Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Job and Jesus: Have You Considered the Book of Job?

As you may know, the book of Job begins with terrible calamities befalling Job: the loss of ten children, destruction of his property, and then he is struck with a terrible disease. And it all begins with a discussion between Satan and God.

One thing that stood out to me in our discussion last week was the fact that it is God who brings up Job's name first. In speaking to Satan in chapter 1, He asks, "Have you considered my servant Job?"

God is, so to speak, boasting in His servant Job. He calls him an upright man. Oh, wouldn't we want God to cherish such thoughts of us?

Then again... maybe not. After all, it is the fact that God prizes Job so much that he is put to such an extreme test. It reminds me of Jesus' words--"The last will be first and the first last." Those God prizes might very well be those in our midst whose faith is being refined in the fire. Yet we might have it all backwards, thinking that God most prizes those who are influential and successful and healthy.

One final thought: Jesus was God's only begotten, and beloved, Son. And yet He suffered more than any other man ever suffered--under the weight of our sin.

[Note: I also posted this on my church's blog since we're going through the book of Job. But I'd like to post several reflections here regarding this amazing part of Scripture also.]

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Call to Worship

My pastor friend Jeff (not Moose Jeff) recently was explaining to me his view of the "Call to Worship" in our church service. Perhaps your church has a call to worship--or, perhaps, a more informal reading of Scripture near the beginning of the service.

The idea behind the traditional "Call to Worship" is that we be reminded that God Himself calls us to worship; we are responding to Him. He initiates, we respond.

So I was thinking this morning, as I was not feeling all that devotional during my devotional time, that perhaps I could a daily call to worship. Something to rouse me from my spiritual malaise that sometimes settles over me. Perhaps a friend could call me at about 6am each morning and loudly proclaim one of the following passages...or maybe I could just read them myself and remember that it's the voice of God in Scripture telling me to...

"Rejoice in the Lord always, again I say, rejoice!" (Philippians 4:4)

"Let everything that has breath praise the Lord!" (Psalm 150:6)

"Remember, repent, and do the first works again." (Revelation 2:5)

Just a thought. Okay, time to worship and pray.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Why I'm Not Worked Up About Health Care

Okay, I might be going out on a limb here. I believe in, and vote for, limited government. I believe the health care legislation is very significant... Yet why am I not all worked up about it?

I was reflecting on this and came up with these reasons.

1. There is very little I can do about it. I spent the late 90’s being worked up about political matters that I could do nothing about. I feel I’ve paid my dues in that area. Now, I’d rather be worked up about things that I can do something about.

2. I think it’s symptomatic. It’s not like this legislation dropped out of the sky into an otherwise peaceful, harmonious country. It’s the result of political, bureaucratic, and social tugs-of-war that have been going on for quite some time and will continue for the foreseeable future.

3. The Lord is exalted far above all gods (Psalm 97:9), and that includes politicians. We have turned politics into an idol, thinking that we can be saved through a political party or movement—and it has been disproven every election cycle.

4. The Lord is at work! I’m really excited about the grace God is granting in many corners of the country through bold preaching, movements of fasting and prayer, and sacrificial living. I’m not sure very much of this has been covered by either Fox News or CNN.

5. Maybe there’s some good stuff in the bill. Look, I wasn’t “for” the bill—especially since it was prosecuted in such a non-democratic manner. But it’s not like the alternative to the bill (status quo) is very good. Unfortunately, we are all screwed up—insurance companies, drug companies, political parties, it’s all a mess.

6. I really believe that Jesus was not a Republican or a Democrat. He always had a “third way” answer to each quandary posed to him, and I think he would surprise us if he were here today. What do you think his answer would be to the question, “What do you think about this health care legislation?”

7. There seem to be very few godly, humble, sacrificial leaders in our nation. And this is what we need! I can get really excited about Christian business people, doctors (I know a few), lawyers (I know a bunch), and politicians living out their calling. To a small degree, I can even “do” something about this—as a pastor, I have a role in the education of some of these. That’s humbling, yet exciting. So I see that there are some Christians who should get worked up and take godly action, but it seems I have other things to get worked up about.

