Thursday, September 25, 2014

I would have, if only

I would have cried the day we met
Held your hand as you kissed my face
Embraced the taste of love displayed
if only

I would have spoken words so sweet
To expectant hearts and attentive ears
With tears and cheers from those endeared
if only

I would have learned through labored trials
Enlightened by your wisdom shared
Declared prepared to face “out there”
if only

I would have soared to heights unknown
Changed the world and left my mark
Sparked to start a legacy embarked
if only

I would have held your eldered hand
When life’s end had come to pass
Expressed a lifelong love amassed
if only

I’m sorry I was inconvenient
I didn’t ask for life, but I wanted to keep it
I would have loved you until the day I died
if only you would have let me

In response to "A Moral Universe Torn Apart"

Friday, September 19, 2014

Unlikely beauty

This was a rough week. I caught a stomach bug from my son, and I spent Monday evening revisiting the buffalo wings I had eaten for lunch that day.

At one point, while I was lying on the bathroom floor, I looked over and saw this impossibly small spider crawling on the tile. It was 2, maybe 3 millimeters in length, including its legs. I just marveled at the intricacy that God had created in this tiny creature. Even my simple breathing affected its movement, it was so light and frail. While I was staring at it, it climbed over one of my wife's hairs lying on the floor like you or I would climb over a 3 foot diameter log on the ground. So tiny! I remember wondering about its miniscule brain and muscular system. In my mind I praised God for being able to create such a microscopic arachnid. It was such an unlikely thing to consider so beautiful, and such an unlikely time and place to find it.

And then I got up off the floor and continued puking my guts out. Good times.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Disciples will obey

This post is part of a series on what disciples of Jesus will look like.

2 This is how we know that we love God’s children when we love God and obey His commands. 3 For this is what love for God is: to keep His commands.  1 John 5:2-3a

I have been reading through 1 John recently, and I have been truly surprised at how pervasive this message is in John's letter:

If you know God, you will obey God.
If you don't obey God, then you don't know God.

Take at look at these verses:

But if we walk in the light as He Himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin. 1 John 1:7

3 This is how we are sure that we have come to know Him: by keeping His commands. 4 The one who says, “I have come to know Him,” yet doesn't keep His commands, is a liar, and the truth is not in him. 5 But whoever keeps His word, truly in him the love of God is perfected. This is how we know we are in Him: 6 The one who says he remains in Him should walk just as He walked. 1 John 2:3-6

The one who keeps His commands remains in Him, and He in him. And the way we know that He remains in us is from the Spirit He has given us. 1 John 3:24

There are similar statements in 1 John 2:17, 2:24, 3:6, 3:17, and 5:18.

For some, the idea that obedience is so closely connected to our salvation can be uncomfortable. Salvation by grace through faith alone is a treasured, and biblical, doctrine. However, so many people memorize Ephesians 2:8-9 and completely ignore Ephesians 2:10. No, we are not saved by good works, but we are saved in order to do good works. Even more, one of the primary reasons why John wrote this letter is so that his readers could know they were in fact saved (1 John 5:13), and over and over again, he says that the evidence that you know God is that you obey Him. James goes so far as to say that we are "justified by works and not by faith alone" and that "faith without works is dead" (James 2:24,26). This is the culmination of an argument against those who "say" that they have faith but have no evidence of that in what they do (James 2:14). True, saving faith will demonstrate itself through obedience and good works.

For others, the very idea that we have to "obey" God is itself uncomfortable, perhaps even offensive. As an adult, I love my parents, but I don't "obey" them. That's no longer the nature of our relationship. However, I will always be a child needing to obey my Father in heaven. Moreover, when you confess Jesus as your Lord, your kurios in Greek, that means that you are His slave, His doulos in Greek. There is a lot of controversy around translating doulos as "slave". Most translations do not do that; they use the word "servant", or "bond-servant". It's one of the primary reasons why I use the HCSB; they translate doulos as slave. One of the reasons why others do not has to do with the historical baggage associated with the word in the minds of the modern reader. But Gerhard Kittel's Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, which is one of the most respected works on the meaning of each word in the Greek New Testament, says this of doulos:

“There is no need to trace the history of this word, there is no need to discuss the meaning of this word, it has never meant anything in any usage but slave.”

As slaves of our Lord and Master, we are not free to just do whatever we want. We are subject to a will other than our own, that of our Lord Jesus. His commands are not burdensome, but they are not optional either. If you want to read more on this topic of the relationship between kurios and doulos, I recommend John MacArthur's book, Slave: The Hidden Truth About Your Identity in Christ.

As I wrote in a recent article on the teen ministry site, God takes obedience seriously. There is no foundation in Scripture for thinking you can have a belief in God that does not change who you are and what you do and then expecting that belief to save you. Romans 10:9 is absolutely true. All you have to do is confess Jesus as your Lord and believe that God raised Him from the dead, and you will be saved. But in that confession, you permanently and irrevocably pledge that your will, your life, your hopes and your dreams are no longer your own but are now subject to the will of your Lord and Master Jesus Christ. We do not work and obey in order to obtain our salvation, but true disciples do work and obey as a result of our salvation.

Disciples will obey, and those who claim to follow Christ and yet make a practice of regularly disobeying Him are deceiving themselves.

You are My friends if you do what I command you. John 15:14

Monday, September 8, 2014

Disciples will serve

This post is part of a series on what disciples of Jesus will look like.  

