Monthly Archives: August 2013

Gathered to Celebrate, asking questions.

Was honored to lead a wedding/worship celebration yesterday afternoon and attend the reception afterward.

This morning I’m thinking idealistically about church in that context.

We gathered in our finest attire, in my opinion, to honor and show respect for the couple and God. Because this was a real service of worship of God. And there was a real sense of joyous anticipation by the wedding party as I went to them and prayed with each group beforehand. Among the gathered family and friends there was a hopefulness and anticipation as they awaited the start. Then the procession began. As I reflect on this, it seems so appropriate for there to be a procession to signal the start of the worship. All gathered in our best to worship the King of Kings as He unites the couple in holy matrimony.

The image of the bride dressed in white being escorted by her loving father to her groom was not lost to me as I took it in standing next to the groom, a dear friend. Someday we will see that image lived out as we the Church, in our robes of righteousness, the Bride of Christ, meet the risen Jesus. But, I digress.

As we sang songs of worship, we sang songs of praise, the service was rich with Scripture and testimony and blessing. People brought gifts to help with the new family’s needs as they begin their life in their new home. There were smiles and hugs all around. There was the proclaiming of the Gospel.

I have only one message in my wedding sermon/homily/challenge: seek God as individuals and as a couple EVERY DAY. You can’t do it alone, God can, so connect together in him. Oh, it gets fine tuned for the couple but that’s pretty much it.

Afterward, we went to the home of the bride where a banquet had been laid and tables set up so that friends could gather and talk, catch up, encourage and bless one another. Then there was dancing and toasts and shouts of joy and fun.

So this morning as I reflect on this, as I think of weekly gatherings for church by members of and observers of the Church, I wonder: why isn’t the weekly gathering we attend a little more like what some of us experienced yesterday.

I reflect on these words of Jesus:

“Go and tell your friends”

“Go and make disciples”

Our gatherings should have such joy, many do not, why?

Why can’t our weekly gathering include this kind of community and fellowship?

Oh, I’m aware that we cannot sustain that level of activity every week. Especially if you attend a church that is as big as a civic center (and as impersonal where the preacher-teacher doesn’t know your name, let alone anything about you). But somehow a disciple making model of church which includes the sheer joy I experienced yesterday must be possible.

What would that look like? Wouldn’t that deepen the Church? Wouldn’t more people know God more deeply? Wouldn’t they be better equipped to “hold fast to God”?

Written and posted riding in a car, please forgive the grammar, spelling and lack of clarity, I just HAD to get this out of my system.

To God be the glory as He builds his church.

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death surprises us

I was driving up north 29 yesterday morning in a heavier traffic than I expected. With that in mind, I paid attention to the traffic report which talked about both directions of a highway in a nearby city being closed due to an accident. On an update about an hour later, I learned that there had been a fatality. “Sad.” I thought, and continued on my trip.

I had no idea.

This morning I received an email from a former colleague. I learned that there had been not one, but two fatalities. One man about my age, and a young man, 23 years of age, his name was Michael.

I was privileged to have known Michael at Covenant. He graduated in my next to last year of serving there.

Over on my Facebook newsfeed, I see that there has been a lot of comment about Michael’s death. A lot of sadness is being expressed at the loss of this young man.

Death is a part of life, but when it comes to the young, death surprises us. We have difficulty making sense of it.

There have been a lot of very nice things said about Michael. Nice things are always said about those who have been lost to death, especially the young. But in his case, he really deserves all that is being said… and more.

I meet with a couple of guys for wings on the occasional Tuesday nights. These guys went to school with Michael. We spoke about him, and what a great person he was. I said he was without a doubt one of the nicest people I’d taught. I’ve thought about him from time to time today, and upon reflection, I can say this, Michael was was among the kindest, most thoughtful, most respectful and genuine people I have ever met… in my life.

There are a lot of nice people I have met and worked with, but Michael was in a class above. He never drew attention to himself, he was a servant, an encourager. He was mature beyond his years. And even though I’ve used the word already, yes, he was genuine.