Please don’t misunderstand me. I am not saying this issue is not worthy of reflection, for as Christians we should cultivate wisdom even concerning matters beyond our everyday reach. And, I understand that I'll be directly affected by this legislation since we heavily utilize the health care system (since we have a child with special needs). I'm just saying that I'm not eating and breathing this issue-- my passions are not parallel with the news cycle.

I want to see our country move in a godly direction, led by Christians in every vocation (including law, medicine, politics). But for most Christians, it seems that our primary calling is as humble disciple-makers and sacrificial servants within our families, churches, and communities. And that primary calling should be our primary care.

Am I missing something?

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Test Your Tabernacle Knowledge!

I've been studying the instructions for the construction of the Tabernacle lately. And it's been awesome! Too often it's easy to get bogged down in passages such as these (Ex. 25-31). We tend to consider them "boring," "irrelevant" or "too old-testamenty." Well let me tell you, there is nothing boring about this stuff. Consider the following. Did you know these things?

1. Exodus 25-31 is a speech from God. The phrase "And the Lord said to Moses" is repeated seven times. The seventh time is a reiteration of the sabbath commandment. Hmm, interesting. Seven separate speech acts by God for the creation of a thing. What previous biblical event does this remind us of?

2. The Spirit of God is only mentioned a couple of times in the Pentateuch (gen-deut). Two of the most notable are in Genesis 1:2 and Exodus 31:3 when the Spirit of God is given to Bezalel to empower him for making the tabernacle. Is this a significant connection?

3. When God had finished his creation of the world, he looked at it, saw that it was good, and blessed it. In Ex. 39, when the tabernacle is finished, Moses looks at it, sees that it is according the the Lord's instructions, and blesses the people.

4. The entrance to the garden of Eden was on the east side. The tabernacle was always to be set up facing east. Coincidence?

These features of the "boring" tabernacle story, tell us what the tabernacle is, a sort of "new creation." Because of man's sin, and his banishment from the garden of Eden, he no longer has access to the presence of God. But now God, who has just redeemed his people from slavery, is taking it upon himself to give the instructions for a "new creation," a place in the midst of the people where God will dwell. The tabernacle is a sort of "portable paradise" which will move with the people throughout their travels in the dessert.

Of course, when God moves into the tabernacle in Ex. 40, the glory of the Lord is overwhelming, such that Moses can not bear to be in his presence. A dilemma. So it's no surprise that Leviticus opens with seven chapters detailing the sacrificial system that will make it possible for a sinful people to dwell with God.

Bonus: If Ex. 25-31 present the instructions for the tabernacle as a "new creation" echoing Genesis 1-2, what does this tell us about golden calf incident in Ex. 32-34?

Monday, March 22, 2010

Preaching the Gospel in a Roundabout Way

In Reformed circles we often speak of “preaching the gospel to ourselves.” This means that we revisit and apply the gospel to our lives daily (or for really big sinners, even more often). Older generations would say that we remember the promises of God.

This has been a helpful concept to me, because over the years I’ve come to increasingly appreciate the power of the gospel—it’s not just for unbelievers anymore! Everyone needs its sustenance, and no one outgrows their need for the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Yet as we learn to apply the gospel to every area of need, we should realize that there is more to the gospel than meets the eye.

For example, there is a past, present, and future dimensions to the gospel.

Past: God’s love displayed in his choosing us for salvation, Jesus’ accomplishment of our salvation through his life, death, and resurrection, and the Holy Spirit’s application of this to our lives. Our story, our “testimony.” God showing up in our lives. Calling these truths to mind is life-giving, energizing, and humbling to boot.

Present: God is with us! Many time in Scripture (Joshua 1, Hebrews 13) we are reminded that God will never leave us or forsake us. God’s presence with us is a huge encouragement and we need to be reminded of this each day too. It also gives us the confidence we need to live out our faith each day, whether in killing sin or speaking grace.

Future: God promises to always be with us, and paints very colorful pictures of eternity for those who are interested. There really is another world that awaits, this life is not all there is, and because of what Jesus has done we will have a bountiful inheritance. We need this hope to get up in the morning, especially when dreams and health fail.

Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection are the center of history and the focus of the gospel. Every blessing flows out of our union with our Lord Jesus Christ. Yet when we “preach the gospel to ourselves” (and to one another) we should look around: There are past, present, and future aspects to the gospel. The gospel surrounds us.

