptures, Christians should contribute of their means cheerfully, regularly, systematically, proportionately, and liberally for the advancement of the Redeemer's cause on earth.

It's a good statement. Though accurate, it lacks something. Perhaps it's because it sounds like it was edited by a committee who wanted to ensure that every key phrase and buzzword ever used in sermons relating to stewardship was included.

Uhaul hearse - color - web I began last night by just asking the crowd what the word "stewardship" means. It's interesting that whenever you ask a question in a church setting, people seem to think the answer must always be "churchy". While it's true that Christian stewardship has to do with trusting God and evangelizing the world (both answers given last night) the point is that the word "stewardship" has meaning outside the church.

So what does it mean?

One person answered "Good management."  That was a good answer. It led to another responding "Good management of items that don't belong to you." Wow. Now, we're getting somewhere.

The word comes from the term "steward" which is defined as follows:

  1. a person who manages another's property or financial affairs; one who administers anything as the agent of another or others.
  2. a person who has charge of the household of another, buying or obtaining food, directing the servants, etc.
  3. an employee who has charge of the table, wine, servants, etc., in a club, restaurant, or the like.

So, it's not that difficult. It's about managing something that doesn't belong to us. For believers, it's understood that God owns everything. The problem is that church culture has so messed up this concept that whenever a pastor or leader begins to speak about stewardship, people eventually think "He's talking about needing more money for the church."

Wow.

How have we (Christians and the church) become so messed up when it comes to stewardship? Here are some reasons I believe we've landed here. . .

  • We equate "stewardship" with a capital fund-raising campaign. Isn't it interesting that the only time many churches ever talk about stewardship is when money is needed (or wanted) to fund the construction of new facilities? We have had at least two of these campaigns at First Baptist since I've been here. Though promoted by godly people in consutation with legitimate ministries, I have always come away feeling uneasy. I remember one campaign we were in about 15 years ago where we were required to make home visits to all church members to see how much they would commit to give "over and above their tithes" to the new building program. One church member said to our visiting team "Wow. This is the only visit I've ever received from people at the church. I haven't attended in a while, but when you come, you're asking for money?" Ouch. I wanted to crawl under a table. Sometimes these capital funds campaigns reek of typical self-centric, marketing strategies. Now, I'm not throwing everyone under the bus here. We were required, as many churches are, to have these campaigns in order to secure the loans necessary for new construction. (BTW - this leads to the question "Should churches even take out loans?"  Another topic for another day.)
  • Stewardship emphases always seems to be solely focused on the message of "You better start tithing." Don't get me wrong, I believe in the tithe. I know this is up for debate among some Christians, but not for me. I like Randy Alcorn's description of the tithe as "training wheels" for generous giving. It's the floor, not the ceiling for generous giving. Since all we have belongs to God, we cannot just tithe the first ten percent and then spend the other ninety any way we like and be obedient. Nevertheless, stewardship is not just a "get out the tithe" campaign. Stewardship is about so much more.
  • Pastors speak on giving only when the budget isn't being met. We have experienced this in the past few years. I have even had to put out the "reality check" regarding church expenses. The problem is when these are the only times that stewardship is discussed. Oh yeah, why is stewardship only discussed when the financial state demands it? What about the dearth of volunteers to serve in different ministries? What about those who are gifted and talented and are not using those gifts and talents for Kingdom growth? Shouldn't all that be discussed as part of stewardship?
  • Stewardship is shared as something everyone should do, yet not many practical examples are given. The "tithing" testimonies are good, but they only go so far. They're inspirational and help you see what should be done. The stories of those who have given away millions of dollars to ministries and churches are inspirational, but the vast majority of people will never see a million dollars so there's a disconnect. Stewardship is promoted as something that some people can do, but not something that everyone can grasp. There are great classes to help and these are offered, but most people will not attend. So. . .stewardship becomes something that "really radical Christians" get. Hmmm. There we go equating "radical" with what should be "normal."

Shame on us - pastors and leaders - who have allowed the concept of biblical stewardship to be muddied by cultural norms. No wonder those in our churches have a disconnect when it comes to faith, finances and service. We will be held accountable for our teachings in this area.

So, what are we to do regarding stewardship. For me, the first step was understanding that I don't own anything. Everything I think I own really isn't mine. Everything I think I own (whether money, material possessions, talents, skill sets, gifts, etc.) actually belong to God. He's entrusted these things to me for one purpose - to bring Him glory. This is humbling. Why? Because I realize quickly that I have wasted so much. I have used so much for my own glory and desires and wants. If my giving and serving is truly a natural response of the grace that God has shown me, then, oh my, I have fallen so short. It's embarrassing to note this.

Stewardship is not a program. It must not be relegated to a select few who "get it." It's not about raising funds for a church, ministry, program or mission. It also cannot be segmented out of the "normal" Christian life.

It's not about coming up with a checklist of giving.

It's not about just doing better.

