Wednesday, October 26, 2005

The Wisdom of Years

The younger generation too often seems to be eager to learn the hard way. Too many of us act like we are the first to ever wrestle with the issues of life, theology, and ministry. How easy we forget ... or how ignorant of history we really are.

There is a generation who has been there and done that long before it was popular to have "been there, done that," and long before there was a T-shirt for it. But the voice of that generation has fallen on deaf ears. I was reminded of this phenomenon this morning while reading 2 Chronicles 10. Rehoboam sought advice from two generations. He took the advice of the younger because it indulged his personal preferences. In so doing, he split the kingdom. It was in God's providence to be sure, but it was a dumb thing to do.

Someone once said, "The problem with experience is that it is wasted on those who don't need it anymore." Such a conundrum need not exist. The wisdom of elders can and should be passed down to the younger generation. And the younger generation should learn in humility. The quest to reinvent the wheel is a useless quest that wastes time and energy only to learn that the wheel worked just fine to begin with.

In the current evangelical/fundamental landscape, there are many who want to ignore the lessons of history from the past fifty years. My theology professor, Dr. McCune, in his recent book title summed it up succinctly: Promise Unfulfilled. In other words, it didn't work the first time; why try it again? Other men inside the evangelical movement have begun to recognize the failures. We need not fight those battles again. Fundamentalism has its share of problems which should not be minimized. But evangelicalism has the same problems. While some complain about the breadth of fundamentalism (and I am troubled by the breadth of it), we must remember that Joel Osteen and John MacArthur are both "evangelicals." Our breadth is certainly not that wide.

My plea is that we not refight those battles. Let's be dumb enough to learn from those who have gone before.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Jesus! Engrave It On My Heart!

Jesus! Engrave It On My Heart
Samuel Medley (1738-1799)

Jesus! Engrave it on my heart,
That thou the One thing needful art:
I could from all things parted be,
But never, never, Lord, from Thee!

Needful is Thy most precious blood,
To reconcile my soul to God;
Needful is Thy indulgent care;
Needful Thy all prevailing prayer.

Needful Thy presence, dearest Lord!
True peace and comfort to afford;
Needful Thy promise, to impart
Fresh life and vigor to my heart.

Needful art Thou, My Guide! My Stay!
Thro’ all life’s dark and weary way:
Nor less in death Thou’lt needful be,
To bring my spirit home to Thee.

Then needful still, my God! My King!
Thy Name eternally I’ll sing.
Glory and praise be ever Hi,
The One Thing needful, Jesus is!

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Poetry Worthy of Thought

I have never been a huge fan of poetry for various reasons. One is that I have always viewed poetry as somewhat forced, with the structure of sentences often adjusted away from their normal usage to fit the rhyme and meter of the poem. Of course there is "free verse," which seems to me to be prose with spastic return key. Of course, I do generally like the poetry of Ogden Nash, particularly his "Very Like a Whale." I suppose I like it because it gets to the heart of communication. But be that as it may ...

Last night, someone gave to my wife two boxed volumes of poetry, one of John Keats, and the other of John Donne. Flipping through it last night, I came across one of my favorite sonnets from Donne's collection. It is, to my mind, poetry worthy of thought.

Death be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadfull, for, thou art not soe,
For, those, whom thou think'st, thou dost overthrow,
Die not, poore death, nor yet canst thou kill mee;
From rest and sleepe, which but thy pictures bee,
Much pleasure, then from thee, much more must flow,
And soonest our best men with thee doe goe,
Rest of their bones, and soules deliverie.
Thou'art slave to Fate, chance, kings, and desperate men,
And dost with poyson, warre, and sicknesse dwell,
And poppie,' or charmes can make us sleepe as well,
And better then they stroake; why swell'st thou then?
One short sleepe past, wee wake eternally,
And death shall be no more, Death thou shalt die.

As a side note, it is interesting that three of English literature's greatest poets all lived at the same time: Donne, Edmund Spenser, and William Shakespeare.

Monday, October 10, 2005

The Church

Recently, I have been preaching a topical series (extremely rare for me since I prefer preaching through books of the Bible). This series was entitled "Back to the Basics" and was intended to be a introductory series or a refresher course on the basics of Christianity. We have covered the Bible, God, Jesus, and Baptism. Yesterday we talked about the Church, and next week we will close with self, focusing on the necessary response of the human heart that has been confronted with these truths about the basics.

This past week I devoted my thoughts once again to the Church. The longer I am a pastor, the more I am convinced that the Church is the hope for the future. Families are a vital and fundamental part of God's plan for life. It was the first human relationship He created, and it is the means by which we physically "fill the earth" (Genesis 1:28). Schools have their place in the formal education of young people (and older people as well). Jobs and careers "bring home the bacon." But the Church alone brings the hope of the gospel of Jesus Christ, and it is only through the gospel that families, education, jobs, and whatever else we find in our lives can be brought to a place of genuine coherency. Lives without the foundation of Christ and His Church are a mishmash of little boxes, hastily tied together, bursting at the seams as they try to make sense out of our existence. Only when we understand that the Church and her gospel is the supreme earthly organism through which all of life is to be filtered do the many boxes become part of a coherent philosophy of life.

Rabbit trail — I have taken some heat from some for my "radical view" of the church and the high place that I give it. I genuinely believe it is the most important thing in life. I have been accused of asking people to put church over family. I however contend that the most important thing a family can do is Church. What better thing can a dad do for his children than to expose them constantly to the faithful preaching and teaching of Scripture? I have yet to come up with something. I am so radical, I tend to think vacations ought to be arranged around church. But I guess I am wierd that way.