All I'm sayin' is let's preach the gospel and let's use all three tenses.

Friday, March 19, 2010

A Tactical Blunder

If, as a pastor of a little church, my goal had been for our church to maintain the status quo, for us not to be challenged, changed, or churned up, I would have to admit to making a serious tactical error: I decided to preach through Ephesians.

Ephesians has been very challenging for us as a church. In Ephesians Paul says that because of the work of Christ on the cross the church should pursue purity and unity. Let me say that a different way... the church should pursue purity AND unity. Or to rephrase, the church should pursue purity and UNITY. Hmm. As you can see I'm still trying to figure out how to get the stress just right. But the point is that the church should pursue unity! And purity! And they should pursue both together!

Many churches in my tradition are good at pursuing purity. Moral purity, doctrinal purity, even aesthetic purity. You name the purity, we seek it. And we tend to look ever so slightly down our noses at those who have not attained to our level of doctrinal purity. In some circles, unity is even viewed as the first step down the slippery slope towards liberalism (gasp!).

Some churches love to emphasize unity. As we're learning in Ephesians, this is a good, biblical, necessary emphasis. But in the worst cases (not all cases) unity is achieved by lowering the standards of what we are united around, and purity goes out the window.

These impulses almost seem contradictory. Certainly, most of us don't naturally tend towards seeking both at once. And yet, this is what Paul is challenging us as a church to do. To settle for nothing less than a robust, Christ-centered Unity of believers, and a humble, Christ-focused purity of life.

How will we achieve this? It won't come all at once, I don't believe we are going to wake up one morning and find that God has all of a sudden granted perfection to the church (but I won't argue if this does happen!). I believe it is going to have to come from a grass roots movement. Each individual person doing their part, seeking to live "with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love." (Ephesians 4:2)

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Why would someone do this?

"When I survey the wondrous cross,
on which the Prince of Glory died,
My richest gain I count as loss,
and pour contempt on all my pride."

Anytime I have a moment of reflection, and I meditate on the sins in my own life, I realize again that most of my sins springs out of my pride. It is the Ur-sin. It is my desire to be the master of my own ship, the king of my castle. And yet in one sense, the essence of the gospel is humility. The gospel is about humbling ourselves before our Lord, admitting our sin and need of free undeserved salvation.

Pride is a nasty sin. It is deeply entrenched in many of us, and one of the most difficult to dislodge. And yet Isaac Watts, in the hymn quoted above says that he is able to pour contempt on all his pride! What a wonderful thing to be able to do. And so I ask, what would make a man do this?

Sight and contemplation of (and faith in) the cross of Christ is the only thing that is able to move someone to pour contempt on their pride. When I consider the loving-kindness of my heavenly Father, the depth of mercy, the kindness of his love, the long-suffering of his patience, the gift of his son as a sacrifice for sin... this stirs the heart.

Sometimes the simple truths are the most profound. Long-term obedience to the Biblical command for humility (and others too) cannot be sustained through repeating the commandments to myself. Nor will guilt trips change my heart. The fear of impending judgment will not produce lasting effects. Only when my heart is changed, to love God, because of his great love for me shown in the cross, only then will I be able to truly pour contempt on my pride.

We will always do what we love. Always. So long as we love ourselves and our sin most highly, we will nurture them. When we love God most, we will delight to walk with him. We will delight to follow him, to trust and obey him. We will be irked by the sinful remains of pride, and their deleterious effects on our life. And that will be a good thing.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Bad Things, Good People

Why do bad things happen to good people?

Have you ever been asked this question? This is a common question that... Well, I was going to say that this is a common question that skeptics ask, but it's actually a common question that people ask.

I used to think that the best answer to this question--certainly the hardiest, most theologically courageous--was, "There are no good people! Accordingly, the better question is, why do good things happen to bad people?"

This answer draws on the biblically accurate teaching that "all have sinned, and fallen short of the glory of God," "there is none righteous, no, not one," and each person comes into the world stained with sin and is hence a "child of [God's] wrath." It's biblical.


You see, there is a problem--a biblical problem--with answering the question this way. The problem is in the book of Job, at the very beginning, where it says:

"There was a man in the land of a Uz whose name was Job, and that man was blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil."