It's about total surrender and continually removing self from the center of the equation. It must be taught and modeled. The pastors, deacons, teachers and all leaders must model this. The church as a whole (regarding the church's finances, property, and giving) must model this as well.

The question is "What or who do I love more? God, me or my stuff?"

When we begin to understand what it means to be a steward and live our lives with the understanding that our giving is a direct response to God's grace, freedom ensues. This isn't propagating a "name it and claim it" or "prosperity gospel" theology (which I believe are anti-biblical and sinful.) This is about landing at a place where freedom truly exists.

Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world - the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride in possessions - is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever. 1 John 2:15-17 (ESV)


Strategies for Fighting Lust

It's a sin that just about everyone at some level faces. It's the continuing sin that come back time after time - even after the wave of guilt has poured over the person and the prayer of repentance happens. 

Satan uses lust and porn to attack more and more people. With the growth of the internet and increase in numbers of  smartphones, the greatest tool for attacking men (and women) with lust is now very prevalent.

Pastor John Piper posted this years ago regarding lust and porn and the Christian. Though written in 2001, this is as relevant today as ever:

I have in mind men and women. For men it's obvious. The need for warfare against the bombardment of visual temptation to fixate on sexual images is urgent. For women it is less obvious, but just as great if we broaden the scope of temptation to food or figure or relational fantasies. When I say "lust" I mean the realm of thought, imagination, and desire that leads to sexual misconduct. So here is one set of strategies in the war against wrong desires. I put it in the form of an acronym, A N T H E M.

A – AVOID as much as is possible and reasonable the sights and situations that arouse unfitting desire. I say "possible and reasonable" because some exposure to temptation is inevitable. And I say "unfitting desire" because not all desires for sex, food, and family are bad. We know when they are unfitting and unhelpful and on their way to becoming enslaving. We know our weaknesses and what triggers them. "Avoiding" is a Biblical strategy. "Flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness" (2 Timothy 2:22). "Make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires" (Romans 13:14).

N – Say NO to every lustful thought within five seconds. And say it with the authority of Jesus Christ. "In the name of Jesus, NO!" You don't have much more than five seconds. Give it more unopposed time than that, and it will lodge itself with such force as to be almost immovable. Say it out loud if you dare. Be tough and warlike. As John Owen said, "Be killing sin or it will be killing you." Strike fast and strike hard. "Resist the devil, and he will flee from you" ( James 4:7).

T – TURN the mind forcefully toward Christ as a superior satisfaction. Saying "no" will not suffice. You must move from defense to offense. Fight fire with fire. Attack the promises of sin with the promises of Christ. The Bible calls lusts "deceitful desires" (Ephesians 4:22). They lie. They promise more than they can deliver. The Bible calls them "passions of your former ignorance" (1 Peter 1:14). Only fools yield. "All at once he follows her, as an ox goes to the slaughter" (Proverbs 7:22). Deceit is defeated by truth. Ignorance is defeated by knowledge. It must be glorious truth and beautiful knowledge. This is why I wrote Seeing and Savoring Jesus Christ. We must stock our minds with the superior promises and pleasures of Jesus. Then we must turn to them immediately after saying, "NO!"

H – HOLD the promise and the pleasure of Christ firmly in your mind until it pushes the other images out. "Fix your eyes on Jesus" (Hebrews 3:1). Here is where many fail. They give in too soon. They say, "I tried to push it out, and it didn't work." I ask, "How long did you try?" How hard did you exert your mind? The mind is a muscle. You can flex it with vehemence. Take the kingdom violently (Matthew 11:12). Be brutal. Hold the promise of Christ before your eyes. Hold it. Hold it! Don't let it go! Keep holding it! How long? As long as it takes. Fight! For Christ's sake, fight till you win! If an electric garage door were about to crush your child you would hold it up with all our might and holler for help, and hold it and hold it and hold it and hold it.

E – ENJOY a superior satisfaction. Cultivate the capacities for pleasure in Christ. One reason lust reigns in so many is that Christ has so little appeal. We default to deceit because we have little delight in Christ. Don't say, "That's just not me." What steps have you taken to waken affection for Jesus? Have you fought for joy? Don't be fatalistic. You were created to treasure Christ with all your heart – more than you treasure sex or sugar. If you have little taste for Jesus, competing pleasures will triumph. Plead with God for the satisfaction you don't have: "Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love, that we may rejoice and be glad all our days" (Psalm 90:14). Then look, look, look at the most magnificent Person in the universe until you see him the way he is.

Alg_porn_xxx M – MOVE into a useful activity away from idleness and other vulnerable behaviors. Lust grows fast in the garden of leisure. Find a good work to do, and do it with all your might. "Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord" (Romans 12:11). "Be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord" (1 Corinthians 15:58). Abound in work. Get up and do something. Sweep a room. Hammer a nail. Write a letter. Fix a faucet. And do it for Jesus' sake. You were made to manage and create. Christ died to make you "zealous for good deeds" (Titus 2:14). Displace deceitful lusts with a passion for good deeds.

