Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Are you imitating suffering saints?

"And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you received the word in much affliction, with the joy of the Holy Spirit, so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia. For not only has the word of the Lord sounded forth from you in Macedonia and Achaia, but your faith in God has gone forth everywhere, so that we need not say anything. For they themselves report concerning us the kind of reception we had among you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come."
(1 Thessalonians 1:6-10 ESV)

Ah, the Elvis impersonator.  I am amazed so many people seek to impersonate this guy.  He was distinctive and his music groundbreaking, certainly, but I am still surprised at the lengths guys will go to look and act like him.  Those who impersonate him really well (assuming there's a set standard for Elvis impersonators, of course) can actually be hired out for parties and singing telegrams. What a way to make a living!  Yes, I may or may not have searched on Google to find for-hire Elvis impersonators specifically for this post.

Impersonating a famous mid-20th century rock and roll star for bar gigs and birthday parties seems mostly harmless.  But our seemingly innate need to impersonate can often take a more chilling turn.  For example, observe the late comedians Chris Farley and John Belushi.  Belushi, who died from a drug overdose at age 33, was Farley's idol.  Farley, who lived to see heights of fame comparable, if not exceeding, those of Belushi, likewise died from a drug overdose at the young age of 33.  In fact, both died of an overdose from the same drug combination - cocaine and morphine.

Humanity has a knack for impersonation.  We will often act much like those whom we most admire.  Unfortunately those whom we most admire are often those whose example we best not follow, lest we imperil our well-being.  Our sinful nature leads us to follow those who would give us leave to indulge our baser desires and to give in to temptation; however, imitation is not always a harmful thing, as Paul will show us.

In this passage, Paul gives us a redeemed model of this practice in his description of the Thessalonians.  Prior to this passage, Paul describes how the Gospel message was affirmed through the Spirit-enabled power of their preaching.  He further bolsters this confirmation of the election of the Thessalonians by observing their imitation of him and the Lord Jesus.  In what way did they imitate them?  They "received the word in much affliction, with the joy of the Holy Spirit."  

Is there a godly man or woman in your life who has received the word while in much affliction yet with the joy of the Holy Spirit?  This person can take many shapes - an elderly man who has experienced the pains and trials of cancer, the young wife who suffers from seemingly inexplicable infertility, or perhaps a godly father you know who recently lost his job because he refused to compromise his integrity.  Insofar as those people faithfully follow Christ, they should be imitated.  Are you following the example of the Thessalonians and imitating those who have faced trials and afflictions while still seeking to believe the truth of God's Word?  

In doing so, like the Thessalonians, whose faithfulness was an example even to believers in other cities, we are building the kingdom up by becoming faithful believers whom others can likewise impersonate.  All this accomplishes the mission of the church - to make disciples.

So, brothers and sisters, seek out godly men and women who have faced trials and afflictions in the joy of the Spirit so that the Great Commission will be fulfilled!

Grace and Peace,


Thursday, February 16, 2012

Walking in the Light

"This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us."
(1 John 1:5-10 ESV)

Many of our parents gave us curfews growing up, possibly much to our chagrin.  Dangerous things happened at night, right?  Car wrecks, drunkenness, and various other unnamed dangers and snares awaited around each corner.  But how many of us took our parents seriously?  What sort of truth is ingrained in the idea that one should only be out and about one's business in the light?

This leads us to this text from John, who offers us a simple yet pertinent message.  Those who walk in darkness are not in the light.  "Of course," you may be thinking, "Isn't that common sense?"  Well, yes, this is common sense.  But sin has a way of making us turn away from clear 'night and day' truth to turn to that way which seems best to us; into a place where, as Judges describes "each man does what is right in his own eyes."

Those things which are reprehensible and sinful tend to happen at night, in the dark, hidden from those around us.  As the old saying goes, "Nothing good happens after midnight."  But Christ, who John explains, "Is faithful and just to forgive us," frees us to walk in the light, for our sin no longer has a bearing on our righteous standing before God.

Today, I bring nothing more than a simple but powerful truth from John.  Brothers and sisters, are you walking in the light?  Are you seeking justice and equity in all your dealings?  Are you seeking to live in absolute purity?  Are you speaking truth?  Are you consistently confessing sin and seeking to live in repentance?  Live in the light so that God may be glorified, you may be sanctified, and the light of Christ may be shown to all the world!

