Wednesday, April 18, 2018

We Are Always Making Disciples, But Whose?

"make disciples . . . teaching them to observe all that I commanded you"

       When I was just a few weeks old my father he took me outside one night, lifted me toward the heavens, and said, "God I give you this child to preach the gospel." I was in shock when he told me this when I was in my forties, because until he was in his sixties he lived an agnostic, immoral life.   
       I listened as he continued his confession, "Then I went about doing everything I could to make you into the image of what I thought a man was, and that image was not what a man of God is. I spent my life doing everything I could to turn you away from God, and into a worldly man and I am so sorry." 
       I thought of that conversation as I shared a cup of coffee with a friend. He talked about a season of disobedience when he led his family away from church. He said he still read the Bible and prayed during that season, but his decisions had consequences in the lives of his family members.  
       I said, "I guess we are always making disciples, one way or the other. We are always leading people toward something." He talked about several families in his church who had become engrossed in weekend activities for their children, how these young families had drifted.
       He had talked to several of the fathers. Each of them justified their choices. Each said that the sports leagues or other activities they were giving their lives to had positive implications for their kids and their families. Each of them talked about the other "Christians" who were doing the same.
       We are always making disciples. The only question is, whose disciples are we making? If we lead our families away from public worship, small groups, service to our local churches, and devotion to the Lord and his people, there are consequences. There are many positive things in the world, many opportunities to create memories. Many things instill better-than-average values, but we are not called to better-than-average. 
       We are called to make disciples of Jesus Christ. He is not better-than-average. He is all that is good and perfect. He is the object of our faith, the goal of our discipleship. He alone offers eternal and abundant life. Every decision we make is a discipleship decision. It is either toward him or away from him.
       Every person is responsible for his or her decisions. No one is fated by bad parenting to live a life of immorality. Our heavenly father is greater than any earthly father or any other earthly influence. God alone transforms, but we are part of his plan of transformation. While others are responsible for their choices, we are, too. We are always making disciples. In Christ, we are set free and empowered to make the kinds of choices that lead other toward him.

Monday, March 26, 2018

Compelled By The Love Of Christ And Easter

For the love of Christ compels us, since we have reached this conclusion: If one died for all, then all died. And he died for all so that those who live should no longer live for themselves, but for the one who died for them and was raised.
2 Corinthians 5:14-15

     You may not like this, but I still think it's worth talking about. The love of Christ does more than save you. It changes you. It transforms you. It rearranges your priorities, which means it reorganizes your life. When you really get the enormity of his love, you come to love what he loves.   
     You love and prioritize the mission he's given you. "We are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us. We plead on Christ's behalf: 'Be reconciled to God' (2 Cor. 5:20)." His great love compels you to make his good news known to all people. He loved you. That overwhelms you. Your response is to love God and make his love and gospel known.
     Easter is next Sunday. It is probably the holiday when unchurched, lost people are willing to attend a religious service. Christmas is still in the race, but Easter is the big day for getting someone into a house of worship to hear the Gospel. What will you do with it?
     Will you gather with family only? For some of us that is the mission field. We travel great distances to go to church with mom, dad, brother or sister, because the only time they go to church and consider God is when we show up in town and take them. However, some of us see holidays only as family days. Our priority for Easter, Christmas, and Thanksgiving is to get together with our family. Is that wrong? Of course not, but it may not be altogether right either.
     What if the gospel was your priority this Easter? You might spend the week in prayer, inviting friends, family, and everyone else you met to come to church and hear about Jesus. You might decide that being at church to meet those people when they came was more important than eating another ham with family. After all, your family is saved. You communicate that to family. Some get it. Some don't. But, you have eternity to spend with them, and will see them next week. You don't have eternity with your neighbor, because he is lost. That's why you prioritized Easter for the gospel.
     Hey, I said at first that you may not like this, but, if the gospel is your priority because the love of Christ compels you, you might at least consider it. Easter is the singular outreach Sunday of the year. If you invite people to come and then you're not here, well, the person they were most likely to connect with at church won't be there. But, if you're there, and they come, it's a very different story.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Hoping In The Resurrection While We Grieve

We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, concerning those who are asleep, so that you will not grieve like the rest, who have no hope.
1 Thessalonians 4:13

