What Does God think of Vacations?

March 9, 2010 at 4:38 pm (Christian life) (, , )

Thanks to my in-laws, my family and I were given a wonderful opportunity to go to the house that Walt built: the one, the only . . . Disney World. Though it wasn’t my first time at Disney World, it was my first time to try to think Christianly about my vacation there. Here’s what I came up with. Let me know if you think of others.

This first list is nothing earth-shattering, but it’s too important to leave out.

I should be thankful to God:
-for the opportunity to focus on my family. When else do I get to step away from other responsibilities for the sole purpose of focusing on my relationship with those that are closest to me?
-for the opportunity to receive happiness and bring happiness to my family. My wife and I aren’t what you would call wealthy by Western standards, so it was nice to be able to do little things like let each kid pick a couple of souvenirs out or let each kid pick a treat for the day. Besides, when else do you get to meet movie stars like Mickey, Donald, and Pluto or Woody and Buzz (Toy Story)?
-for my in-laws for providing this opportunity. Apart from their generosity, it would have been a long time before we were able to afford this kind of trip.
-for the vision of Walt Disney and those who followed him. To my knowledge, Walt was not a believer, but how can you look at the amazing creativity, imagination, organization, and vision of the Walt Disney company and not believe that it all came from an amazingly creative, imaginative, and visionary God of order. Common grace is on display at Disney World from the flowers to the buildings, from the shows to the parades, from the -well, you get the point.
But, I dare not just stop there:
-As I was surrounded by all kinds of different cultures, languages, and ethnicities, I had this thought: just as Disney world brings people from all languages, cultures, ethnicities, etc. the Gospel also unites people from all walks of life. The Tower of Babel (Gen. 11) began what will one day be resolved through the gospel in Heaven.
-We almost had too much fun if there is such a thing, but one lesson I have recently learned is that activities of fun, rest, play and leisure are merely shadows of the great rest we will one day experience fully in Christ. We are tempted to make the fun the focal point, but they are truly arrows pointing up to the giver of the fun.
-Another thing that I have noticed recently is that practically all of the Disney stories contain elements of the eternal desires of our souls. In each of us, God placed a longing for something more than the temporary things we see. We all have a longing for meaningful relationships -even for adventure. In the stories, there are almost always forces of good and evil at work and good ultimately triumphs over evil. All of this and more are reflections of the God given eternal desires of the human heart.
-About the fifth day, we were all pretty tired and I realized that we may take a vacation from some responsibilities, but the Lord does not allow us to take a vacation from all responsibilities. We can never stop walking with Him, witnessing to others about Him, or loving our spouse and children as well as others.

-Lastly, I am most thankful to the Lord because this vacation gave me an opportunity to see areas of selfishness that I would not have otherwise seen. As much as I wanted it to be, MY vacation was not all about ME. I have come back from vacation a humbler man because, like others, I tend to act like my problem exists outside of me. When most of those problems are taken away, I am forced to reckon with the fact that my problem is still there -because it exists INSIDE of me.

God help us to vacation well.

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Can We “Coast” in the Christian Life?

October 14, 2009 at 12:20 am (Uncategorized)

Originally posted at www.salembaptistonline.com on october 6, 2009

And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” Luke 9:23

Have you ever felt like you were just coasting through life as a Christian?

What do we usually mean when we say we are “coasting?”

What does the Bible say about the Christian life?

The Bible often uses phrases like,
“Make every effort” or “strive” Heb. 12:14
Discipline yourself” 1 Tim. 4:7
Present your bodies as a living sacrifice” Rom. 12:1
“If we have died with him . . . if we endure” 2 Tim. 2:12
“Whoever does not take his cross and follow me [Jesus] is not worthy of me” Matt. 10:38
None of this sounds like “coasting” language.

So, if we are not supposed to “coast”, why do we often go through periods of our Christian life when we feel like we are just coasting?
Possible reasons:

Circumstances
Perhaps you say you have no time –no time to serve, no time to pray or read the Word, no time to fellowship with other believers. Maybe you feel you have too much going on to work on your Christian growth right now.

May I suggest that if this is the case, we are sinfully busy and something must change. Here’s how a great church reformer dealt with business:

“Tomorrow I plan to work, work, from early until late. In fact I have so much to do that I shall spend the first three hours in prayer”. –Martin Luther

Or yours could be the opposite problem: maybe the reason you feel you’re coasting is because there’s just not enough going on to drive you to your knees right now? This is often the case for “roller-coaster Christians” -their faith goes up and down with their circumstances.

Or, have you ever found yourself saying, “God’s just not working on me right now –why can’t he work in my life like he is in _______________’s life?”

How do we answer this problem of circumstances?

Is it true that circumstances of life can make it more difficult to focus on the essential Christian disciplines? Surely no one would deny this. But, does this have to be true?
Paul says in 2 Cor. 12:9-10, “But he [God] said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I  am weak, then I am strong.”

We don’t know if the thorn in Paul’s flesh was his circumstances, but if our “weakness” is our circumstances, could we not say the same thing that Paul did?

What can we do about the circumstances of life?
There are always some aspects of our circumstances that are in our control? 1 Tim. 4:7 says to “train yourself for godliness” and Matt. 5:29-30 tells us that if we are causing ourselves to sin with something in our lives, we should get rid of that something at all costs!

