Friday, August 15, 2008

The Danger of Not Being Sick

I want to revisit Spurgeon's comments from the previous post. He mentions there the Biblical truth that Jesus came for the sick and that the sicker you are the more glory Christ receives. (Okay, maybe he didn't say the 2nd point, be it was implied.)

However, there is a danger of "Not being Sick" How can this be? How can it be BAD to NOT be sick?

Well I thought about it last night, and that's just what I've concluded, sometimes it's bad to not be sick. Let's look at this situation:

Susan would reluctantly tell you she's a gossip. She's not proud of it, but she doesn't really try to hide it either, because she's worried that by hiding it, she might come across better than she really is. Susan is embarrassed by her gossiping, and at the same time it's something that she prays about constantly. So she reflects about it and realizes that she is sick. She needs Jesus to break her free from the sin of gossiping. She's never more aware of this than when she's just passed on a piece of juicy office gossip.

Yet one Tuesday was different. She came to work at the normal time, but stayed away from the "triggers." She took her coffee break 10 minutes later than normal, so she wouldn't be sitting around with her friends gossiping. She ate lunch at her desk and did some work. When she got home, Susan was thrilled about not gossiping.

After the kids went to bed, and she had some time to just think, she started to congratulate herself on the fact that she did not gossip all day. And by congratulating herself, she wound up denying the other sins that she committed that day.

The danger of not being sick is just that. When we don't feel like we're incredibly sick and in need of a doctor, we often fail to realize that even if we don't commit our "main sin" we're still sinful.

Now, all that being said, victory over sin is good. It is wonderful when someone is able to control lust, or addiction, or gossip etc. But it must always be done with a few things in mind 1) It is Christ who changes us. So even if we pull off a day like Susan did, if Christ is not in it, all we've done is avoid the sin, but we still have the desire to gossip. 2) Regardless of if we're committing our chief sin or not, we're still, by nature, sinful and in need of a savior.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Prince of Soul Care?

When I first started becoming interested in theology, one of my favorite preachers to read was Charles Spurgeon. I loved his wit. For example a story is told where a woman comes into his office and worries about her salvation. After a long explanation from her, Spurgeon says something to the effect of "Ma'am, you're right. If I were you, I'd stay away from the church for ever." She replied "I could never stay away from the church." He then showed her how that tended to show she was saved.

I loved him because he spoke the truth so plainly. He was not afraid to call out problems. When talking about the preaching of the day, he said "Would the early Christians have risked their lives to enter in to wilderness and catacombs to come hear such watered down preaching?"

I also loved him because he helped me tremendously when I went through Ephesians 1 and determining if I was reformed or not. "God must have chosen me before I was born, for he certainly wouldn't have chosen me after."

He's earned the title of Prince of Preachers. Well now I think he's deserving of another title, Prince of Soul Care (obviously, Christ would be the King of Soul Care.)

In a book of his tilted God Loves You he talks about "Our Lord's Preaching" (chapter 3.) Two quotes stand out "The more diseased you are, the surer you may be that the Savior came to heal you" (p71). The second one is a bit more extended, "Carefully focus on the meaning of the text, so that you may see whter or not this message applies to you. Are you brokenhearted because of sin, because you have sinned often, fouly, grievously? Are you brokenhearted because your heart will not break as you deisre it to break - brokenhearted because you are sorry that you cannot repent as you want to and grieved because you cannot grieve enough? Are you brokenhearted because you do not have such a sense of sin as you ought to have and such a deep loating of it as you perceive others to have? ... It does not matter for what particular reason you are brokenhearted. Jesus Christ came into the world, sent by God with this purpose: 'to bind up the brokenhearted'"

Now, as I thought about this, I thought how he was really getting to the core of people. The elipses above covers about 1 to 2 pages of more examples of being brokenhearted, but all of them are deeper than our typical explanations of this passage. I mean you usually hear about the brokenhearted as being those who have lost loved ones, or those who are suffering. Not Spurgeon. He goes much deeper, he quickly gets to something many Christians feel, that they are not experiencing deep enough conviction.

In fact, when I read that passage, I usually think "I'm not meek. I'm not poor. I'm not brokenhearted." But in understanding it this way, I see that I am brokenhearted in the very definition that he explains. It is comforting to know that even when I feel like I'm not convicted enough, Christ still came for me. When I'm sick, I'm even more sure of Christ's purpose on this earth.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

What are you trusting God for that only He can provide?

So that's the question that was posed to us today at Coram Deo, by pastor Bob. In his series on renewal, today was "faith" and I immediately thought "that's a strange part of renewal." Now, of course, you can't have renewal without faith, but it seems like it's a pre-requisite and not a part of renewal.

However, I think the way faith was described, makes a lot of sense. He basically went to Hebrews 11 and talked about how faith is the certainty of things not yet seen. So, in that sense, faith is definitely a part of renewal, while also being a pre-requisite. It is reflecting back on how God works, and how he's worked in the past. Spurgeon, in the first lecture from Lectures to My Students starts by saying there are ways in which God works normally. There may be ways in which he works spontaneously, but by and large, we should assume that He will continue to work the same things He's done in the past.