So this means that even if bad things do not happen to "good" people, bad things do happen to "blameless, upright, God-fearing people who turn away from evil." For as we know, Job suffered calamities that make the hair on the back of your neck stand up.

What are we to make of this?

The book of Job tackles the issue of suffering at a profound level. It addresses the severe, sustained suffering of a man who loved and obeyed God. Job is not presented as perfect, not even at the beginning of the book: he made sacrifices for sin, in accordance with God's Old Testament instruction. But if Job went to our church, I venture to say we might refer to him as "a good guy."

Yes, bad things happen to good people. Truly good men may be 1 in 1,000,000 but they are out there - and bad things happen to them, too.

If your answer to the question "why do bad things happen to good people" is anything like mine, maybe it's time to replace it with something more profound, more compassionate, and more Christian.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Following a Train. (of thought)

In Ephesians 3:19 Paul is praying for the struggling little church at Ephesus, and he rounds out his prayer by praying that the Ephesians may be filled with all the fullness of God. It's an ambitious, and tricky little phrase, that most likely means "be filled with the same thing which fills God." Holiness. Perfection. Paul is praying that they become perfect.

I told you it was ambitious. But no more so than Jesus saying to his disciples, "Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect." (Matt 5:48) Or the many places in scripture where God says "Be holy as I am holy." (Lev. 19:2; 1 Peter 1:16)

But what is even more astounding is the means that Paul mentions for attaining this goal. The way to be filled with the fullness of God is by knowing how much God loves you. It's true. Paul prays that you "may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, in order that you may be filled with all the fullness of God."

The proper end result of knowing the love of Christ is obedience. Christlikeness. Holiness. Can it really be this simple? The mysterious key to growing in my faith is simply to know how much God loves me?

What does this mean for me? It means that in my devotional time, my goal is to impress myself with the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge. As a minister trying to motivate people, my great task is to show the love of God (not to use guilt, fear or shame). It means doing whatever I can to communicate this one simple truth: God loves you.

When I know how much God loves me, it stirs my heart to love God. And when I love God, I delight to walk with him.

And with few exceptions, the way the New Testament shows us the love of God is by pointing to the cross.

Romans 5:8 - "But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us."

John 3:16 - "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son."

1 John 4:10 - "In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins."

If I follow Paul's train of thought correctly, he's saying that knowing the gospel is the one and only key to Christian obedience. This is huge.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Praise That Won't Sit Still

A while back I grew weary of my limited praise vocabulary. I seem to have a rather limitless vocabulary for petition, but not for adoration and thanksgiving. I found I was leaning too heavily on cliché’s as I attempted to offer God the worship He’s due; clearly He’s due more than a few stock phrases.

So I decided to look for words in Scripture that I could use as my own. I did not want to get in trouble for plagiarism, but I figured that if I could really make these words my own it would be okay.

In particular, I was looking for words of praise in the second person so that “I” could praise “You.” Here is one passage I found, wrote down on a 3x5 card, and tried to memorize for the purpose of praise:

“You are the Lord, you alone. You have made heaven, the heaven of heavens, with all their host, the earth and all that is on it, the seas and all that is in them; and you preserve all of them; and the host of heaven worships you.” (Nehemiah 9:6)

Another passage I didn’t plagiarize was from the Psalms. Not surprising, right? It’s the book of prayers and praise, after all… but it led me to realize something quite interesting about biblical praise.

Well, first of all, here’s the passage:

“For a day in your courts is better than a thousand elsewhere.
I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of wickedness.
For the Lord God is a sun and shield; the Lord bestows favor and honor.
No good thing does he withhold from those who walk uprightly.
O Lord of hosts, blessed is the one who trusts in you!” (Psalm 84:10-12)

And here’s what I realized: The praise recorded in the psalms rarely sits still. Did you realize, for example, that in the passage above the psalmist first speaks to God…then to himself…then to everyone else…and then to God again!

To God: “For a day in your courts is better than a thousand elsewhere.”
To himself: “I would rather be a doorkeeper…”
To everyone: “For the Lord God is a sun and shield…”
To God: “O Lord of hosts, blessed is the one who trusts in you!”

This is what I have found repeatedly. The praise recorded in the psalms keeps moving in all different directions. (Take a fresh look at the familiar Psalms 3, 23, or 118 for example.)