By John Piper. © Desiring God. Website: desiringGod.org

Often the issues of lust and porn seem to be focused on men solely. It's no secret that men are wired differently and that the Enemy knows the visual stimulation is best used on men. However, women aren't immune. This quote from a recent article in the Guardian illustrates this.

I remember the feeling of being sucked in, really wanting that two-minute fix, that numbness I got when I used porn," says Caroline. "I was stressed out, and I risked being late for my interview, but I pressed play anyway and fast-forwarded it to the bit I wanted. It took two minutes." But the relief was to be short-lived. "Afterwards I just hated myself for giving in and getting off on images that treated women like pieces of meat. But I kept going back.

The attacks will only increase as more and more "secret" venues for viewing, downloading and watching porn become available. This secret war is being waged by many believers. Men and women alike are fighting the temptation. The ANTHEM strategy is a good place to start. You may have to make more drastic steps. Remember, it's worth it and you're not fighting alone.


The Rescue (Easter 2011)

01 The Rescue

Sometimes preaching an Easter message isn't easy. The reason is that often the place is packed and everyone in the congregation knows the story. The story of the resurrection of Jesus Christ is the key story of Christianity. Apart from the sacrifice on the cross and the resurrection of Christ three days later, our faith would be just like all other world religions. 

Our story, however, is more than this.

Is it possible to be so familiar with a story that you miss the point of it?

I think so.

Our desire this Easter Sunday was to come at the story of the resurrection from a different angle. We want to see the story in its fullness. At that point, Easter is the story of the greatest rescue in history. 

I hope you take the time to listen to the attached audio file. We all need a new perspective on Easter. We need to make sure we have experienced the rescue and for those of us who have, we must not forget the One who rescued us.

Easter 2011


What Are You Crying About?

Funerals are scenes that most people like to avoid. I've talked to junior high students in my Friday morning group who have never even attended a funeral. In the past, when families were more closely knit and communities were tighter, funerals were events that would shut down the entire community and all family members would attend.

I've attended my fair share of funerals, even before becoming a pastor. It's been said that a church's theology is best stated at funeral services. This is true. What we believe about heaven, hell and life and death is best explained at these services.

This being the day before Easter, there is the natural remembrance of the death of Jesus Christ. The story of the tomb and the burial, the Roman guard being posted, Judas committing suicide and the delayed preparation of Jesus' body due to the Sabbath restrictions are all part of this study.

At most funerals, even when the eternity of the deceased is secured in heaven, the depth of grief results in mourning and tears. 

I recently read where in many countries, professional mourners fill the gap on these days. In Guy Kawasaki's book on leadership and vision titled Enchantment, he uses the example of professional mourners in a section titled "Provide Social Proof." He states. . .

Families pay women to mourn at funerals in cultures all over the world. I posted a message on my blog asking for verification of this, and my readers told me this happens in Pakistan, Israel, Russia, India, Spain, Lebanon, China, Romania, Malaysia, Serbia, and Vietnam. In Vietnam, there are even two tiers of pricing: With and without tears! (Enchantment, 73)

What a strange concept. Kawasaki goes on to say that these women provide proof that the deceased was loved and will be missed.

This is a foreign concept to many of us in the West. Here, funerals tend to be attended by family and friends, maybe some co-workers and sometimes neighbors and community members. All attend to show support for others (perhaps the family members) or to honor the memory of the deceased.

I found this clip from 1963 of professional mourners in Sardinia. It just seems so strange to me. . .

This practice is also mentioned in Scripture at times. 

Thus says the Lord of hosts: "Consider, and call for the mourning women to come; send for the skillful women to come;" (Jeremiah 9:17 ESV)

Therefore thus says the Lord, the God of hosts, the Lord: "In all the squares there shall be wailing, and in all the streets they shall say, 'Alas! Alas!' They shall call the farmers to mourning and to wailing those who are skilled in lamentation," (Amos 5:16 ESV)

We also see the professional mourners alluded to in the account of Christ's raising the little girl from death in Mark 5.

What does it mean to mourn?

Christ death The dictionary states that it is to feel or express sorrow or grief for the dead and to show the signs of grieving.

I'm sure, as accounted for in Scripture, the professional mourners and those truly saddened by the death of Christ were lamenting and wailing the death of Jesus. Some did this in hiding, for fear of being crucified themselves. The time following the death of Christ must have been the lowest for those disciples who had followed Him for up to three years. The questions about life, the Kingdom of God, the full grace of God offered and all that Christ taught must have been innumerable. There was a great emptiness in the world and in the hearts of these followers.

The three days since the crucifixion must have seemed like an eternity. 

I'm sure tears were flowing, wails were loud, clothing was torn and tempers were probably flaring. 

Then. . .the day of resurrection came. 

We often talk of the day of the crucifixion (celebrated on Good Friday, but as noted in a previous post, could have been on Thursday or maybe even Wednesday.) We focus, rightly so, on the morning of resurrection. But, what about the days in between?