OK, but what about that which is out of our control? In Acts 16:6-10, Paul and his missionary team tried opening three doors before the Lord directed them to a fourth door that He was ready to open to them. If our circumstances keep presenting us with closed doors, that does not mean to quit testing the locks.

Lack of purpose.
If we have no direction –no goals in our Christian life, we can easily get discouraged, worn out, or tired. Hear from one of my favorite authors, “Discipline without direction is drudgery.” –Don Whitney
Is it true that a lack of direction can make us feel like we are “coasting?” Paul says, “I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.” -1 Cor. 9:26.

Make no mistake. Our purpose is Christlikeness -nothing less than eternal joy in His presence! And if we give up, we not only miss this, but we may be “disqualified.”

Disobedience

It could be that we are not progressing in our Christian life because we are leaving something undone.
What’s the answer to this?

If you’ve willfully sinned, maybe you’ve yet to deal with this sin and it has caused a layer of hardness around your heart. (unforgiveness, unrepentance, unwilling to make restitution, etc.)

Or perhaps, you’re guilty of acts of omission? You know, the times when you knew what you were to do and yet you didn’t do it. (Maybe a clear directive from the Bible, or maybe a subjective impression from the Holy Spirit)

The answer to both of these, or course is REPENT! You will never move forward in the Christian life if you continue pressing on while God keeps pressing you back. Make restitution, confession, or whatever you need to do.

How do we fight “coasting?
1. Remind ourselves of the truth about God’s working in our lives:

2. Remind ourselves of the Biblical word for a coasting life –a “drifting” life (Hebrews 2:1).

3. Repent of coasting through your Christian life. Confess it to God and turn from this kind of unChristian living.

4. Take up your cross daily. Discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness.

5. Remember, God is just as concerned with who He has you becoming as He is with what He has you doing.

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An Infatuation with Vanity (or A Love Affair with Nothing)

October 14, 2009 at 12:15 am (Christian life)

originally posted at www.salembaptistonline.com on wednesday, april 8, 2009
“Vanity of vanities! All is vanity,” says the preacher in Ecclesiastes. Amen and amen. Not that everything is meaningless, but that the things we hold to as valuable, in the end amount to nothing. If we forget to focus not on what is seen but on what is unseen, we too will be drowned by the ocean of vain, meaninglessness that abounds in this world. I was reminded yesterday of the infatuation with meaninglessness that is so prevalent in our culture today. Don’t believe me? It’s funny how there is no talk of recession when it comes to pointless video games, movies, and iphone applications. Yes, that’s right -iphone applications.

It seems there’s a bit of a craze right now to develop the most popular iphone app. And it’s not the useful apps that are big sellers, but the silly ones that are good for a chuckle and that’s about it. Apps like turning your screen into a sloshing beer mug or a koi pond are big sellers. One of the hottest apps fogs your screen up to look like steam condensation (complete with squeaky noises when you wipe your finger on it). I’m not saying you’re a pagan if you download these apps to your iphone or ipod touch, I’m only pointing out that the popularity of these silly “toys” are merely a symptom of a larger problem -an infatuation with meaningless temporal things.

There was once a time when people sought to drown out God’s call to the eternal by socializing with others who wanted to do the same. You’d find them at the bars, the arcade, the theatre, the pool hall, anywhere that entertainment dominated the atmosphere. Now, it is much easier to find solace apart from God in our homes -alone. Well, alone with our gadgets -our radios, tv’s, ipods, home theatres, billiards rooms, and on and on it goes. Any noise-maker we can find to keep God out of our minds. Anything we can find to create our own little world centered around us.

I’ll never forget the first time that I saw the futility of entertaining oneself to death. It was on a cruise on New Year’s Eve. I was surrounded by a mass of people covering their ears to the fact that God was calling them to more -calling them to eternality -to life. Yet they persisted in their temporary pleasures -unknowingly enslaved by them and driving themselves deeper into a life that will be ashes in the life to come.

Again, please don’t hear me saying, “Thou shalt not play video games, go to movies, play pool or date girls who do!” That’s not it at all. I’m merely pointing out that we as Christians have a great danger of slipping off of our in the world straight and narrow road and into the of the world ditch. DON’T SWALLOW THE ENTERTAIN YOURSELF TO THE GRAVE ‘CAUSE THIS IS ALL THEIR IS PILL! See it for what it is. Everything in this world will either be burned or perfectly redeemed in the next world. Invest in the next world. Invest in eternity! Focus on Christ!

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Dear Refuge of My Weary Soul

November 26, 2008 at 11:12 am (Christian life) (, , , , , , , , )

I had an awesome time of prayer with two great friends of mine last night. Both of them have been going through difficult times due to loss of loved ones. As I drove home late, this song was on the Indelible Grace cd I had been listening to. What comforting lyrics! I had been struck earlier that day by how much evil and suffering there is in the world. I took a walk in the fields behind my in-laws’ house and reached the same conclusion that Anne Steel reached when she penned these lyrics. I love how they do not by-pass the mind on the way to the heart -rather, they appeal to the logic of turning to Christ alone for our refuge. So, for my two friends and for others who are grieving, I invite you to be comforted by these lyrics as I am.

