Thursday, May 29, 2014

From the Newsletter: Instruments in the Redeemers Hand

No one likes to think about trials, and suffering, and persecution, and hardship. They are not a fun subject to talk about. But I recently found myself preaching on the subject of persecution and suffering as we went through the book of Galatians, and I found myself thinking about how they work in our life, and the thing I was reminded of again was that God uses them. They are God’s instrument for our refining and good. It's so easy to forget this, and doubt His goodness. We forget that He’s not interested in leaving you as you are. He’s interested in making you something glorious for his kingdom.

C.S. Lewis once put it like this
“Imagine yourself as a living house. God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps, you can understand what He is doing. He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on; you knew that those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised. But presently He starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make any sense. What on earth is He up to? The explanation is that He is building quite a different house from the one you thought of - throwing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards. You thought you were being made into a decent little cottage: but He is building a palace. He intends to come and live in it Himself.”
What this means is that if you are dealing with trails of various kind, with suffering and persecution, and hardship, it’s because He’s bringing it into your life as part of His work to reshape you into the image of His son. 2 Corinthians makes clear that where the presence of God is, “we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord's glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit (3:17-18)”.

As followers to Christ, we need to remember this. When things get hard, we often get whiny and start to complain and doubt God. As Americans, we’re in love with our comfort, and we don’t like things to be hard, and when hardships come we usually say “Why is this happening?” and accuse God of being cruel, and unjust (At least that’s how my heart works- but 6 years of pastoring and several years of ministry before becoming the pastor says I’m not alone in this). And why do we say this? Because deep down, we don’t trust God. We don’t believe that God’s at work. We have a real lack of trust in the sovereign love of God, and naturally think he’s being cruel, even though He’s decreed his children guiltless and spotless in Christ, we don’t trust him. Even though He’s saved us at incredible cost, we often think He’s being cruel when He brings hardship.

But that’s not the case. Think about what is more cruel than bringing hardship into your life: God leaving you where you are, and allowing you to live as someone who defaults to self- reliance. All of us naturally default to self reliance; and one of the things God does by bringing pain into our life is to destroy our self reliance. He destroys our ability to prop ourselves up and say, “all I have needed my hand has provided”. He does it in love, He does it because you are His (Hebrews 12 tells us that God disciplines those He loves and calls sons and scourges all of those who are His children), and He does it for you good. By knocking out your props of self-reliance and puts your reliance completely on him, He’s making your trust Him, because while you and I feel He is being cruel when He brings trials and suffering and persecution and hardships, the thing that would actually be far crueler of God would be for Him to just allow you to continue to prop yourself up though your own damnable good works. Which means that in the end, these things are God’s loving gifts. As Matt Chandler, president of the Acts 29 church planting network once observed “It’s not cruel of God at all to take from you what might lead you into an eternity of sorrow, to give to you sorrow now that leads to an eternity of ever increasing joy.

He has your best in mind as he works, trust that. There’s a line from the Reason For God that has impacted me profoundly… “God will only give you what you would have asked for if you knew everything he knows”. We need to get that into our bones. As your loving father, He’ll only give you what you would have asked for if you knew everything He knows. Therefore, we need to trust Him, and look to Him with hope no matter what kinds of hardship come. These things are instruments in the Redeemers hands for your good, because He’s working not for you happiness for a moment, but for your joy for all eternity. In light of this, my encouragement to you is no matter what happens, don’t lose heart. When trials, and suffering, and persecution, and hardship come, don’t lose heart, don’t doubt God. Remember, as Paul writes in 2 Corinthians “Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all (4:16-17).

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

From the Newsletter: Keys to Unity: Part 1

How good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell together in unity, the psalmist writes in Psalm 133. The same could be said of churches. How good and pleasant it is when churches dwell together in unity. When they live on mission for Christ in unity. The church is called to unity. “Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace” Ephesians 4:3 says. As we saw last month, the only real foundation for unity is the shared foundation of the gospel. But having seen that, the question becomes, how can we create unity? I’ve thought about this allot, as I've thought about the demands for a shared foundation on the gospel, I’ve also been thinking about the things that are required for any church, including our church, to have unity. As I have, I’ve concluded that the first thing to do is actually accept the reality that we can’t create unity. Unity grows naturally as we work for the same ends, we cant manufacture it. But at the same time, there are some keys to unity, there are some things that all followers of Christ can do to help unity grow, things that we can do to contribute to unity within our church.

This month, I want to give you four keys to unity. Next month, I want to give you four more.

The first key I want to mention today is the most important. We must  fix our eyes on the work of Christ. If the unity of the church is built on the shared foundation of the gospel, then we need to fix our eyes on Christ. the writer of Hebrews says, in 12:2, “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfected of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” This is the starting point to unity in the church. One thing that has always fascinated me is that Paul usually constructs his books by beginning with the vertical, and moving on to the horizontal. He starts with what God has done, and then moves on to how then shall we live in light of the gospel. Truth, application. Which means that any unity that we have, is found in fixing our eyes on Christ and his finished work.

