Friday, June 15, 2012

Simple Pleasures a Singular Joy

I recently installed a new showerhead in one of our bathrooms. It is has a dual sprayer, one on the wall, and one on a hose. I handed JJ the showerhead when I put him in, and he was elated! The ability to spray himself in the face had him ecstatically giggling the whole time.

This got me thinking about simple pleasures, joy and the only source of lasting joy. There are simple pleasures that light up our life and make us happy. Family vacations, trips to the beach, taking a walk on a quiet morning and seeing the sun creep over the hills, or the waters horizon. Getting our hands dirty in the garden. Spraying ourselves in the face.
There are things that bring deeper joy. Holding a new child brings you a feeling that is much deeper than happiness, more satisfying and joy creating. It doesn’t matter if the baby is yours or someone else’s.  Recently I held my brother’s son, and bouncing him, brought me a sense of joy. Since then, I found myself thinking about the words of “He lives”("How sweet to hold a newborn baby, and feel the pride and joy he gives"), and  how soon I would be holding our new baby, Amélie Maryse Chechile. But far beyond anything else is that the one thing alone that brings everlasting joy; is the grace of our lord Jesus Christ that is brought to bear through the gospel. The result of encountering the Lord through his saving grace is that we are justified, redeemed, made part of His family, the church, and drawn into relationship with God Himself. This is an awesome reality. Really stop and think about it. We are brought into relationship with God, accomplished through the cross for broken sinners. All too often we talk about heaven, and being forgiven, but none of that is worth anything if not for this glorious reality, we are drawn into relationship with the God of the universe forever! What was lost in Eden is restored through the cross. The result of the gospel is not just that we are no longer sinners, or get to go to a nebulous place of no suffering, but that we are drawn into relationship with the God of the universe forever! We are saved into that wonderful reality! We get to see and savor God forever!

This is the only source of true joy that will last. This is the only source that strengthens us, as we stand by the side of loved ones, and face the uncertainty of life. No matter what comes, we get God! We live in relationship with God the father, through his risen Son, and someday we will see him face to face! Those who are in Christ face an eternity in relationship with the God who knit us together in their mother’s womb. God in his great mercy “has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade--kept in heaven for you(1Peter 1:3-4 ).

I remind you of this here at the beginning of the summer for three reasons.
First, because here at summer, it’s so easy to lose sight of the true source of everlasting joy, and lose sight of the gospel. It’s easy to get caught up in the weeds of life, the cares of this world, as Jesus pictured them in the Parable of the Sower.

Second, here in this year that is being marked by a contentious political fight, it’s easy to get distracted by the nature of our nation’s political discourses, and find your hope and joy in the idea of your guy winning (whichever side you are on). That’s a foolish place to look for joy. Politicians promise a saving joy they cannot deliver. Buyer beware! Psalm 146 reminds us, put not your trust in princes, in a son of man, in whom there is no salvation. When his breath departs, he returns to the earth; on that very day his plans perish. (Psalm 146:3-4).

Third, I have been reminded time and again that the only joy that lasts is found in knowing Christ our Lord. All other sources of joy fade and fail you. As the spring has passed, I’ve seen my once fun grandfather turn into a grumpy, miserable old man struggling with losing his faculties. I’ve seen members of the church struggle with their health, and stood with families at graveside and been reminded of the passing nature of this life. These things are part of life in this fallen world. They will always be part of life in this fallen world. Nothing will change it on the side of Christ’s return. The flowers will fade. The leaves will fall, and the things that bring pleasure and joy will fade. But one thing will remain, unbroken for eternity, the joy that comes from knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.

Enjoy the summer. Rejoice and find pleasure in the good things that God allows you to do. Remember that your true Savior and source of joy is, Christ the crucified king, the one who died and rose, that you might live. Keep your eye always on Him; Keep your eye on the grace of God that poured out through the cross. Find your true joy there, because that will be a source of lasting joy that does not spoil or fade. Ever.

Note- this post appeared in the july-august edition of the First Baptist Church newsletter.

Monday, June 11, 2012

A blunt and wise word to graduates- The Wellesley Graduation speech

Everyone is special. It's the mantra of our culture. Everyone is gifted, talented, flawless. There is nothing that breaks a heart more than the cold dose of reality called life. The internet is abuzz because this year, Wesley high school teacher David McCullough, Jr. (son of historian David McCullough did the unthinkable. He gave a blunt commencement speech to graduates, telling them that they are 'not special'... You can read the whole speech here, or at the Wellesley Report.