     I have lost more in the last few years than at any other time in my life. My wife and I have become empty nesters. Our church has changed significantly, and while some change is good all change is a loss of what was - good or bad. I've lost friends. Some to conflict, some who have left our community, and some who have left this earth. And, when I think about those who have died in the last couple of years (Beck, Jim, Harold, Shirley to name a few), I miss not only them but many more in my life who have died. 
     Jim and Harold weren't just friends. They were mentors, broad shoulders and listening ears. Men I knew might disagree with me, but would never betray me. Shirley was there, present, faithful. That may not seem like much of a compliment, but she consistently loved my children and every other child in our church for generations. And then there's Becky. What can I say about her except, "You ain't right."
    Loss isn't just about here and now. Every time we lose someone we're not only left with the emptiness and grief of that loss, but also with the loss of our imagined future that contained them. We lived each day with the blessing of their presence, and we imagined a future in which we would continue to share life with them.
     We can heal. We can work on our grief, begin to develop new ways of living each day, but to really overcome our grief we also have to deal with the future. It's not just today without them, it's every day without them. 
     Just as God heals our current grief, He also has a remedy for our future-without-them grief. It's called the resurrection. If we believe in Christ, we will grieve because we loved like Christ. But, we do not have to grieve without hope. We do not have to fear the future without them, because "If we believe that Jesus died and rose again, in the same way, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep" (1 Thess. 4:14). 
     We don't have to imagine a future without them if they believed in Jesus and we believe in Jesus. God has guaranteed that our future contains, not only Jesus, but all those in Him who we so love. We just have to wait a little while to see them. And, while we wait, we are not alone. The One who rose from the grave, who promises to unite us completely and finally with Him, and to reunite us with those we have lost is with us even now. 
     "For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the archangel's voice, and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are still alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so WE will always be with the Lord. Therefore encourage one another with these words" (1 Thess. 4:16-18 - emphasis mine). 

Friday, March 16, 2018

The Death Of Stephen Hawking, Gloating, and the Gospel

The Lord does not delay his promise, as some understand delay, but is patient with you, not wanting any to perish but all to come to repentance.
2 Peter 3:9 (CSB)

Renowned physicist Stephen Hawking died this week. He lived a remarkably long life with a form of ALS, questioning, perhaps denying the existence of God for virtually all of his 76 years investing his life in the attempt to discern the nature of the universe via human logic and reason. Whether he was an atheist, or an agnostic, he was certainly not a believer in a spiritual afterlife. He is reported to have said, "There is no heaven or afterlife for broken down computers; that is a fairy story for people afraid of the dark." As a result of his theology (yes, even atheists are theologians), he was not afraid of death, saying, "I'm not afraid of death, but I'm in no hurry to die. I have so much I want to do first."

Those who do believe in God, by faith in His Son, Jesus Christ, will respond to the death of an unbeliever in one of three ways:

They may rejoice. "God is just. He made his choice. He mocked God. He has met his maker now."  Hawking certainly preached the god of logic and reason, dismissed the God of Creation, and contributed to a theology that contributes to lostness and unbelief. Should a follower of Jesus Christ rejoice that this preacher of a false god is dead?

They may not care. "Yes, he was an unbeliever, but thousands die every day. I don't have time to spend on worrying about that." Is apathy the attitude of God?

They may mourn. Franklin Graham wrote about Hawking, "I wish Stephen Hawking could have seen the simple truth that God is the Creator of the universe he loved to study and everything in it." Is it more or less like God to grieve when a lost person dies?

Photo used by permission from Wikipedia Commons, author Doug Wheller

Monday, February 26, 2018

Monday Morning Pastor: Getting Prayer Right

Pray for and about everything. That's God's command. It's His desire. So, yes, ask Him to heal Grandma Turner's sciatica. Ask Him to help your son do well on his final in chemistry. Ask Him to give you a job when you're out of work. Ask Him to save your neighbor. Ask Him to send laborers for the harvest. Ask Him for everything you need, but prayer is much more than just getting our needs met, much more than even getting the needs of others met.

John 15:5-8:  Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me. I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in Me, he is cast out as a branch and is withered; and they gather them and throw them into the fire, and they are burned. If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, you will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you. By this My Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit; so you will be My disciples. As the Father loved Me, I also have loved you; abide in My love. If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love, just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love. These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may remain in you, and that your joy may be full.

The men who first heard this had been with Jesus for three years. For three years their life was the definition of abiding. He is about to leave them, has told them that, and is instructing them in what to do in His physical absence after His death, burial, and resurrection. And, what does He tell them? 11 times in 4 verses, He tells them to do just what they have been doing - abide, remain, dwell, live, converse, camp out, eat with, talk to, listen to, obey, love Him. Now, how are they going to do that?

They will need four things. First, they will need Him to remove the barrier of sin in their hearts, which He did on Calvary and they received by faith. Second, they will need His Holy Spirit, which He sent to indwell every believer in His absence. Third, they will need His Word, which He had given and was in the process of giving them through the apostles. Fourth, they will need to pray, which is the primary practice of abiding in His presence.

