Tuesday, May 8, 2018

The Departure

Growing up, my family and I would routinely venture out on the mammoth waters of Lake Erie. We only lived about a half an hour from the lake, and mom and dad owned a 21 foot Grady White fiberglass boat that they kept docked at a lake marina. On the weekends, if the weather was nice, we would head out for a lake adventure.

By Friday, we would start our preparations. The goal was to be packed and ready to take off early in the morning. Mom would pack our lunch, Dad would make sure we had the fishing gear ready, and my brother and I would help haul everything to the vehicle. The next morning we would make a final check of our supplies and head out.

We’d park the car near our dock and haul the supplies down the stairs to our boat. I worked eagerly, because I knew the sooner we loaded the boat, the sooner we could get out fishing. But dad and mom never rushed because they knew we didn’t want to leave something behind. It would be a long trip back to shore if we did.

After everything was loaded onto the boat and the vehicle locked, dad would fire up the engine and we’d be ready to go. The final step before departure was loosing the ropes that secured the boat to the dock. That was perhaps the most exciting moment for me because I knew at that point we were heading out to the lake. My brother and I had the job of loosing those ropes on the bow and stern. As soon as we did, dad engaged the engine and we were off. The fishing trip had begun!

In 2 Timothy 4:6, Paul writes to Timothy saying, “For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come.” He is in prison and has already appeared before the court once. Probably from his assessment of that first hearing, he did not feel the trial would go well for him and likely result in his execution. But he uses this phrase “time of my departure” to describe his death. The term ‘departure’ has its meaning based in the loosing of a ship from its dock or anchoring so it can depart from the harbor and set sail. That’s Paul’s view of death–setting sail for the shores of glory.

Paul knew he had work to do on this earth until he set sail for glory, but as he looked back at his life he knew the work had been done. He faithfully preached the gospel and honored the LORD with his life. The supplies were loaded. The ship was ready. Now all that needed to be done was the ropes to be loosed from the dock. When that happened he knew his journey to the shores of glory had begun.

I don’t know about you, but I too often view death as an end rather than a beginning. It’s easy to focus on what is lost in death rather than what is gained. Death for the believer should never be seen as an ending but a beginning–a departure into glory! I don’t know where I am in preparation right now. I might be packing the lunch, loading the vehicle, or bringing the supplies on board the boat. But wherever I am at, one day the ropes will be set loose and eternity will begin. What a glorious day that will be!

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Fight to the end

March madness begins this week and, if it starts out like previous tournaments, there will be a few blowouts in the first round. Whenever you watch such a game, you can almost pinpoint the time in the game where the losing team gives up hope of winning and accepts defeat. In high school games you’ll often notice the coach start pulling his starters and giving his backup players an opportunity for game experience. The coach and team have accepted the fact that they will lose and simply want to get it over with.

However, on rare occasions, a team will still play as if they have a chance to win when in reality they don’t. I remember a basketball game where the losing team was down by about ten points with under ten seconds to play and they were still trying to pull off the win. They kept fouling and essentially making the deficit greater to overcome. But they did not want to accept that they were going to lose the game until the final buzzer sounded.

I wonder if that’s how Satan operates. Over the years I’ve heard many preachers and Bible teachers say, “Satan knows he’s defeated, but wants to take as many people with him.” I question that maxim. I don’t question that he wants to ruin the lives of people, but I do question the idea that he knows he has lost. Jesus referred to Satan as the father of lies in John 8:44. He is the master deceiver, and I believe he has even deceived himself. I think as the father of lies, Satan has believed his own lie that he can defeat God Almighty. He acts like that team scrapping till the very end hoping somehow to pull off a miraculous win when everyone knows they are going to lose.

So what difference does it make anyway? Does it really matter to us if Satan thinks he can win or knows he has lost? I think it does. When a winning team sees their opponent has accepted defeat, they often go into a coasting mode. They know they’ve got the win and can just ride the rest of the game out until the buzzer sounds. But when their opponent keeps fighting, it usually forces the winning team to play hard to the end.