So here’s what I gather from all this:

1. Praise is inescapably corporate, and we should be ever mindful of the larger body of believers even as we worship God “privately.” Remember, Jesus taught us to pray to “Our Father.”

2. We need to speak to ourselves even as we speak to God. We need steady, conscious reminders of God’s truth and promises while we worship.

3. The reverse is also true: we need ongoing infusions of worship as we learn God’s truth and promises. If you study too long without prayer and praise, you’re probably not learning as much as you think.

4. This explains why I’m not so good at following prayer patterns like “ACTS” (Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, Supplication). These are good training wheels but eventually we need something more like “ACATASAA.” And for those who believe in lament, “LACATASLAA.”

Those are just initial thoughts. I’d be interested in yours… especially since I realize I’m not alone in this!

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Hebrew Mnemonic #6: Ken is the Door.

One of Ken and my favorite games in seminary was "name that tune." We played it whenever the opportunity arose, often driving somewhere in the car with the radio on, or hanging out eating tostada nachos at TGI Fridays. You got one point for knowing the name of the song, one for knowing the artist, and the most elusive third point was awarded for knowing the year the album was released. Other than that, the scoring was pretty informal.

The games were never close. If the classic rock station was on, Ken would blow me away. If the 90's or top 40 station was on, it was all me. Somehow the games were still fun, even though our musical tastes overlapped only minimally. Ken liked old music, and introduced me to such lesser known bands as The Beatles, The Who, and some song about a kid who played pinball.

Because of this, I considered Ken to be my door to a different generation. This was also helpful in remembering that the Hebrew word dor means 'generation.'

The word dor is important in the OT because God is presented as the God of generations.

Genesis 17:7 - "And I will establish my covenant between me and you and your offspring after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you."

Because the OT is a story that takes places over 1500 years (or so), it makes sense that God was not simply calling individuals to a static faith, rather he was creating a people. He started with one man, Abram, and promised to be his God, and the God of his family through the generations.

This became part of the standard confession of faith in the OT:

Exodus 34:6,7 - “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children's children, to the third and the fourth generation.”

It was also a standard feature in Israel's praise:

Psalm 100:5 - "For the LORD is good; his steadfast love endures forever, and his faithfulness to all generations."

Israel found great comfort in the fact that their God was (is) a God of generations. Not only was he there for them, but he would be there for their children and their grandchildren. He is still here for us today, and we know that he is the God of all eternity. His love endures forever.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Most Encouraging Conversation Contest

Today I sat across the table at Starbucks from Melvin, a staff pastor at a nearby church. The two of us are from different ethnic backgrounds, we are in different stages of life, and we serve different churches with different emphases within different denominations. Different Christian traditions, even. He referenced people and conferences and ministries I’d never heard of, and he’s unfamiliar with those in my circles as well. I don’t think he’s even heard of Tim Keller or Jeff Tell.

And we talked about uniting the churches in our community around prayer, worship, and intercession.

Man, it was great…

Every Tuesday night we open our house up for prayer, and we call this “House of Prayer.” Before and after, we talk—but 7:30-8:30 is for prayer. I guide the prayer time, but do so very lightly—it is my desire that the Holy Spirit will guide our thoughts, hearts, and prayers in the direction He knows we need to go. I refer to this as “the best hour of the week.”

Back to Melvin. While I’m enjoying this hour a week of prayer, his church has established about 20 different prayer meetings. Many of them are in two hour blocks, combining worship and prayer. And his desire is to see numerous congregations unite, forming a “House of Prayer” that will keep worship and intercession ascending 24/7 in our community—patterned after what’s been done in Kansas City.

I wanted to get some guidance for a “Day of Prayer and Fasting” we are attempting later this month, but somehow this discussion of of 24/7 prayer—and the parenthetical discussions of worship, outreach, younger people, our families, the work of God, and racial diversity—left only enough time remaining to pray for one another and for our wives.

What a great conversation. I should have told him about the time that I was driving up north when a large sign reading “HOUSE OF PRAYER” grabbed my attention. Then I saw a stop sign protruding from the snow, and wondered what it was doing in the middle of—wait a minute, there’s an intersection here!! I slammed on my brakes, slid on the ice into the intersection, and was spared by God from a serious accident.