For you were called to be free, brothers; only don’t use this freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but serve one another through love. For the entire law is fulfilled in one statement: Love your neighbor as yourself. Galatians 5:13-14

In one sense, I have already covered this topic with Disciples will give. Giving encompasses time and talents as well as monetary wealth. But for many people, the personal nature of service is a hurdle even higher than that of giving money. Consider the following statements that I have heard about serving in the last few months:
  • "Can't we set a time limit on it, like three months or something? That way people don't feel like we're asking them to serve forever."
  • "So much focus on serving makes me feel like I'm just a warm body to fill a position."
  • "I feel like 10% of the people do 75% of the work in the church."
  • "We had eight people sign up, but when the first meeting came, only one person showed up."
  • "Just try something a couple of times, like a test drive. If you don't like it, you don't have to do it."
  • "Those people that are complaining the most about us not having that program anymore, they are usually the first ones to make up excuses when it's their turn to serve everyone else."
Why is serving so hard for so many Christians to embrace? Why are there some who "always make up excuses" when it is there turn to serve in a common program, while others think asking people to serve an hour a week for more than a few months is a completely unreasonable request? The end result in so many churches is that relatively few people end up doing most of the work and may have to fight back feelings of bitterness along the way. Obviously, everyone's situation is different, but I feel there are a few common factors in the American church that contribute to this mentality.

Sinful and unbiblical attitudes. Let's just get this one out the way up front. People are sinful, selfish creatures by nature, and in our flesh, we naturally default to whatever is best for us. We are busy all week, family comes first, and besides, we tithe every month. Why do they need our time as well?

We either forget or simply do not understand that of all the things that belong to God (Deuteronomy 10:14), perhaps the most valuable is our very lives. It is what Jesus shed His blood to purchase. (1 Corinthians 6:19-20); we are literally owned by God. (1 Peter 2:9). Too many in the Western church dwell so much on God as our Father that they neglect entirely that Jesus is also our Lord and Master (Jude 1:4). We were set free from sin in order to become slaves of righteousness. (Romans 6:18). When our Lord and Master tells us to do something, we are to obey, and as Galatians 5:13-14 says, we are commanded to serve one another.

"Professional" Christians vs. "Lay" Christians. One of the most significant downsides of the tradition of paid church staff is that it fosters the idea that they are the only ones who really need to serve because "that's what they are paid to do." Many have this idea that the rest of us are only "part-time" servants in the kingdom, and as such they leave the heavy lifting of kingdom work to the "full-time professionals." In contrast, however, Ephesians 2:10 says that we were each created in Christ Jesus to do good works, and God prepared those works even before we were saved so we could "walk in them". 1 Corinthians 12:7 says every single believer has been given a spiritual gift, a "manifestation of the Spirit", for the "common good." Every single one of us has a job to do, and we are all full-time servants in the kingdom of God. That is and always will be our first priority while we here on this earth (Matthew 6:33).

Extremely low expectations. On the other side of the equation, we have many churches who have surrendered so much ground on this topic. They do not teach and preach the harder doctrines of what it truly means to live the life of a disciple. In the area of service, many have set the bar so low on what service really is that it creates a downward spiral of desperate churches having to beg immature believers to do the simplest of tasks. Like shopping for a new shirt at a department store, they tell their members to just try something out a time or two, and if they don't like it, they can take it back for a full refund, no questions asked.

I would imagine very few people in America aspired to be garbage collectors, dish washers, or toilet cleaners when they were eight. Yet these are things that every household has to do, and all members of that household, down to the smallest and most immature, should be doing their part. By the time I was 12, thanks to the wisdom of my parents, I was doing my own laundry, making my own breakfast and lunch, taking out the family's garbage and mowing the family's lawn every week during the summer. I do not remember if I got an allowance for that or not. If I did, it certainly was not significant enough to outweigh the memory of working in my family simply because I was a part of that family. Even at 2 1/2, my wife and I are teaching our son "when you make a mess, you clean it up." Every night before he goes to bed, we make him clean up the toddler tornado of gratuitous chaos that he creates.

Being part of a church family is just like being part of a regular family in this regard. In the last couple of days, I swept up potting soil off a classroom floor after a Sunday school craft, helped to move ridiculously heavy tables back into many classrooms, and plunged a stopped up toilet full of someone else's poop. I did not do this because it was my "ministry" or my "calling"; it needed to be done and I was there and able to do it. If you are part of a church family, and every believer should be (Hebrews 10:25), support your family by doing your part of the "grunt" work that virtually no one enjoys doing. And churches, if you are paying "professionals" to vacuum your buildings' floors, wash its windows, clean its toilets or mow its grass, you are only perpetuating the problem. Train your members in the importance of serving by communicating the expectation that everyone will share in the common "chores", and then stand firm and follow through.

However, beyond these "menial" tasks, there is another level of service to which disciples are called. As I mentioned before, every believer has been given a spiritual gift, and these gifts are given for "the common good" (1 Corinthians 12:7) and to "build up the body of Christ" (Ephesians 4:12). Like any given part of a physical body, we each have a vital role to play that God has equipped us specifically to fulfill. God has you in your church for a reason, and if you are not using your gift to serve your church, then that church is not as healthy as it could be. Service that is your calling or ministry happens when you use your gift to meet a genuine need. God has specific good works He intends for each of us to do. If you don't know what your spiritual gifts are, talk to your church leaders and ask them to help you figure that out. Once you know, find a way to use that gift that will build up the body of Christ, encouraging your brothers and sisters on to greater Christ-likeness.

Disciples will serve, both out of love and obedience to God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ and out of love for their brothers and sisters in Christ.

Do not lack diligence; be fervent in spirit; serve the Lord.
Romans 12:11