As a believer have you ever felt confused? Scared? Unsure? 

That's what these bold men and women of God were experiencing. Why? They didn't see the full picture yet. They didn't understand the fullness of God's grace. 

Then, Sunday came.

Perhaps this is what you need. Maybe you're a believer, but you feel disconnected. I meet many that feel this way. They've forgotten the bigger story. They've found themselves mourning. . .but not knowing why. This weekend is a great time to re-boot. To re-focus on what the story is truly all about. To realize that the story isn't over. Christ rose again, defeated death and is alive today. . .to glorify the Father and allow us the great opportunity to live.

The mourners tears were transformed into joy the moment they saw Jesus. Maybe you just need to see Jesus clearly today?

Are you mourning? Remember what Christ said here. . .

"Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted." (Matthew 5:4 ESV)

How can you be blessed for mourning and find comfort? Those who mourn and recognize the depth of their depravity and needs will be comforted by the grace-giver. The life Christ offers and the message of the gospel is the comfort needed. The disciples mourned and were comforted by God Himself. That, too is our story. In Him, you find peace.


Should You Observe the Stations of the Cross?

The numerous times I've led tours to Israel, we always walk down the Via Dolorosa and experience the "Stations of the Cross." It's also known as the "Way of the Cross" or simply "The Way." We watch groups coming through, many in tears. Some placing there hands on the wall or on stones where Jesus was said to have experienced different events along the road to His crucifixion.

Though it is a moving experience, thinking about Jesus' journey to Golgotha, the reality is that the road that tourists travel every day in Jerusalem is not the same road that Jesus actually traveled. TheVia Dolorosa (or the Way of Suffering) is actually under layers of rebuilt city and led in a different direction. 

It's cool as long as the guides let the people know the reality of history. Yet, after watching some of the groups, I get the feeling that many guides are saying "This is the exact place where Christ walked." The reality is that the vast majority of guides aren't believers, so what do they care if a group of Christians don't get an authentic picture?

Our guide, Yoni, is a believer and a Bible scholar, as well as versed in archaelogy and historic digs. We go down the road, but it is clear that this isn't the actual road. Still, the reason we travel this road is because it is valuable to remember the journey that Christ made to Mount Calvary - a journey that His Father had prepared for Him from before the beginning of time.

The tradition of focusing upon these stations began with St. Francis of Assisi and extended throughout the Roman Catholic Church during the medieval period. Being primarily a Catholic celebration or teaching, many Baptist and evangelical churches are not familiar with the stations. (Though it should be noted that the observance is not solely Catholic. Many Lutheran, Anglican, Episcopalian, and even some Baptist and evangelical churches observe this tradition.) However, when Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ hit theaters, many non-Catholics were presented with the primarily Catholic tradition of the Stations. I remember some Baptist friends asking me questions about certain things in the movie that were not familiar. My Catholic neighbors at the time told me that they were pleased to see the Stations presented so clearly. They were surprised that we (Baptists) were unfamiliar with such characters as Veronica and her scene. 

So, what are these stations and which ones are biblical? Which ones are tradition only?

The Stations are most often seen as a series of fourteen pictures or sculptures depicting the following scenes:

  1. Jesus is condemned to death
  2. Jesus is given his cross
  3. Jesus falls the first time
  4. Jesus meets his mother
  5. Simon of Cyrene carries the cross
  6. Veronica wipes the face of Jesus
  7. Jesus falls for the second time
  8. Jesus meets the daughters of Jerusalem
  9. Jesus falls the third time
  10. Jesus is stripped of his garments
  11. Crucifixion: Jesus is nailed to the cross
  12. Jesus dies on the cross
  13. Jesus' body is removed from the cross
  14. Jesus is laid in the tomb and covered in incense

Though not traditionally a station, many churches consider the Resurrection of Jesus a fifteenth station.

Passion_of_the_christ_veronica Of the traditional fourteen Stations, only eight have clear Scriptural basis. Stations 3, 4, 6, 7 and 9 are not biblically founded. Veronica, featured in Station 6, is never mentioned in Scripture. In fact, until medieval times, she's never mentioned at all. So, did she exist at all? Probably not. Tradition is a powerful thing. She is said to have offered Jesus a towel, which was used to wipe the blood from his face. This scene is shown in The Passion. She supposedly brought the towel with the image of Christ to Rome. Over the centuries, more and more traditions grew from the Veronica story. Several legends were developed.  In Italy it is said she was summoned by Emporer Tiberius and cured him by making him touch the sacred image of Christ on the towel. In France, she supposedly was given in marriage to Zacheus and then travels to Rome and then Quiercy, where Zacheus became a hermit.

Some say that the oldest and best known icons from the Holy Land, taken to Rome were called vera icon (true image), which eventually morphed into the name "Veronica." So even many Catholic scholars would say that the name of the woman on the Way was probably not named Veronica. However, they would say the act of wiping Jesus' face did happen.