1. Dear refuge of my weary soul,
On Thee, when sorrows rise
On Thee, when waves of trouble roll,
My fainting hope relies
To Thee I tell each rising grief,
For Thou alone canst heal
Thy Word can bring a sweet relief,
For every pain I feel

2. But oh! When gloomy doubts prevail,
I fear to call Thee mine
The springs of comfort seem to fail,
And all my hopes decline
Yet gracious God, where shall I flee?
Thou art my only trust
And still my soul would cleave to Thee
Though prostrate in the dust

3. Hast Thou not bid me seek Thy face,
And shall I seek in vain?
And can the ear of sovereign grace,
Be deaf when I complain?
No still the ear of sovereign grace,
Attends the mourner’s prayer
Oh may I ever find access,
To breathe my sorrows there

4. Thy mercy seat is open still,
Here let my soul retreat
With humble hope attend Thy will,
And wait beneath Thy feet,
Thy mercy seat is open still,
Here let my soul retreat
With humble hope attend Thy will,
And wait beneath Thy feet

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Ready for Reformation? Southern Baptists and the Seminary Structure

July 9, 2008 at 12:08 am (Church) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

I’m well aware that one could easily get lost in the blog-maze of Southern Baptist Convention reform. It seems everyone with a computer sees themselves as a reformer these days. Well, I am probably much less qualified than most to add a twist or turn to this confusing maze, but maybe you will find this helpful . . .

Having attended one of our great Southern Baptist institutions of higher learning, I have a few thoughts about the seminary structure in the SBC. There are many reasons that I would spend time thinking and writing about the need for SBC Seminary reform. I could discuss the high cost of seminary for the students. Not just the tuition, textbook, and housing costs, but many must leave jobs that provide well in order to relocate away from the support structure of their church, friends, and family. I could even discuss a culture that often births in seminary environments that are filled with pride, one-up-manship, name-dropping, and a striving for accolades. Even worse, seminary often leaves students with a disconnect between their newly acquired head knowledge and practical ministry leaving damaged churches that have been experimented on crippled, dead, or dying. Yes, I would imagine all of these and more problems are too common in any seminary’s life. But, in my opinion, these alone are not worth all the trouble to reform a massive beast like the SBC’s six seminaries.

The greatest problem that exists in today’s seminary structure is that, try as they may, they do not give attention to the priority of the local church. Christ has promised to build His church and though the gates of hell try to prevail against it, they shall never succeed (Mt. 16:18). We too often think that this applies to our particular extra-biblical ministry -a seminary, for example. Christ never promised to build a seminary, a youth ministry, a recovery ministry, a retreat ministry, a printing ministry, or any other extra-biblical ministry. He promised to build His church. I’m crazy enough to think that a way to seek the blessing of God in our ministries is to get in line with His plan to build His church. What are the purposes of a seminary? Are they not the same purposes that the Bible gives to the church? It is through the church, after all, that the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places (Eph. 3:10). As Paul and Barnabas passed through Derbe, Lystra, Iconium, and Antioch, they did not send the leaders off to Jerusalem to learn from Peter, nor did they order them to accompany them so that they might go to Paul’s traveling missionary seminary. Instead, they appointed elders with prayer and fasting and committed them to the Lord (Acts 14:19-23). Paul and Barnabas did not look on the wall of these men’s homes for seminary degrees. Instead, they probably looked within the walls of their homes to see if they managed their own households well (1 Timothy 3:4-5) and outside of those same walls to see if they were well thought of by outsiders (v. 7). Our seminary degree culture in the SBC has blurred the lines of qualifications for eldership and removed the importance of a pastor being known in the area in which he is shepherding. I have a deep love and appreciation for those who serve faithfully in our denomination’s seminaries. I have profited spiritually from many of them. And most of them, I believe, probably have a deep love for the local church and this comes through in their labors. But I believe that we can do better. What follows are some suggestions.

1. Close 4 of the 6 seminaries. Think of the impact on our churches if the education is going on right in their midst rather than seeing their called and gifted young people leave to obtain their theological education. 2 Seminaries should remain open (SouthWestern or GoldenGate in the West and Southern or SouthEastern in the East) to ease logistics of suggestion #2. These remaining two campuses would be used to house offices, libraries, temporary student housing, host modulars, conferences, etc.

2. Offer only non-traditional classes. I am referring to on-location modular courses ranging from 1-6 wks at a time. I am referring to weekend simulcasts hosted churches, associations, or state conventions. I am referring to professors visiting these same venues once a week for the duration of a semester. I am referring to DVD and internet-based classes that students may take part in as a group at one of these venues or at home. I am referring to mail correspondence courses. Some, and maybe even all of these, are already being used by our seminaries, but there is no need for traditional classes in this day and age of technology and ease of transportation.

That’s pretty much it. Just 2 suggestions. Of course, this raises lots of questions. Questions, such as:

What about the other 4 campuses? There are any number of options. We could sell them and use the money to pay for expansion of the libraries at the remaining two locations, relocation costs, severance packages, purchasing new equipment to make the new class format necessary, or we could just give it all to missions. Another option would be to keep the buildings to use for ministry as another missionary learning center location, another retreat center, a hospital, or college.