The spiritual battle we’re in we know we will win. We know Jesus has won the victory. But we face an enemy that will fight to the end, thinking he can pull off an upset. We need to be on our guard and alert because we in a battle against an enemy who won’t give up. “Stay alert! Watch out for your great enemy, the devil. He prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour.” –I Peter 5:8 (NLT)

Now is not the time to coast to victory. Though we know our Savior Jesus is the Victor, we need to face every battle with full battle array and top form. Satan thinks he can still win and will keep coming after every believer with doubt, fear, discouragement, lust, greed, and a host of other weapons. Don’t let up. Don’t let your guard down. Battle until the final trumpet sounds.

The apostle Paul said it best in his letter to Timothy, “But as for you, O man of God, flee these things. Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness. Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called and about which you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses.” –I Timothy 6:11-12

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Does God know what I'm going through?

Exodus 2:23-25

If you’re anything like me and a lot of other believers I know, you have probably had that thought cross your mind before. Maybe you haven’t verbalized it in that way, but a similar thought went through your mind.
I experienced a trying time in ministry back in the early 2000’s where I wondered where God was. The church I was serving was shrinking quickly, I had two young sons that I felt I was failing as a father, financially we were struggling to make it, and I had no idea what God’s plan for my future was. Did God truly know what I was going through?
Intellectually, I understood the theological ramifications of omniscience (hey, I got A’s on my theology exams after all). I cognitively understood that an all-knowing God would know what I’m going through. But in that valley time of life you kind of wonder if God truly understands the heartache and pain you’re experiencing. The Israelites were struggling with that same question in Exodus 2.
A new pharaoh had risen on the scene that had no connection with Joseph and had no desire to learn the history of Joseph. Joseph had saved a previous pharaoh and the Egyptians from a potentially catastrophic famine. Amazingly, Joseph had managed to increase pharaoh’s wealth during the years of famine rather than watch it be destroyed. 
Unfortunately, this new pharaoh had no memory or knowledge of Joseph and saw Joseph’s relatives that had now multiplied greatly in the land as merely a threat. So pharaoh enslaved them and forced them to work as brick makers and brick layers for his building projects. He even enacted a horrific population control measure that involved killing all the male babies born to the Israelite women. Life was grueling and frightening under this new pharaoh and his horrific measures. I’m sure many were asking, “Does God know what we are going through?”
It’s at the low point of this valley in Israel’s history that we come to the passage referenced above. The people groaned and cried out to God in the midst of their suffering. I can imagine their cries going up, “God you have to help us? Don’t you care?”
Their cries were not in vain for verse 24 tells us that God heard their groaning. He heard their prayers, and then we read this sentence in verse 25, “God saw the people of Israel—and God knew.” And God knew. That is how the ESV translates the Hebrew phrase and it is an excellent literal translation. The NAS translates it, “And God took notice of them.” The italicized words in the NAS indicate that those words don’t derive from a specific Hebrew term in the text but are added for the purpose of clarity. I prefer the literalness of the ESV here–“and God knew.”
When you read that phrase, you realize that God didn’t merely see His people’s suffering, He knew it. God truly understood what they were going through. In fact, when we think of the suffering of Jesus Christ at the crucifixion, we realize that the timeless, eternal triune God knows. God truly knows suffering and affliction. He doesn’t merely see the suffering you are going through, He knows it. 
We serve a God that can not only sympathize with what were facing, but actually empathize with what we are going through. He is a God that truly cares about us and the suffering we’re enduring. I find that extremely comforting to know that God knows what I’m facing or may face in a very personal way.
I don’t know what you may be facing in your life right now, but maybe you’re wondering whether God knows what you’re going through. Please rest assured that He absolutely does know. And not only that, He cares. 
Take some time today or this week and read Exodus 2:23-25 or read the whole chapter, then camp on the end of verse 25 for a while. “And God knew.”