What caught my eye first was the cold truth that has everyone talking. But what really stood out was his words on achievement.

Here is the buzz.
Contrary to what your u9 soccer trophy suggests, your glowing seventh grade report card, despite every assurance of a certain corpulent purple dinosaur, that nice Mister Rogers and your batty Aunt Sylvia, no matter how often your maternal caped crusader has swooped in to save you… you’re nothing special. Yes, you’ve been pampered, cosseted, doted upon, helmeted, bubble-wrapped. Yes, capable adults with other things to do have held you, kissed you, fed you, wiped your mouth, wiped your bottom, trained you, taught you, tutored you, coached you, listened to you, counseled you, encouraged you, consoled you and encouraged you again. You’ve been nudged, cajoled, wheedled and implored. You’ve been feted and fawned over and called sweetie pie. Yes, you have. And, certainly, we’ve been to your games, your plays, your recitals, your science fairs. Absolutely, smiles ignite when you walk into a room, and hundreds gasp with delight at your every tweet, maybe you’ve even had your picture in the Townsman! And now you’ve conquered high school…and, indisputably, here we all have gathered for you, the pride and joy of this fine community, the first to emerge from that magnificent new building…But do not get the idea you’re anything special. Because you’re not. 
Here is the wise advice for life...

 The fulfilling life, the distinctive life, the relevant life, is an achievement, not something that will fall into your lap because you’re a nice person or mommy ordered it from the caterer. You’ll note the founding fathers took pains to secure your inalienable right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness–quite an active verb, “pursuit”–which leaves, I should think, little time for lying around watching parrots rollerskate on Youtube. The first President Roosevelt, the old rough rider, advocated the strenuous life. Mr. Thoreau wanted to drive life into a corner, to live deep and suck out all the marrow. The poet Mary Oliver tells us to row, row into the swirl and roil. Locally, someone… I forget who… from time to time encourages young scholars to carpe the heck out of the diem. The point is the same: get busy, have at it. Don’t wait for inspiration or passion to find you. Get up, get out, explore, find it yourself, and grab hold with both hands.
Now, before you dash off and get your YOLO tattoo, let me point out the illogic of that trendy little expression–because you can and should live not merely once, but every day of your life. Rather than You Only Live Once, it should be You Live Only Once… but because YLOO doesn’t have the same ring, we shrug and decide it doesn’t matter.) None of this day-seizing, though, this YLOOing, should be interpreted as license for self-indulgence. Like accolades ought to be, the fulfilled life is a consequence, a gratifying byproduct. It’s what happens when you’re thinking about more important things. Climb the mountain not to plant your flag, but to embrace the challenge, enjoy the air and behold the view. Climb it so you can see the world, not so the world can see you. Go to Paris to be in Paris, not to cross it off your list and congratulate yourself for being worldly. Exercise free will and creative, independent thought not for the satisfactions they will bring you, but for the good they will do others, the rest of the 6.8 billion–and those who will follow them. And then you too will discover the great and curious truth of the human experience is that selflessness is the best thing you can do for yourself. The sweetest joys of life, then, come only with the recognition that you’re not special. Because everyone is. 

Take a read through it.

Friday, June 8, 2012

An Iron link between the word of God and preaching

I believe that the preaching of the word is the main way that God speaks to and builds his church as a body. There is an  the iron link between the inspiration of scripture, and the preaching of God’s word. They are absolutely related, and in many ways, cannot be separated. 

Notice what Paul says in 2 timothy 3 and 4. He writes:
But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, and how from infancy you have known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge: Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage--with great patience and careful instruction. For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths. But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry. 2Timothy 3:14-4:5

What we see there is an unbroken flow from the doctrine of the word, to the command to preach. There is no break in the original text. There is a break because someone put a chapter break… but it’s all tied together and the call to preach flows from the doctrine of the word. 

What that means is that through scripture God speaks, and when preachers speak — faithfully —when they faithfully expound the word of God… God is speaking. 

This has been a firmly held conviction of the church whenever it was at it's best and greatest centuries. Here are some quotes that on scripture and preaching that I came across recently for my sermon on the above passage.

  1. When the Bible speaks, God speaks.

  1. When a man enters the pulpit, is it that he may be seen from afar, that he may be preeminent? No, not at all! He preaches so that God may speak to us by the mouth of a man
John Calvin (Quoted from a sermon on I Timothy in T. H. L. Parker, The Oracles of God, 54). 