The second key I want to mention today is that we must be forgiving. Paul says in Colossians “Put on then, as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive (3:12-13)”. Jesus makes clear in Matthew that if we do not, we will not be forgiven. He says, right after the Lord’s prayer, that “if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses (6:14-15)”. Why is it that this is stressed so powerfully? Because living in relationship requires forgiveness. Think about a marriage. Two people in proximity will rub each other the wrong way at times, and then, there is the need to forgive. Forgiveness is the oil that lubricates relationships. If churches are not marked by forgiveness, they die. It’s that simple. If bickering and wrongs are dealt with, and people don’t repent and forgive, a church will be torn by disunity. As Christians, we are called to repent, and we are called to forgive. It’s a sign that the gospel is at work, that we know and understand and apply the gospel, and a real key to living with unity.

The third key is I want to mention today is that we need to know deep in our hearts and minds that unity is strengthened when we lay down our demand for comfort for the sake of the good of all. Nothing creates disunity like thinking, it’s about me, and seeking our desire, and our likes, and wants, and our felt needs. So often, we push for these things. We want our church to be a place that’s completely comfortable, and work to force our will and desire to the forefront. But it’s terrible for unity within the church, or for that matter, within any relationship. One of the things I like to tell couples I’m counseling for marriage is that marriage demands that you lay down your demand for your rights. Only in that mutual laying down of rights does your marriage have any hope. Only when you are seeking the good of the other, and seeking the meeting of their wants and desire, together, each going after the good of the other, will your marriage thrive and service. That is double true in the church, we all want to create an environment where we are completely comfortable, but when you come into proximity to others, that won’t happen, as anyone who is married can tell you.
Which means we need to lay down our demand for comfort and the meeting of our felt needs and desire for the sake of the good of all. In doing this, we are aiming towards unity, and following the path of our savior, who laid down his rights for the good of all in an ultimate way.

This brings us to the final key I want to mention today. Shared Mission. The final key to unity is that we aim at the same end. A church must have missional unity. We must have missional unity. The point of the church is mission. We are called to live on mission for Christ, seeking to glorify God, build a great community, proclaim the gospel, and build deep disciples who get the gospel, and then live out of the gospel in all of life. This should be the aim of every church. It must be the goal of our church. It must be the aim of every individual, and of the corporate church. if as a church, we do not have missional unity, if we are not aimed at the same end, we are sunk. Think back to back to what I said last month. I noted that liberal churches and gospel centered churches end up as two different teams pulling in opposite directions—each straining at the edges of the tent of the denomination. The same thing happens if we aren’t all aiming at the same end as an individual church. If different parts of the body have different aims, we’re in the same place. Which is why mission unity is essential.

These are just some of the keys to unity. But let me say this as I wrap up part 1. If these keys don’t exist, a church, be it ours or others, will wither, and die. they fragment, and split apart. It starts with the gospel, it flows into how we relate to each other with an other centered ethic, and it culminates in mission.

May our church be marked with unity. At times, we haven’t been, at times we have been. Lately, we have been. I’m so happy to see that as your pastor. May it continue. may we be marked by unity, for the glory of Christ Jesus our savior.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

I Asked The Lord that I Might Grow: By John Newton

I asked the Lord that I might grow, In faith, and love, and every grace; Might more of His salvation know, And seek, more earnestly, His face.

’Twas He who taught me thus to pray, And He, I trust, has answered prayer! But it has been in such a way, As almost drove me to despair.

I hoped that in some favored hour, At once He’d an­swer my request; And by His love’s constraining pow’r, Subdue my sins, and give me rest.

Instead of this, He made me feel, The hidden evils of my heart; And let the angry pow’rs of hell, Assault my soul in every part.

Yea more, with His own hand He seemed, Intent to aggravate my woe; Crossed all the fair designs I schemed, Blasted my gourds, and laid me low.

Lord, why is this, I trembling cried, Wilt thou pursue thy worm to death? “’Tis in this way, the Lord replied, I answer prayer for grace and faith.

These inward trials I employ, From self, and pride, to set thee free; And break thy schemes of earthly joy, That thou may’st find thy all in Me.”

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Beat it into their heads continually by Martin Luther

Something to chew on from Martin Luther, the great reformer, speaking of our tendency to default to works righteousness. His words are genius.
“The law is divine and holy. Let the law have his glory, but yet no law, be it never so divine and holy, ought to teach me that I am justified, and shall live through it. I grant it may teach me that I ought to love God and my neighbor; also to live in chastity, soberness, patience, etc., but it ought not to show me, how I should be delivered from sin, the devil, death, and hell.
Here I must take counsel of the gospel. I must hearken to the gospel, which teacheth me, not what I ought to do, (for that is the proper office of the law,) but what Jesus Christ the Son of God hath done for me : to wit, that He suffered and died to deliver me from sin and death. The gospel willeth me to receive this, and to believe it. And this is the truth of the gospel. It is also the principal article of all Christian doctrine, wherein the knowledge of all godliness consisteth.
Most necessary it is, therefore, that we should know this article well, teach it unto others, and beat it into their heads continually.”
Martin Luther, St. Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians (Philadelphia: Smith, English & Co., 1860), 206.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

From the Newsletter: the foundation of Unity

I’ve been thinking about unity in the church for some time, and the more I think about it, the more sure I am of this conclusion: Apart from the gospel, there is no unity for the church or the Christian organization.