That’s the most encouraging conversation I’ve had since…well, since last Tuesday night when we conversed with our Creator at “House of Prayer.”

Has anyone had a more encouraging conversation than that lately?

Friday, March 5, 2010

Christians are not Tomatoes.

Two weeks ago I engaged in one of my favorite February rituals: The Annual Planting of the Tomato Seeds. I like to grow the tomatoes in my garden from seeds, its more interesting that way. So recently I filled two disposable aluminum casserole dishes with potting soil and stuck about 50 tomato seeds in them. I stuck them by the sunny window in my office and waited. And waited. And waited. I tried to get some other things done while I was waiting, but its hard. I just like to dream about the future, imagine the fresh pico de gallo, and the tomato basil bruschetta that awaits us this summer.

But during the first seven days nothing happens. At least it looks like nothing is happening. The seeds haven't germinated yet, or stuck their heads above the soil. It makes me anxious. What if none of them grow? I try to help. I talk to them, make sure they are properly watered, and left in a warm location. But what can I do, really? They're tomato seeds; they're so tiny. And I'm just a guy with a pan of dirt and some water.

It reminds me of church. As the pastor of our little church I have grandiose dreams. I like to dream about the day when our little church building will be filled up with people. I dream of revival hitting our town, seeing lost sinners come to Jesus, seeing luke-warm begin to burn with passion, and seeing the committed become even more active in their love for the Lord and mission to our community. I dream of seeing us as a holy church, people loving each other despite their sin, being patient, forgiving each other, reaching out, reaching in, sighing in prayer, worshiping with full hearts, growing in grace, etc. You get the picture. Normal things that every pastor would like to see for his church.

But at the same time I am painfully aware of my inability to bring this about. I'm just a guy. I can provide the dirt and the water (the gospel and the means of grace), but ultimately we wait for the Lord to give the growth. Only God can change a person's heart, can remove a cold heart of stone and give a true heart of flesh. Only God can break a hardened sinner, so that he desires repentance and forgiveness. We are at the Lord's mercy, and we wait for him.

The growth of tomatoes, mysterious though it is to me, is still a natural phenomenon. I can be relatively sure that if I put a tomato seed in some moist soil at the right temperature, that it will grow. It's natural. But the conversion of sinners is a supernatural act. The preaching of the gospel does not work automatically. It works when the Holy Spirit of God accompanies it with his power. We scatter seeds, and wait to see if God gives growth.

Thinking about this drives me to my knees. I regularly set goals that I can't accomplish in my own power. So I pray. Praying for the Lord to break hearts, to let the light of the gospel shine clearly, to seek out and to save those who are lost.

It's humbling to know that you are powerless to accomplish your primary career objectives! But it's good to know that God is able to do far more abundantly that all I ask or think! This really isn't my career objective. This is the Lord's work, He is the one building His kingdom. It's a privilege for me to have a part to play. I am responsible to fulfill my calling, and to leave to God to do his part. And to rest in the knowledge that even if my dreams for our church seem impossible to me, they are small dreams when compared to what the Lord has planned!

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

God's Call or Role Playing?

The idea of “calling” is profound: God Himself, the maker of the universe, made us and calls us to exercise particular gifts and talents to His glory. Someone who loves teaching, and is good at it, should teach. Someone who loves building things, and is good at it (compare yourself to me and you’ll be fine), should build.

Yet what does it mean—honestly now—to do these things to God’s glory?

Consider Romans 12:6-8: Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness.

We often need to often ramp things up a notch: Don’t just contribute, do it generously. Don’t just lead, do it with zeal. Don’t just show mercy, do it cheerfully.

I think that the way we know we are really living out our calling to God’s glory is if we are using our gifts in a way that is not routine, but infused with the joy of the Lord and (dare I say) a sense of mission.

If I’m working a job that seems to match my gifts, but feel little zeal for the task, then I may be performing a function but am I living out a calling? If I’m serving in the church but it’s rather routine and unchallenging, I may have found a niche—but have I found my calling? If I am using my gifts in a way that helps me escape having to share my faith, or take a stand for my faith, how can I say I'm using these gifts to God’s glory?