Grace and Peace,


Saturday, February 4, 2012

Joshua 1-12: The Rightful Owner

Psalm 24:1 declares, "The Earth is the Lord's, and all the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell within."

Allow me to introduce you to Queen Annabelle Eloise Burns and her court.

Basically, we serve her every need.  Hence our existence.  At least that's how she sees it.
Her highness lives a hard life.  She owns a house and has to keep up with her servants all day, thus exhausting her.  She ends her day by playing for about 45 minutes then taking a nap on her large couch.  Of course, she also owns the front and back yards as well.  She defends it from countless, relentlessly vicious foes like squirrels, rabbits, and cats.

Her highness after a long day of ruling the house.
Queen Ellie clearly owns this house.  But does she really?  I'm pretty sure she doesn't pay the mortgage.  Nor did she build it.  Nor does she mow the yard or tend the flowerbeds.  Though Ellie thinks that she owns it, in reality she has no claim.

The same is true of the peoples whom Joshua conquered.  In Joshua 1:10-11 the author recounts the scene as Joshua gives his orders, "...command the people, 'prepare your provision, for within three days you are to pass over this Jordan to go in to take possession of the land the Lord is giving you to possess.'"  Later, in chapter 6, the city of Jericho falls, becoming the first of many peoples to fall before the armies of the Lord.

Putting this in context is essential to understanding the text.  First, these people had been given many chances to repent over the course of history (see Noah and the Flood, Sodom and Gomorrah, etc).  Second, they were possessing a land that was purposed for another people - the covenant people of God.  Those who looked to Yahweh, even a prostitute such as Rahab, were spared.  The fact of the matter is that it was never about the land, it was about a people whose hearts were turned towards Yahweh.  This seen further when the anger of Yahweh burned against his own people in Chapter 7.  Why?  Because Achan had disregarded the things of the Lord, and his heart had turned away.  The result is Israel's stunning defeat at Ai (more on this incident next time).  The people occupying this land, with the notable exception of Rahab, had no desire to serve Yahweh and therefore could not be a part of his people.

In many ways we are just like Ellie and consequently just like those from whom Joshua took the Promised Land.  By nature, we are those who are living on the Lord's land and claiming it as our own.  Just like Ellie thinks she rules the house, but in fact does not, we often think we rule our possessions, our time, and our money.  Just like the Lord could see fit to do with the land of Jericho as he pleases, so he can do with our possessions and our lives.  The essence of the matter is that we all have blind spots in which we fail to recognize the sovereign rule of God.  In what areas are you ruling where you should be submitting?  Your family?  Your house?  Your job?  Your money?  Your marriage?  Your singleness?

Thankfully, unlike these people occupying the Promised Land, the necessary blood has already been shed for us.  The end result for a lack of submission before a Holy God is not laying prostrate before a victorious general awaiting the judgment of the Lord.  We who are in Christ instead lay before a beaten and bloodied King who died so that when the final judgment comes, we will stand blameless.  Though those outside the covenant experienced the patience of God for centuries, they never experienced the grace of God.  So let's move forward in life recognizing those territories that are rightly His and submitting accordingly, all the while knowing that our eternity is not forfeit for our failings.  But also be aware, just like Israel was subject to the discipline of God at Ai, so our lives are subject as well.  Therein lies the topic of the next post.  Just as the Lord can choose to take away, so he can choose whether to give... (to be continued, I suppose)

Grace and Peace,


Thursday, February 2, 2012

Devotional Thoughts on Joshua/Judges Part I

Wow, it's been quite some time since I've posted on here.  Though I was certainly enjoying the deep-thinking aspect of blogging, I've decided to instead opt for something more practical and readable.  So from here on out, it's shorter entries with a more devotional aim.

Those of you who follow me on twitter have likely caught on to the fact that I've been spending time in Joshua and Judges here recently.

This morning and in the coming entries I hope to draw your attention to a seemingly less-exciting portion of Joshua - chapters 13-19.  In this section Joshua is dispersing the spoils of war to the Israelites - the various cities and lands that had been given over to them by Yahweh.  When observing a map of the territory that the Lord gave them, the unequal distribution becomes quickly evident.  Some tribes received more, some received less.  Some, like the Levites, received none at all because "the offerings  by fire to the Lord God of Israel are their inheritance" (Josh. 13:14).  So, what do we take from this?  I plan to spend a few blog entries unpacking the implications. But, for today, I'll give you a preview outline:

1. The land is the Lord's to take as he pleases (Chapters in Joshua prior to 13)

2. The land is the Lord's to give as he pleases (Josh. 13:6-7)

3. The point is not the value or quantity of the gift, but the direct object of the faith that accompanies it.  (Josh. 23-24, Matt. 15:21-28)

Feel free to ponder on these truths.  On the next entry I'll begin, naturally, with some thoughts on the first point.