Truth be told - this act is not in Scripture. Therefore, this act, as well as the other stations highlighted above, since they are not accounted for in Scripture, are most likely not part of the true account. Do they take away from the truth? I say "yes" because they're not necessary. The Stations of the Cross (if that's what you wish to call them) as described in the Gospels is complete. We must be wary and avoid at all costs adding anything to the biblical narrative.

In the past few years a new Stations of the Cross has developed. It is called the Scriptural Stations and relies on the Bible alone as guide and reference. While many evangelical churches do not follow the traditional "Holy Week" standards, on this Good Friday, the day set aside to remember and focus on Christ's sacrifice on the cross, these stations are worth remembering. (Even the current Pope and previous Pope affirm these Stations.)

  1. Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane
  2. Jesus betrayed by Judas and arrested
  3. Jesus condemned by the Sanhedrin
  4. Jesus denied by Peter
  5. Jesus judged by Pilate
  6. Jesus scourged and crowned with thorns
  7. Jesus takes up His cross
  8. Jesus helped by Simon of Cyrene to carry His cross
  9. Jesus meets the women of Jerusalem
  10. Jesus crucified
  11. Jesus promises His kingdom to the repentant thief
  12. Jesus entrusts Mary and John to each other
  13. Jesus dies on the cross
  14. Jesus laid in the tomb

These are much better than the common traditional Stations due to the biblical accuracy.

Stations So, is observance of the Stations of the Cross wrong? It depends. Are you referencing the traditional ones or the Scriptural ones? I would not focus on the traditional, even though it may be moving and powerful, because there are portions that have no biblical basis.

Regarding the Scriptural Stations,"yes,"  if done as a time of prayer and meditation, focusing on the great sacrifice Christ made on the cross and how that sacrifice was essential to glorify the Father and rescue His children. 

On this Good Friday, make sure you remember what Christ has done.

Looking forward to Resurrection Sunday. It's going to be a great time of celebration.


Some Atheists Are Better "Christians" than Christians

Some atheists act more Christ-like than many Christians. That's what has been touted recently in the news. Actor and comedian Ricky Gervais posted a holiday message for Easter titled "Why I'm A Good Christian" in the Wall Street Journal. This was a follow-up article to his Christmas one titled "Why I'm an Atheist." Gervais, by his own account is an atheist, so the title of his new posting is getting some attention. 

No, he has not disavowed his atheistic beliefs and come to Christ. The title, in his own words is "a little misleading, or at least cryptic." He goes on to say "I am of course not a good Christian in the sense that I believe that Jesus was half man, half God, but I do believe I am a good Christian compared to a lot of Christians."

Ouch.

His point reminds us of Gandhi's summation of Christianity when he said "I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ."

Ricky-gervais Of course, I believe that Gervais is wrong on numerous accounts. Well, first of all, Jesus is not half man and half God. He is fully both, but that wasn't really the arguing point of the article.

Gervais goes on to share how many bad things in history have been in the name of Christianity or at least with Christian terms or even crosses.  He's right to a degree.

He shares how, even as an atheist, he follows the Ten Commandments much better than some avowing Christians. Of course, as we know, apart from Christ, there's no way to measure up regarding the commandments. Just take the first one, for instance "I AM the Lord your God. You shall have no other gods before me."  Not too sure how an atheist can do this. Of course, Gervais and others who are atheists say that since they do not believe in God, they can have no other gods before Him. The problem is that the god of humanism takes center stage in this belief system, so this command is broken.

I'm getting side-tracked. The point of the article is not really to dissect Gervais' poor theology. Rather, it is the question about how poorly some followers of Christ show His love to the world?

This is where the "ouch" comes in. When anyone or anything is central to our lives as believers other than Christ, our witness and lifestyle does not bring God glory. We fail in this often. . .at least I do, but there is a message in the WSJ article that continues to grab me.

Like many, Gervais has turned Christianity into an ethic rather than a relationship. 

Christians aren't perfect. We get that. We mess up. We sin. However, it's when we stop trying that the world notices. Just because we attend church, read some Bible verses and sing praise songs doesn't mean we're Christians. And, even if we are, if that's all we do in the name of Christ, it appears we're stuck on the "on ramp" of salvation. The process of sanctification is life-long. No one has "arrived" when it comes to living holy lives, but shouldn't we see some progress in our lives?

If Christianity is summed up in an evangelistic outreach, a prayer and a baptism and then. . .nothing, well. . .that's not really Christianity is it? These are the folks we say "Well, they're probably not really saved."

Do you remember the old worship song titled "They Will Know We Are Christians. . ." Do you remember the key phrase that would define Christianity for "they" (who are presumably the lost in this world)?  The phrase is ". . .By Our Love." 

Since Gervais brought up the Commandments, let's look at what Christ said when asked what the greatest commandment was.

And he said to him, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself." Matthew 22:37-39 (ESV)

Why did Gandhi say he didn't like Christians, but liked Christ? Why does Gervais say he's a better Christian than Christians? Because so many times, we don't live out our faith in real, tangible ways. 