  1. The preacher's mouth and the words that I hear are not his; they are the words and the message of the Holy Spirit [through which] He works within me and thus He makes me holy."
Martin Luther, Luther's Works, volume 24, p. 170

  1. “Tis a right excellent thing, that every honest pastor’s and preacher’s mouth is Christ’s mouth, and his word and forgiveness is Christ’s word and forgiveness… For the office is not the pastor’s or preacher’s but God’s; and the Word which he preacheth is likewise not the pastor’s and preacher’s but God’s.”
Martin Luther, Quoted in Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics¸ I/1, p107

  1.  “[God] condescends to enter the mouth of every Christian who professes the faith.” [Therefore preaching must be] “believed as though God’s own voice were resounding from heaven”
Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, vol. 24, p. 66-67. 

  1. THE PREACHING OF THE WORD OF GOD IS THE WORD OF GOD. Wherefore when this Word of God is now preached in the church by preachers lawfully called, we believe that the very Word of God is proclaimed, and received by the faithful; and that neither any other Word of God is to be invented nor is to be expected from heaven: and that now the Word itself which is preached is to be regarded, not the minister that preaches; for even if he be evil and a sinner, nevertheless the Word of God remains still true and good.  
The second Helvitic confession

I know that this is a high view of preaching. But what I want you to see clearly is that throughout church history, there has been a high view of preaching, and when the church has been strong, it’s because the church has had a high view of preaching. But more importantly, I present this super high view of preaching, because I have a super high view of the bible. As a pastor, I know that when I stand in the pulpit, and when a pastor faithfully stands in the pulpit, they don't come with their own message. They come here with the word of God. I believe that through scripture God speaks. And when preachers speak — faithfully —when they faithfully expound the word of God. God is speaking…

Mark Dever once pointed out in a sermon to pastors… you aren’t called to preach. You are called to preach the word of God. I’ve never forgotten it. My message doesn’t mean a thing. God’s message… means everything. This is why I encourage each person in my congregation, look at what scripture says. I encourage everyone, be Beraans… the Beraens were of more noble character, acts tells us, because they checked Paul's words against the bible. I don’t count. My words don’t count. They have no authority… ALONE.

But if I, or any pastor is preaching the word of God, if his words line up with the word of God, pay attention even if it drives you up the wall. There is a story told of Karl Barth, the German theologian, that during the 1930’s, he was preaching on John 3:16. Even though many in his German audience professed to be Christians, they were going along with the persecution of the Jews. Barth made the point that Jesus was a Jew, that He had died for all the world, and that the Jews were part of that world. Thus anyone who loves Christ would not participate in  the widespread ill treatment of the Jews. Many in his congregation walked out in disgust before he finished the sermon. One wrote a scathing letter denouncing him. Barth’s reply was a single sentence: “It was in the text.” If its God's word, pay attention.

So that's some thought's on the link between God's word and preaching. As a pastor, this is my job. I am to preach the word, faithfully, and to always be prepared to preach, in season and out of season; when people want to hear it, and when they don’t, because I am preaching  God's holy word, and it is through His word that the body is built up together. And notice the connection between the word and what preachers do. The word of God corrects and rebukes… and what does the preacher do? He corrects, and rebuke, and with pastoral tenderness encourages the saints. Furthermore, he is to preach with great patience, giving careful instruction. (4:2)

This wont always be popular. Look at what timothy is told. "For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths."  But even when it's like this, pastors are to preach, to herald, announce like a town crier calling out hear yee…hear yee… this is the word of the Lord, and proclaim the gospel with boldness, knowing that they have been charged to proclaim the word of God.

Christ is our Hero, and Deyoung on how should we feel about God's word

Here are two things I saw today that captured my attention. The first was "The Gospel Project- by Propaganda". He speaks of the wonderful reality that Christ is the Hero of our story. Not just of scripture, but of our story.