For example, there have been a few times of great revival in various parts of the world. Such as the Great Awakening of the early US. And those were definitely from God. However, even when there are no "great awakenings" going on, God still works through individual believers to bring other sinners to saving faith. So we can count on the promises of God that he will 1) use us to 2) bring others to faith in Him. We can have faith (certainty) that we will be used by God (of things not yet seen).

So the question, again, becomes What are you trusting God for that only He can do? What promises, what assurance do I have? What areas in my life do I have certainty of things not yet seen. To be honest, I answered that question with "I know what areas I NEED to trust God for only what He can do, but I'm not trusting him now."

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Resting is hard work

At Coram Deo, they're going through a series on renewal. Two weeks ago, Elder Bob preached on Sabbath, and encouraged each of us to live a life marked by rest. He exhorted us that we need Jesus' help with resting the same as we do with overcoming lust, or addiction, or gossip.

I knew he was right, but thought it would be easier for me, because even 2 years ago, I had nightly times of meditation and reflection. And, to be honest, those were some of the best times in my life. Since we've moved to Omaha, I haven't been as faitful at meditating, but I desire to, because I can recollect my life from when I was meditating.

However, this practice has brought to the forefront something I had forgotten. It is HARD WORK to rest. I had a prof at Southern who started several classes by reading Hebrews and how Christ fulfilled the resting, and he called it a "restful work, or a workful rest" I didn't fully understand that until now (okay, I don't still fully understand it, but it's better.)

Reasons it's hard to rest
  1. Kids -- it's hard to rest when the kids are up, so I try to do it after they go to sleep, but this often leaves me little time before I need to go to sleep.
  2. Lot's to do -- dishes, setting a budget, taking the trash out, laundry any number of other things that all compete for that 1.5 hours after the kids are asleep
  3. Task oriented -- I set a timer on my cell phone. Not so that I won't rest TOO long, but so that I'll at least rest and reflect long enough. Currently I spend 10 minutes trying to relax, breathing deep etc and another 10 doing nothing but reflecting on a passage of Scripture that I've read
Now all of those are true reasons, but none of them are good. Like most things in life, the hard work is paid off. Not by becoming more sanctified by the hard work, but by deliberately resting it opens up whole new channels for Christ and I to have communion, and as a result, new channels for me to be changed.

It is a workful rest in deed.

Monday, August 4, 2008

What's better than being right?

So I started thinking over the past couple days about how I always have to be right. And in some ways, that's what makes up part of my being a bruised reed. (As an aside, perhaps I should talk about that some time, a bruised reed, I don't think, always means someone who is down or depressed. It's more about the realization of the fact of being a sinner.)

I'm not sure if I mean that in the typical way. Some might say a man always has to be right, and mean that he'll defend his opinion at all costs. And in some cases, that might be true of me. However, I think I'm a little bit more subtle(?) I don't necessarily feel the need to defend my opinion, as much as making sure I choose right to begin with.

Let me give you an example. You and I could spend time arguing about whether engineering (in general) is one of the best bachelor programs. And I would enter that argument knowing that I would win. I could even take it a step further and tell you how Electrical Engineering is the chief engineering degree. Again, I would win that argument. However, these aren't arguments I get into often. Because proving to YOU that I'm right isn't really at the top of my list. However, proving to myself that I'm right is at the top of my list.

It comes down to the fact that there are certain things that are true, and I'll be sure to be on the "right" side of the truth. Now in reality, there are infinitely fewer things that are true than what I think. Is electrical engineering the chief engineering degree? Can we show that to be true with the same certainty that the acceleration of gravity on Earth is 9.8 m/s^2? Or can we show that to be true like the fact that there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ? Probably not, the engineering thing is much a matter of opinion. But to me, it's not.

This plays out two ways, both of which are incredibly sinful. (By the way, the fact that I'm admitting that in a public space is a big deal to me, because it's not the "right" thing. It's not "right" or "good" to be thought of as a sinner. Unless it's properly understood).

First, and most obvious, thinking that your opinion is a matter of fact causes you to be harsh and unforgiving with others. Thinking that electrical engineering is the best engineering degree causes you to look at other engineers (e.g. civil engineering) as lesser students. You develop a hierarchy in your mind. This type of personality (if that's what it is) needs a "bad guy" a "fall guy." Or more appropriately, a series of fall guys. Did you graduate with a political science degree? How about English, or philosophy? Did you get a BA in French? If so, chances are, my friends and I made fun of you because of your "weak" degree.

Second, and less obvious, always being "right" brings about a feeling of self-justification. After all, God is truth, the Bible tells us this. So what could be better than being true? My doctrine was always right. My tithing was always the right amount. I always prayed the right way. I always said the right things. Isn't this what Jesus was talking about when he said "Many will say to me, Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name"?