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Seeking Things Above

          This year my wife and I will celebrate our 25th Anniversary. It’s not until December, but I’m trying to get a head start on planning (thoughtful husband that I am and all). On our wedding day the pastor preached from Colossians 3:1-3 (the scripture we selected for our wedding theme). Here is what Paul writes there:
If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. 3 For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. 4 When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.” (ESV)
            Now I honestly don’t remember much from the sermon the pastor gave, but this passage has grabbed my attention afresh lately. I routinely wrestle with questions of discipleship and what the core principles and practices of discipleship involve. I think Colossians chapters 3-4 lay out a number of core principles and practices like thanksgiving, Bible Study, prayer, and evangelism to name a few. But what about setting your mind on things above rather than on things of the earth?
            Initially I was thinking a practical habit for that would be meditation on God’s word. Certainly, that wouldn’t hurt, but then I started thinking about what Jesus said in Matthew 6:21. When talking about earthly and heavenly treasure He said, “Where your treasure is there your heart will be also.” That seems like a key to understanding how I can practically apply Colossians 3:1-3 to my life and help other disciples apply it to theirs as well.
            Giving is a core practice of discipleship. As we give to the Lord’s work and those in need we focus are hearts and minds heavenward. When we give we are not thinking of ourselves primarily, but impacting others for Christ. That sets our hearts on things above, not on things of the earth.
            Paul could have easily said, “You should give to the Lord’s work,” but that would not have focused on the heart issue. Giving isn’t intended to merely be another “to do” on some kind of discipleship checklist. It’s intended to move our hearts and minds to things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God.
            If you have never practiced intentional giving, I encourage you to start. This is not because God needs our money, but because he wants our hearts. As you make giving a regular habit you’ll find your heart focusing more on things above rather than things of the earth. And as an added bonus God throws in a blessing to those who give, just because He’s so gracious. Jesus said, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.”

            Start the habit of giving today and be blessed in the process!

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Don't Call Me a Christian

If you're a believer, don't call me a Christian.

Now that I have your attention, let me elaborate on that statement. I'm currently reading through a Bible Reading Plan called "For the Love of God" and one of my scheduled readings today was in Acts 11. At the end of Acts 11:26 we read, "And in Antioch the disciples were first called Christians." (ESV)

Now I've read that verse numerous times, but have you ever wondered why we don't see the label "Christian" used more often in the New Testament? In our world today, we hear that term used all the time, but we find it used only three times in the New Testament: here in Acts 11:26, in Acts 26:28, and finally in I Peter 4:16. In each of those places it is a term used by unbelievers to label disciples of Jesus. In Antioch, the disciples were labeled as Christians by the unbelievers in that area. In Acts 26:28, King Agrippa (an unbeliever) asked Paul if he was trying to persuade him to become a "Christian." Interestingly, Paul does not use that term in his response, but rather says, "Whether short or long, I would to God that not only you but also all who hear me this day might become such as I am—except for these chains."

Finally, in I Peter 4, Peter refers to believers "suffering as Christians." If you read the context of the passage, you will notice that Peter is dealing with the persecution that believers receive at the hands of the world for following Christ. Thus, Peter uses the term the world uses for disciples to highlight the persecution that disciples receive from the world. But Peter is not using this term to address the believers himself, only to highlight the world's persecution of Christ followers. Peter, when addressing the believers, refers to them as the 'elect (1:1)' and the 'beloved (2:11).' 

So if Jesus, the apostles, and the New Testament believers didn't use the term 'Christian' when describing themselves or addressing each other, what did they use? And secondly, does it even really matter what we call each other?

If you look through the gospels and Acts, you will discover that the predominant term used for a follower of Jesus was 'disciple.' The word itself means follower of learner. In a quick search of the ESV, you will find 30 times in the book of Acts alone where the term disciple is used, and over 200 more in the gospels. Interestingly, you don't find that term used in the epistles or the Revelation.