What about the staff? Obviously, we would want to offer a healthy severance package for folks whose jobs have been eliminated. The professors would have plenty of options. Some would continue to teach full-time with modulars, internet, correspondence, and satellite locations. Others would opt for teaching part-time while teaching at another school (secular or Christian), writing for Lifeway, ministering vocationally at a local church or as a associational/denominational servant. Others may choose to teach full-time at a secular university.

There are surely other objections, like, “What about the importance of our tradition, heritage, history, etc?” “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!” But I believe the benefits to the church far outweigh the difficult truths of these and any other objections.

Some of these benefits would include: Small churches located near the seminaries would be more likely to look for and find a long-term pastor. The minister as “professional” culture full of church-hopping, ladder-climbing pastors could conceivably diminish. Due to the professors’ and students’ involvement in more churches, local churches would have both better access to good teaching and more opportunity to see how God works in a church to raise up and develop leaders. These are just a few of the many benefits.

If Southern Baptists would seek a way forward, we must do it with the church leading the charge, not denominational servants, structures, or ministries. We must recognize that our commitment to voluntary cooperation, though solid must always be producing fluid and changing ministries. I once heard Al Mohler say that his goal was to work himself out of the job and put the job of the seminary back in the hands of the local church -I couldn’t applaud him louder. Now, let’s see some action.

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When a dream dies . . . or is postponed

June 4, 2008 at 10:16 pm (Christian life) (, , , , , , , )

This is a post that has been spinning around in my head for quite some time and has been in my heart for even longer.

Dreams. Everyone has them. Some folks more than others. Some get acted on while others get swept under the rug of realism or fear. Sometimes I think that God has given me a brain that is good for nothing but dreaming. This can be both a blessing and a curse. Off the top of my head I can think of approximately a dozen dreams that I just knew were great ideas and were going to happen that all crumbled to dust before they even reached the launch pad. So, needless to say, an avid dreamer does not an accomplished accomplisher make. But, doggonit! Some of those dreams I just knew were of God! I knew He had given me those dreams for a reason! Surely He wouldn’t want me to be a failure would He?

Not that I have agonized over these sorts of questions (I’m a dreamer, not a worrier, remember?), but I do often consider this question, “What in the heck are You doing, Lord?” Please understand, my life is deeply rooted in the absolute sovereignty of our Lord to do whatever He wills. And just as equally do I trust in His goodness -that He loves to shower His covenant steadfast love on His children. But, sometimes I feel like I have a huge question mark over my head. “Why get so bent out of shape?”, you may ask. Because sometimes I just knew that this dream was not like the rest. This one was from the Lord.

But I’ve read Job enough to know that it’s not my place to question God and especially not to expect an answer. He’s already told me all I need to know. My question has now changed from, “What are you doing God?” to “What do you want me to do now, God?” OK, so He does not want an overseas tribal missionary out of me right now. Alright, so maybe the Pastor thing will have to wait a while longer. Yes, I suppose I can see why it might not be the best time for me to start a new ministry right now. So, what should I be focusing on?

It is at this point, that I received some insight from the life of Noah. Best I can figure, Noah was 500 years old when he got the orders to go insane in the eyes of all his neighbors and start building a huge boat. I’ve heard several preachers point out the fact that it was 100 years later that the flood actually came. What faith was needed to build a boat for 100 years! “Yes”, says Clay the dreamer, “but at least he was getting to work on his God-given dream!” It is not the many years of working, being teased by neighbors, and preaching that gets me. It is the 500 years beforehand. What did Noah do before he even received his orders?

Answer: he found favor in the eyes of the Lord.

So, maybe some of my dreams (even God-given dreams) are on hold right now. Maybe they’re even dead. What am I to do? Answer: find favor in the eyes of the Lord. I have a beautiful wife that the Lord has called me to love and lead. I have 3 beautiful daughters that the Lord has called me to evangelize and disciple. If that means killing bugs for a living in the meantime, so be it. May I find favor in Your eyes, oh Lord.

He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? Micah 6:8

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Human Tragedy and the Reality of the Gospel

May 19, 2008 at 9:47 pm (Christian life) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

Our world remains for the most part unphased by the devastation that has hit both Myanmar and China. The latest (probably outdated) death tole from the combined calamities that I have heard have been more than 100,000. Why do we not feel the weight of 100,000 souls lost from this planet? These pictures bring us painfully near to the truth that it was not just numbers lost on May 2 when Cyclone Nargis hit Burma, but it was men, women, and children. Nor was it just buildings demolished by the earthquake in China -rather it was husbands, fathers, wives, and mothers. I wish I could shrug off responsibility and go to these people that experiencing such suffering. I remember speaking with those who went to minister to those hardest hit by the tsunami a couple of years ago. They said they just left their clothes there because they would not be able to wash the stench of death out of them. We’ve had our share of disasters in our country as well, of course. 9/11. Katrina. But it is interesting to see how differently our nations react to such catastrophes. Many in our nation got angry at those in power for not preventing the suffering. Others were upset at the government for not easing the suffering in the way that seemed best to them. It will be interesting to see how victims of disasters in these two countries approach the government with their sufferings. For many of these victims, “rights” as we think of them are not even on their radar screen.

It’s not my purpose, however in writing this blog to highlight our nations inflated view of what is entitled to us as human beings. Rather, I write with a few theological reflections in mind.