The second thing that captured my attention today was Kevin Deyoung's post today at Deyoung, restless and reformed entitled "What Christians do when they believe and feel about the word of God rightly. It captured my attention because it summarizes so many of the wonderful truths from Psalm 119, which I preached on recently. Deyoung writes:
The Psalmist believed God’s word was true (Psalm 119: 42, 89, 96, 142, 160). He knew the Scriptures demanded what was right (Psalm 119:75, 86, 128, 137) and provided what was good (Psalm 119:1, 2, 6, 9, 24, 98-100, 105, 130). He delighted in God’s word (Psalm 119: 14, 24, 47, 70, 77, 103, 111, 129, 143, 174). He desired God’s word (Psalm 119:5, 10, 17, 20, 27, 29, 33-35, 40, 131, 135, 169). He depended on God’s word (Psalm 119:31, 50, 52). In other words, the Psalmist believed what we should believe about the word and felt what we should feel about the word.
And notice what happened as a result. When all this underground pressure of believing and feeling explode on to the surface it makes a splash. Our thoughts and our affections concerning the word of God can’t help but burst forth as a geyser of Spirit-led activity.
So what do Christians do when they believe and feel about the word of God rightly?
1. They sing (Psalm 119:172).
2. They speak (Psalm 119:13, 46, 79).
3. They study (Psalm 119:15, 48, 97, 148).
4. They store up (Psalm 119:11, 16, 83, 93, 148).
5. They obey the word (Psalm 119: 8, 44, 57, 129, 145, 146, 167, 168).
6. They praise God (Psalm 119:7, 62, 164, 171).
7. They pray for help (Psalm 119: 36, 58, 121-23, 147, 149-52, 153-60, 175-76).

These seven actions are the best indicator of what you and really believe and feel about God’s word. If you do these things, you probably believe what is right even if you can’t quite explain it; you probably have your affections in order even if they don’t always feel like much. And on the other hand, if there is no geyser bursting forth into these kinds of activities, you probably don’t feel what you should or really believe all that is true.
Sing, speak, study, store up, obey, praise, pray. That’s what Christians do with the word of God.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Christ and Cancer: A sermon by John Piper on how to view sickness and suffering

This morning, I was pointed to a Sermon by John Piper called "Christ and Cancer". He preached it soon after he first started at Bethlehem Baptist, showing them a biblical view of suffering. I found myself resonating with it, in light of all that we have seen here at First Baptist recently. Cancer, surgeries, heart attacks, and more. I found it helpful. I hope you do to.