So what are the terms that are used in the epistles and the Revelation? You find terms like 'brother,' 'saints,' 'servants,' 'elect,' 'called,' and 'believers.' These are terms of relationship either between us and God or each other. God has called and chosen us. He has set us apart for His glory and made us saints. We are are part of His family and therefore siblings with other believers. We are also His servants and He is our Master. At the most basic level we are those who believe in Jesus and His atoning work on the cross. 

But does any of this really matter? Did I title my blog the way I did simply for sensationalism? As far as eternity goes, it doesn't matter a whole lot. Whether you call me a Christian or a brother, doesn't affect your eternal destiny, but I do think some of the other terms fit better in the mouth of a believer when referring to another believer. 'My brother in Christ,' 'fellow believer,' 'servant in the Lord,' or even 'disciple of Jesus' all have more descriptive elements in them appropriate for a believer.

The term Christian is a more generic term originally used by unbelievers to label members of the Jesus sect. And in this day and age the term 'Christian' has become more generic (if that's possible) than when it was first used. So many identify themselves as 'Christian' today yet are not truly believers or followers of Christ. If unbelievers call me a Christian that's fine, but I choose to identify myself in a more descriptive way such as a disciple of Jesus, believer, or child  of God. The term 'Christian' just seems too generic and loose of a term in describing who we really are. I understand that many use that term and will use that term and I certainly don't get upset by the term, but I think we portray a clearer picture of our relationship with each other and God by the use of other terms.

So my brothers and sisters in Christ, my fellow believers and Christ followers, no matter what term may be used to describe us by the world, may Christ be seen in us and His message proclaimed through us so that He receives the glory!

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Good Gospel Stewards

One of my fears about borrowing an item from someone is that I'm going to break it. I've borrowed tillers, tools and even vehicles, and I worry about breaking something and having to tell the owner what happened. Even if the item is older and might break no matter who uses it, I just don't want to have it happen to me. My father taught me to try and return any item you borrow in better condition than what you received it. For the most part, I've tried to live by that principle, and that's probably why I fear breaking something that I borrow.

In Luke 19:11-27, Jesus told a parable about a noble man who gave ten of his servants one mina each and ordered them to use this money he loaned them to earn more money. Essentially, they were to return the item back to the owner in better condition than what they received it. When you read the parable, you discover that Jesus is challenging His disciples to be good stewards of the gospel and invest the gospel in the lives of others to grow God's kingdom. 

The gospel is the most valuable treasure we've been entrusted with as believers and Christ doesn't want us to bury it, but invest it in the lives of others and watch it grow. The servant that buried the treasure was rebuked, but those who invested and grew their mina on loan from the master were commended. 

So how are we doing in our investment of the gospel in the lives of others? Have we invested the gospel in others and seen it grow?

If that's your desire, but you don't know how to do that, let me suggest four general yet practical steps for you to take in your desire to follow Christ as a disciple maker.

1. Pray. Start praying about the person God would have you invest in. Look for a person whose heart is open and ready to receive the gospel. Look for a person who is faithful, available, and teachable to train in the ways of Christ. Don't pray with your eyes closed, but open and looking for that person God wants you to invest in.

2. Prepare. None of us walking the face of this planet have become perfect like Christ. We are all works in progress. As you pray and look for whom God wants you to invest in, be growing yourself as a disciple. Ask someone you respect to help you grow in a particular area of your life. Find a good book that helps deepen your walk with Christ. Go through a DVD series on a topic for growth. Know the gospel backwards and forwards and practice sharing it. Share it with a strong mature believer and ask for their input. Be preparing yourself now.

3. Practice. Don't wait until you think you're fully prepared, because then you'll never step out and disciple anyone. Start practicing now. Share what you're learning in your quiet time with other friends and family. Teach what you have learned in your walk with Christ to others who want to learn. Share your testimony with your spouse or a friend. You can start discipling someone in some area today. Don't wait until you think you've finally arrived spiritually because that won't happen until Christ returns.

4. Persevere. You'll have frustrations and disappointments, but don't let that discourage you or cause you to quit. Even Jesus had a disciple who betrayed Him and one who denied Him. That will happen, but be faithful and persevere. God is faithful!