All life is like grass (Psalm 103:15; 1 Peter 1:24). Grass is here today and gone tomorrow. It is fragile. Life is the same way. Our whole world can be rocked by the words, “It’s cancer.” We pridefully go about our days and weeks acting as if we will be here forever, but when the number of our days is up, who can extend their life? Let us say with Jonathan Edwards, “Lord, stamp eternity on my eyeballs!” (2 Corinthians 4:18). And let us heed the admonition of our Savior not to “labor for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man” gives (John 6:27).

All life is valuable. But let’s not fall into the trap of thinking that this life does not matter. If a one-day-old baby was lost in the earthquake, would that child’s parents not grieve the loss of that child? Why then, would we buy into the lie that this child’s life was any less valuable 2 days ago? ALL life is valuable. This is an inherent truth in our understanding as people created in the image of God. Why else would exhausted rescue workers dig through rubble on May 19th for signs of life that have been buried since May 12th? We may try to close our ears to that which we know to be true in our hearts, but we are telling ourselves a lie when we say that some human life is not a valuable gift from God.

All people are wired to fill a God-shaped void in their hearts. It is interesting to see people turn to God or a god(s) during times of disaster. How many prayers have the deaf and impotent buddhas heard since may 2nd? How many non-praying people have turned to a higher power to ease their suffering? This is not just weak people grasping for straws during a time of desperation. This is people trying to fill the void in their hearts. We are like cups filled with water. When trials and difficulties knock our glass over, our true desires and longings spill out. As Augustine said, “We are restless until we find our rest in Thee.”

The glorious truth of the gospel shines in the darkest moments. As the death toll in Burma passes 78,000, those in power not only do nothing, but in fact make the situation worse. They have blockaded the city of Rangoon so that no aid workers are allowed out of the city, nor are survivors allowed into Rangoon. Worse still, the food that has come from the West to aid the country is being horded by those in power, fed to the soldiers, and will even be sold to starving Burmans. What is the reason for such cruelty? This is just a continuation of the cruelty that has been happening since World War II. They see this as merely one more weapon to wage genocidal warfare on all minorities. Minorities, which in this case, happen to be mostly Karen Christians who can trace their spiritual roots back almost 200 years to the USA’s first overseas Baptist missionary, Adoniram Judson. These are the ones suffering from starvation, dongue fever, no drinking water, malaria, losses of entire villages, and deaths of their closest friends and relatives. And how are these Christians responding? What is it they are asking for from the West? Are they asking for us to wage war on the powers that be? No, they are not even asking us to lend them aid. They are asking for our prayers. Why, because they know from past experience that it is God who ultimately gives them comfort. The contrast is impossible to miss between these poor Christians and the government leaders. On top of this, it is Christian aid workers who were already in the country when the disaster hit (Christian Freedom International, World Vision) and as a result, they are the only ones able to get aid through to the suffering. It is Christian medics from neighboring countries who risk being shot as they sneak across the border to bring relief to the hurting. It is Christian residents Rangoon who smuggle the destitute to safety by cover of darkness, giving them food, water, shelter, and clothing. True religion shines like a diamond in the rough at times like this.

God, help the Chinese and Burmese people as they are left reeling in the wake of these disasters and God, help us if we think they are worse sinners than us deserving any more of a horrible fate than they do (Luke 13:1-5).

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Why is the Christian life a life of war? A Meditation on Judges 3:1-2

February 6, 2008 at 1:27 am (Christian life) (, , , , , , , )

When I was growing up, we often sang, “Onward, Christian soldiers, Marching as to war, With the cross of Jesus Going on before! Christ, the royal Master, Leads against the foe; Forward into battle, See his banner go!” We also sing a song sometimes with Abigail entitled We Are Climbing Jacob’s Ladder which ends with the phrase, “soldiers of the cross.” And when I graduated from Bible College, we sang the seminary hymn which begins by saying, “Soldiers of Christ, in truth arrayed, A world in ruins needs your aid.”

What the writers of these songs understood is that there is a very real aspect of the Christian life that is war. For some reason, God has deemed it so that most of us should enter Heaven as battle-weary saints rather than as spiritual pacifists. Before I go on, let me just say that I am not suggesting a second Crusade, nor am I about to unveil the master plan for the Christians to take over the world. I am merely trying to show that much of Scripture uses war-like language:
1 Timothy 1:18 This charge I entrust to you, Timothy, my child, in accordance with the prophecies previously made about you, that by them you may wage the good warfare.
1 Timothy 6:12 Fight the good fight of faith.
2 Timothy 4:12 I have fought the good fight.
1 Corinthians 14:8 And if the bugle gives an indistinct sound, who will get ready for battle?
2 Timothy 2:3, 4 Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No soldier gets entangled in civilian pursuits, since his aim is to please the one who enlisted him.
2 Corinthians 6:4, 7 As servants of God we commend ourselves in every way . . . ;with the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left;

And so, we see that the most important battles going on right now are not between any two governments. They are not between the terrorists and the Democratic Republics. They are not between Israel and her most recent neighboring Middle-Eastern aggressor. Rather, the most important battles going on right now belong to the same war that has been going on for more than four thousand years –the war against God for the souls of men. Compare this truth with what A.W. Tozer said a number of years ago, “Men think of the world, not as a battleground but as a playground. We are not here to fight, we are here to frolic. We are not in a foreign land, we are at home. We are not getting ready to live, we are already living, and the best we can do is rid ourselves of our inhibitions and our frustrations and live this life to the full.” Unfortunately, most of us have settled into a peacetime, rather than wartime mentality.