Grace and Peace,


Monday, August 22, 2011

Immanence and Worship Part II - The Lord's Supper

Communion - outside of preaching, this is probably my favorite time in the service.  This the moment when the people of God gather around the Lord's Table to remember the crucifixion of our Lord Jesus and to show themselves publicly as the body of Christ.  To fully understand Communion, I think it is essential that we think on the immanence of God during this time.  I don't have much time to write, but here are a few brief thoughts on it, with more to come.

When Communion is being served, assuming a close communion is practiced, we see the gathering of the visible church of God.  Each baptized believer comes forward and partakes, while remembering.  What I think is amazing, is that we are coming forward as Spirit-filled believers.  Christ is present in us by the Spirit.  At this point, we are communing with Christ, who has indwelt us through the filling of the Spirit.  As we remember Christ's death, we can also know that the Spirit of Christ has filled us to the uttermost.  We are continually being filled and renewed by the Spirit.  As one tastes the bread, and as the wine hits one's lips, we are experiencing the living Christ with our senses as well as our spirit.  At what point could one true and living God be more immanent than this except by the physical presence in addition to the spiritual presence of the Lord Jesus?  In fact, I think the argument could be made that God is more immanent by the indwelling Spirit than he was while on Earth, though he is not as immanent as he will be upon his return.  So as the Spirit-filled Church gathers around the table and as we remember crucifixion of Christ, I believe we can affirm that Christ himself is immanently among us.

So, you're probably wondering now, "What does this mean to me?"  Well, the application is quite simple.  The Covenant Lord desires to be among us.  He showed this by sending Christ, and he shows us this in the present by filling us with his Spirit and giving us a time in which we can commune with Christ as the body of Christ gathered around the Lord's Table.  The spiritual presence of Christ lends a certain gravity to the ordinance, and I would venture to say that the relevance of the Lord's Supper is dependent upon the God we worship being an immanent God.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Immanence and Worship Part I - Bapticostal?

A recent conversation with some friends led me to think about the relationship between our view of God's immanence and worship.  Since I've never actually sought to spend devoted time to thinking through this, starting this week I would like to take some time to outline how God's presence in time and space effects our practice in corporate worship.  Before I dive headlong into things though, I think it would be helpful to give a brief synopsis of my experience.  My aim is to make some of my presuppositions explicit, in hopes of giving you a better idea of where I might be going with all of this.  So, without further adieu...


After some consideration, I have determined that I have a somewhat odd background when it comes to thinking on God's immanence as well as his transcendence.  At certain points in my life, I think I've leaned too heavily on one or the other.  I grew up straight-laced Southern Baptist, an upbringing for which I am thankful in many ways; however, we Southern Baptists in the latter half of the 20th century seemed to be a schizophrenic lot when it came to thinking about the presence of God.  Generally, recent worship in the SBC has been greatly influenced by the Charismatic movement, which leans decidedly towards an emphasis on his immanence.  Yet we still have somehow managed to maintain our straight-laced worship habits.  I must admit it's a bit odd to see us Baptist folk worshiping to songs like "Fire Fall Down" by Hillsong and standing as straight and still as a pillar.  

During college, I began exploring the charismatic movement and Pentecostalism to a limited extent.  During my time in college I gained friendships with many brothers and sisters in Christ who hearken from the Pentecostal tradition of Christianity.  Though I never truly moved over to the Pentecostal camp of Christianity, my time spent there deeply impacted my thoughts on church worship.  It certainly gave me a much greater sensitivity and realization of the presence of God in the gathered church.  Though I have deep disagreements with many aspects of Pentecostal theology, they understand better than many that we worship a living God, in whom we "live and move and have our being." (Acts 17:28)

Towards the end of college and the beginning of my time at seminary, I began moving back towards an emphasis on the transcendence of God in worship.  I think this had much to do with my progression into a more Reformed view of God's sovereignty.  Though I wouldn't say that was the entire reason, it was certainly a major factor in the transition.  This time gave me a much deeper appreciation for the our limits.  Though God is knowable, ultimately he is only knowable to the extent he chooses to make himself known to us.  It was during this period that I began to understand the vastness of God, that we will spend eternity getting to know him more each day.