There are countless verses that speak of our unity and call for unity. In John 17 Jesus says, “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. And for their sake I consecrate myself, that they also may be sanctified in truth. "I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me” (John 17:17-23). In Ephesians Paul writes “I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:1-3). Peter writes “All of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind.” (1 Peter 3:8).

That’s a lot of oneness, and there’s plenty more that we could look at. But as we look at unity, we need to be careful. All too often, when we talk about unity, we go to these verses and say “Look. Unity! Be one. Have unity. We just need to hold hands and get along. Kumbya. Period. Full stop.”

But here’s the thing, when you look at the source of the oneness and unity that is described all through the Bible, it’s not unity for unity sake, nor is it unity based on shared likes and affinities. It’s always unity rooted in a shared foundation. We are told to have unity, but its unity rooted in the finished work of Christ. Think through the context of all the passages that I just referenced. In John, we see that Jesus prayer for unity comes as He prepares to go to the cross and die in our place and for our sins. It’s not wimpy unity of shared likes and affinities, but a blood bought, cross shaped unity that comes from being reconciled to God. Likewise, Paul can call us to be “bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace”, because “There is one body and one Spirit-- just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call-- one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all (Eph 4:1-6). Notice the construction there. The unity of the spirit and the unity of the body are linked to the fact that there is one Lord, one faith, one baptism. Furthermore, in Peter we see the same basic thing. In chapter 3, Peter can say “all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind (1 Peter 3:8)”, because he has told us in chapter two that “Once you were not a people, but now you are God's people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy (1 Peter 2:10).

In light of what we see in these passages, we can say with certainty that real unity in the church only flows from resting on a shared foundation, and if we are not all resting on a shared foundation, there is no real unity and no basis for enduring stability, all you have is whitewash over the deep cracks. Remember, the same Jesus who called for unity within His people also said to His disciples “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law”(Matt. 10:34-35). He calls His people to unity, but He also calls His people to be His. He intended to sift out those whose live are rooted in the foundation of His finished work from those who are not.

There are two places that we need to apply this truth. First, when it comes to the denomination, and second, when it comes to the local church.

Let’s start with the denomination. The more I think about this, the more sure I am that there is no real way for churches that believe in the historic orthodox faith in the gospel to stand with others who deny that same historic orthodox faith in the gospel and work against it. It’s impossible. Recently, we were reminded that of the boundaries of unity when we saw someone who denied substitutionary atonement and came out as a full universalist (openly saying that salvation is found in multiple faiths, in direct contradiction with Jesus words in John 14 that He is the way, the truth and the light, and no man comes to the Father but by Him) get approved for ordination in our association. The question I have is this. How do churches so clearly heading in opposite directions have anything other than feigned unity with each other? We can all be kind to each other, we can share a coffee and a discussion, but in the end we are really working for radically different ends because our foundation is different. This division in direction is a cancer eating at our denomination, because for churches, there is no real unity apart from the shared foundation of the gospel. When some churches dump the historic gospel, the basis for unity goes with it. All we are after that is two different teams pulling in opposite directions—each straining at the edges of the tent. This is why I believe that we need to be grounded in a confessional core as a denomination, and have begun to advocate along those lines.

Some would say, come on, can’t we all just get along and be united as the church? But it’s a logical impossibility. The only way the two could exist together is if they are the same thing working for the same end, and the liberal, universalist group that claims to be church, and the gospel centered, Bible believing church are not the same thing. Countless scholar have made that clear, but really, we don’t need them, our own eyes can see the difference.

With that said, we also need to think through what this means for us as a local church, because everything that I said about the denomination applies to the local church. In fact, I believe that application of the truths found in these passages has to start at home before it can extend out to the denomination. If we are not united by the gospel, if this is not the foundation from which everything stems in our church, we are in trouble. Affinities and loves, history, like-mindedness in politics, enjoyment of the same trappings of worship, these things won’t give our church the strength and vitality that we truly need, nor will these things give us unity in mission. They can’t, because ultimately these things aren’t strong enough to change our lives. They can’t say, I died for you, and they don’t have the power to re-make your life and send you out with a whole new mission and vision for life. Which is why only the gospel creates real unity in the church; unity that launched from the same foundation, unity doesn’t require whitewash because it has the healing blood of Christ bringing life in the places of brokenness and hurt, and unity that points us all in the same direction as people who are brought together and then sent out for the glory of God and the furthering of His kingdom.

My prayer is that we will have gospel centered unity, in the denomination, but first and fore-most in our church. My prayer is that the unity that we have will not be the false unity of holding our noses while we hold hands before we pull hard in opposite directions. May our unity be rooted in the life altering gospel, and may the gospel send us out for the same ends and goals, in a way that reveals the deep unity that only the gospel gives us.