Christianity is not about sin management or just changing behavior. It's about living our lives so that God is glorified. How is He glorified? By loving Him and loving others in His name.


"Foundations of Our Faith" - Education

01 15 - Education

Our confessional statement, the Baptist Faith & Message (2000) states this regarding education. . .

Christianity is the faith of enlightenment and intelligence. In Jesus Christ abide all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. All sound learning is, therefore, a part of our Christian heritage. The new birth opens all human faculties and creates a thirst for knowledge. Moreover, the cause of education in the Kingdom of Christ is co-ordinate with the causes of missions and general benevolence, and should receive along with these the liberal support of the churches. An adequate system of Christian education is necessary to a complete spiritual program for Christ's people.

In Christian education there should be a proper balance between academic freedom and academic responsibility. Freedom in any orderly relationship of human life is always limited and never absolute. The freedom of a teacher in a Christian school, college, or seminary is limited by the preeminence of Jesus Christ, by the authoritative nature of the Scriptures, and by the distinct purpose for which the school exists.

Education_front Education within the church and through the church has always been a paramount issue for Southern Baptists. The controversies over the past decades regarding Baptist colleges and universities has been well documented. Many traditional Southern Baptist schools no longer have official affiliation with the denomination. This is for varied reasons. However, that is not the point of the message shared last night.

Rather than post everything that was shared, I'll just post some bullet-point highlights regarding our understanding and beliefs regarding education:

  • There is a biblical mandate for education, supported by numerous Old & New Testament passages.
  • God, being Truth, is the foundation for all worthy education.
  • God has always encouraged His people to learn, seek knowledge, wisdom and understanding.
  • Personal discipleship is the responsibility of the individual. 
  • Christian education begins at home. It's not the church's responsibility to educate children in the ways of God, primarily. It is the responsibility of the home, the parents. (There are occasions when the only believer in the home is the child, and this is when the church can fill the gap, but even then, the parents will be held accountable for what is taught or not taught.)
  • If you rely on the church to tell your children everything they need to know about God, and your children attend every Sunday morning for small group and worship and on Wednesday evening, that's only 156 hours a year. Compare that to the approximately 20-50 hours a week that American children are watching television (not including time on the internet or phone.) The 156 hours is just not adequate.
  • While we support our local public schools, and I'm not advocating building a private, Christian school at this time, it's interesting to note that one man who is considered the "father of modern public education" was an avowed humanist who saw public education as the tool to remove God from public life. Interesting. Our teachers, administrators and students in the public education field are truly missionaries. This is why we desire to be involved and connected to serve and minister to our local schools.
  • Ultimately, Christian education is not an end in itself. It's a means to an end. Education is to help us grow in knowledge and wisdom and then to put into practice what is learned.

For Whom Did Christ Really Die?

The answer to the question in the title seems obvious doesn't it?

I have heard growing up, over and over again, that Jesus died for me. That's what's taught and preached in churches throughout the world. I've even shared this when talking to people about surrenduring their lives to Christ.

The discussion came up among our pastors yesterday during our weekly staff meeting.

Jesus_on_cross_crucifixion-full So, here's the question - "Did Jesus really die for us?" Sounds almost heretical, doesn't it? For those of you, like me, who have grown up in church and have heard sermon afer sermon and maybe even special guest evangelists who have shared the wonderful redemption available in Christ, the message is clear - "Yes, Jesus died for us!" Really? Is that the reason He died? Primarily?

The answer to this question is vital for the Christian. We have to understand this. I've heard the answer to this question goes back to an obstacle that we all face. It's about mindset. The mindset is either defined by nature or the Bible. Some, like John Piper, call it the battle between the secular mindset and the biblical mindset.

The problem is that often people don't realize they have a certain mindset until they are confronted with the other. Even church attenders and Christians often drift naturally to the secular, and that's the problem. Your mindset determines how you see the world, how you interact with others, and as Christians, how you share the truth of the Gospel.

The secular mindset is man-centered. Mankind is placed at the center of reality. Everything revolves around man. This is akin to the ancient scientific belief that the universe revolved around the earth. Galileo found out how centric this though was to the church when he proposed that the earth as not the center of the universe. It's natural, our inclination is the center everything around ourselves.

In this mindset everything starts with man. The world and the culture affirms this. Marketing agencies feed on this. The mindset drifts into our faith as well.

This leads to an evangelism strategy that states "Jesus died on the cross for you."

Scripture seems to affirm this. . .

For God so loved the world [mankind], that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. John 3:16 (ESV)

The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. 2 Peter 3:9 (ESV)

These verses are absolutely, unequivocally true and inerrant.

I'm sure I've ruffled some feathers here.

Make sure you don't hear what's not being said. Jesus' death and sacrifice on the cross was essential for the salvation of mankind. He did die as a blood sacrifice, as payment for our sins. The shedding of His blood was essential so that we could receive forgiveness of our sin through the grace of God. So, in this sense Jesus did die for us.

The issue is the primacy of the sacrifice.