Since that time, I have grown more towards a median state.  Ultimately, I think a healthy view of worship entails an equal emphasis on both the transcendence and immanence of God.  This is where I am now - influenced by one on each end of the spectrum, and by another standing awkwardly in between.  I'm aiming for a fourth way, an in-between stance sans awkwardness, if you will.  We can be exuberant in transcendence and solemn in immanence. We can focus equally on both...and not feel weird about it.  I'm convinced this is possible.  Perhaps you are as well, or perhaps you are not.  Either way, come along for the ride, Lord willing we will both learn something.

By the Spirit He is made knowable
And by His Word He is known


Monday, June 20, 2011

Philippians 1 - Joy from Suffering

A couple Sundays ago one of my pastors preached a sermon on 1 Corinthians 4 that was deeply challenging to me.  At this point, I'm still thinking through it all, but the core of the sermon was that our lives should look more like the Apostle Paul's life.  Obviously, Paul lived a difficult life that was full of suffering, yet it was also full of joy.  I'll admit, I was initially a bit skeptical of the idea of seeking to live a life in which suffering naturally follows, but I have since come to realize the selfish sinful nature playing a large role in that skepticism.

As a result of that sermon, I've decided to spend the next month in Philippians, meeting weekly with a brother (and hopefully some more, eventually) from my church to spend some time in it, seeking to submit myself to the Word of God in these matters.

Upon reading the first chapter, it is clear to me that the joy Paul experiences is not what many of us would initially consider joyful.  He is suffering.  His church is suffering.  Yet he rejoices!  He rejoices in their partnership in the gospel, that the gospel is being advanced, and finally that they are suffering for the gospel.  In fact, it has been "granted" to them by God.  This leads to an important conclusion - Paul is not joyful in spite of their sufferings for the gospel, he is joyful because they are suffering.

This begs the question - what could Paul possibly be thinking?  Really?  Is he a glutton for punishment or something?  Why should we rejoice because we are suffering?  Suffering is evil, is it not?

Well, yes.  Suffering is evil.  This is one of the purposes of the coming Kingdom - to end suffering once and for all.  But herein lies an important distinction to be made - we are not rejoicing because evil is being done, we are rejoicing because evil being done to us means the Lord is working in us.  Paul begins this book by writing about the work that God is doing in the Philippians, that he will "bring it to completion at the day of Christ Jesus" (1:6).  The perfect picture of God working by His Spirit is shown in our Lord Jesus Christ.  What was the conclusion of God's work in Christ in the Gospels?  If you answered "the Resurrection" then kudos.  So what came before the Resurrection?  Crucifixion.  Likewise, if the Lord is working in us, to live the cross-centered life that Paul is writing about and rejoicing in, we must pick up our cross.  We must suffer.  Our Lord Jesus suffered, Paul suffered, what makes us think our lives should look any different?

So, brothers and sisters, what then shall we do?  Simple, "let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ" (1:27).  If we seek to live like Christ, if we seek righteousness, if we desire ever-increasing outpourings of the Spirit of God on our life, if we seek any of the fruit of the Spirit, if we seek wisdom, if we seek humility, if we seek holiness, then we will be opposed.  We will suffer, because we live in a world that considers this folly.  But we can rest on this - "This is a clear sign of their destruction, but of your salvation, and that from God" (1:28).  By our suffering brought as a result of ever-increasing Christ-likeness, we can be sure of our salvation, and we can be sure that one day the unrighteous will be subjected to the glorious judgement of our Lord, and we will suffer no more.  

The seeds of Christianity were watered by the blood of the martyrs.  Worldwide, people living lives worthy of the gospel of Christ are being martyred.  Why are we different?  What does the lack of suffering in the American Church say about American Christianity?  What does a lack of suffering in my life say about my faith?  What does a lack of suffering in your life say about your faith?  Let us pray.  Let us entreat our God to cultivate the same faith in us that we see in our past and present brothers and sisters who were martyred.  Let us pray for the Holy Spirit of God to fall on us, for without the power of the Spirit, this kind of faith is impossible.

"The Christian Martyrs' Last Prayer"