I remember one time when I was having a less than good day, Michael took the time to ask if I was doing okay. That didn’t happen a great deal. But for him, it seems that it came naturally. To see someone who needed a kind word and then give it.

I have learned today that he has recently married. For his dear parents, and his sister, and for his bride, I pray. I pray that God would, as Paul described, grant them the peace that passes all understanding. May the Holy Spirit bring comfort. Jesus, in one translation, calls Him the comforter. Bring comfort to this family, O God, I pray.

In a few weeks, I will be a grandfather. As I write, I consider that I would quite proud for my grandson to be the kind of young man that I observed in Michael.

Kind. Truly thoughtful. Indeed, he demonstrated Godliness. Yes, I think I saw Jesus walking in those shoes of his.

I can hear him now, “Hey Reverend, How you doin today?”

Right now Michael, I’m sad. You will be sorely missed by those who knew you Michael. Sorely missed indeed. But, I have hope in Jesus and hope that we will be worshiping him together by and by.

O God, bring comfort to Michael’s family, I pray.

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Chan: How Not To Make Disciples – funny

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scoffing prayer?

Consider this:

“And the people stood by, watching, but the rulers scoffed at him, saying, ‘He saved others; let him save himself, if he is the Christ of God, his Chosen One!'”
(Luke 23:35 ESV)

Do we sometimes pray like these rulers?

What I’m thinking about it this… do we sometimes pray without belief? With no faith? No trust?

Like this: “You won’t do this, God; but I’ll ask just to see.”

What these rulers didn’t know, didn’t believe, is that he WOULD save others. He WOULD rise from the dead (thus saving himself).

God is at work on our behalf and he hears and answers our prayers. In this case, suggesting that this ‘snarling’ of the leaders, as they watched Jesus on the cross, was a kind of prayer (the way some of us pray… just for discussion sake), it WAS answered.

He did save others, by dying and rising. So, if this HAD been a prayer, a faithless prayer, it was not answered according to their terms, it was answered according to God’s will – in His way, In His time.

See, I think that a prayer, in belief,  in faith, may be specific (like for $X by Y date for a certain need). But we must trust God enough to know that His answer will be good. And that no matter what His answer is (like $Z – – which is way below X), we truly rejoice in it (Hab. 3:17-18)!

Why?

Because we really trust that God is good.

Someone asked me why I don’t worry about money the way I once did? I replied that after what I’ve read in the Bible and what I’ve experienced in my life (READ BIG SUMMER STORY), I’d be a fool to not trust.

I pray in faith that God has our situation under control.

How? How have you moved from fear to faith?

Through what Willard called ‘the training of the heart and mind’ through dwelling with God in Scripture and prayer. Dwelling with Him in deepening relationship empowers me to trust Him to produce the right fruit, in and through me.

So, are we training our hearts and minds?

How many of our prayers are unbelieving prayers?

“God, please help us get deep enough with you that our prayers are in your will before they arrive in our mind.”

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From a place of prayer

image

Budapest, taken from a hilltop in the 3rd district.

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starting a fire

This morning I was sent a link to this excellent article. If you are a follower of Jesus, I mean all of you, not just the “professional” Christians, I hope you will persevere to the end of this excellent post by Tim Challies… (read the original post HERE)

I often regret making broad statements, but I think most Christians in North America and the rest of the developed world will probably agree with a statement like this one: There is too much complacency in our lives and in our churches. I recently received a question from a group of pastors who had been discussing this topic: “How do you deal with complacency in your own life and in the life of your church?” They had various answers for the first part of the question, but found themselves stuck on the second half. I thought I might take a shot at it.

But first, we do not want to be Christians who are un-complacent. The Christian life is not avoiding negative qualities as much as it is pursuing positive qualities. Therefore, we want to be Christians who are zealous, for zeal is the opposite of complacency. “Zeal” is a word that was once an important part of the Christian vocabulary, but has since diminished.