Here are some excerpts.
Before I entered college I hardly gave a thought to cancer and terminal illness. But ever since those college days death by disease has walked beside me all the way....What shall we say to these things? Something must be said because sickness and death are threats to faith in the love and power of God. And I regard it as my primary responsibility as a pastor to nourish and strengthen faith in the love and power of God. There is no weapon like the Word of God for warding off threats to faith. And so I want us to listen carefully today to the teaching of Scripture regarding Christ and cancer, the power and love of God over against the sickness of our bodies.
I regard this message today as a crucial pastoral message, because you need to know where your pastor stands on the issues of sickness, healing, and death. If you thought it was my conception that every sickness is a divine judgment on some particular sin, or that the failure to be healed after a few days of prayer was a clear sign of inauthentic faith, or that Satan is really the ruler in this world and God can only stand helplessly by while his enemy wreaks havoc with his children—if you thought any of those were my notions, you would relate to me very differently in sickness than you would if you knew what I really think. Therefore, I want to tell you what I really think and try to show you from Scripture that these thoughts are not just mine but also, I trust, God's thoughts.
I love what piper does, he resets the assumptions and opinions of the congregation, and does with with scripture as the foundation. He then goes on to give 6 Affirmations Toward a Theology of Suffering from Romans 8:18–28 that sum up his theology of sickness.
1. All Creation Has Been Subjected to Futility
My first affirmation is this: the age in which we live, which extends from the fall of man into sin until the second coming of Christ, is an age in which the creation, including our bodies, has been "subjected to futility" and "enslaved to corruption." Verse 20: "The creation was subjected to futility.'' Verse 21: "The creation will be freed from slavery to corruption." And the reason we know this includes our bodies is given in verse 23: not only the wider creation but "we ourselves (i.e., Christians) groan in ourselves awaiting sonship, the redemption of our bodies." Our bodies are part of creation and participate in all the futility and corruption to which creation has been subjected.
Who is this in verse 20 that subjected creation to futility and enslaved it to corruption? It is God...I conclude that this world stands under the judicial sentence of God upon a rebellious and sinful mankind—a sentence of universal futility and corruption. And no one is excluded, not even the precious children of God.
Probably the futility and corruption Paul speaks of refers to both spiritual and physical ruination...Just like a coat in a warm, dark closet will get moth eaten and ruined, so our bodies in this fallen world are going to be ruined one way or the other. For all creation has been subjected to futility and enslaved to corruption while this age lasts. That is my first affirmation.
2. An Age of Deliverance and Redemption Is Coming
My second affirmation is this: there is an age coming when all the children of God, who have endured to the end in faith, will be delivered from all futility and corruption, spiritually and physically. According to verse 21, the hope in which God subjected creation was that some day "The creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God." And verse 23 says that "We ourselves groan within ourselves waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies." It has not happened yet. We wait. But it will happen.
There is coming a day when every crutch will be carved up, and every wheelchair melted down into medallions of redemption. And Merlin and Reuben and Jim and Hazel and Ruth and all the others among us will do cartwheels through the Kingdom of Heaven. But not yet. Not yet. We groan, waiting for the redemption of our bodies. But the day is coming and that is my second affirmation.
3. Christ Purchased, Demonstrated, and Gave a Foretaste of It
Third, Jesus Christ came and died to purchase our redemption, to demonstrate the character of that redemption as both spiritual and physical, and to give us a foretaste of it. He purchased our redemption, demonstrated its character, and gave us a foretaste of it... This is a truth badly distorted by many healers of our day...The benefits purchased by the cross can be enjoyed in measure even now, including healing. God can and does heal the sick now in answer to our prayers. But not always. The miracle mongers of our day, who guarantee that Jesus wants you well now and heap guilt after guilt on the back of God's people asserting that the only thing between them and health is unbelief, have failed to understand the nature of God's purposes in this fallen age. They have minimized the depth of sin and the cruciality of God's purifying chastening and the value of faith through suffering and they are guilty of trying to force into this age what God has reserved for the next.
4. God Controls All Suffering for the Good of His People
Fourth, God controls who gets sick and who gets well, and all his decisions are for the good of his children, even if they may be very painful and long-lasting....God's goal for his people in this age is not primarily to rid them of sickness and pain, but to purge us of all the remnants of sin and cause us in our weakness to cleave to him as our only hope. My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor faint when you are reproved by him; for those whom the Lord loves he disciplines, and he scourges every son whom he receives . . . he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness. (Hebrews 12:5, 6, 10, 11)
5. We Should Pray for Healing Power and Sustaining Grace
The fifth affirmation is that we should therefore pray for God's help both to heal and to strengthen faith while we are unhealed. It is fitting that a child ask his father for relief in trouble. And it is fitting that a loving Father give his child only what is best. And that he always does: sometimes healing now, sometimes not. But always, always what is best for us.
But if sometimes it is best for us not to be healed now, how shall we know what to pray?  While we are waiting for the redemption of our bodies "the Spirit helps us in our weaknesses; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words and he (God) who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is because he intercedes for the saints according to the will of God." Sometimes all we can do is cry out for help because we do not know in what form the help should come. The Spirit of God takes our stumbling, uncertain expressions of need and brings them before God in a form that accords with God's intentions. And God responds graciously and meets our needs. Not always as we at first hoped, but always for our good. So let us not be proud and stand aloof from God stoically bearing what fate has brought. Rather let us run to our Father in prayer and plead for help in time of need. That is my fifth affirmation.
6. We Should Always Trust in the Power and Goodness of God
Sixth, and finally, we should always trust in the love and power of God, even in the darkest hour of suffering. The thing that distresses me most about those who say Christians should always be miraculously healed is that they give the impression that the quality of faith can only be measured by whether a miracle of physical healing takes place, whereas in much of the New Testament you get the impression that the quality of our faith is reflected in the joy and confidence we maintain in God through suffering.
The great chapter on faith in the Bible is Hebrews 11. It begins, "Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen." What is often overlooked in this chapter, though, is the final eight verses where we get the balanced picture of faith as that which lays hold on God for rescue from suffering, and as that which lays hold on God for peace and hope in suffering... we find that faith is also the power to lose our life: "By faith . . . others were tortured, not accepting release, in order that they might obtain a better resurrection; others experienced mockings and scourgings, yes, also chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were tempted, they were put to death with the sword; they went about in sheep skins, in goat skins, being destitute, afflicted, ill-treated (men of whom the world was not worthy) wandering in deserts and mountains and caves and holes in the ground . . . And all these gained approval through their faith."
The glory of God is manifested when he heals and when he gives a sweet spirit of hope and peace to the person that he does not heal, for that, too, is a miracle of grace! O, that we might be a people among whom God is often healing our sicknesses, but is always causing us to be full of joy and peace while our sicknesses remain. If we are a humble and childlike people who cry out to God in our need and trust in his promises, the Holy Spirit will help us and God will bless our church with every possible blessing. He will, as the text says, work everything together for our good.
 You can read the whole thing Here. I recommend it.