What I am absolutely not saying is that we should climb the ladder to the highest rung of outward success. For example, I am not saying that the person with musical gifts should give up their gig at the mission or the nursing home so that they can perform on a more suitable (i.e., bigger) stage.

In fact, I am saying the exact opposite: that to use our gifts for God’s glory should lead us on a downward path of more humble, more challenging, more sacrificial service. It’s what leads construction workers to build homes for the needy. It’s what leads some academics, lawyers, and politicians to align with Christian causes that shut them out of the halls of power. It’s what led Paul to Macedonia and Jesus to the cross.

Oops, did I say the cross?

Well—I myself am no example of outstanding sacrifice. But I do pray that I will not confuse having a role with finding a calling. I pray that I will not simply use my gifts mechanistically, but zealously and joyfully. I pray that God will use my gifts to make contact with lost, lonely, and dying people who need the gospel. I pray that I won’t get too comfortable. I pray that I’ll honor Jesus by faithfully living out my calling, not by role playing.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010


Overheard in New Jersey, three or four years ago...

A young twentysomething was home visiting her parents. She said of her roommate, "She claims to be a Christian, but I'm not sure because she's not very content."

I have never heard contentment given such a place of honor, except by the Apostle Paul. This young woman was saying that contentment is such a sign of God's grace, of understanding and believing the gospel, that if you don't have probably have never really met God.

If I ever have a daughter who grows up to be a twentysomething, I hope she says things like that. Hope my son does too.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Olympics Vs. Church

First of all, I should admit that Aubrey and I are total Olympic junkies. We love them. In fact, in July 2008, after four years of not having TV, Aubrey and I finally got cable TV so we could watch the Summer Games. Now this week our evenings are going to feel strangely empty after two straight weeks of watching every Olympic event possible.

I love the competition, I love seeing exotic small market sports get their 15 minutes of fame, and naturally I love watching the wild wipe-outs. But one thing I don't like is the overly emotional drama inserted by the commentators. Granted, the competitions themselves are indeed quite dramatic, and the excitement of representing your country must be quite a thrill. So I let the competitive drama slide. The worst part by far is in the opening and closing ceremonies.

The bookend ceremonies inevitably contain an over-abundance of talking heads opining on the worth, the value, and the significance of the Olympics. They bring people together. They transcend national identities. Or as John Furlong put it, "As the Olympic cauldron is lit, the unique magic of the Olympic Games will be released upon us. Magic so rare that it cannot be controlled by borders. The kind of magic that invades the human heart touching people of all cultures and beliefs. Magic that calls for the best that human beings have to offer."

Bleah. Besides being overly sappy, its also seriously misguided. Such Olympic rhetoric borders on idolatrous. The Games are portrayed as the one final hope of humanity, the one thing that can bring us all together despite our cultural differences. The one thing that above all else displays the wisdom and glory of all mankind.

Unfortunately for the Olympics, the position of "one final hope of humanity" has already been filled, and we are no longer taking applicants.

Moreover, in Ephesians, Paul describes the church in a nearly unbelievable way. His train of thought goes like this: the mystery of the gospel is that through Christ both Jews and Gentiles (the nations) have peace with God and are one body; his calling is to preach to the nations the unsearchable riches of Christ; (here's the important part) SO THAT through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. (Eph. 3:10)

God is at work bringing together all of humanity into one body, not through sport, but through the proclamation of the gospel of Christ. And the church, with its diversity of membership (people from every nation, tongue, tribe, etc.) is a sign to the entire universe, showing of the manifold wisdom of God.

The 'rulers and authorities in the heavenly places' are the evil spiritual beings (fallen angels, demons). And God is showing off the magnitude of his divine wisdom in front of them. How? Through the Church!! (I'm not making this up, read Eph. 3:10)

The Church is far more significant than the Olympics!

The Olympics happen once every four years as a sign of our general desire for international harmony (to say nothing of our complete inability to achieve it). The church gathers every week, as a sign to the entire universe that God has already made peace, man with God, and so man with his neighbor. As people from every nation come together every week in the midst of our differences, sin, prejudice and general disagreeableness, we worship One God, through One Savior, in One Body, holding to One faith and One hope.

This is good news. This is the manifold wisdom of God. This, indeed, is the gospel of the Kingdom of God.