If they abide in Him, their lives will be defined by His presence - spiritual fruitfulness, supernatural love, and abundant joy. If they do not abide in Him, their lives will be defined by the absence of His presence - fruitlessness, meaningless activity, tepid love, and joylessness. We are no different than they are. So, ask Him for everything, but do not neglect abiding in Him in prayer. Here's a simple guide to help you do that.

  • Grab a Bible and get somewhere you can spend some time with God
  • Ask the Holy Spirit to help you 
  • Open the Bible, begin to read and pray as God prompts you
  • Praise Him as the Spirit prompts you through the Scripture 
  • Be still, word open, heart alert, and simply abide in Christ
  • Consider, during these times, asking for nothing more than His presence unless He prompts you through the Word to do so

Thursday, January 18, 2018

The Sanctity Of Human Life

This Sunday we mourn together on Sanctity Of Human Life Sunday. We mourn the death of over 50 million unborn humans that has resulted from a supreme court decision legalizing abortion on January 22, 1973. Human life is precious because it is created by God. The unborn and old, the healthy and infirmed, the genius and savant, black, white, and every other color are precious in His sight. I could say much, but I believe Ronald Reagan said it best in 1984 when he proclaimed the first Sanctity Of Human Life day.

A Proclamation

The values and freedoms we cherish as Americans rest on our fundamental commitment to the sanctity of human life. The first of the ``unalienable rights'' affirmed by our Declaration of Independence is the right to life itself, a right the Declaration states has been endowed by our Creator on all human beings -- whether young or old, weak or strong, healthy or handicapped.

Since 1973, however, more than 15 million unborn children have died in legalized abortions -- a tragedy of stunning dimensions that stands in sad contrast to our belief that each life is sacred. These children, over tenfold the number of Americans lost in all our Nation's wars, will never laugh, never sing, never experience the joy of human love; nor will they strive to heal the sick, or feed the poor, or make peace among nations. Abortion has denied them the first and most basic of human rights, and we are infinitely poorer for their loss.

We are poorer not simply for lives not led and for contributions not made, but also for the erosion of our sense of the worth and dignity of every individual. To diminish the value of one category of human life is to diminish us all. Slavery, which treated Blacks as something less than human, to be bought and sold if convenient, cheapened human life and mocked our dedication to the freedom and equality of all men and women. Can we say that abortion -- which treats the unborn as something less than human, to be destroyed if convenient -- will be less corrosive to the values we hold dear?

We have been given the precious gift of human life, made more precious still by our births in or pilgrimages to a land of freedom. It is fitting, then, on the anniversary of the Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade that struck down State anti-abortion laws, that we reflect anew on these blessings, and on our corresponding responsibility to guard with care the lives and freedoms of even the weakest of our fellow human beings.

Now, Therefore, I, Ronald Reagan, President of the United States of America, do hereby proclaim Sunday, January 22, 1984, as National Sanctity of Human Life Day. I call upon the citizens of this blessed land to gather on that day in homes and places of worship to give thanks for the gift of life, and to reaffirm our commitment to the dignity of every human being and the sanctity of each human life.

In Witness Whereof, I have hereunto set my hand this 13th day of January, in the year of our Lord nineteen hundred and eighty-four, and of the Independence of the United States of America the two hundred and eighth.

Ronald Reagan

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

He Never Told Us He Loved Us, But. . .

But how can they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how can they believe without hearing about Him? And how can they hear without a preacher?
Romans 10:14

     I've heard it more than once, "Well, he never told us he loved us, but you just know he did." He provided for them. He took care of them. He just never told his family he loved them. No one wants a false profession of love. No one wants a daddy who says he loves them and then does nothing to prove it. But, let's be honest, words are important. What we want and what we need are friends and family who love us with both words and action, not one or the other. 
     Words are important and its important that we use them. God gave us words and tells us to use them to bless others. You can curse by not speaking as easily as you can curse by speaking. The spouse or child who never hears, "I love you. You are valuable to me.", is not blessed. Our failure to bless is the withholding of a blessing. It is a silent curse. Overcome your introversion, or aversion, and speak.
     There is no situation where this is more important than in fulfilling our mission in life as followers of Jesus Christ. Our mission is to make disciples. People do not become disciples by observing our pious lifestyles. They do not know God has loved them supremely through Jesus Christ by observing us. The hungry do not find eternal life by receiving a grocery bag of food from us. They cannot know who loves them, who has transformed us, and who is giving them food unless we tell them. They cannot know Jesus and eternal life unless we proclaim His name.

(Free image from Max Pixel)