Of course, we know that the commanding general of the opposing forces is none other than the great enemy himself, the devil. It is against this devil that Paul writes his famous armor of God passage:
Ephesians 6:11-13 Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm.

Unfortunately for us, we are born on the wrong side of the war. We are born as spiritual rebels, all on Satan’s side. We had no choice in the matter, this is the just effects of our first parents’ sin. For this reason, our first enemy (the devil) along with his host of evil spirits is aided by another host of wicked people. Jesus told us that “in the world [we] will have tribulation” (John 16:33) and so we should not be surprised that our second enemy (the world) is the playground of our first—after all, he is “the ruler of this world” (John 14:30). Unfortunately, living in the world, many of us are often tempted to also be of the world. For this reason, James wrote to the baby Jewish Christians: You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. (James 4:4) Do not be deceived, you cannot be at home with the world and still have a home in Heaven.

But, truth be told, we don’t have to go to the mall, to school, or watch the news to see evil. We don’t even have to read about Satan’s workings in the Bible to see evil. It is in our own selves –dwelling there within us –remaining sin in its deaththrows, lashing out and causing all of the wicked destruction that it can—right in our own bodies! It is our third and most dangerous enemy –our flesh!
Romans 7:23 I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members.
2 Corinthians 10:4, 5 For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ.
1 Peter 2:11 Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul.
James 4:1 What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you?
Galatians 5:17 For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do.
The great teacher on this subject, John Owen put it this way, “Be killing sin, or sin will be killing you.” We must constantly be doing battle with the sin that dwells within us because it takes no rest in its battle against us.

Though the Bible has more to say about the three enemies of the Christian (the flesh, the world, and the devil) and about how to fight these enemies, for now I am going to focus in on the grace of God in calling us to be a warring people. Specifically, I want to answer the question, “Why does God want us to have to fight on our way to Heaven?” And to attempt to answer this question, I’m going to look at the book of Judges. Take a look at Judges chapter 3.

The book of Joshua is all about the people of God claiming the promise of God by taking the land God had prepared for them to take. And the way he told them to take it was by violent force: And you shall consume all the peoples that the Lord your God will give over to you. Your eye shall not pity them, neither shall you serve their gods, for that would be a snare to you. (Deut. 6:16)
But in the cities of these peoples that the Lord your God is giving you for an inheritance, you shall save alive nothing that breathes, but you shall devote them to complete destruction (Deut. 20:16, 17).
The book of Judges, however is the dismal picture of the failing Israelites who have not accomplished what God had set out for them to do. It is also a picture of the mercy of God, the judgment of God, and the sinfulness of man’s heart.
Judges 1 gives us a little background:
And the Lord was with Judah, and he took possession of the hill country, but he could not drive out the inhabitants of the plain because they had chariots of iron. (v. 19)
Keep in mind that this verse is coming on the heels of Joshua and the beginning of Judges 1, all about the victories against the Canaanite peoples that God had given them. Is the God who gave them all these victories really too weak to handle some iron chariots?
We read on through verse 36 and see that there were many areas where they did not fulfill the Lord’s command to take the land and slaughter the people.

Chapter 2 tells the grim facts. Verse three says, I will not drive them out before you, but they shall become thorns in your sides, and their gods shall be a snare to you. We know that the great warrior of Israel was no mighty soldier or king, but rather the warrior God of His people. It was the Lord who gave His people all of the conquests described in Joshua and in the beginning of Judges. The question now is, if He did before, and He could now, why won’t He again? Verse two lays an accusation at the feet of the Israelites that they must answer: you have not obeyed my voice. This is the reason –they are a sinful people who were not faithful to their ever-faithful God and God is punishing them. But there may be more to it than that.

Look now, to verse 22. We see another dynamic, it was in order to test Israel by them, whether they will take care to walk in the way of the Lord as their fathers did or not. There is an old saying that goes, “When you’re flat on your back, you only have one way to look—up.” Unfortunately, this is not always true. God lays many people on their back as He did the Israelites and they still respond with more sin—anything but “looking up.” God was testing them to see if they would repent and be faithful to the covenant that He had entered into with His people. We see it again in our Judges 3 text: Now these are the nations that the Lord left, to test Israel by them, that is, all in Israel who had not experienced all the wars in Canaan. So, in answer to our question, “Why does God want us to have to fight?” we can say that one reason is because of sin. We live in a sinful world and are ourselves sinful people and God is testing us to see if we will rise above this sin and be faithful to the covenant that He has entered into with us. What is the nature of this test? War.

It was only in order that the generations of the people of Israel might know war, to teach war to those who had not known it before (Judges 3:2). God wanted his people to be a people of war –this was His test. We know that this was something that God did on purpose (though all He does is on purpose), because He told us so: I will no longer drive out before them any of the nations that Joshua left when he died (2:21). So we know that God drove them out in the past and He made the decision not to drive the remaining Canaanite nations out to test His people who had not tasted war.  This leads us to another question: What is it about war that God wanted them to know? We know that He takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked (Ezekiel 18:23) and that many wicked people die in war. So, there must something that He more pleased by than He is displeased by the death of many wicked people.