If you commit yourself to investing the gospel in the lives of others, then at the end of time when Christ asks what you did with His gospel you'll be able to show Him the changed lives and give back the gospel with a return as it were. Then you'll hear the Lord's blessed words, "Well done, good and faithful servant!"

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Normative Christian Living

"For if I preach the gospel, that gives me no ground for boasting. For necessity is laid upon me. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!" I Corinthians 9:16

The apostle Paul penned those words almost 2000 years ago in the infancy of the church amidst great persecution and opposition to the gospel. Preaching the gospel was not an easy and acceptable practice in his day. Many of the Jews and Jewish leaders opposed this teaching about Christ and actively sought to destroy it. Some of the Greeks just thought it was foolishness and many of the Roman leaders began seeing it as a threat. Yet, Paul continued to share the message of Jesus Christ the Son of God who became a man, died for the sins of humanity and rose on the third day. And despite the opposition and persecution he endured, he never saw this as doing something "above and beyond" his calling that deserved special recognition. Preaching the gospel wasn't perceived as something that he should boast about, but rather normative for him. If he didn't preach the gospel there was something wrong. We might relate this to a school teacher who doesn't teach, or a cook who doesn't cook. Paul was compelled as one sent by Christ to proclaim Christ. It didn't make sense for him to do otherwise.

Some believers might think, "But that was Paul. He was an apostle." I Corinthians 9 does deal with Paul's rights as an apostle. It would be tempting to exempt ourselves from such an evangelistic compulsion by noting that we are not apostles like Paul. Certainly there are people today specifically sent out and commissioned by a particular church with the express purpose of sharing the gospel (missionaries, traveling evangelists, etc.), but the majority of Christians wouldn't fall into that category. But before we excuse ourselves from this evangelistic compulsion, remember that every Christian has been commissioned by Christ (Matthew 28:18-20). He told us to "Go and make disciples..." That involves sharing the gospel.

Doesn't it make sense for someone who says they are following the great Disciplemaker to have making disciples a normative part of their life? Let's go back to the teaching illustration I mentioned earlier. We have a wonderful university in our town with a strong education program that turns out a number of solid teachers every year. Before those teachers can graduate they have to student teach under the supervision of an experienced teacher. They would have observed the teacher teach, but then those students must actively teach. It wouldn't make sense for a student teacher to never teach. It's expected that they teach having observed their mentor.

When Jesus left this world he left a group of disciples. He spent His earthly time investing in this group of men who would follow His example and make disciples themselves. And then those disciples made disciples. Those 11 remaining men after His ascension couldn't help but preach the gospel. Necessity was laid upon them as it was Paul. Thus Peter shares the gospel at Pentecost and to Cornelius, and Phillip with an Ethiopian Eunuch. They couldn't help but share the good news of Jesus. Somewhere down the line of disciple making this got lost and normative life for a follower of Jesus simply became believing some basic doctrinal truths and going to church semi-regularly.

I must confess that Paul's words don't fit me as they should. When I share the gospel, I can think that gives me something to boast about. I don't think of it as normative Christian living, but something "above and beyond" and can have this "look at me, Jesus" attitude. I want to get back to the understanding of Paul and those early followers of Jesus where sharing the gospel and making disciples was just a normative part of the Christian life. Something I'm compelled to do as a follower of the Great Disciplemaker. A teacher teaches. A cook cooks. And a follower of the Great Disciplemaker shares the Gospel and makes disciples. It should be the normative nature of a disciple of Jesus. Where do you think you're at in this area? Is sharing the gospel and making disciples a normative part of your Christian life?

"LORD, thank You for Your patience and grace in my life. Forgive me for seeing sharing the gospel as "above and beyond" the call of a disciple. Continue to work Christ's image in me by Your Holy Spirit and help me share Your gospel as a normal part of my everyday walk. Glorify Your name in my life! In Jesus Christ's precious name, Amen."