Some Christians who live with a secular (i.e. natural) mindset accept Christ's death and pray to receive Christ, but because they are still self-centric in their mindset, they do not see the purpose, or the next steps of fulfilling God's plan for their lives. They have punched their "Get out of hell" cards and are stagnant in their faith. This may be the church's fault due to lack of discipleship. It may be a poor understanding of the sanctification process.  Nevertheless, churches are full of people who feel this way. A spiritual rut is the result. Churches may be  just "doing ministry" and going through the motions and members who are nominal Christians, at best (even if there is such a thing as nominal Christians) find they do not understand what God desires. God is therefore relegated to just another "thing" in life and the secular mindset continues.

Do we perpetuate this in the church? Absolutely. When we design ministries and programs for us, we fuel this. When we are more focused on our own comfort or desires, we grow this. When church becomes a club, the pews are filled with secular members.

The answer to the question regarding the cross reveals what mindset we have. 

So, what's the answer to the question about Jesus' death?

If Jesus didn't die for us, primarily, for whom did He die?

Check out this passage in Romans. Remember, it does not in any way contradict the previous passages posted or any other Scripture. It just clarifies this topic for us.

For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith.

This was to show God's righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he as passed over former sins.

It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. Romans 3:23-26 (ESV)

This passage shows that the death of Jesus on the cross was needed for the reconciliation with the Father. Yet, you can see a different focus here. The primacy of the cross is evident. Christ died, just as with everything else he did in his life here on earth, to primarily bring glory to the Father.

God is the center of the story, not man. This great rescue that we're celebrating this week as we study the crucifixion and the resurrection were necessary to bring us to the Father, but what ultimately occurs in this is that God is glorified. 

The biblical mindset recognizes God as the center of reality. All things flow from Him. He is the center. He is the key, not us.

Christ died to bring God glory. God is glorified through the death of Jesus on the cross. Christ is glorified when we are brought into relationship with Him as children of grace.

Do words matter? Yes, they do. I know this because I often use the wrong ones. 

Can people understand this? Does this change how we share Christ? Not necessarily, but it should affect our starting point. 

Here's the reality - everyone comes to Christ for selfish reasons. We all come to him for what he offers - rescue from hell. The problem is when we never move beyond the selfishness.

We (pastors, teachers, parents, friends, etc.) have to consistently state that God is the center. He deserves our worship. All that we do is to bring him glory. Otherwise, we're teaching one gospel to children and new believers and another for adults and those who have been in church for a while. 

Jesus Christ died for the glory of God.


Questioning God

I have often said that God is not offended by our questions. In fact, He encourages them and definitely can handle them. I believe that honest, heart-felt questions can deepen our understanding of God and His will. You'll notice in Scripture there were numerous times when God's children questioned Him - and even asked for specific things. 

While standing by the oaks of Mamre, Abraham asked the Lord, "Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just?" (Genesis 18:25b)

At a very important time in his life, David asked the Lord two very specific questions:

After this David inquired of the Lord, "Shall I go up into any of the cities of Judah?" And the Lord said to him, "Go up." David said, "To which shall I go up?" And he said, "To Hebron." 2 Samuel 2:1-2 (ESV)

Now, most often in life, the types of questions that come to mind have to do with tragedies. Questions like "Why has my loved one been diagnosed with cancer?" or "Why did so-and-so have to die?" These are serious questions and God does not shy away from them, so ask. There are other questions that come to mind regarding direction in life. Questions like "Which college should I attend?" or "Should I even go to college?" or maybe "Should I take this job or that one?"

I remember questions I would ask as a child that were really serious like "Is the Loch Ness Monster real?" Still haven't received an answer on this one. Perhaps it's because the question isn't really that important.

Why-1 As you know, if you've been reading recent postings, I've been reading Randy Alcorn's book The Treasure Principle. It's an incredible little book all about realizing God's plan for being glorified through our lives. This book addresses how we often view giving. I believe Christians often have a worldly view regarding giving. In truth, some churches and minisitries operate on a worldly plan as well. In some cases, there are churches and ministries who should never receive gifts, based on their teaching and financial practices. However, rather than just present another book or teaching on why everyone should tithe, Alcorn addresses the core issue regarding grace and giving and materialism.

At the end of the book, he has a listing of "31 Radical, Liberating Questions to Ask God About Your Giving." This is not just another "You need to tithe" study. It's not even based on guilt, which is incredible especially since most sermons and teachings in the church seem to be guilt-motivated. (BTW - guilt-motivated giving never lasts long and I'm not really sure it's even God-honoring.) This is about experiencing God's grace fully and living our lives in His honor, for His Kingdom. I've summarized these questions below. I highlighted many portions of these questions in my book, so I thought I'd highlight them below as well. Guess these are the ones that really get me. Get a copy of the book here to read and to get the expanded questions with biblical references.