If you were to pose this question to my wife and to me "What's better than being right?" She would, without pausing, say "love." I would say "nothing." And in this one question, I would be wrong. Ironical isn't it? The one who believes he's always right, gets the fundamental question wrong.

Yes God is true. Nothing is true apart from God. He desire pure doctrine. His Bible is inspired so that it will be true. Without truth false teachers pop up and bewitch the Galatians (and us.) Without truth, Gnostics take over the early church. Truth is important.

But, without Jesus, and his love, "I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal."

There is a way to be true and loving at the same time. I'm not sure I've found it. I have found the way to make people feel completely unloved because of my obsession with being right and true.

What's greater than being right? Being loved.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Bad Discipleship & Pastors

Standing at the back door of the First Baptist Church, Washington, IL, Bill Sadler comes up in the greeting line. He looks at me and says "You've got the preaching down. Now work on all the other stuff."

It took me about 4 years to realize what that meant. I wasn't filling in as a deacon, or a Sunday school director. I wasn't trying to run the nursery. I was there to preach. And that's what I did. And if the people were to be trusted, I did it good. But I loved Bill and respected him. He'd seen more in his 80 years on this Earth than I could ever imagine. And Bill said "Work on all the other stuff."

What Bill was talking about was that there's more to being a pastor than being able to preach. I've seen this first hand. Men who congregations love and who do a great job working with people, but couldn't preach their way out of a wet paper bag. Yet, they were good pastors, just not great preachers.

About 4 years later, after talks with a close personal friend, I knew that I was not going to be leaving Southern and taking a church right away. Perhaps down the road, but not immediately. I had too much to work on. Of course, everyone has a lot to work on, but I had some issues that pastors shouldn't have (like I get tired of people really easily.) I was sitting in a 2 week class on the Gospel of Mark. We were having a bit of an informal chat in that class, as we often did, when the professor brought up something interesting.

We were talking about discipleship and he mentioned how many people who can speak and have doctrinal knowledge get "guided" (read: shoved) into the pastoral ministry. He was using himself as an example. He showed a desire for theology and scholarship in his home church, so his church attempted to get him to become a pastor. He went to Bible school, seminary and went on to get a PhD. He is now a professor of New Testament theology at SBTS. He teaches Sunday School, but he is not a pastor.

Those two incidents may seem unconnected. But Bill Sadler and Dr. Brian Vickers might as well have been best friends. What appears to happen in churches is that you have a young man who has a thirst for knowledge. They teach Sunday school, they're able to speak in front of the congregation without uttering "umm..." every three words, they don't drink and don't beat their kids, and the church decides these men are to be pastors.

What I realize now, is that is more of a reflection of the sad state of discipleship in American churches. If they were more focused on discipleship, I probably wouldn't have exhibited any more knowledge at the time than the average church member. I wouldn't have been a "stand out". There would not have been a push to have me preach more. They would have taken more time to get to know me, to see me with all my faults, and then judge whether I should be sent by them to seminary.

I'm so thankful that they did send me to seminary. I met some very Godly people there, who thankfully persuaded me to not go into full time ministry at the time. I can only imagine the pain and suffering I'd be inflicting on an unsupecting church. I can preach....

So Bill, if you're out there, I'm working on the other stuff.

Discipleship and bruised reeds

Heard a good sermon in church today about what discipleship is, and perhaps more importantly what it is not. The preacher contrasted disciples and converts. An interesting distinction to be sure, and one that I like, now that I've heard it.

He made the point that in today's churches, we often focus on converting people to Christianity, to get them on "our team" but spend little to no time working on discipling them. It reminded me of my class in Mark, and how the paper I wrote for that class was about true discipleship involving taking up your cross.

So I started thinking about that passage again. I think it was Mark 8 (it's on my other computer and I'm too lazy to look it up right now.) It made me start thinking about what does discipleship look like for "bruised reeds"?

In reality, discipleship for bruised reeds looks identical to all other people. The difference is, that a lot of bruised reeds get turned off by the word "discipleship." Because there is the connotation that discipleship means "read your Bible, pray, give, fast, and serve." And a lot of bruised reeds (not all) get overwhelmed by that. I don't get too overwhelmed because I'm very task oriented. Which might be equally bad, because I think I'm being a disciple SIMPLY by reading, praying etc.

One of the dangers of this false discipleship is that people who take it upon themselves to fix their problems, such as cussing, end up falling harder when they fail. How often have you heard the case where someone being discipled is told "now that you're a Christian, you need to X"? So what does the new convert do? They go home and set up goals for themselves. They say things like "I won't cuss today." And they work really hard at it, what happens? They cuss, then they beat themselves up, and confirm in their mind that they aren't really a Christian because Christians don't cuss.

True discipleship involves becoming like Christ, true. However, true discipleship allows Christ to work in you to make you like himself, not you working to make yourself like him. That's great news for bruised reeds, because now they don't have to do anything. They simply have to be and allow Christ to do what needs to be done.