I believe this thing (and the answer to our question) is: His glory displayed in our reliance on His infinitely holy and loving grace and mercy.

What did He want from the Israelites? To be honored, worshipped, cherished, prized, and depended on above all else. The test was war because war takes every ounce of reliance upon other things and sweeps it right out from under you, like a rug. So, why does God do this to us today? Same reason. To be honored, worshipped, cherished, prized, and depended on above all else.

Think with me, if you will, back to the time when you were a brand new Christian. Chances are, you had some sins in your life that dropped like flies and you are still struggling with others. How often do you rely on God’s grace to get you through the day without committing those sins that dropped dead? How often do you praise Him for His infinite grace to you by ridding you of this sin that you haven’t knowingly committed since the day you became a Christian? What if God gave instantaneous victory to us like this over every sin in our life? How much would we honor, worship, cherish, prize, and depend on God then?

The Israelites had a God-sized task before them. It was only as the people depended on Him –first, under Moses, then under Joshua –that God gave them the grace to complete this God-sized task of conquering the Canaanites. It was not until the rule of David hundreds of years later that the Israelites were finally able to complete the conquest of the promised land. A major theme of the book of Judges is that imperfect people can only bring imperfect deliverance. One of the purposes of Judges is to show the need of a perfect Savior—Jesus.

So, what do we do with this truth? 1. Realize that we are in a war! If you don’t see it, you have become passive, asleep, and blind and you need to wake up! It is all around –Satan is laying traps and snares for you and your family at every turn. The world is doing its best to lull you into a comfortable peacetime mentality with all kinds of God-denying entertainment and education. And your flesh is vicious and relentlessly exploiting every area of weakness and temptation that you have, trying to get you to sin away every ounce of your assurance of salvation.
2. Realize that the Lord is a merciful warrior God who delights in fighting for His people. Listen to what God has said to his people in the past:
The Lord will fight for you Exodus 14:14
The Lord your God who goes before you will himself fight for you Deuteronomy 1:30
Do not be afraid and do not be dismayed at this great horde, for the battle is not yours but God’s 2 Chronicles 20:15
Our God will fight for us. Nehemiah 4:20
Who is this King of glory? The Lord of hosts, he is the King of glory! Psalm 24:8
And in your steadfast love you will cut off my enemies, and you will destroy all the adversaries of my soul, for I am you servant. Psalm 143:12
3. Realize that Christ has the victory!
He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of  of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs. Hebrews 1:3
Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. Colossians 15

So, yes -it is frustrating that the Christian life is a battle, but the battle serves a purpose. May He be made stronger in our weakness.

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A Poem

November 24, 2007 at 9:12 pm (Christian life) (, , , , , , )

I sat down to write a sermon a few years ago while preaching through Matthew at my first youth pastorate and this poem just flowed right off of my pen like it had been in my head since the day I was born. I hope it will bless someone.

Once was a man on a journey-his destination was Peace of Mind

He barely had even started when the path it did divide

More than chance had brought him here-no simple twist of fate

Desiring the easy road, he looked at the wider gate

“It appears I’ll have to choose,” he mused and he sighed

The grass was looking greener on the other side

The wider path seemed pleasant

With many a print to follow

But the young heart of this peasant

Felt empty and hollow

Looking to the right, he saw the straight and narrow

with nothing to attract even the smallest sparrow

On these two paths he fixed his gaze

“Decide I will come mornin’. Right here I stays”

Through the night passed many a sojourner

Not a one chose the hard-each one took the easy

The peasant man-being a fast learner

Said to himself, “I have no reason

To be different and to choose the lesser path

For I haven’t got food shoes-not even a walking staff”

But something seemed to draw him on the harder way

So on that way he went as he saw the light of day

Now every man must choose

And though many will lose

By choosing the way that’s hard

In the end it’s they that gain

Their destination is in their hearts

Placed there by the King

He who is the way

Gives life and will to obey

Many a traveler scoffed and laughed

At that young man that day

And every one went on past

 Then much to their dismay

 The way they chose

Destroyed their souls

For they had chosen destruction

-When it’s you who stands Before these two gates

Will you go the ways of man

Or the way that mankind hates

For hard is the way and narrow is the path

that leads to eternal life

But it is the way filled with strife

That escapes God’s holy wrath.

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Directions to Heaven

October 28, 2007 at 8:32 pm (Christian life) (, , , , , )

You get in the cab, the driver says, “Where do you wanna’ go?” “Heaven,” you respond. Okay, maybe that’s a little far-fetched, but we all want to go to Heaven, right? If such a place really exists? Well, Heaven is a real place and you can really get there from Lafayette, but not by Cab. What follows are your directions to Heaven from where you live. Like most directions, if you skip a step or toss them aside, you won’t reach your destination, so pay close attention.