Questions to Ask God About My Giving (The Treasure Principle, 99-120)

  1. Time and again in Your Word, Lord, You make a direct connection between experiencing grace and expressing grace through giving. Grace is your lightning, and giving is our thunder in response. So here's my question: Has the degree of my giving suggested that I have recognized and embraced the full extent of Your grace in my life? Or does it suggest I need to recognize and respond to Your grace in deeper and more heartfelt ways?
  2. Could it be You have rased me up - with the financial assets You've entrusted to me - for such a time as this?
  3. Is my life revolving around You? Since money and things have mass, and mass exerts gravity, and gravity holds us in orbit, what can I give away that will bring me greater freedom?
  4. Have I been acting as if I own the store and You work for me, rather than recognizing that You own it and I work for You?
  5. Where in my community - or in the whole world - do You want me to go, to see and participate in meeting physical and spiritual needs through Christ-centered ministries?
  6. Why have You entrusted me with greater financial blessings than I once had? I guess I've assumed You've done it to raise my standard of living. But now, I'm asking "Is it instead to raise my standard of giving?"
  7. Have I overaccumulated? Have I allowed unwise spending and accumulating debet to inhibit my giving to You?
  8. I've wondered why You haven't blessed me more financially. Could it be that I've been spending money myself first, rather than giving You the firstfruits of what You've provided?
  9. Is it ever irresponsible for me to give to You now - no matter what my situation - rather than wait until later?
  10. Would it honor You if I determined a basic level of income and assets sufficient to live on, then simply gave away whatever You provide beyond that?
  11. Will the assets, accounts, and holdings I've stored up on earth be wasted if You return in my lifetime?
  12. Doesn't the fact that You've entrusted Your money to me, not others, indicate that You want me - during my lifetime - to invest in eternity, rather than passing along that responsibility to my children?
  13. How can I be sure that the assets You've entrusted to me will serve You after I die? If my children are adults and independent, should I just give away now what I can and, when I die, leave most of what remains to my church or missions or ministries that are close to Your heart?
  14. What's the eternal downside in giving as much as I can give to You now? What's the eternal downside of minimizing my giving or delaying giving until later? Is there a real danger in giving too much too soon? Or is the true danger in giving too little too late?
  15. You've prompted me to give now. If I delay that giving - for whatever reason - is it possible I may die before I get a chance to give it later? Or, might the money disappear before I get around to giving it?
  16. By postponing giving, will my heart become hardened to Your promptings to give?
  17. Since I have no choice but to leave money behind when I die, is it really "giving" to designate through my will the distribution of my estate? Will I rob myself the joy and reward and rob You of my trust by holding on, until death, to significant assets I could have joyfully given to You while still alive?
  18. Why are my eyes so often focused on temporary, earthly investments with such pitifully small returns? Who could match Your promise of 10,000 percent (a hundredfold return)?
  19. Help me see clearly when it comes to where I give Your money. Am I giving to causes You truly value most? Opera? Art museums? The Humane Society? As good as those things may be, are they as close to Your heart as evangelism, discipleship, church planting, or helping the poor, the disabled, the imprisoned, and the unborn and their mothers?
  20. Since I make twice as much money as most people do [globally], might giving away half of what I have be a reasonable Christ-honoring option for me?
  21. If I'm not putting everything on the table and asking You what You want me to do with it, am I really Your disciple?
  22. Why do I hang on to my possessions with a white-knuckle grip? Am I trying to prove something? Is it about pride? Power? Prestige? Selfishness? Insecurity? Fear? Without realizing it, am I making money my God-substitute?
  23. Am I living to hear others say of me "He's a great success!" - or to have You say to me, "WEll done, My good and faithful servant"?
  24. Is my fear of health-related catastrophes and old age causing me to hold back my giving? When it comes right down to it, am I hanging on to excess as a backup plan in case You fail me?
  25. Are my material assets competing for lordship in my life with You?
  26. What specifically am I hanging on to that You want me to give away?
  27. How can I better communicate and pray with my spouse and children so we can walk together down this exhilarating road of giving?
  28. What am I doing - and what should I be doing - to train my children to regular, joyful and generous givers?
  29. Have I been missing out on blessing and joy by not excersiging the gift of giving?
  30. If I am a giver, who have I been teaching and mentoring in giving? Are you calling some to be examples who show others how to give and stir them to raise the bar of giving?
  31. Five minutes after I die, what will I wish I had given away while I still had the chance?

These are incredible questions and force me to think about my concepts of giving and grace. I love the concept that God's grace is the lightning and our giving is the responsive thunder. Wow. That, and the concept of my material possessions having mass and the gravity from that mass holding me too tightly.

I choose to experience God's grace and freedom and do not want my "stuff" (which really isn't mine anyway) keeping me from this. How difficult in the affluent nation we live in where being patriotic and pursuing the "American Dream" is the driving force for many, is it to live as fully devoted followers of Christ? 

God is really working in me through this study. It's a study centered around shifting from self-centric living to God-centric living. It's about understanding that my salvation is not just a one time event, but continues throughout my lifetime through His sanctification.