In my almost seven years at Grace, I have rarely preached the same passage more than once. I preached through Hebrews 11 twice, once on Sunday nights and about five years later on Sunday morning. I preached through James and then later taught through James in my Adult Bible Study group. In both of these cases, we have gained enough new people who had not been at the original series, and in the case of Hebrews 11, we were in the midst of a 52 week journey through Hebrews and I felt it strange to skip Hebrews 11. I figured if God took the time to inspire it, I might as well take the time to preach it ... and twice wouldn't hurt. But I digress. In my seven years, the only passage I have returned to multiple times has been Acts 2:41-47. I have done it because it is so central to what the Church is. I find it helpful for me to review periodically exactly what it is we are supposed to be and to be doing. And I figure that if I need to be reminded, the church does as well. So yesterday, I highlighted nine characteristics of the NT church and decided to blog them with little comment. (You can listen to the sermon if you are interested in more.) Here they are.
So then, those who had received his word were baptized; and that day there were added about three thousand souls. 42 They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles' teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. 43 Everyone kept feeling a sense of awe; and many wonders and signs were taking place through the apostles. 44 And all those who had believed were together and had all things in common; 45 and they began selling their property and possessions and were sharing them with all, as anyone might have need. 46 Day by day continuing with one mind in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they were taking their meals together with gladness and sincerity of heart, 47 praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved. (Acts 2:41-47)
I. The Church is people who have received the Word (v. 41).
The church is first and foremost people, not a building, and it is people who have embraced the person and work of Jesus Christ. We call them "saved." You are not part of "the church" because you are here. You are part of "the church" because you are saved.
II. The Church is people who have been baptized (v. 41).
Baptism is a public profession of the fact that have "received the Word." Baptism always follows salvation.
III. The Church is people who always study the Bible (v. 42).
The apostolic teaching has been passed down to us in the Bible. It is what we are to devote our lives to, and it is the center of our existence at Grace.
IV. The Church is people who share their lives constantly (v. 42).
Fellowship is not merely socializing over donuts and coffee. It is a word that meaning sharing, or participation. The fellowship of the church means that we share our lives with each other—our struggles and victories, our hurts and joys, our prayers, our shoulders to cry on, our arms to pick one another up.
V. The Church is people who observe communion regularly (v. 42).
The worship of God through communion is one of the two ordinances of the Church. It is a time of corporate worship and remembrance of the reason we are here—Christ's broken body and shed blood for our forgiveness so that we might be His body.
VI. The Church is people who prayer together often (v. 42).
Prayer is the uniting of the church in desperate dependence on God for his work and power in their lives.
VII. The Church is people who are amazed by what God is doing (v. 43).
When God is at work, the results are amazing. The apostles aren't doing signs and wonders today, but the miracle of God in changing lives is no less awe-inspiring.
VIII. The Church is people who care for and serve each other (vv. 44-46).
Those who have resources are to use them to help those who have needs. If we say we love God, how can we not use what He has given us to help others (1 John 3:17-18).
IX. The Church is people who are being added (v. 47).
God is at work, calling out a people for himself and adding them to the church (Acts 2:39). He is doing it through the clear preaching of the gospel in the Church, and through the witness of the Church as they disband to their homes, jobs, and communities.
Those who give the Church less than the supreme place God has given it do so at great harm to themselves. Don Whitney, in his book Spiritual Disciplines Within the Church, points out that the greatest command is to love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. He asks, How can we do that outside the church?
“A quick, unreluctant willingness to turn your back on the worship of God in order to work, attend ballgames (including children's ballgames), entertain guests, participate in recreational sports, and so forth may indicate to family, friends, and others that God really is not your first love. Or it may indicate that you are willing to let those who do not love God or care about His Kingdom’s activities determine your priorities, set your schedule, and keep you from the worship and work of God” (Don Whitney, Spiritual Discplines With in the Church, p. 20).

Monday, October 03, 2005

Choices that Last ...

The Detroit Free Press today had an article about a rabid Detroit Pistons fan. Last year, on the night before game 7 of the NBA finals,, this fan got a tattoo on his arm proclaiming the Detroit Pistons to be the 2005 World Champions. There was only one slight problem ... They fell short, losing to the San Antonio Spurs in game 7. But that tattoo will last forever.

It gave me pause yet once again to remind myself that choices have consequences. You can't unring the bell. You can't put the toothpaste back in the tube. And so the cliches go.

How many time in our lives do we fail to fail to think of long-term consquences of present decisions? We do something because "it feels right," or "we just know it will work out." How many times do we fail to think beyond the intensity of the present moment of temptation? Words fly out of our mouths that can never be recaptured. Actions flow from our bodies that can never be undone. And then the moment's over, and now you have to live with it? Stil happy with that choice?

Before you speak, think about others. Think about the hurt your words can cause. Think about how long it will take you to explain what you really meant. Before you act, ask yourself, "Do I really want to live with this the rest of my life?" The pleasures of the moment are not worth the pain of a lifetime. It would be nice if the only consequences of choices were a tattoo. Too often, we have to measure the consequences in terms of hurt spouses, bitter children, ruined testimonies, and reproach on the name of Christ. Let us, as the Proverb says, be wise enough to foresee the evil and hide ourselves. The alternative is too permanent.

The prudent sees the evil and hides himself, But the naive go on, and are punished (Proverbs 22:3)