Lost. Ever been lost? I mean really lost? Remember the feeling in the pit of your stomach when you realized just how lost you were? Well, the first step to getting to Heaven is to realize that you are lost. In talking about this, the Bible says that, spiritually speaking, we have all turned aside and have not known the way of peace. Once I was travelling from Lexington, Ky to a small town near Louisville, Ky. I was beginning to wonder if I was headed the right way when I realized I was heading for Cincinnati, Ohio! I was on the wrong interstate! I had begun to realize I was a little lost, but had no idea exactly how lost I was. Like me, you, along with the rest of the humans on this earth may be much more lost than you have even realized. Many will tell Jesus of the great spiritual things they accomplished in their lifetime, only to hear Him reply, “I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.”

Reckless Driving. Not only must you understand that you are lost, but God even calls you a law-breaker. Once, when I was sixteen, I was trying out my new driver’s license with my friend as the co-pilot. Next thing I know, I’m seeing blue-lights behind me and trying to come up with a reason for going 90mph in a 45mph zone at night with no headlights on. Several days later, in court, I pled guilty to the charge of reckless driving. There is just no excuse for that! One day you will also stand before the most righteous Judge in the universe with no excuse for breaking His perfect law. It doesn’t matter how many laws you have broken—that is, how many sins you committed—one is enough to be declared “guilty.”

Bridge Out! Well, now you’ve gone from bad to worse, right? The situation is even worse than you may have thought. You’re lost, you’re guilty—what other good news do I have for you? Unfortunately, I do have more. There is a big distance between Heaven and Earth (ever try to touch the sky?). This distance is way too big to cross with a “clean” driving record. You’ll run out of gas every time. What I mean is, you can’t bridge the separation between you and God with good works, hard work, righteous relatives, or anything else you might do. Ever since the Garden of Eden, there has been a huge chasm between mankind and God with no bridge in sight!

One Way. No bridge, that is, except one! The cross of Jesus is the bridge to Heaven! He has bridged the gap! Because he is fully God and fully man, because He never committed one sin, and because He took the punishment designed for sinners just like you and me, you may now have a way to Heaven! Things are starting to look up! There are several different ways to get across the Wabash River and travel from Lafayette to West Lafayette, but this bridge is not like that. Jesus said, “ I am the way . . . . No one comes to the Father except through me.” Jesus is the way! Remember how I said you have to realize that you’re lost before you can begin to follow these directions to Heaven? Well, there’s good news! Jesus said that He came to seek and to save the lost! So, not only is Jesus the Way, but He actively pursues lost people just like you and me to help us find our way to Heaven! So, what is this way?

Can You Give Me Directions? “For everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” “Whosoever will may come.” This is good news right from God’s roadmap to Heaven—the Bible. If you truly desire to know God and to be with Him in Heaven, this is the answer. So, what does the Bible say is the path to Heaven?

U-turn. The Bible says that we have all gone our own way. This means that you, like me and so many others, have gone the way that seems right to you. The Bible talks about this: “There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death.” If you continue doing your own thing, you will not experience the eternal life of Heaven, but the eternal death of Hell. The remedy for this is to do a u-turn from following your own way, even if it did seem right to you at first, and follow Jesus. In other words, to repent –to reconsider, or to change your line of thinking resulting in action.

Let Me Drive. The next step after turning from your sin is to scoot over and let Jesus drive. I know it sounds corny, but I like the illustration and here’s why: when you let someone drive, you are putting your life in their hands—you are putting faith in that person. Christ calls us to put our faith in Him –to trust that He has paved the way to Heaven for you and that you can’t get there any other way.

Stop. Remember our cab driver at the beginning? Actually, he asked the wrong question. It doesn’t really matter where you want to go—we all want to go to Heaven. What He should have asked is, “Where ya’ headed?” This is the question that I am asking you to answer for yourself. Where are you headed? Stop and think. Give yourself an honest answer. Are you on the broad road, or are you on the narrow road?

Exit. Jesus said that there are only two roads that all people are travelling on: the broad road or the narrow road. You have always been on this wide interstate road headed straight for Hell, but if you are willing, you can call out to Jesus in repentance and faith and make a quick exit onto the narrow country road headed for Heaven. It’s easier to stay with the majority and head down the wide comfortable road, but those on the narrow road, though it is tough, would never want to forfeit their right to see if the next turn will be the one that leads to their final destination.

Fork in the Road. You have come to a fork in the road. Will you choose life through Jesus’ death? Or will you choose death with all the other folks who seem to be living it up?

Watch for Sudden Stops. I would not be kind, if I did not warn you of the consequences. Death is unavoidable and unpredictable. Recently, in one year alone, 42,815 people were killed in fatal car accidents. You only die once, and then comes the judgment. I don’t know about you, but when I face the Judge that judges even our thoughts, intentions, and every careless word, I would much rather show Him Jesus’ perfect record than my pitiful excuse for “good deeds.”

Construction Ahead. If you chose life, you have chosen well. Let me give you an idea what you can expect. You can expect things in your life to be different. “If anyone is in [Jesus] Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away, behold the new has come.” Your desires will be different. You will have a new roadmap (the Bible) and a new Guide (the Holy Spirit). This will mean you will want to make time to learn the Bible and talk to God in prayer. Of course, there will be bumps and potholes in the road, but there will also be plenty of rest stops where you can be refreshed by spending time with other travelers on the straight and narrow road. This means that you will want to fellowship with other believers in a church. May the Lord bless you on your journey!

If you have been impacted by reading this or if you have questions, please contact me.

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