Sometimes the best approach to a question like this is to find people in history who have modeled what we are missing and to see what they had that we lack. To find zeal as an emphasis and to find zeal on display, we can travel back a few hundred years to the Puritans. Joel Beeke and Mark Jones dedicate a whole chapter of A Puritan Theology to the Puritan emphasis on zeal. I want to trace just a little bit of what they learned.

None of us is without zeal—we are all zealous about something. We are zealous for this sports team or that one, we are zealous for this brand of cell phone or that one. “Zeal runs in our veins for what we love and against what we hate.” What we want as Christians is zeal that is properly motivated and properly directed—a truly godly zeal. John Reynolds defined Christian zeal as “an earnest desire and concern for all things pertaining to the glory of God and the kingdom of the Lord Jesus among men.” If we assume this desire and concern is not merely feelings but action, it describes the very opposite of complacency. Zeal is like a flame that brings a pot to a boil—it causes our affections for God to come to a boil so that we pursue what delights him and fight against what dishonors him. Zeal is spiritual heat, spiritual energy that flows out through the godly characteristics of love, joy, hope, peace, and so on. It is not a grace on its own as much as it is a quality that affects every part of the Christian life, making us zealous in the way we love, zealous in the way we express hope, zealous in every area and every characteristic and every fruit of the Spirit.

The Puritans identified four means through which God stirs up the Christian’s zeal. These means are equally applicable to individuals and churches. What may surprise you is how unsurprising they are. There is no great trick to zeal; rather, it is simply taking advantage of God’s ordinary means.

Prayer. “As a grace of God, zeal cannot be earned or bargained for, but must be given; as a grace of God, it must be asked for by prayer humbly offered in the name of Christ.” The basic reason we are not more zealous is that we have not asked the Lord for a greater measure of zeal, perhaps because we do not believe that he can or will give it to us.

The Word. As God works through prayer to stir up our zeal, so he works through his Word, the Bible. This must be the Word read individually in personal worship, it must be the Word preached in the church. “The Word feeds our passion and love for God which He graciously placed in our hearts. If we would have our zeal aroused, we must not neglect to fuel it.” Reading the Bible and hearing it preached is not enough, though. The Word must also pondered and meditated upon.

Church Attendance. A third means to zeal is faithfully attending and participating in public worship and fellowship. Hebrews 10 makes it clear that meeting together is a means through we provoke one another to love and good works. Fenner illustrates: “The coals that lie together in the hearth, you see how they glow and are fired, while the little coals that are fallen off, and lie by, separate from their company, are black without fire. If ever thou desirest to be zealous, make much of the fellowship of the saints.” The coals that glow hottest are the coals that lie close together.

Repentance and Resistance Against Sin. The final means the Puritans drew out is repenting for sin committed and growing in the desire and ability to resist future sin. A heart that has grown hard in sin is a heart that has grown cold toward the Lord. As sin increases, zeal necessarily diminishes.

What the Puritans saw is that God stirs up our zeal through his ordinary means of grace. Zeal is not a quality available only to those who have identified a secret means of grace or who have been given zeal as a spiritual gift. Zeal is available to all who will simply take advantage of the means God gives us.

We may not always approve of the means God determines; sometimes we can be like Naaman who refused to take advantage of the very ordinary means of his deliverance and who refused to believe the connection between the means and the end (see 2 Kings 5). But Thomas Manton warns, “Though the means seem to have no connection with the end [or goal], yet, if God hath enjoined them for that end, we must use them. As in the instance of Naaman; God was resolved to cure him, but Naaman must take his [God’s] prescribed way, though against his own fancy and conceit.”

It seems to me that zeal, like so much else in the Christian life, has a contagious quality to it. The pastor who wants his church to be zealous, must be zealous himself. He must throw off complacency and seek zeal through the means of grace the Lord has given him. And then perhaps instead of trying to instill similar zeal in everyone else, he should target a few people, invest in them, model it to them, and allow them to catch the fire. When we light a fire we light a small part and allow the heat to spread. Perhaps that is an apt metaphor for the local church as well. Do not underestimate the value of a few zealous Christians. Do not underestimate their power to stir up a great fire.

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